Friday, May 29, 2015

Science Fiction Book and Author Recommendations

A number of you have asked me about my favorite SF novels and writers. Actually, nobody has asked me, but I am going to tell you anyway because it's my blog and I can do anything I want. Hahaha! Such a feeling of power. Napoleon should have written a blog. It would have kept him out of trouble.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Looking for Aliens in all the Wrong Places

Scientists have been scanning the radio spectrum for evidence of extraterrestrial life for several decades. But are there other ways that E.T. might try to phone us? Radio is certainly the easiest method to broadcast and receive messages over long distances. But there are much more exotic possibilities,

Friday, May 22, 2015

How I met Wernher von Braun's Bodyguard

During the heyday of the Apollo space program, Wernher von Braun was everywhere -- on the TV coverage of the Apollo missions, in the news magazines -- I even saw him once on a daytime talk show.  He was an all-American hero -- living proof that our German rocket scientists were better than the Russians' German rocket scientists.  Just don't talk about the war...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Life on a Neutron Star

Imagine taking a star and squeezing it into a smaller and smaller space.  The pressure inside the star would fight against this crushing force, but eventually it could no longer resist, and the star would collapse into a gigantic atomic nucleus, called a neutron star.  The gravity on a neutron star is a billion times stronger than on the earth – on a neutron star, you’d weigh one hundred million tons.  Or at least you would until you were squished down into nuclear goo. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Science Quote for the Day

Over the weekend a science kit for my kids mysteriously arrived in the mail. I was asked to "make it work." As a theoretical physicist, I am congenitally incapable of getting any experimental apparatus to perform as it's supposed to, so when I installed the batteries in the battery holder and attached it to the small electric motor, nothing happened. (Yes, I did remember to turn the switch to the "on" position).

Friday, May 15, 2015

Life in the Far Future of the Universe

Could life survive arbitrarily far into the distant future? One hundred trillion years from now, all of the stars will burn out, and the universe will suffer a long, slow decline into darkness. This inevitable decay is predicted by the second law of thermodynamics, which says that entropy always increases.

Entropy is one of those things that everyone talks about, but very few people really understand. Since I don't belong to the latter category, I'll restate the second law in simpler terms:  the second law of thermodynamics is nature's version of the income tax. Whenever you do work, the universe, just like the government, takes a cut.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Baseball and Cosmology: a Story

What do baseball and cosmology have in common? Pretty much nothing, except for the short story I'm posting today in honor of the beginning of the baseball season and Yogi Berra's 90th birthday. Baseball does figure prominently in many memorable science fiction stories -- Steven Silver maintains a list of baseball-themed science fiction at his web site. Some of the links are active so you can pull up the stories.

The story I'm posting here, "Extra Innings," appreared in the November, 2004, issue of Analog. Pete Rose gets a brief mention in the story, and Stan Schmidt, the long-time editor at Analog, wrote back to tell me that he had attended high school with Pete Rose in Cincinnati, and they played softball together during gym class! Apparently Rose was much more serious about the softball games than anybody else. (Whenever I tell that story, the first question somebody asks is, "Was Rose betting on the games?").

There are some interesting scientific issues connected to the cosmology in this story, but I don't want to discuss them here because it would ruin the ending of the story.  I'll talk about the science in my next post.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Retro-nostalgia: Yearning for a Future that Never Came

Regardless of whether my previous post was on the mark or not, there's no denying that many of the exciting things promised by classic science fiction never came to pass. We were promised electricity from nuclear power that would be too cheap to meter -- instead, we got phone calls that are too cheap to meter. We were promised household robots to do our cooking and cleaning -- instead, we got robots making cars. (It's arguable that a dishwasher is a type of household robot, but I want one with arms and legs that talks to me while it's doing dishes). And of course, we haven't colonized the solar system, discovered aliens, or built a decent death ray.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The World of the Future: Has it Already Come and Gone?

Science fiction has promised us a glorious future full of lots of shiny gizmos.  But is it possible that technological progress has stalled?

Consider this:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes and Mass Extinctions

You may already be a winner!

Actually, probably not.  Your chances of winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes in a given year are considerably smaller than the probability that a large meteorite will collide with the earth and kill you and everybody else on the planet. Kind of depressing when you think about it.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Microscopic Humans

In my previous post I looked at giant creatures, but what about the opposite possibility? If insects and reptiles cannot be blown up to monstrous proportions, can people be shrunk to the size of insects? Or even microscopic size?

Friday, May 1, 2015

You Need Not Fear the Giant Ants

Has this ever happened to you?  While you are enjoying a relaxing picnic in the New Mexican desert, your lunch is overrun by ants:  not ordinary ants, but 12-foot-tall behemoths, dripping saliva from their jaws and chittering wildly.  You pull your Browning automatic rifle out from underneath the picnic blanket and empty an entire magazine into the nearest ant, but it doesn’t even flinch.  Instead, it crushes you between its pincers.  Then the ants eat all of your potato salad.