Archive for the ‘forms of communication’ Tag

Babylon Connection   Leave a comment

Babylon Jupiter Tablet

Credit: Trustees of the British Museum/Mathieu Ossendrijver; NASA (both as shown in the New York Times)

Today I read in the New York Times an article about ancient Babylonians tracking the movement of Jupiter. It’s a remarkable discovery because the tablets dating from 350 BC to 50 BC (above is an example) revealed sophisticated mathematical equations comparing the motion of Jupiter across the sky. Cuneiform pressed into clay tablets detailed a graph which calculated the velocity of Jupiter’s travels in a given time. It was originally thought that this sort of calculus was first used in the Middle Ages.


Babylonians called Jupiter Marduk, the god of water, vegetation, judgement and magic. If you think about it, all four of those things might have been intensely important to a city-state. The fortunes of any population depend upon its ability to feed itself, and during dry times Marduk’s powers might have been called upon ensure the Tigris and the Euphrates kept flowing. Otherwise, without growing crops, it might have taken a bit of magic to keep the peace, and judgement must have come swiftly if Babylon’s citizens acted in a way not befitting of its patron god.

Marduk, I’ll have you know, didn’t come by his godship easily. It’s a bit obscure how he came into being as a mythological entity and it seems he went by 50 other names. During a civil war between the gods, Marduk, as a young god, offered his services to the Anunnaki gods, telling them he’d defeat the other warring gods and bring order. In return, they’d make Marduk the head god. Arming himself with all the elements and forces of nature, Marduk emerged victorious and took his rightful place as the one all others showed deference.

Somewhere in here’s a great story waiting to be written. No, not the trope where the ancient tablet is picked up by some unsuspecting archeologist or museum security guard and all hell (literally) breaks loose. Here’s my idea:

These hunks of clay talk to people via an ancient language known only to a few. An elderly professor, trying to prove he’s still relevant, goes into a collection and uncovers a cuneiform tablet no larger than a slice of stale bread. He’s seen it thousands of times, but realizes it’s been misinterpreted. A chip off of a corner, missing for years, turns up and changes the entire meaning of the message. It’s a message from Marduk himself, who foresees a wonderful vision that will only arise under exact circumstances. The elderly professor tries to show his revelation to the department dean, who dismisses him and accuses him of dementia-related hallucinations. Another professor, also getting along in years, is the only person who believes him. Trouble is, this person is on the other side of the globe and speaks another language. The two can only communicate, it turns out, in cuneiform symbol script. Both have age-related illnesses and it’s only a matter of time the two of them work together to solve the problem and bring the prophecy to life.

Will they?


Ham Radio and the International Space Station   Leave a comment


Credit: 15 December 2015 File Photo

Sure, everyone’s done it. You pick up the phone, take a quick glance at a number you’ve never seen before and dialed it. A voice connects at the other end and it sure sounds unfamiliar. Still, you ask for the person you intended to reach, hoping a friend or a wife or a kid answered the phone. And no, they’re not there because you’ve dialed the wrong number.

No biggie. It happens.

Except when that wrong number happens to originate from the International Space Station.

British astronaut Tim Peake mistakenly called someone and later tweeted about his wrong attempt and apology. I’m sure the person at the other end thought it was a bunch of bored kids pranking and though little of it until the story broke in the news. It just goes to show you that no matter who and where you are, accidents happen, even at the ISS.

But here’s something: do you know that anyone can contact the ISS? That’s right. If you’re a licensed ham radio operator, you have an opportunity to contact the ISS when it’s above your neck of the woods.

Last summer, Adrian Lane contacted the ISS while it flew over Britain. After sending out a call signal, Lane’s signal was received. He and an American astronaut spoke for about 45 seconds before contact was broken.

As it turns out, there are three ham radios aboard the ISS: an Ericsson MP-X handheld radio, a Kenwood TM D700 and a Kenwood D710.

John Phillips and Ham Radio

Credit: NASA – John Phillips at an ISS Ham Radio 

Obviously, their frequencies operates on different ones than Houston. Its purpose is exactly the same as Adrian Lane discovered – as a means of public education. Schools, for example, reach out to the inhabitants of the ISS to ask questions.

When astronauts have free time, they choose to make random, unschedule contact with whomever is choosing to reach them. Though their work schedules dictate their availability, an astronaut’s waking period is weekdays between 7:30 am – 7:30 pm UTC during the week, which means during that time they’re generally working. However, at either end of that schedule they might be available, as well as weekends, when more free time is also available.

Crews don’t scan but switch between frequencies, depending upon their location. Since the ISS travels rapidly, a person only has about 45 seconds worth of contact time.

If you are interested in contacting the ISS, visit this excellent website hosted by Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). It details location prediction maps, frequencies, and everything else you’ll need to set up contact and once you do, how to receive a QSL card to prove it! And though it’s entirely random, you might just get lucky like Adrian Lane.



To Serve You Better   Leave a comment


If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you about our service…

What is it these days with businesses wanting to know how they’re doing? No matter where you go, who you see, what form you fill in or school you attend, there’s always some nosy person sticking a form or link in your face, begging to ask how things went, what they did right, wrong, fair-to-middling, or other such intrusive questions that you really don’t think hard and long enough to answer.

Take the other day, for instance. I had to go to the doctor. Nothing fancy, just a routine body inspection to make sure the organs weren’t grinding and bits weren’t falling off. Even got my arm stuck with a flu shot. Afterwards, I’m handed a clipboard. “Could you please fill this out?” says the nurse. “They want all of our patients to, nowadays. You know, to rate the service.”

I nod and smile, believing this is my opportunity to explode about my 3:15 appointment actually occurring at 4:10. That’d be admitting failure and besides, they already know they’d be inviting a lot more than negative responses. And it isn’t enough that patients have to fill out a lengthy questionnaire about the myriad of ailments you didn’t have, might have had or just plain had (aren’t they supposed to know this already?). They’d like to drain whatever we’ve got left in our pocket-protected pens and finish off our opinions of what was supposed to be an already lengthy process to begin with (let’s face it: NO ONE goes to the doctor believing they’re going to be in there for any less than two hours).

Then there’s the oil change I had the other day. What’s so mind blowing about a routine procedure for your car? Apparently, the place where I took it wants to know what they could do better. I really have no idea – change the little reminder sticker to a “Hello, Kitty” stick-on that blankly stares at you to take your Chevy in at 48,000? That questionnaire came in the form of a request. “If you don’t mind, could you take five minutes and go to our website and rate our service? It’ll take less than five minutes.” Having other things to do, I simply didn’t get around to it. Today, I received a phone call on both my land line and cell reminding me to do fill in that questionnaire so they can serve me better. To really get me in trouble, they called my husband’s cell, too. I guess they think a woman isn’t capable of knowing harassment when she sees it.

Amazon’s great for relentless pressure to rate your product, too. Sure, it’s terrific for books and larger items, like washer-dryers. But do I really need to review the rubber wristband for my kid’s watch? He’s going to break it anyway in about two days, and I only ordered it because I got a few CDs and it was convenient. Yeah, I get them too from every single online order I get – shows up in my mailbox that’s devoted exclusively to receiving quasi-necessary but easily forgotten emails.

Gas stations, chain restaurants, clothes stores, the babysitter…all of them need to know what I think about them. Is self-esteem in that short of supply these days? Do we really need to be patted on the back or smacked in the face? Why?

Of course, we all know the answer: Leave. Me. Alone. 

The truth is, if someone’s doing a good job, they should be told about it. Praised, even. Same goes for bad work – boy, they ought to hear about it. Voluntarily. But why go asking and asking and asking? Yeah, sure, they’re going to tell you it’s all about providing you with better service. But does it really? I haven’t noticed anyone rushing to get my doctor to see me any faster. My oil change predictably gets changed every 3000 miles and the car still runs just fine. My life hasn’t been altered because of any basic, essential or throwaway service I’ve received anywhere, and that’s including the places where I actually did fill in the survey.

Tell you what. I’d love to write a short story on the person who’s filled out one too many surveys. Imagine a corporate hack processing all of these forms. He gets that one-off where the questionee provides blunt, tasteless answers. The hack checks out the person and winds up in some kind of cyber netherworld wherein he desperately tries to fulfill requests and never, ever gets it straight. Or the woman who answers a request with snarky comments. She trips down a portal and every snippety comment she makes comes back to bite her. What kind of world would those people inhabit? Or take the classic stoning scene from Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Instead of stones, the woman has thousands of anonymous hands shoving questionnaires in her face. Her inability to gauge billions of satisfying or unsettling performances, accompanied by a pen with a very short supply of ink, causes her hand to tremor, leading to an exploding brain and quite messy demise.

Now imagine you. There you are, paying the tab at Blammo Burger, when the chipper, youthful customer service assistant asks you if that cheese-onion-sausage-kale-acai-pilchard beef burger met your definition of yummy. How you gonna respond?

Thought so.

Newspapers: Fodder for Sci-Fi Inspiration   Leave a comment


I’ve been glancing through the headlines, as most of you do, I’m sure, to not only figure out what’s going on in this world but perhaps troll up some fodder for fiction.  When I’m stuck or need a break, I put down the project at hand, pick this up and scan headlines.  Not blogs or other social media, but that quaint little collection of light grey pages that lands at the end of a driveway or plops on a porch.

Yep.  A newspaper.

I subscribe to two local papers, have several digital subscriptions and read all sorts of magazines, both online and print.  Listen to a whole bunch of different podcasts.  From these sources, a virtual (literally) treasure trove of really neat stuff’s just waiting to be picked and eaten, occasionally alive.  Though you might already know the stories and the sources, it’s worth consideration for sci-fi stories.

For example:

Headline: El Nino May Bring Record Heat, and Rain for California, New York Times, August 13 2015 edition.

Random inspiration: El Nino (“the child” – male), a slumbering pre-conquistedor kid, awakes from his long-forgotten grave when San Diego sewer workers open up a bit of the freeway to repair a broken water main.  See, this kid’s the ancient victim of a sacred ritual wherein young innocents’ lives were sacrificed to The Holy One in order to bring warmth and water for crops to grow.  Trouble is, after one long, lingering look at his hot wet-nurse, this youngster planned to grow to adulthood.  Kid’s last thoughts, right before his neck slicing, conjured up a curse, promising a time when his bones are discovered, he’ll unleash his vengeance and both fry and flood California.  So when our unsuspecting sewer workers jackhammer and pickax the asphalt on a typical July morning, the steam rising from the broken pipe isn’t evidence of a pipe failure, it’s EL NINO manifesting a physical form so he can wreaked havoc with the weather…and unite with the one woman who’d give him what he needed.

Headline: Swiss Find Remains of Two Japanese Climbers Missing Since 1970, Associated Press, August 7, 2015

Random inspiration: Though they might appear to be missing Japanese climbers, they are, in fact, only the remains of higher ascended beings who shed their disguises after studying the lives of those on Earth.  Meeting at the foot of the Matterhorn glacier, their intergalactic stellercaster ship gracefully landed when said mountain, enveloped in dense fog, provided a safe and mysterious curtain for rescue.  Once aboard, duo relates horrific story of nuclear war, cold war, resource depletion and disintegrating moral values, especially those having to do with free love.  Ignoring all of the former and attentive to only the latter observation, lonely shipmates ditch the spacecraft to come ashore on this wild planet to learn a few firsthand lessons of their own.

So you see?  It’s not much of a leap from reality to sci-fi.  All that’s needed is a quick read between the lines and a spin on the details.  After all, it’s what politicians do every day.  Why not you?



Mind Matters   Leave a comment


Harvey Cushing Brain Drawing

So I’m back after a bit of a holiday, spent at the New Jersey shore and elsewhere.  Alas, it’s time to begin the new year with something I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time.

You can say it’s been on my mind.

Did you ever notice how much of science fiction has to do with all the stuff rattling around in the brain?  Quick, close your eyes and in ten seconds, name as many cranial control films as you can.  What’s your number?  Three? Seven?  Zero?

Aw, c’mon.  There’s so many out there!

All right.  Here’s a list.

Why exactly does the mind intrigue us so?

Generally speaking, a human’s interior organs are fairly cut-and-try.  The heart pumps blood, the liver cleanses it, the lungs keep you breathing and all the other bits and pieces keep you going.  The brain, however, is smarter than them.  Whereas all the other body parts have one or two functions, the brain governs them all.  And if we were to stop there, it’d still be a pretty remarkable job description.

Trouble is, the brain’s so much more.  It’s who we are.

While the brain is churning the engines, it’s threading stories through its cells, directing proper ones to safe storage, to be retrieved when our bodies recline to rest, popping alive as dreams.  It helps us remember the good, the bad, to make decisions, to weep, laugh and smile.  Why is it that some brains are healthy and others are weak, or the soul that inhabits the body deserts the brain to resort to evil?  How come we can sit and simper one moment, jump up and cheer three seconds later then show disgust immediately following?  Or why can it remember thousands of books read over a lifetime, yet recalling the location of keys becomes impossible?

Perhaps it’s mystery that draws us in.  Venturing into one’s consciousness is a journey into the unknown.  Wondering why she said that.  Guessing what he really means.  Why do one thing and say another?  How can you live with yourself; what were you thinking?

It’s no wonder mind control is such fodder for science fiction.  It’s the ultimate revenge tactic.  How else to get back at that girl you liked and she blew you off?  Create a plot line about a high-maintenance chick that stood you up who suddenly discovers she can only do makeup and hair standing au naturel in Times Square.  Or the guy who butted in front of you and stole your seat?  From now on, in your story his brain dictates him to sing, “I’m a little teapot” (as well as act out the song) during any and all sports events.

Controlling the mind is engaging the recipient to do one’s bidding.  Now the brain manipulator orchestrates an army of individuals (say, The Borg) to become a collective.  Imagine what can be accomplished with millions of minions.  I mean, why stop at one mind, when you can dominate the world?

Think about it…

Interstellar, of Course…   Leave a comment


Credit: “Interstellar” Media Image –

Yes, I’ll admit I’m a geek.  I married one, too.  So of course we felt it necessary to see “Interstellar.”  We read up on it, exchanged speculations on the theories behind it, compared different viewpoints, opinions, reviews, all of that.  After all of this effort, a sensible decision was cast to go and see it, already.

So last night, after first ducking into Target to purchase some chocolates to stick into our pockets so we wouldn’t have to pay the ridiculous price of $4.oo for a $1.oo candy bar, we went.  It was great to go into a theatre filled with our kinds of people, equally geeky and completely silent during the showing, with only the rare murmur of approval over a spectacular scene.

Naturally, we weren’t disappointed.  Both of us loved it and spent the ride home discussing it.  And I could go on about this, that or the other thing regarding the vagaries of space-time travel and the physics behind it.

Why would I?  You know all that anyway.

What got me were the small touches, the little hints of things to come and viewpoints either behind the characters or the writers who invented them.  First on my list were the books on the shelves in Murph’s bedroom.  How many of you took a good look at them?  Here’s two that caught my immediate attention:  “The Stand” and “Outlander.”

“Outlander” caught my eye because Diana Gabaldon wrote this book regarding a portal that transports a woman through time, and Stephen King’s “The Stand” because the human race is nearly killed off in that one.  Both of those elements were the story in “Interstellar.”

Actually, books do figure prominently in the movie.  Take, for example, the school district’s reliance on “corrected versions” of history.  The moonwalk was all propaganda to economically bankrupt the Soviet Union.  After all, the Soviets never made it to the moon, so that propaganda campaign must have worked.  Yet Murph refuses to believe it all and listens to her father, who reinforces the truth.

All that talk about chemical compositions and how it affects environments and circumstances also gave me the goosies.  The way how too much nitrogen in an atmosphere isn’t ideal or any atmosphere’s makeup is so sensitive to various forms of life made me smile.

But really, when you get right down to it, the use of time as a resource and element defined the film.  Everything from the father Cooper as a younger man visiting his daughter Cooper as she lay dying, much older than he (all right, how many of you also knew that was Ellen Burstyn?), to the astronaut left behind for 23 years when Brand and Cooper seemed to be gone only minutes?  Or the gradual shift of Earth from viable to slowly dying, which seemed to take both an interminable and finite amount of time?

I could go on about many, many more things about why we enjoyed “Interstellar” so much, but that would take time, so if you haven’t seen it, take the time and go!

The Moon at Its Best   Leave a comment



For those of you who weren’t awake, aware or available, there was a full eclipse of the moon last night.  Now, I’m also one of those who, for various reasons, wasn’t able to cast my eyes skyward and catch the moon at its best.  Sometimes the moon just doesn’t seem to take into consideration that many of us are located on the wrong side of the globe (or clock) to be able to glimpse at the glowing red orb up in the nighttime sky.

Thank goodness for Slooh.

If ever anyone wanted to be an astronomer and didn’t have the time, patience or ability to go to school for astrophysics, yet wanted to partake of the universe in an engaging and useful way, then Slooh is for you.  It’s a membership organization and it isn’t cheap, but anyone will have access to high-powered telescopes in the Canary Island and Chile, plus get in on a myriad of missions.  The universe is literally at your desktop.

As a participant, one also joins a community of like-minded individuals who cast their eyes skyward share what they observe.  Also, one gets in on all kinds of neat stuff that NASA offers, too.  In fact, Slooh engages NASA and a community of citizen astronomers to help with its near Earth asteroid project.  So if you see something, you can say something!

I’ve included the below link for those how want to experience the eclipse and/or get a taste of what Slooh can do for you.  Enjoy!

The Amazing Human-ish Head   Leave a comment

Here’s one of the creepiest videos I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s a work in progress by Australian artist Chris Jones.  It’s a fascinating study on how to reproduce a human without being human at all.  Visit the link to his website and you’ll be fascinated at all of the work that’s involved in creating such a realistic life form.

To me, it’s a game changer…and might even change some of those video games we all think are so real…

Defining Lucy   Leave a comment

What is it about the name Lucy that translates into a woman of exception?

My first exposure to anyone named Lucy appeared like this:


Thanks to “Peanuts” and Charles Schulz

Though depicted in cartoon form, Lucy was mean, authoritative and plain bossy.  Her combative side played against her profession as a therapist, although her rates were rather low to reflect the acidity of her plain-spoken advice.


Credit: “Peanuts” by Charles Schulz

Don’t be fooled by her placid expression – this girl ate boy’s psyches for lunch!

Somewhere along the line, well before the above Lucy’s time, another individual bearing the same name roamed the planet.  None of us were around to duck her left hook or receive any sort of constructive advice from her jaded mind.  This particular Lucy avoided verbal battles and stuck to those pertaining to self-preservation.


Credit: University of Minnesota at Duluth

Lucy’s daily life revolved around the basics: food, water and trying not to be eaten by hungrier life forms.  Her ambitions weren’t to solve ancient mysteries, yet she became one for moderns to discern.  Little did she realize she’d become a celebrity in scientific circles; the most she probably hoped for was to make it to the end of each day in one piece.  Still, I can imagine her fighting off both her kind and others who might interfere with her general happiness and well-being.  Take a look at that face: is that a smile or a taunting smirk?

This brings us to yet another Lucy:


Credit: “Lucy”, Universal Pictures

As you can see, this Lucy beautifully combines the self-preservation instincts as our ancient Lucy with the no-nonsense style of “Peanuts” Lucy.  As the unwilling recipient of a manufactured illicit drug from a notorious Asian drug god, Lucy finds herself evolving rapidly through the 100% capacity of her brain.  All sorts of neat things happen, both for good and ill, but she makes it plain that once she’s got this drug in her system, she’s driving the bus and she’s not waiting for anyone to get on.

My husband Andrew and I went to our local dodecaplex to see “Lucy” for ourselves the other night.  Eschewing overpriced greased popcorn, we scored prime seats and sat through the merciless chain of dull trivia slides, irritating adverts and banal animated rules and regs for the theatre.  As the lights grew dim, we were subjected to the endless onslaught of trailers, including the truly frightening one for “Fifty Shades of Awful” (one look at the male “romantic” lead leaves you questioning:  Him?  Really?  That’s the best casting could do?  Hint from a woman to guys: DON’T take your favorite lady to see this on Valentine’s Day when it opens.  Trust me.  Flowers and chocolate are a far better choice).

Just short of a revolt from the audience, the film finally started.  I’ve always like Scarlett Johansson and she seems to do well with sci-fi roles that have a bit of bite to them.  Though she started off a bit weak, her performance strengthened as the film went on.  What I didn’t like about the film was how it expected viewers to take a real leap of faith about how the plot unfolded, and just expected you to believe what was happening required little or no explanation.  Although that could be said for many sci-fi films, on the way home Andrew and I laughed about how aspects of the plot unfolded without regard to plausibility.  Still, we liked it a lot, it was entertaining and fun and I’d recommend it.

Besides, SJ’s Lucy gets to meet her ancient predecessor.  Shame there was no mention of Charles Schulz’s creation.






The Convenience of Alternate Reality   Leave a comment


Sleep, Salvador Dali, 1937

Just once, I’d like to experience alternate reality.  It’d be so cool.  Its applications easily transform a life of drudgery into one of utter convenience and comfort.

How?  Glad you asked.

Need a vacation?  Press capital “A” and “R” and “enter” on the keyboard.  And there you are, adrift on a tranquil otherworldly beach, fingers tracing a path in the water as you doze contentedly on a bamboo raft.  The best part is, it doesn’t cost you a cent.  Only a bit of a time share of the brain is all that’s needed for a quick and secure purchase.

But why limit yourself?  Imagine all those options now available at the tap of your fingers…

A teenaged daughter melts down in the throes of a mind-bending temper tantrum, the cause of which is as remote and unidentifiable as the chances of the United States winning the World Cup.  Tap the keys and gently glide her towards the closet et voila!  She vanishes into an alternate reality where organization, good grades and a clean bedroom floor rule the culture.

Or the unreasonable boss whose unending, bellicose rants that spew unfathomable opinions regarding what’s possible and what isn’t, and invariably differs from yours, everyone else’s and even the client:  an accidentally-on-purpose keyboard maneuver zaps the offending creature-person into a universe filled with vegetarian peace mongers whose lives are governed by reason and silent meditation.

Sending people off into ARs is terrifically, wonderfully cathartic.  If one had the will to jettison any nasty, reprehensible being into a space-time continuum that requires that person to experience/do what only the reaches of fantasy could dream up, prisons would be a thing of the past.

AR isn’t necessarily punishment for evil.  It’s also a reward for good.  The desperate street person stands in a lush, vibrant Eden after offering assistance to a stranger.  A poor young mother struggling with an empty refrigerator and bank account suddenly grapples with luxury in a 110-roomed mansion, complete with a  safe stuffed with cash hidden behind a library portrait.

One often sees ARs pop up in science fiction.  Alternative worlds, even universes exist, habituated with mirror versions of ourselves living lives alien to our own.  Trouble is, where are these places?  Presently, we can’t seem to determine how our own universe came into being, let alone figure out its size.  Where are we supposed to locate a portal to the plane of existence that remedies, curses, challenges or accentuates the very qualities humans of Earth lack or ignore?

It’s around someplace.  It has to be.  I have about 30 socks waiting to join their partners there.

%d bloggers like this: