M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Bringer of Light, Chapter 38 (Part 1): United Mars Colonies — Cut the Tether

January 7, 2023
MThomas

This installment is a bit longer than anticipated, so I will cut it into two parts. Metaphorically. Just like the Artemis crew will need to, following their agreement with the Mars colonies faction heads to train the afflicted settlers in controlling their odd new powers and sensations while assisting in distribution of temporary water and food supplies. Only Martin, the former Mars UN Overseer, who thinks he can manipulate the situation, is about to find out things are proceeding far faster than he planned. And Luna Base has a nasty surprise in store for Mars…

The storeroom chambers were nearly full by now. It had taken several days, but at last the food and water brought from Ceres had been stacked neatly, carefully portioned and labelled for each settler division. Orders were sent to each settler node requesting two or three representatives to bring their respective robotic platform dollies to the main supply chamber.

Cooper strolled casually along one earthen wall, rubbing a hand against the soil. He could feel the regolith composite materials, sense the minerals and hydrocarbon content. It would be so easy to extract and solidify what they needed, strengthen the structure. Or dig even deeper below the planet’s surface.

“Here,” Martin said, handing a pad to Cooper. “I’ve authorized the complete list of supplies brought by the Artemis. There’s my thumb verification, at the bottom.”

Cooper accepted the pad. He scrolled up to verify, nodding. “That should do it.”

“Now,” Martin said, addressing both Artemis crew members with him. “I’d like to find out what happened to my security chief, Hamels. She was outside the airlock when you dropped the ditrium on the ice cap.”

“First things first,” Enoch said. “We’d better make sure that the quantum teleportation nodes from Luna are severed.”

“Severed?”

“Yes. Completely.”

Martin turned pale. “That would seem a bit, er, final, wouldn’t it?”

Enoch grinned. “You bet. And necessary. Who knows what might come through the next time the UA turns the system on again?”

“Meaning?”

The geist spread his hands wide and made a booming sound, then laughed. The tall spacer slapped his crewmate on the shoulder, then both laughed hysterically for a moment. Martin stared at them. Cooper couldn’t help doubling over again, holding his stomach.

Continue Reading

“New” rock “found” in Somalia has two (or three) “new” minerals

January 7, 2023
MThomas

Canadian researchers said the rock was found in rural Somalia two years ago, but locals believe it is much older.

They call the stone Nightfall, and say it is documented in poems, songs and dances that stretch back five generations. It is used today to sharpen knives.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-63800879

The “new” rock is apparently a meteorite that fell to Earth at least 100 years ago (or more, depending on how you define a “generation”). The two newly-identified minerals are being called “elaliite” (after El Ali, Somalia) and “elkinstantonite” (after NASA planetary evolutionary expert Lindy Elkins-Tanton).

And there’s still one more as-yet-unidentified mineral in the 70-gram rock fragment at the U of Alberta (the original is about 15 tons, and is reported to be the 9th largest such meteorite to have survived entering the Earth’s atmosphere). These three minerals evidently do not exist naturally on Earth. Makes you wonder how many other such minerals are still floating around in space.

And of course, how they might be used to make incredibly strong yet flexible spacecraft materials. (FWIW NASA was already talking about “new” materials such as carbon nanotubes and self-healing piezoelectronic “skins” some twenty years ago…)

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I have a feeling that a 15-ton rock falling into the desert would have raised all sorts of hell. At least locally. Nothing like a 143,000 ton rock, of course. Is there really no record of this thing falling out of the sky? Maybe it’s time to talk to non-European communities and to take their oral legends a bit more seriously.

The 2022 Year of Space Exploration

January 2, 2023
MThomas

Lots and lots and lots of space stories occurred in 2022.

From DART to Landsat, Sagittarius A* black hole to CAPSTONE, the Korean Pathfinder to SpaceX, and to the ISS, Moon, and Mars, here’s a summary of major space exploration projects last year.

Looking forward to 2023 and beyond!

What does a dust devil on Mars sound like?

December 21, 2022
MThomas

It was “definitely luck” that the dust devil appeared when it did, said the study’s lead author, who estimates there was just a 1-in-200 chance of capturing the audio.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/mars-rover-captures-first-sound-dust-devil-red-planet-rcna61642

Perseverance has been on Mars for almost two years now, and already recorded wind on Mars for the first time in February 2021.

This dust devil was recorded in late September 2021 (wonder why only now it’s being revealed?). The dust devil was “average size,” which is described as about 400 feet / 122 meters tall and 80 feet / 24 meters wide, traveling at 16 feet / 5 meters per second (≈ 11 mph / 18 mph).

UPDATE. NBC incorrectly reported in the above linked article that the dust devil was recorded by Perseverance. It was actually recorded by InSight, which has just fallen silent after four years of operation. Sigh. I should get science news directly from the source and not from unreliable “news” sites.

Click on the link below to hear the dust devil

https://jirafeau.isae-supaero.fr/f.php?h=2JWSkdJR&p=1

There are a lot of dust devils on Mars. A whole lot. Any settlement would have to be extremely prepared to deal with dust all the time, everywhere. If it ever got into equipment that regulated, say, breathable air inside habitats…

From nothing to Mars in 6 years

December 20, 2022
MThomas

In 2020, the UAE’s space agency launched its first Mars mission, less than a decade after it was created. How did they manage it?

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20221206-how-the-uae-got-a-spacecraft-to-mars-on-the-first-try

This is a great story about how true international cooperation rather than competition can result in scientific progress.

Thanks to their efforts, despite nearly being derailed thanks to the pandemic, we will soon have a complete picture of an entire year of Mars weather.

Not bad for a country whose space agency is so small “you could probably lose it in the car park of Nasa’s giant Johnson Space Centre in Houston.”

(Of course, the project’s findings may mean I have to rewrite some of my novel in progress, but why not? All in the name of science fiction…)

ChatGPT: Is this really the “death of the essay”?

December 17, 2022
MThomas

I’ve been testing ChatGPT over the last couple of days. (If you don’t know what this chatbot is, here’s a good NYT article about ChatGPT and others currently in development.)

The avowed purpose of ChatGPT is to create an AI that can create believable dialogues. It does this by scouring the web for data it uses to respond to simple prompts.

By “simple,” I mean sometimes “horribly complicated,” of course. And sometimes a little ridiculous.

Somehow, I doubt that people in the US said “livin’ the dream” in the ’50s…

As has been pointed out, chatbots only generate texts based on what they have been fed, i.e., “garbage in / garbage out.” So if you push the programs hard enough, they will generate racist, sexist, homophobic etc awful stuff — because unfortunately that kind of sick and twisted garbage is still out there, somewhere online in a troll’s paradise.

So far, I have asked the program to:

  1. Write a haiku about winter without using the word “winter”
  2. Write a limerick about an Irish baseball player
  3. Write a dialogue between God and Nietzsche (I just had to…)
  4. Imagine what Jean-Paul Sartre and Immanuel Kant would say to each other (see above) but using US ’50 slang
  5. Have Thomas Aquinas and John Locke argue about the existence of God (that one was fun)
  6. Write a 300 word cause-effect essay about climate change
  7. Write a 300 word compare and contrast essay about the US and Japan
  8. Write a 1000 word short science fiction story based on Mars
  9. Write a 1500 word short science fiction about robots in the style of Philip K Dick

OK, and the verdict is:

Continue Reading

ispace is not “Japan” but “Japanese”

December 16, 2022
MThomas

Mission success would also be a milestone in space cooperation between Japan and the United States…

https://www.yahoo.com/news/japans-ispace-readies-delayed-launch-220204283.html

OK, wait…

A Japanese start-up (I.e., a small private company)…

using a SpaceX rocket (I.e., a private company owned by the world’s wealthiest pri…er, person)…

sends up a small craft made in Germany… 🇩🇪

along with the Rashid rover (made by the UAE)…

and “a two-wheeled, baseball-sized device from Japan’s JAXA space agency”…

and somehow this is cooperation between the US and Japan versus China and Russia?

I’m not seeing it. The project may have used a NASA launchpad, but the people are charge (and the ones paying for it) are not part of any national government.

And I have a feeling this is the wave of the future. More and more private companies will get involved in space projects as they realize that they can thus ignore politics and aim at profits.

I, for one, welcome our future corporate overlords…

Smashwords End of the Year Sale from 12/15 to 1/1!

December 15, 2022
MThomas

“Find my ebooks and a wide collection of great indie titles as part of the Smashwords 2022 End of Year Sale! Check out https://smashwords.com/shelves/promos before the end of the month and follow @smashwords for more promos like this! #SmashwordsEOYSale #ebook #sale #books2read #indiebooks”

(I swiped this from the Smashwords promo site as a “generic blurb.” But what else, really, do I need to write?

All my ebooks on Smashwords are “50%” off! That means the books that are listed as $0.99 are actually free, since they don’t do $0.49.

And don’t forget that all proceeds from Destiny in the Future are donated to fight cancer.

Gift an ebook to friends and family!

Chatbots — Still not AI but still dangerous

December 13, 2022
MThomas

[ChatGPT] could teach his daughter math, science and English, not to mention a few other important lessons. Chief among them: Do not believe everything you are told.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/10/technology/ai-chat-bot-chatgpt.html

They’re all the rage online. Type in a request for a description how two historical people who never actually met would respond to each other had they actually met, and the program will oblige.

They’ll cause all sorts of rage online, too, once the peddlers of incessant false news and innuendo realize what a bonanza they’ve stumbled upon.

You want an image of an event that never really happened?

No problem. A program can generate one for you. We can even call it “art,” for what that’s worth.

No, BIG problem, especially when it convinces the gullible that it DID happen.

2023 will tell 2020 and 2022 to hold its coffee.

Just what we all wanted, right?

Still, chatbots are not (repeat, NOT) true AI. Sorry, Google engineer who watched too much Ghost in the Shell. Chatbots repeat our very human bias. Repeatedly.

As in, there are way too many racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, and transphobic comments online. Full stop.

At a minor level, as a writing instructor, a student telling a chatbot to write a 600-word comparison-contrast essay is the least of my worries.

For starters, the damn things are probably scouring the Internet right now and “learning” from text on web pages like…uh…this one…

😱

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