09-29-2013: Peacekeeper update

Last week we put 2026 miles on one of our cars. We drove from Ohio to Minnesota to visit friends and relatives. It was a whirlwind trip with almost no time for proofing or editing. My wife did manage to knock out several chapters and I did the same but we are not done yet. I am currently on chapter 36 with my final editing and my wife has about 12 pages left to proof. Once I'm done, Cheryl will go back and check my editing to make sure I haven't introduced anything bad and then it will be off to the presses (so to speak).

In case you're wondering, here is how I get a novel done. I use Scrivener to write it and also for my first editing pass. I then convert it into Word, do some minor reformatting, and then print it out for my wife to look at. She does her editing using a red pen. I then take her changes and enter them into what is now the Word master of the manuscript. I will also make a second pass through the book doing final editing changes. I use Word's track changes feature so Cheryl can find the changes I've made to give them a final look. This is how Peacekeeper is being built and the process has been refined over the last couple of books. My wife and I work very well together.

I am now sitting in a motel room in Beaver Valley Pennsylvania. Tomorrow morning, I begin working 12-hour days, 6 days a week in support of the Beaver Valley power station outage. I won't have a lot of time to write or edit but I promise to get some done while I'm here. I do have Sunday's off and if all goes well I hope to have the book done by the end of that day so it can be made available. I will fire off an email to everyone on my mailing list when that happens.

That's it for now. Stay tuned. Peacekeeper is coming soon!


09-22-2013: Peacekeeper cover

This week's post will be a bit short on words as I'm on vacation in Minnesota. I've already visited my brother in Stillwater and we are now visiting my best friend from high school in Braham Minnesota. His wife is the one who did the covers for the Galactic Alliance series and Off Course. She has just finished the cover for Peacekeeper. Here is a sneak peak of the artwork:

My wife has made great progress on her grammatical proofing and I'm about half-way done with my final edit. I still have high hopes of getting the book out within a week or two of returning from vacation.


09-15-2013: BSinSF-Things that blink, pulsate, hum, etc.

This week's BSinSF (Bad Science in Science Fiction) deals mostly with the motion picture industry although I'm sure there are a few stories out there with similar faults. The film industry seems to think that high-tech stuff, especially power generators and sensing elements, have to glow or make some sort of noise. A very recent example is the fuel cell in the defense drones in Oblivion. They glow like they're filled with the juice from a thousand fireflies. Sorry folks, fuel-cells do not glow. Neither do nuclear reactors (unless you can directly see the core) or super-batteries like the ones that power a terminator.

How about eyes? Virtually every robot, android, or cyborg seems to have eyes that glow. Why the heck would they? What purpose would the glow serve? Certainly not to illuminate the object being looked at; the glow is too weak and emitting the light from the sensing element would tend to interfere with the sensor. Light amplifying eyes or eyes that can see beyond the normal human spectrum are possible using today's sensing technology—none of which glow.

Advanced technology usually comes in indiscrete packages. Modern computers do not have giant banks of flashing lights (unless of course you own a tricked out Alienware machine). Even the computers of old only had a small section of indicating lights. They could be used by technicians to view the state of the machine's internal registers as well as for troubleshooting a broken computer. The list of Hollywood computers with huge banks of row upon row of flashing lights could make a long list (Time Tunnel, Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, etc.). What on earth could be the purpose of all those lights, especially since not a single one of them is labeled?

Visible laser beams in space? Nonsense! An energy weapon in space is invisible. A laser is a beam of coherent light. The only way for someone to see a laser beam passing in front of them is if the beam reflects off something in its path and some of the light is bounced toward the observer's eye. In an atmosphere, this usually happens because of dust particles or microscopic droplets of water. In space, there is nothing for the beam to hit other than the intended target and therefore it will be invisible.

The bottom line in all this is if you have something that emits light, it had better do so for a very good reason. Indicating lights are okay if they serve a specific purpose. The glow of a warp reactor is explained in the Star Trek Technical Reference manual as well as the Hayes manual on Klingon bird of prey repair but that technology is well beyond our ability to reproduce.

So how about my other pet peeve—noises. I am confident that most people realize that space is silent. You will never hear the explosion of a ship or the whine of a phaser blast or the roar of a Viper's propulsion system. But movies would be pretty dull if Hollywood made their battle-scenes deathly quiet. I'm happy with this too since I'm a big fan of science fiction movies. But, there are some things that should be fixed. For example, nuclear reactors do not pulsate. About the only thing you can hear inside a nuclear power plant is the whine of running motors and the rush of water and steam flowing through the piping. Computer interfaces should not make a significant amount of noise. Try programming your keyboard to make a different short beep, boop, or a series of chirps each time you pressed a key or executed a command. You'll quickly grow tired of it and turn the speakers off. On a bridge with many computer interfaces, audible feedback would be a serious distraction.

The absolute worst offender I have ever seen in regards to sound and visual effect is the depiction of the nuclear reactor powering Captain Nemo's submarine in the B movie "The Return of Captain Nemo" (it is also known as "The Amazing Captain Nemo"). It looked like a giant upside-down turnip which glowed and pulsated with 'power'. When the captain wanted to fire his ultimate weapon he called down to the reactor room saying he needed "Full nuclear capability". The operator grabbed a hand wheel turned it using an indicator that showed reactor power. Of course, the reactor's glow brightened, the pulsations increased in frequency, and the deep, pulsing sound of the reactor became louder and increased in tempo. There is absolutely nothing right with any of this. Wrong, wrong, wrong! The reactor on "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" is another whopping error.

As a writer, I do try to make the science in my books at least believable. Things do not glow, pulsate, or make noises unless there is a specific reason for doing so. Consoles beep for attention. Motors and engines whine. Lasers and particle beams are invisible in space (there is one exception in the Galactic Alliance series but it has a valid explanation). To keep the science realistic a writer should research and become knowledgeable on a subject he or she intends to write about. If your ship is powered by a fusion reactor, you should at least understand the basics of how such a device might operate. Try your best to keep the science in science fiction.

PEACEKEEPER UPDATE: It's beginning to look like the book will not be available for release for another few weeks. The cover is not yet done and the final editing is still being worked on.

LAUNCH PAD ANTHOLOGY: The anthology with short stories from most of the Launch Pad 2012 attendees is now available as an e-book from: http://brittonknowles.com/ProductInformation/ProductID/224


09-09-2013: BSinSF - Thermodynamics, the bane of science fiction

Before I get into the meat of this week's post I would like to give you a brief update on some other items. Firstly, I'd like to remind everyone of the soon-to-be-released Launch Pad anthology. It's filled with short stories from the Launch Pad 2012 attendees. Next, you will be happy to know that my wife is nearly finished with her grammatical review and I've started my final pass through the manuscript. My wife will have to make sure I didn't screw things up with the changes I'm making and then the book will be ready for release. I recently received a possible cover and the designer is working on making some requested changes. It's beginning to come together folks.

This week's BSinSF topic is on thermodynamics; it's the bane of science fiction in my book. Nothing is 100% efficient and most of the loss in efficiency shows up as heat. A perfect example is something I deal with every day—power production. Nearly every large power plant has a cooling tower and all that vapor pouring out the top is waste heat. How much? About 65% of the energy generated in the reactor or boiler! This waste heat creates a MAJOR problem for science fiction. In order to understand why, let's take a step back and talk about heat transfer for a moment.

Heat can be transferred in three ways: convection, conduction, and radiation. Convection and conduction require the heat source to be in physical contact with the transfer medium. A spacecraft is isolated from everything else by the vacuum of space which rules out both of these as a means of dumping waste heat. That leaves radiation, which is the transfer of heat through the emission of electromagnetic radiation. This means that if you want to keep your ship cool you need large radiators to dump the excess heat.

If you look at a picture of the International Space Station (ISS), the first thing you will most likely notice are the huge panels extending away from the primary truss. The largest of these are the solar panels that provide the station with electricity. The others are the heat radiators. Damage enough of these and the station will quickly become uninhabitable. Ever wonder why the space shuttle kept its cargo doors open the entire time it was in space? Because the inside of the doors served as heat radiators to keep the shuttle cool. If you're building a nuclear powered warship equipped with directed energy weapons, you're going to have to get rid of a tremendous amount of waste heat. To do that, you'll need a heat radiator with a very large surface area. Now you have a problem.

Take a close look at any science fiction movie ever made and try to point out the heat radiators. I'll bet you won't find any. The starship Enterprise would look pretty silly if you tacked on enough heat radiators to keep the ship's internal temperature within limits. To be honest, I never considered this problem until I started reading the articles on the Project Rho website. I took a stab at a possible solution in When Ships Mutiny by explaining that the entire ship's external hull was designed to be an efficient heat radiator. But I'm sure it wasn't enough.

If you want to write science fiction that is based 100% on known science then your incredibly powerful, massively armored warships are going to have to be equipped with extremely large arrays of heat radiators. If these are damaged or shot off you're warship becomes useless. Temperatures on the inside will quickly rise and your fusion reactor will end up turning your ship into a molten blob.

Even if you make the claim that your ship's power systems are 99% efficient you will still have to deal with the waste heat problem. Heat dissipation by radiation is very inefficient; that's why thermos bottles use a vacuum as an insulator. If your ship's main reactor generates 1,000 megawatts of power then you're impossibly efficient system will still have to find a way to get rid of 10 megawatts of waste heat.

If you're a math nerd and you want to find out just how bad this problem is, I invite you to do some research into thermodynamics. I could have run the numbers years ago when I learned about heat transfer and fluid flow in the Navy's nuclear power school but many years have passed and I simply don't have the time to learn about things like black-body radiation. The math isn't terrible difficult but you need to have a thorough understanding of thermodynamics to get the numbers right.

If you do read the associated articles on the Project Rho website you'll also discover that the heat problem also means that stealth in space (i.e. cloaking fields, stealth ships, etc.) are pretty much impossible. Sorry, the Klingon and Romulan cloaking devices simply aren't possible.

So what's the solution? Actually, in this case the only possible solution is to ignore the problem. That's right—I said ignore it. Until someone comes up with a way to dump excess heat into space without the use of large surface-area heat radiators then you're just going to have to sweep the problem under the rug and hope nobody asks how your ships deal with waste heat.

Next week I'll be tackling a pet peeve of mine by asking: Why do things in science fiction movies glow, pulsate, or generate light? Why do they hum, scream, or make sounds?

PS--This post was late because I got stuck working 12-hour nights at the plant. That doesn't leave much time for anything other than work and sleep.


09-01-2013: DragonCon Day 4

Once again, this post is being uploaded the morning after I wrote it due to problems with the hotel wireless.

Our last day at DragonCon began with lunch at the Sun Dial restaurant located on the 72nd floor of the Westin hotel in Atlanta. We were joined by Jody Lynn Nye, Farah Mendlesohn, Stu Segal, and his son Steve. Farah was dressed in a Starfleet uniform. During lunch we were treated to a spectacular thunderstorm with huge bolts of cloud-to-ground lightning providing quite a show. We were a little worried because this was the first day we had decided not to carry our umbrellas.

Jody had to depart early as she was sitting on a panel at 2:30. We said our goodbyes and wished Farah a safe flight back to London—her flight departed at 7:00pm. On the ride back down (inside a glass elevator that rides on the outside of the building) we noticed it had stopped raining. Lucky for us, it didn't rain for the rest of the day.

At this point I had two choices. I wanted to attend Jody's panel at 2:30 but it was now nearly 2:50. I desperately wanted to attend a panel at 4:00 with Larry Niven and Jody and I realized the line would begin forming quite early. My original plans had called for me to bug out of the 2:30 panel early so I could get a good place in line for the 4:00 panel. But lunch had taken so long that it no longer made much sense to attend the 2:30 panel. I decided to start the line for the 4:00 panel. After several false starts caused by a lack of knowledge on the part of the conference room gatekeepers, I finally found where the line was to begin. So did several other people.

I stood in line for about 45 minutes and then found myself in the front row of the 4:00 panel—"The Logic of Magic". It was a wonderful discussion and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While I did all this, my wife wandered the dealer's room. Afterwards, I met her at Durangoe's for dinner and then we caught the bus back to the hotel thus ending our last day at DragonCon.

We have had a great time and now we must bid Atlanta farewell. We are heading back to Ohio with a stop in Wytheville to rest. During the return trip, my wife has said she will try to continue proofing Peacekeeper. In the meantime, I will begin my own final pass through the manuscript to make sure everything is as good as I can make it. 


08-31-3013: DragonCon Day 3 (posted the day after)

Yesterday's post was delayed due to my being unable to connect to the internet last night. DragonCon brings in so many people that it overwhelms the area's communications grid. Cell phone calls are dropped, internet access via a cell phone is intermittent and very slow, and hotel wireless systems are bogged down to the point they are nearly unusable. If you do attend a future DragonCon event you should expect these things. The best time to use the internet is early in the morning when all the late-night party-goers are still sleeping. I am furiously typing this into a Word document in the hopes that I will be able to post it this morning.

We spent the first part of the day watching the DragonCon parade. I stood on top of a large cement planter that had had its tree removed and managed to have a very good view of the parade. I took 121 photos and videos of the event which I will post on Flickr when we get back. I then attended "An Hour with Larry Niven" and found him to be a very entertaining individual. The line to get into the conference hall where he was speaking started inside the building and meandered down the hall, out the door, then down the side of the hotel out on the sidewalk for about 300 feet. The sun was blazing hot and I think I over-exposed my neck.

After Mr. Niven's talk, I walked down to another meeting room to wait for Jody Lynn Nye to show up. She almost arrived late but she did have just enough time to hand me the flyer for the new anthology she and Mike Brotherton edited. I have a short story that appears in this anthology so I'm very interested in helping get the word out.

After lunch, my wife and I spent the remainder of the evening wandering around the dealer's rooms. I picked up a new dragon and my wife bought several trinkets for herself. She seemed particularly interested in the steampunk items. Back in the room, I spent quite a bit of time on Twitter setting up a lunch with Jody and Farah. I learned that Farah will be leaving on a 7:00pm flight even though the DragonCon schedule shows her on a panel at 8:00pm that night. After much back-and-forth, the time and place have been set.

I have to point out that every single person we have met here at DragonCon has been polite and courteous. We have spoken to complete strangers on numerous occasions and have yet to encounter anyone who was rude or impolite. This has been a very good experience: the weather has been nearly perfect; the people have been great; and the activities have been both entertaining and informative.

I will post a link to my Fickr pictures when I get back home. Trying to upload photos (even a single one) while at DragonCon is just too frustratingly slow.