Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Also, Happy Hanukah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, and any other celebrations I might have missed.

Wow, I’ve really fallen off the radar this time, haven’t I? It’s been an incredibly busy December, and we had family here for Christmas week, and basically I just haven’t been doing things like keeping up with my blog. So, apologies to all of you! But best wishes indeed for the season.

The highlight of my Christmas was having my daughter home from college (before heading off this morning for an international trip with a group from school), and my brother and his girlfriend visiting for most of a week. It was terrific all around.

The highlight in material terms (toys!) was an exceedingly generous gift from a family member of an ebook reader—a Sony Reader (PRS-700, the new one with the built-in light)—which I have been enjoying hugely and have been filling up with everything from classics to favorite SF from when I was a kid (Tom Corbett, Space Cadet!), to freebies from Tor Books and the Baen Free Library. I’ve got close to a hundred books on it now, and have barely scratched the available memory. Thanks, Chuck and Youngmee!

Another highlight was an odd counterpoint: my wife handed me another blast from my past—three Tom Swift, Jr. books that her aunt had given to her for me, including Tom Swift and his Diving Seacopter, an absolute favorite from a certain age in my youth. And, to round the story out, DARPA is actually hoping to build a craft just like it—yes, an airplane that can go underwater! Talk about science fiction (once in a while) predicting the future!

I hope you’re all having a great holiday season. I’ll leave you with this thought from Charles Lindbergh.

“By day, or on a cloudless night, a pilot may drink the wine of the gods, but it has an earthly taste; he’s a god of the earth, like one of the Grecian deities who lives on worldly mountains and descended for intercourse with men. But at night, over a stratus layer, all sense of the planet may disappear. You know that down below, beneath that heavenly blanket is the earth, factual and hard. But it’s an intellectual knowledge; it’s a knowledge tucked away in the mind; not a feeling that penetrates the body. And if at times you renounce experience and mind’s heavy logic, it seems that the world has rushed along on its orbit, leaving you alone flying above a forgotten cloud bank, somewhere in the solitude of interstellar space.” — Charles A. Lindbergh

Happy Easter!

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Late as usual, and therefore in a time-machinely manner, I’d like to wish everyone the best for Easter and Passover! No other message tonight. But I’ll be back!

Cool Science in Discover Magazine

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On a more cheerful note, the April and May issues of Discover Magazine have some interesting articles on cool science and technology. (The links below will mostly just get you to teasers, unless you can sign in as a subscriber, though the whole Cow Train article is there.)

In the April issue, a paleontologist named Mary Schweitzer (who happens to be an evangelical Christian) discovered soft tissue inside dinosaur bones. And with it, the possibility of serious DNA analysis. Her findings, according to the article, caused great excitement in the paleontology field, and a firestorm of controversy among the biblical literalists. Great stuff. She doesn’t see Jurassic Park on the horizon, but I can’t help wondering.

Also in the April issue, Anything Into Oil, a long article about a pilot plant that uses thermal conversion to turn turkey offal and all kinds of garbage into oil.

Moving into May, a thematically related story, All Aboard the Cow Train, shows us a train locomotive in Sweden that runs entirely on methane produced from cow manure and organic sludge of various kinds.

Also in the May issue is a story about smart fish, Nemo Goes to College. It seems that even goldfish have more cerebral power than most of us would dream of giving them credit for.

And while we’re on the subject of brainpower, how about Brain Cells Fused with Computer Chip? The stuff of SF, all right, moving toward reality. (This is from Livescience.com, but it seemed a good segue.)

David Stemple, Rest in Peace

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David Stemple was the husband of writer Jane Yolen. He died today at age 68. He was a gentle and witty man who brightened any room. He was a computer scientist, but his delight was studying birds, and he had compiled some enormous database of bird sounds. I saw him only on occasion, when he was with Jane for a book signing or some other function, or at one of their gatherings at their farmhouse. I wish I’d had a chance to know him better.

Jane herself is a delightful person (besides being a fantastic writer), and they were perfectly suited to each other. I remember them visiting once, on their way to being proud “rock and roll parents,” watching their son Adam perform with his group Boiled in Lead at Johnny D’s in Somerville.

It is so sad. We are losing too many of our best.

Dark Energy Stars? The End of Black Holes?

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A provocative article in the New Scientist online today suggests the possibility that maybe black holes really are just too cool to be true, and that what we should be looking for instead are “dark energy stars.” Furthermore, to quote from the article by Zeeya Merali, “Dark energy and dark matter, two of the greatest mysteries confronting physicists, may be two sides of the same coin.” Which would be a neat trick, since dark energy is apparently blowing the universe apart, while dark matter is helping to hold things together.

George Chapline, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin of Stanford University, and their colleagues have suggested that “the objects that till now have been thought of as black holes could in fact be dead stars that form as a result of an obscure quantum phenomenon. These stars could explain both dark energy and dark matter.” The obscure quantum phenomenon is one that has been observed in superconducting crystals “as they go through something called ‘quantum critical phase transition.'” It all has to do with an apparent slow-down in the passage of time, due to some quantum trick that I certainly don’t understand.

Anyway, this gave the researchers an epiphany regarding black holes, and they set about analyzing what would happen if matter falling onto a collapsing star were passing through a layer of ” quantum critical phase transition.” And what they came up with was something that looks from the outside very much like a black hole, but without a singularity—and also without some of the problems that have frustrated black hole researchers for a while now.

I’ll stop trying to summarize, because it gets a little complicated. If this intrigues you, do read the article. It might ruin your day, if you really like singularities (as I do). But what the hey, I think we were all getting a little too comfortable in our cozy little feeling that we understood all about black holes. Don’t you?

What do Jupiter’s Spots, Warplanes, Dodoes, and Memes Have in Common?

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Answer: they all showed up in my inbox today.

From NASA Science News, Jupiter is growing a new red spot!

If you like pictures of cool aircraft as much as I do, follow this link from Keith Truesdale to pictures from the Moscow Air Show.

From Live Science, via blog reader Marco, news of what sounds like a funny and thought-provoking movie, in which a filmmaker portrays evolutionary scientists as a “Flock of Dodos.”

And finally, an email inviting a response from me for a new blog called Meme Therapy. It looks promising, and it already has some comments by top SF writers. (I don’t have a response yet, but it’s on the burner.)

Electric Grapes and Strawberry Pop Tart Torches

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An article in the latest SFWA Bulletin dovetailed nicely with a home-experiment tip we picked up last summer from our friend, astronomer Larry Molnar. The tip was about cool science you can do with ordinary household grapes and your microwave. The article in the Bulletin mentioned this, and also discussed the brave science you can do with a strawberry Pop Tart and an electric toaster—preferably one you never intend to use again. You can read about both experiments, at http://www.pmichaud.com/grape/ and at http://www.pmichaud.com/toast/.

If you try these at home, just don’t blame me. (Actually, we tried the one with grapes, and it’s pretty cool.)

It’s Been a Year

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Omigosh, I just realized, it’s been one year to the day since I started this blog! (You can see for yourself. Just scroll to the end. That’s how I discovered it.) It’s been a fast year. A lot of new friends have come to join me here. Let’s celebrate!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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I know I haven’t been present here much lately, but life’s been busy and I’ve been working on Sunborn and doing a little bit of promotion for Galactica. But today seems like a good and important day to check back in. We’ve gotten to where holidays in the U.S. often seem to mean little beyond a day off from school or work, and the banks and post office being closed. So I just want to stop myself for a moment and pause and think about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

What better way than to go back to his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. My pastor read a portion of this in church yesterday, and it got to me then, as it gets to me every time I hear it or see the video clip. It’s become so familiar that I can hear it in Dr. King’s voice whether someone else is reciting it, or I’m reading it on the page.

Here’s Martin Luther King, Jr.:

…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

You can read the speech in its entirety at http://www.mecca.org/~crights/dream.html, among other places.

Happy 2006!

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It’s happened again. Christmas has come and gone*, and it’s a new year. 2006. I feel as if I’m in some kind of a time warp, and the world is whipping around me faster and faster and faster.

*Unless you’re like my family and officially celebrate Christmas up through Three Kings Day, which is January 6.

This holiday season was the usual blur, but good. We had family visiting, and I spent a lot of time watching high school wrestling. (The off-season work is paying off for my daughter Lexi. She’s won a couple of matches already, and when she loses, it’s usually a hard-fought match. As usual, I volunteer as announcer for home meets.)

My wife’s job as the managing editor for an online math education program came to an end with the end of the year, so we are in a state of flux right now. The possibility looms that I might have to once more set aside work on the book in order to do freelance or consulting work. We’ll see.

Still, I made two resolutions for the new year. One is to catch up on my financial record-keeping so that I’m not totally swamped when tax time comes around. The other is to finish writing Sunborn! One way or another! (Sleep? Who needs sleep?)

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