In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…

 

Historic Histrionics

On June 5th, 2024, Boeing’s new Starliner crew capsule blasted into space — fours years behind Space-X and at twice the cost.

In this heady age of space commercialism, “historic” space firsts have come so frequently, commentators seems to have become so glossy-eyed as to forget what the word means, and you can hardly find a blog post that doesn’t describe it as “historic.”

Balderdash.

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Basic Rules of Book Design

Basic rules of book design:

  • Don’t end a page with the first line of a new paragraph.
  • Don’t begin a page with the last line of a paragraph.
  • Don’t begin or end a page with a line that ends in a hyphen.
  • Don’t end a page with a one-word line.
  • Don’t use more than two hyphenations in a row on two consecutive lines (and if you can at all help it, don’t use more than one in a row).
  • When you start a chapter on a recto page and the facing verso page is blank, do not put a header or a page number on the blank verso page.
  • Front matter of a book is numbered with Roman numbers. The first page of the first chapter is page 1.
  • Table of Contents pages do not get page numbers or headers.

Space Force Antho!

Coming in June ’24 from me, Baen Books, & Simon & Schuster: 24 Stories & Mythbusting Articles by David Brin, Larry Niven, Jody Lynn Nye, Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Turtledove, Greg & James Benford, and more award-winning masters illustrating the need for, & dispelling misconceptions about the US Space Force.

Preordering help Baen, the USSF, and all the contributors: Tales of the United States Space Force

My DIY Generator

I never know whether to blog about my DIY projects, but this one got a big reaction when I mentioned it online, so here goes.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have a lot of power outages in Texas which, between ice, heat, hurricanes, and the buried utilities in my neighborhood, are inconveniently long and frequent. So….more and more folks ’round these parts are getting backup generators, but I don’t want to pay the cost of a new car for a whole-house natural gas backup system I don’t really need, hope never to use, and will need a maintenance contract to keep ready in case I do. I really only need enough juice to keep one room habitable, the food cold, and the wifi running. A simple portable generator can do that, and for a WHOLE lot less money, I just need it set up and standing by when I need it–no dragging it out to the yard, erecting a rain shield, and trying to feed heavy gauge power cords in through the windows.

Whole house generators are usually connected to a home’s mains wiring through an automatic cutoff switch. I didn’t do that because it’s expensive, requires a licensed professional, and is not very practical for a generator barely powerful enough to power one of the twenty circuits in the house. Instead, I wired up a completely separate emergency power system with outlets behind the frig, in the living room, in the office, and in the bedroom where the wifi lives. It’s much easier for the family to understand that the generator can run one portable AC or heater, the frig, and a few lights and computers, when plugged into the emergency outlets.

I documented the electrical work here. This post is about the generator.

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I don’t want to pay the cost of a small car for a whole-house generators I hope never to use, and then have to maintain it. A small inverter generator is enough to get by one, I just need it handy and ready. And I need the family to understand how to use it, so trying to manage power through the existing load center is not an attractive option.

So here’s the plan:

  1. The 3,500-watt generator lives in an enclosure at the back corner of the property. The generator has a three prong 110 volt RV plug.
  2. When needed, the generator is connected via a RV power cord rated at 30 amps to the house via a 30 amp NEMA L5-30P three-prong locking inlet box.
  3. This box does not connect in any way to the existing house wiring, but rather to a new two-circuit emergency power load center via a few feet of 10-gauge Romex.
  4. The Romex leaving the inlet box and all Romex in and out of the new load center are secured with mechanical wire clamps tight enough to prevent movement of the wire but not so tight as to visibly deform the outer sleeve.
  5. The emergency power load center is bonded (the neutral, ground, earth ground lead, and case are all electrically connected inside the load center and nowhere else). The load center did not come with a ground bar, so this is done simply by connecting all neutrals and all ground wires to the neutral bar and the neutral bar to the case (via the supplied bonding strip and screw).
  6. The earth ground lead, a green insulated 10-gauge solid copper wire made for that purpose, runs out the bottom of the load center through the same clamp as the inlet (10/2) lead, down the stud (this is in an unfinished garage), under the siding and house wrap, and about 18 inches to a new, independent grounding rod.
  7. The grounding rod is a standard 8′ copper-clad steel rod driven into the ground until only a couple of inches are exposed, then securely clamped to the striped end of the ground wire. Because it must be installed inside a dog run with a chain-link floor (to prevent digging) a length of PVC plastic pipe is driven into the ground around the rod to prevent it shorting against the chain-link.
  8. Inside the garage, the 10-gauge inlet wire and the ground wire are secured to the stud with wire staples to protext them against snags, even short as they are. I’ll probably cover them later with a piece of HDF.
  9. Inside the new load center:
    1. The #10 inlet hot wire (black) connects to the hot lug on one side (feeding one breaker) and a length of black 10-guage wire jumpers from there down and around to the other lug (feeding the other breaker, so that both are bed from the same 30 amp inlet circuit).
    2. The inlet neutral (white) and ground (bare) both connect to the neutral bar to achieve a bond.
    3. The white pigtail from each breaker also connects to the neural bar.
    4. The black and white leads of the 14-gauge Romex emergency branch new circuits enter the load center, are stripped 1/2″, and are affixed to the hot and neutral terminals on the breakers as marked.
  10. Secured at least every five feet by a staple, the two 14-gauge emergency branch wires run up the stud and across a ceiling joist to join the bundle of cabling installed by the builder to carry power from the main load center into the house.
  11. From here, the new wires run across all the joists, through the machine cloth rat-barrier, and through the attic over the breezeway into the attic proper. The machine cloth was removed during insulation and is not so tight as to damage the Romex.
  12. After reaching the attic (of our one-story house) the two circuits part ways:
    1. Circuit A is stapled every five feet along a joist, then dogs diagonally before one last staple and a dive into the wall to feed a new emergency outlet box behind the kitchen refrigerator.
    2. Through the same hole, a second length of the same 14-gauge Romex runs up from the same new outlet and across the attic to dive into the wall of the office. This branch too is stapled every 5 feet.
    3. Down in the kitchen, both wires are connected in the usual way. The grounds are twisted together and one is connected to the ground screw. The hot and neutral wires are back wired to the gold and silver terminals respectively. The receptacle is a new 15A, ordinary 110-volt model of the type that lets you push the striped wire in from the back but requires you to tighten the screw to secure it.
    4. The office outlet at the end of the circuit is wired in the same way except there is just the one wire.
    5. Circuit B instead makes a turn after entering the attic, is fished through an inaccessible space, and runs down inside the wall between the living room and the bedroom where it is connected in the same manner to a new outlet box about six feet off the floor in the back of the closet (to feed the wifi) and then through a few more feet to a new outlet box in a cabinet in the living room. No stapled secure this wire because, except for the point where it enters the wall, there is no way anyone can ever reach it without removing the roof.
  13. All four outlets are labeled as emergency power and given red covers.

That’s pretty much it. In the event of an outage, someone has to go out and connect the RV inlet and start the generator. Then the frig, the wifi, and whatever else is needed for the particular situation must be plugged into one of the four outlets. It’s easier for the family to understand “don’t plug in a bunch of stuff you don’t need during an emergency” than have them trying to reconfigure the whole house through the main breaker box.

If it makes any difference, I’m in Houston but actually in an unincorporated bubble. As such I probably don’t have to, but I’m trying to follow the national electrical code. Anything I’m missing?

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Generator (floating ground) connects to house via a NEMA inlet accessible through old dog run fence.

 

Standard 8′ copper-clad grounding rod isolated from buried chain link with 8″ pvc sleeve.

 Grounding wire isolated from chain link by PVC passthrough.

 

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Emergency Power load center in garage (20 feet on separate wall from mains panel)

 

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Emergency Power load center — bonded, and completely isolated from main house wiring. Since this is the bonding point, there is no separate ground bar, and plenty of space on the neutral, it’s used for all neutral and ground connections HERE ONLY.

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Kitchen emergency outlet wiring. Wire from load center comes down from attic, wire from outlet goes up and over to office. All outlets back wired in same way and all are grounded.

 

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Emergency outlets located (from circuit 1) behind refrigerator and in office, and (from circuit 2) in bedroom closet where wifi router is and inside living room cabinet. All emergency outlets marked with red faceplates and labels.

Florida Girl Causes Global Ice Cream Crisis

I was asked by to moderate “The ArmadilloCon Story Game” as part of ArmadilloCon 2023, a spec-fic literary convention in which at least two panels were concerned with AI, so I decided to employ AI to facilitate the Mad Lib style brainstorming of this classic con game:

First, I asked ChatGPT for a selection of Mad Lib-style prompts suitable for the game and a science fictional story. Then I asked the audience for an Adjective, a superpower, a weakness, and the name of a planet.

Patrice Sarath and Michelle Muenzler brainstormed with input from the audience, while I moderated, transcribed, and interacted with the AI “Sudowrite” which works by accepting starting text, then suggesting two prose alternatives, one of which was chosen before inserting more prose and requesting more generates ideas and so on until the story is done. Here is what we came up with AI inspiration and human brainstorming and editorial clean up in the span of about 40 minutes…

Beginning prompt: Stupid aliens from the planet Garbanzo have invaded Earth. They possess incredible invisibility abilities that challenge humanity’s dog allergies. Jennifer and her dog, Nefertiti discover the evidence of the alien’s interference when Jennifer starts sneezing and some unseen someone says “bless you.”

1982, January 5th:

Jennifer rubbed her nose, trying to stifle another sneeze. “Nefertiti, did you hear that?” she whispered to her dog. “Someone said bless you, but I don’t see anyone here.”

Nefertiti’s ears perked up, and she began to sniff the air. Jennifer watched as her dog’s nose twitched, trying to pick up any scent of the invisible interloper.

Suddenly, Jennifer felt a tickle in her throat, and she let out a series of violent sneezes. “Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!”

As she wiped her nose with a tissue, Jennifer noticed a small, shimmering object floating in the air. The object seemed to be reflecting the light in the room, making it slightly visible to the naked eye.

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Real Stories of the United States Space Force

For months, I’ve been fairly quite. I lot has been going on. Cheifly, I’ve been working on an anthology for Baen Books. It’s been a LOT of work, far more than I’d anticipated, not just writing and reading slush and editing, but tracking down information and conducting interviews and looking up quotes for epigraphs, and simple logistics–keeping track of invited authors, contracts, bios, and a thousand little details. But I’m pretty proud of the results. It’s in Baen’s capable hands. I think you’ll like it.

Baen Book’s new anthology, Real Stories of the United States Space Force, is a collection of science fiction stories and fact articles illustrating the real-world need for space defense and dispelling misconceptions about the nation’s newest military service branch.

  • 13 Award-winning authors!

  • 16 Original stories!

  • 5 Fascinating articles!

  • Foreword by “Star Wars” (SDI) Chief Engineer of Space Based Laser, William F. Otto.

  • Contributions by nationally syndicated editorial cartoonists, Dave Granlund and Phil Hands.

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A Monologue in Inner Monologue

Over the last few years, it’s come to the attention of researchers (and the rest of us) that some people have no “inner speech.” Inner speech, which has been called “inner monologue” by some, is the experience of hearing a voice in your head as you read and/or reason with yourself. Most people have inner speech, and most people are perplexed on learning that some others don’t. We don’t yet have a good handle on why we have it or why some don’t, but it’s quickly become clear that like autism, handedness, gender identity, and love of puppies, inner speech comes on a spectrum.

So…this is interesting.

I have inner speech, and while I am capable of thinking and experiencing the world without it, I would say that I seldom do. I most often hear my own voice in my head, or more precisely, a sort of standardized and simplified mental model of my own voice as I hear it when I talk. I strongly suspect that this inner voice is a model of my memory of my own voice. That is to say, we now know that memories are not recordings of sensory input, but rather of experiences. When we remember something, we are not reconstituting the sights and sounds we experienced during the event, but rather we are reconstituting our experience or understanding of the event, and reverse-engineering the sensor experience that we think must have caused them. This is why human testimony is so notoriously untrustworthy, and it is, I think, why inner speech doesn’t “sound like me” so much as it is “reminiscent of me.”

At any rate, apparently unlike most people, my inner speech is very rarely negative or self-chastising. I do, at appropriate times, “hear” my mother or father talking to me. Almost every time I use a hand saw, for example, I hear my father guiding me in its use–this is one of my earliest and fondest memories with him. But I don’t generally “hear” my mother, teachers, or myself criticizing me. Perhaps that just means I’m well adjusted–or that I’m old enough to be over it–or that I’m an asshole; who can say?

Also, unlike many people, I don’t generally “Talk to myself.” That is to say, I don’t have a two-way dialogue with myself, an imaginary other, or a model of another. We joke about “talking to yourself” being a sign of insanity, but in fact, it turns out to be common. This, apparently, is quite common, especially among people known to have had an imaginary friend as a child. Not me. I only have an inner dialog when I am rehearsing or revisiting a conversation with another person. I do, like most people, occasionally re-argue a conversation that is past and that I only thought up “what I should have said” after the fact. But I don’t argue with myself or talk to myself in a two-way give-and-take like one would with another, while many people say they do. I do “talk things through,” just as I might with a friend or coworker, when I’,m trying to reason through a complex problem, say a bit of computer code or a piece of literary blocking.

Interestingly, people who lack inner speech may be able to read more quickly, and many people report that when they read, their inner speech is not a word-for-word verbatim reading of the text, but a shorthand in which single words take the place of whole concepts or phrase. I don’t seem to be able to do that, though I may simply be out of practice. When I read, I hear every word, every inflection, every nuance, and this makes it very difficult to read any faster than normal human speech. Now, I can read at an accelerated rate, usually for schoolwork when just scanning for content, but when I do that I still have my inner speech, it’s just highly abbreviated, like “Persuiant to da da, da da, da…residential…commercial..permit….for any new construction…etc.” You get the idea. I can’t really do that when reading fiction, not because it can’t be done but because if I’m reading for pleasure, that’s not fun, and if I’m editing, that misses everything I would be looking for.

So…it’s interesting. I have long complained that too many people in business fail to understand that the purpose of writing (at least technical writing) is not merely to jot down some words associated with the pictures in your head, but to craft the words needed to build those pictures in someone else’s head. Clearly, I’m better at that than many. Is that because I lean more heavily on inner voice? Is the price for that ability the inability to read as quickly as some others? I don’t know, but it’s interesting.

Now…then there are the people who have no pictures….people with literally “no imagination” who, like one fellow I saw talkig about it on YouTube always thought when we say “picture” so-and-so, that that was only a metaphor. I can’t even imagine that mental state. I picture everything and can take it apart and rotate the pieces in my head. I can’t even understand how thought is possible otherwise, yet clearly, it is. So…spectrums.

Everything that makes us human, that makes us individuals, that makes us US, comes on a spectrum. We really, really need to chill out about that, embrace our diversity, and profit by our different approaches.

But what do you think? Do you have inner speech? Does it chastise and criticize? Does it encourage? Is it only an analytics tool? Leave a comment and let me know.

Zeroing in

Science is like an archer getting closer to the target with practice—and an ever-improving view of the remaining discrepancy. That the aim varies as it zeroes in does not make it wrong along the way—and only a fool would think so.

Estimates for the age of the Earth have evolved over time as new scientific methods have been developed and as new data has been collected.

  • From the 1770s to the 1890s, Earth’s age could only be guessed at (scientifically speaking) based on a crude understanding of natural processes such as geolologic change, planetary cooling, and ocean salinity balance, so estimates ranged wildly from a few million to a few billion years.
  • 1905: The physicist Ernest Rutherford suggested that the age of the Earth could be estimated by measuring the amount of lead in uranium minerals. His estimate was around 500 million years, but was only a swag intended to prod geologists into the atomic age.
  • 1920s: The geologist Arthur Holmes used the radioactive decay of lead and uranium to estimate that the Earth was around 4.6 billion years old. This estimate is still widely accepted today, although the margin of error has been refined over time.
  • 1990s: The development of new radiometric dating techniques, such as uranium-lead dating and samarium-neodymium dating, allowed scientists to estimate the age of the Earth with greater precision. These methods have estimated the age of the Earth to be around 4.54 billion years old, with a margin of error of around 1%.

 

  • 1917-1922: The first estimate of the age of the universe came from astronomer Georges Lemaître, who used Einstein’s theory of general relativity to suggest that the universe was around 10 billion years old. This estimate was based on assumptions about the expansion rate of the universe and the amount of matter it contained, but it did not have a margin of error.
  • 1920s-1930s: Other astronomers, such as Arthur Eddington and Edwin Hubble, proposed different estimates of the age of the universe, ranging from a few hundred million years to several billion years. These estimates were based on observations of the Hubble constant, the rate of expansion of the universe, and the ages of the oldest stars in our galaxy.
  • 1940s-1950s: With the discovery of nuclear reactions and the ability to measure isotopes, physicists were able to estimate the age of the universe more precisely. In the late 1940s, physicist George Gamow and his colleagues suggested an age of around 2 billion years based on calculations of the age of the oldest rocks on Earth. By the early 1950s, improved measurements of the Hubble constant led to estimates of 10-20 billion years with a margin of error of about 25%.
  • 1960s-1970s: The discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1965 provided strong evidence for the Big Bang theory and allowed scientists to refine their estimates of the age of the universe. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, estimates ranged from 10-20 billion years with a margin of error of about 10%.
  • 1980s-1990s: With more precise measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation, estimates of the age of the universe improved further. By the 1990s, estimates were in the range of 13-15 billion years with a margin of error of about 1-2%.
  • 2000s-present: Advances in technology and new observations, such as measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and the Planck satellite, have allowed scientists to refine their estimates even further. Current estimates are in the range of 13.7-13.8 billion years with a margin of error of about 0.1-0.2%.