Shoshone Station #5: Adam Out Now!

I was starting to worry I wouldn’t get it done this month, but here is the next installment in the Shoshone Station Serial adventure.

It’s Lannister’s first Christmas on the station. For once he has the room and time to play host to for the family Christmas celebration. His plans are complicated by the arrival of his run away niece, now an out trans man.
The arrival of a human woman with a squid child places Zeta is an awkward place. Her job demands she investigates, but how can she put another person through the same hell she grew up with? And what if she refuses?

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Shoshone Station #4: Meteors Out Now!

It’s here, the latest episode in my ongoing Sci-fi Serial, The Galactic Consortium.

Blurb:

Dan Oleson has been chosen to serve as embassy security on Saras Station in the Consortium, but he will soon discover the dangers are of a different type than he’s expecting.

Rumors are swirling about an asteroid or some other large body colliding with the earth. Would the Consortium allow such a thing to happen? More importantly, it seems the rumor may have started on Shin Station, of all places. Can Dan find the answer to this riddle?


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Four Ways that Terraforming Could Save the Earth

Serious scientist mostly downplay the idea of terraforming another planet.

They have two reasons for this, but they seem to miss one important point. So I am going to tell you four ways that terraforming could benefit, or even save, the earth today.

But first, the two reasons that scientists downplay terraforming as a serious endeavor:

The timescale of terraforming is enormous. We can’t simply seed the entire surface of Mars with plants, come back in six weeks and find a livable planet. The best case for terraforming would be thousands of years. More likely it will take tens of thousands.

Looking beyond our solar system becomes a double edged sword. We might find planets out there that are ripe and ready for our kind of life, or at least closer to what we need then Mars or Venus. That could shorten the terraforming time considerably. But we have to get there and short of some sort of science fiction faster than light ship, it’s going to take thousands of years to make the voyage.

Meanwhile the problems that we face here on Earth are likely to come to a head within the next few years, or at most within the next couple of generations. Overpopulation, climate change and resource depletion are nearing the crisis point right now. So you can’t fix overpopulation by starting a colony on Mars because it will be thousands of years before Mars will be able to support the number of people you would need to send to make even a small dent in the world’s population.

The second problem with terraforming is the whole resource-to-benefits conundrum. Terraforming would require a huge outlay in resources with only distant benefits in return.

It goes like this, we’ve spotted oil on Titan (or at least hydrocarbons that are like oil). So why not go there and get it to renew our depleted fossil fuels?

The short answer is that it takes a massive amount of energy to build rockets and fly them deep into space to get there. And then another outlay in energy to fly the oil back to Earth. You end up spending more energy to get the oil than it provides.

The dynamic for dealing with overpopulation is even worse. Mars One is looking to send forty men and women to form a colony on Mars. Even if assume they have the technology and funding to go today, what is forty people to a population of more than seven billion? Not even a fraction of a percent.

The world adds an average of 250 new babies to the world’s population each minute. How many do we have to send to a new world to reverse that trend? What kind of infrastructure would we need before we could relieve overpopulation via space travel?

I could go on but the point remains. We can not fix the problems we face here on Earth by fleeing to a new planet. But there is still a strong case for actively pursuing terraforming.

How terraforming can benefit us right now

The point that most scientist and arm chair terraformers seem to miss is that the technological hurdles we face in terraforming dovetail with a lot of the problems we face on this planet. Developing the technology to terraform another planet may kill two birds with one stone, it will fix our problems here, too. Here are just four examples.

Climate Change

The average surface temperature of Mars is minus sixty degrees celsius. Venus runs a balmy 462 degrees celsius. To get a nice earth-like average of 16 degrees celsius would mean raising the temperature of Mars by some seventy six degrees. Or dropping Venus’s average temperature over 446 degrees.

Now maybe you can see why it takes thousands of years to terraform a planet. But lets say we start working on the technology today. What are the benefits for us right now?

The earth is warming. Even die hard climate change deniers accept this fact. (They argue that its not man made and is instead part of some natural cycle, but they don’t argue the basic math, we are getting warmer.) At the rate we are going our earth will be nearly 2 degrees warmer by 2050.

A) 2 degrees might not seem like much, but it will have major effects on climate and weather. Many of them we are already seeing.

B) compared to the 76 degree change we need to make Mars livable, it’s a drop in the bucket. So I propose our test run for terraforming another planet is to develop technology to lower our earth back 2 degrees to where it was.

We even have some of the technology we need. We can take carbon out of the atmosphere and bury it in the Earth in a process called carbon sequestration. Why aren’t investing heavily in this kind of research? It would get us out our current fix and lay the ground work for terraforming another planet at the same time.

Food

With our current technology it would take about six months to get to Mars. With the necessity of waiting for the planets to align, the round trip would take nearly two and half years. What are you going to eat that entire time? If we want to terraform the planet and that’s going to take thousands of years, what will the colonist eat? You can’t pack that many dried rations.

The answer is that we will need to create small, intensive hydroponics or something similar. Our space capsule must be able to produce a sustainable diet in a very small amount of space.

And honestly, we need that now. Our current agricultural practices are just not sustainable. There are three problems with it, it takes a massive toll on the environment, it is very land intensive (meaning it takes up a lot of space) and it won’t be able to feed our growing population for much longer.

There are two sacred cows in agribusiness that make our system so unsustainable. The first is — cows. I am not going to argue for militant veganism, but our desire to eat large quantities of meat isn’t sustainable and won’t work in space.

The other huge sacred cow is oil and petrochemicals. From herbicides and pesticides, the gas we put into tractors to plant and harvest crop and the gas we use to ship produce all over the world, every aspect of agriculture is touched by petrochemicals. Without them our system would collapse.

Imagine a city that could feed itself, leaving the surrounding land to return to nature.

What we need is a way to grow the bulk of our food in a small contained area close to where it is needed. That is a must for terraforming but would have far reaching benefits for earth right now. Imagine a world where cities can produce their own food and large swaths of farmland can be returned to their natural state. Imagine having a room in your house that grows all your produce and you only have to shop occasionally for luxury items.

Energy

The economic argument against terraforming goes like this; it takes a tremendous amount of energy and resources to terraform another planet, so you must first solve the issue of energy scarcity. But once you’ve created cheap, sustainable energy, you no longer have the same incentive to go to another planet in search of resources.

So? Solve the issue of energy scarcity? Yes! That’s exactly what we need to do.

In order to fly to Mars and back we need to be able to create energy in abundance, through some cheap, infinitely renewable source. In order to break our addiction to fossil fuels, we need to find a cheap and infinitely renewable energy source.

What that will that look like? Solar, wind, nuclear or something we haven’t dreamed up yet, I don’t know. But clearly it’s the next step in technological evolution and we should all be invested in making it. Whether we do it because we are running out of oil, because we want to go to another planet, or some other reason is irrelevant.

Society

Terraforming projects take thousands of years. What kind of society will we have in a thousand years?

Right now it’s hard to get through a single political upheaval without it feeling like the end of the world. And this historian warns that humans tend to go through destructive periods regularly. Can we humans create a society that is both stable and dynamic enough to last a thousand years?

I believe the answer is yes, and it’s something we must absolutely strive for. Really the biggest obstacle to terraforming another planet isn’t scientific or technological. Our scientist know what to do and could do most of it with technology we already possess. It’s political and cultural.

Like the other problems we’ve discussed, the issues are surprisingly similar to what we must face in terraforming. How do we share scarce resources fairly? How do we live and cooperate in small spaces? How do we learn to work together on projects that we will never see the end result of?

In the end tackling these problems will soon become imperative. So what are we waiting for?

You know who is really good at terraforming? The Galactic Consortium. Check out my ongoing sci-fi serial about their arrival over the skies of Earth.


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Shoshone Station #3: The Egg — Out Now!

The third installment of the Shoshone Station serial is out now! Check it out today!

The Egg:

Sophia’s first day as liaison for the new medical wing starts out exciting, they have rescued a premature infant from the surface. But its new home, the bio-medical egg, sparks conflict between the healer, Bankim and Zeta, the diplomat.

Shoshone Station:

Less than a year ago, they arrived over earth’s sky. They call themselves the Galactic Consortium and they are human, or at least, simian — from the same genetic line as humans. They claim to have terraformed this planet centuries ago to serve as a base for their exploration of this galaxy. What happened to the settlers, why none of us remember this, remains a mystery.

For America the concerns are more immediate. Will the Consortium accept our independence?

Shoshone Station is the first joint enterprise, a solar power, space station parked in geostationary orbit over Denver, Colorado. Its been “gifted” to America, but as Sherman Lannister takes command he wonders just how much control the new American crew will really have. After all, what do they know about running a space station?

For Sophia, a homeless transgender youth from Denver, and many like her the station is a second chance at a new life. But what will she do living amongst the stars?

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Endings, Beginnings, and the Middle of a Big Project.

I finished another rough draft this week. It’s the third in my apocalypse series. You can check out Home for the Holidays here. Zoey and the Zombies is nearly through self edits. A Fishy End is now resting, I will come back in a month or two and re-read it. My plan is to take all three manuscripts and submit them to my editor over the winter sometime and publish them next year. I’m excited about getting this series out.

Home for the holidays web

My next project, the one I am doing for Nanowrimo is Bear Naked Four: the Wolf Council. I have been trying to focus on series, in particular having most of a series done before I try to publish and promote them. In that vein, writing the rough draft to Bear Naked Four means I should go on to write five and six immediately after, wrapping up the entire story arc.

I say should because I wrote a while ago about Big Project Blues. Book four of a six book series, now that’s big project blues. Novels have become old hat to me now. But this series is stretching out of my comfort zone. Hopefully writing book four will bring me back some of the passion of the series, I really love the characters and I love where the story is going. It’s just getting it there.

I can’t complain, though. I love writing. It’s what keeps me going when the rest of life gets hard.

In the meantime I am expecting to get back the second episode of my Sci-fi serial, The Girl in the Tank today and start working on prepping it for publication. Episode two: A Shaky Start should be available at the start of the month, on multiple platforms.

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A peek inside the Corelean

In my sci-fi serial, the Girl in the Tank, the crew of the USS Cambridge find themselves rescued from a nuclear blast by an alien vessel, The Corelean (pronounced core-lee-ahn).

The Corelean is a medical evacuation ship. The Consortium is a space faring race. Simians, races that evolved from the same genetic line as humans, predominate in the Consortium and the Corelean is primarily designed with them in mind, though it can accommodate other races at need.

The Consortium has had the science of space travel down for a long time and most of their ships, stations and outposts have a high safety rating. However, life is never completely safe. Accidents can happen on space stations and natural disasters can befall planetside outposts, particularly in newer colonies. Medical evac ships are designed to provide valuable medical care, supplies and evacuation capabilities in times of emergency. They run with a crew of just over three hundred, a full third of which are trained and certified healers. In a short evacuation they can take on several hundred civilians, and they have facilities to house up to three hundred and some, which the Corelean will need with the Cambridge, which has a crew of just over three hundred.

A medical evac ship looks a bit like an oversized airbus or the US space shuttles, nearly six hundred feet long with stubby wings to navigate atmospheric landings. As part of my research process I’ve used vector art programs like Inkscape to do some floor plans and I might try to do some model mock ups in the future.

The Corelean technically has four levels. Three are accessible to crew, the lower level is engines and equipment, accessible only by technicians and rarely used. A rough floor plan of the two main levels is shown below.

Corelean main level floor plan with marks

The front forward bay has a wide open hatch leading out of the ship and is the primary way on and off the ship when it’s landed. It’s where most of the action occurs in an evacuation situation, civilians can be brought on board, severe injuries treated in special open treatment bays to the right. A low command deck allows the captain and master healer to direct the action and triage newcomers.

Immediately behind the forward bay are rooms designated as medi-bays. They contain medical tanks for the housing of those needing acute treatment for serious injuries. Only a handful of the American crew requires such intensive care and of them, Cheyenne Walker will be in these halls the longest.

Radiation is a fairly constant threat to any space-faring race. Space abounds with radiation. Terraforming planets requires setting up outposts in places not protected by the kind of atmosphere and magnetic belts that shield earth from solar radiation. As a result radiation burns and accidents are one of the more common injuries for spacefarers. The Corelean is equipped with a sizable decontamination room and a number of blue light machines which help to harmlessly absorb radiation from bodies at an accelerated rate.

Crew quarters are on the sides of the ship, midway back. Two long halls on either side of the two main decks house the majority of the crew. The crew quarters are small, just over six feet wide and twenty four feet long from door to window (if you are lucky enough to be on the window side). There are two bunks on either side of the room as you go back. At four crew members to a room, it gets a little crowded at times. The long hall contains twenty rooms to a side, with two lounges forward and aft. The rounded open alcoves at towards the end of the hall is a zero G lift. Climb in and propel yourself up or down. The zero G lifts are more than a fun way to go up or down, in a power emergency they allow technicians to climb between levels. The ship has more conventional elevator-like lifts and in a few places, stairs.

Crewquarters close up, corelean

The upper third level is the flight deck, airlocks and other critical services. Access to the third level is restrict to those with at least Level One space certification and not even all of the Corelean crew can go there.

What is to come for the American crew of the USS Cambridge? If you did the math, the crew quarters can hold about 160 crew on each level or 320 on each side. Their Consortium hosts have all bunked up one side and the Americans are housed on the other side. It’s a tight fit, and they have six weeks of quarantine before their radiation levels will allow them to leave. How will they deal with the stress of radiation sickness, cramped living and a culture vastly different from their own? I guess you will just have to read the serial to find out.

Sci-fi Music

I write to music most of the time. I’m always looking for good mood music, stuff that gets in the right space for a piece of writing. Sometimes I will create very specific soundtracks for specific books. Often there is a certain general match between genres of music and writing. For example, when I was working on a historical romance I was listening to a lot of folk music and celtic music.

But what about science fiction? Especially the kind of space oriented stuff I’ve been writing, like the Galactic Consortium. Finding music that fits that story can be a bigger challenge.

Then about a year ago I have the opportunity to hear this electronic violinist at a local coffee shop.

Huge shout to the Ritual Cafe for keeping local music alive!

ritualTo say Dixon’s violin is unworldly, is an understatement. The man plays by intuition and energy, often creating songs as he goes along rather than playing from a set list.

I bought one of his CDs that night and I have since downloaded others. It’s phenomenal mood music for writing sci-fi, I have discovered. So I would like to share his gift with my blog readers.

The Inter-stellar Whalesong on the Live at the Hilltop CD is my favorite, by the way.

 

If you enjoy this sample, his website can be found at:

http://www.dixonsviolin.com/

 

 

When Chaos is not Random

A short introduction to Strange Attractors

Or why the weather forecast is still wrong as often as it’s right.

 

Physicists at the turn of the century were struggling with what was then known as the three object problem.

One of the fundamental assumptions of science is that the world works in knowable, predictable ways. That if we understand the laws of nature and we know the necessary variables, we can predict anything.

The assumption works really well in the laboratory and on the theoretical level. The real world still defies science as often as not. This was the three body problem. Newtonian physics could predict how two bodies (Say a planet orbiting a sun) would interact but when they introduced three bodies (like a moon orbiting a planet orbiting a sun) things got really complicated really quick.

The three body problem was originally applied to astrophysics but it’s implications are much wider and ongoing. In fact, every field of science has it’s own version of the same dilemma. With each new development we get just a tiny bit better at predicting the results with a few controllable factors. But predicting the real world involves grappling with hundreds of factors and something known as the butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect was coined by mathematician Edward Lorenz, one of the founders of Chaos Theory. The butterfly effect has been grossly misunderstood by most as the notion that a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Brazil could create hurricanes in Texas. In actuality the butterfly effect is a fancy name for “sensitivity to initial conditions.”

Lorenz developed the theory while working on weather prediction models on early computers. He noticed that his prediction programs would be accurate for a short time, but small errors grew over time and they soon became a complete mess. He tried to enter the same data back into new models and got widely different results. Even tiny differences in the initial conditions (so tiny they could be compared to a butterfly flapping it’s wings) created significant differences down the line.

Because of this sensitivity, initially predictable results soon become chaotic, or random.

But they didn’t stay random. As computer technology and mathematical analysis grew, they discovered that if they continued to graph these theoretical systems, patterns emerged. The patterns often repeated themselves in fractals. They termed them strange attractors.

This is a simple Lorenz Attractor, named after Edward Lorenz. Chaos theory, like Quantum Theory, is filled with paradoxes. Individual events are predictable by science. But as those same factors continue to interact over time, they became impossible to predict. Given enough time, a pattern emerges that is, again, predictable.

Science Fiction master Isaac Asimov played with this notion in the Foundation trilogy. The creator of the Foundation, Hari Sheldon developed a science of psychohistory. His theory was that while the actions of a single individual was impossible to predict, the patterns of groups were, given sufficient information and time.

In my Galactic Consortium serial I am taking the same idea in a very different direction. Chaos theory, and especially fractal equations, have become popular with lay people because they make pretty pictures. There is a disconnect between what the graphs look like and what they really mean to scientist.

But what if there is a significance to their appearance as well? In the Galactic Consortium, the most advanced race, the Vatari believe so. The patterns of various equations (which appear everywhere in the natural world) are considered keys to a “divine language.” Understanding the symbols is key to understanding a level of physics that humans on earth have yet to develop, that of potentiality.

Mandelbrot

The Mandelbrot equation graphed.

Barnsley

Like the Mandelbrot, Barnsley is a mathematical equation turned into a graph.

How much truth is there to that idea? The Consortium is soft science fiction and I don’t intend to offer any proofs or arguments. But it does make an interesting idea for speculation. And some pretty cool artwork. Here are a handful of images I’ve created with GIMP and it’s built in Fractal Explorer. Nautilus Rose Fractal beauty of naturesun fractal green place

 

 

 

Dental Work Update

Those who read this blog regularly will know I had oral surgery yesterday. As such, I will keep this short.

Here is an excerpt from my ongoing Sci-fi serial about the Galactic Consortium.

 

Bakala slid the plate over to Madsen and returned to the kitchen. The baby on Nicole’s lap fussed and cried. “She’s been teething,” Nicole groused.

Jensen started laughing. “You know I lost four teeth in the blast, hit my head on a stair railing? So when we came on board the healers poked around in there and then stuck these patches or something in there. Said ‘you’ll be fine.’ And off I went. Every couple days they make me open up and they inspect them, or pull them off and replace them. I didn’t think nothing of it, just do what they say, right? So this morning I wake up sweaty, with my jaw aching and drool all over my pillow.”

He paused in telling his story to accept a plate from Bakala. “So I go to the healer and ask what’s up. He’s like, ‘oh, your new teeth are coming in. Once they break the surface you’ll feel better.’ So tell our daughter I know what she’s going through.”

 

Damn, I wish we had that technology. It would save me a lot of pain and time healing.

 

Here is my funny story from the dentist:

As they were putting me under, with gas and IV sedation, I kept thinking that I should remember this feeling. It would help me write the character of Cheyenne Walker better, to understand what it’s like to be lost, not sure what’s fully going on.

The problem is that when I came out, all I can remember is thinking about how I should remember what it felt like for writing, but I can’t recall what it felt like. Sigh.

 
Update: Actually it went really well. I have to give a shout out to Iowa Oral Maxillofacial Surgery for really good work. If you need teeth violently ripped out of your body and you’re in Central Iowa, give them a call. 

Technology, OpenDyslexia and Asym

Life is funny sometimes. We create technology to solve a problem, only to create a new problem. Then we create more technology to solve those problems.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by a difficulty reading. It is not a sign of laziness or low intelligence. In fact many dyslexics are very bright and highly creative. The list of famous people with dyslexia is prestigious.

Dyslexia is a brain disorder. It’s not that they can not see or read the letters in front of them, it’s that they have trouble converting those symbols into words. Dyslexia runs in families. Their brains are slightly different on MRI scans and they use different portions of the brain to compensate for the way their brains are. (Please note, different does not imply better or worse.)

Dyslexia is a man made disease. Writing is a technology and a recent one at that. Our brains simply didn’t evolve to read. We have to learn to do it. There is nothing natural about the process.

How recent is writing?

Sumerian cuneiform is generally recognized as the first written language, originating around 3100 bce, over five thousand years ago. There is a yet undeciphered Harappan language that might predate it by a few hundred years.  Counting and trading tokens predate actually writing and may go back nearly nine thousand years. While nine thousand years is a long time in history, it’s a blip in human evolution.

This kind of symbol processing is new to our brains. If you do not have dyslexia, that’s pure luck. You happened to have the right neuro-pathways in your brain to complete a completely unnatural mental task. You should really quit telling dyslexics they have a disorder and admit you got lucky.

Even though writing has been around for more five thousand years, widespread literacy is much newer. For most of history, writing was kept for an elite few. Broad public education for the masses was a notion that only became common in the 1700’s. Even then many labor class children dropped out of school early to work. Throughout the 1800’s for example, literacy in Great Britain hovered around fifty percent.

The biggest change in the last century, the change that has led to a rise in dyslexia in the western world is not just a rise in literacy, but a rise in it’s importance. The dwindling labor economy and growing service economy of the late twentieth century and today require literacy.

This is not only true of dyslexia, but also for ADHD, Asperger’s and many learning disorders. A hundred years ago having a learning disorder limited your academic life, but there were many other avenues to having a good life. Gone are the days of apprenticeships, learning skills hands on from a master craftsman. Gone are the days of making a decent living without an education. My point is not that people didn’t suffer from dyslexia before the twentieth century, but that it wasn’t the same barrier to success that it is today.

None of these disorders are diseases in the medical sense. They are differences in brain chemistry or make up, but they make it incredibly hard to succeed in our highly specialized society that demands reading and academic achievement of every citizen.

So what are we going to do about them? That’s always a good question. Technology has recently provided some interesting answers to the question of dyslexia.

open-dyslexia-is-a-font

Dyslexics often have difficulty translating letters into the correct mental meaning in their minds. Certain letters offer a greater challenge than others. Flipping letters, perceiving a b as d or vice versa, is a common symptom. It was probably not surprising that someone would decide that maybe we should look at the letters themselves, instead of the brains of dyslexics. Open Dyslexic is a font created for dyslexic readers. The letters of Opendyslexic are shaded in such a way as to help readers avoid flipping or inverting them. The creators admit that it doesn’t work for every single dyslexic, but it can be a godsend for some. If you or someone you love has dyslexia, you can download the font here.

Once the font is installed on a computer, using it with any word processors should be a snap, so if you can get editable files from school or wherever, you can convert them to this font. For ereaders it might be tougher. The Kobo allows custom fonts. Epub files, like Apple and Kobo can include custom fonts. If you are a little bit of a geek, you can use Calibre to add Opendyslexic to your favorite epub books. As of right now, Kindle doesn’t allow custom fonts but maybe someday they will, or at least include Opendyslexic in their fonts.

This page will show you how to change your fonts on most web browsers. With so much of our reading being done digitally these days, there is hope that we can adjust that reading to suit the reader, rather than forcing the reader to adjust themselves.

But there is more to reading, and reading issues, than the shape of the letters. Another interesting development is Asymetrica. This article talks about how the spaces between letters affect reading comprehension and engagement. A web browser tool can be found here.

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-4-35-20-pm

Human beings have a real knack for changing the environment around us. Unfortunately we often create as many problems as we solve in this way. Writing has been one of our greatest inventions of all times, and has revolutionized our world many times over. However for an estimated one in ten people that have dyslexia, it has made life a lot tougher. They struggle to learn what is increasingly an essential skill. They may be told they are stupid or lazy; lies that simply hold them back.

Hopefully the same knack for changing the environment can be turned to good. As we learn more about this disorder and as we come to rely more on digital technology, changing the reading environment to make it easier for dyslexics to read seems like a life changing idea. Hopefully we can get the word out about these projects and others like them.

In my science fiction serial The Galactic Consortium, humans living in the consortium don’t have dyslexia, ADHD, or any of the learning disorders common on earth. At first they wonder why this is, they aren’t so different from us after all. The truth is buried so deep in their history that they’ve forgotten it. Their educational system and digital environment was adjusted millennia ago to accommodate a wider range of human neurology. Their script has been optimized for comprehension and their educational system is flexible and works with many different learning styles. I can only hope our real world systems will learn the same lesson in our near future.

Read more about the Galactic Consortium here.

Read more about the Galactic Consortium here.