Archive for January, 2010

100 Interesting Things: #2 Synesthesia

January 28, 2010

Synesthesia is a strange condition where the brain mixes up the senses. There are different kinds, the most commonly known is where people think that certain letters and numbers have certain colours. Obviously, letters and numbers are abstract concepts and do not have a colour, but synesthetes think they do, so there must be something funny going on in their brains right?

A more interesting form is where people actually think that letters or numbers have personalities. Like, they actually think that the letter “G” is a bitter grumpy old man who hits children with his walking stick, or like the number “4” is a kind and generous man in his thirties resembling Jesus.

Synesthesia can go beyond being best mates with the alphabet, and can be traced in, on the face of it illogical, simile and metaphors, like “bitter wind” or “sexy car” or “ignoble baboon”.

I have a form of the condition, which was “worse” during my childhood. I always had the sense that certain letters and digits were either male or female. I am not as sure about the sexes of all the letters as I used to be but here are the current standings:

A:female  B:male    C:female  D:male    E:female
F:female  G:male    H:female  I:female  J:female
K:female  L:female  M:female  N:female  O:male
P:female  Q:male    R:male    S:male    T:male
U:female  V:female  W:female  X:female  Y:male
1:male    2:male    3:female  4:male    5:female
6:male    7:female  8:male    9:female  10:male

It is only the small numbers who have gender though. I’m not sure what 17288 is. On second thoughts 17288 is obviously female…

The idea that synesthesia is a “condition” is bollocks. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and state that everyone has this to one degree or another. Surely everyone agrees that R, S and T are male, right?

Synesthesia is one of those phenomena that will one day help us to crack the mysteries of the brain because it must give some clues as to how the brain is wired up, or to the computer scientists among us, how the brain is implemented. It probably means that the brain stores information in some unintuitive way. I.e. the brain groups things together in ways that do not match what we see at the everyday level.



January 27, 2010

Oom is now on authonomy.

100 Interesting Things: #1 Eclipses

January 26, 2010

Eclipses come in different kinds. Sometimes the moon appears bigger than the sun and it’s called a total eclipse, and sometimes it appears smaller and then it ain’t quite so spectacular. That’s an annular eclipse. Then there’s another kind when the total part of the shadow of the moon on the earth misses and the rest of the shadow grazes the earth causing a partial eclipse. Other important words are Umbra and Penumbra. Umbra is the total part of the shadow and penumbra is the partial part.

Eclipses are special because they remind us that the Universe is in charge and not the stock market. They tell us that there is something that exists more important than Tom Cruise‘s pants.

One of my favourite usages of an Eclipse as a narrative device is in Herge’s “Prisoners of the Sun“. Tintin, Calculus and Haddock are in deep shit because they have been captured by an Inca tribe. As a quirky bonus they are allowed to choose the exact date and time of their execution. Tintin happens to learn of a total eclipse due to pass over them within weeks and chooses that particular moment. When the three of them are tied to their stakes on which they will be burned to death, Tintin starts pretending he is summoning the Gods to punish the Incas. They fall for his game and release them immediately thinking Tintin’s some kind of god.

The last total eclipse to pass over England was on August 11th 1999. I was in Cardiff at the time and we only got about 80% of the eclipse. It was a really strange light, like nothing else. It was not like dawn or dusk because it was too bright somehow because the sun was still shining, just very weakly. Neither was it like cloudiness, because then the light is bounced around by the cloud giving a much softer, though equally dim effect. I can only describe it as though someone had switched the sun for an eco-sun with a much lower wattage. It was quite an unpleasant dimness, a dimness you might expect from a sun millions of years in the future when it’s on its last legs.

Reviews Slowly Dropping In

January 25, 2010

I’ve started getting some interesting feedback about my book from the giveaways on goodreads and librarything.

I got one quite bitchy 2 * review on goodreads. I won’t post it here, since I am trying to promote my book (I’m not a complete idiot), but the link is above.

Someone else only gave Oom 3 stars, but the review really cheered me up:

Oom, a smart, kind creature from the planet of Llevro has been sent to Earth for a reason unknown to him. As he waits to find out the reason for his adventure, he befriends Joe. Together, they exchange stories of their home planets while awaiting the meeting that will change Oom forever.

When I started reading OOM, it was a little slow, but it quickly picked up and made me want to read all the time. The story was very original and the unforeseeable twists and turns were enjoyable. For me, all of Joe’s questions and Oom’s answers were the best part.

It is a strange feeling to read the reviews. I guess I didn’t realise how naked one can feel by going through the self-publishing game. All in all I am glad I self-published the book, but with hindsight I would not have put in the time to promote it. I think there is more dignity in going through the usual approach of sending manuscripts off to publishers one at a time, privately!

But I can’t go back now so I’ll just have to take the rough with the smooth.

Nephew’s Verdict

January 18, 2010

I was really pleased with my 10 year-old nephew’s response to Oom, especially since I have had a little criticism that the book is too advanced for a ten year old. Could my 10 year old nephew be telling white fibs to make me feel better? It’s definitely possible. Here is his email, which I hope he won’t mind me publishing in full, so you can judge:

Marketing Experiment 5: Amazon Discussion

January 12, 2010

I thought starting a healthy discussion about aliens on Amazon might be a good experiment. See here:

dj webber says:

I don’t believe in UFOs but I do believe in aliens, so if I’m right why have we never seen them?

1) Aliens cannot physically travel to Earth. They must have invented a technology that allows them to explore here undetected, something a bit like Google Earth perhaps?
2) Aliens have a code which states they cannot reveal themselves to us. If you see aliens as just humans-in-the-future, you can understand why. If we had a time machine, it would be irresponsible to go back and interfere with our past wouldn’t it?

David, author of Oom

On every product page on Amazon that has been tagged, some relevant community discussions appear at the bottom of the page. That means that if I could get a good discussion going I would get an indirect link to my book page from all alien related products.
I found some of the replies amusing even if it led to zero book sales 🙂

Giveaways Complete

January 3, 2010

My giveaways are complete now. I gave 5 to librarything members and 10 to goodread members.

Hopefully they’ll all read and review it.

Thoughts about the Universe

January 1, 2010

This is a bit indulgent but I am supposed to be a sci-fi writer so here’s some scientific thinking:

There is a problem in modern physics that doesn’t seem to want to be solved. That is, the incompatibility between Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. String Theory and M-Theory are our best attempts to unify quantum mechanics and gravity (don’t ask me how), but there are a couple of things I don’t like about String Theory.

The idea String Theory hooks you with is elegant and easy to understand: that all sub-atomic particles are in fact all manifestations of the same tiny “strings”, but the strings vibrate at different frequencies giving the different particle properties that we see at the macro level. Then it gets trickier: the strings actually are only one dimensional (what the?) and they vibrate in eleven dimensional space (they’re taking the piss). What’s more, dimensions 5 to 11 are too small to see. They are “curled up” apparently – tinier than atoms (what do they take us for?).

Somehow I don’t think Einstein would have liked the theory because it is impossible to imagine. It is unsatisfactory because it is impossible to conceive of those 11 dimensions (although it is fascinating to try). It is similar to the problem I have with the big bang theory as it stands, which states that everything started from an insanely tiny point in space that was insanely dense that exploded in a Big Bang and has been inflating ever since. I mean you cannot imagine all space and time being compressed to a tiny point because you immediately start thinking about a little dot in, well, an empty space. But the empty space is not supposed to have existed before the Big Bang, because all space and time supposedly came from that little dot. My intuition tells me that if a theory cannot be properly imagined then it must be bollocks.

My dad, John, got me thinking when he described a theory he has about all this. I can’t do it justice here because I don’t understand all he was telling me, but some of his ideas were something like this: The matter in galaxies was not all created in the Big Bang, but is in fact generated continuously by the galaxy. At the centre of most galaxies is a super-massive black-hole, which according to hawkins, are not completely black – they radiate something or other. These black holes, in my dad’s theory, are actually made of antimatter and so repel the ordinary matter that it creates. The black hole will “weigh” roughly the same as the matter it creates, and so if you add all the matter and antimatter from a galaxy together (i.e. the stars and the super-massive black hole in its centre) you get nothing. Well, actually you will have a little more antimatter because the stars will have radiated heat and light and since E=mc squared the energy loss means some mass loss. So the repulsive force slightly outweighs the attractive pull of gravity (from all the stars) and so over millions of years you get the spirally shape of the typical galaxy. Of course, if you believe this theory then the entire big bang model is put into question. Fred Hoyle’s steady-state model becomes more attractive.

Anyway, I think this idea is very elegant, that galaxies are kind of fundamental and self-sufficient. John Webber has an explanation of what is going on at the quantum level too. Again, these words are only an interpretation of what he told me. His idea is a bit similar to string theory in that the most fundamental “thing” is something that has a variable property to evoke the different particles of matter that we observe in experiment, electrons, protons and so on. But he evokes a model reminiscent of the old “ether”, which is interesting. Now, the ether was proven not to exist a long time ago, but this idea is not the ether, only something similar. I would like to call it the “mesh” instead of the ether. The mesh, like the old ether, is something that exists everywhere, and everything that exists exists in the Mesh. The mesh is a three dimensional grid of points, and each point has a value. It could be modelled in a computer as a 3d array of integers, where empty space is a 3d array where all the values are zero. The 3 dimensions of space and 1 dimension of time that we experience is not the same as the Mesh but are isomorphic with it, just like a running computer program is not the same as the code, but is isomorphic to it. A running computer program is a manifestation of the code running on the machine. Our reality is to the Mesh as a running computer program is to the code. If you alter a line of code in a program you might change something in the running program, like the colour of some textual label on the gui or even cause a bug. If you alter a value in the mesh you could cause a particle to change into another particle in reality, or perhaps trigger some nuclear reaction.

How does the mesh help to explain anything? Well for one, perhaps it gives some idea as to why the speed of light might be constant, because perhaps the speed of light is isomorphic to the speed with which value changes ripple through the mesh. In Einstein’s theory of general relativity (which of course I am not questioning because it has been proven by experiment) the speed of light is constant but gravity and/or relative velocity alter one’s perception of the passage of time and the perception of space. In other words space and time is “curved” by gravity. I’ve never been happy with this description. It curves with respect to what? If we have the Mesh, we can say that space and time curves with respect to the Mesh.

The Mesh might also begin to explain why we cannot reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity. The two theories accurately predict measurements we make with experiments but they seem to contradict one another. For example relativity allows the singularity (the point of infinite mass from the which our universe has supposedly sprung from) but this is an absurdity in quantum mechanics. I wonder if the two theories cannot be reconciled because in fact they are describing different things. Maybe when we study the very very small – matter at the atomic scale, we are actually “seeing” the Mesh. Intuition tells us that our everyday spacial dimensions, as measured by say, centimetres, can always be made smaller. You can always have 0.1 cm or 0.01 cm or 0.001 cm. When we study very tiny objects we have always assumed that the object can actually be measured using our everyday measurements. But in fact they can’t because when we study the very tiny we’re actually looking at the Mesh.

This begs the question: well which one is reality then?, the Mesh or the everyday world? The answer is that it is the Mesh which is the reality. Quantum mechanics models reality, whereas relativity only models what is projected into our human worlds by the Mesh. Or to put it another way Niels Bohr was looking at the code whilst Einstein was looking at the running program.