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Friday, June 27, 2014

Laser Technology in the Golden Age of Science

I don't think much anymore about the technology that allows me to type my blogs, my emails or access websites. When I visit a blog, I anticipate clicking on the "Comment" button and instantly having access to the Comment Box, and I expect that same data speed when I am done and it's ready to upload.

The technology we utilize today is largely based on radio waves. But what if our future included data transmission through laser beams?

It sounds like the stuff of Star Trek and science fiction novels. But it's something NASA scientists have been working on for some time. And recently, they were actually able to use laser technology to beam a message from the Space Station to Earth.

We think of our current data transmission as something that is already "high technology" but as packets of information get larger (think of all those movies streaming, for example) laser beams hold the promise of even faster, more efficient and less expensive transmission. To put its use into place would no doubt require a complete reorganization of data transmission, much as the upgrade from original dial-up morphed into DSL or broadband.

Perhaps in the future, we won't require wi-fi at all to surf the web or download our favorite author's newest eBook. Perhaps the information can stream to us on a beam of light, anywhere on Earth... or in the Universe.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Made in the USA - Do You Care?

Last week, I mentioned the athletic shoes I recently purchased were made in the USA. It opened a flood of emails from folks asking about other products made in the United States, and how imports from other countries have negatively impacted jobs here in the USA. It's a theme I used in my recent political thriller, The Pendulum Files.

Over the past ten years, I've looked for furniture made in the USA. It tends to be better made, lasts longer and looks better than some of the furniture made overseas.

And it has the added benefit of putting our neighbors and friends to work right here in our country.

North Carolina was once known for their quality furniture. Many manufacturers moved their factories to Mexico, Central or South America, or to Asian countries. But a few have remained here, and some are coming back. One owner said when he looked at the demise of his town here in North Carolina, he realized he was partially to blame for it; he'd put around 400 Americans out of work so he could pocket more money himself. But his furniture sales declined because the quality was no longer there, and out-of-work Americans could no longer afford to buy it - or anything other than the basic necessities.

Does Made in the USA matter to you?

Or if you're not an American and you're reading this from elsewhere in the world, does it matter that you purchase goods made in your own country? Or do you believe that globalization benefits us all?

I was curious about furniture still made in North Carolina, and found this link with a list of companies:

What is your opinion about importing goods that could be made in your own region?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Making of a Psychic - Part 10

There are a number of ways in which psychic spies ready themselves for a mission. They might listen to classical music, meditate, place themselves into a semi-hypnotic trance, perform yoga or relaxation techniques.

However they choose to relax, the end result for all of them is the same: to eliminate "brain chatter" - those little voices that remind us of everything from what we need at the supermarket to physical aches and pains. Their minds must be completely silent and open so they can experience what is about to unfold in their mind's eye.

When I began researching psychics and psychic spies in preparation for writing the Black Swamp Mysteries series, I took courses in the subject and also interviewed several successful now-retired psychic spies, as well as read several books written by Defense Department and CIA psychics. I developed a system for Vicki to free her mind from all that was going on around her and the brain chatter from within that is based on the interviews and courses.

Here is a scene from Vicki's Key in which psychic spy Vicki Boyd is physically located in her fish breeding business (a front) while she goes halfway around the world in her mind's eye - to Afghanistan.

Vicki sat cross-legged on the concrete floor, her eyes closed. The constant splash of dozens of fish tank filters made her feel as if she was sitting at the base of a waterfall. The air was hot and humid even with the air conditioning on, but her legs were cool against the concrete.
Sam sat a few feet away. She knew he was watching her intently and once her breathing reached a certain point, he would begin to direct her movements. The door to the fish house was cracked open; outside, Julia casually smoked a cigarette. To a neighbor glancing out a window, it might have appeared as though she had just stepped outside to take a smoke break. But Vicki knew she would stop their session in an instant should Dylan return home or Benita wandered from the house.
“Twenty minutes.” Sam spoke quietly as he switched on a camcorder.
Somewhere in Vicki’s subconscious, she registered the time. She knew, even with her eyes closed, she would emerge from her trance-like state in precisely twenty minutes.
She took a deep breath and felt her chest rise and fall in a pattern similar to sleep. She cleared her mind of the dozens of details and thoughts that threatened to hijack her concentration and focused instead on the steady sound of the water surrounding her.
Though her eyes remained closed, she felt the room grow white around her and then she was whisked upward like a bird catching its broad wings on a current of air and allowing it to take her away.
She was weightless. It felt effortless to spread her wings and be transported high above the ground, above the treetops and rooflines, soaring toward the clouds. It was a beautiful summer day, the sky a shade of blue that set the Carolinas apart; dotted here and there with fluffy, white clouds that danced with her every movement.
She felt like an eagle. As she glided on the air current, she became acutely aware of her eyesight; it was stronger than a human’s—so strong that she could see a rabbit emerging from a row of hedges nearly a mile away. The tiniest bird was clearly visible and eggs in treetop nests shone like beacons.
When Sam spoke, his voice was calm and authoritative. “Latitude,” he said simply. She cocked her head as if listening to him through an earpiece.
Like a satellite being tuned to a specific frequency, she honed in on the thirty-fifth parallel, instantly sailing from Lumberton northward to the outskirts of Raleigh.
“State your present longitude.”
Almost robotically, Vicki answered. “Seventy-eight.”
“Move east, across the ocean.”
She dutifully turned eastward. In the blink of an eye, the clouds were gone. In their place was a solid, deep blue the shade of a passionflower, almost purple in its cavernous intensity. Beneath her were shades of brown. Gone were the flowers of North Carolina, bursting in their kaleidoscope of brilliant colors; gone were the trees with their extensive range of greens that ran the gamut from peridot to deep moss. In its place was the Moroccan desert, its sands stretching in various shades of fawn across the earth. Buildings rose in blocks of yellow- and reddish-brown, their height their only distinguishing characteristic from the shifting sands. She soared above jagged crags that rose from the ground like hilltops created from the variable winds.
“Morocco,” she said flatly, like an obedient soldier reporting her location.
“Continue east,” he said evenly. “Longitude seventy-one.”
She soared upward as the ground rose beneath her like a monster awakening. The air was thinner and dry, her mouth beginning to parch. Beneath her were the jagged peaks of the Hindu Kush.
“State your position.”
“Northeast of Kabul, Afghanistan. Headed toward Pakistan. Foothills of the Himalayas.”
“Do not leave Afghanistan.”
Her wings angled, causing her to float above the mountain peaks in a slow, mesmerizing circle, like an eagle searching the terrain for prey.
“Your mission,” he said, his voice soft but firm in her imagined earpiece, “is to locate a remote village. Only one road leads in through the mountains, isolating it from the rest of the country.”

Vicki's Key introduces psychic spy Vicki Boyd and is part of the Black Swamp Mysteries series. The books are sold at all fine book stores and online in both eBook and print formats.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why Where We Live Impacts Us

I've come to the realization that where we live has everything to do with how our lives evolve. That same geographic impact also carries forward into the books authors write, guiding the characters in one direction or another, opening or closing doors, and impacting everything they do.

For example, I spent most of my life in the Washington, DC area. In crafting stories with a DC backdrop, one can't ignore political undertones - it pervades everything inside the Beltway and for miles around. Locations for scenes are varied and multi-faceted, from outdoor parks, the river and recreational areas to museums, hotels, monuments and neighborhoods with distinctive characteristics. Characters living in the DC area are more likely to be well-traveled, educated and sophisticated.

Compare that with a woman living in a war-torn country, particularly one that has a history of oppressing women. Many of them will never travel beyond their village. Many will never experience television, radio, running water, telephones, automobiles or books. It seems hard to believe that in 2014 there are places like this, doesn't it? Yet there are. Some women will never know what they've missed because they never experienced it to begin with. Others might know there is something more beyond their borders but feel powerless to escape.

In real life, our options are often limited or limitless, depending on where we were born and where we live out our lives. In some countries, travel is made easy so moving from one area to another is possible. In other areas, one can not travel without the threat of harm or death.

In some places around the world, the decision to permit life or induce death or torture is based on the color of one's skin, on the God the worship - or the God they don't - the tribe they are a part of, or the class or caste their families belong to. In other places, instability means there are years in which their own factions wage genocide on others; then the tables are turned and they become the hunted.

Each of these backdrops opens worlds of possibilities for the author. It makes the difference in how easily a character can travel, what their opinions are, how they can or can not express themselves, whether they can advance and what tools are available to them. In some instances, picking up a cell phone can be second nature. In others, owning or using one can result in execution.

There are more subtle themes that run through the place in which we live, as well. We might be surrounded by a melting pot of cultures that might cause us to be more liberal-minded with an attitude of "live and let live" or we might live in a region where conformity means everything and those who do not conform are branded heretics. Allowing a character's mind to flourish can be something outside of their own control, such as a government or society that encourages thought - or like Galileo, even speaking of a scientific finding outside the norm could result in imprisonment.

The time in which we live also impacts everything we do and everything that is possible for us. Placing a character in a book in Tennessee in the 18th century could mean Indian wars or battles against the British; clothing from animal pelts and drinking water from creeks or rivers, carried in buckets. Placing that same character in the same place in the 21st century could mean working at a nuclear facility with nuclear physicists and scientists; advanced modes of transportation; communication that stretches around the globe.

Place and time. What has it meant to your own life? If you're an author, how does that impact your writing?

p.m.terrell's books have taken place in a myriad of backdrops: Afghanistan, China, Washington, DC, Virginia, Ireland, North Carolina, and Tennessee - both in the 21st century as well as the 18th century.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Science Fiction and Stephen Hawking

Those who have followed my blog know I love this Golden Age of science and technology. So when Stephen Hawking, unarguably the brightest mind of this generation, was interviewed about artificial intelligence and imaginary time, I wanted a front row seat.

One of the things he mentioned is that science fiction writers have not yet used the theory of imaginary time in their plots. When asked why they haven't, he answered, "Because they don't understand it."

Definitely, imaginary time can be difficult to grasp. Imagine a line drawn on a piece of paper. At the far left end of that line is the "past" and at the far right end is the "future". In the middle is the "present". When you began reading this post, you were in the present but by the time you got to this paragraph, the reading of the first paragraph is already in the past. What you haven't yet read is in the future.

Now turn that solid line on the piece of paper into a cross, right down the center. Imaginary time is that vertical line. In positivist philosophy, along that vertical line are things we are present to witness as well as those we have not witnessed but we believe to exist anyway. For example, as you're reading this, you might be aware of your computer or mobile device, the room in which you're sitting or standing, sounds in the background - perhaps a television set, the air conditioner, overhead fans, traffic outside... All of that is time that you are witnessing.

Now consider a loved one - your father, mother, spouse, children, etc. They are not in the room with you at present and yet they are living out their own present elsewhere. That is the vertical line. It is all that is currently happening in the present that we do not witness ourselves and yet we believe that it exists.

Stephen Hawking takes this theory to an entirely new and complex level. In the Big Bang theory, for example, the universe began in an instant so miniscule that it could not be measured. It simply exploded into being. The explosion itself is still causing all matter in the universe - stars, planets, and all else - to move further and further apart. Prior to the Big Bang, there was no time because there was nothing but empty space.

But other physicists theorize that the Big Bang that created our universe is only one of billions - that all stars die and when they do, they first are compressed into an area that perhaps would fit on the tip of a needle - before exploding into something our minds can't even fathom, like thousands or millions of atomic bombs. With each explosion (and they occur every day) new matter is formed, along with dark matter and dark holes.

In quantum physics, if you return to that vertical line on the piece of paper, it theorizes that billions upon billions of things are occurring at this exact moment, even though you can't witness it directly. This could mean that there are countless universes, parallel worlds... even worlds that are just beyond our noses but we can not witness them with our physical bodies and capabilities, just as we can not witness what is going on in a different geographical location but we believe that life carries on there nonetheless.

To a science fiction writer, the theory of imaginary time presents a myriad of possibilities, by leaping through to different worlds or watching events unfold simultaneously. The question would then be if the horizontal line shows the past, the present and the future, how would those simultaneous events along the vertical line impact the future? To write such a science fiction plot would require advanced knowledge of the theory of imaginary time; something Isaac Asimov could do with seeming ease.

If you're interested in an interview with Stephen Hawking where he talks about imaginary time, artificial intelligence and more, here's a video below:

Does American Made Matter?

In two of my books, The China Conspiracy and The Pendulum Files, I've had themes that included the importation of goods from other countries, particularly China. It's caused me to research imports and exports and how trade has evolved over the past few decades.

As a consumer, it's also caused me to look closely at where things are manufactured.

When I look through my closet, I find that the quality clothing I've owned for probably far too long was made in the United States and I still receive compliments every time I wear them. The more recent clothing I know will be unfit to wear after just one season; they are more likely to have been made in China, Thailand, Bangladesh, or other countries halfway around the world from me.

Lately, I've been noticing that more goods are being made in the United States and the quality I knew years ago was beginning to reemerge. And some brands never left the USA - you just have to dig to find them.

For example, when I've mentioned to friends that the New Balance athletic shoes and apparel I bought recently were made in the United States, they expressed surprise. They thought all athletic shoes were made in China or another Asian country. Today only 25% of New Balance shoes are made in the USA. Those that are have been clearly labeled with "Made in the USA". But this doesn't mean that they all are made here. You have to look at the shoe to determine its origins.

Are they better than those made overseas? You betcha. There is an amazing difference, in quality, in workmanship and in materials. Even when some of the material is imported, when American workers are stitching them together or finishing them, they have the opportunity to inspect them. Many times when 100% of goods are made overseas and simply distributed by a company within the USA, no more than a handful of people within that company may ever see the quality - or lack of quality - in their own products.

If you're an American, does it matter to you whether the clothes you wear were made in the USA?

Do you detect a difference in the quality?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Making of a Psychic - Part 9

In the Black Swamp Mysteries series, Vicki Boyd is a psychic spy. She is considered one of the best the CIA has ever employed.

Vicki is both clairvoyant (meaning she sees what is unfolding) and clairaudient (meaning she hears what is being said). Since most psychics are either claircognizant (they sense something) or clairsentient (they feel something) obviously a psychic who can see and hear what is happening is of extreme value to our government.

In the opening chapter of Vicki's Key, Vicki is on a psychic mission to the amazon jungles to locate terrorists intending to overthrow a government who is friendly to the United States. Here is how she sees and hears what is going on in the jungle even though she is physically at Langley:

Vicki moved through the jungle almost as though she was gliding, though her mind registered the uneven evergreen carpet beneath her. She pushed past the giant fronds that reached across her path like arms blocking her way, feeling her way through the deepening shadows so far beneath the sky that it was becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish night from day.
She reached the corner of the first building and hesitated. It was an interesting structure made from mud and reeds, held together with wood cut from the rainforest. The wood also served as frames around open windows; with no glass or material across them, she realized the building was simply a continuation of the jungle, only existing as a means to keep the constant rains off the inhabitants’ heads.
“I hear voices,” she whispered, knowing her supervisor, Sam Mizzoli, was waiting for her to continue.
“Confirm their identities,” he answered, his voice husky as it filled her ear.
She moved along the structure’s perimeter until she came to a wide window. Peering inside, she watched as seven men engaged in a heated debate around a homemade table and chairs.
“Identities confirmed.” Her voice sounded disembodied.
“How many?” Sam responded, his breath quickening.
“All of them.”
“All seven?”
“They’re all here. Maps on the table…” Her eyes roamed around the room, taking in the stash of weapons and ammunition leaning against the far wall and spilling over the table. “Enough ammunition to fight off an army,” she added.
“Coordinates.” His voice was authoritative.
She glanced downward and opened the palm of her hand. Her GPS was clear, the numbers so distinct they seemed to jump off the screen. She read the latitude and longitude almost robotically.
“Get out of there,” he directed.
She turned away from the window and back toward the jungle and the river. The far edge of the building that had appeared so distant only a moment earlier now seemed to rise up in front of her, mere inches from her face as she retreated. She had almost reached the edge where the structure gave way to the jungle’s lush vegetation when a lone figure turned the corner of the building and came face to face with her.

Next week: how psychic spies prepare themselves for their missions.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Free eBooks

Yesterday I was discussing a great book I'd read with a friend of mine, highly encouraging her to read it. It had been on the New York Times bestseller list in 1996, but let's face it: some books are great regardless of their initial release dates.

My friend turned to her mobile device, entered only a few keystrokes and the book instantly appeared on her screen.

"How did you do that so quickly?" I asked.

She explained that she entered "pdf" followed by the book title in a Google search engine (though any search engine would do). Up popped a website where the book had been converted to a PDF file, and with one click, she was able to read it for free in its entirety.

As you can imagine, I saw every color of the rainbow with this revelation. Authors, publishers and book stores (online or brick-and-mortar) do not get paid when a book is given away for free. And any book released over the last fifty years should be assumed to be copyrighted, unless the copyright holder has allowed it to lapse.

Later, I got out my iPad and began searching for my own book titles, followed by "pdf" in the search box. Sure enough, there were my earliest works - works that are still copyrighted, I hold the copyright, and yet there they were free for the taking.

Before I began writing full-time, I worked in the computer field. My specialties were computer crimes and computer intelligence. So I began investigating.

It didn't take long before I discovered that 100% of the websites offering my books for free were located in Russia, the Eastern Bloc (particularly the Ukraine), China and other countries that do not abide by U.S. laws. But that was not all that I found.

I discovered each of the files I investigated contained malicious software code - viruses, worms, trojans and bots.

The viruses could wreak havoc with any computer downloading the file. It can easily destroy information, overwrite legitimate files with malicious files, and propagate itself continuously, eventually making the computer unusable.

The worms were similar to the viruses, but they latched onto other legitimate software, extracting information from the software - information you don't want to share, such as user names and passwords and personal data.

The PDF files themselves are trojans. Trojans get their name from the method the Greeks used to infiltrate Troy's defenses - by delivering a trojan horse that contained warriors inside. The file looks legitimate - it appears to be an exact copy of a book, page by page - but it contains malicious software that, while the reader is reading away, it is busy extracting files, looking for passwords and personal data, and uploading the information to host computers halfway around the world.

In other words, it is stealing your identity, bit by bit.

A fourth malicious software I detected were bots. Bots got their name from robots, morphed into webbots, and finally simply called bots. They perform functions that humans normally would, but at lightning speed. For example, it could be labor intensive for a person to try and infiltrate another's computer and copy each of their email addresses out of their address books. But with a program to do it for them, while the reader is reading away, the bot is working in the background to extract each of the website addresses, which in turn serves as a server to send spam around the world. It can take mere seconds to accomplish.

Some of the files contained all four types of malicious software.

Are there really legitimate websites that allow a person to download a book for free, or are they all frauds?

There are legitimate websites. Before using a website, and most particularly before clicking on a link or downloading a file, check to see where the website is registered. It's a dead giveaway that the site is not legitimate if it's offering free books by U.S. authors out of the Ukraine or Russia. In one instance, I even found my books offered for free out of Australia - but the website was linked to others in China.

Second, look at the date the book was originally released. There are some books that are considered classics that were never copyrighted and are now in the public domain. In the United States, any work published prior to 1923 is considered in the public domain. If the author and/or publisher is located outside the United States, you must refer to that country's copyright law.

If the work was published between 1923 and 1963, the copyright had to be renewed every 28 years (U.S. law). A book that has had continued protection would list each of the copyright dates in the front matter. Each book had to contain the proper copyright notice and the copyright holder had to formally register it.

From 1964 through 1989, copyrighted books were deemed protected into the infinite future - meaning once it was copyrighted, it would always be considered copyrighted. The copyright holder had to complete formal copyright paperwork and the copyright notice had to be included in each book.

However, after March 1, 1989, copyright laws changed in the United States. Once the author puts pen to paper (or types the document), it is considered copyrighted. It does not need a formal copyright notice nor does it require formal copyright paperwork, though both are recommended to prevent the assumption that it is in the public domain. Works published after this date are copyrighted and protected throughout the life of the copyright holder (deemed to be the author unless otherwise noted) plus 70 years.

What does all this mean to you?

It means if you are downloading a free PDF copy of a book from an unknown source through the Internet, chances are the website is violating copyright laws - unless the book is considered in the public domain - meaning it was never copyrighted, is an old book whose copyright has expired, and was certainly released prior to 1964.

The only exception to this is if the copyright holder signed an agreement with the website to offer the work for free, which some authors do through legitimate sites - amazon, for example, often offers free eBooks because the copyright owner elected to allow readers to download it at no charge.

It also means if you're looking to get something for nothing, you might have just downloaded more than you bargained for.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Making of a Psychic - Part 7

One aspect of psychic phenomena that is often difficult for the layperson to grasp is how a person can see things unfolding halfway around the world or in a place they've never visited in person. Science is actually coming closer to understanding how this can happen but we'll have to look at the invisible world of atoms, nuclear fission and quantum mechanics.

When an atom is split and moved apart from its partner, scientists have discovered what they do to one half impacts the other half. This is true even when the split atoms are thousands of miles apart. The impact is detected immediately as well; where we generally think of physical travel, the immediate impact confirms Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

A mother often knows this firsthand. There have been countless tales of women knowing that a son or a daughter was in trouble at the very time that something catastrophic has happened. It's more commonly known as Women's Intuition or a Mother's Intuition, but it suggests a bond exists between the mother and child, regardless of the space between them.

In scientific experiments where a mother is physically separated from a newborn child, the mother began to lactate when the child was hungry -- even if miles separated them.

Many people experience these "sixth sense feelings" but they don't act on them. Often what we have in front of us at the time uses our brain power or our energies and what we're sensing gets pushed to the background. But those in the psychic spy field must learn to listen to those whisperings.

Does this mean that a psychic spy can read your mind?

Usually not. But it does mean that psychic spies can often interpret your emotions, knowing whether you mean someone harm, you are suffering or reacting to something negative or positive, and how strong your own emotions are. They can often walk into a room and know who to gravitate toward and who to stay away from.

Next week: the four ways that psychics see.