Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'm writing a book -- what are you doing for the next month?

It's semi-official. I've decided to finally write my "great American novel", and I'm going to do it in that typical American fashion: quickly.

I was in the bookstore about a week ago, and there was a table of books for sale that were about writing novels and books in a short time (usually about a month). It was in recognition of the National Novel Writing Month, which is in November each year.

Of course, I picked up one of the how-to books and skimmed through the first few chapters while standing there in the store. I was hooked -- I know I can do this, and I've got just the story to write. I bought the guide and was on my way.

Of course, I didn't start in November -- I'm too eager to get moving. I started on Wednesday, Oct 22d, so I should have the rough draft finished (about 50,000-75,000 words) by Thanksgiving (assuming I stick to the schedule). It's been five days, and I've got well over 6,000 words on paper (electrons?) now. It's amazing how liberating it is to just write -- not worry about grammar, overall cohesiveness, editing, or anything else. Just writing, pure and simple, as fast and as prolific as possible. Now that the story is starting to move, it's getting easier. I've got about half the backstory fleshed out, and now comes the fun part -- the action and adventure!

I'll keep this blog updated periodically to let everyone (ok, both of you) know how I'm doing. Even if I get the first draft done by the end of Nov, it still won't be ready for publication. Lots of edits, rewrites, adaptation, changes, etc have to go into a novel. But if the story comes out half as good as I am imagining it will, I think this will be a fantastic read. At the very least, I can get an official rejection letter from a publisher!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's the universe designed for?

Religionists insist (at least the vast majority of them do) that the Earth and the rest of the universe were specifically designed to nurture and entertain humans.

But that seems absurdly weird. After all, there is very little in the universe itself that is habitable (far less than a few trillionths of a percentage of its volume), and even on Earth, most of the planet is inhospitable to human life without tremendous technological attempts to modify either the planet or ourselves.

So, given all that, and yet for the sake of argument accepting the religionist premise that the universe is designed -- what could it be for?

Well, it's clear that carbon-based life isn't it -- too much of the vastness of the universe is hostile to the existence of such things. And if you are only considering a single species, well now the possibility is just idiotic.

But there is one thing that a superdesigner might have use for in making our universe -- supermassive black holes.

Think about it -- according to cosmology and physics, the formation of supermassive black holes (at least a few hundred-thousand times heavier than our sun) is fairly commonplace (one exists at the heart of the Milky Way and every other galaxy, for instance), and the energy potential of such constructs is tremendous. Think about it -- E=MC^2. A black hole with the energy potential of our sun would fit into a space about 3 kilometers (two miles) across. This would be a very convienent way to store and transport potential energy sources, wouldn't it?

On top of that, because of the tremendous gravitational and quantum effects that occur in black holes, it is possible that near the singularity within the black hole, a breach or tear in the fabric of our spacetime into another universe could be created, where the energy of the black hole could be tapped. Granted, we don't know if this is true -- but it's no more fanciful than thinking some magical sky fairy listens to our every wish and grants our every prayer.

If the universe is designed for black holes, not humans -- where does that leave us? Obviously, we aren't too important -- a black hole the mass of the earth would only be a few millimeters across, hardly worth mentioning! In fact, I would bet that if there were a "designer" of the universe, life on a small rock orbiting a second tier star in the backwater subdistrict of a minor galaxy wouldn't even register as a blip on their screens.

We're just the spandrel waste of the universe, and I for don't regret it for an instant. If nothing else, this possibility gives me the hope that someday, humans might just figure out how to harness the knowledge and power of such a designer, and make our own black holes (of course, the LHC might just do that before we're ready).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Palin-tology -- Why should we put up with lowered expectations?

After ruminating on things for a few days, I've come to some conclusions about the VP Debate last Thursday. Everyone -- and I mean EVERONE -- was saying that the expectations for the two VP candidates were different. Joe Biden was expected to have the knowledge and experience of 30+ years on his side, so his "expectations" were to not be exasperatingly boring and obnoxiously condescending.

Palin, on the other hand, has shown numerous times that she's got no experience or knowledge when it comes to federal issues, foreign policy and fiscal policy. Therefore, her "expectations" were simply to not make a complete fool of herself.

None too surprising that neither candidate met the expectations set for them. How hard is it for Biden to be polite and respectful of others for two hours? How difficult was it for Palin to recite her answers (answers that she admitted right off were not necessarily in response to the actual questions posed) and look cute and perky.

My problem is, when we lower expectations, we get exactly what we deserve. This contest is for the second-highest position in the US Government -- and we're most concerned with how cute and perky the VP candidate is? Why isn't the standard held the same for all candidates? Since when did taking a qualification test get easier just because you're new on the job?

Palin and Biden both met the expectations set -- but only Biden met the expectations and criteria for the actual job. Palin may have put on a good show, but it was clear that she doesn't know anything about the issues that will be faced by a VP.

Finally -- some rationality in the FaithWalk

It's about time! Finally, another atheist in the KC Star Faithwalk column. I've been getting sick of all the sappy religious platitudes and panderings for the last couple months. And not only that, but Be-Asia looks to be a proud, intelligent and extremely rational woman.

Her column about how she grew in understanding and eventually threw off the shackles of blind devotional faith is inspiring. Her attitude of self-help and positive thinking is a role model we should all aspire to.

Congratuations, Be-Asia! Great column and I look forward to seeing more in the coming months.