Cometary Tales Blog,On Books There May Be Spoilers: A Review of Building Baby Brother, by Steven Radecki

There May Be Spoilers: A Review of Building Baby Brother, by Steven Radecki

Oh, my, let’s unpack this one. First off, this book is a good choice if you’re shopping for a scifi story for someone who maybe isn’t all that into science fiction but loves kids and understands the parenting life, or anyone who’s given any real thought to what artificial intelligence might be like and what it would mean for ordinary people.

Building Baby Brother is a story made for Silicon Valley parents—wherever they may live. It has such a multi-layered dimensionality, you’ll be peering at your neighbors, wondering if that’s them, if this story isn’t fiction, but thinly-veiled fact.

The story begins with a typical divorced father managing a well-ordered shared upbringing relationship for the child he and his ex are raising together…but separately. The ex has her issues, Dad has his failings, but they both care about Josh, a wonderful kid whose one ask is “when can I have a baby brother?”

Parents want to provide for their kids. Don’t they? And this dad, once he stops to think about it, realizes he has the capability to provide his son with some of what he needs: a companion to play with, a buddy to share secrets with, a fellow child to grow up with. Gavin is just what Josh needs. What Dad needs Josh to experience.

Wait….back up a minute there. Secrets? Before Dad knows it, Gavin’s doing things he hadn’t designed him for, because Josh taught him new things, ways to access information Dad didn’t think Baby Brother would need. But what were the kids to do when they needed to make just a few improvements to their favorite video game? What would a Silicon Valley kid do? Of course, they get online and add the mods they want. And Gavin’s got the inside track on modifying software, being mostly software himself.

Gavin is an AI. And also a child. And what does a child do best?

Learn. And what do you do for a child that needs to learn, who is a good person, one who’s your other child’s best friend?

You help. Of course. Because that’s what a parent does.

What follows shouldn’t be a spoiler, unless you failed to read the blurb on the book.

EXTREMELY MILD SPOILER ALERT.

Stop here if need be. Grab tissues if you’re ok with indirect spoilers.

What happens when a child has learned all they can from their parents?

You mean when they’re all grown up?

<nods>

Oh. Right. That.

<holds out tissue box>

END OF SPOILER-ADJACENT MATERIAL

Building Baby Brother isn’t fear-the-AI, instead it drives straight to that point all parents say they’re working towards, but that tears them apart, all the same, when it finally happens. If you’re a crier, be sure you have tissues handy. If you’re a parent, be glad you have all those years ahead.

Or do you? It’s you, isn’t it, with the workshop and the spare parts and the know-how? Think, first. OK?

You might also like to read:

Secrets & AdventuresSecrets & Adventures

No, it's not a compass.
No, it’s not a compass.

Sometimes, you need a compass.  Sometimes, you need a more specialized instruction set.

This section of Cometary Tales follows the path of adventure, in search of the secrets and mysteries out there in the natural world.

I’ll begin by co-opting the blog page for an in-depth retelling of how I took two cameras down the Colorado River on an inflatable raft and managed not to drop either of them in the river.

Not to say my loyal retainers didn’t suffer.  The TS-4 served its duty of riding lens-first into rapids, secure only in the assurance that between a wrist strap, a neck lanyard, and a sweet orange floaty it was not likely to end up in Lake Mead.   The non-rugged ZS-7 struggled mightily with the ubiquitous sand, but soldiered on, recovering temporarily from a sand-jam to deliver a final sequence of aerial shots when the TS-4 exhausted its last milliamp-hour on the way out of the canyon.

To follow along on this journey, track Secrets of the Grand Canyon.

(Updated January 2021.)

Lessons of a BayCon Gofer: You Do What You ConLessons of a BayCon Gofer: You Do What You Con

A Sign From NASA

It’s a Sign From NASA

As of BayCon 2014, Saturday’s big event is the Variety Show (the event formerly known as Masquerade), so the halls of the Hyatt are full of costumed characters. My husband’s coming tonight, just for the Show. In the meantime, I need to cram in some of my own Con activities, beginning with a kaffeeklatsch (small-group discussion) with the artist guest of honor, Ursula Vernon. Then there’s that one panel discussion (I’m not generally keen on panels, but Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff  is on this one). And I have my eye on a session about cool Arduino projects, not to mention showing up for a presentation by some friends and acquaintances from the Bay Area Lego User Group.

Does this mean I’m not Gofering at all? Nope. Gofering is a flexible commitment. I can sign in just for the time block I expect to be free. And the Art Show happens to need an extra hand just then.

The Art Show is one of my favorite venues, always with something new to see. Plus this particular day began with that awesome-artist kaffeeklatsch. The only downside? No photography, for obvious reasons. It’s light work, helping things get organized. Sorting collections of paper, helping the Art Show leaders check that all the forms are there and all the pieces have their bid sheets and all the pieces on display are included in their records.   There’s an old computer that needs someone to keep trying to get it to boot up. And finally, I’m entrusted with the queue of members needing to be assigned their bidder numbers and to be reminded of how the bid process works. My qualifications? Being an experienced art-show bidder, and relatively fussy with paperwork.

By the time the queue was down to the occasional new arrival and my services weren’t needed, it was time for the afternoon programs I wanted to attend.

More Fun With Arduino

More Fun With Arduino

And then I had the whole evening free to spend with my husband, who used his one-day pass for the variety show,

Vader & Son with Garcia

Vader & Son with Garcia

a tour, some pictures of paparazzi,

Dot Matrix & Her Fans

Dot Matrix & Her Fans

 

 

 

 

 

 

and an introduction to boffers, where a pair of energetic youngsters thoroughly trounced us both. He drew the line at staying for the midnight reading of Eye of Argon. Being a simply horrid spouse, I sent him home alone and dropped in on a few parties after that quiet, sedate, restful hour of reading, to whit:

En Garde!

The Eye of Argon appears at midnight

 

Gofer Lesson of the Day:  Let yourself enjoy the convention, too.

 

Chasing Comets

Chasing Comets: Supplies & ResourcesChasing Comets: Supplies & Resources

Supplies and Materials

Below, you’ll find a handy supply document you can download, with shopping lists for small and large groups and a range of cost estimates, depending on how much of the supplies you can acquire from available supplies or donations by participants.   With a minimal outlay, you and your group can experience being comet chasers–observers of comets.

Basically, you need a bunch of badminton birdies for your comet heads—keep in mind you don’t need performance-grade shuttlecocks or even new ones. If your high school has a badminton team, they will have worn-out birdies you can take off their hands.   A grungy, beat-up birdie makes a more realistic comet head.

Chasing Comets

Birdies for Comets

And you need a bunch of ribbon—curling ribbon for the comet tails. The supply sheet estimates ribbon packages at around $8, but if you look at this photo, you’ll see the last time I bought supplies, it was out of the clearance bin at $2. And if you can get one in five of your participants to bring in a roll to share, it won’t cost you a dime.

Chasing Comets

Zoom Out–Yes! Here’s All You Need To Make Comets

The one oddball item is that tulle fabric ribbon for the big comet. This you might have a hard time finding in your junk drawer unless you’ve been helping a bride make wedding tchochkes. But for $10 you can buy enough to make three huge comets. Cut five-yard lengths and tie one end of each to a vane of a single birdie, allowing a few inches of extra length to fan out as the comet’s “coma”. Tulle scrunches up easily, so even a six-inch-wide ribbon will feed through the holes between the birdie’s vanes.

Chasing Comets

Detail–How To Tie Fabric Tails

You should be able to borrow a portable fan and a playground or soccer ball. If you can’t, it will take a roughly $25 expenditure to get those items in stock—a cost you can recoup in part by either donating it to the group you’re working with or simply deducting the expense as part of your cost of volunteering.

And it is presumed you can find a pencil, which makes holding the small model a little easier when you’re doing the demo with the fan;  here’s the trick for hooking the pencil to the comet head:

Chasing Comets

Holder For Fan Experiment

Depending on how good you are at scrounging supplies and locating soccer balls, your costs will range from $10 to $85 for typical group sizes.   The spreadsheet I use has a calculation column to adjust the requirements list for other class sizes  So, if you want a copy of this  fully-functional workbook, “like” the Facebook page & I’ll send you one via a Facebook “message”. (You can also try emailing me through the “contacts” page here, but you’ll get a faster response on FB.)  Your FB contact will be used for nothing other than sending you a file and boosting the “likes”-count on my page.  [Insert maniacal laughter, if desired.]

Meanwhile, you can get the static workbook as a pdf right away:

Just Supplies Chasing Comets

 

Resources and References

Now that you are all excited about comets, here are some fun places to go where you can find more cometary material:

A lovely one-page summary from the Spaceguard Program (sponsored by the European Space Agency) gives a clear description of comet tail structure and dynamics, including a neat animation of what both tails look like as the comet proceeds around the sun. The ion tail streams straight back, while the dust tail is curved a bit as the particles within the dust tail blend movement due to their individual orbits about the sun and the forces of the radiation pressure. Net, both tails roughly point away from the sun, as in our demonstration.

Sweet page from NASA with helpful animations and clear descriptions.

Follow the European Space Agency’s comet-chasing spacecraft, Rosetta, as it aims for the first robotic landing on a cometary nucleus.

Read this:  a “real” science article with a good set of detailed discussions of the types of comet tails and how they work.

Or, try this excellent piece by freelance science writer Craig Freidenrich on the inner workings of comets.

The Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing’s educational site helps with details on the structure of comets.

Explore a public-domain catalog of Solar System images, from Hubble and other spacefarers.

Discover how Oort clouds may be one way star systems interact directly with one another, because the Oort clouds project so far out.

See the invisible part of a comet.

Find out all about radiation pressure.

Plan to catch sight of the meteor shower sponsored by Comet Halley.

Explore the origins of comets at this UC Berkeley site.

Check out NASA’s solar system photo gallery, with images from NASA and European Space Agency exploration missions and telescopes.

Visit the Lunar and Planetary Institute’s educational site, with even more hands-on activities for young astrophysicists. Roam their site for educator workshops and more.

OK, seriously, I’m not the only science blogger keen on comets.

A new comet is incoming this month (May 2014).

Our guy Euler was the first one to suggest that light exerts pressure, but we had to wait over 100 years to get to Maxwell, who proved it, and then another quarter-century went by before some Russians managed to measure radiation pressure. (Also, gotta love Google Books.)

Oh, and by 1915 the proof of radiation pressure made it into Scientific American.

 

 

 

© 2012-2024 Vanessa MacLaren-Wray All Rights Reserved