Thursday, May 28, 2020


Einstein tells us we can't go faster than the speed of light which is 299,792,458 meters per second in SI units. That's over 670 million miles per hour.

We can't even, with foreseeable technology, go close to the speed of light. To propel a spacecraft the size of a small airliner at only one-tenth the speed of light requires as much energy as the US now produces in more than a hundred years. To go two-tenths the speed of light, would require 400 years of energy production. To go four-tenths the speed of light, would require 1,600 years of energy production. Each time you double the speed you quadruple the energy requirement. As you approach the speed of light, the energy required approaches infinity.

In Newtonian physics, this is because kinetic energy increases as the square of the velocity per this formula:

And at one-tenth the speed of light, it would require 44 years (about) to reach the nearest star (although for people on the ship would the time would 43.78 years due to time dilation caused by relativity). That is the Alpha Centauri star system. And there's no reason to think there are inhabitable planets in that star system nor alien life.

This is a conundrum for science fiction writers such as myself. In order to have our heroes and heroines have adventures on other planets and in other star systems, we need faster than light (FTL) travel.

In my novel Rock Killer, there is no FTL and the entire novel takes place in our solar system.

In my novel Forces, the humans don't have FTL but the aliens (some of which are evil) do.

But in my Treasures of Space series (Treasure of the Black Hole, Treasure of the Pirate Planet, and Treasure of the Rogue Moon), there is FTL travel. So we meet lots of alien species, go to lots of planets, and have a lot of fun. I stole "hyperspace" from other authors (and Star Wars). But coming up with an original FTL system is hard. In Forces, the aliens move interdimensionally and can travel between star systems in a moment. 

So science fiction writers need FTL. Or they will be pretty much stuck in the solar system.

Larry Niven in his Known Space series of books and stories, had humans using slower than light bussard ram jets to colonize space. But it took a loooong time. (Then they were sold the secret to the "hypercore" by an alien species.) 

But FTL is a mainstay of science fiction. And we're going to have to deal with that until and unless someone invents an FTL drive. Either that or you're stuck in the solar system or taking a long long time to get anywhere.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Curvy Roads

I like curvy roads. As long as they aren't too curvy. Just curvy enough to present a challenge to drive them fast, not so tight of curves you have to take them at 25 mph.

Where I live there aren't a lot of curvy roads. The land is pretty flat so the roads tend to be straight. Now straight roads have their uses (speed runs) and it was one such road where I got my Corvette up to 165 mph and my Audi up to 130 mph.  But curves are a challenge; a fun challenge.

Back when I drove on the racetrack, it was curvy and it was always a challenge to take the fastest path, or "line," through each corner. On public roads you can't do that unless you have clear sight lines and can see down the road because you don't want to hit an oncoming car head on as you drift into their lane.

So it's, in a way, even more challenging on public roads. There's a place in western Montana where Interstate 90 gets curvy and it is fun to drive. And the speed limit was 75 last I drove it. It might be 80 now. Too bad I don't have an excuse to go to Montana.

It takes knowing your car to drive a curvy road. You need to know its limits so you don't exceed them. And if you're not sure, go slower then speed up. Approach the limit from the bottom. I learned that on the race track.

Curves are so much more fun than straights (unless you're doing triple digits) and I love driving them. How do you feel about curvy roads? Enjoy them or hate them. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

I Can't Stand 55

As of today I've been in lock down for 55 days. That's almost two months. I haven't been anywhere other than my house and in my car. Last Saturday I did put gas in my car. That's the only time I've been outside the house or the car for 55 days.

I'm sleeping a lot lately. I'm wondering if it's depression/boredom. If I don't sleep 12 hours, I sleep for six. That might be anxiety (although I'm not as worried about dying as I was at the beginning of this).

I did manage to write the first draft of a short novel and start the first draft of a second one. So I have been productive. I've also done freelance work.

Yes, I'm a homebody and an introvert. But I would love to go to a restaurant or sit in Starbucks and people watch. Or drive to Spokane and have Korean food. And I'm a bit of a rebel. When I'm told I can't do something, that makes me want to do it more.

I live in Washington State and our governor is taking his own sweet time letting things open up. He has a four-stage plan but says stage one will last "at least" three weeks.

I also desperately need a haircut.

How are you handling the lock down? Or has your state opened up? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Bicycle Riding

Schwinn 10-speed
When I was a kid, I loved riding my bicycles. I had three growing up. My first was a little red one. The handle broke when I was riding it once. My father welded it back together (or had someone where he worked do it). It still broke at least one more time. I remember the handle breaking and knowing there was little I could do then to prevent a crash, I just waited for it.

Then I had a blue Schwinn Stingray. I rode that bike all over Idaho Falls, Idaho. I was taking swimming lessons in the summer and the pool was on the other side of town. Idaho Falls wasn't a very big city then, but it was big enough. I had to cross the busiest street in town: Boulevard (yes, the street name was "Boulevard"). Frankly, I'm amazed my mother let me do it. But it was a different time. These day a parent wouldn't hesitate to drive their kids to swim lessons.

In sixth grade I got a yellow Schwinn 10-speed. I tended to only use two gears: fifth for speeding up and tenth for "cruising." I must have had strong legs. I'd laugh at people using first gear. Admittedly, where I lived at the time (Blackfoot, Idaho) was pretty flat.

I would try to keep up with cars. This was downtown Blackfoot with stoplights and stop signs. I would pick a car and try to keep up with it. It would beat me to the stop sign but I'd often catch up while it waited to go.

Riding my bike was so fun. When I got to high school, I walked to class because, at a few blocks away, it was "too close" to bother riding. Then I got my driver's license and I hardly rode bikes again.

I remember once I was riding my 10-speed and I wanted to do a U-turn. The street was busy and I did't want to wait, so I turned hard left. I turned so hard the tires skipped a bit and I knew if the tires lost traction and the bike came out from under me, I'd probably get ran over. But I survive (obviously).

Did you have a bike as a kid? Did you love it? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Driver Assist

I currently own two cars. One is a 2017 Volkswagen GTI that my wife drives. The other, that I drive most often, is a 2014 Audi. I ordered that car custom from the factory and the only two options I got were the paint (that car manufactures charge for paint drives me nuts) and ventilated, massaging seats. It had the usual panoply of safety nannies (traction control, stability control, ABS). The only other driver's assist is has is blind spot monitoring, which I absolutely love and has saved me a couple of times. The only problem is, I've come to rely on it. Instead of checking my blind spot, I look to see if the car has detected anything there. I shouldn't do that.

One time I was driving in the Seattle area and depending on the blind spot monitoring. Suddenly I realized that somehow it got turned off. I felt lucky I hadn't hit anyone.

I'm not a big fan of most other diver assist functions. I'm especially not a fan of automatic braking which I think could easily cause an accident. I am a big fan of traction control, stability control, and ABS braking. But that's as far as it goes.

But someday I'll probably need to buy a new car. And more driver assists will be standard and not optional. One I think I would like is traffic jam assist which Audi might bring to the U.S. That system, as I understand it, works under certain speeds (like 35 mph) and uses radar to follow the car in front of you and brake when necessary. This would make driving in a traffic jam so much easier.

I'm not sure what will come in the future. I am not looking forward to autonomous cars because I like to drive. But as we move toward autonomous cars, manufactures are looking for ways to make driving easier. GM has "Supercruise" in its Cadillac line. That allows you to let the car pretty much drive itself on interstate highways. Not sure how it handles traffic.

And I think in the future, I'm going to have to learn how to turn off intrusive driver assist systems.

What do you think of driver assist systems? Are you looking forward to autonomous cars? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Korean Names

Korean Writing (Hungul) for South Korea
A while back I watched Parasite, the Korean film that won the best picture Oscar. And it reminded me of something I don't understand, at least not since I studied the Korean language in the military. And that is when certain names in Korean are anglicized, we add letters and sounds to them.

In their anglicized form, the three most common (by far) Korean surnames are Kim, Park, and Lee.

Now "Kim" we don't mess with. But Park and Lee are not how they are pronounced in Korean.

Park is actually "Pak" with a short "a." Sort of like a Bostonian saying "Park." The middle vowel sound is like "ahhh." So why, when it is anglicized, do we add an "r" and pronounce it "Park"? Is "Pak" too hard for English speakers to say? I doubt it.

In my novel Hammer of Thor, my hero meets (and falls in love with) a Korean woman named Pak Me-young. Not understanding that Koreans (and most Asian cultures) put the family or surname first, he thinks her first name is Pak. Which he changes to "Peg" because he can't understand why a beautiful woman would be named "Pak." Yeah, he's an idiot. Part of his character arc.

The other name that is changed when anglicized is "Lee" which is also sometimes anglicized as Ree or Rhee. It is actually pronounced in Korean as "Ee." That is just a long "e" sound. Not Lee. Or Rhee. Or Ree. But why? Can't English speakers say "Ee"?

I was watching a M*A*S*H rerun a while back, and they called someone "Mr. Pak." I was impressed. It's one of the few times I've heard that name pronounced correctly in popular culture by Americans.

If you have any idea why this is done, let me know in the comments below. If you have an opinion on this, let me know in the comments below.

And the Korean Hangul writing above is pronounced "Hankook." It means "Korea."

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Lock Down

The Saturday before Easter was my "half way" point of being locked down. That is, if the lock down isn't extended. I last left the house March 20th (except in the car which I didn't leave) and the lock down in Washington State is supposed to end May 4th (although the governor is making noises it may go longer).

If I catch COVID-19, I will likely die due to my preexisting conditions (lung disease and heart disease). So I'm being careful. My one worry is my youngest son, who works delivering pizzas and is considered essential. I'm hoping he doesn't catch the disease and bring it home to me.

For Easter dinner, my oldest son and his family Skyped in. They were planning on coming up for Easter, but those plans were killed by the virus. I would like to hold my grandson soon. But that's going to have to wait for this stupid disease to play itself out. Then maybe my wife and I will travel down there to see them.

I'm not sure when they will let us out and life get back to normal. Maybe when there's a vaccine? And when will there be a vaccine?

But I'm locked down until at least May 4th. Good thing I enjoy being inside, being an introvert. But even for me, it's getting to be a long time without leaving the house.

How are you handling the lock down? Or are you essential and have to work? And how is that going? Let me know in the comments below.