Thursday, September 16, 2021

Short story – “Shake Things Up”

“Shake Things Up”

John knocked on the open door of Principle Shelia Kubinsky.  She was typing on her laptop and said, “One moment.”

After a few seconds she looked up and John asked, “You wanted to see me, Principle Kubinsky?”

“Yes John,” Shelia said.  “Have a seat.”

Once he sat down, she said, “We’ve received a note about you from a concerned parent.”

John straightened up.  “Oh?”

“Yes.  Did you tell one of your classes that if they studied math and science they could one day build a doomsday weapon, such as an earthquake machine?”

John relaxed and nodded.  “Yes.”

Shelia raised an eyebrow.  “Why?”

“The subject came up.”

Shelia’s eyes narrowed.  “How did such a subject ‘come up?’”

John thought for a moment, then said, “As I recall, it was Monday, just before fourth period.  The bell hadn’t rung yet, and some students were talking about that new movie Shake Down where, apparently, the villain has an earthquake machine.  They asked if something like that was even possible.”

When he didn’t continue, Shelia added, “So you thought it best to tell them that by studying math and science they could one day build such a device?”

“I believe I said ‘physics and engineering,’ but added that it would be a massive undertaking probably exceeding the Manhattan Project.  And then I had to explain the Manhattan Project.”

Shelia nodded.  “I see.  I’ll send an email to the parents.  Hopefully it will clear up any misunderstandings.  Just be careful about discussing doomsday weapons in the classroom.”

“Of course.”

***

I posted this in 2015 on a site that is no longer around, and I figured I should repost it.

When I try to come up with new story ideas for stories, I often let my imagination go off on wild tangents.  One day, such a tangent led to me thinking about earthquake machines.  I liked the idea, but I couldn’t think of a story I could use an earthquake machine in.  But then I came up with this.

Monday, September 13, 2021

9/11 Memories

For the past nineteen years, around the end of August or the beginning of September, I’d get the feeling that I should write a blog about what I did on 9/11.  I think I even started writing one in 2002, but it quickly became weird.  I didn’t know anyone who died that day, I wasn’t anywhere near any of the places attacked; I was just some schmuck who watched it all on TV.  It felt like by writing about my experiences, I was trying to shoehorn my way in to a tragedy I was only a distant spectator of.  Since then, every time I thought about writing a blog about it I’d stop myself because my experiences are only the … 61,567,928th most important of that day.  And that’s an overestimation. 

So why does this blog exist?  Well, 9/11 was a tragic day that changed countless lives, but it’s not something I think about every day.  Time dulls all tragedies.  If I say Pearl Harbor, you – hopefully – know the significance of that event, but it may have been months since the last time you thought of it.  As the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 was coming up, I started thinking more and more of the day, and I realized that my memories had become fuzzy.  As the years pass, my memories will only become fuzzier, so this is more for me to have a clearer record for me to read in ten or twenty years.

A few months before 9/11, I moved to Kennett Square, PA.  It was the other side of the state from where I grew up – and where I live now – but I had gone to college in the area and some of my friends were near there.  My hope was to find a better job than I could find in the middle of nowhere.  I was living off my savings, but my plan for that Tuesday was to go around to see what places were hiring and get some applications to fill out.

For any youngsters reading this, 2001 was before … basically everything you think of as “The Internet.” I had an old laptop for writing, but to check my email, I had to go to the library.  My main source of news was a TV channel called Headline News, which went over the latest headlines every half-hour.  I’d usually watch a bit before I’d go to bed to see the latest national and international news.  And I’d usually watch it while I ate breakfast in case anything happened while I was asleep.

That morning, I turned the news on and went to go to my kitchen.  I saw something about the Twin Towers on fire, and at first I thought it had something to do with the 1993 bombing.  Then I saw “Live” on the screen, and I wondered if someone had bombed it again.  Here’s the first fuzzy part.  I can’t remember what I was doing when the second plane hit.  I’m almost positive that I just missed it, but I can’t remember if I was just flipping through the channels, or if I had just stepped back to the kitchen for something. 

Once it became certain that this wasn’t just a plane crash, I was glued to the TV.  My TV at the time was old, and the remote didn’t have numbers on it.  If I wanted to go from Channel 40 to Channel 20, I had to go through the intervening channels.  I’d watch one news channel for five or ten minutes, then switch to another.  And one of the details of that day burned into my brain, is that I left one channel, and when I arrived at the next one three or four seconds later, the first tower was collapsing.  It started to collapse just as I switched channels.  I left the report of the disaster on one channel, and when I arrived at the next news channel and it was like finding out about this how new disaster, in progress.

Sometime that afternoon, it was reported that President Bush had been flown to some Air Force base.  At the time, I was a member of the Air Force Association.  (I’ve never served in the military, I was just an interested party.) One of the things the AFA does is publish a yearly almanac of everything Air Force: personnel numbers, types of planes, base locations, etc.  So I grabbed my most recent copy, and looked up that Air Force base.  Besides all the information on who was based there and what planes they had, there was the mundane stuff like the address as well as the phone and probably fax numbers.  It was the strangest feeling to know that – during an attack on the country – I could have called the place the President had been, an hour ago. 

Probably just a couple of weeks before, I found out about a poetry group that met each month at a local bookstore.  Their scheduled meeting was that evening, and I had planned to check them out.  I went, in large part, just hoping to be with other people.  But of course the meeting was canceled, so I just wandered around the bookstore for a bit before going back home.  Where I watched the news until 2 or 3 the next morning before finally going to bed.

As I said, I was just a schmuck who watched it on TV.  For what it’s worth, I now have only a slightly fuzzy record of that day.

Monday, August 23, 2021

I think it’s time for a Twenty-First Century economic theory

Roughly speaking, there are two big economic theories in the world today: capitalism and socialism.  A lot of people spend a lot of time talking about the successes and failures of each.  Nobody really cares about my opinion, but it is that both are failing ideologies. 

Now some will be screaming “How has capitalism failed?” Well, let me ask a question.  Let’s say there is a company named WidgetCo that makes widgets.  These widgets are so wondrous that everyone wants one, and WidgetCo makes a lot of money selling them.  But they make their widgets so well that they almost never breakdown, and soon everyone who wants a widget has one, and WidgetCo goes out of business, leaving room for DoohickeyCo to enter the market with their groundbreaking doohickey.  Now, in the ideal of Capital C Capitalism, is WidgetCo a success?  I’d say yes.  They made a healthy profit off their widgets, how is that a failure?  But is that how things work in the real world?  In the real world, WidgetCo would make less quality widgets that breakdown, and then they’d stop making parts, or stop giving tech support, all to force people into buying the – basically the same but with some cosmetic changes – Widget2.  Then, since they have all the money, they corner the market on thingumabobs to prevent DoohickeyCo from making their doohickeys.  Is that the ideal of capitalism?  I’d say that’s more Capital G Capitalism (for greed).  An argument I’ve had for why the current system isn’t the greatest is that I never realized the point of capitalism was to create a plutocracy. 

Now, since I’ve had some valid criticism of capitalism as practiced, some will just yell, “That’s just because you’re a dirty socialist.” Wouldn’t those people be surprised to learn that I think socialism is failing as well.  I think Capital S Socialism is pretty good.  The problem comes with the implementation.  Say you start with the radical socialist idea that nobody should starve.  So you start with all the numbers from 2015, of where the people are, where the food is grown, how it’s transported and distributed, etc.  You crunch all the numbers and run simulations, and by 2017 you have the perfect system … on paper.  You then need to actually put it into place, which miraculously only takes until 2019.  But the end result is that in 2019 you have the perfect system in place to feed everyone … in 2015.  And then 2020 happens.  I think a lot of the horror stories told of socialism are a result, not of Capital S Socialism, but Capital B Socialism, for bureaucracy.  Just as with power WidgetCo can turn monopolistic, any socialist system can turn bureaucratic and then be unable – or unwilling – to change when the situation changes.

Here’s an idea for a better world.  Everyone gets 1000 Credits a month.  One bedroom apartments are capped at 500 Credits a month, and a month’s worth of groceries can be 100 Credits, if you get the generic cereal, for example.  Basic and emergency medical care is covered, but a lot of elective stuff isn’t.  To pay for all of this free stuff, all able people have to do X hours of community service each year.  You could either work for a few hours a week, or eight hours a day for a couple of weeks in January and be good for the year.  If you want a bigger apartment, or a car, or whatever, you need to get a job to earn extra money.  Some will cry that people need to contribute to society and they’ll point to some kid playing video games and just call them a slacker.  I wonder what those people think of these assholes who play golf all the time while the money their parents made makes more money.  Are they contributing to society?

I think my better world idea would be great.  I have no idea how such a system would be implemented, and know it would probably only work for a decade or two before technological advance would crack it apart.  It’s only a matter of time before autonomous vehicles will drive around checking for potholes.  When a pothole is detected, another autonomous vehicle will show up, block off traffic, and fix it.  And these autonomous vehicles will be built in automated factories, which will be supplied from automated mines.  In this system, does someone need to own all these vehicles?  Would will still need to pay taxes to pay for this system?  And this won’t just be for roads.  There will be robots building solar power stations, houses, picking food, transporting it all, etc. 

Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, died in 1790.  Karl Marx, often seen as the socialist poster boy, died in 1883.  Even if you think their ideas were perfect – they weren’t – they were Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century ideas.  We live in the Twenty-first.  Shouldn’t there be a new economic system that takes automation and bitcoin into account?  It doesn’t even have to be completely new.  I’d say this new system should be about 40% Capital S Socialism, 30% Capital C Capitalism, and 30% something new.  What do you think?

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Short story – “Good for the Goose”

“Good for the Goose”

There was a soft knock at Matt’s front door exactly at 9:17 AM, the time listed on his notice.  Regardless of everything else, at least the overlords were punctual.  Matt squared his shoulders and opened the door.  An A-H stood on his porch.

Humanity’s first knowledge that they were not alone in the universe came when a billion Artificial-Humans appeared all over the world along with hundreds of giant spaceships.  It was also the sign that Humanity had been defeated in its first interstellar war.  The new masters of Earth – the Followers of the All – created the A-Hs to keep their new subjects in line.  They were of basic human shape with pale blue skin and deep green eyes.  All were bald and they wore no clothing, revealing no gender.

Without invitation, the A-H walked in to Matt’s living room.  It stopped before a large pile of books and various odds and ends in the middle of the floor.  In a soft tenor voice it asked, “Are these all of the forbidden items in your home?”

Looking at his feet, Matt mumbled, “Yes.”

Forbidden items.  At first many cheered the aliens for achieving world peace in a matter of hours.  Every ICBM, warship, tank, jet and gun from every military and terrorist group in the world was collected by the motherships using some energy field and returned as blocks of steel and other metals, “to be used for better purposes.”

But the cheering did not last long.  Any false religion – or product of false religion – was abhorrent to the Followers of the All.  Once they were done with the world’s militaries, the motherships began leveling every synagogue, church, mosque, and temple in the world.  The Kaaba, St. Peter’s Basilica, Ise JingÅ«, and Swaminarayan Akshardham, all were reduced to parking lots.  Historical structures were not spared either; Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, and the Moai of Easter Island were reduced to stones.  Even the evidence that it was an ancient observatory did not save Stonehenge. 

Once the motherships took care of the big things, the A-Hs were turned loose upon the people.  Lists of forbidden items appeared in every home.  On the list were: guns, pocket knives, decorative swords, any toys of a military nature, all meat products (since the Followers of the All were strict vegans, their subjects would be as well) and all books and movies concerning false religions or anything mystical.  This included the Bible, the Koran, Dianetics, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars.  Even The Godfather because it, “invoked a false name of the All.”

While Matt agreed the world would be better off without violet videogames and pornography – over the years he had signed numerous petitions to that effect and donated to politicians promising to curb these destructive elements – he couldn’t see the threat of angel hair pasta. 

The A-H raised its hand and a blue-green energy beam shot out from it.  The forbidden items glowed for a second then vanished.  Turning towards Matt, the A-H held out a small, black, hexagon wafer.  “You are credited with 13.7 Krells.”

Matt took the wafer and mumbled, “Thank you.”

Without reply, the A-H left.

For several moments, Matt stood with his eyes closed.  Finally, he opened his eyes and looked around at his empty bookshelves.  He had tried to be strong, but now he fell to his knees and sobbed.

***

I first posted this story in 2008 on MySpace.  In 2014, I reposted it on a site that went belly up a year or so later.  I then reposted it in 2018 on a site that – I think – is still around, but I think my profile has probably been deleted because I haven’t signed in in three years.  So hopefully this story will stay around for some time now.

There is a long history of groups of people trying to impose their religious beliefs on others, and I thought it only seemed fair if they had other beliefs imposed on them.  Of course, in any conflict – be in militarily or culturally – there are innocent bystanders.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Random Story – The headless gnome

This is just an odd little story from my life.

About twenty years ago, I worked the midnight shift at a convenience store.  The store was five or six blocks from my apartment, and to save money on gas and just to get out, I used to walk to work.  One night while I was going to work, something in the shadows of a bank parking lot caught my eye.  I looked at it, but I did not know what it was.  The first description that came to mind was a headless gnome.  It looked like a little torso – a couple inches high – with short legs that was walking towards me.

I don’t believe in ghosts, or goblins, or anything like that.  But for a second or two, I could not identify what this thing was, and I was just ….

It was a cat.  It was dark grey/black and in the streetlight shadows blended in perfectly to the parking lot pavement.  It had a white spot on its chest, which ran down its front legs.  With the rest of the cat blending into the background, this white spot looked like a headless torso walking towards me on stubby legs.

Once I saw the cat, I burst out laughing.  I’m pretty sure I doubled over, and couldn’t collect myself for a minute or two. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Register to vote, check your voting status

I’m sure you’re sick and tired of hearing about politics.  But things are not fixed.  In fact, there is no end goal in politics because there will always be new problems that need solutions.  And while the 2020 Elections were the most important American Elections this century – so far – we can’t really say they are over.  With the fate of the Senate and the House up for grabs next year, you could call the 2022 Elections the 2020 Election Part B.  And then there’s the 2024 Election. 

Normally, I’d say that we deserve a break from politics, especially after the totality of 2020.  But there is a tyrannical element that thinks that they lost in 2020, not because the voters rejected their ideas, but because there were too many voters.  They will use every legal – and even illegal – trick in the book to make it harder for people to vote in upcoming elections. 

Right now, one of the best ways for you to counter this is to register to vote if you’ve just turned eighteen, or if you’ve never bothered to register before.  To have any say in what the government does you have to vote, and before you can vote you have to register.  Information for this should be on your state’s website. 

Even if you are registered, you should still periodically check your status.  Some states have a place on their websites to let you check, but other states make it a little harder.  The reason you need to check, is that while voter rolls need to be updated because people move or die, too often actual voters are “accidentally” removed.  The sooner these “mistakes” can be found, the sooner they can be fixed.

I know we all need a break from politics, but right now there are people working to muffle the voice of the people in favor of certain interests.  And they won’t rest.

Monday, July 26, 2021

What I would do if I ruled space

What I mean by ruling space is if I had control over all space activities: NASA, the China National Space Administration, SpaceX, etc. all had to do my bidding.  If it goes into space – be it a military satellite, a science mission to the outer solar system, or scientists doing experiments on a space station – I have the final say.  If I – somehow – had that power, this is what I’d do.

One of the first things I’d do would be to have a review of all rockets.  To be blunt, not all rockets are equal.  This review would weed out the not so good ones.  Any rockets that release massive death clouds of toxic fumes if they fail will be phased out.  The remaining rockets would be ranked on things like: reliability, cost, launch rate, etc.  The idea would not be to cut things down to one or two rockets.  That’s a bad idea.  I’d say more like twenty or so, with different fuels and launch capacities. 

Some nations want to have their own rockets for national pride.  And that’s great and all, but is it really best to spend billions of dollars to reinvent the rocket when – if there is some power that lets you do this – you could spend a fraction of that to launch your payloads on already existing rockets?

I might also start work on a universal rocket.  Basically, this would be a set design that could be built in four or five factories in various countries around the world close to a launch pad.  This would make it easier for customers because they’d know exactly what they need to do for their satellites.  And then they’d just have to get it to whatever launch pad works best for whatever orbit they want.

Now that I have the rockets sorted out, where will people be going?  My first idea is to have several new space stations.  These would probably be of an expandable module type, and would be larger than the current ISS, with a crew of, probably ten.  They would be specialized, one for biomedical, one for material sciences, one for little bit of everything.  My idea is these would have a “home port” which would be the primary launch site for crew and supplies.  So if you were doing research on the biomedical station, you’d launch from Florida, but if you were doing materials research, you’d launch from a Chinese spaceport. 

There would also be orbital hotels, brothels, retirement homes, etc.  I’m sure there are plenty of ideas for zero-g sports, some of which might actually be fun, so there will be stadiums.  Once we get lots of people into orbit, there’s no telling what will be needed or developed.

I’d also work on stations in lunar orbit.  These would be part of my return to the moon to stay plan, which I think would be my main space focus.  The point would be to have multiple research stations across the lunar surface studying the moon itself as well as how best to live there.  That knowledge would led to larger bases and eventually cities.  The idea from the start would be for the moon to eventually become an independent nation(s).

And what of Mars?  I support the scientific exploration of Mars, but I don’t think we are ready for a crewed Mars mission.  When we can go for a couple of years with a self-sustaining life support system on a space station, then I’ll feel more comfortable.  And when we do get to Mars, I just see research stations, not cities.  I don’t buy into the whole we need to colonize Mars thing.  (See my book The Moon Before Mars: Why returning to the moon makes more sense than rushing off to Mars for more details.) 

As to robotic missions, I think we should have orbiters around every planet, dwarf planet, major satellite, and big asteroid.  If there’s a surface a rover can survive on, there should be dozens of rovers.  There should also be missions to comets, interstellar objects, interstellar space itself.  And there should be dozens of telescopes for every wavelength, from gamma rays to radio waves. 

As ruler of space, I would do everything I could to get humanity the knowledge it needs to fully become a spacefaring civilization.  I think that would be the best thing anyone could do.  What would you do if you ruled space?