Chat GPT helps out with my panels at Balticon

Space pirate ship run by artificial intelligence — generated by stable diffusion

I decided to ask Chat GPT to do some research for my panels at Balticon. It actually did a pretty good job, although being somewhat aware of its limits/strengths I was careful to phrase the prompts appropriately. The headlines are the prompts I gave ChatGPT; the text is its response. The prompts are taken from the panel titles, but modified a bit. Note there was a certain amount of finger-wagging from Chat-GPT when we got to space piracy!

How will generative AIs transform the world?

Generative AIs, such as language models, have the potential to profoundly transform the world across various domains. Here are several ways in which generative AIs may have a significant impact:

  1. Content Generation: Generative AIs can automate the creation of content across various mediums, including text, images, music, and video. They can assist in writing articles, generating marketing materials, designing visuals, composing music, or even creating realistic deepfake videos. This has implications for industries such as media, advertising, entertainment, and creative arts.
  2. Personalized Experiences: Generative AIs can tailor experiences to individual preferences and needs. They can help create personalized recommendations for products, services, and content based on user data and preferences. This can enhance user experiences in areas such as e-commerce, entertainment, education, and healthcare.
  3. Natural Language Processing: Language models and generative AIs can enhance natural language understanding and generation, leading to improved chatbots, virtual assistants, and customer support systems. They can enable more sophisticated conversational interactions, automate customer service processes, and assist in language translation.
  4. Research and Development: Generative AIs can accelerate research and development in various fields by assisting with data analysis, hypothesis generation, and experimental design. They can help scientists, engineers, and researchers process vast amounts of data, explore new ideas, and make discoveries more efficiently.
  5. Creative Collaboration: Generative AIs can facilitate creative collaboration between humans and machines. They can assist artists, designers, and writers by generating ideas, providing creative suggestions, or acting as co-creators. This opens up possibilities for new forms of artistic expression and collaboration.
  6. Decision-Making Support: Generative AIs can assist in decision-making processes by providing insights, analyzing complex data sets, and simulating scenarios. They can aid in strategic planning, financial analysis, risk assessment, and policy development, helping individuals and organizations make more informed decisions.
  7. Humanitarian Applications: Generative AIs can be utilized in humanitarian efforts, such as disaster response, public health, and poverty alleviation. They can assist in analyzing large-scale data to identify patterns, predict outcomes, and provide insights for effective interventions and resource allocation.
  8. Ethical Considerations: The emergence of generative AIs raises important ethical considerations. Issues such as bias in training data, privacy concerns, and the responsible use of AI-generated content need to be carefully addressed to ensure that the transformative potential of generative AIs is harnessed responsibly and ethically.

It’s important to note that while generative AIs have immense potential, they also come with challenges and risks. Ensuring responsible development, addressing biases, protecting privacy, and upholding ethical standards are crucial to harnessing the transformative power of generative AIs for the benefit of society.

How might the moral systems of alien civilitizations differ from our own?

When contemplating the moral systems of alien civilizations, we can only engage in speculative and imaginative thinking since we have no empirical knowledge of extraterrestrial life. However, considering the potential diversity of life forms and their unique environments, we can explore some ways in which their moral systems might differ from our own:

  1. Different Biological Basis: Aliens may have different sensory perceptions, cognitive abilities, and biological needs. These variations could shape their moral systems. For example, if an alien species lacks empathy or emotions as we understand them, their moral framework may not prioritize concepts like compassion or altruism.
  2. Cultural Relativism: Alien civilizations might possess vastly different cultures and value systems due to their unique evolutionary paths and social structures. Cultural relativism could lead to moral values that diverge significantly from ours, making it challenging for us to comprehend or relate to their ethical perspectives.
  3. Different Notions of Personhood: Aliens may have distinct concepts of personhood and the boundaries of moral consideration. They might have different criteria for determining moral worth, such as intelligence, consciousness, or other characteristics that we might not prioritize in the same way. This could lead to different ethical obligations and attitudes towards other beings.
  4. Non-Human-Centric Ethics: Earthly moral systems are often anthropocentric, prioritizing the interests and well-being of humans. Alien civilizations, especially those with more advanced intelligence, may have expanded moral considerations beyond their own species. They could extend moral consideration to other sentient beings, ecosystems, or even artificial intelligences they have created.
  5. Different Ethical Frameworks: Alien moral systems might be guided by alternative ethical frameworks that we haven’t conceived of or that differ significantly from our own. They might emphasize different ethical principles or philosophical perspectives that challenge or supplement our understanding of right and wrong.
  6. Alternative Priorities: The values and priorities of alien civilizations could be shaped by different challenges and environmental factors. They might prioritize sustainability, harmony with their ecosystems, or other objectives that differ from human-centric moral concerns.
  7. Technological Impact: Highly advanced alien civilizations might have overcome certain ethical dilemmas or developed unique moral perspectives based on their technological capabilities and experiences. For example, they might have resolved issues related to resource scarcity, population control, or interstellar travel, which could influence their ethical priorities.

It is important to approach these speculations with humility and an understanding that they are purely imaginative. Without concrete knowledge of extraterrestrial life, we can only engage in thought experiments and explore the potential diversity of moral systems that could exist in the vastness of the universe.

What are some famous mad scientists?

Throughout history, there have been several figures who have been portrayed or labeled as “mad scientists” due to their eccentricities, unorthodox experiments, or controversial beliefs. While the term “mad scientist” is fictional and not a formal designation, here are a few famous figures who have often been associated with the concept:

  1. Nikola Tesla: Tesla was an electrical engineer and inventor known for his groundbreaking work in alternating current (AC) power systems. He had an unconventional personality and ideas, often conducting experiments that were ahead of his time. Tesla’s eccentricities and claims, such as his ideas on wireless transmission of energy, contributed to the perception of him as a “mad scientist” in popular culture.
  2. Dr. Victor Frankenstein: Dr. Frankenstein is a fictional character created by Mary Shelley in her novel “Frankenstein.” He is portrayed as a scientist who creates a living creature through a controversial and unorthodox scientific experiment. Dr. Frankenstein’s pursuit of knowledge and his reckless actions have made him an iconic representation of the “mad scientist” archetype.
  3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: These characters, created by Robert Louis Stevenson in the novella “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” depict a scientist named Dr. Henry Jekyll, who creates a potion that transforms him into the evil Mr. Edward Hyde. Dr. Jekyll’s attempts to separate his good and evil sides through scientific means result in disastrous consequences and exemplify the dangers of unchecked experimentation.
  4. Dr. Moreau: Dr. Moreau is a character from H.G. Wells’ novel “The Island of Doctor Moreau.” He is a vivisectionist who conducts unethical experiments on animals, attempting to create human-like hybrids. Dr. Moreau’s disregard for ethical boundaries and his disturbing creations have contributed to his portrayal as a “mad scientist.”
  5. Dr. Emmett Brown: Dr. Brown is a fictional character from the “Back to the Future” film trilogy, portrayed by Christopher Lloyd. He is an eccentric inventor who creates a time machine out of a DeLorean car. Driven by his scientific pursuits and often engaging in unconventional experiments, Dr. Brown embodies the archetypal “mad scientist” persona in a lighthearted and comedic manner.

It’s important to note that while these figures have become iconic representations of “mad scientists,” their portrayals are fictional and should not be confused with real-life scientists or their work. The term “mad scientist” is largely a literary and cinematic trope used to depict characters with eccentric, morally ambiguous, or ethically questionable scientific pursuits.

What are the economics of space piracy?

Space piracy, as a concept, involves acts of unauthorized aggression, theft, or disruption of space activities. While space piracy is primarily portrayed in science fiction, it is essential to recognize that real-world space activities are governed by international laws and treaties, and piracy is illegal and highly discouraged. Nevertheless, if we were to consider the hypothetical economics of space piracy in a fictional context, we can examine several factors:

  1. Motivation: Space piracy would likely be driven by economic motives. Pirates might aim to steal valuable resources, such as rare minerals, precious metals, or advanced technology from spacecraft or space stations. These stolen goods could be sold on black markets or to rogue entities for substantial profits.
  2. Cost of Operation: Space piracy would require significant financial resources. Pirates would need to acquire or build spacecraft capable of interstellar travel, equip themselves with advanced weaponry, establish bases or hideouts, and sustain their operations, including crew salaries, maintenance, and fuel costs. Funding such operations could come from illicit activities, extortion, or support from criminal organizations.
  3. Risk and Competition: Space piracy would be an extremely high-risk endeavor. Pirates would face potential confrontation with well-equipped defense forces, including national militaries or private security employed by space-faring organizations. The risk of retaliation and countermeasures would increase the cost and complexity of maintaining piracy operations. Additionally, competition among pirate factions might lead to conflicts over limited resources and territories, further straining profitability.
  4. Legal Framework: As mentioned, space activities are governed by international laws and treaties, such as the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Agreement. These agreements establish principles of peaceful use of space, cooperation, and non-appropriation of celestial bodies. Engaging in space piracy would violate these legal frameworks, potentially leading to sanctions, legal actions, and international condemnation.
  5. Response and Defense: Space-faring nations and organizations would likely invest in robust security measures to protect their assets from piracy. This could involve employing armed security personnel, developing advanced surveillance systems, and implementing secure communication networks. The cost of defense and security could increase as a response to piracy threats, making it more challenging for pirates to succeed.

Considering the factors above, the economics of space piracy would likely be challenging. The risks, high costs of operation, legal implications, and the potential for strong defense measures by space-faring entities would likely limit the profitability and sustainability of space piracy activities. It is important to reiterate that space piracy is illegal, and international efforts are in place to ensure peaceful and cooperative exploration and utilization of space.

What are some good uses for acousto-optic devices?

Acousto-optic devices are versatile tools that harness the interaction of sound waves and light waves to enable a range of applications. Here are some good uses for acousto-optic devices:

  1. Laser Beam Control: Acousto-optic devices can be employed for precise laser beam manipulation. By applying an acoustic wave to a crystal or an optical fiber, the device can diffract, deflect, or modulate the laser beam’s intensity, frequency, or direction. This capability is valuable in laser scanning systems, laser printers, laser machining, and optical communication networks.
  2. Optical Spectroscopy: Acousto-optic devices find extensive applications in spectroscopy, where they facilitate the rapid tuning of light sources and the modulation of optical signals. They are particularly useful in time-resolved spectroscopic techniques, such as Raman spectroscopy, where they enable efficient filtering, wavelength selection, and signal modulation.
  3. Optical Signal Processing: Acousto-optic devices are utilized in various signal processing applications, including signal modulation, filtering, and frequency shifting. They can perform tasks like frequency analysis, convolution, correlation, and beam steering, making them valuable in areas such as radar systems, optical computing, and telecommunications.
  4. Fiber Optic Communications: Acousto-optic devices play a role in fiber optic communication networks. They can be employed as tunable filters, optical switches, and modulators to control the routing and modulation of optical signals within fiber optic systems. This enables wavelength division multiplexing, signal demultiplexing, and efficient signal processing in high-speed communication networks.
  5. Imaging and Holography: Acousto-optic devices are utilized in imaging systems and holography setups. They can control the properties of light, such as intensity, polarization, and phase, allowing for dynamic image formation, spatial light modulation, and holographic recording. These devices contribute to applications like laser displays, laser printing, and three-dimensional imaging.
  6. Laser Doppler Velocimetry: Acousto-optic devices are used in laser Doppler velocimetry systems to measure the velocity and flow characteristics of fluids. By splitting laser light into two beams and analyzing the Doppler shift caused by the moving particles in the fluid, these devices enable precise velocity measurements, making them valuable in fields such as fluid dynamics, biomedical research, and industrial flow monitoring.
  7. Optical Computing: Acousto-optic devices have been explored for their potential in optical computing systems. They can be used for optical switching, routing, and signal processing in all-optical computing architectures, offering the advantages of parallelism, high-speed operation, and potentially low power consumption.

These are just a few examples of the many good uses for acousto-optic devices. Their ability to control light using sound waves opens up possibilities in various fields, including photonics, telecommunications, imaging, and scientific research.

Light & Sound at Balticon 2023

I’m doing a talk on Light and Sound at the 2023 Balticon and four panels, all fun, as well. First my talk, then my panels with the reasons I gave to Balticon as to why I wanted to be on the panel.

The extraordinary physics of Light and Sound

Light and sound have had a close relationship since the first stroke of lightning triggered the first sound of thunder. But it is only lately that science has entered the picture. From sonoluminescence (light emitted by imploding bubbles), to the use of the acousto-optic effect to use sound to control lasers, to polarons & plasmons (quantum particles which are strange hybrids of sound and light), we look at the science of sound and light as it is now — and how it might evolve in the future.

Pirates in Space

Kelly Freas cover for Astounding Science Fiction of a space pirate boarding a space ship, slide rule clenched between his teeth.
Kelly Freas and his Freas-booters; sliderule clenched in teeth!

Who can resist Pirates in Space? yes, the distances are great — and the need for an expert spaceship technician unavoidable — but a single lucky encounter might be enough to let you retire for life. And if the technical difficulties are likely to be great, the forces driving men & women to piracy may be just as great: greed, desperation, the desire for a new life, or just the odd spot of revenge will be as powerful in space as they have been on planet. Yo ho ho & a bottle of Venusian Blue Ruin!

Mad Science

As Niels Bohr put it: “We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough.” So how do we get to “crazy enough” how to “think outside the box” without crossing the boundary to madness? Many excellent examples may be found on each side of the divide! A great panel topic; I would be delighted to be on this panel!

The topic takes me back to a Philcon at the Adam’s West, many years ago. After one of my time travel or multiverse talks, I was in the elevator with a few of the attendees.

One of them said something like “great talk, but are you mad?”

“No, sane from an unexpected direction”

and another asked: “And the direction is?”


Alternative Moralities

The two poles of morality are the pro-social imperatives of society and the individual’s personal sense of right and wrong. Sometimes these two poles align, sometimes not so much. And if we have aliens & their own imperatives in the mix, not to mention new ways to order society and strange mind-spanning tech, then who knows how the gyroscope of good and evil will come to align? I think I will stop now. But I would be delighted to give this panel a spin, if the con gods will it!

How will generative AI transform the world?

I’ve been tracking the chat-GPT debates: I think we may be starting to get a sense of what generative AI is good for and where it creates some significant risks. But even its creators are amazed by the quality of the answers we are getting; in a strange way generative AI is giving a snapshot of the “mind of the human race” or at least the internet active part of it. And what does that mean?

Black Holes: the Care & Feeding Thereof

A Black Hole dresses in Layers

What be their characteristic haunts?  How may they be recognized? How may they be stalked? How avoided? By what dire forces are they created?  What dangers do they present? What songs do they sing?  What instruction do they offer? and do Black Holes ever, ever disgorge their prey?

And if this interests you, I will be doing this talk this coming Saturday at noon at the Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

I’ve been having a lot of fun putting this talk together: we’ll cover the first proposal for a black hole (wasn’t Einstein, was the clergyman John Michel in 1784!), why they exist, how we see them (they are invisible after all, so that can be a bit tricky), and why we may owe our entire existence to one!

Be seeing you!

Time dispersion in Quantum Electrodynamics

Experimental test of quantum electrodynamics

I gave a talk in June at the IARD 2022 conference in Prague on “Time dispersion in Quantum Electrodynamics”. I can’t improve on the abstract so give it here:

Quantum electrodynamics (QED) is often formulated in a way that appears fully relativistic. However since QED treats the three space dimensions as observables but time as a classical parameter, it is only partially relativistic. For instance, in the path integral formulation, the sum over paths includes paths that vary in space but not paths that vary in time. We apply covariance to extend QED to include time on the same basis as space. This implies dispersion in time, entanglement in time, full equivalence of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (HUP) in time to the HUP in space, and so on. In the long time limit we recover standard QED. Further, entanglement in time has the welcome side effect of eliminating the ultraviolet divergences. We should see the effects at scales of attoseconds. With recent developments in attosecond physics and in quantum computing, these effects should now be visible. The results are therefore falsifiable. Since the promotion of time to an operator is done by a straightforward application of agreed and tested principles of quantum mechanics and relativity, falsification will have implications for those principles. Confirmation will have implications for attosecond physics, quantum computing and communications, and quantum gravity.

I’ve written the talk up as a paper and submitted to the IARD’s Conference Proceedings, where it is undergoing peer review. I’ve also submitted it to the physics archive, so Time dispersion in quantum electrodynamics is generally available.

It’s a long paper, 95 pages, but in defense of that it is a large subject. A quick check on showed over 1000 textbooks on QED — and at 3 centimeters a book (based on my personal library) the literature — just the textbooks — runs over 30 meters! The problem I had was how to extend QED in time without breaking it. QED has, after all, been confirmed to extraordinary precision: is there room for time within QED?

The basic trick was to write the extension as the standard theory times a “time correction”. So if the time correction is small enough, we won’t have seen it by accident. Since the time corrections will normally be about an attosecond in size (an attosecond is to a second as a second is to the age of the universe), that’s not hard to show.

The other trick is to show that there are cases where we could see the effects of these “time corrections”. Since we can now see stuff at the attosecond level — provided we know where to look — that’s OK as well.

The illustration at the top of this post is a proposed test of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in time, which is particularly nice because in this case the effect can be made — in principle at least — as large as we like. But there are lots of other possibilities:

“With respect to the falsifiability of TQM [time correction to QED], the small size of the basic effect may be compensated for by the large number of experimental possibilities. If quantum mechanics should in fact be extended in the time direction then essentially any time dependent apparatus with time dependent detectors may provide a possible line of attack. By hypothesis, all quantum mechanical phenomena seen in space – interference, diffraction, uncertainty, entanglement, tunneling, … – apply in time as they do in space. 

But what are the odds of this being true? I give five reasons (explained in detail in the text):

  1. We have a version of QED which is manifestly covariant, treating all four dimensions equally. Simply being able to do this is interesting.
  2. We have a clear explanation of why time normally appears asymmetric at the level of the observer (due to statistical effects at the scale of Avogadro’s number) while still at the particle level being completely symmetric.
  3. We have a treatment which goes smoothly from the single to the multiple particle cases.
  4. We do not see the ultra-violet divergences. We still have to normalize the loops, but we no longer have to regularize them: that drops out of the formalism.
  5. And we have Gell-Mann’s principle: what is not forbidden is compulsory. If there is not a conservation principle or symmetry rule forbidding dispersion in time, it would be surprising not to see dispersion in time.

And if QED really should extend in time, there may be some significant uses:

High speed chemical and biological interactions, i.e. attosecond scale, should show effects of time dispersion. For instance, if molecules can sense into the future, it may affect their ability to find optimal configurations. There are potential applications for quantum communication and quantum computing. With TQM we have an additional channel to use for calculation/communication but also an additional channel to act as a source of decoherence.The implications for quantum gravity are particularly interesting: with manifest covariance, elimination of the ultra-violet divergences, some recent work by Horwitz, and earlier work by Verlinde, we appear to have all the pieces needed to construct a complete, covariant, and convergent theory of quantum gravity. Leaving the question of the odds of this being correct to one side, we note that recent advances in technique mean such a theory has a reasonable chance of being falsifiable as well. 

My personal favorite effect is the possiblity of tunneling in time. The posited symmetry between time and space forces this, but does it mean?

79th World Science Fiction Convention (Discon III)

79th World Science Fiction Convention DC 2021

The 79th World Science Fiction Convention (Discon III) is being held in DC in three days, running from 12/14/2021 through 12/19/2021. They had a long struggle deciding between real & virtual. They settled on real but with lots of virtual bits. I’m just pleased they decided to go forward. Full schedule is now online. Note the web page is a bit fragile & needs sometimes a bit of coaxing.

I’m giving two short talks and serving as panelist on three panels. Because of space problems, many of the talks are sharing an hour. Both my talks are 25 minutes:

Artificial Intelligence: Past, Present, and Futures

From neural nets and genetic algorithms to facial recognition and deep fakes, artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere today. What exactly do we mean by AI? How did AI get where it is today? What role will it play in our lives? What are the benefits and risks of AI? And when will we have real AI?

7PM Thursday December 16th, 2021. This is the top of the hour so should start at 7PM. Slides up on slideshare.

The Quantum Internet:  Hype or the Next Step?

What do we mean by the quantum internet? Why do we need more than just quantum computing? What are quantum cryptography, quantum key distribution, quantum sensors? How are these concepts entangled? What are the advantages of the quantum internet? key problems? Who will get to use it? And do we have just a bunch of interesting technologies that all have quantum in their name or can the whole be more than the sum of its parts?

10AM Sunday December 19th, 2021. This is the 2nd half of the hour so will probably start about 10:25AM. Slides up on slideshare.

And I’m doing three panels (all 50 minutes):

The State of Machine Learning

An artificial intelligence does not necessarily have to think like a human being. How do current AIs approach questions of cognition and meaningful analysis? What are other ways that an intelligent AI might perceive and understand the world?

Notes for participants: Examples. AI as a personal assistant, AI as a social benefit, AI as a threat, making sense of big data, autonomous vehicles, neural networks, automated facial recognition, behavioral analysis, racial bias in training data. The term xenosapience is used in some sf non AIs that do not think like people.

4PM Wednesday December 15th, 2021. Virtual

Balancing Story and Scientific Authenticity

Many readers love real science, or just the appearance of real science, in their science fiction. It is no small challenge to create compelling literature that also triggers a scientific sense of wonder. Panelists discuss how to do it right.

I’m moderating this & much looking forward to it. I have a lot of questions for the panelists:

  • How can getting the science right make the story better?
  • What are some of the best examples of getting the science right? Hal Clement — Mission of Gravity, Uncommon Sense, … — comes to mind of course, many others.
  • How to give readers the right amount of explanation? Obviously we want a bit more scientific detail in The Martian than in Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids! My own feeling is that Arthur Clarke was the all-time master of balancing science & wonder. Your selections for this?
  • What are some examples where the science was just so awful that it interfered with the story? Or the story died the death of painful exposition? (Venus Equilateral comes to mind; feel free to disagree of course!)
  • What are some of your own stories where you think, all modesty aside, that you got the science just about right! And what were some places where you had to do a bit of work to achieve the best balance?
  • What advice would you give a new writer on how to handle the science?
  • What advice would you give a reader on what to look for in a story’s treatment of science?
  • What differences are there in way you would handle different sciences? we often break the sciences down into soft and hard, is that valid?
  • How to handle alien sciences?
  • How do you like to prep the science?

11:30AM Thursday, December 16th, 2021. Virtual

International Space Program

Americans may not hear much about it, but there’s a thriving culture of space exploration and science outside of the United States. Come hear about some of the notable missions, developments, and discoveries of 2020 and 2021.

8:30PM Thursday, December 16th, 2021. Physical (Diplomat Ballroom)

The Quantum Internet and: Cthulhu Now!, Don’t get your time machine in a twist, and Warped Plotting

Google conducts largest chemical simulation on a quantum computer to date
Google’s Sycamore Quantum Computer

This year’s Philcon is going forward in person, in spite of Covid! It runs from Friday afternoon (11/19/2021) through Sunday afternoon (11/21/2021). Jabs & masks mandatory, but it will be great to see old friends in person. And make a few new as well. My science talk is:

The Quantum Internet: Hype or the next step

What do we mean by the quantum internet? Why do we need more than just quantum computing? What are quantum cryptography, quantum key distribution, quantum sensors? How are these concepts entangled? What are the advantages of the quantum internet? key problems? Who will get to use it? And do we have just a bunch of interesting tech that all have quantum in their name or can the whole be more than the sum of its parts?

This will be 1 pm Saturday November 20th at Philcon 2021

I did this at this year’s Capclave. Went well: some pretty deep questions from the audience at the end, always a good sign. I’ve updated — quantum computing does not stand still! — and looking forward to presenting in a few days. The picture is of Google’s Sycamore Quantum Computer, which recently achieved “Quantum Supremacy”. I will explain what that means!

I’m doing three panels as well:

The Post-Lovecraftian Cthulhu

How have HP Lovecraft’s ideas evolved in the hands of subsequent writers?

At this point, post-Lovecraftian Cthulhu is 99+% of Cthulhu. There are a lot of interesting directions here: from more mythos (Derleth for instance), more grim humor (Stross), high tech reboots (Delta Green), and a deeper (pun intended) take on Lovecraft’s racism (Lovecraft Country, Ballad of Black Tom). And we have uses of Cthulhu in music, film & TV (of course!), theater, and even in real science (the elongated dark region on Pluto nee Yuggoth called Cthulhu Macula!) if we are willing to include songwriters, playwrights, & scientists as part of the dark horde of subsequent writers.

This with Darrell Schweitzer (my co-editor on Tales From the Miskatonic University Library) and Stephanie Burke (writer, cosplayer, and a remarkable presence). I proposed the topic so have been unable to avoid the scourage of moderation.

At 10pm Friday, 11/19/2021

A Beginner’s Guide to Time Travel Paradoxes

You know not to remove a major historical figure, hand Thomas Edison a cell phone, or kill your grandfather. But is it even possible to travel into the past without changing anything?  So you go back to Chicago in 1920, and eat a hamburger in a diner. But, unbeknownst to you, that hamburger was destined to sit for six hours, spoil, and sicken someone else, who misses an important appointment, and… there goes the timestream. Would nature have a way of correcting this?

This with Michael Ventrella, George W. Young, and Russell Handelmann. Michael is currently editing a time travel anthology and is also moderating the panel. Michael’s a lot of fun; the other two I look forward to meeting.

At 2pm Saturday, 11/20/2021

Parsecs, Light Years, and the Speed of Plot

Warp?  Hyperspace?  Ion propulsion?  Improbability drive?  Is it necessary to sacrifice accuracy to maintain pacing?  Our panelists science the heck out of “velocity equals distance divided by time” as used in fiction.

This with Tobias F. Cabral (moderator), Anastasia Klimchynskaya, Tom Purdom. All familiar & valued co-panelists!

At 4pm Saturday, 11/20/2021

How to build a PostgreSQL-backed website. Quickly.

Model-View-Controller using Ruby-on-Rails & PostgreSQL

So you want to build a website? Quickly! But able to grow to arbitrary size, if fortune smiles.

I’ve been working on just such a website, one which runs the manufacturing process for a world class optical switch manufacturer. They started in 2005 and are now the 2nd leading producer of optical switches. So zero to hero. They started with Ruby-on-Rails & are still running the original code. With a few hacks of course, many of which I built.

So, time for a talk on how to do this. The 2021 PostgreSQL Conference Webinars in the person of Lindsay Hooper was kind enough to extend an invite & I put something short together. I gave the talk earlier today as a webinar. Very happy with the way it came out; it provides a short introduction to how to get started on this, from the database perspective:

I show how to get started building a PostgreSQL-backed website using Ruby-on-Rails, what is meant by the Model-View-Controller architecture, why we want to use that, what tools you need to get started; how to work with the online tutorials; what kind of workflow to use, and which tasks to let Ruby-on-Rails handle versus which are better done by PostgreSQL.

The conference will be posting the video of the webinar in a few days. Meanwhile, I have exported the slides as a PDF up on slideshare.

And if you are wondering what the illo has to do with the talk, it’s a breakdown of the pieces of the Model-View-Controller architecture as it applies to Ruby-on-Rails/PostgreSQL. If you are going to do this, it is the map which is your world.


Harvard asked for a bio/reflections for the next reunion. I had fun writing it, so I share here for any who are interested:

I recall my Harvard years with great pleasure: many excellent conversations & some courses that still stay with me. For a while I was a dual major in Anthropology & Physics but back then the overlap between these two disciplines was not great. I settled on Physics.

This was during the political upheavals of the Vietnam war; I with two friends founded the Party of the Radical Middle: the party of extreme common sense. If we had actually had any common sense we would have realized this party would be going nowhere. Still it was fun while it lasted.

Sophomore year final exams were interrupted by discovering I was coughing up blood. This turned out to be tuberculosis. At the time it seemed like a negative, but it turned out it kept me out of the draft & the Vietnam war until the draft was ended, two years later. Net positive.

I got my Harvard BA in Physics in 1972 (summa cum laude) and then a Masters in Physics from Princeton (1977).

For several years after that I was an assistant editor for Asimov’s SF Magazine, which started a life long involvement with the science fiction community.

After that I was the production manager (really the IT guy) for a startup scientific & medical press called Centrum. Many 100 hour weeks. Our first journals were, appropriately enough, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine & the International Journal of Disaster Medicine. My favorite Disaster article was one explaining how to triage at a disaster site, using a system of red, yellow, & green toe tags. If you find yourself with a red or green toe tag, steal your neighbor’s yellow toe tag: yellow toe tags get you the maximum attention (red toe tags get you morphine, green toe tags no attention at all).

I also learned how to lie to computers. This is an incredibly useful skill & has been the foundation of my subsequent career.

I got my start as an official IT consultant working at Bellcore, the joint development arm of the 7 baby bells. After a year or two, I wound up responsible for an entire computer center, with 30 mini-computers & perhaps 1500 users. Time to go independent.

Since then I have worked as a software and database developer, working in the medical, legal, advertising, financial, scientific, and other areas, with clients ranging from a high-risk perinatal laboratory to a cemetery (my company slogan is cradle to grave programming).

I currently work full time as the database department at a leading optical switch manufacturer (your web pages & email travel over switches I helped build).

I’ve stayed part of the science fiction community. I’ve given talks at NASA, and at Philcon, Balticon, Capclave, and other science fiction conventions on Time Travel, Invisibility, Star Gates, Parallel Universes, and related topics. Recently I co-edited (with Darrell Schweitzer) Tales from the Miskatonic University: what evils lurk in the dark reaches of the Dewey Decimal System?

And I am working on a Ph.D. dissertation in physics, Time Dispersion in Quantum Mechanics. I presented this at the 2018 conference of the IARD (International Association for Relativistic Dynamics). It is now up on the web as part of the IOP Conference Proceedings. I’ve written a followup article (Does the Heisenberg uncertainty principle apply along the time dimension?) also published by the IOP.

My lifetime goal is to build a really practical time machine.

Quantum internet at Capclave 2021

Somewhat surprisingly, even tho the Washington DC Science Fiction community is hosting this year’s Worldcon, they are still doing their regular annual convention as well, Capclave 2021. Kudos for courage! And it is inperson as well (proof of vaccination required).

I’m doing a talk on the Quantum Internet this year at Capclave. I moderated a panel on the quantum internet at the most recent Balticon. Panel went well (video of the panel is up on youtube) thanks to my two fellow panelists Kevin Roche and Anne Gray. This is a great subject, so I figured a dedicated talk on this would be fun & helpful to people. Hence:

The Quantum Internet: Hype or the next step

What do we mean by the quantum internet? Why do we need more than just quantum computing? What are quantum cryptography, quantum key distribution, quantum sensors? How are these concepts entangled? What are the advantages of the quantum internet? key problems? Who will get to use it? And do we have just a bunch of interesting tech that all have quantum in their name or can the whole be more than the sum of its parts?

This will be 4pm Saturday October 2nd, 2021 at Capclave

I’m doing two panels as well:

Horrors found in the Editor’s Slush

I’ve copyrighted this story so you cannot steal it and publish it under your name. “And their names were Adam and Eve.” The manuscript written in crayon. Threats if the editor rejects a story. Considering that writers want their stories to be published, they do seem to do everything possible to discourage editors. What are some of the horrors you found in submissions? What should new writers know to avoid?

This with Walt BoyesNeil ClarkeDina Leacock

At 8pm Friday October 1st, 2021 at Capclave

A Century of Robots

The play RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots) premiered in January 1921. This play was the first to use the word robot for a scientifically created mechanical worker. Why has the concept of robots been so popular? How have robots evolved in fiction?

This with Jennifer PoveyMichael SwanwickJoy Ward

At 11am Sunday October 3rd, 2021 at Capclave

Can we get certain about uncertainty in time?

Einstein takes some time out for time

There is a decent chance that quantum mechanics applies in time in the same way it does in the three space dimensions. I say decent because Einstein’s relativity says we have to treat time like a space dimension. So if quantum mechanics applies in space — and it does! — then it has to apply in time as well.

And since in quantum mechanics all measurements are uncertain about position of an object in space, they therefore have to be uncertain about its position in time as well. Hey, blame Einstein, not me!

The effects are expected of order attoseconds. Now one attosecond is to a second as a second is to the age of the universe: not very long. But with current tech we can actually see times this short.

So we can now tell if the position of a particle is uncertain in time. It’s “now” might be really a bit fuzzy: with a bit of “future” and a bit of “past” mixed in.

I’ve just had published a paper on the specifics of how we might measure the effects of this “Does the Heisenberg uncertainty principle apply along the time dimension?“. This is in the Conference Proceedings of the International Association for Relativistic Dynamics, which is focused on following up on some ideas first suggested by Feynman & by Stückelberg.

I’m working on getting some experimentalists interested in this & have started the next paper in the series “Time Dispersion in Quantum Electrodynamics” to help them crank out estimates effects for various experimental configurations. Much stoked!

It may be more than a few attoseconds before the first results are in, but at this point it should be just a matter of time! And it might be very practical, with real-world applications in biophysics, attosecond-scale chemistry, and quantum computing.

For the record, the abstract of the paper is:

Does the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (HUP) apply along the time dimension in the same way it applies along the three space dimensions? Relativity says it should; current practice says no. With recent advances in measurement at the attosecond scale it is now possible to decide this question experimentally.

The most direct test is to measure the time-of-arrival of a quantum particle: if the HUP applies in time, then the dispersion in the time-of-arrival will be measurably increased.

We develop an appropriate metric of time-of-arrival in the standard case; extend this to include the case where there is uncertainty in time; then compare. There is – as expected – increased uncertainty in the time-of-arrival if the HUP applies along the time axis. The results are fully constrained by Lorentz covariance, therefore uniquely defined, therefore falsifiable.

So we have an experimental question on our hands. Any definite resolution would have significant implications with respect to the role of time in quantum mechanics and relativity. A positive result would also have significant practical applications in the areas of quantum communication, attosecond physics (e.g. protein folding), and quantum computing.

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