Monthly Archives: July 2019

608. Decimal Time

Here’s something weird, but you guys are all weird enough to enjoy it.

I have a habit of writing novels that represent the future as I think it actually might happen. That may not sound imaginative, but I like making projections with a minimal number of new assumptions, and I find that it leads me to some very strange results.

Cyan was built that way. One group who showed up for a few chapters of that novel were a group of asteroid miners who preferred life in space. When Keir suggested they go with him to Cyan, they laughed at the idea. Their idea of colonization was a trip to Sirius, where there were no habitable planets, to continue living in space without the threats from an overcrowded Earth.

Shock and surprise, that called for a sequel — or rather a stand-alone novel moved sideways in the same universe. It will be called Dreamsinger.

I recently wrote a pre-prolog, designed to be placed just before the novel begins, which may or may not make the final cut. Have fun with it.

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Just for Nerds: Decimal Time

Some people like to jump into a story and have all the background come out piecemeal. If you are like that, have at it. Move on to the Prolog; you don’t need to read this at all.

Other readers like to know all about the backstory. This is for you.

If you can’t make up your mind which way to go, you can always forge ahead and come back here later.

Home Station is a gigantic torus in orbit of Sirius. The asteroid miners from the novel Cyan chose to emigrate to the Sirian system because it has no habitable planets. The planet which lies in the goldilocks spot has a Uranian tilt; it is called Stormking.

Perhaps life could never have evolved on such a planet, but it didn’t have to. For billions of years, Stormking stood upright like any normal planet, then a rogue body passing through the system tilted it and went on its way. Almost all life on Stormking was destroyed, but enough remained to evolve into a planet full of weird and fierce creatures.

The humans who colonized the Sirian system don’t care. They live in space stations situated wherever science or commerce requires them. Human culture centers on Home Station which lives happily in orbit of Stormking.

Since these people are not planet dwellers, ideas like month, year, or day and night have little meaning for them. If they had commerce with Earth, or fond memories of Earth, they would probably have kept Earth time. Instead they are bitter refugees, happy to leave everything about Earth behind them.

Consequently they have discarded all units of time but the second, and have built up a new, scientific set of units. (The metric system strikes again.) Only seven of these units are used in everyday conversation.

SEC — 1 second — This is the same basic unit scientists have used for decades.

DEC — 10 seconds

DIN — 100 seconds — This is used where Earth dwellers would have said a minute.

DUR — 1000 seconds — This is about fifteen minutes.

DEL — 10,000 seconds — This is just under three hours.

No decimal time unit is close to an hour, but between a dur and a del, the Sirian humans don’t miss that Earth unit at all.

DAE — 100,000 seconds — A dae is 17% longer than a terrestrial day, which is close enough for human circadian rhythms to accommodate.

DET — 1,000,000 seconds — Used where Earth dwellers would have used week or fortnight.

There is no decimal time unit that comes close to the length of a year, but there is also no need for one. No event in space or on Stormking has any resemblance to a set of seasons. Human age is measured in terrestrial years, if it comes up at all.

There is some pressure to add a YAR, consisting of 350 daes to replace a year, but that violates the rule of making all units multiples of a second by tens. And besides, nobody much cares.

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I wanted to do decimal time because traditional time is so screwy that I felt once people get beyond Earth, they are sure to dump it.

I remember the first time a student pointed to the wall and said, “Mr. Logsdon, what time is it? I can only read digital time.” What he was used to seeing on digital clocks was not decimal time, even though it looks a little like it. Take the world record for the thousand meter dash, 2:11.96. That’s two minutes, eleven seconds, and 96/100 of another second. Note that there is  a colon and a period/decimal place. That number eleven isn’t decimal because there aren’t 100 second in a minute — on Earth.

Let’s turn that record into fractions. One thirtieth of an hour, eleven sixtieths of a minute, and ninety-six one hundredths of a second. It’s crazy. The digital time on your microwave isn’t decimal either. Set your microwave for 65 and punch start. (Be sure to put a bowl of water inside so it doesn’t fry its circuits.) It will count down all the way to zero. Now try again, but this time set it for 105. It will count 104, 103, 102, 101, and then it will jump to 60 before continuing.

The whole thing is flat out nuts. No wonder kids are confused.

However . . .Now that I have begun writing the first chapters of Dreamsinger, I’m having a big problem. I can’t expect my readers to memorize this post before reading the novel so every time I say something like, “For nearly a del she fought for points,” I have to gently remind them what a del is. 

I think I may have just dug my own grave. Time will tell. (Pun intended.)

Oh, well, whatever happens, writing science fiction keeps you thinking.

607. Who Slammed the Door?

This is a July fourth poem, but everybody will be busy tomorrow, so I am posting it today.

Who Slammed the Door?

Land of the free,
Home of the brave,
What happened to your courage?

We have walked a thousand miles toward freedom.
Where did freedom go?

It is not trivial
             that they come in the night.
It is not trivial
             that they rape and kill.
It is not trivial
             to be hungry.
It is not trivial
             to be afraid.
It is not trivial
             to see your father disappear
             to see your mother disappear
             to know that you are next.

Would you walk a thousand miles             
             for a trivial reason?

In our homeland, they throw us in jail.
             In America, they throw us in jail.

In our homeland, they take parents
             from their children in the night.

In America, they take children
             from their parents in broad daylight.

Land of the free,
Home of the brave,
What happened to your courage?
             
Your compassion?
             Your understanding?
             Your humanity?

Land of the free,
Home of the brave,
Who slammed the door on freedom?

606. We Learn

University of Chicago

In the review of Louis L’amour’s memoir, a lot was said about self education, but that should not obscure the usefulness of college.

If you cut classes, sleep through classes, read digested notes instead of the textbook, and write merely adequate papers (or buy them), you can get all the way to graduation without learning anything. It takes some effort, but people do it every day.

On the other hand, if you recognize that your education is your responsibility, college will at least provide you with a reading list. And while you are in the stacks there is no telling what kind of other amazing additional things you will find to read.

Also, a few of the professors, at least, will have something worth listening to. I have had brilliant professors and professors who were dolts. You just have to deal with it.

There are grad students (I’ve met some) who were plowing their way toward a Ph.D. on pure inertia. Something got them started down that path and they didn’t have the imagination or courage to make a change. They can make it all the way to professorship with the help of other misfits from the last generation.

It’s pretty much like the rest of life.

I left a town in Oklahoma, population 121, and arrived at Michigan State University in 1966. That year the campus had about 48,000 students. I loved it. I could walk down the street without everybody knowing me, and reporting back everything I did. (Sigh of relief!)

I started in biology, switched to anthropology, and concentrated on the cultures of South Asia. Just before graduation my draft number came up, so my diploma was immediately followed by four years in the Navy.

A word of advice: if you have a degree in engineering, they make you an officer. If you have a degree in anthropology, they make you an enlisted man. Oh well.

I next attended the University of Chicago, where I got an MA studying the interface between South Asian village economics and native theories of ritual purity. Title: Jajmani, an alternative conceptualization.

Obscure? You’d better believe it. Obscurity does not make a thing useless, but it does make it hard to talk to your friends about it.

Then I got blindsided by novel writing, but I’ve talked about that enough in the past.

The University of Chicago is a premier school. California State College, Stanislaus, which I attended a few years later, was known only to locals. The profs at Chicago were probably better scholars, but not better teachers. I got a good education both places.

CSCS is now CSUS. It was upgraded to a University a few years after I left. While I was there, I studied History, and received a second BA and second MA. Why a second set of degrees is a long story, to be told another time.

My thesis was “The Crisis in American Shipping and Shipbuilding: 1865 to 1918” That was an era of arguments about the role of tariffs and subsidies, with much testimony before Congress in which every competing party misrepresented the facts. Same old, same old. Teflon Don would have felt right at home.

To finish this quasi curriculum vitae, I went back to the University of the Pacific a few years later to get a teaching credential. It only required a few courses with all I already had on board. Everything I had done until then was from love of learning. I went to UOP purely to get a job so I could continue eating.

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Everything I learned, everywhere I went, was useful to me as a teacher and as a writer. Over the next few months, I plan to pass on Reader’s Digest versions of some of it that might help you in your writing.

(Yes, I know most of the people reading this are or want to be writers, and more power to you.)