The Writer in Black

The Writer in Black

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Amazing phone story

Last week I went on a trip for business (related to my 'day job").

Well, I got out of the car in "economy parking" at the airport, took my phone off the car charger, stuck it in the pocket on the computer bag (more on this later) and headed into the airport.

Get inside, check in and check one bag (small enough for a "carry on" but with toiletries and stuff that can't go through security). Open the computer bag pocket to get my phone for reading matter while waiting or the plane.  No phone.

Panicked, I went back to the car looking to see if I left it behind. Didn't find it. Person at the counter was able to have my checked bag sent back up and I checked that.. No phone. Well, I was out of time so rechecked the bag and off to the trip.

Fast forward to my return. Got my checked bag and returned to the car.  What should I find but phone, lying on the pavement in the parking lot next to my car. How did it get there, you ask? Well, remember I said I put it in a pocket on my computer bag? Behind that pocket there's a "sleeve" that goes straight through (stupid feature on that laptop bag--too lazy to sew up the bottom end and make an open-topped pocket.?) I think, instead of putting the phone in the pocket I accidentally put it in the sleeve. It slid down and hit the ground ending up underneath the car parked next to me (consistent with where I found it).

There was no visible damage to the phone--some scuffing in the corner which could have been from where it hit the pavement. It wouldn't start, of course, but that's no surprise considering it's been five days, lying on the ground in the weather. (I found out we had two significant rainstorms here while I was gone.

Went home. Put it on the charging cable, not really expecting anything but there was nothing to lose at that point, you know.

It. started. charging.

A few minutes later I turned it on and it worked fine.  I've been using it ever since.

Five days on the pavement in an airport parking lot. Rained on twice.  Had to have been run over at least once. And. it. still. works.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.

Their motto could be "built Samsung tough."

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Feeding the Active Writer

I've been a bit remiss in doing these.  So here's a new one.

Rosemary and Garlic Chicken.

This is another where I'll use the cheap "bagged" chicken.  You can certainly use better chicken if you wish but the cheap stuff works well if you're on a tight budget.

Ingredients
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp dried rosemary, crushed between your fingers
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, pierced 12 times and cut in half
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
4 Tbsp water
4-5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken.

In a small mixing bowl combine all the ingredients except the chicken and mix well.

If using the bagged frozen chicken, thaw and drain.

Place the chicken in the slow cooker.  Pour the mixture over top of the chicken.  Toss to ensure the chicken is thoroughly coated.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Enjoy.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Stop. Just...stop.

I recently saw a blog post over on IO9 about 10 scientific ideas that scientists wish people wouls top using (incorrectly).  They missed my personal pet peeve--the use of quantum theory, badly understood or not understood at all, to supposedly explain new-agey magic (of the wizard and witch kind rather than the stage type) or psychic phenomena.

In quantum mechanics observation changes the thing observed, but that doesn't mean you can use that to cast spells that do whatever folk claim to do with magic.  Here's how it works:

Imagine you're in a dark room.  There are objects in that room.  You have a big pile of baseballs and want to know where the objects are in the room.  You can throw the baseballs in various directions.  In certain directions the baseballs bounce back.  When they do, you know they hit some object.  You can then use things like the speed and direction in which you threw the ball and how long it took to bounce back to tell you in what direction and how far the object is.  Throw enough balls and you can get some idea of the size and shape of the objects.

Now, all the objects in the room are on casters.  When you hit them with a thrown ball, they move.  If they're big and heavy they don't move much.  If they're small and light they move a lot.  Observing them, by throwing these balls at them, is going to affect them.

Consider the balls themselves.  The size of the balls limits what you can "see" with them.  Anything smaller than the ball itself you might see that it's there, but you won't be able to tell it's size and shape.  And when you hit it with that ball it's more likely to go sailing across the room and you only know where it was, not where it is now (after it got hit).  If you want to see smaller objects, you need smaller balls.  Now, this is the tricky part.  There's a rule.  The smaller the "ball" the heavier it has to be.  That's backwards from what we usually think of things, but to describe quantum effects you need that rule.

So you can see smaller objects by using smaller "balls", but the result is that you're going to hit the objects harder with those heavier balls and knock them just that much farther and faster away.

This, right here, is "observation changes the thing observed."  The balls are whatever we use to look at something, whether sound waves, quanta (discrete packets) of light, electrons in an electron microscope, or anything else.  We "shine" the light or whatever on the object we wish to see (throw balls at it) and look at either what's reflected or what passes through it to "see" the object.

At a basic level, when it comes to light the size of the "balls" (the wavelength of the light) is given by the following formula:

Eλ = hc

 Where:
E = energy
λ = the wavelength (size of the "balls")
h = Planck's Constant a really, really, really small number. (Okay, it's
6.62606957 × 10−34 joule∙second, but at this level what you need to know is that it's really small.)
c = the speed of light.

For "particles" like electrons that have mass, the equation is a bit different:

λp = h

Here p = momentum.

In both cases, to get a small wavelength (small "balls" to look at small stuff) you need to have either a high energy (light) or high momentum (particles with mass).  Heavier balls that you throw harder.  And, when you throw heavier balls harder at the thing you're observing, you knock it around more.

That's "observation affects the thing observed." It's not magic.  It's the simple fact that to observe something you essentially throw balls at it.  They're just really, really tiny balls (see that Planck's Constant).  And the effect is only important on really, really small things, things like electrons, sometimes atoms themselves.  To affect larger things that way, you need a bunchaton of energy.

This analogy only scratches the surface.  There's a lot more I could do. (Quantum tunneling:  the balls are "squishy" and can sometimes get through holes that are nominally too small for them.) But that will be enough for now, I think.

And if you liked this, you may like my novel Survival Test:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New Book Flyer

The "fit" is kind of weak for the web but this is a flyer that I've put together to hand out to help sell my books.

Books and Ebooks by David L. Burkhead

 

Science Fiction


A novel:
War!

A series of diplomatic crises precipitate a limited nuclear war on Earth. Missile defenses block access to space. Nothing goes up and nothing comes down.

The people of the various space stations, the moon base, and a space colony whose construction had just begun must find a way to survive until the war is over.

The ultimate survival test.


A novelette:
Doctor Susan O'Bannon on Space Colony 42 attempts to find a cure for a new disease that's putting people into comas. But when people wake from the comas driven by rage and hunger, can she survive the onslaught, let alone find a cure?



Two novelettes:
The Future is Now:
Richard Schneider forms a new company to develop a space launch system. His philosophy is simple: don't cut corners; find better ways. His main rival, however, operates on a different philosophy. Originally written as near-future SF, the story is now alternate history, a tale of what might have been.

Match Point:
Set some years after The Future is Now, top ranked tennis player Tom Stryker is stricken with a neurological disorder that slows reflexes. No longer able to compete in professional tennis on Earth, he decides to try his hand at the low-G variant of the game, finding himself in a rivalry with the top-ranked low-g player in a match on the Moon.


A novelette:
Emergency Medical services on the Moon present new challenges, not all of which come with the territory. Kristine is an EMT in the Lunar Ambulance Service. Budget cuts and inadequate equipment make it increasingly difficult for her to do her job.

William Schneider is finding that some of his subordinates have ideas of their own, ideas contrary to the corporate philosophy he is building, ideas that lead to shortcuts and trading lives for money.

They find themselves riding their problems on a collision course to avoid disaster.




A novelette:
When the star traveling Hospital Ship Mercy is captured by an Eres task force, Staff Sergeant Mike Yamada must overcome Post Traumatic Stress and face his worst nightmares returned. Alone among the complement of the Mercy, he has been an Eres prisoner before and only he knows the true horror that awaits if they do not somehow escape.
http://goo.gl/KBDzgt

 

Fantasy


A novelette:
A young mother hears the Norns. They tell her of terrible things to come. When Ulfarr wants her gift of prophesy to serve him, he takes her and steals away her children.

Can the young mother escape from Ulfarr's clutches and save her children from him? Only the Norns know.


A novelette:
Kreg and Kaila, knights of Aerioch, interrupt their mission to chase down the raiders that destroyed a village. Much to their surprise, the raiders turn out to be Kinmar, the half-man/half-animal remnants of the magical Changeling War.

Outnumbered and surrounded, wounded, with only the strange magic of the Knightbond on their side, can they survive, much less ensure that no one ravages the people of Aerioch with impunity?


Ethics, Morals, and Religion


Another "blast from the past" ported over from my old Livejournal blog:

I have often been asked, by folk who are believers in one religion or another, “How can you say ‘this is right’ or ‘that is wrong’ without a God to determine it.”

Let’s look at that.  Let’s start from the traditional Christian perspective of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God setting the rules for what is right and wrong.  The conclusions I draw don't need that, simply powerful, knowledgeable, and well-disposed to the happiness and welfare of people is sufficient.

The first thing that comes to mind is that this God would have to establish a set of rules that works; that, if followed, leads to the happiness and welfare of the people who live by it.  Anything else would violate the “all-loving” concept.  In fact, such a system would have to be the very best in terms of the welfare and happiness of the people living under it otherwise God would be setting up a system where people have less happiness, or worse welfare, than they would have with a different system.  Doing so would have to be a deliberate choice, since an all-powerful God could establish any rules that God desired and that God, being all-knowing, would know that one system leads to greater happiness and better welfare than another.  Establishing a set of rules that are less than best for the happiness and welfare of the people who follow it, certainly, is not something an all-loving God would do.

This does not mean that the system will be devoid of painful aspects.  In medicine, an inoculation can be painful, but it’s far less painful than whooping cough or rheumatic fever.  So there’s every reason to expect part of the moral and ethical system to include aspects of “You’ve got to do this unpleasant thing to avoid more unpleasantness down the road.”

Also, an all-knowing God would know that some people would not follow the prescribed code, would, in fact, know exactly which people would make exactly what violations of the code and when they would make them.  And part of the code would be the need to deal with this.

Once you have established that the moral and ethical rules established by an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God would be one that would best lead to the welfare and happiness of people who follow it, it then follows that the rules themselves are as much advice as commandment: “touch not the flame lest ye be burned.”

And, once you recognize that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God must have established a set of moral and ethical rules that lead to the greatest happiness and welfare for the people living under it, on no longer needs to invoke God as a reason for such rules.  In much the same way that science looks at how the world behaves and deduces the rules by which atoms combine, planets move, or the rains fall, so too can we look at how people and societies behave and deduce rules by which the greatest happiness and welfare come to be.  Societies that behave “this” way are happier and more prosperous than societies that behave “that” way.  “This” person may be happier than “that” person but only by harming “those people over there.”

This is usually the point where certain religious people claim “how can you know that your right and wrong are actually right and wrong?  Suppose something you think is better comes along later?”

Something better comes along later?  Great!  Since God’s plan would be, by definition, the best plan, the one that leads to the greatest happiness and the best welfare, anything better that comes along later means we are correcting a misunderstanding of God’s will and coming closer to His divine plan.

This means is that any “true” moral and ethical code can be argued on the basis of its effects.  If the effects are “good” in terms of the happiness and welfare, taking into account both long term effects and the effects of one person’s actions on another, then it’s a good system.  If they aren’t, it isn’t.  You don’t need to invoke God to make that determination any more than you need to invoke God to explain why Seat Belts Save Lives or, The Speed of Light--It’s not just a Good Idea; It’s the Law.

And, if you cannot argue a moral or ethical rule on those terms, without invoking “God said so” then can you not consider the possibility that maybe your understanding of God’s Will is imperfect?  Also (for the Christians among you) note that even the Bible recognizes that while God may be the same “yesterday, today, and forever” the law he requires of mankind can change, at least in detail. “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

The great thing about this is that it doesn’t require a specific conception of God.  It doesn’t even require a belief in God or gods.  All it requires, in fact, is that if there is a God or gods that he/she/it/they is/are favorably disposed to the happiness and welfare of people.  And even if any ultimate God or gods is/are not so disposed we’re doomed anyway so we might as well try for the greatest happiness and welfare we can now by developing and following moral and ethical codes that lead there.

I'm not wise enough to determine the various rules of physics. However, in that case we have a great many people (smarter than you and me put together) exploring a great many different ideas, testing them against each other and, most especially, testing them against the "real world." And they have been doing so for a great deal of time.

It is the testing of the ideas, and seeing what ones actually work. Likewise, one can discover the "rules" of moral and ethical behavior by observation and testing the same way we discover the rules of science.

Consider Al Capone who famously said "you can get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone." What did that get him? Well, it got him in prison by 33 and dead by 48. Some drug dealers may die old and wealthy but how many end up face down in an alley somewhere instead? The "expectation value" is not so good.

Moral behavior works. A billion or so Chinese may have a system that leads to female infanticide but I think they are "making the best of a bad situation" where the various behaviors or beliefs (including female infanticide) are the result of larger issues. Can one honestly say that the Chinese system, of which infanticide of daughters is a symptom, produces the happiness and welfare of the people under it? It certainly doesn't look that way to me.

Using the Christian example again, the Bible says "by their fruits shall ye know them", that a good tree produces good fruit and an evil tree produces evil fruit.

I simply go a step farther and postulate that that principle "by their fruits shall ye know them" with the "fruits" being the happiness and welfare of the people is both the necessary and sufficient condition to establishing a moral code.

So many people have so many different understandings of various "sacred writings" (quotes because not everybody agrees on what is or isn't a sacred writing) that one needs a touchstone to test which such understanding, if any, is "correct." I submit that the "fruits" touchstone is the appropriate one, and it applies equally well to anyone who doesn't believe in any particular set of sacred writings.

And this is how a non-believer can have a moral compass just as accurate (IMO) as that of any believer.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Feeding the Active Writer

It's been a while since I've done one of these.  I get busy (that whole "active writer" thing) and don't try/develop new recipes so things fall by the wayside.  But I do have a new one now.

Slow cooker Chicken Paprikash.

Ingredients:

about 4 lbs of boneless skinless chicken (I used the bagged thighs.  It's not great chicken as chicken goes, but entirely adequate as a base)
1 cup chopped onions
1 tbsp xantham gum.
2 tbsp paprika
1 14 oz can chicken stock
8 oz sour cream.

If frozen, thaw and drain the chicken.

Place the chicken and onions in 1 4-5 quart slow cooker, dust it with the xantham gum and paprika.  It's good to add a little chicken and onions, dust it, add a little more, dust that, until the chicken, onion, xantham gum, and paprika are all in the pot.

In a mixing bowl wisk together the chicken stock and sour cream until well blended.  Pour it into the pot.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Stir lightly.

Serve with your choice of non-starchy vegetables and flax meal muffins.

Enjoy.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Moving forward.

Elsewhere, the discussion came up again about the political landscape.  Some people, frustrated by Republican lack of anything resembling a spine and repeatedly rolling over for the current administration are talking about "alternatives" including going third party, "letting it burn" (and thus having society and rule of law collapse), or worst of all "revolution."

First, let's be clear on one thing:  If we lose liberty here, it's over.  Unlike past generations, people elsewhere in the world living under tyranny, we have no place to go.  If the US stops being a Constitutional Republic of limited powers where ultimate sovereignty comes from the people and individual liberty is the primary watchword, then there's no place else to go.

This is not a new idea:


Some people look at the American Revolution and say “we need to do that again.” What they miss is that the situation here in the US at the time of the Revolution were unique in history, they haven’t been recreated since, and don’t hold now. By the time of the US break with Britain, we had a nation of immigrants “self selected” to a large extent for desiring freedom. Oh, it may have been the freedom to create their own highly insular and regulated communities but the key words there are “their own”. Even the “loyalists” were more “we can work something out to keep our freedoms” than “we should just kowtow to being ruled” (at least that’s my impression from my readings over the years).

The American revolution is, therefore, unique. Looking at other revolutions in other times and places does not lead to happy making feelings “Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite” and The Terror. That’s a more common model, especially “The Terror.”

If it does come to actual revolution, I expect that to be the most likely outcome, not “a new birth of freedom, kumbaya”. The odds are so very long against getting anything like a free society out of an armed insurrection that, well, things have to be pretty far gone indeed for that forlorn hope to look like the better option.

As for the actual conduct of such a revolution itself, that will get ugly. Incredibly ugly. I’ve discussed that a bit elsewhere:

Second American Revolution--I Hope Not

In 2008 a movie was made about Jewish resistance fighters in Nazi occupied Bellarus. One of the things I noted was the partisans execution of an informer. That’s exactly how things will have to be. Doesn’t matter how intimidated you are, doesn’t matter if they beat it out of you or threatened your family, or what. You inform; you die. And if (more like when) that doesn’t succeed in stopping informers (or keeping the level low enough that the insurrection can proceed) the next step is to escalate: you inform; your entire family dies.

Immoral? Downright evil? Yep. But that’s where it will be. That’s what it will be. That’s what an armed “Second* American Revolution” will come to.

Better be damned sure it’s justified before pulling that trigger.

Some other thoughts to ponder about a Revolution.  Back in the days of the American Revolution, what most Americans wanted was to be left alone. They liked the idea of liberty. They might disagree on whether negotiating with the King or declaring independence is the best way to get that but they pretty much agreed (oh, there were exceptions–there always are–but by and large). The problem was outside, the King and Parliament.

We have almost the exact opposite situation here. Now, in America, entirely too many people are infected with “there ought to be a law” or a lust for “goodies that other people pay for.”
So, you have your revolution. You win it. It isn’t hijacked by people wanting to use it for their own ends rather than the cause of “Freedom”. (Three miracles in a row of which the last is the greatest, but let’s go with that.) Now what? The people are the same people. You have your new Constitutional Convention? The people who send Pelosi and Boxer, Schumer and Jackson Lee, to Washington are also going to be sending delegates to this convention. How do you prevent them from doing something just as bad?

If you set up a Representative government, you’ve got the same problem because you’ve got the same voters with the same attitudes. What are you going to do? Kill or forcibly deport everyone who disagrees with you? There is a word for that. (Actually several words, but I’ll just go with “evil”.)
Or maybe you’ll go the other way. A benevolent dictatorship can be as free as a Constitutional Republic: provided you get a dictator whose goal is to leave people alone. There’s very little necessary connection between the form government takes and the freedom of the people under it. So, that can work for a generation, maybe two. Of course how benevolent is a dictator who puts himself in power by force of arms likely to be. (A fourth miracle, greater than the other three combined?)
So you get your revolution and you win it. Now what?

Now as for this “third party” vs. “working within the existing parties” argument. I note that the Libertarian Party to use one example for which I have numbers) was founded in 1971. It has run candidates in every Presidential election since 1972. So far, it has only once been able to capture even 1% of the vote. If you plot its results out as a trend it‘s several thousand years before they reach a level high enough to actually win the Presidency.

That should put paid to the “third party” idea.

“But, but, that compromise approach is what got us into this mess.” Yes, because the other side has been willing to go for a little bit here, a little bit there, “compromise” so long as they can get some net gain. taking any setbacks and redoubling efforts for the next round.

The exact same “long game, make small gains where you can, minimize losses where you must” approach that I advocate, has been extremely successful. It’s just the other side that’s been doing it. But it takes discipline, patience, and perseverance. Strange that these are the traits that supposed “conservatives” seem to be lacking in politics
.
I wasn’t particularly surprised by the House and Senate continuing to roll over after the last election. That’s not a sign that “voting for new people does no good”. If you look at the way the new folk vote vs. how the old folk vote you do see a change. But there aren’t enough Cruzes and Gowdy’s and such yet. It’ll take a few more iterations before the balance shifts enough to really be felt–that is if people have the discipline to keep the pressure on.

If I ever start voting third party, it will mean one of two things: either the third party has somehow managed to get into the double digits in the vote (hey, I can dream) or I've simply given up. It won't be because I think voting for someone who can't even get one percent of the vote is going to make things better in any way.

It will also be about the time I start drinking.