Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: Dean Koontz's "Dead and Alive" - Frankenstein Book 3 of the Frankenstein series

Dean Koontz continues his tale of the long-lived Victor Helios (nee Frankenstein), his original monster Deucalion, wives Erika (if you read the series you understand the plurality) and a pair of New Orleans police detectives.

I read book 2 without having read book 1 and got along OK. I don't think it would be such a good idea to read this one without having read the previous.... but I can't say it's such a great idea to read this one in any case.

I think Deucalion is the most interesting character (at least in the second book) and he's a bit player in this one. The detectives seem to be spectators in this book and are generally uninteresting. This book has a couple of 'new race' characters that transform into monsters and a killing machine "Chameleon" that turns out to be all hype and little execution.

For those who have read previous books, this one (presumably and hopefully the last) pretty much wraps it up. For others, don't bother.

I'm glad I got this from the library (another e-book) rather than buying. Koontz seems to be concentrating on his 'real' novels and he wrote this one just to close up the series. Let's hope it doesn't come back to life in as weak a form as book 3.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Grand Design

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow is a quick read. Only eight chapters - 166 pages in the hardcover edition. I actually checked it out as an E-book from our local library and read it on my phone - technology marches on.

The book touches on the various models developed to describe the universe, including Newton's laws, quantum theory, the photoelectric effect, string theory and the all-encompassing M-theory.

The conclusion that has gotten them the most press (and hatred) is that God is not a prerequisite for our universe (or any other). One significant statement is that all the matter and energy in the universe, when summed up taking into account not just the absolute values but the signs (positive and negative) come out to zero. It's reasonable to believe that a universe that sums to nothing could come from nothing. It's also a conclusion that I had already come to based on my own admittedly limited understanding of some of the current theories.

While they do touch on alternate histories as well as well as deterministic models of progress through time, they stop short of delving into the philosophical implications of multiple universes.

If we could objectively view our 11-dimensioned space-time (and don't worry - only 4 of the dimensions are worth worrying about) we could see everything that we ever were and everything that we will be. To see everything we could have been or could be we'd have to extend our view to multiple universes. The consideration of time as just another dimension that is no more or less special than the others, the existence of a huge but finite number of alternative universes in which an individual would populate (at least enough to be recognized as the same person) makes an afterlife redundant.

I would have thought that they chose not to expound on all the implications due to the prospect of various religious zealots marching on their castle with pitchforks and torches except that they had already eliminated gods and miracles quite specifically in the book. So perhaps they didn't pursue further because they thought the implications would be as obvious to everyone as it is to them. That, I'm afraid, is giving the general population far too much credit.

You don't need to be a physicist or astronomer to read and reasonably understand this book. Recommended to anyone whose head won't explode at contradictions to religion - on second thought, recommended to anyone.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Clang, Clang! Camera!

I feel so much safer now that we have red light and speed cameras in town. Our politicians insist they're for our safety, not revenue generation, so it must be so. Since the companies that supply and maintain the systems get their cuts, the tickets are very expensive.

I've nothing again ticketing or otherwise deterring red-light runners. I do object to added road congestion because people are afraid to enter the intersection for their left turn when the light is green for fear of being ticketed if the light changes while they wait to make a safe left. I object to people slamming on the brakes a millisecond after a yellow light, increasing the chances of a rear-end collision. The yellow lights are kept intentionally short to maintain the camera's "take".

I do object to ticketing for speed with no other consideration. If someone is a danger to themselves or others, a ticket should be issued. Police officers have little more flexibility than the robot cameras in enforcing speed limits. The cameras are no better or worse in this aspect -- they just add more chances to get caught in a moment of forgetfulness.

Fortunately most of the cameras are in fixed locations. One company makes a device that uses GPS to compare your location and bearing to known camera locations and sounds a warning when you approach them. Some GPSs have custom POI (Points of Interest) capability with alarm notifications. Since I already have such a GPS, I use the latter solution to remind me of camera locations as I'm approaching them. My Magellan unit says "Clang, Clang! Camera!".

I expect that, someday, it would be going off at every intersection in every town and every quarter mile on a freeway. Or maybe by then we'll be required to have equipment in our cars so they can continually monitor us and debit our bank accounts as we drive.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


We can't undo anything we've done. We can make amends and express regrets, but done is done.

If you could go back in time, would you be able to undo? Would you want to? You don't know how you'd affect the future, as a myriad of trite movies and TV shows illustrate. Does the question matter? If we are ever able to travel back in time, the travelers must be with us now, in their past. Maybe the travelers are so clever we can't detect them. Or maybe they can only travel to a point in their own lives without knowledge of the future, which is equivalent to doing nothing. I'll assume that such travel is nonexistent or its equivalent, at least for our universe.

When the universe came into being (by whatever means you choose to believe), so did time, for time has no meaning without existence. We wind our threads forward through time. We can remember the past, revel in it, regret it, wax nostalgic, and reinvent it in our minds though not in reality. The past is set, but the future appears to be nebulous, becoming the past as we move in the present.

Because we can't travel to the past we assume that it is gone... nonexistent. We can't travel to a distant star system, but it exists. We live our individual lives in a brief, finite thread of time. We only experience the present, a speck on the thread, but the thread exists in the context of the immense, though finite, fabric of space-time. Our threads would be insignificant to anyone who could view the entire fabric, but they're significant to us.

Why should we only have one thread? Because the moment we diverge from one thread to create a new one, we are different people living in a different universe from that of the other thread. Our abilities, aspirations, environment, memories and a host of other factors define us. We're part of the universe and what we do defines it at a microscopic level.

So one thread per customer per universe. How many universes? Our universe has always existed in the sense that "always" only has meaning where there is time. But the discontinuity at the time origin for the fabric gives us an "absolute zero" for time, an epoch. We can imagine a time before that, though it remains imaginary.

Existence of one universe implies that others must exist - probability and improbability of something ever occurring mean nothing outside of time (which defines "ever"). We can think of them as parallel universes, but since each has its own time axis, it's just a convenience. They could as well be serial universes. Since any universe cannot, by definition, detect or affect another, we are free to choose whatever constructs our feeble brains need to comprehend a small bit of the immensity.

If we could step outside of space-time and see our huge but finite universe in all its glory, we could see the minute threads of our lives. But this doesn't mean our futures are cast. For there are other universes, similar but not duplicates (and there may indeed be duplicates but they converge to the same for practical purposes). The futures are different in them. Indeed, so is the past in many of them. "We" exist in only one universe, but we also have a huge number of analogs that, if we could see them, we would identify as "us". There is no reason to require that all space-planes along the time-axis of multiple universes be unique. "Now" has many intersections.

The cosmic view may be of no comfort, or it may be of great comfort. What we believe doesn't really matter. Truth matters. And faith is not truth.

The Wandering Mind

I'm a wanderer. No, I don't traipse through the woods with a carved walking stick and a knapsack full of granola and water bottles. I wander in my mind. A lot of trips with even more detours. More than I can keep track of.... so I get lost occasionally. Maybe not so much get lost as leave dead-ends in the trail I'm blazing. I find some of them and hack my way through a bit further. Some languish.

What would I write about that might interest others? I have no idea, but I can write about what interests me at the moment. Maybe it's writing software... woodworking... wine... photography... gadgets... web design... life, the universe, and everything. I think I know where I've been. I don't know where I'm going... well I guess that's not completely true... I have long-range plans and goals and try to move in that general direction. The path just isn't straight. But how interesting is a straight path anyway?

Lots of us joke about ADD and maybe this is a mild case. Or it's a curiousity about too many things and impatience to get to all of them. I'll let the psychologists worry about the causes. I don't see the need for any treatment.

Hmm, carving a walking stick might be interesting...