Sunday, September 15, 2019

BAND OF BROTHERS

For me, the theme was leadership seen through the experiences of 2LT (eventually Major) Dick Winters. The corollaries included the importance of training, and the bonds that we form by facing challenges together. When my wife was out of town visiting relatives, I made the time to watch Band of Brothers. Then, I read the book. The movie was a good instantiation. The book provided more depth and detail. The advantage to the DVDs is being able to watch the words and run it back to catch what you missed. I renewed the book twice and checked it out again. And I still watch episodes again when I have the theater to myself. I cannot imagine seeing this once on HBO-TV and getting half as much from it. 


Producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg hired good writers and directors who developed and projected additional dimensions from Stephen Ambrose’s history. But that history is the foundation. And Ambrose relies on other works such as The Face of Battle (John Keegan; Penguin), The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle (J. Glenn Gray, University of Nebraska Press), and Rendezvous with Destiny: A History of the 101stAirborne Division (Leonard Rapport and Arthur Northwood, Jr., Infantry Journal Press). In the Acknowledgements and Sources, Ambrose explains how the book came to be written in response to criticisms from the men of Easy Company. Ambrose was employed by the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans. At the time he met the men of the 506thParachute Infantry Regiment, he was working on a biography of Richard Nixon. As a result of that initial meeting, Ambrose met the men many times to record and review the interviews that are the bedrock of the book and therefore the HBO series.

Actor Shane Taylor (b. 1974) portrayed
T-4 Eugene "Doc" Roe.
Based on the personal remembrances that highlight each episode, actor Damian Lewis (English, upper class, and Eaton according to IMDB here) did yeoman’s duty portraying Richard Winters. The other actors all created or re-created their characters well enough, even though I feel that they were all too old for their roles. Acting is hard work and it takes practice. So, finding competent teenagers for this was apparently impossible. But that’s who they were: kids.  By the time they jumped at Normandy, 1LT Dick Winters was 26. Their nemesis Capt. Herbert Sobel was thirty when he drilled them at Camp Toccoa.  

Capt. Sobel (Wikipedia here) gets better treatment in the book than in the movie. According to Wikipedia, it was his son, Michael, who came to his defense in the courtroom of history. In the book, some of the men of Easy Company say that his training at Taccoa kept them alive in Europe. In the movie, we see only the martinet who can neither read a map himself, nor allow his NCO to do it for him. That being as it may, even in the unarmed forces of the state guard, we fight as we train and we train as we fight. I know from personal experience that units who bust their humps together at drill are competent to serve the people of Texas. Individuals who sit around, drink coffee, and swap lies are hospitalized when the event surpasses their expectations. 
 
On another level, the men of Easy Company were just being reflective and gracious. No one had to specially thank Major Dick Winters because his leadership was humane, just, fair, forthright, foresighted, and insightful – and demanding. He was a good combat officer. But why was he? We can investigate all of the parameters of personality—all of the aspects of environment and heredity—and never reduce the problem to a single cause or even to a matrix of elements. The fact remains that he was. 

As an extreme circumstance, war sets the stage for drama, and every story is a mirror. Some reflect better than others. As an epic, the HBO production of Band of Brothers is a hallway of dark and light, metal and glass, orthogonal and angular. The book is a map of that concourse. 

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

TURN THE SHIP AROUND

“Ahead two-thirds,” said the Captain. “Ahead two-thirds,” repeated the officer of the deck. The helm did nothing. They sat there, both of them, unable to comply. The Captain’s previous ship did, indeed, have a control input for two-thirds power. This newer submarine did not. The order could not be carried out. The real problem was that the officer of the deck and the two helmsmen all knew that, but would not contradict an impossible order. It was time to “turn the ship around” and turn followers into leaders.

For a class in Complex Organizations, taught by Ron Westrum in the summer of 2007, we were assigned It’s Your Ship by Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff (2002). Both commanders faced the same problems. The crews were under-motivated and as a result the ship was rated unsuccessful in operations.  Capt. Abrashoff  solved the problem in the best way he knew: he empowered his subordinates to take charge of their areas of responsibility. They were rewarded for being pro-active, rather than waiting for orders. When Abrashoff’s billet changed and the ship came under a new captain, it all pretty much fell apart and things went back to the bad old ways. On the other hand, Capt. Marquet claimed to have effected a cultural change on board which continued after he cycled out. The difference is that Capt. Marquet got passed empowerment.

Empowerment is top-down. It does not begin with the actor but with that agent’s controller. That manager is often several levels above; and no one between is empowered to make the changes at the lowest level of action. So, Capt. Marquet did not empower anyone. Rather, he let them take on their own chosen responsibilities. 

It was not easy. Missing from their experiences was an actual picture of what was required. No book or cinema they knew told them a story like the one they were expected to act out. All they knew was the U.S.S. Ustafish, the previous submarines they used to be on. So, when the Captain asked his chiefs – the frontline supervisors, chief petty officers, and others immediately above and below in rank—if they really wanted to be in charge of their areas, they all said, “Aye-aye!” without understanding exactly what would be required of them now.

Capt. Marquet made the time and effort to lay out what they would take on and give up. He underscored the fact that authority is not responsibility. You can delegate authority. You cannot delegate responsibility. 

Ultimately, when his chiefs failed (which they did early in the new process), the responsibility remained his alone. (See, also, the same lesson explained in detail in Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Winnick and Jocko reviewed here.) Marquet created the culture of authority aboard the Santa Fe by encouraging everyone to think out loud, to speak their thoughts. The new watchword was “I intend to…”. 

That was one of several procedural changes that Capt. Marquet initiated before the failure at the helm. He was moving in the right direction. 

It paid off during inspections. Operators occasionally attempted to perform the wrong action. Everyone makes mistakes. However, thinking out loud and not acquiescing to someone else’s error prevented mishaps. The Santa Fe passed her inspections and exceeded expectations. 

Learn to think like the next higher level was another lesson here. But it goes back a long way. Gen. Jim Matiss said it best: “The battlefield has its own accounting system.” In both the book and the movie of We Were Soldiers Once and Young (reviewed hereLt. Col. Hal Moore is training his mobile infantry; and as they deploy from a helicopter, he grabs the sergeant, throws him to the ground and yells, “You’re dead!” He then points to the astonished corporal and says, “You’re in charge!” Oh… now what…?  

Capt. Marquet found concrete methods to realize his theoretical intentions. When people gathered to discuss a problem, he would wait until they had it framed and then he would leave the room. He asked, “How would we know if the crew were proud of the boat?” At the beginning, ahead of their first inspection, he told them to use “three identifiers”: Identify the visitor; identify yourself; welcome them aboard the ship. At first only about a tenth actually did that (though it was noted very positively on the evaluation). By the last inspection, it was routine. They had become proud of the boat. 

That was an unintended consequence of another change in culture: embrace the inspection. Instead of suffering through it like everyone always does, ask the inspector: How did another ship solve this problem? 

For myself, the book had two other invaluable lessons. The first was Don’t train: learn. On board the Santa Fe, learning opportunities were everywhere every day. Instead of parceling training into a time slot to be checked off, everyone was encouraged to be curious, not just questioning. The other was Don’t brief: certify. In other words, beyond assuring your managers that everything is OK, prove to yourself that it is. 

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Monday, September 2, 2019

Crisp Greens at the Wheatsville Co-op

Usually, I do the shopping on Sunday, but with the Labor Day weekend, Laurel and I ran errands together on Saturday. So, we were introduced to Grant Richardson from Crisp Farms in Smithville, about 40 miles east of Austin. They sell sprouts and other greens to retailers and they sell tilapia direct to processors and other users (though not to retailers).

We bought the Spice is Nice and Make it Mighty varieties of sprouts. We found them both to be a lot fresher than the other brands we have learned over time to pass up. We have grown our own sprouts in the kitchen. It is fine as far as it goes. As much as we enjoy working in the kitchen, we enjoy other work more. So, the Crisp Sprouts are an easy choice.

You can find their story on their website (https://www.crispfarms.com), of course. Their production mode is organic aquaponics. It allows them to grow all crops all year. They also have even closer control over the growing environment.

Father and son Bob and Chris Nagelhout developed the business plan for “a sustainable aquaponics farm that utilized a closed loop, zero waste design for growing organic produce and humanely raising tilapia to be shared with their community.” In 2017, they brought in Grant Richardson whose master’s degree is in environmental engineering.

In addition to the sprouts, they grow four lettuces (romaine, butter, green and red leaf), kale, chard, collards, spinach, and bok choy, along with  parsley, basil, oregano, cilantro, and mint.

(For other reviews and reports, put “Wheatsville” or “food” in the search box.) 

Previously on Necessary Facts

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Future of Money

In the future, we will recognize money created by individuals, rather than by organizations. Individuals such as Taylor Swift, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oprah Winfrey are certainly in positions of visibility and trust to enable that. 


(This is based on “The Future of Money,” delivered for the Maynard Sundman/Littleton Coin Lecture Series, at the American Numismatic Association “World’s Fair of Money” in Chicago, on August 14, 2019.)  

Third-party trust services such as Paypal could enable everyone to issue their own personal money. We have had reporting mechanism such as Moody’s and Barron’s for over 100 years. And of course, we now have Equifax, TransUnion, Experian. But they are only the inheritors of the Bank Note Reporters of the early to mid 19thcentury.

Money markets could be radically restructured by some new reporting mechanism. In a session on the future of law at the Armadillocon-41 science fiction convention in Austin last week, it was suggested that the blockchain mechanism could allow evolving contracts. So, too, would a blockchain identity manager allow you to always show the spendability of the money you issue.

The New Approach to Freedom by E.C. Riegel
and Flight from Inflation by E. C. Riegel
 The idea of personal money was explained in two books from the 1930s. A New Approach to Freedom and The Flight from Inflation by E. C. Riegel. They would have remained even more obscure than they are had they not been touted to the libertarian community by Harry Browne, the author of How to Profit from a Monetary Crisis and other books consumed by gold bugs. For that he was the Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000.

Economists define money as being a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account. Those are already decoupled. The dollar is not a good store of value, but it is a unit of account for multinational corporations, even those headquartered outside the United States. In the future, and actually right now today, money will be defined by something you have, something you know, or something you are. 

I assert as my own theory that alone on an island, Robinson Crusoe would need money, just as he needed language and for the same purposes. We will see that money and language are tightly bound. Robinson Crusoe would need to know whether it was more efficient and effective to catch fish, gather cocoanuts, plant wheat, or hunt pigs. She would need a way to track his efforts and successes in order that he could survive and thrive. He needs mechanisms for accounting for his work and for storing his effort. Having an abundance of dried fish, the realities of supply and demand and of diminishing returns might induce her to seek wild fruits or edible tubers, both of which might become cultivated crops. But without money – even intuitively -she has no way to know. You might think that Robinson Crusoe has no need for exchange, but whether he eats a fish now, dries it for later, or buries it to condition the soil are exchanges.  

During the great fairs of the Middle Ages, bankers met to clear their books of assets and liabilities and they reconciled their accounts without ever touching a coin. We speak today of virtual currencies but the system of pounds-shillings-pence was invented by medieval bankers to come to grips with a huge array a plethora of local coinages whose weights and finenesses changed over time. This was facilitated by a new form of enumeration, so-called Arabic numbers conceptually different from Roman numerals. That system, incidentally, was at first declared unlawful by the very Italian cities whose successes depended on it.



Every civilization has had merchants. The Sumerians had a commercial colony among the Hittites. What made capitalism possible was the invention of the mathematics of risk. Chance became measurable. Predictable outcomes could be monetized and sold in the first stock exchanges. Modern banking and the insurance industry both began in the coffee houses of London. 


Something you are. Mattie Kuhn called herself Ma Kiley for 40 years. She was a boomer, telegrapher who moved from job to job. Much like computer programmers today, and especically considering those times, a large percentage of telegraphers were women who moved from job to job. 

Ma Kiley was a member of two unions, one for railroad telegraphers, the other for telegraphers at banks, hotels, and other businesses. The unions were not recognized by management and owners, of course. But the union members recognized each other, and maintained their solidarity. If a boomer could not afford a railroad ticket, a sympathetic railroad conductor might acknowledge the membership pin worn by union members and find seating for them.

In our time we have other media to carry the same workload of transferring values among people. It can begin with ritual gift exchange, especially for those times when cash would be so awkward.

When thinking about the future, I recommend the works of people who have been proven right over time. It so happens that the free market economists of the Austrian school shared many of the same misconceptions about money presented by Karl Marx. 

Instead, I recommend urbanist Jane Jacobs. She said that the first cities did not evolve from farming villages created when pastoralists settled down. She said that the first cities grew out of camps where hunter gathers met to exchange their surpluses. From those cities, farming expanded outward. The simple fact is that tractors are not manufactured on farms. When crops fail, farmers go hungry but the city just imports food from farther away. She made those and other predictions that were supported by later excavations of Çatal Hüyük in Turkey and other sites. She also said that contrary to Peter Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction” very little is actually destroyed by innovation.



Jacobs pointed out that when steam machinery began to supplant literal horsepower, the craftsmen who had been making brass fittings for horse tack put their lathes and hammers to work turning out fittings for industrial machinery. This was supported 40 years later by George Selgin’s book Good Money: Birmingham Button Makers, the Royal Mint, and the Beginnings of Modern Coinage, 1775–1821. So, I assert confidently that as much as the future will bring unpredictable novelties, many of the structures and functions that we have in our social institutions today -especially money- will continue to evolve. 

We will always have coins, notes, and cards. A hundred years from now, people will not be spending uranium coins on the streets of Chicago. But do not be surprised if an asteroid colony begins to issue advertising trinkets made from rhenium, osmium, iridium or whatever it is that they have a lot of and want to sell. Money may take different forms and formats. But we will always have an affinity for tangibles. We already have coins shaped like guitars and baseball gloves. This will only continue. 


Nothing teaches arithmetic like money. Would you rather have two shillings or 25 pence? And if I gave you a shilling five for a box of sweets at a farthing each could I get five dozen or maybe six? In the future, people will do blockchain calculations in their heads, perhaps with the aid of silicon, maybe with enhanced RNA. 

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Dealers Make the Show: Armadillocon 41 Day 3 Part 2

Of course, it is all about us, the writers, along with our editors and publishers and the illustrators they (and we) hire to tart up our prose and poetry. But the table fees charged to dealers pay for all of that. Show memberships (gate receipts) are just an additional fraction.


In these days of self-published ebooks on Amazon, the relationships between writers and publishers are fluid. It was developing for about 20 or 25 years as printing continued to automate. But today, the work you want the publisher to do for you is a matter of contract. The author has as much bargaining power as the publisher.

It used to be that the author got an advance on sales and against that royalities of about 20% from those sales. The publisher issued press releases, scheduled radio interviews and perhaps signings in bookstores. But typically the advance did not cover royalties. A year or two later, the publisher would ask when your next manuscript will be ready and you would promise a date. You just smoked your second cigarette. 
Authors and Publishers Carol and Phillip T. Stephens
Now, the author has many choices for taking on parts of the work they can do in our interconnected age. The publisher does other work. The royality split is negotiable. But self-publishing is now commercially viable. The concept of "books printed on demand" goes back to the late 20th century. Here and now, printers are consumable devices, not people. And with Kindle, iPad, and their competitors and who needs paper? 


Allen Kaster's Infinivox publishes to disk
But I have an old friend with 20 books on Amazon and he cannot afford a car. For all the time and effort in formating for ebooks, you still have to finesse the advertising and publicity.  Our nation's motto is E pluribus unum. Literally, of course, it is From many one. I translate it as One out of many, i.e., just one in a million.  If you want to be seen and heard, you have to stand out from the crowd. 


Self-published author J. Darris Mitchell learned to draw
butterflies and other cute beasts in order to deliver
distinctive autographs to his fans.
Sometimes that can mean finding the right crowd to be among. Science fiction is a genre of literature but it is also a culture, a community. The same is true of mysteries and romance. Unlike so-called "mainstream" authors of the New York Times Best Seller list, as a writer, you start out with a audience looking for you. 
Self-published author Rie Sheridan Rose makes Armadillocon
on her way to Worldcon. This year, it is in Dublin, Ireland.
In 2017 it was in Helsinki.
I worked with a technical writer who was doing it just because it paid the bills. He had no passion for the art. His heart was in his novels. He wrote two but has not sold them because "they are not ready yet." I have placed over 300 magazine articles because long ago I took Robert Heinlein's advice to never let a story sit unsold. If it is rejected, send out it to another periodical. Today, despite the weakening of periodical literature in hard copy, some book publishers still produce anthologies; and not every story is a reprint. It is another venue for the writer.
Sabetha and Nicholi promote the Chronicles of the Seventh Realm
books at nakbaldron.com 

They have four on Amazon, and one coming out. 
You can read Salt and Steel for free on their site.
Writing is an enterprise. However, our capitalist society suffers from an anti-capitalist mentality. Ludwig von Mises pointed out the duality in the success of murder mysteries that portray the ruling class as shallow and sordid, thereby bringing immense incomes to the creators and merchants of cheap fiction while "serious literature" is hard to sell. Mises had no problem with that himself. He was only explaining the phenomenon.


Emmy (left) and Breanna (right) promote Fan Girl Creations
on Etsy, Facebook, and Instagram.
They invent and deliver decorative promotional items.
(Every storyline needs one.)
You can read an interview with them on Shuffle here.
For myself, among the challenges in writing fiction is that I find reality more compelling than the stories in my head. Yet, I like to think that my success comes from the fact that even computer documentation tells a story. My goal is to draw the reader into a new world where they are an interactive player who is rewarded for solving puzzles and unraveling mysteries. Work done results in gold accumulated. 

Lilian Butler (far back) creates jewelry, much of it from coins.
She also works with enamel and wire to create
"things that make you go Ooh!"
Oddly enough, we have yet to actually meet
at the one numismatic show we both attend.
Unlike "summer reading" most of these books are slim, often novella length or not much beyond. In hard copy, they sell cheap, typically $10 to $20 depending on the work's length and the author's optimism. Among the many advantages of a book is that you can get it autographed. I bought five at this show and they are all signed. 


Charles Siros attends the show as a retailer, but he also works
on the show committee. Usually, he staffs the registration desk.
This year and last, he also was my contact 

for setting up the rooms in my break-out sessions.
Readers are members of a community. Anthropology and sociology offer contexts for understanding how communities exist, survive, and thrive. Humans long ago left behind the small band in which everyone did everything for themselves. Division of labor exists in the simplest tribes today. Civilization would be impossible without it. "Jerry Emanuelson's Mathematical Proof of Ricardo's Law of Association" used junior high algebra to show that if two people divide their work and specialize, they create more than they can working alone, even if one person does both tasks bettter than the other. 


Artist Brad Foster (Jabberwocky Graphics) has been a Guest of Honor
at this and other scifi cons. He illustrated my presentations on
John Leonard Riddell which I will publish in 2020.
When you tell someone that you are a writer they often say that they would like to write, too. But of course they do not. It seems easy. That makes it hard to sell my work to people who think that they can write. Business analysts are the worst. At least programmers (devops) know that they cannot write and do not want to. It is why Cyrano de Bergerac's duel with Valvert brings me simulataneously to laughter and tears: "You say that I have a big nose. Is that the best that you can do?"


Texas A&M University's Cushing Library
houses a huge collection
of science fiction.
But I have the same problem with fiction. I feel inferior to the fiction writers who not only invent not just worlds but universes and then pull us into them with attractive words. Writing about real objects and actual people is easier. Wikiquote points back to Lord Byron. 
Lord Byron: Truth is always strange; stranger than fiction. 
Mark Twain: Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities, truth isn't.
G. K. Chesterton: Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it.
Leo Rosten: Truth is stranger than fiction; fiction has to make sense.

If only my hair were longer. 
John Picacio had his own table here
and also ran the Art Gallery
.
Otto (L), Banquo (C), and Arnie (R)
retailers and resellers d/b/a Realms of Fantasy Books.
PREVIOUSLY ON NECESSARY FACTS

Ayn Rand and Star Trek
Firefly: Fact and Value Aboard Serenity
The Ferengi Rules of Commerce
Star Trek (not too Far) Beyond

Monday, August 5, 2019

Armadillocon 41, Day 3 Part 1

Jennifer Juday throws a heck of a party. Armadillocon is the work of FACT: Fan Association of Central Texas. I was told that when FACT picks the show chair, all responsibilty goes with the appointment. This year, it was Jennifer Juday; and just as a participant, I was impressed with her organization and attention to detail. She had help, of course. For me, that was Charles Spiros who was (again this year) tasked with making sure that the rooms were set up right and all was ready for each breakout session.

Sunday starts at 11:00 AM, and the first panel discussion that I attended was "Lunar Vision: 50 Years After Apollo." NASA was represented by the chair, John Gibbons, and panelists Bill Frank, and Al Jackson. Bill Ledbetter and Moriba Jah brought other space program experience to the dais. Even roboticist Robin Murphy flew NASA simulators. So, the fundamentals were agreed on. The panel also seemed to agree on the need to engage (or continue) the culture of competence that accepts applicants and promotes them independent of their race and gender. What was not clear to the prognosticators was how the next 50 years will unfold. We have many possible futures.

The Lunar Vision Panel
From there, I went to the Dealer's Room and also walked the Art Show. The Art Show deserved more attention. As is typical of a scifi con, the talent was unarguable and the visions were grand and insightful. But I have plenty on the walls already and still one original behind the couch here in my office and two more flat on a bookshelf. Among the metal and enamel jewelry, this particular gallery does traditionally include a wide rack of pens in hand-turned wood and metal. But I still need to find one that fits my hand perfectly. 

At 2:00 PM I was on a crime panel: "The Perfect Heist." I expected something more formal, but I had great time. Chair Stina Leicht was our game master as we robbed a bank deposit box in a space station orbiting Mars. The leader was GOH Rebecca Roanhorse. Our lockpicker was Mike Bracken. Rob Rogers blew the safe. David Afsharirad held the blaster. I was the getaway man. Like any good heist story (or any adventure), we had surprises including betrayal, but we all got away with the loot. After the fun, I delivered a prepared statement on the mass-mediated hyper-reality of crime and alternatives to prison. And we discussed some of that.

Between panels, I spent most of my time in the dealer's room, talking to the retailers, authors, publishers, and artists. Of course, I bought more books and had them autographed.

ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS
Monsters from the Id
Forbidden Planet
Fantastic Voyages: Teaching Science Through Science Fiction
Feynman's Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Armadillocon 41

The only people signing autographs here are authors. Armadillocon is a very literary science fiction convention for writers, editors, artists, publishers and fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and speculative fiction. The only people from Hollywood are writers (and, infrequently, agents). I attended as a "Regional Participant," presenting a lecture on “The Future of Money” on Friday night, and joining a panel discussion on “The Perfect Heist: Crime in the 23rdCentury" on Sunday afternoon. 

After my talk on Friday night and the opening ceremonies, I went to “Lunar Fiction” which was okay and then “The Social Impact of New Technology” which was great. Dr. Robin R. Murphy (AI, robotics, and emergency response) moderated and was excellent. It was her first science fiction convention. Also on the panel were Dr. Anne V. Smith (computational biology), Paige E. Ewing (data analytics), and authors Lauren C. Teffeau and Becky Burkheart. 
The Social Impact of New Technology
When not rapid firing her .45, Burkheart races horses over 50-mile and 100-mile open country courses. (She also delivered a talk earlier on “Writing Realistic Horsemanship.”) She said that until a few years ago, a cross country race was attended by a veterinarian with a stethoscope. Now, she wears a real time monitor for both herself and her horse. My other takeaway was that “science fiction does the emotional labor of technology.” Also, it is not so much that science predicts the future (though there is that), but Paige Ewing said that she sees scientists today who were inspired by the science fiction of their youth to actually create the speculative inventions such as robots. The panel also agreed that “AI without governance is immoral” and that we need more regulation. Ewing said, “everyone here agrees…” and I said that I did not and Prof. Murphy said that we would not discuss that now, which was fine with me.

Urania Fung (blog) teaches
at Tarrant County College
On Saturday, Laurel and I attended panels from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. The show continued but we could not. So, I had to forego “What Science has not been Used in Science Fiction?” 
Mostly following different tracks, we both showed up for “Research for Authors” at noon. Usually, they do that by reading science or history and sometimes interviewing scientists. Stina Leicht took a “Black Taxi” tour of Belfast. Thinking that she had been protected in the company of two large men, she discovered that they were happy to be safe in the company of an American. The more typical danger for a writer is going down a rabbit hole of fascinating but irrelevant research that only prevents writing. Urania Fung said that she just [brackets] the unknown and keeps writing. 

The Archive Theater delivered a presentation on sword fighting taken from a new translation of Cyrano de Bergerac running August 29-September 29. 
 
Stina Leicht blog 
The panel on “Law and Lawyers” was lively and informative. Moderator Christopher Brown is an attorney. Law pervades science fiction from the Three Laws of Robotics to the Prime Directive. She Hulk and Daredevil are lawyers. (Even Superman needs a lawyer. See Action Comics #581.) Writing as John Cambell (Naval Officer), John Hemry (LCDR USN Ret), has "JAGs in space" in his novels. Citizen of the Galaxy and Blue Mars were offered. Melinda Snodgrass (Circuit series and ST:NG "Measure of a Man") holds a law degree from the University of New Mexico. It was suggested that blockchain would allow “smart contracts” that change to meet new legal contexts. 

“How to Get the Science Right” was mostly about how not to get the science wrong. The Scientist Guest of Honor, Dr. Moriba Jah, was more tolerant of weak science in storytelling as long as the deeper methods of science are not violated. “What are some fundamental principles that you can apply?” he asked. “Consistent character development is like consistent science development. Does this science make sense? Can you predict how it will work?” So, too, with character, is it important to be able to be able to predict how they will act. He said that a good story lets the reader remove ignorance. For those reasons, despite the many flaws in Gravity, he accepted the character. He also found value in the revelation from his own field of work that orbital space is crowded with potentially dangerous junk. As for research, he recommended that authors attend science conventions to meet scientists. Rice University librarian Alexis Glynn Latner suggested graduate school poster sessions. Dr. Robin Murphy’s rules for meeting scientists were: (1) suck up to them (2) ask direct questions and (3) say thank you with chocolates. 

Dr. Moriba Jah
Wikipedia here
UT Austin here
I also attended Murphy’s presentation on “Disaster Robotics.” She displayed EMILY, a marine surface robot for rescue. Most of her presentation was about emergency response from FEMA’s point of view. (Maximizing the public good rather than reducing individual suffering.) Murphy ran videos of aerial drones inspecting bridges and said that no people were rescued from rooftops because of them. I was comfortable with all that from my own training. I think that the audience would have preferred more about AI and robotics, maybe be shown flowcharts and decision trees from a “Rescue Roomba” or something. 

Dr. Robin Murphy interviewed Dr. Moriba Jah at 5:00 PM on Saturday. About 20-25 people attended, which was pretty good considering the many tracks that were running. Jah studies non-gravitational orbital dynamics in order to track the thousands of objects orbiting Earth. After a tour of duty in the USAF, he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and completed his doctoral work at the University of Colorado Boulder. He now works for the University of Texas Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. He suggested that the first armed conflict in space may not be between the USA and China but between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. 

PREVIOUSLY ON NECESSARY FACTS


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Binocular Highlights (Book Review)

Binoculars are easy to carry. The images in the very wide field of view are correct vertically and horizontally. Without a tripod (or monopod), you will steady them as best you can, seated with your elbows on your knees. And, even so, some of your targets will be overhead, so those solutions remain inoperative. Nonetheless, the advantages outweigh the difficulties. 

(Submitted to Sidereal Times of the Austin Astronomical Society.) As with telescopes, bigger is better, up to a limit of convenience. The author warns that the impressive views of larger instruments require a heavy-duty mount and tripod. That said, even a small set will reveal celestial sights unavailable to the naked eye – which is the point of viewing with any instrument. Binoculars deliver broad and wide vistas of deep sky clusters and nebulae. 
 
Binocular Highlights:
109 Celestial Sights for Binocular Users,
2ndEdition,
by Gary Seronik,
Sky & Telescope, 2017,
112 pages +4 fold-out maps, $24.99. 
Seronik explains the optics. He also clarifies the parameters of the instruments. A pair of 10x35 are 10 power with a 35-mm objective lens. On the frame, you will likely find another measure. My 12x45 Bushnell (purchased from the close-out aisle at Walmart for $39.95) say 225 FOV at 1000 yards. However, my little Vivitars ($29.95 retail), which I measured as 30mm, keep all of their secrets. Seronik does discuss the latest computer-driven image-stabilizing options, but only briefly. His heart is with “The Allure of Cheap Binoculars.” The reason why is that the optics are usually a given. It is a known technology. Better, more expensive products have sturdier mechanics: they take travel well and stay tight over time. 

If you have the first edition, and have been active with it you probably do not need the new printing. As far as I can tell, comparing page by page, the only differences are the ten new objects. If you have been out often with your “binos” since 2010, then you may well have penciled them in on your own. 

Among the new targets is Albireo, which should be on everyone’s list. Others, such as NGC 2243 and NGC 2345 in Monoceros and M56 in Cygnus are going to be a challenge even with 50 mm objectives, except under ideal conditions. Also among the additions are the open clusters Cr 132 and Cr 140 in Canis Major. They may stand out for you because of their relative brightness, +3.6, but it may be hard to resolve them better than points of light. Even so, the thrill of the hunt is one of the strongest motivators that we astronomers enjoy. 

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