Sunday, January 10, 2016

Happy 10th day of 2016

Where does time go? I don't know, but I wish I had a better handle some days.

In update news: We drove back from Colorado/Wyoming/Kansas after a decently nice vacation. Mostly quiet, as per usual with our families, so I am only recovering from the drive and not the vacation too. We also went to Fredericksburg to pick up a bed frame, and then Jessie promptly and spectacularly made a box spring for our mattress. It is much softer now that the mattress is up off the floor, so I will need to adjust to it.

In slightly less domestic news: My brother and his team, Mind and Iron, welcomed me to their team to do image work, mostly teaching their robot for the NASA challenge to see and recognise the samples. It will be enjoyable work as I have some  background already, and Andy took a few hundred sample pictures for me.

I also signed up for AI, CS 6601, this semester. They expect 9 hours of work a week, I will need to plan for 12 on normal weeks, and of course it starts tomorrow. However much work it is, I still think I am going to enjoy it very much, and as I took its not-for-credit predecessor a few years back I think I could possibly scale back the time. So 6-12 hours a week?

I am also slowly editing/rewriting/adding to my novel that I wrote 50k words for in November. I plan to get Jessie the first chapter here this week or coming weekend and give her a red pen with a very large ink well. Hopefully I can get an average of six hours a week into editing the story. The working title right now is "Halver." It's a slang term for someone split between the two worlds that exist in the future.

But again it is all math. 40 hours of work, 6-12 of class, 6 of editing, and unknown amount to get the machine learning started. And those are just some commitments. The major commitment to my wife will of course need to be carefully balanced against nearly 64 hours total. It will certainly be an interesting semester/spring. What are you up to?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Space Jellies

“I can just see it now, first alien species discovered. We’ll be famous!” Yasir stood up from his station, arms waving in early celebration.
“Shut up and monitor them. We need to start getting behaviors. Also I would rather not attract their attention. Keep the active sensors off Yasir.” Roger focused on the orbital charts.
“Alright, but really we should celebrate.” Yasir grumbled and sat back in his chair.
“Yeah, later.” Roger growled. For a few minutes the three crew members on the exploration vessel focused on their tasks.
“Look at them, floating in space. They look like jellyfish, maybe space jellies...” Yasir tried to describe them.
“Yasir,” Jane looked over her shoulder from her station and gave him a warning head shake. Roger was studiously ignoring them.
A few more minutes passed. Roger grunted, “Hmm. Looks like they are tacking against the solar wind toward that asteroid field. Unusually dense.” As the pilot, that was saying something; usually only rings around planets gave the small ship any navigational issues, but this was at a trojan point trailing a rather large gas giant. “Zoom in as far as you can Yasir, and send us the views.”
“Sure.” Yasir already had zoomed in as far as he could with one telescope, but Roger rolled the ship just enough to bring both the dorsal and ventral telescopes to bear. Using the telescopes in conjunction meant the computers could interpolate more detail, making the two telescopes act like a larger one.
All three were riveted to the view. About twenty of the massive jellies were circling a section of the cluster, well sphering, but that isn’t really a verb. Yasir watched as jets of matter puffed out from the giants, maneuvering them between the much smaller asteroids. One shot forward through a gap and sent a tendril of gossamer out to a particularly rough rock. But rather than pulling the whole thing to itself a chunk flaked off. Interest turned to confusion as the flake of asteroid developed two bright blue points of light.
“Ion engine signature detected,” intoned the ship’s computer.
They sat for a few moments in shock.
“That’s a ship.” Jane’s voice trailed off.
Roger started to curse with less reserve than normal. His hands flew over controls.
“Rog, three of them see us.” Jane recovered. “They are accelerating for us. Contact in five minutes.”
“I’m going. How’d they see us? Yasir?” Another string of invectives quickly followed.
“I don’t know.” Yasir watched in horror as the one that had caught the ship ingested it and began to process it. First the bright pinpricks of blue died. Pieces started to peel off the ship. Gases started escaping, but they didn’t spread out like in vacuum, but rather bubbled as though inside a viscous fluid. Finally the ship cracked in half. Yasir turned off his screen, too horrified to keep watching.
Jane and Yasir looked at each other as Roger turned the ship and started to accelerate away. She turned back to her station to figure out what was happening. Yasir didn’t really want to turn back to his station.
“At our current rate of acceleration they will catch us in six minutes. How far until we reach the trans-point?” Jane asked.
“Six minutes twenty seconds.”
“Can we give it any more power?” Jane’s desperation started to show through her schooled demeanor.
“Nope, we can’t, our ion spikes are already at max capacity.”
“Twenty percent above recommended, it’s more due to frequency at that point. We’ll hit a third of c right before the trans-point.”
“Are we going to make it?” Yasir asked. Both of his seniors turned to stare at him.
“Not by the numbers.” Somehow Roger’s demeanor was morphing into an oddly jovial one.
“What if we lose some mass?” Yasir tried not to bounce.
“It won’t be enough to make a twenty second difference.” Roger smiled. Yasir didn’t like that smile, it seemed a bit careless in their situation.
“But it might distract them.” Yasir countered.
“He’s got a point Rog. But what can we space?” Jane looked hopeful.
“We could ditch our spare air. Hopefully the recycler won’t cut out on us.”
Jane looked a bit concerned. “What if we spaced half?”
“Half measures so we won’t be eaten? Might as well give them the back half the ship.” Roger waved his hand and laughed.
“Roger,” She almost never used his whole name, working together for ten years called for some familiarity. Yasir wondered if they had ever been in such a dire situation before.
“Alright, let’s keep one of the twelve.” He gestured in a placating manner, hands out. “We are still about ten transits from an inhabited system. If something goes wrong six won’t really do us any more good. One will still work with the suit recyclers though.”
“Let’s start rolling them out.”
The three hurried out of the small bridge and went ten meters back to where engineering started.
A few minutes of lifting the heavy cylinders into the airlock and they were ready to go.
“What about one of the emergency pods?” Yasir asked.
“Might as well. Go forward and launch one. Not both.” Roger turned back to the airlock control.
Yasir sprinted back up the short length of the ship and stood at one of the pod chutes right behind the bridge and in front of the small quarters. He knew the procedure well enough, but in this situation he wasn’t sure how he was going to launch it without being in the pod himself.
He yelled down the length. “I have a problem.” His com blinked on his wrist. Oh yeah.
“Yes?” Roger asked.
“How will I launch this without getting inside?”
“The panel with the red line around it. Lift that. There will be manual overrides. We’ll be right up, just one more thing to space.”
Yasir flipped back the panel and saw a long red handle. “Manual launch. Only use as last resort.” The warning message made him shiver. Who would stay behind if one of the three of them had to launch the other pod manually? He pried the handle out of a clasp and started to pull on it. The first few inches were almost too easy. Red and white doors started to slide closed in front of the entrance to the pod.
But then he encountered a huge amount of resistance. After straining and pulling he put his feet up on the bulkhead and braced to pull sideways. The resistance gave way and he found himself swinging from the bar, feet coming off the bulkhead. His knees landed with a loud noise on the deck. Fortunately there was another spot of resistance, otherwise Yasir would have crashed himself against the oncoming bulkhead.
“Good job Yasir.” Roger never gave complements. Maybe it was sarcasm?
“Just need to get it a few more inches. Let me help you.” The two of them pushed it into another clasp. The red and white passage doors denoting that the pod was used closed with a click. The ship juddered as the pod launched.
“Let’s get up there and see what they do.” Jane came up behind them.
They entered the cockpit and took their respective seats. Yasir turned on the screens at his station again.
“Two are peeling off,” reported Jane, “but that big one didn’t take the bait.”
“Hopefully we can transition before we lose anything important.” Roger was almost maniacally happy.
They all sat in tense anticipation, waiting for an imagined but very close doom.
“It’s in range.” A massive spasm ran through the length of the ship. “It didn’t hit too hard. No damage.”
“It’s pulling us in.” Yasir shuddered.
“Trans-point in ten seconds. Please prepare for transition.” The calm tone from the ship’s computer barely registered.
“We are inside, telescopes obscured.” Yasir muttered.
“Transition.” Yasir never liked transitions before, they always made his head ache and his stomach twist. This time he was anticipating it joyfully because the discomfort told him the happy news.
“Whoa. Look at that.” Jane sent a screen around showing an trailing cloud of debris. As the alien’s goo sloughed off of the hull it crossed the realspace bubble into subspace and dissociated into component atoms becoming rainbow colors on the subspace sensor.
“Now, Yasir, we can celebrate.” Roger seemed a bit more dour.
“I think I’m good.” Close calls didn’t sit well with Yasir’s stomach.
“But we discovered two alien species in a single day!” Roger said it with a straight face, much less scary than his smile.
“Two?” Both Jane and Yasir asked in unison.
“Yep, that other ship wasn’t human, or at least nothing I’ve seen before.”
“Yeah, but they have a bug problem.” Jane shook her head. “How will they escape?”
“I don’t know. But what I do know is that we need to get back home after all those supplies we pushed out.”
“Yep, it’s going to be tight.” Jane agreed.
“I thought we only need to worry if we start leaking air.” Yasir stared at Roger.
“We also spaced about a month’s worth of rations. We’ve got about ten days of food for a nine day trip. Not much of a margin of error.”
“Ah.” Of course Yasir didn’t feel like eating right at the moment, but packaged food was certainly better than the recycler’s version.
The ship made it back to Earth’s system a few hours ahead of schedule. All the slime had sublimated away before doing serious damage, but one thing still stuck to the hull. None of the ship’s sensors detected any anomalies as it detached itself just as the sun’s strength reached the right parameters. The clear melon-sized envelope expelled a bit of mass, stabilizing its orbit.

And just for fun here are the Slow Mo Guys with Jelly Tennis.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars Review

Disclaimer: Reading the following will most certainly SPOIL certain plot elements or SPOIL your excitement to see the movie. SPOILERS ahead.

This movie goes loosely into my category where the Hobbit movies are, however, I was hoping that it might be a bit closer to the extended cannon. So I broke my general rule of lowered expectations for a better movie experience and had the reason why I hav my rule reinforced. I loved it and I hated it. Let's get the love part out of the way because it is much shorter:

Diversity of cast: excellent. Just the ships, the planets, and all but the desert scenes: awesome. Orange Yoda: necessary and pretty interesting, but this starts getting into the negative part of this whole thing. The story telling: if I hadn't seen episodes I and IV I would be enthralled and would have missed many of the weird plot holes and conveniences.

Alright, here we go down the rabbit hole of negativity. If you end up going to the dark side just because you hate me after this, well you might already be there.

First, the plot: Are you kidding me? Same exact story as much of the rest of the franchise, including a desert world, though this time Tatooine has a different name, but it seems to have less important cities, but the same terrain features and much more imperial interest at one point. No explanation why anybody cares so much about Jakku that the old empire ditched star destroyers on the planet surface. To have wreckage on the surface they must have been fighting in decaying orbits or even sub-orbital, but why would they be fighting over Jakku that close in the first place? Maybe they knew that someone would need some major obstacles to scavenge and then fly around. Or maybe ill-maintained ship breaker yards?

Also with all that imperial hardware on the ground maybe our force sensitive Rey may have come across a hidden stash of sith holocrons... Conclusion: imagery great, convenience too great.

Although BB-8 is somehow a cuter version of R2-D2, I have a problem with his physics, but I will leave that at that, though I would be glad to discuss it. Also a paint job that can stand up to a world full of abrasives and abuse by starship would be well worth looking into.

What is with the Orange Yoda? Maz is certainly one of my more favorite characters in the movie, however, she feels like a direct replacement for Yoda, a sort of under-powered orange version. I think a sister duet could have taken the obviousness out of such a direct replacement, but that probably would have taxed the already over taxed CG crew. And if she was my favorite character, what does that say about the rest of the movie?

But here are many major questions. What happened to the Yuzon Vong invasion? What happened to Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin Solo? Ben Skywalker? Basically all the cannon was thrown out. Bring back Chewie, kill Han. What? For as meticulous as Lucas was about cannon it seems that Disney just threw away everything. Ugh.

So as much as it is a fantasy in guise of a sci-fi flick I was hoping for a story fit into the existing universe. A universe, despite its magic, that is large and involved, a universe people have imagined for millions of hours, fitting events, characters, and technology together. A universe that has sabotaged many of my writing attempts because I feel the need to give everything technical specs and fill in back-stories to the point of overkill. I guess what really drew me to it was the amazing collaboration into one universe.

If you noticed I called it a fantasy, it has been called a space opera, and it might have been better as an opera in three acts. But it is a fantasy and I will be reading Star Wars on Trial after this disappointing repeat of a movie. It will hopefully help to lower my expectations and be able to concentrate more on my own universes.

I mostly stayed away from reading fantasy recently on David Brin's suggestion that we really need more forward facing literature. Although it is fun to indulge in well written fantasy it is too often looking back and not forward. But if you know me I do fencing, archery, and longsword, so how can I not be steeped in this stuff?

Well if you saw the scenes that passed for sword fighting in the movie, there are many authors and choreographers who know little to nothing about sword fights. Maybe we can learn from this article by John Clements? Of course the movie had two novices picking up a lightsaber for the first time, but what really disappoints me is that Kylo Ren wasn't any better, probably something to do with being injured? Still I guess they couldn't just kill the main characters in the first installment.

Enough. I will see the next one barring cancellation, however unlikely for either of us, with much lower expectations. Maybe I will write more about this later.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Course Correction

“Course correction filed. Target centered. Time to transition, five minutes thirty-four seconds.” The light synthetic voice droned, obviously bored with simple things, but it took an edge that Jordan didn’t like, “Captain,” A word without much of the tonality it should have, “The problem with subspace disk four seems to increasing. I would suggest that we don’t use it as it may interfere with the more stable bubbles generated by the other three.”
Jordan couldn’t decide if it was good or bad to have an AI that was worried about their welfare. Mostly good, but they really needed to make this run as quickly as possible. “What alternatives do we have?”
“The first, and only real alternative is to leave the disk out of the jumps, of course we will have to course correct again and make a slightly shorter hop for Proxima Centauri in order not to risk a long burn on the other side.” Of course, the disks were what kept them together in subspace, protecting them from the different physics existent in the parallel universe. The disks also kept them from floating up out of subspace in some unknown part of their own universe, like anchors or down planes.
“Any other options? How bad could the interference be? You know they have an inverse payscale, the longer it takes, the less money we get and the less likely it is that I can get that repaired.” Hauling zettabytes of data was the high-tech way between systems paid well. With exclusionary pricing on data via quantum entanglement an industry of a sneakernet spaceships making jumps several times a day between systems.
“Based on rough models,” That phrase sent chills through his spine, all too often those models were spot on, it must have been a colloquialism that the ship’s computer acquired from the previous owners, a cantankerous elderly couple that had been wandering the stars for nearly eighty years. “The interference would certainly take out the number two disk and possibly the number one disk which would roughly halve or quarter our distance.”
“Oh.” If you were going five light years you really wanted to arrive in a spot that wasn’t too far away. The three standard hours it would take to get to the Sol system would turn into years of relying on the standard ion-spike drives and hoping none of the recyclers brokedown. And there was that whole time dilation thing too. All in all, not something you really wanted to risk hopping between stars. “Turn it off. Correct our course again.”
“Course correction filed.” The stars swept from left to right. “Target centered. acceleration time: twenty seconds. Time to transition: two minutes eight seconds.”
“Carry on, Jean.” Jordan put his feet up and reached for the first edition Asimov, quite a rare find, maybe he should replace the disk next time.