Things I do for fun after hours. If you’re in the Quad Cities area on April 4th, stop by CRU for some fun and amazing concoctions.
As some of you might know, I have two podcast shows. One deals with the grey areas of reality (UFOs, monsters, time travel, things like that) and the other one is dedicated to Absinthe, creativity, and spirits in general (high or otherwise). Below is the latest from both:
What do Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, beer, chaos, and infinity have in common? This book:
The physical made-from-paper version is ready to go, and you can get it here: FOREVER AND FOR ALWAYS (on Amazon)
The ghost-like digital version will be able to haunt your ebook readers soon.
This is a fun little promo video I shot and edited for my buddies at my favorite pub, Cru. And yes, there really will be Butterbeer.
I’ve started a new series of videos on YouTube where I document random tech tips and tricks that I’ve learned after being stumped by something. Share the knowledge, that’s my motto.
This episode of my podcast is a kind of rambling conversation that touches upon a lot of topics, but ultimately the thread comes together around what the odds are of things happening, and, ultimately … how did we come to exist, despite the overwhelming odds against it happening?
I had an interesting thought this morning as I was getting my first cup of coffee. I had put some Splenda out in the break room last night before I left, and this morning it was there waiting for me. So I said, as I have done many times lately, “Thank you, Past Me.”
As in, Me in the temporal Past.
That is when it occurred to me: Every single person is actually a team of three. You, Past You, and Future You.
You’re actually a team.
Why a team? Because whether you realize it or not, all three of you work together. And while the ultimate benefit (good or bad) is Future You, if you start consciously thinking about yourself as a team, in a weird way the time that separates you becomes meaningless.
Just like when I thanked Past Me for pre-populating the Splenda supply for Present Me’s morning coffee, I know that when Present Me does something for Future Me, I already know Future Me is thanking me for it.
But now that I’m conscious of the fact that I’m a team of three, I get this strange sense of being able to do more as a team. I feel more motivated to work for the benefit of all three of us. I know this all sounds rather absurd and silly, and I hesitate to post this in fear of humiliating Future Me. But Future Me says, “No, go ahead and post it, it’s not silly.”
Past Me has no opinion about it.
Recently my old friend Jeff asked me how to properly order absinthe while at a bar. Specifically he asked, “How do you order/drink Absinthe? I am a man of limited experience. I drink scotch neat, but not much else. However, I’m thinking of giving absinthe a try.”
At first, I pointed him to a resource on the Wormwood Society website: Serving Absinthe. That tells you everything you need to know, from people who are the experts.
But Jeff specifically wanted to know, “If I order it in a bar, what do I ask for if I don’t want to come across as an idiot?”
I had to think about it, and so, from my experience, I told him it’s usually a four-step process because a surprising amount of bartenders still think it’s illegal. But here is how I do it:
You are a science fiction writer. Your finger is on the pulse of technology and society’s trends. Closing your eyes, you can see the world of tomorrow, and with your talent, you craft a great work of fiction set in this world you envision.
It takes time to craft a novel. Even after you’ve finished the first draft, there are successive rewrites, and publication woes, and printing and distributions lag times. When your readers finally get a hold of it, there’s a problem. The acceleration of technological advancement has overtaken your vision of the future. A good portion of the science fiction in your story has become reality, or worse, invalidated.
How do you avoid it? Plan for it. Deliberately.
Many of the classics have a timeless quality about them. There’s something about these works which sets them out of time’s reach so that they’re as fresh now as when they were first printed. While there’s no sure way to write something that will become a “classic,” there is a way to make sure your writing is timeless.
One way is to write your story as a period piece. This works with SF stories where the events don’t change history as we know it. Think “thwarted hidden agenda.” (Author Tim Powers is especially good at this.) Choose a setting either right now or some date in the past. State the date, the place, and incorporate real historic events – this helps build solid suspension of disbelief, and adds an air of authenticity. By its very nature, this type of story can’t become outdated. It exists in time, as history.
Another method is to use a break in reality. Create a future event, without a date, that resets expectations of what comes afterward. It could be a nuclear war, or plague, or maybe an alien invasion. It could also reset the year counter so that even the date is removed from reality. So if your story takes place a hundred years after this event, instead of being the year 2101, it could be year 100. That puts your story completely outside of time.
Of course, you could also set your story in a place entirely removed from our reality. This could be another world, or an alternate reality, or so far in the future or past that there’s not even a remote connection to the here and now. Remember the phrase: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
There are always stories that, by their very nature, need to be set in a specific point in the future. Even if time passes them by, the strength of the story itself pulls the reader past the fact that it’s outdated. Look at “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Personally, I don’t care that time has caught up with this classic. So don’t feel you have to try for timelessness in everything you write, but keep it in mind when you feel you’ve come up with your magnum opus.
Not many things suck as much as finishing that big, wonderful, complex story only to have something happen in reality to make what you’ve written completely implausible.
Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way.
Jerry’s true stories of childhood adventures in the Sonora desert, treasure hunting in the Sea of Cortez, swimming with whales in Hawaii, anarchy in Central California, sleeping on beaches, consorting with strippers in Mexico … this book goes all over the place. It’s a fun ride!
We have three guests on this episode of the podcast, and none of them are human.
On one hand, you’ve got R2D2, Wall-E, and Johnny-5. On the other hand you have HAL-9000, Cylons, and The Terminator. And yet on another hand (this one on a third robotic arm) you have the possibility of a cyborg enhanced self.
Well, it does indeed look like I have TWO new books coming out this year. For those interested, I’ll update here as they become available.
IN THIS, the latest episode of mine and Joe’s podcast, we ask the Big Question.
Is the purpose of life to be happy? What if you could take a pill and you would be blissfully happy? Is that the end game, then? If not, what is it?
YouTube encourages channel owners to make an “about me” video to be shown to first time visitors. This is the one I just created.
Just about any creative-type person faces this demon. I know I do, I’ve been battling it all my life.
There are books about it. Libraries of books about it. There’s a whole industry about beating it. But it all boils down to one simple thing.
And this is it: don’t worry about the whole project, job, dilemma, whatever.
Just concentrate on the very first action. The smallest, simplest first step. Once done, then — and only then — concentrate on the next action.
One footstep at a time.
That’s all it takes. Don’t worry or even think about the overwhelmingness of the whole. Just take that first little step.
A while ago I read a fascinating news release from JPL about a sounding rocket experiment that measures the light between galaxies. The conclusion: “While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread.”
In other words, there are way, way more stars out there than we thought, drifting in-between the galaxies.
From the article: “The light looks too bright and too blue to be coming from the first generation of galaxies,” said James Bock, principal investigator of the CIBER project from Caltech and JPL. “The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace, and that the stripped stars emit on average about as much light as the galaxies themselves.” [My emphasis.]
So for every galaxy of stars out there, there’s another galaxy worth of stars drifting around between the galaxies. To me that means there’s twice as many stars as we thought in the Universe, which also means there’s twice as many chances for habitable worlds.
It also means that in your star trekking speculative fiction, really advanced galactic civilizations could more conceivably make their way to other galaxies, as it’s not a big huge empty stretch between — according to the article, it’s more like a halo of stars between, and perhaps even bridging, the spaces between galaxies.
It’s fascinating to me to think of civilizations developing among these isolated, far flung stars, and now mathematically speaking, the chances of other civilizations existing have essentially doubled.
Okay, I’ve planted the seed in your imaginations. Let them run wild!
Here’s a link to the article: The Universe is Brighter Than We Thought »
I’m writing a series of realistic fantasy books and one of the characters is the god of chaos. Because of this character, I’ve been studying chaos theory in order to write the character with some intelligence, and I’ve been led to an amazing fact:
We all spring out of complete and total randomness.
Everything that is us and our world, and even our thoughts, are the product of complete and total randomness.
If you can wrap your head around this, you begin to understand that we have a general misconception of what “random” truely is. Apple Computers had to come to this conclusion, oddly, because when they first had a “random” setting on their early iPods people complained that it couldn’t possibly be random because it kept grouping songs together. They had to tweak their “random” algorithm to not be truly random so that it actually seemed random.
What we consider a rational, coherent universe is, at its very heart, complete and total random chaos … and yet, out of it springs order and, dare I say, meaning!
I find this utterly fascinating.
I’ve been fascinated with the question, “What is reality?” since I was a teenager. I think I missed my calling in life, perhaps I should have been a philosophy major instead of a communications major. But then again, I have such a goofball sense of humor, no one would have taken me seriously – and philosophy seems to be oh so serious. Better to make light of the question while examining it than bog it down and make it dull. But let me break it down to a simple chain of logic based on what we know from science:
Action at a distance, which is the mind-boggling concept that particles get “entangled” and, what you do to one will affect its entangled partner — no matter how far the distance — implies that the two are actually connected even if they’re on the opposite sides of the Universe. How? It would have to be via dimensions we can’t perceive, and what we think of as two entangled particles are actually sections of the same particle. The two are a single object, but we can’t see the whole object because it actually has more than three dimensions. My conclusion: there are definitely more dimensions than what we perceive.
Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal shows us, without any room for doubt, that particles are affected by observation. Matter itself knows when you’re looking at it, and it behaves differently. My conclusion: awareness is built into matter.
These are just two pieces of a vast puzzle, but they’re enough to hint to me (and remember I’m a communications major with a wild imagination, not a scientist) that the Universe is both bigger and more complicated than you’d expect, and it is also self-aware. But not self aware as in how you and I are self aware, but in a bigger, grander, more complex way.
But get this: you and I are part of this Universe. We are not separate from it, we are part of it. We are the Universe and we are aware of ourselves. Hence, even from this perspective, the Universe is in fact aware of itself.
So if the Universe is aware, what is it doing? What is it interested in? If all it does is cosmic navel gazing, what is it watching?
We have strong hints right in front of us. The Universe seems to love beauty. It seems to love conflict. It seems to love drama.
It seems to love a good story.
Look through a powerful telescope and there are stories everywhere. Stories of birth, struggle, death, and rebirth. Stories of power, of gluttony, of conflict, and also harmony and beauty.
Stories of how chaos transforms into order – all by itself.
And all this is at extreme macro levels. Who knows what amazing stories unfold every second at every level in the entire cosmos – just look at all the drama, conflict, and beauty right here on our own little world.
And we see it all, and it interests us – and remember, we are part of the Universe looking at itself. What we see, the Universe sees, and what interests us also interests the Universe.
Now, before you get too excited, there are plenty of arguments that this is wrong — but for the sake of Science Fiction let's suspend any disbelief and take this paper by Alexei Sharov and Richard Gordon at face value.
Here's the idea: if you apply Moore's Law to the demonstrated exponential rise in genetic complexity over time, it suggests that life as we know it formed roughly ten billion years ago. This is significant as the current estimated age of Earth is only 4.5 billion years.
Origin of Life (Graph borrowed from a MIT Technology Review)
This suggests all sorts of intriguing possibilities. For one, in this scenario, Panspermia is a foregone conclusion. Life did not form on Earth
Sure this is not a new idea, but now Science Fiction as a genre has some numbers to play with. One of them is the possibility that in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, we're not the backwards baby intelligence in a galaxy teeming with far more advanced races. We could very well be the ipso facto advanced intelligent race.
Consider this: We've always assumed that it takes at least 4.5 billion years for an intelligent race to develop. Now there's evidence it might take as long as 10 billion years. Sure, we are leaving out a lot of factors, such as asteroid strikes and other mass extinction events – that you'd think would throw off the time table – but we’re not looking at that kind of physical history. We’re looking at the uniform rise in complexity of genetic material.
The assumption is that it somehow endures through these disasters and continues progress. After all, it somehow migrated through interstellar space through untold and unimaginable disasters – possibly the destruction and reformation of solar systems – to take root on this pretty little blue orb of ours.
And so, this theory argues, thus explains the Fermi Paradox: We’re not hearing from any other intelligent species because they’re either close to, or behind, our own sophistication. That’s why we’re not being invaded by bug-eyed-monsters, or grey hive space aliens, or multi-trunked Pachyderms from Alpha Centari. If anything, we’d be the invaders, a la James Cameron’s Avatar.
But beyond that lies the really intriguing questions:
- Where, exactly, did life begin roughly 10 billion years ago?
- Was it localized, as in a star that existed, and then perished, and the material reformed to become our current star and set of planets?
- Is it spread through our entire galaxy, which means it permeates space and seeds all other hospitable environments such as Earth?
- Are there other, wholly other alien forms of DNA-like substances which formed in a different time and frame, and that seeds other sections of the galaxy?
The premise leads to endless conjecture – which is fuel for good Science Fiction – but more importantly it gives a more solid jumping off point, as – despite the inconclusive and tenuous evidence – it’s really the best we have right now. It’s something, other than nothing. Because before this paper came out, that what there was: nothing. Wide open nothing.
This gives us something to test. Now, if we do finally find conclusive samples of life beyond planet Earth, we can see if it fits this model.
That’s what science is about.
And that is the best fuel for good Science Fiction.
Yesterday, during a meandering and somewhat aimless road trip with my sweetheart, we came across “Snake Alley” in Burlington, Iowa.
Well, having been built in 1894, Snake Alley existed 28 years before Lombard Street. And below I’ve put together the two using Google Maps images. I will let you be the judge of which one is more crooked.
One of the perks of having had a viral tech video with over a million views (which by today’s standard is not that spectacular, really) is that you make it onto lists of manufacturers to send you products to review. This means I occasionally get my hands on fun tech toys before they’re generally available. For example, this awesome little Alexa-powered clock:
A professional video can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or more. Much more. But it doesn’t have to…
This is my latest video for my day job. My equipment and software setup costs were less than half of what you would spend going to a dedicated video production company, and that’s a one time expense.
Being that digital marketing is now mostly about video, and your best strategy is to pump out constant (relevant) video content, producing them yourself is the only real choice for a lot of small and midsized companies.
The right computer, software, camera, microphone, an iPad-based teleprompter, a few lights, and a green screen is all I used to make what looks like a full studio production. None of them are what you’d consider “pro” equipment.
I always want to add an entertaining element to my videos, but was a bit challenged when it came to making a video about this speaker. The serendipitous solution was my cat, Peeps.
A bit more fun from my Flash Fiction website:
Kevin died suddenly. It took him a while to realize it, because he thought he was dreaming. Walking along in wintry downtown Chicago, his feet crunching in the snow, there was a few minutes of discontinuity and then suddenly he realized he was floating. Several feet below him was a prone figure surrounded by…
read the rest at Afterlife Kahlua — Character.City
My weekend video project. Bet you’ll never look at an elevator the same way again.
Episode 2 of my podcast is live, and Joe and I talk about space aliens. The question, of course, is: Are they acceptably real?
It’s me again, being a front man for my day job. Next time, though, it’s someone else’s turn in front of the lens.
My new favorite tech toy! This speaker by GGMM has so many features it rivals Batman’s utility belt.
Featured music by Shpongle. Featured streaming radio is SomaFM. Featured podcast is Nerdist.
My friend Joe and I have been working on this project for a couple months now, and it’s finally time to unveil it — even if it is still a bit rough around the edges:
This first episode of our new podcast is a bit different than what we plan for the rest of them, mainly because Jerry had been telling Joe about his childhood adventures with his father, and how one time his father had taken him hunting for pirate treasure down in the Sea of Cortez.