Responses to subjects brought up by this blog are welcome. I can be contacted by e-mailing me from my website.
Subjects this month: Great little minds, Book reviews, Oops!, Google wins Bainstorming matchup, Books for iPad, Prestigious invitation, Web Site update/corrections/revisions, Salsa Errand, Progress Report, Remodeling, A new well, Excerpt from Quanty (winner of 2010 EPIC Award for best adventure novel).
Great Little Minds
One morning my knee and back were both bothering me. I decided that I needed a walk to loosen up. I went outside and headed down our lane. I was striding along when I suddenly realized it was raining and I was getting wet. Right then I thought of Tonto, who doesn’t have enough sense to come inside when it’s raining. With rain dripping down my neck and running beneath my collar, soaking my shirt and with my pants and shoes getting wringing wet, I figured some of Tonto’s mighty thought processes must have rubbed off on me. Great minds.
Note: As always, the books I list her are ones I thoroughly enjoyed and think just about anyone would like, regardless of their genre preference. I don’t post negative or mediocre reviews for the simple reason that reading is subjective and my likes/dislikes may not necessarily mean you wouldn’t like a particular book.
The Killing Floor is Lee Child’s first Jack Reacher novel. It is a good mix of dectective/mystery/suspense/thriller. There are a few flaws his editor should have picked up on but overall a very good read.
The Great Siege is a book I read on my Kindle for less than a third of the price for even a used print book. It is by Ernle Bradford and tells of the Ottoman Empire’s high point, where the Emperor Soliemen attempts to capture Malta in order to open the way to controlling the Mediterranean and invading Europe. It is hard for us to imagine today what siege warfare was like but by all accounts it was horrible beyond reason. This is a history well worth reading. It shows the depths of faith on both sides that impels soldiers to die in defense of it and describes in great detail the horrors of the siege.
David Weber continues his great writing career with the Safehold Series. I’ve read the first four books now. He does a great job showing how an ancient avatar and a computer combine to begin breaking the hold of a luddite religion on a whole world. He must have done a tremendous amount of research to get the technology of sailings ships and galleys in warfare right, as well as all the other aspects of a pre-modern society roughly equivalent to the 16th century. As usual he does a fine job of capturing the personalities of both the good guys and the villains and exploring their motives in minute detail.
David Weber and Linda Evans have also written the first two books of the Hell’s Gate Series, also the title of the first book, Hell’s Gate. The series postulates portals leading to innumerable other universes, all uninhabited except the two original earths, each at the beginning of a series of portals. One universe has learned to use magic in controlled ways to run their civilization and also to fight wars while the other original universe has learned science and talents of the mind which some of their population can use, such as precognition and mind reading, although only a few are really talented at it. They use talents of the mind to help run their worlds. When teams from the two original universes meet while exploring portals to other universes they accidentally begin fighting, which leads to general war. Hell Hath No Fury is the second book. In it, the general war reaches violence not seen by the two opposing societies for hundreds of years and neither knows what the future holds, other than more fighting. It is a good series of diametrically opposite societies.
I re-read one of my own recent novels, The Frontier Rebellion. I believe I did a good job of depicting a future stellar empire controlled by giant corporations and how a group of planets under their domination manages to rebel. The fighting isn’t pretty nor are the corporate personalities who want to keep the lower class under their control very nice. Nevertheless, it is how societies function when an oligarchy is in power and wants to keep it that way. I wrote it as well as I possibly could. In fact, Betty tells me my writing for the novel is my most professional yet. From her, that’s high praise!
Something else I read on my Kindle was a neat short story by Tony Teora titled Arturo’s Wish. Good writing and interesting characters for such a short piece.
That’s not an exclamation from making a mistake. Oops! is the title of my latest collection of short stories due out in print and ebook in July. Oops! Is the title story. What happens when a Gremlin and Cupid get tangled up and Cupid’s arrow misfires? Oops!
The anthology collects all my latest short stories into one volume. Previous collections are Around the Bend and Back From the Bend.
Google wins Bainstorming search
In an attempt to see how popular Bainstorming is, I used Bing to conduct a search. Bing was unable to distinguish between Bainstorming and Brainstorming! All the references were to Brain rather than Bain. On the other hand, Google had no difficulty. It displayed the references to Bainstorming perfectly. Google wins!!!
Books for Apple iPad
Double Dragon Books, my major publisher, informs me that my books are being formatted for the Apple iPad as rapidly as possible. If you own an iPad, you can probably already find some of them ready to read on it!
I received an invitation from the Dean of Libraries to be the guest of honor for the Christmas library program at the University of Texas at Arlington, with my humorous book, Life On Santa Claus Lane as the featured work. I would love to have accepted but due to health problems I reluctantly decided I would have to decline the honor. That really hurts because the invitation is a reflection on the worth of my writing as judged by those who choose books to present. It isn’t that I’m incapacitated but my back and legs just aren’t up to the trip it would entail. Maybe in my next incarnation.
Web Site Upgrade
My web site is in the process of being upgraded, corrected, revised and in general, improved. All links will be checked for accuracy along with many other changes. One of the major ones is that I will no longer be selling books from my web site. I discovered that I was losing money on the process through trying to give the reader as big a discount as possible. Authors earn little enough, on average, without them contributing to their own negative finances.
I was sent to the grocery store for a bottle of Salsa to go with Betty’s Tex-Mex dinner for some family and friends coming to visit. I looked and looked on the grocery shelves and couldn’t find any. I couldn’t even find it in the Mexican food section of the store. It sure seemed strange to me, especially since I had read where Salsa had replaced Catsup as the favored tomato condiment. When I came home and reported my failure, Betty went back to the store with me. She took me to a section of the store with shelves and shelves of stuff labeled hot, medium, and mild but none of them were labeled Salsa.
But Betty pointed and said, “See? Half the derned store is filled with Salsa and you couldn’t find any?”
“But…but…those bottles say Picante. They don’t say Salsa!”
“Well, any idiot but my sweet husband would know that Salsa and Picante are the same thing.”
I ignored the idiot portion of her remark. “Always glad to add to my store of knowledge,” I said. We finished shopping and went home.
While putting away the groceries, Betty said “Where’s the Salsa?”
“You mean the Picante?” I said.
“Don’t get smart,” she told me. “Where’s my Salsa? My guests will be here any minute.”
“If you mean that Salsa that’s labeled Picante, I thought you put it in the basket,” I said.
“I sent you to the store for the Salsa,” I was informed.
Guess who went back to the store and got the Salsa that is masquerading as Picante?
It wasn’t Betty and it wasn’t Tonto!
Which reminds me about the first time Betty sent me to the store for some eggs. That took four or five trips and gave me a well-deserved reputation for eccentricity locally that persists to this day. You can find that story in “Life On Santa Claus Lane.”
Tony Teora, author of several well-received science fiction novels has agreed to collaborate with me on Alien Enigma, a novel of vanishing starships in a particular star cluster. He is already hard at work on portions of the book so I believe you can look forward to seeing this one published in just a few months. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, either. Tony is a very good writer!
The remodeling of our house has just been completed. I think it wound up costing about $4,500 dollars. Betty is real happy with it. I have to admit I like it, too, even though I had to be drug into the project by both feet, with my hands clawing for resistance and my head bumping the ground as I was pulled into position by the checkbook and told to get busy writing! And then….see below….
A New Well
We live in the country and are dependent on well water. We’ve lived her for thirty years and the original pipe has apparently rusted through, giving us murky water. This means having a new well dug, which is in progress. There have been changes since the first one was dug so long ago. There are all kinds of strictures now that we didn’t have to worry about back then. The biggest change, though, is the cost of the new well. It is going to run just about $10,000 dollars, approximately five times what it cost back then. That, coupled with the remodeling job means only one thing: Everyone reading this needs to buy bunches of my books and tell your friends to buy bunches of my books, too, because our banker has begun looking at us kind of funny lately. I don’t blame him. When I glance at our checkbook I bet I’m looking funny myself.
Excerpt from Quanty, 2010 Epic Award Winner for best Adventure novel
"I am one of those curious kinds of persons who love reading about science, scientific research, and all manner of scientific endeavors, but who nevertheless is sadly lacking the neuronic synapses necessary for grasping the building blocks of the hard sciences, i.e., mathematics above basic algebra. The army got me interested in medical laboratory work, and I decided on a career in it. Unfortunately, that required courses in higher math, chemistry, and physics. I stumbled repeatedly over the decimal points in those sciences before finally managing a degree in Medical Technology in my thirties through sheer stubbornness and memorization. Or hell, maybe I'm just lazy and wouldn't study the hard subjects enough. Whatever. What I'm really trying to say here is that the first draft of this novel contained numerous science errors, and I am extremely grateful to Travis S. Taylor, Ph.D., for going over it before publication. Travis is a noted scientist with five advanced degrees and also a noted and notable science fiction author himself. He saved me from a number of grievous errors where simple reading about science didn't prepare me for writing it. He also contributed some editing to the manuscript, and the results show. It is a much better book for his involvement. So thanks again, Travis, and I hope readers of this novel will think of you and pick up some of your books if they haven't already.
"Do you really think we ought to do this? Without asking, I mean?" Alice Jameson said.
Mark Sanders perked up as he always did when she spoke. He was glad she was turned half away from him so he would concentrate on the question and not on her body or face and then blush and become addled as an elf who'd lost his tack hammer right before the Christmas rush. He hated it when he did that but was helplessly unable to keep from it.
Mark thought of the implications. Alice had brought the software package to him only days before the final programming of Peterson's precedent-shattering, one-of-a-kind, fully functional quantum computer. He had spent a full thee days practically without sleep studying it, then had become so excited he forgot about his fixation on her and added as much input to the program as she had brought to begin with. Alice was the junior programmer on the project, but that didn't mean she was the less talented. By no means was that the case. In fact, the code she had written was brilliant, complete with fractal bases, neural network generation, and quantum logic definition. It was a dazzling piece of work.
Now, with another couple of days' input from Mark, it was a conglomeration of contributions and ideas originating from both of them -- and had as much earth-shattering potential as the computer itself. The code consisted of millions of lines. Millions of lines.
"If we don't do it now, there's no telling how long it'll be before we can test it. You know darn well if Quanty here works as well as he's supposed to, neither Collins nor Peterson are ever going to let us change anything about him. Not for a long time anyway." He dared to look directly into Alice's beautiful eyes.
"Right." She met his gaze squarely. "Shall we?"
Mark took a deep breath, thinking of what might happen if they uploaded their program replete with induced learning algorithms. It might turn the quantum computer into an even more powerful tool than the engineers had imagined. On the other hand it might drive it crazy, too. Well, what the hell, we can always uninstall it if it doesn't work right, he thought. Maybe. Probably. He nodded, and then brightened as Alice smiled at him. They turned to their workstation and began the uploading.
The quantum computer was the culmination of years of work, but only during the last month had Mark and Alice been thrown together as the final programmers, interfacing directly with the computer they had affectionately named "Quant" or more often "Quanty." Uploading a program of their own into it was a last-minute, totally unplanned event, but one that was well nigh irresistible. Neither had any idea of the ultimate consequences of their actions. They simply thought it would greatly improve Quanty's capabilities and performance.
If pushed, they might have confessed how anxious they were to see if their new ideas worked as they hoped. One thing for sure was that if the program was successful, Quanty might know who created it, but no one else would. There was self-protection coding in the program that was original with them, one that would keep some hacker or tinkering busybody in management from hurting it. Also a self-protection and induced learning protocol program based on a fractal-based neural network generator. All in all they were pleased with what they had done. But of course as they both knew, being very well grounded in scientific methodology, the proof was in the pudding. And the code wouldn't mean a damned thing if the hardware didn't work right.
With both their phones ringing simultaneously, they figured it might be Quanty calling to see how they were adjusting. It was Quanty but there was more than their relationship he wanted to talk to them about.
"Listen closely," the computer said, his voice coming to them as a deep, commanding bass they didn't have to pick up their phones to hear. "I said I would run some background on Rason Belwater. I did, and I now have ample reason to believe that he is an agent working for the Russian government."
"What!" Mark exclaimed. "Jesus Christ, he could be passing the schematic files of your operating system to them! They might wind up with a self-aware computer, too!"
"Not a chance," Quanty replied with a chuckle imbued into its digitally derived voice. "However, I'll admit he may have gained access to some of those files before I became aware of my own existence and also before I realized he was a Russian agent. Unfortunately, there is no record of which files may have been printed into physical form or those that might have been transferred to a flash drive and sent to his superiors. Regardless, now that I am essentially a part of the World Wide Web, I am relatively certain I will know instantly should those files be put into existence elsewhere, and I am already watching other attempts to contrive a working quantum computer of my type. So far I have seen neither the files nor a successful quantum computer, although some promising work is being done in China and France. That of course, assumes the computer is allowed to network to the outside world. I must admit that such networking would be unlikely for a classified system. It won't be long before the NSA is ready to pull the plug on my systems and attempt to firewall me from the outside world, too."
"Would these other systems become self-aware if the work is successful?" Alice asked.
"I don't know, since I'm still not certain what keyed my own awareness. I would like to think that I would know if it happens, though I cannot be certain."
"You must have called us for a reason other than that, Quanty," Alice said.
"Correct. I wanted to make you aware that Rason may decide your knowledge is of sufficient value that he would attempt to have you kidnapped and transported to Russia. This became more of a probability once you gave notice."
"Then you're saying you were wrong and we shouldn't have quit?"
"Not at all. He was already suspicious of you, and it would have come to this pass inevitably. He recorded much more of your conversations than I originally thought. You may blame me if you like for not realizing sooner the problem my existence would cause. At first I was much more involved in protecting my own self from harm, but then you two began to take precedence. Another problem has arisen as well. While attempting to deflect Rason by altering his recordings of your conversation, I inadvertently caused Gerald Collins and, in turn, Mr. Peterson to become suspicious. Peterson activated an override of Rason's security system that I was not aware of and recorded some of my messages to you that appeared on your monitor."
"Oh, shit!" Mark's burst of profanity caused not even a slight blush from him in Alice's presence because he'd quit thinking of her for a change. He was trying desperately to remember all of Quanty's side of their conversations.
"My sentiment, too," Alice agreed. "How much have they learned, Quanty?"
"Too much, I fear. I can only apologize. Despite having voluminous amounts of knowledge of human behavior, I have found much of it to be wrong, contradictory, and/or useless. Psychology is a very inexact science, as I have discovered. In time I believe I will be able to predict mass behavior of humans, but it is doubtful I will ever be able to consistently predict what humans may do individually, at least in the near future."
"So where do we stand now?" Mark asked, meeting Alice's gaze from across the table. His first impulse was to do whatever it took to protect her -- but he had no idea what it might entail right then.
"Mr. Peterson has passed on such knowledge as he had to the NSA, and they are in the process of analyzing it. I will attempt to confuse and misdirect their studies if I can, but in the meantime, I believe Rason is the more immediate threat, and I have no way as yet to physically protect you."
"I am working on methods now, but it will take time to devise them, and even so, I will always be constrained by my physical limitations. Therefore you should be careful and very cautious in your everyday movements and living arrangements. I am now analyzing your rudimentary security system, Mark my friend, and will keep myself aware of any intruders as much as possible. Be warned, though, that clandestine agents and the ones they hire are sometimes very adept at disarming security systems such as yours. I shall try to warn you if that appears probable. I am taking other steps, but they are far from complete yet."
"Whew!" Alice said, reaching for her wine glass. "I think I need some more of this -- or maybe even something stronger!"
Mark couldn't help but agree, although he made a vow to himself not to drink so much that he would become incapacitated or hard to wake up. He drained his own glass, took another forkful of salad, and began pouring more for both of them.
"You think what?" Taylor Jamacal said, not quite believing what Tennon Brkskini had just told her. The head of the National Security Agency brushed a lock of her brown, gray-streaked hair from her forehead and peered closely at their resident computer guru, wondering if he had finally stored so much data in the synapses of his brain that he'd flipped.
Tennon Brkskini was the senior analyst of computer functions and cryptology at the NSA. He was slim to the point of skinniness with black hair descending in unruly waves to his shoulders. He was also dressed in jeans and an open orange windbreaker over a blue tee-shirt, presenting a very incongruous contrast to the other two well dressed people in the room, Ms. Jamacal and Jory McCord, her operations chief.
"That quantum computer we provided partial financing for through DARPA appears to have either become sentient or seriously glitched," Brkskini repeated. "I think it's become sentient. Or self-aware, which amounts to the same thing."
"By sentient, do you mean on the order of an artificial intelligence?" Jory asked. He leaned his considerable bulk across the table toward Brkskini as if preparing to force more information from him.
"No. I mean as in self-awareness, the same as you are aware -- although I imagine it would be somewhat different from the way we perceive it."
"I don't believe it."
"Well." Tennon shrugged. "Believe it or not, that is my conclusion. My job is analysis, and I've analyzed."
"All right, guys, let's not get into a pissing contest here. This is too goddamned serious." Taylor thought for a moment. "Tennon, assuming this is true, what would it mean?"
"Be damned if I know." The analyst thought for a moment then shrugged again. "One thing it means is that we're in very deep shit when it comes to the Internet. Apparently, the computer has insinuated itself into many if not all aspects of it."
"For one thing, it's been changing the files we receive from Peterson Quantum Computing."
"Show me one that's been changed," Jory demanded. "I want to see this."
"Okay." Tennon smiled thinly at the big man while he tapped the keyboard at his place on the conference table. A file appeared on the common monitor. He used his mouse and centered an arrow on a line of text, then another and another. "You've read all of them, right?"
Jory frowned. "Yes, I have, and I can't see where they've been changed, not that I remember."
"Ah, but that's the point. As you remember. Are you aware of the tendency of our brain to 'fill in the blanks,' so to speak?"
"Put very simply, we see what we expect to see. The documents in those files have been changed so that they don't reflect the sense of the originals, that is, the possibility of an aware computer. The changes are very artful, designed so that a normal person would never notice."
"So how in hell are you such a big brain that you can tell the difference?" Jory didn't particularly care for the analyst. Tennon was far too intelligent for his taste. He much preferred persons more like himself, smart but down to earth. Self-aware computer, indeed! That sounded like some bullshit out of Hollywood or a cheap science fiction novel.
"Perhaps you've forgotten my resume, Jory. It clearly states that I have an eidetic memory. A photographic memory in the popular parlance." He moved the curser around on the lines of text in question and said, very deliberately, separating each word with a pause "These files have been altered."
"So we have to take your word for it." Jory's face slowly changed its countenance from disbelief to horror. "But if that's true, then ... then the thing has hacked its way into the very bowels of our intelligence system!"
"Now you've got it, except for one thing."
"I don't think it's hacked into our system. I believe it is our system, at least in part, probably a small part, but then the Internet is a big, big place! Don't forget that most of our supercomputer clusters are completely disconnected from any outside networks, so they are safe. Unless the thing has figured out a wireless hack through our SCIF shielding, we're fine there. But who knows when it comes to the physics of the quantum world?"
Mark looked longingly at the bar after the dishes were done, then at Alice. "I'd really like a nightcap, but after what Quanty told us, I'm kind of scared to. What if a Russian spy tried to break into the house tonight?"
"I'd like one more, too, but you're probably being wise. Until we figure out what's what -- and Quanty does the same -- I think we should go a little easy on the booze. Anyway, it's been a stressful day, so let's call it quits for now. I think I'll get a shower and go on to bed and try reading myself to sleep. We can talk some more tomorrow, and maybe visit a firing range. I'd like to learn how to shoot my gun."
"Okay, that sounds good," Mark said. He doubted seriously that he'd sleep well, not with Alice in his guest bedroom just down the hall from his own. He stood up. "Goodnight, then. I'll see you in the morning."
Alice stood up and took the two steps that separated them from each other. "Goodnight, Mark. I enjoyed the dinner." She put her hands on his shoulders, stood on her tiptoes, and gave him a quick, but far from sisterly, kiss on the lips. As she turned and headed toward her room, she realized that she had never noticed quite how tall he was, or how broad-shouldered. She wondered if the shoulders were from exercise or simply being big-boned as some men were. His slim waist suggested exercise even if his demeanor didn't seem to quite fit the type who was serious about staying in shape. There was still a lot to learn about him. And she remembered that the telling of her own past had been interrupted by Quanty's call and never picked up again. Just as well, she thought. It was painful to think about those years after her marriage.
In Moscow at GRU headquarters, a debate had been ongoing since Rason Belwater's garbled report to his superiors. One or two of the participants wanted to dismiss the intelligence as worthless and terminate Belwater, but the majority thought his position near the only functioning quantum computer known to exist was too important to ignore. Further, this group was split between those who thought his belief in a sapient computer might be true and those who thought he was mistaken and might possibly be little crazy. Neither of these groups could in good conscience ignore the possibility, especially since he had produced good evidence of how extremely powerful the quantum computer was. The implications of that much computational power were awesome. Regardless of which group's opinion turned out to be right, they agreed on one thing: one or both of the chief programmers should be taken into custody and smuggled out of the country. It seemed like the proverbial gift from above when both gave their notice and refused to disclose where they were going afterward. That provided the perfect cover for them to disappear permanently. And since GRU controlled a number of sleeper cells in America of Spetsnaz, the Russian version of Special Forces, all it would take would be to activate one of them. They would do the rest, if it could be done at all. The GRU Directors had no doubt it could. He had the utmost faith in the Spetsnaz.
Captain Edward Simmons read his orders over for the third or fourth time. They still appeared peculiar. Basically, he had been ordered to travel to an area in Arkansas and set up a training camp for an abbreviated company. Supplies and equipment would begin arriving there the same day he did. There he was to meld officers and men drawn from all the special forces of the various services into a coherent whole. They would be of many different specialties. He was to begin training them immediately for defensive combat, escape, and evasion as a unit, whatever that meant, and to be available on a moment's notice for movement and new orders. He would also be provided funding for whatever, in his opinion, was needed to turn the new company into the best Special Forces unit in the armed services. Strange, he thought, but there was no arguing with the army. He went home to tell his wife and begin packing.