Cometary Tales All That Was Asked,Blog It’s happening again…

It’s happening again…

I can’t believe it myself.

So let me work up to it.

Long, long ago, when I was a horse-mad thirteen-year-old, we lived stranded in a one-street suburb of Montgomery, Alabama, where the only available equine companionship came in the form of a mare and foal pastured behind our house.  The mare was tolerant, not friendly, but not the type to pitch a fit when some kid squeezed through the barbed-wire fence to pamper her baby.  It helped that the colt wasn’t a baby anymore, to be sure.

Generally, I would manage to sneak out with an apple, which the young horse would snarf down with relish. Then he would snuffle at my pockets in hopes of seconds.  Horses are smarter than non-horsey people give them credit for.  Horses know what pockets are for. Pockets are containers for apples, carrots, crunchy horse treats, sometimes even a handful of grain, preferably sweet feed.  They do not care about the cries emanating from laundry rooms when mothers find pocket-loads of such goodies swirling in the wash.

One fine February day, I ventured out with only some small treat, nothing as appealing as an apple.  It was chilly, so I wore my new(ish) red coat.  And my pony friend bit me on the shoulder. Another thing non-horsey people may not know is that a horse can bite hard.  They fight with their teeth–stallions even have extra-sharp eye teeth for those battles that make the front covers of old cowboy paperbacks.

That bite hurt. It hurt bad. I was not so horse-crazy that I didn’t run home for help. I was lucky to be wearing that insulated jacket–all my friend gave me was an enormous bruise, as the coat distributed the impact nicely.  My mother was angry, scolding me for trespassing in the pasture but also clearly angry that the horse had hurt me.  I took his part, explaining–convincingly, I was sure–that he simply mistook the red, rounded curve of my shoulder for a big shiny apple.  It was my fault, I told her, for leading him to expect apples all the time and . . . most accurately, for turning my back on him.  I loved horses, but I’d been hanging around them since I was six, and I knew better.

Bear with me. I’m getting there.

We were living in Montgomery because my dad was attending the Air War College, an academic-style officer-training program. It’s very like a master’s degree program in strategy, analysis, all that sort of thing.  (My copy of Strunk and White is a discard from the library there, one my dad brought home for his aspiring-writer kid.) My mom grew up spending summers on “the farm”–her parent’s country get-away. My dad was a city boy through-and-through. Years later, I learned he was afraid of horses–that the thought of his kid galloping around on top of one of those monsters horrified him.

The War College program is only a year. One spring night, quite late, my parents stumbled into the house after some kind of semi-official party at the AWC.  They, or at least Dad, had had a really fun evening.  Really, really fun. My dad had received his next posting. As wing commander for a prestigious bomber wing. In North Dakota. We were moving to an air base where there was an on-base stable, in a state where horses were cheap to get and to keep.

“North Dakota is Rough Rider country, cowboy country,” my dad told me that night, his eyes bright and his grin much wider than usual. “So you can have a horse in North Dakota. Won’t that be great?”

When Dad sobered up, the next day, and recovered from his headache, the day after, Mom sat him down and told him what he’d promised me. And she held him to it. She wouldn’t let him back out of it.

So for the next four months, I thought to myself, over and over again, I’m getting a horse, I’m getting a horse, I’m getting a horse. 

It’s happening again. I may be ever so much older than twenty now, but I’m having all those same feelings  Though it’s not a horse this time.  It’s a book.  It’s my book. And it’s being published. For reals. For really reals.  In four months.

It’s about a couple of strangers who meet up and have some troubles understanding one another.

Cross-species friendships can be complicated.

The book is All That Was Asked.  It’s coming out from Paper Angel Press, a publisher based in San Jose, California. And it should be out in January of 2020.  In the meantime, check out all the other books that Paper Angel Press has available.

 

 

 

You might also like to read:

Groundhog Day at NASA-Ames: Episode 3, Billions vs BillionsGroundhog Day at NASA-Ames: Episode 3, Billions vs Billions

(NASA Social 2/2/15 State of NASA)

The final stage of our State-Of-NASA day starts with Lunch. If you turn up in the morning with a bit of cash, you can sign up for a box lunch, and I knew from before that it’s a good one. But luckily today, I left my cash at home so my lunch is the granola bar that’s been hiding in my computer bag since I’m not sure when. But, yes, luckily, since we’ve gotten back to the visitor’s center just in time for the start of the budget presentation, livestreamed via the big screen at the Exploration Center. There’s no time to eat more than a granola bar if I want both hands free to type & tweet.

Now, I know that Ames employees were also gathered elsewhere watching the livestream. I’m wondering if it might have been more efficient and more socially fun to have the Social Media crew join that larger group for these livestreams. Maybe next time…

A Disclosure Moment

Sure, I’m a space fan, so it wouldn’t be out of line to assume I’m in favor of funding NASA.  But of course, on top of that, my husband does work for NASA, so there can be an actual family effect from budget decisions.  Though I’m really writing about a) the general budget picture and b) what it’s like at a NASA Social, I’ll avoid the budget topics that directly affect our family.  No, wait, the budget issue that’s most likely to have a real, measurable effect on us isn’t some line item, it’s the regular sequestration of funds by our truculent Congresspersons.  (As in, my husband hasn’t had an actual raise in more than 5 years.)  And then there are those wonderful times when Congress shuts down the government and he and all his colleagues don’t get paid at all and proceed to complain (bitterly) that they have been told to stay home and not work.  There’s nothing worse to a scientist than being told not to work. In any case, here I’m not aiming for a critical review, but more of a “what’s in the budget” overview.

The Proposed 2016 NASA Budget

You can delve into every element of the budget here. http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/#.VOG06i4bKj8

Let’s see if I can squeeze it into a few paragraphs. And keep in mind this is the requested budget, part of President Obama’s 2016 budget. Congress has to approve it. These numbers sound big to us, spending $18.5 billion on NASA. Just keep in mind that this is 0.04% of the total 2016 Obama budget. And if compared to the defense portion of the military budget, it’s 3% of that.  Here’s the Big Picture:

The Big Picture (Can You Find NASA?)

The Big Picture (Can You Find NASA?)  Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/interactive-budget

 

Did you find NASA?  OK, once you peer into that 0.04% of the total, here’s what you get:

Category I. Science. $ 5.29 billion (about the same as 2015)

 

New Horizons Nears Pluto

New Horizons Nears Pluto

For this, we get: Landsat and all its kin providing Earth images, taking over all of NOAA’s earth-observing satellites except for the weather satellites, all of the current & upcoming Mars missions, Cassini, the Pluto mission (New Horizons), a mission to Jupiter, detection of near-Earth asteroids, all the space telescopes, the search for exoplanets, the James Webb telescope project and dozens of solar physics projects. Whew.

Category II. Aeronautics. $0.57 billion (down)

For this we get air traffic management tools, tech for unmanned autonomous vehicles, and new technology development for air vehicles.NASA UAV Traffic Control

Category III. Space Technology. $0.73 billion (up)

This covers new technology development in and for space applications, such as alternative fuels, solar electric propulsion,

Orion at Splashdown

Orion at Splashdown

the life-support system development for Orion, and development of laser communications systems.

Category IV. Exploration. $4.51 billion (up)

This is a big category, because it’s for big stuff, mainly the Orion system, for which the first test flight went so well. Next up is the Exploration Mission, an unmanned trip to the Moon and back. And of course it’s all about The Journey To Mars. The Core MessageAnd a major subcategory is support for the development of commercial spaceflight. Like SpaceX and Boeing.

Category V. Space Operations. $4.00 billion (up)

That’s taking care of what we have up in space: mostly the International Space Station,

NASA's View of the ISS

NASA’s View of the ISS

but also the facilities for support of those space missions, from the satellite fleet that provides tracking to the launch support on the ground.

Category VI. Education. $0.89 billion (down 20%)

Wow. No clear explanation for this, but education funding has been shaved by about 25%. There’re education-related funds under other categories, but this is the core education funding for NASA’s contribution to the Federal plan to support STEM education. That includes Space Grant and programs to get more minority students interested STEM and going on to earn degrees in science and engineering. This is in addition to some education funding budgeted elsewhere, totaling $26.

Category VII. Safety, Security & Mission Services + Construction + Environmental Compliance + the office of the Inspector General. $ 3.25 billion (about the same)

That keeps all the NASA centers operating and takes care of any needed construction work (including environmental clean-up jobs).

We also get a few key bits to ponder:

On average, between 2015 and 2020, we’ve got about 17 launches per year planned, of which about 13 have a science focus.

NASA is taking on a lot of former NOAA stuff, like ozone monitoring, ocean altimetry, and non-defense Earth-observing satellites, leaving just the weather satellites in NOAA’s budget.

But–wait for it–the proposed budget assumes that the venerable Opportunity rover retires this year. Wait. Whaaaat? Oppy has not even hinted at a desire to quit her roving ways. If the “science value” makes sense, then they’ll try to provide funding anyhow.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (la bella osservatoria in volo, SOFIA) is fully funded in this budget request (last year, it wasn’t funded, but they got Congress to fund it later on, which kept the airborne observatory flying through fiscal 2015. No need for such machinations in 2016.

The State of Ames

Aaand, for a grand finale we get our very own presentation by Director of Ames S. Pete Worden and Ames CFO Paul Agnew. I’m actually awfully impressed, that this small group gets the attention of these top administrators, when I’m sure they’ve been through a similar session with the “real” media.

Here’s the short version: Director Worden is delighted that the President supports a larger budget for NASA as a whole and happy that Ames is well taken care of in this budget, scoring its own $31 million overall budget increase with no cut in the education budget here. The special favorite is that solid funding for SOFIA, which is what bumps up Ames’ science budget. There’s funding for the CubeSats we saw today and for K-2 (the second-generation Kepler program) to keep ferreting out exoplanets around dwarf stars. And the upcoming new planet-finder TESS is in the works. Ames is on the forefront in reentry systems and several other areas critical to the Orion mission, so those are in well as is the Intelligent Robotics Group. The guys across the street from the Roverscape, the advanced computing group, also have a stable budget for next year.

SOFIA Celebrates Another Year

SOFIA Celebrates Another Year

And they are very pleased that Ames’ own SOFIA is saved for another budget year.

I asked how Ames managed to keep its education budget stable when the agency-wide budget has such big cuts. I got a fuzzy answer, broadly indicating that a center’s education budget is affected by what that center asked for at the agency level, and that Ames has established a steady set of relationships and grants.

Review

OK, just to review.

The requested budget for NASA is $18.5 billion, an increase of about $500 million.

But put this in context. The defense request is $605 billion.

So, NASA is asking for about 3.1% of what the military is asking for, just for current defense purposes, not including taking care of our veterans.

And that’s out of a total budget of $4 trillion.

So the President is asking if it’s OK if he spends 0.04% of our taxes on exploring our solar system, establishing a human presence in space, and using space-based research to find out all kinds of cool stuff that will help people on Earth.

So now we just have to wait and see what happens in Congress.

Review: Memory and Metaphor, by Andrea MonticueReview: Memory and Metaphor, by Andrea Monticue

Sharon Manders is having a very bad day. She’s been drop-kicked into the distant future–a thousand years out of time–and has no memory whatsoever of making any plans to go anywhen. She’s an archaeologist with a thriving career in good old 21-century Earth. And here she is in the 31st century, where everyone’s calling her by some other name that she doesn’t recognize. And she’s accused of treason, sabotage, terrorist acts. She has a lot on her plate, and she’s going to have to move fast while trying to figure out just what happened.

And you’ll be reading along, trying to figure that out, too. When she finally solves the last layer of that puzzle, you’ll lean back and say, “Oh, yeah, why on Earth didn’t I think of that?” But you won’t have thought of it. Andrea Monticue leads you quite a merry chase. I really can’t roll in too much detail without spoiling the whole thing for you.

Let’s just say a woman from our time finds herself plunged into a high-tech future with AI, biological engineering, and dangerous politics. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Monticue rotates the horizon by 37 degrees and you’re floating in space again, looking for answers. The book has to end (which you will not want it to do) and she ties all those twists and tangles together in one stunner of a unique conceptual shift.

Engaging characters, complex political situations that nonetheless remind you of the mistakes humans make right here on Earth in the “distant past”, and a plot that moves ever faster–all that will keep you glued to the page/e-reader.

At the very least, if all you take from this story is the tech (and there’s way more to it than tech), you will not think about artificial intelligence the same way, not ever again.

I got my copy directly from the publisher, at last year’s Bay Area Science Fiction Convention (BayCon), and was lucky to meet the author, who has the experience and technical background to make this story come alive.

So . . . my copy is autographed. You can get a signed first edition, too, direct from the publisher, at Paper Angel Press. Or you can choose your favorite digital medium or snag the trade paperback from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Full disclosure: at this point, I’ve also had a book published by Paper Angel Press. I was impressed by Monticue’s book and her publisher, enough so that I submitted my own book, hoping to follow in her footsteps. Rest assured there are way, way more explosions (literal and metaphorical) in Memory and Metaphor!

Avoiding HyperboleAvoiding Hyperbole

OK, right, it’s been so long since the last post that even my backup program is writing me off as too far gone. Too bad, Updraft, back to work, you lazy batch of code.

True, some comets hare off to interstellar space on hyperbolic orbits. However, two or three things:
1) There’s much to be said for the sweet homey stability of an elliptical orbit.
2) On a hyperbola, there are two arms, and who’s to say if you’re on the right one?
3) My top speed is less than 2 m/sec whereas an escape trajectory on Earth demands moving at about 11,500 m/sec.
4) I’m not actually a comet, I’m a human being who is interested in comets both as astronomical objects and as metaphorical images.
5) That’s four or five things.

Aiee Hyperbola Wiki

Redlining on a hyperbola. Aieeee!

Stuff happens, and it’s not exactly a huge crime to neglect a blog that no-one is reading. Last year, I whined about the inconveniences of having a broken arm. Well, there’s worse stuff than a broken arm. Besides, I needed time to read other people’s websites. Like catching up on the doings at Gunnerkrig Court. Like reading anything about robots that turns up on IEEE Spectrum. Or reliving grad school days on Jorge Chan’s Ph.D. comic. Or vacillating between reading Allie Brosh’s hardcopy book or her online stories at Hyperbole-and-a-Half.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to keep up a little better on the easier-to-maintain Facebook & twitter side of things, under the Pixel Gravity moniker.

But it’s time to dump more stuff out on the world and see if anyone who isn’t a spammer notices.

Here’s the deal:  I’ve got a year’s worth of science projects for kids that I want to share.  Maybe they’ll be a book too, some day.  (Insert self-knowing laugh here.)  I’m a year behind on delivering my Grand Canyon stories & pictures, which I promised my fellow-travellers would be “up” by the end of last summer.   But there’s other stuff I want to address as well.  So there will be a little discipline applied, in a way that would help any of my imaginary readers look ahead for the next entry in a category of interest.

First week of the month:  One “Messy Monday” project

Second week:  One “Grand Canyon” entry–either a half-day of storytelling or a photo album.

Third week:  Science & fiction stuff–the science fairly topical, the fiction

Fourth week:  An extra week to play catch up, first on the Grand Canyon, and later on Messy Monday, but also a piece of flexible time for interesting stuff of the moment.  For instance, Memorial Day Weekend will yield four days of BayCon 2014.

Next up:  Comets in orbit…

 

 

 

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