Raven’s Roost On The Homestretch

Candice eetimesFor fans of my first novel, All The Stars Are Suns, who have been waiting for the next book in the series, Raven’s Roost, I am nearly finished with the first draft.  Yes, it’s been over two years since I released the first so it may have seemed like I had abandoned it, but I never did.  I’m not writing pot boiler romances.  I’m writing carefully crafted Hard Science Fiction with just a touch of Fantasy style, keeping in mind Clark’s dictum that a sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic.  World building, as well as character and plot development, have taken time to do right (write?).  Another thing that has taken time is to ensure that what I write won’t conflict with the follow on books (at least two more).  There’s nothing more aggravating than an author who can’t keep her own plots and world building straight.

I can’t make any promises, but I hope to release Raven’s Roost by the begining of summer (for all my student fans).

Religious “Liberties” is a Sham

Candice eetimesRecently we have seen a movement to create “Religious Liberty” laws and a Federal Executive Order that are pitched as a protection of individual and group religious groups rights to “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

They are a sham.  Their real aim is to circumvent both the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and anti-discrimination efforts, most notably those laws protecting LGBT people.

The laws and edict are designed to force government to fund religions that discriminate against others who aren’t living up to their religious edicts.  For example, they require that State and Local government to fund private adoption agencies who use “sincerely held religious beliefs” to deny government funded services to same sex married couples, unmarried people, and transsexuals (married or not).  Another example is that they require both private and public schools to fund religious based campus organizations that discriminate against LGBT people nullifying those schools’ and even States’ anti-discrimination rules and laws, under penalty of losing their Federal funding.

Proponents of these so called “liberties” laws claim this is to protect the right to believe and worship as they chose.  BOLLOCKS !

No one has lost the right to believe, or worship as they chose when a law disallows FUNDING for a group that discriminates against others. But when the government denies funding to an institution for DEFENDING the rights of people against discrimination, or of nullifying anti-discrimination laws by requiring funding of religious based organizations, that is a form of both discrimination and of establishing the power of religion to demand funding from taxpayers in the face of that institution, local government, or State’s “sincerely held beliefs / values” of non-discrimination. Thus in essence, this is not about religious “liberty”… but about bigoted people’s ability to use government power in the name of religion as means to empower themselves and their religion over others.

True religious liberty doesn’t demand this power. True religious liberty in history demanded that government NOT allow this kind of power. Historically, in many of the colonies, and then the States, said polities had laws that demanded that everyone had to tithe to the government sanctioned (both meanings of the word intended) church, no way around it even if others attended another church or no church at all. Some colonies and townships even fined people if they didn’t attend said church. When the authors of the Bill of Rights wrote about Freedom of Religion, that is exactly what they were talking about, the power of the government to force monetary support for a religion that they themselves didn’t believe in and were often mistreated by.

Today, these so called “Religious Liberty” laws are a de facto means of using the power of the government to demand that monies, specifically public taxes be used to empower churches that mistreat others in the same (but sneaky) way that the Bill of Rights was meant to disallow forever.

Fight for our Bill of Rights. Don’t be fooled.

Video Review: Star Trek: Picard

With only two episodes released, it may be early to give a serious review but there are things I feel I can comment upon.

First, Wow… this is so much better than Discovery!

Some things I like, it expands the canon rather than messing with it.  The dialog feels better.  What violence exists moves the plot rather than the other way around.  In just two episodes, we have been introduced to both the longer term plot and to interesting characters, with the promise of more to come.

But there are some silly tropes that I reacted very negatively to.

First is the horrendously dumb visual trope of transparent displays.  As a display technologist and inventor, this just bugs me and I’ve explained why before, but the second episode really demonstrated why its so dumb.  In one scene we have a double agent spy master with open windows viewing a video call on a transparently projected virtual screen with an incredibly low contrast because one can see the brightly lit view of the sunny view outside the window competing with the image on the screen.  Please, please, can we dump this dumb trope?  It’s as dated as silver lame clothing as a SciFi movie trope.

Next is the anachronistic presence of a mid-20th Century lamp shade in a Star Fleet office.  What would a spy master’s minimalist office decor be doing with such lamp shades in the late 24th Century?  Design usually follows function and technology. The modern lamp shade is a late 19th Century invention that came about because of the introduction of bright filament incandescent light bulbs.  Yes, we saw lots of such lamps and shades in Picard’s home.  But then, he is an antiquarian living in a home filled with antiques.  They made sense there.  But not elsewhere

What also didn’t work for me is Picard’s vineyard.  Amazing how much France looks like California’s wine country, complete with dry wild oats between the rows and a California live oak visible in the distance.  Perhaps I’m the only one who even noticed, but it pulled me right out of the story seeing my local wine country being used as a set for France.

Finally, why antagonize the SciFi reading audience with Picard, who is one to read Shakespeare, who refered to Azimov’s robot series as “the classics”, saying that he didn’t “get” science fiction?

Magnetic Misalignment In Aviation

Screenshot_2018-06-15-13-57-18I’m a Flight Instructor (CFI, CFII, MEI).  I love teaching my students.  But there is topic that is a growing concern in navigation; magnetic field changes.

The magnetic compass was perhaps the earliest navigation instrument to be installed in an aircraft; And why not, it had been successfully employed in nautical navigation for centuries.  It is self contained and self powered.  However, it has several drawbacks in an airplane.  First, it is only points to the magnetic heading when one is in straight and level flight.  Start a turn and it leads or lags one’s actual heading.  (This is compensated by using a gyro stabilized directional instrument that is periodically aligned with the compass when in straight and level flight.)  The compass also has errors because of electronics and magnetic metals in the aircraft which the pilot has to compensate For another, it doesn’t actually point to “north”, but to “magnetic north”.  And even that isn’t actually pointing to the north magnetic pole as the Earth’s magnetic field isn’t a simple bar magnet.  Global and local distortions exist.  So, the pilot depends upon geomagnetic surveys that are updated periodically.

And therein lies the rub.  That magnetic field is changing, shifting, faster than ever.  Aviation maps are updated several times a year, but there are other references that are updated much less infrequently.  This leads to different “magnetic north” references that can be very confusing to the pilot.

First up, land based radio navigation aids, particularly the Very high frequency Omnibearing Range or “VOR”.  These radio stations transmit “light house” like rotating radio beams whose relative timing (phase) compared to reference signal tells instruments in the cockpit of an aircraft what the bearing is from the station.  But, since the system was put into place with the assumption that airplanes all had compasses as their one and only reliable directional instrument, those stations were all aligned and calibrated to the local magnetic field.  This is a problem.

The rapidly shifting magnetic field has left many VOR stations no longer aligned.  As instructor, I have had to supplement my students navigation instruction on how to use the VOR ‘magnetic bearings’ as idiosyncratic, independent references that only roughly correspond to the magnetic bearing indicated by their compass.  Fixing this problem would be simple, provide a magnetic flux compass on every VOR and it would ALWAYS remain aligned.  However, this would cost money and the FAA has other plans.

The FAA is shutting down most of the VOR stations, leaving only a minimum network of stations as a back-up to GPS navigation.  But here’s the fun part; those GPS units also report direction of flight and bearing to waypoints and airports using magnetic reference!  The GPS system suffers from the same shifts in magnetic fields as the compass vs. the calibration date of the on-board GPS data base.  That magnetic data base is only updated very infrequently, unlike the data base for the location of waypoints and airports which is defined by latitude and longitude.

The mismatch between the VOR and GPS system can be very noticable in flight, often by several degrees.  Yet another thing I have to teach my students is how to keep these in mind and not get confused.  This difference can lead to very different locations in airspace for what is nominally the same point.  For example, not far from my home base of Santa Rosa / Sonoma County / Charles M. Shultz Airport (Shultz was the creator of the Peanuts comic strip) is SNUPY, an intersection (a point in airspace) that is defined by the intersection of two VOR radials (magnetic bearings) from two stations and is also in the GPS database.  But those two points, which by definition should be identical, are actually a bit over a mile apart.  I’ve never been able to get a straight answer from the FAA which is right.

Research suggests that the rapid shifts and reduced strength of the Earth’s magnetic will continue.  Thus, problems with navigation will continue.  However, their is a very simple solution provided by the increasing sophistication and decreasing cost of avionics.  The “glass cockpit” (named from the use of glass substrates found in Liquid Crystal Displays, LCD) can be driven by differential GPS receivers that detect heading & track, displayed as true, with no need for reference to the Earth’s magnetic field.  All our maps, instrument procedure charts, everything would be with respect to true north, no matter the location, vastly simplifying navigation, reducing pilot workload, and reducing training requirements, increasing aviation safety, and lower costs by eliminating the need to update charts as the magnetic field shifts.

This is a plea to the FAA and ICAO, please update our navigation philosophy.  Its time to switch from magnetic to true.  Its time to have a TRUE 21st Century navigation doctrine.

Recommending A Great Space Technology Blog

It’s rare that I find a really great blog writer covering technology with deep analysis and insight, so when I do, I feel compelled to share it.  Casey Handmer is such a writer:

https://caseyhandmer.wordpress.com

New Energy Economy

candicecoverSometimes, public policy gets it backwards.

Recently, there has been a growing movement to ban the manufacture of new housing that uses “gas” for heating or cooking so as to reduce green house gas emissions.  While a laudable goal, it is missing a key point about our new energy economy with its growing installation of renewable electricity.

You may be thinking, what is she getting at?  Is she crazy?

Stop and think for a moment about where we are generating the most electricity from wind and solar, where we need electricity, and when.  One of the key problems of wind and solar is that it is intermittent.  We need a way to store it.  We also need a way to transmit it from where it is most abundant to where is most needed, when needed.  The current electrical grid has severe losses moving energy across continents.  And we still don’t have a good way to store the energy until needed.

But there is a very good way that we could do so with very little investment and we can do it progressively, without major disruptions to our present systems.  I’m speaking of energy storage and transport as hydrogen gas mixed with our current natural gas pipelines.  Over time, as more hydrogen is created from excess wind and solar generation, more hydrogen will displace the natural gas in the pipelines and our homes.  The conversion will be gradual and cost effective.  We already have the pipelines.

Far from banning the use of gas in new housing, they should be designed to use mixed gas in anticipation of clean burning hydrogen.

Bad Science Journalism(tm)

candicecoverAdding to the generally poor science literacy, Bad Science Journalism™ distorts the public understanding of modern science.  It is not just because the journalists themselves aren’t science literate, it is because the very format required by the media requires that the story be badly represented.

It starts with the headline.  It must be ‘click-bait’.  A headline that reads, “New Study Adds Subtle Nuance to Well Established Theory” is not acceptable, even if it is the most accurate possible.  Instead, it must read, “Shocking New Study Overturns Decades Old Theory”, even if it is very far from the truth.  Even worse, the headline may read, “Study Shows Scientists Were Wrong”; which plays into the anti-science myth that science gets things wrong all too often; So why trust any science?

Another requirement of Bad Science Journalism™ is that there must always be a practical purpose to the study, usually one that the Average Person™, can relate to, always.  Science for knowledge sake, with no clear direction where or if such research will lead to anything that the Average Person™ will benefit from, is absolutely forbidden.  To this end, there will always be a paragraph or two, perhaps with a quote from somebody that has no connection to the research, making the most tenuous and labored claim such as, “This may someday lead to a cure for cancer.”

Some of the blame for Bad Science Journalism™ is the laziness of the journalists, the time pressure to push out more copy, and the perverse incentives found in research institutes to create sensationalized stories.  Many universities and institutes rely on grants and donations to fund basic science.  They have professional public relations departments who produce publish ready copy for use by overworked journalists.  The more mentions of pioneering research that they can into press, the more donations and grants they will receive.  Educating the public on the actual import of a given study is not one of their priorities.

This problem needs to be addressed by more than bloggers with pet peeves.  All those who care about science education must hold those responsible to account.  Start by not clicking on obviously hyped headlines.

Further Reading:

Seriously Sad State of Science Education

Examples of Bad Science Journalism™:

https://scitechdaily.com/scientists-were-wrong-about-dna-it-is-actually-held-together-by-hydrophobic-forces/amp/

https://news.rutgers.edu/theory-earth’s-climate-last-15-million-years-wrong/20190920#.XYqIQohlA1J