In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…


The renowned mathematician Paul Erdos, when asked how old he was, used to answer “2 billion years”. His reason was “when I was born, the Earth was known to be 2.5 billion years old; now it’s known to be 4.5 billion years old; therefore, I must be 2 billion years old!”

With respect to Mr. Erdos, that’s a load of BS.

Paul Erdos was born in 1913, the first year radiometic dating was proposed by Boltwood. At that time, most scientists would have quoted late 19th century estimates of between 50 million and 100 million years unless they were up on the discovery of radium and the heat it produced (and the effect that had on estimates based on heat dissipation), and then they would have admitted that no one could know, but many hundreds of millions of years at least.

Boltwood later determined that the 26 geological samples he was working with were between 410 million and 2.2 billion years old—which only meant Earth had to be at least that old.

So when Paul Erdos was born, Earth was “known” to be at least 410 million years old, though most science curricula were still teaching “tens of millions.”Age of the Earth - Geology (U.S. National Park Service)

Radiometric dating was used in 1921—in an impromptu effort at a conference—to establish an informal consensus that Earth was “a few billion years old,” and in 1927, Arthur Holmes’ “The Age of the Earth” argued from radioactive analysis that certain strata must be at least 1.2 billion years old, but he was not attempting to accurately date the Earth but to convince geologists that they should take radiometric dating seriously and that it could and must be reconciled with other methods.

In 1931, the National Academy of Science convened a “committee on geologic time,” which issued a bulletin (#80) declaring that radiometric methods were the only reliable means of measuring the age of Earth, but even by 1949, their annual report only declared “the age of the Earth appears to be “ about 3.35 billion years. By that time, Erdos had been bouncing around university research positions for a decade. Today, lead-uranium and lead-lead radiometric dating have been used to definitively date the Earth–or more precisely, the moment of crystalization of the oldest rocks on Earth and near space, to 4.543 billion years, plus or minus 1%.

So no, Erdos was not 2 billion years old, though it’s possible he was a person who didn’t pay a great deal of attention to geophysical news. More likely, he was just making a joke. A Hungarian by birth, he also used to start his talks by saying with “I’m going to speak to you in the international language of science: Bad English”

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My Reply To A Contact About Masks

Below is my reply to a person who reached out through my website to explain why he didn’t need to see my video about anti-viral masks because he “already had covid for a few minutes and is immune for life,” and anyway the disease is a hoax, etc., etc. I didn’t write this to address that person (who is no doubt so deep in the cult of political theater as to be beyond all hope) but to address for the greater good his oft-repeated misapprehensions. And now that I’ve done that, it’s off to work I go…’

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The Best Possible Sit-Stand Desk?

BTOD VertDesk V3 workspaceWhen I started writing seriously back in 2011, I knew the last thing I needed was to start coming home every day from my corporate desk job and spend hours more behind a desk, so instead I learned my craft standing in the bedroom, typing on a little Acer Netbook perched high atop a tall chest of drawers. That worked well enough

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Why I Left A Quiet Place After Only A Few Minutes

A Quiet Place had a lot of buzz when it came out in 2018, but though I’m a huge fan of both Emily Blunt and John Krasinsky, for various reasons, I never saw it. So the other night, after a hiatus due to an injury, I was looking for scifi to watch while burning calories on my treadmill, and Netflix offered it up. But after five or ten minutes, I’d had enough. Here’s why.

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Have Teleprompter, Will Travel

One of the reasons I started my Patreon page was to defray the cost of certain items and services needed to advance my writing career so I can spend more time writing. The impetus for the change was a teleprompter I started tinkering together over the holidays.

Over the years, I’ve cobbled together all sorts of photographic gear, tools, gizmos, and software–but there is always a consideration of what in business school is called “the make or buy decision.” These days, when I start to build or repair or clean or fabricate, a proverbial birdie rests on my shoulder, singing “you should be writing, you should be writing.”

Building a teleprompter looked to be a poor use of my time. Cobbling together a usable lighting rig was an even poorer use of my time. Recording my first couple of videos using only the little Canon Powershot I use for appearances–and syncing the video up with audio from an external recorder was….Jimminy Cricket! Like going back to the days of 8mm movie film and splicing cuts with cellophane tape!

But if I’m going to use video to help build an audience, I need a teleprompter so I don’t have to waste vast quantities of time and blood pressure memorizing scripts. A teleprompter is a device that lets the camera shoot through a piece of glass reflecting text out to the performer. It lets you address the audience directly without constantly looking up and down and loosing your place or looking like you on a Zoom meeting.
Like a lot of things, the fundamental technology isn’t as exotic as it used to be. For one thing, instead of extraordinarily special purpose optics to reverse the text, you can now just install an app on a tablet. And with millions of YouTubers creating a new low-end audio visual market, the special glass that gives teleprompters a bright, clear image isn’t as special purpose as it used to be.

Even so, teleprompters are expensive, and the only ones in my price range are only big enough for a cell phone–and my eyesight isn’t that good. Finally, about the time I made my Patreon account, I found a deal on a tablet sized ultra simple teleprompter for only $75 and put my order in….and never got it. As of today, it’s still officially backordered, but I suspect the deal was just a little too good. The glass alone is worth that price.
So…with both my Patreon and YouTube channels slowly growing stale, I decided to finish up my DIY job and harvest the glass out of the Chinese discount model if it ever actually arrives. And so I give you (Drum roll please), the Tinkerator 2000, DIY Teleprompter!
Featuring solid pine, superglue, a broken certificate frame, odds and ends from the garage that I should have thrown out years ago but as soon as you throw it away you’ll realize the one perfect thing you could have used it for, and such hardware as I could not forgo or improvise but could order online during a pandemic.
The Tinkerator 2000 folds flat for storage, features Velcro attached stays to guard against accidental glass shattering collapse, and a luxurious old T-shirt light shade resting atop a deep, Velcro secured top support to guard against stray movie lights.

Videos to follow.

It’s Not a Nuke – Here’s How I Know

I write this moments after a massive explosion rocked the port of Beirut Lebanon, and before the wold can catch a breath and think what help might be appropriate, online conspiracy nuts are whispering “nuke.”
It was not a nuke. He’s how we know:

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Can We Really Touch Anything?

That depends on your definition of “touch.”

Obviously we can touch things. You are touching something right now that’s preventing you from falling to the center of Earth’s gravitational field. The thing is, “touching” may not mean what you think it does.

If you play pool, “touching” may conjure the firm crack of cue against ball, but if you’ve ever flown a kite, you know you can touch the air in a much squishier way.

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How to Avoid Teaching Your Kids to Hate Vegetables

I am reposting this here after it went viral on a website I contribute to. I cannot claim credit for this method; it stems from a parenting book by T. Berry Brazelton, but I can tell you it works–and what my parents did didn’t, though it veered at times into authoritarian abuse.

Here is what I did, from the time my children started on solid food:

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To The Mayor Of Every US City

I sent this letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner, of Houston:


For what it’s worth, I have a suggestion relevant to the current state of unrest.

I hope we can agree that while the police are an essential, and for the most part positive element in our society, America’s police today–as a community–are too prone to escalation, too free with violent action, too tolerant of racism, too adept at covering for their own transgressions, and too ineffectual at the community dialogue essential to maintaining understanding and engagement with the communities they serve. Some departments are better in some these areas than others, but as a nation, this is the state we’re in. America’s police are too racist, but they are also to militant, too often needlessly belligerent, and too often a haven for those looking for cart blanche to hurt others.

Thus, to end this unrest–and more important, the decades of injustice behind it–we need a bold, public, transparent national initiative to reform our police, to put in place standards of conduct, training, and community oversight to effectively address all these problems. Especially the community oversight–over all objections by the unions.

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You Gotta Have Skills

Since I started seriously writing, I’ve learned there are a vast assortment of skills I might logically profit by that I just don’t have. And I’m not talking about grammar and spelling, or judging when to use active voice or how to write dialog that sounds true to life but isn’t as dull and repetitive as life—though those are all on the list.

No, I’m talking about the meta-skills, the things writers need to know these days that have nothing (or little) directly to do with writing, skills like using software to create promotional signage and book layouts, reading stories before an audience (or into a microphone for audiobooks), hawking your wares from a comic con booth or yes….begging for money.

That last might seem an odd choice for someone like me with major contest wins and a string of top market professional sales under my belt. But the sad truth is, short stories just don’t pay very much, and unless you hide all the other writers in a cupboard somewhere, it’s almost impossible to sell more than a few per year at professional rates.

So…as I work on the core skills (the prosy ones and the butt in chair, actually writing the novel ones) I started thinking a few years back, that it would be wise if I had a plan in place, should the need arise, to convince the IRS that yes, this writing thing really is a business that will one day turn a net profit after appearances and expenses.

My first step along those lines was to create Got Scifi Group, a small imprint and informal collaborative of some of my award-winning writer friends, for the purpose of producing anthologies that those of us who make appearances and don’t yet have a back list of novels can sell at a measurable profit.

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