#IWSG: Apology to a Muse

Hello, friends!  Welcome to July’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing, then click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

Dear Muse,

I’m sorry.  These last few weeks, I haven’t been doing much writing.  I haven’t been doing much drawing either.  I’ve fallen behind schedule on so many of the creative projects you wanted me to work on, and for that I owe you an apology.

Some big changes are happening in my life right now.  Good changes.  The biggest and most obvious change is, of course, that my first book is out.  I’m a published author now, and I’ve had my first taste of that sweet, sweet writing income!

But any kind of change, even the good kind of change, can be confusing and disruptive, at least at first.  I’m saying this not as an excuse but as an explanation.  I neglected my work.  I skipped drawing sessions and writing sessions.  You kept trying to give me ideas, and I kept finding other things to do instead of writing or drawing. There’s no excuse for that.

I understand if you’re mad.  I understand if you don’t want to talk to me right now since, from your perspective, it seems like I’ve stopped listening to you.  But I promise I am listening.  Things are starting to settle down in my life again.  In some ways, things will be better than they ever were before… for both of us!

So dear muse, I’m eager to get back to writing, and I’m eager to get back to drawing.  And if your you’re willing to forgive me, I would really appreciate your help.

Sincerely yours,
Your Writer.

Sciency Words: Fruit

Hello, friends, and welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a closer look at those weird and confusing words scientists use.  You know, words like:

FRUIT

In 1893, the Supreme Court of the United States was asked to decide whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable.  Under tariff laws that existed at the time, imported fruits and vegetables were taxed at different rates; therefore, the Court’s decision would have a major impact on tomato prices in the U.S.

The scientific definition of fruit is pretty clear.  Fruits are the ripened seed-bearing ovaries of plants.  Tomatoes are, in fact, the ripened seed-bearing ovaries of tomato plants; ergo, tomatoes are fruits.  Case closed, right?

Pictured above: a tomato, a cucumber, a bell pepper, and an egg plant—four different kinds of fruit, according to science.

Except, of course, lots of words in the English language have multiple definitions.  We’ve seen this before here on Sciency Words with words like volatile, metal, and planet.  As part of that 1893 tomato lawsuit, the Supreme Court also heard testimony about egg plants, cucumbers, squash, and peppers—all fruits, according to the scientific definition of fruit, but not according to the culinary definition.

For culinary purposes, a fruit must have either a sweet or tart flavor (in addition to that whole seed-bearing ovary thing).  This issue of flavor is really important to grocers and chefs, even if it’s not important to botanical scientists.  Thus, the word fruit has multiple definitions.  So is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?  Depends on who you ask.

And if you were to ask the 1893 United States Supreme Court, they’d tell you tomatoes are vegetables, at least for the purposes of U.S. tariff law.

P.S.: And apparently carrots, sweet potatoes, and rhubarb stalks can be classified as fruits according to a 2001 European Union law regarding jellies, jams, and marmalades.

Sciency Words: The Chronological Protection Conjecture

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we talk about all that weird terminology scientists like to use.  Today on Sciency Words, we’re talking about:

THE CHRONOLOGICAL PROTECTION CONJECTURE

English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking had a lot to say about time travel.  There are plenty of Hawking quotes out there that seem to suggest that time travel is possible, or at least that it’s not totally impossible.  This seems odd to me, because when you read Hawking’s actual research, he is about as anti-time travel as a physicist can get.

As we discussed in last week’s episode of Sciency Words, Einstein’s theory of general relativity would apparently allow time travel to occur.  Relativity permits space-time to twist around itself into something called a “closed timelike curve.”  Hawking could not allow that to stand, and in 1991 he published this paper introducing something he named the “chronological protection conjecture.”

Hawking summarized his conjecture as follows: “The laws of physics do not allow the appearance of closed timelike curves.”  If a closed timelike curve ever did start to form, Hawking goes on to explain, then some other physical law—vacuum polarization, repulsive gravity, quantum effects—would get in the way, causing the closed timelike curve to die before it was ever truly born.

Based on my read of Hawking’s paper, it sounds like a closed timelike curve might (might!) still be possible inside a black hole.  But if you’re a time traveler trapped inside a black hole, you can’t do much to interfere with the course of history, can you?  Thus, regardless of what may or may not be happening inside black holes, the rest of the universe is still safe from time travel paradoxes.

So if Hawking’s physics is so adamantly against closed timelike curves, why did Hawking make so many public statements teasing us with the possibility of time travel?  Well, Hawking was a big fan of science fiction, and he seems to have loved many of the usual Sci-Fi tropes, including time travel.  The laws of physics may not allow for time travel, according to Hawking, but stories about time travel are still fun.  Maybe Hawking didn’t want to take that fun away from us.

Speaking of time travel, are you a fan of time travel adventure stories?  The kinds of stories you might see on Doctor Who or The Twilight Zone?  Then please check out my new book, The Medusa Effect: A Tomorrow News Network Novella, featuring time traveling news reporter Talie Tappler and her cyborg cameraman, Mr. Cognis.

Sciency Words: Closed Timelike Curves

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we talk about those weird words scientists like to use.  Today on Sciency Words, we’re talking about:

CLOSED TIMELIKE CURVES

Austrian-born logician and mathematician Kurt Gödel was one of Albert Einstein’s closest friends.  At Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, the two were known to take long walks together, discussing all sorts of strange and wonderful things, no doubt.

As science historian James Gleick tells the story in his book Time Travel: A History, Gödel presented Einstein with a very special gift for Einstein’s 70th birthday.  It was the kind of gift only a person like Einstein would appreciate: a series of mathematical calculations.  Specifically, these were calculations based on Einstein’s own theory of general relativity which showed that yes, time travel is possible.

Gödel’s calculations were officially published in this 1949 paper.  Now I won’t try to explain Gödel’s math because a) I don’t really understand it and b) it’s not really important for the purposes of a Sciency Words post.  What is important for our purposes is that Gödel’s 1949 paper introduced a new concept called “closed timelike curves.”

Well, technically speaking, Gödel used the term “closed time-like lines,” not “closed timelike curves.”  But as Google ngrams shows us, the hyphen quickly dropped out of “time-like,” and by the 1990’s, “curves” beat out “lines.”  So today, closed timelike curves is the most broadly accepted way to say what Gödel was trying to say.  The term is also commonly abbreviated at C.T.C.

In short, a closed timelike curve is a path through space and time that circles back to its own beginning.  As I understand it, it would take a stupendous amount of force to twist space-time around itself in this way.  You’d need the extreme gravitational force of a black hole—or perhaps something even more extreme than that—in order to make a closed timelike curve happen.

But it could happen.  As Gödel demonstrated in 1949, general relativity would allow a closed timelike curve to exist, or at least relativity does not forbid such things from existing.

So time travel is possible.  It may not be anywhere near practical, but it is at least possible.

Speaking of time travel, are you a fan of time travel adventure stories?  The kinds of stories you might see on Doctor Who or The Twilight Zone?  Then please check out my new book, The Medusa Effect: A Tomorrow News Network Novella, featuring time traveling news reporter Talie Tappler and her cyborg cameraman, Mr. Cognis.

Available Now: The Medusa Effect

Hello, friends!

Today is the day.  The Medusa Effect: A Tomorrow News Network Novella is available now.  Click here to buy, or you can read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Litho is a peaceful, isolated colony world on the frontier of space.  Nothing bad ever happens there.  So when a reporter from the Tomorrow News Network shows up, nobody takes much notice.  Nobody except a young colonist named Milo.

Milo is a bit of a news junkie.  He knows all about the Tomorrow News Network, a news organization run by time travelers, and he knows all about Talie Tappler, the reporter they’ve sent to Litho.  Talie has a reputation for covering war, chaos, and galactic devastation.

So why has Talie come to Litho Colony?  What big, breaking news event has attracted her attention?  Milo doesn’t know, but he’s determined to find out, because whatever Talie Tappler’s big story is, it cannot be good news.

In yesterday’s posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, I admitted to feeling a bit of anxiety over this whole “published author” thing.  I’m dealing with a touch of imposter syndrome.  However, when I think about the larger universe of Tomorrow News Network and all the stories yet to be told, my anxiety fades, and my eagerness to keep writing takes control.

So dear reader, there are a few things I’d like you to know about the Tomorrow News Network series going forward:

  • First off, you won’t have to read the stories in any particular order.  This is a series about time travel.  Be a time traveler.  Feel free to dip in and out of the timeline whenever and wherever you please.
  • As the series progresses, you may notice minor (or not so minor) inconsistencies in the story universe.  Pay attention to these inconsistencies.  They are not mistakes.
  • Don’t skip the bonus story at the end of The Medusa Effect.  That little bonus story will give you a clue about where the universe of Tomorrow News Network is heading.

Earlier this week, I had a phone conversation with my primary editor.  She told me I can finally breathe a sigh of relief.  The book is done.  It’s finished!  I told her no.  I appreciate the sentiment, but no.  The universe of Tomorrow News Network is huge and weird and complicated. I’m not finished. I’m just beginning.

† Well, I’m not perfect.  Some mistakes may be actual mistakes, but the most obvious inconsistencies—was Earth destroyed or not?—those are deliberate.

#IWSG: I Wish I Were a Cyborg

Hello, friends, and welcome to another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  Do you feel insecure about your writing?  Are you looking for support?  Then this might be the right group for you!  Click here to learn more!

Each month, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group offers an optional question, something to help get these I.W.S.G. posts started.  This month’s question has to do with secrets.  What secrets do we writers have that our readers would never know based on our work?

At the moment, my biggest secret is that I’m suffering from a bad case of imposter syndrome.  My first book is coming out pretty soon.  In fact, it comes out tomorrow.  I worked really hard on it, and… well, I just hope people like it.

But what if they don’t!?!  Oh no!  People will think I’m a hack writer, a fraud, or something equally reprehensible!!!

A lot of my friends, both online and in real life, have been congratulating me and telling me how excited I must feel.  And yes, I do feel excited.  But I’m feeling other emotions as well.  There’s a cyborg character in my book who can select which emotions he wants to experience and which emotions he does not.  He can turn his emotions on and off with the flick of a switch.

I wish I could do that.  I’d leave my excitement running and switch everything else off.  But I’m no cyborg.  I’m only human, and being human is not so easy.  The best I can do is set those other emotions aside with the promise that I will deal with them later.  In the meantime, I need to keep blogging.  I need to keep marketing my work.  And above all else, I need to keep writing, because this book that comes out tomorrow—that book is just the beginning.

P.S.: For those of you who may be interested, my book is a novella-length Sci-Fi adventure story entitled The Medusa Effect.  It’s the first in a series of novella-length Sci-Fi stories about a journalist who travels through time, covering the galaxy’s biggest news stories before they happen.  Click here to buy the book on Amazon, or you can read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Unplanned Mental Health Break

Hello, friends!

Last week, I ended up needing a bit of a mental health break.  I stopped writing and drawing.  I stopped blogging, and I basically unplugged from the Internet for a few days.  Some stuff was happening in my personal life.  I won’t go into any details.  I’ll just say that my stress level got way too high for a while there.

But things are more or less settled now, and I’m back to my regular writing and blogging schedule this week.  So I’ll see you at Wednesday’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  Then on Thursday, The Medusa Effect: A Tomorrow News Network Novella comes out (click here to preorder!).  And on Friday, of course, I’ll have a Sciency Words post for you.  So stay tuned, my friends!

Quantum Physics is Weird (Reblog from SelfAwarePatterns)

Hello, friends!

Quantum physics is weird.  It overturns all our silly human notions about common sense.  Atoms and photons and mass vector bosons—and all sorts of other particles and/or waves like that—exist in this mystical world where anything is possible and nothing makes sense.

But while while world of quantum physics may defy common sense, the way scientists study the quantum world is highly logical and methodical.

Today, I want to share a post that Mike Smith did over on SelfAwarePatterns.  It’s a great introduction to the most common “interpretations” of quantum theory—in other words, the most popular schools of thought about what all that quantum mumbo jumbo actually means.

So before you throw up your hands and declare that quantum physics is nonsensical science voodoo, please check out Mike’s post.  It’s really good!

With quantum physics, we have a situation where a quantum object, such as a photon, electron, atom or similar scale entity, acts like a wave, spreading out in a superposition, until we look at it (by measuring it in some manner), then it behaves like a particle. This is known as the measurement problem. Now, […]

The measurement problem, Copenhagen, pilot-wave, and many worlds — SelfAwarePatterns

Need a New Role Model? Meet Mercury! — My Hubble Abode

Hello, friends!

Venus is my favorite planet, and it probably always will be. In my mind at least, Venus is the planet with the most personality. But Fran from My Hubble Abode makes a pretty compelling case for Mercury, and I can at least agree that Mercury deserves a lot more love than it currently gets. So to anyone who hasn’t picked a favorite planet yet, please take the following into consideration:

What’s your favourite planet? Saturn? Jupiter? Earth? It’s probably not Mercury, so here are 3 reasons that it should be your favourite planet! Mercury flaunts his natural face A poreless face has been all the rage, but there’s nothing about Mercury’s surface that says smooth. Mercury has the most cratered surface out of all the […]

Need a New Role Model? Meet Mercury! — My Hubble Abode

Sciency Words: Syzygy

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a closer look at the definitions and etymologies of scientific terms.  Today on Sciency Words, we’re talking about the word:

SYZYGY

We’ve all seen pictures like this, with all eight planets lined up in a row:

And sometimes, on extra special occasions, the planets really do line up like that, or at least they come very close to it.  When this happens, we call it a grand syzygy.

The word syzygy traces back to ancient Greek.  It originally meant “yoked together,” as in: “The farmer yoked together his oxen before plowing the field.”  According to my trusty dictionary of classical Greek, the word could also mean “pair” or “union.”

Some closely related words in Greek referred to balance, teamwork, sexy times, etc.  And our modern English words synergy and synchronized have similar etymologies.  Basically, what all these words have in common is a sense of people or things coming together, in one manner or another.

For modern astronomers, syzygy means three or more celestial bodies coming together to form a straight line.  The most commonly cited example of this is the alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Moon that occurs during either a new moon or full moon, as observed here on Earth.

But an alignment doesn’t have to be perfectly straight to be called a syzygy, especially when we’re dealing with more than three objects.  According to this article from The New York Times, a syzygy of the Sun, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn occured between March 25 and April 7, 1981.  The Sun and five planets came “within 2 degree of arc from a perfect straight line.”  Apparently that’s close enough.

But while that 1981 syzygy was pretty grand, it was not the grandest of grand syzygies.  The planets Mercury, Uranus, and Neptune were left out.  According to another article from The News York Times, a truly grand syzygy will happen on May 19, 2161, “[…] when eight planets (excluding Pluto) will be found within 69 degrees of each other […].”

So mark your calendars, friends!  You don’t want to miss the grand syzygy of 2161!

P.S.: And if you’re a Star Trek fan, you may recall that 2161 will be an auspicious year for another reason.  That’s the year when the United Federation of Planets will be founded—a political syzygy, one might say, occurring at the same time as an astronomical syzygy.