Thursday, May 30, 2019

My Dream Computer

I got a new laptop a while back (first part of April). My eight-year old Dell was dying. In the end, it simply refused to boot. Luckily, I'd already gotten all the files off of it so I didn't lose anything. It's rather ironic because I took good care of it and it looks brand new. But it doesn't work.

My new computer is simply a laptop. I got a docking station for it so I could use it like a desktop with my large screen, large keyboard, and my printer.

But I have a dream of the perfect computer. I want it to act like a desktop when I'm working at my desk, like a laptop when I'm working somewhere else, and a tablet when I want a tablet.

Now, I know the Microsoft Surface comes very close to that. There are even docking stations available for it. The thing I didn't like about the surface was its keyboard and its hefty price if you needed a large amount of internal storage. And I do.

But here's the kicker that may be impossible. When I'm not using my computer, I want it to be a phone. That is, the same size as a smart phone and work like a smart phone. So it needs the ability to become smaller. As I said, that's probably impossible.

Well, I do know they are working on foldable displays for phones, so they can unfold almost the the size of a tablet. So maybe not quite impossible.

But a man can dream.

What do you want in a perfect computer? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Changes in Attitude

When I traveled on business to South American about 12 years ago, I noticed something: there was litter everywhere. Okay, maybe not everywhere, but it seemed to be a lot of if.

And it reminded me of when I was a kid in the U.S., there was litter almost everywhere. That was the 1960s (yes, I'm old). But two things happened. 1) they made it against the law (or increased the penalties) to litter and 2) they started an ad campaign against littering. That included this iconic commercial. And people's attitudes about littering changed and now you rarely see much litter in the U.S. (Go to Canada, there's zero litter.)

Same thing happened with seat belts. When I was a kid, no one wore seat belts. That continued into the mid 1980s. Then, once again, attitudes changed. There were ads about the benefits of wearing seat belts and states passed laws making it illegal to not wear them. Now I wear them religiously (feels weird to be in a car and not wear them). My kids have never known a time when you didn't wear seat belts.

Drunk driving use to be a joke. Then, once again, attitudes shifted when laws were made more draconian and there were campaigns against it. And drunk driving deaths have fallen. Again, when I was in South America, drunk driving was no big deal. A customer driving me to dinner said his car was a hybrid. I asked how that was possible (it was a Hyundai minivan-like thing not sold in the U.S.). He said, "gas in the car and alcohol in me." Believe me, I wore my seat belt on that trip.

So public attitudes can change. I've lived long enough to see it happen. Or maybe people just don't want to pay the penalties.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Back when I was studying at the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), I took a class called "Fluid Dynamics." It was the hardest class I've every taken. We did differential equations all the time. I was literally doing them in my sleep. Luckily, I'd had had a class in differential equations and loved it because the math actually reflected the real world.

Unfortunately, like all knowledge, it's use it or lose it. I haven't done differential equations since leaving college. Nor calculus. I know the theory behind them but not the mechanics. I can still do algebra fairly well.

In this novel I'm writing (the second of a planned trilogy that is a prequel to Treasure of the Black Hole), I found an occasion when being able to differential equations would be helpful. But, of course, I don't remember how.

So, instead, I did an Excel spreadsheet.

Here's the situation. The bad guys fired missiles at the good guys. The missiles were accelerating at 100 times the force of gravity (gees). The good guy's ship was accelerating at ten gees toward the missiles. Even though this was taking place in three-dimensional space, I simplified it to being on a line. The captain of the good guys ship asked "How long until the missiles are in firing range." And that's when I realized I had to do the math.

The ship and the missiles were approximately 1 AU apart (98 million miles). I set up a spreadsheet that would at each second calculate how far the missiles had gone and what speed they were going and did the same for the ship, calling its velocity and acceleration negative. I ignored relativity (even though the missiles would be going 5% the speed of light when they were close to the ship).

So I set up my equations (which used the data from the previous equation to do the math) and copied them down (and down and down) until the ship and the missiles were close together on my line. And that happened at 16,653 seconds. or about 4 hours 36 minutes.

And all that work because one character asked a question.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Pour Out that Water Bottle

I try not to use disposable plastic water bottles because I think they are ridiculous. Get a glass of water. But sometimes it's unavoidable (unless I want to go thirsty, which I don't).

The biggest issue I have with plastic water bottles is something someone once told me. If you throw out the bottle with water still in it, and the cap on, that water will be sequestered and out of the environment until the bottle decomposes in a thousand years or so (according to this website, it takes about 450 years or more).

Why is this a problem. Well, according to this website (an anti-plastic bottle site), Americans throw out 38 billion plastic water bottles a year. There are 12 billion recycled according to that same website, so almost a quarter of them are recycled. But if each of those 38 billion bottles not recycled end up in a land fill with an average of only one ounce of water in them, that's 296.9 million gallons of water. That's almost 450 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

If there's an average of 2 ounces, that's almost 900 Olympic-sized swimming pools. And that water will not re-enter the environment for 450 years, at least.

So if you're not going to drink all the water in your water bottle, pour the water out. Pour it out on the ground, pour it down a sink. Anything other than leaving it in the bottle. And throw the bottle out with the cap off so the little bit of remaining water can escape.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Writing Press Releases

In my freelancing life, I am often sent press releases for events. And I am often shocked by how much information is left out, leaving me to email or call to fill in the details. If they remember to include an email or phone number, that is.

In writing a press release, you want to remember the "Five Ws" (plus one "H"). That is:

  1. Who
  2. What
  3. When
  4. Where
  5. Why
  6. How
Who is doing (or did) the thing? Remember to include an email and/or phone number.

What are they doing (or did they do)? Details are important.

When will (or did) it happen? Date AND time.

Where will (or did) it happen? Be specific and include an address.

Why will (or did) it happen? Again, details are important,

And how will it (or was it) done. Details detail details.

If you remember the five Ws and one H, you will do a much better job writing a press release. And I won't pound my head on the desk in frustration.