Thursday, December 22, 2011


I wrote this really quick last night & touched it up a little bit today. Curious to get your thoughts. It's a self-contained short story inspired by the recent discovery by the Kepler observatory. It had found some planets which, at one point in their history, may have supported life, but are now too close to their sun to be habitable. Enjoy, typos & all! I'll touch it up some more when I have time & am not rushed.


By:  Ryan A. Goodwin

Gobrah, Chief Star Finder to the God-King, Azreul, looked through his sky-lens again.  His neck scales rose up and down in consternation, his sinuous neck swaying slightly back and forth.  This was not good.  Above him against the black void of space, the bright stars spangled the sky in dense, varying patterns.
The sky-lens was focused, however, not on a star, but a grayish smudge just peaking over the horizon.  The comet Epefrayla was not where it should be.  The heavens were consistent, constant.  This was not right.  The comet was several degrees away from where his tedious calculations said it should be.
 The calculations were correct.
 He removed his vertically slitted eye from the sky-lens, focusing over the long barrel of the sky-lens to look at the comet.  This was not the first omen.  No, not omen.  Mathematical certainty was not a ridiculous superstition.  And the math was clear:  their world was moving closer to their sun.  The Star Finders had been watching, silently, as the heavens were shifting ever slightly.  This star a few tenths of a degree off, this planet, a few more.  He raised his star finding device, checking elevation and angle, then rotating his sky-lens to another star.  He bent his neck again, placing his left eye-ridge scale against the eye-piece.
 Skyphene was not where it should be.
 He rotated his sky-lens by a single degree left.  No star.  He rotated it another whole degree and there it was, filling the view through his sky-lens.
 Just last year at this time, Skyphene was only a fraction of a degree out of place.  Now it was two!  His large arm feathers shivered and extended.  Extremely disturbing.  There was no hiding this.  Even the most amateur Star Finder would see the placement of the stars was becoming increasingly inaccurate.  It seemed that the rate was increasing, too.
 He must take this to the God-King.
 Gobrah stepped away from his sky-lens, the curved talons on his feet scraping and scratching the rough stone surface of his viewing ledge.  They gripped the edge, he spread his arms, the long white and black speckled flight feathers extending, and leapt into the night air.  Several deep thrusts with his arm-wings and he was gliding above the deep jungle foliage below.
 Insects buzzed and flew about him.  Normally he might pluck one from the air with a quick extension of his neck, but not tonight.  His eyes narrowed, the thick eye-brow scales furrowing.  The end of his world was coming, and his people had no way to prevent it.
 Minutes passed as he flew above the jungle, towards the towering tree fortress of the God-King.  It was the largest tree, by far, in the jungle, stretching four again the height of the next tallest trees.  Stone platforms had been mortared around it, creating ledges and rooms.  Torches burned in tempered glass housings, casting flickering yellow light across the broad violet leaves and dark gray bark.
 He arched back, flapping deeply with his arms, stretching his legs forward, landing on a stone ledge.  This ledge led directly to the God-King’s quarters.  The two guards bobbed their heads at him, in acknowledgement.  He ignored them, striding forward, his neck slightly bobbing forward as he walked, his long, thin, tail flicking back and forth.
 Voices echoed down the corridor to him.  Screeches of laughter, guttural roars of astonishment, and the gravelly tones of normal talk.  The God-King was entertaining this evening, it seemed.  That would be sure to end.
 Gobrah strode into the room, seeing tens of his fellows perched or stretched across curved wooden benches.  Tables were arranged in front of each, covered in pickled dart-fliers, roasted tree-swingers, plump blood-fruit, and numerous other things he didn’t pay so much attention to.
 The God-King’s neck stretched up, his red-painted neck scales flaring out as he watched Gobrah enter the room.  His bright purple arm feathers stretched suddenly and the room fell to silence.  All were staring at him.
 “Gobrah, while not invited, you may certainly join us.  You seem to be determined to do so.”  The room laughed around him, high screeches filling the humid night air.
 “My God-King, I bring dire news.  Otherwise I would not interrupt.”
 The room returned to silence.
 “Then speak, Star Finder.  What portents or omens have you discovered that require interrupting this feast?”  The God-King’s neck scales slowly raised and lowered, threateningly.
 “Our world, Andul, it is falling into our sun.  The math is clear.  The stars do not lie.  The seasons, it has been becoming increasingly warm.  I do not know of another conclusion to draw.”
 Arm feathers unfurled around him, the people hissing, their necks swaying back and forth.  Jaws clacked and neck scales flapped.  The God-Kings eye-brow scales lifted, then narrowed.  His feathers did not unfurl.  His neck did not sway.
 He already knew.
 Gobrah’s eyes widened, his neck leaning back.
 “Indeed, Gobrah?  You bring this to me here, now, in front of this group?  All of you - LEAVE!”  The God-King’s guttural words vibrated the walls, and even a wisp of flame escaped his open maw, narrow, pointed teeth flashing in the torch light.
 Claws scrabbled and scratched as they fled from the room, leaving Gobrah standing alone with the God-King.  The God-King stood, walking around the table in front of his seat.  Gobrah instinctively walked side-ways, opposite of the God-King.
 They circled like wary predators.
 “My dear Gobrah.  The signs have been clear for sometime.  I can see it in your eyes, you know that I knew of this already.  Likely you wonder why haven’t I done anything.  That is a fair question.”  Gobrah simply stalked sideways, wary and terrified at the same time.  He knew!  And why does he circle me like prey?  I have brought warning!  Why hasn’t he done anything?
 “The truth is, Gobrah, we have been working, but in secret.  If the people were to find out, the world would be in chaos.  There is no way to suddenly focus everyone, all at once.  And here, you, in your desire to draw attention to yourself, have unleashed the poison.
 “Word is surely already spreading and now I must not only marshal the people to meet the threat of the end of our world, but chaos.
 “This is on your head, Gobrah.”
 Gobrah rattled his neck scales.  “How would you face the end of our world?  What hope would we have?” 
 “The new sciences are our answer.  The metallurgy, physics, biology sciences.  We are a people moving beyond ancient omens and portents.  We shall fly through the stars as we fly through our jungles.” 
 Gobrah stopped walking in his astonishment.  Fly among the stars?  How was that possible?  Would these new sciences really take his people away from this doomed world?
 “How long, Gobrah, till the end?” 
 Gobrah shook his head, thinking back to his calculations.
 “Five thousands years till our planet’s demise, much less for us, I think.  It shall become unbearably warm in only five hundred, maybe one-thousand years.”
 “That, my dear Gobrah, is a great deal of time for us to focus and develop ourselves.  But now you may have disrupted that work.  Now we may not be able to focus.  Unless I can stop the chaos.”  The God-King stepped closer.
 Gobrah bent his neck down, shame filling him.  His feathers fell, drooping.
 “My God-King, I... I am sorry.” 
 “I know, Gobrah, I know.  I am sorry, too.”
 Gobrah’s eyes widened, his voice screeched into the night.  The God-King’s mouth, with those terribly narrow, sharp teeth, had clamped down on his neck.  He could feel his life blood leeching out, hear splattering onto the stone floor.  He kicked his legs up, trying to find purchase on the God-King, but his legs, they were already weak.
 He was only trying to help his people.  He was only trying to do his duty.
 The room was darkening and it was getting cold.  Then he felt himself lowered to the floor, gently, the God-King cradling him. 
 “I know, Gobrah, you were only doing your duty.  And in doing so you may have doomed us all.  You will either be remembered as a villian, or as a hero, the first to warn us of our impending doom.”  The God-King’s voice was moving further away, as if he were in a tunnel.
 “I will try to make you the martyr, Gobrah.  I shall try.”
 The world went silent.
 The world went dark.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

[UPDATED] On Government - What's the deal? - Indefinite Detention - National Defense Authorization Act, S.1867, Section 1034

Sometimes words leave me.  I am referring to a group of circumstances, but more specifically for this blog I refer to the Senate bill titled National Defense Authorization Act, section 1031, S.1867.  Normally, this bill authorizes expenditures, troop levels, and that type of stuff.

However, this year, Senator McCain and Senator Carl Levin have co-sponsored an amendment to the bill which says :
Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.
The entirety of this section of the bill reads :
(a) In General- Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.
(b) Covered Persons- A covered person under this section is any person as follows.
(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
(c) Disposition Under Law of War- The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following:
(1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
(2) Trial under chapter 47A of title 10, United States Code (as amended by the Military Commissions Act of 2009 (title XVIII of Public Law 111-84)).
(3) Transfer for trial by an alternative court or competent tribunal having lawful jurisdiction.
(4) Transfer to the custody or control of the person's country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity.
(d) Construction- Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
(e) Authorities- Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities, relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.
(f) Requirement for Briefings of Congress- The Secretary of Defense shall regularly brief Congress regarding the application of the authority described in this section, including the organizations, entities, and individuals considered to be `covered persons' for purposes of subsection (b)(2).
A quick read of this section basically reads something along the lines of:
 Congress re-affirms that the President can use all force necessary to prosecute the Authorization for Use of Military Force, including people who were a part of 9-11, have aided al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or any associated forces, against the United States & its allies.
 The President can detain these people until the end of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, Try them under United States Code, transfer them for trial somewhere else, or transfer them to their home country.
We don't want this section to expand or decrease the current powers of the President.
The Secretary of Defense will have to tell us who/why/how they are using these powers regularly.
So what's the rub?  There's all of this yelling going on in the blog-o-sphere about these amendments.  Why?  It boils down to this text:
 Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
The problem that people are seeing is that there's no exception here for United States citizens.  A motion to add text that exempted US citizens on American soil was defeated.  Therefore:

You can be indefinitely detained without trial, without jury, and without charges if you are suspected of supporting terrorists.  To detain you, the US Government has to attach you to an organization that is supportive of or affiliated with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or an associated organization.

Now, some bloggers will go very Vendetta-ish here, saying it only takes a few twists of one's words to create a link between you and some questionable organization that could be supportive of al-Qaeda or the Taliban.  Unfortunately, instances of un-warranted tracking/spying by the FBI of various American citizens makes this believable.  There's even an instance where a person was tracked because of a friend's reddit comment.

There's a lot of ground that has to be covered to go from GPS tracking or phone tapping to grabbing a PETA activist and throwing them in Guantanamo Bay.  But the rub is that this law makes it possible to do so.

The Constitution already covers how to handle this type of behavior.  It's called Treason, and its in Article 3, Section 3 :
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
How close does that resemble the person described in Section 1031 (2) of S.1867?  Still, this passed the Senate.  How are they justifying this?  There's this line in the Constitution, Article I, Section 9 :
 The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
Habeas Corpus is a legal term basically requiring a person be brought before a judge.  The amendments in section 1031 of S.1867 specifically suspend Habeas Corpus for American citizens.  The idea is that our continued conflicts abroad put the country in a case of "rebellion or invasion" and that for "public safety", it is required.

Furthermore, the Non-Detention Act of 1971 specifically says that only an Act of Congress can detain a citizen of the United States :
No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress.
This was intended to repeal the Emergency Detention Act of 1950, which made it possible, just like S.1867, Section 1031, to detain citizens.  The people who could be detained?  Anyone supporting Communism.

And let's us not forget the Bill of Rights and the Fourth Amendment :
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
We have, in 2011, our equivalent of the Red Scare.  This time it is the Terrorist Scare.  Like the Red Scare, there's no foreseeable end to the current War on Terror.  Do I think terrorism is a threat?  Absolutely.  But a few Americans found helping the enemy does not a trend make.  We're not seeing a rebellion at home in support of al-Qaeda - the vast majority of Americans hate them and what they stand for.  Declaring that anyone can be detained on the suspicion of terrorist activities is not American and over kill.  The Constitution, Due Process, Habeas Corpus, and The Bill of Rights were keystone concepts of what this country was founded on.

At any time we step away from these concepts, we are letting the other side win.  Terrorism is about changing cultures, changing values, and scaring people.  We see here the degradation of our Rights, bit by bit, whether its the Patriot Act or S.1867.  They are changing our government.

This bill is now going to the House.  It's already passed the Senate.

Two Four-Star Generals, Charles Krulak & Joseph Hoar have written a note to the NY Times speaking against the provisions in the NDAA for indefinite detention.

UPDATE 05.17.12:
A United States judge has ruled that the provisions in the NDAA of '11 for indefinite detention are unconstitutional.

Take action by using this ACLU form to send a note to your Senators & Representative.

Check out this article if you're curious if your senator supported or didn't support S.1867.

Analysis & notes on S.1867: DailyKos
Non-Detention Act: , Full text:
Full Text of S.1867:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Excerpt from Darkness Before Light

So I wanted to share a bit of what I've been working on w/ the public at large. I started to write an intro story a month ago or so & just haven't been able to focus too much on it. So here's a section with Captain Liu Wong & his co-pilot Rafael Hernandez as they face piloting their dropship from the orbiting Everest down to the planet's surface.  As always, I'm sure there are edits to make as I refine, refine, refine.

Enjoy this glimpse of my draft!

- Ryan

Captain Liu Wong absently tried to wipe his very sweaty palms on the legs of his flight suit. The thickness of the material prevented him from feeling much more than a vague pressure against his legs.  He didn’t actually remove any sweat, but it didn't stop him from repeating the gesture.
He could feel the moisture trickling slowly down his cheeks and the sheen on his forehead.  It made him feel self conscious although the polarized face plate of his flight suit wouldn't allow anyone else to see it. When he wasn't wiping his hands, Liu was swiping them over the touch display screen centered immediately in front and slightly below his head. Screens of weapon load outs flashed by as he swiped, the next screen showing flight surface statuses, then another of cargo load out status.   
The data was nearly memorized by now, but his anxiousness was making him twitchy.
No one had ever participated in a drop this big and certainly not when there was a vast armada of boulders the size of cars, trucks, (tanks even!) orbiting the drop target. This shit was absurd. There had to be a way for them to blast some of those rocks.
“Captain Liu Wong,” a melodious woman's voice spoke into his helmet's head set, “there is an update on the drop plan. Downloading to your ship now. Please review.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Liu responded in a startled voice.
“Are you going to cry, Liu-ie?” asked Rafael Hernandez, Liu's co-pilot and navigator.
Ignoring the normal response from Rafael, Liu swiped to the appropriate screen. Most of the data remained the same: the Dropflight Leader was Thunderhead and he was still Thunderstorm Bravo Two. His Pelican dropship was the second in a four ship flight, designated Bravo One though Four, with Bravo One being the flight leader. The Dropflight Leader commanded the entire dropflight: ninety-six Pelican drop ships.
The updated ordinance load out was highlighted in red text. The main change seemed to be four new cruise missiles which would launch automatically, with jammers at full, after their passage through the debris field.
“Four cruise missiles? Loaded with jammers? Maybe they do know what they're doing,” Liu commented more calmly. In the background, various thumps and whirs could be heard as the automated loading bots maneuvered the cruise missiles into hide-away bays on the bottom corners of the craft.
“I'm glad you didn't start crying.”
“Eat me, Raf,” Liu remarked, using the common name everyone had given his co-pilot. The guy didn't take anything seriously. “Focus on the nav path. I can't believe that CIC got the all the drop paths right, and I'd rather we actually made it on the ground,” Liu directed. On second thought, if they died during drop, they probably wouldn't even know it and everything would be over so much sooner. God only knew what would be waiting on the ground for them!
“Aye, Aye, el Kapitan. I've been over it as many times as you've tried wiping your sweaty palms on your legs.”
“I have not been wiping my palms on my legs!”
A calm woman's voice interrupted the exchange. “All crews, five minutes to drop. Drop bay doors will be opening in five minutes. Your load outs have been updated. The Field General will address you now.”
“Men and women of the United Terran Government, Terran Armored Corps:  we are five minutes from taking the first steps to truly, finally, end this conflict.” Field General Spaulding's voice was solid basalt, deep and strong. “Many of you knew fathers or mothers that have died while fighting the rebellion. Brothers and sisters, friends and lovers. We all have a story.
I'm not going to ask you to fight for the government. But I am going to ask you to fight for the memories of your loved ones, fight for the hope that our children won't have to fight this battle, too. I know you will do your best, but today, do your best knowing that we have a real chance to end the fight. These next few hours will put it firmly in your hands.
We salute you. I salute you. Make us proud.”
In Liu's imagination was a faded picture of his crying mother, his last memory of her before she, too, left on deployment. That was nearly fourteen years ago, a long time for a scared little boy to remember dark almond-shaped eyes, red with strain, trying to bravely smile.
His own eyes became oddly moist and he blinked a few times.
“Raf, let's fucking do this.” Liu's voice was cold steel.
Rafael was mysteriously quiet for a few moments, no doubt remembering someone long past. When he spoke, there was a slight crack in his tenor. “Aye, Captain. Two minutes to drop. The bay doors should be opening soon.”
On cue, the lights in the bay, visible through the canopy of the Pelican's side-by-side cockpit, went out. The bay was dark, then a red light flashed three times and a buzzer sounded for three seconds.
A white line formed, stretching across in front of the angular nose of the Pelican. It slowly grew thicker, then separated into two white lines, split by a brownish, yellow swirling pattern. The view continued to separate, resolving into a view of the atmosphere of Sigma Draconis Three directly below them. The planet stretched in either direction, with no view of stars to be seen from their vantage point in the launch bay.
It was clear they were moving with speed, as shortly the planet seemed to begin being swallowed by a shadow, slowly traversing from right to left. Liu knew this to be the terminator, the line between night and day on the planet below, but with their limited view, it seemed terribly ominous.
It didn't help that it really was ominous. As that line creeped across the planet, hiding the swirling browns of Sigma Dracons Three from eye sight, so too did the moment of drop steadily approach.
“One minute to drop,” Everest said into his helmet.
The line continued to move, now covering nearly a third of his view.
“Forty-five seconds to drop,” said the melodious woman.
Liu gripped the flight yolk, sitting between his knees, with his right hand, his left now resting on the throttle. Raf shifted in his seat, directly to Liu's right, separated by a bank of switches and displays.
Nearly half of the planet was now covered in darkness, moving from day to night.
“Thirty seconds to drop.”
Liu brought thrust up to 5% by moving his left hand ever so slightly forward, eliciting a click from the throttle control. “Stand by for full power,” he said into the Pelican-wide comm channel. It would transmit to the helmets of the armor crews in the tanks his ship was carrying. The ship hummed with the desire to launch from her shackles, pressing against the clamps keeping her secure in the Everest.
“Twenty seconds to drop,” said Everest with dead calm.
The planet was now nearly two-thirds covered in the dark of night. It crept on.
“Ten seconds to drop.” The night spread by measures.
“Five, four, three, prepare,” said Everest.
On prepare, Liu pushed the throttle to full power. The hum rose to a teeth-rattling vibration as the Everest said:  “dropping.”
Thuds and clangs carried through the hull. Drop rails extended from each corner of the drop bay, providing a guide out of the Everest as the Pelican shot forward. Liu, Raf, and every other body on the drop ship pressed into their seats, indenting their fabric, feeling the seven g acceleration in their lungs. They used the centuries old trick of flexing their abs, forcing blood to stay in their upper bodies as the vessel executed a slight curve up.
Seemingly hours after the acceleration started, Liu killed throttle. They were now, inexorably, falling towards Sigma Draconis Three. Ten seconds of 7G acceleration set them at a quick 686.7 meters per second. He panted in his mask, the fans quietly humming, pushing cold oxygen onto his face, evacuating the moisture so his face plate stayed clear.
The eerily silent acceleration of the giant arrowhead-shaped Pelican was impressive to watch from outside. The drop ships were away, spreading out in a cloud punctuated by green and red navigation lights.  Puffs of flame steered them on their courses.  Shortly they would navigate the debris field, then deal with the Draconian defenses.
“Ready for auto, engaging,” Raf spoke quietly. It seemed the tension of the acceleration had left him.
Liu was still breathing heavy. “Acknowledged, releasing controls.” Liu released the control yolk, letting the Pelican follow its own flight path now, programmed by its supervising lieutenant in the Everest's CIC.
Outside, small thrusters spewed energy in a pattern across the Pelican's angular arrow-head form, tilting her slightly left, then nosing down. Her path seemed to be straight down towards the darkness of Sigma Draconis’s night.
It, essentially, was heading straight down, gaining more velocity from the planet's gravity well to make sure it had enough to sprint through the window in the debris field. Gaps between the hurtling rocks formed at various intervals in an intricate dance. Computers had crunched and whirred aboard the Everest finding the right paths. Regardless, five gigawatt lasers in gimbal mounts about the Pelican's hull twitched to and fro, their acquisition radars hunting for rogue bits.
“All Thunderstorms, all Thunderstorms, this is Thunderhead,” spoke a steady male baritone into Liu and Raf's helmets. “After crossing the debris field, proceed to formation on your flight leads. Follow the drop plans and we'll get on the ground in one piece. Thunderhead out.”
Raf and Liu shared a quick look at one another over the central console of the Pelican cockpit.
“Thirty seconds to debris field, Captain,” said Raf. His voice sounded like it had risen an octave.
“Understood.”  Raf swallowed.  His certainly had.  They have to get these guys on the ground.
“Ten second 2G burst coming in thirteen seconds,” Raf added.
Liu braced, then was pressed back into his seat again. After the 7G acceleration from launch, 2G's didn't feel like much, excepting a solid punch in the gut.  Several never-ending punches to the....
The thrust burst ended, having accelerated the Pelican to a quick 882.9 m/s. Liu scanned the vista outside the canopy, although he knew that there was no way he could spot with his eyes any bit of debris headed their way. If he did, it was likely too late. Instead all he could see was black, the night side of Sigma Draconis.
A violent roll left, tilt down, then what sure felt like reverse thrust made him shift right, rise in his seat, then tilt forward in quick succession, ending his scan. His ears were filled with the thud of his own arteries.
“I guess we're in for some chop, huh, Captain?” remarked Raf.
Another jerk left as the Pelican rolled right.
“Shut up, Raf, and hold on.”
Maneuvering thrusters scattered across the Pelican's hull allowed it to roll and tilt in the vacuum of space. Using the yolk, Liu told a computer what he wanted to do and that was converted into sequenced blasts from various thrusters, giving him “fly by wire” capabilities.
“another-,” Raf's voice was chopped off with a grunt as another burst of acceleration kicked in. They pressed back into their seats and then felt the ship tilting back, moving away from a ninety degree drop towards the planet to a less aggressive angle. The acceleration ended, releasing its grasp on Liu and Raf. Liu checked the velocity to see an even 1 kilometer per second.
Several thuds, then four green lights switching to red indicated the release of the cruise missiles. Flares of white thrust from missiles accelerating forward and away glared against the polarized face plates of Raf and Liu.
A shrill tone and several more orange indicators lit. This time from the threat assessment controls.
“Shit! We're being painted by targeting radar!” Raf shouted.
“I see it, the cruise missiles are squawking and jamming,” Liu's hand on the yolk hit a small switch, flipping his primary swipe-display to show threat locations. His voice caught, looking at the indicators.  Was this right?  “They're fucking behind us! And the cruise missiles with their jamming are zooming ahead of us!”
“Orienting defenses aft!” Raf responded, flipping his own display to show the threat locus. There were ten gimbal turret mounted one gigawatt lasers on the Pelican, five ventral and five dorsal. Their gimbal mounts provided 360 degrees of x-axis coverage and 180 degrees of y-axis coverage. In response to a few swipes of Raf's fingers, the ten gimbals twitched aft, pointing their laser weapon towards the direction of the threats.
A new woman's voice came onto the helmet speakers, tight and drawn, “All drops, all drops, targeting radars are located in the debris field, I repeat, in the debris field, accelerate away as you clear! I say again, accelerate as you clear!”
“Kill the auto, Raf, we're getting the fuck out of here!” Orange indicators switched to red. The threat locus display now showed thin red arrow points accelerating towards them from the rear.
“Missiles! Not clear what they're locked onto, but I'm going to try to get some of those jammer cruise missiles turned around,” Raf shouted.
Liu hit the chaff and flare dispenser on his flight yolk, twisting back and to the left. Thrusters pitched the Pelican back, so its nose rose and then tilted it left. Liu increased thrust, initiating a 3G burn from his main thrusters.
Again Liu and Raf were planted into their seats. More flares and more chaff erupted from the Pelican's flanks. Clouds of aluminium scattered and white-hot phosphorus spun into space, calling to the missiles hunting their charge.
The maneuver maintained the Pelican’s forward velocity, but also now gave the Pelican an 88 m/s drift to the left. It also exposed the five dorsal laser turrets to the vector the enemy missiles would be approaching from.
“I can't tell how many of those missiles are after us or not, but the cruise missiles have been oriented back and are heading our way again. I don't know if it'll do any good. Fuck fuck fuck!”
“Good work, Raf, we'll get out of this, yet,” Liu said. He reoriented the Pelcan down again, bursting another few seconds of 2G acceleration. With the ship now moving at over 1.2 km/s, they would somehow have to bleed that velocity if they made it to the atmosphere. The most likely avenue would be following a serpentine path once they got enough friction in Sigma Draconis Three's atmosphere. If you turn enough times, you'll drop plenty of speed, but it also meant you spent more time in the atmosphere where defenses could shoot at you. Several repeated beeps and flashing red lights from the threat assesement controls indicated that the laser turrets had identified missiles tracking their ship. First things first:  get past the missile barrage!
Raf interrupted Liu's thoughts, “Time to missile intercept thirty seconds. Count four birds. If you tilt us back, the turrets will have better angles of fire.”
“And expose a larger radar signature, never mind we're going to hit atmosphere in fifty seconds or so. Where are the cruise missiles?” Sweat trickled down Liu's forehead, echoing the strain in his voice.
“Twenty seconds and they'll pass us. No guarantees on how well they'll work. Their closing velocity is too quick to do much good!” Raf responded.
Twenty seconds, missiles will be up the thrusters. Ten seconds or so till jammers. Damn it, it will be close. Give me five seconds, four, three, two, now!
Liu pulled back on the yolk, tilting the Pelican's nose up, letting the dorsal laser turrets swivel and target. The jammer cruise missiles blazed by, their on board electronics creating a cloud of white noise for the chasing Draconian missiles to see through. The Pelican's lasers pulsed coherent light at them, concentrating fire between sets of gimbaled lasers, then swiveling to intercept another missile as a target detonated.
Swivel-target-pulse, swivel-target-pulse was the pattern being repeated.
The four missiles chasing them were now molten wreckage, spinning down into Sigma Draconis  Three's atmosphere. But hundreds of other missiles were seeking out the other craft of the drop flight. Each individual ship was essentially on its own.
Liu tilted the Pelican back down, finding the right attack angle to insert into the thicker atmosphere. The threat assessment controls showed yellow tell-tails of targeting radars of various types, but there were no more reds.
The radio spewed chaos.
“Thunderstorm Charlie Four, mayda-”, a crazed male voice was cut off.
“Thun-”, a woman's pitched voice started, then broke off.
“-ucking hit! Lost main thrusters! In free fall! Mayday mayday!” another voice of a desperate man, realizing his ship was in free fall into a planet's atmosphere.
Some mayday calls continued, but most ended abruptly at some point as missiles swarmed over damaged ships. At least, now, the missile barrage had passed the drop flight.
Liu’s jaws flexed as he switched the radio to just the Bravo flight frequency, ending the litany of maydays.
“Bravo flight, we're hitting the atmosphere out of formation, but good work on keeping your ships together,” spoke a far too calm baritone voice. “Reform as you can on Bravo One,” said the Bravo flight leader, piloting Bravo One. “Continue on to the drop zone identified by your downloads. We still have our battalion to deploy.”
Liu responded, voice tight, “Bravo Two, wilco.”
“Bravo Three, roger,” said a shaking woman's tenor. Sounds like Vicki was shook up.  Understandably.
“Bravo Four, roger,” said a hard breathing male. That would be Iakopo.
“The flight made it, holy shit,” remarked Raf.
Liu could only nod, his hands starting to shake.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Government - Think for yourself.

(Photograph: John Minchillo/AP)

"Following last month's police brutality in Oakland, and today's summary eviction of the Occupy Wall Street camp, American activists too are reaching the conclusion that "police protect the 1%"." - Guardian - UK

This scares me to read. Why? Because it doesn't matter if the police are or are not protecting the 1% or are provoked or not provoked. If masses of people begin to see police as not protectors, they will see them as antagonists & violence will escalate.

That cities are attacking these protests are only provoking public opinion. For every video of a protester being jabbed by a baton while locked arms with a fellow or tear-gas-canistered-in-the-head, people will become more sympathetic with #OWS. A few will not, but I see it around me in my conversations. More people are becoming sympathetic and more people are coming to understand what the group is saying.

Fewer try to refute #OWS by invalidating their arguments. Instead, they try to attack the character of a very small minority of participants. Instead, they try, by force, to physically remove the protests.

& it's happening all around the world.

Adding fuel to my own disgust is this latest bit from 60 Minutes about how various members of the United States Congress & the Senate have leveraged their inside information to make millions off of stocks while voting on related issues. How is this possibly legal? How is this possibly not a conflict of interest? (CBS, 60-minutes)

So let me get this straight: the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision made it legal for corporations to dump millions of dollars into campaigns. Companies can legally ply government officials with stock options, campaign funding through PAC's, as well as provide inside stock trading information. These are the same people that are responsible for keeping the system balanced? Why would they balance the system that is making them rich and keeping them employed?

Add to this the way income has been distributed through the country since 1979.
The Congressional Budget Office's graph shows it best. While a few people have enjoyed huge dividends, most of Americans have seen their salaries drop (compared to inflation) and have lost equity in their homes.

Some Americans take to the streets, while most sit at home and watch. The Tea Party members shout about out-of-control spending. Occupiers shout about corporate influence in government and unbalanced taxing. These two points of view are not mutually exclusive.

Meanwhile, the deficit super committee looks as if it cannot come to a consensus on a way to cut 1.2 Trillion of debt.

It is hard to believe the United States Government has the character or ability to actually address the issues in front of it - spending, taxes, pollution, even the healthiness of school lunches. What do you think?

Before you condemn the Occupy movement, consider these questions:
  • When was the last time you received a significant pay increase?
  • How much has your salary changed in the last five years?
  • How many people has your company laid off since 2008?
  • How many people has your company hired since 2008?
  • What does your company's profits look like?
  • How much salary growth potential do you have?
  • How much work is your company out-sourcing?

  • I'm not asking you to identify with or join or "believe" in what the Occupy movement is saying, but I am asking that you think about it. Consider your own situation against the back drop of how the government is operating. Don't take for granted what various news agencies say. Do the research, look for yourself, and form your opinion. For me, there's is too much evidence of disproportionate influence from corporations in government decision making. But I'm willing to consider evidence that shows otherwise. I just haven't seen any.

    And I shall now leave you with a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, one of the greatest Republican Presidents the country has known:

    "To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day." - Theodore Roosevelt (1912)

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Many Screens, Many Devices - Mobilizing Your Web Products.

    I thought I would continue my thoughts on many spaghetti sauces when building new media applications. In that process there are many facets, particularly if you're business is based on the web. Products that once just existed as a web application now have to consider many different form factors with access to the internet. We've been talking about this for the past year and a half at my company and it's taken some time for people to really begin to focus time and effort. Over this summer a real approach started to emerge and I wanted to share as much of that information as I could.

    It is, after all, that access to the internet that determines who may end up using your web-based products.

    Let's list those form-factors just to be on the same page:
  • Mobile phones.
  • Tablets.
  • Laptops & desktop PC's.
  • Television - Apple/Google/MS TV products.

    Before we get into the details on each, let's agree on some terms to describe each:
  • mobile - form factors with screens < 7 inches.
  • portable - form factors with screens < 10 inches.
  • desktop - form factors > 10 inches, < 24 inches.
  • big screen - form factors > 24 inches.
    * size will be variable as technology adjusts.

    So now let's consider the strengths of each of these devices, in general.
  • mobile.
          Touch screen for easy navigation.
          Primary communication device for voice/video, secondary for text.
          Extremely usable on the go & traveling.
  • portable.
          Touch screen for easy navigation.
          Excellent consumption for reading / video / images.
          Easy to travel with.
          Excellent battery life.
  • desktop.
          Excellent content creation device using mouse/keyboard combination.
          Good communication device using video & text forms.
          Good amount of real estate.
  • big screen.
          Excellent consumption for video / images.
          Maximum amount of real estate.

    & their weaknesses? (in general)
  • mobile.
          Poor typing abilities, not content creation first, excepting photo-taking.
          Voice-to-text still needs improvement.
          Very little real estate for display.
          Moderate battery life.
  • portable.
          Not as easy to carry as mobile.
          Content creation better than mobile, worse than desktop.
  • desktop.
          May or may not be portable.
          Short battery life.
  • big screen.
          Not portable.
          No battery.
          Little content creation ability.

    How do we, as web product developers or application developers, handle these devices? There's a great deal to consider at each development facet. Before you write any user stories, you have to first understand what strengths the four form factors provide, what limitations they have, and how your product plugs into those strengths.

    Your developers are going to have to be familiar with scaling UI frameworks, API construction, potentially Objective C and/or Java, CSS3, HTML5, and Javascript.

    It's a tall order for any group, particularly smaller shops with just a handful of resources, but even for larger organizations where web development has purely been done for the desktop. Legacy web products can make these challenges greater. When these realizations occur, the conversations typically turn towards outsourcing the development or even hiring mobile specific developers.

    Instead of jumping down that road, I think there's an easier, more organic way to ease your staff into design for many screens and many devices.

    Start small.
    Don't focus completely on the big picture yet. Look at your web product and ask what parts of it would translate to the mobile form factor the easiest. Do you have basic data to display to a user? Is this data they may want to see while traveling or to be able to show in conversation? Do you have content creation functions that could benefit from the use of a mobile phone camera? Does your product try to facilitate communication between people? Would the ability to do this from a mobile device provide a benefit?

    Don't get hung up on the how's yet. Leave implementation out of the picture and definitely avoid the application versus mobile web question out of it for now.

    Now consider portable.
    Does your product show graphs with detailed data points? Would a 7'' or 10'' tablet do a good job of letting users browse your site? Remember how nice pages of photos appear and how well video can be done on a portable device. Do you have large data sets of written data you need to display? Would the portable device's ability to better create typed data than a mobile device be beneficial to your users? Is there an instance where your users would need access to your products while walking around?

    Now look at your web products.
    Are there advantages and processes that are done better at the mobile and portable level that will improve user experience at the web level? Can you build a synergy between the different platforms? What upgrades can you do to the web product to facilitate the mobile and portable experience? What API do you have available from your websites to support mobile applications? Do you need to begin construction on one and what operations will it need to support?

    Now look at the big screen.
    Do you have content that would look great on a large screen? Big graphs? Images? Video? Don't consider too many content creation options with this form factor. Until the mouse and keyboard comes to the big screen, the desktop is going to be a better device for content creation.

    A Product Path Emerges
    Look at what you've put together so far. Is there a general product strategy starting to form out of this? What you're doing, after all, is what you've been doing for your desktop-optimized website. Now there's more variations to consider, but the question is essentially the same: how can I get the most out of my products using each device's strengths?

    This general question needs to be asked for each facet of your product portfolio. You don't ask "do we do mobile?". You ask "which product(s) of ours translates the best to mobile?" You have to tailor the sauce your making for that device and audience. It's another facet, another layer, and it gets complicated, but it's necessary.

    And yes, it takes time to figure out. It also takes quite a bit of time to implement.

    Your products are in a world moving towards a four-legged stool. Mobile, Portable, Desktop, Big screen. You're going to need the non-fat, low-fat, normal, and creamy versions of your spaghetti sauce flavors.

    For the techs on your team, this will become a passionate conversation. Some will eschew mobile web for native apps while others will prefer apps wrapping HTML5 like PhoneGap and others will want to use a multi-platform compiler like Appcelerator. These are all viable options depending upon your team's skill sets and the needs of the product you're building.

  • Mobile Web.
    The simplest transition for any web developer is going to be to mobile web. It'll even let them start to really dig into all of those tools CSS3 and HTML5 provide since the majority of mobile and portable devices use advanced browsers. This also requires the fewest deployment headaches since there's no app store to wait for approvals nor do you have to worry about developer keys. Mobile Web also requires the least amount of research by your developers. The largest impact is getting your product developers/designers (whatever you call the people who turn a product idea into a product and user stories) to think small.

    Just remember: mobile web requires connectivity to work optimally.

  • Native Code.
    Writing native for devices is the most difficult to manage, train, and build experience on, especially if you want to build for more than one platform. While Java developers can swap to Android's Java environment pretty easily and C programmers can jump to iOS's Objective C pretty easily, the skill set to jump into both can be difficult to find. Should you find developers that can do both with out issue, you will now need to create a system that allows you to support both code bases at the same time. Code an update in the version of your app for Android and you will need to do the same for iOS.

    Of course, if you out-source this, you won't have to worry about these challenges. But you may have to worry about the keys to apps and if you should ever decide to take those applications back into your team, you may not get the keys from the out-source provider. Be aware of the challenges with using the various market places, as well. iTunes and Android Market both have approval systems, although Android appears to require much less time.

  • 3rd Party.
  • There are several 3rd Party providers available now. I've mentioned two so far: PhoneGap and Appcelerator. These products are similar in that they support multiple platforms, but are different in how they do that. PhoneGap wraps HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript inside of an application "shell". Appcelerator actually compiles from a JavaScript (& other languages) into a native run-time.

    Both have their advantages and with both you can build polished applications. If you're a web development shop like mine, then these are going to be the most attractive options available to you. Being able to utilize your current staff's skill set to build your Mobile and Portable applications is huge advantage!

    Alright, so how do you put this together?
    At this point, you should have an idea of what you want to create for each form factor. Flesh out those ideas and understand how you need them to operate. That, in combination with your team's skill sets, will lead you to deciding how to implement those ideas. I strongly recommend using a 3rd party platform. The simplification they bring to maintenance and construction is very hard to pass up. If you're building for one platform, like iOS, then this advantage is mitigated, but for most people I'm pretty sure you're going to consider at least iOS and Android.

    Do some research and design sprints with your web developers while your product developers start to wrap their heads around designing for mobile, portable, web, and big screen. Get used to building in the emulators, transferring to device, and seeing the differences or similarities between platforms. Get your team's heads wrapped around the entire product chain from conception to execution.

    Remember, you now have to consider your product on three or four different platforms. Your developers will need to integrate this thinking into their maintenance routines, development schedules, and skill sets. Product developers will need to start thinking about the advantages, sizes, and uses of multiple devices.

    Ease your way in, start small, then expand as your skill sets improve.

    Then you can start to implement your products across many screens on many devices.

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Facebook - record keeping, not social networking. [UPDATED]

    Before I dig into Facebook, let me share a bit about what I do and where I'm coming from. So what I do for a living is direct a team of web developers and write code with them to build web and mobile applications. Part of this job is to layout a product direction. We take our metrics on user behavior on the web sites, their direct feedback, survey data, and compare that with what customer segments we want to grow into or break into. It's a job involving a constant tug of war between consumer versus business. We balance maximizing the dollars made with the user experience and making sure we're not building for ourselves, but that we're targeting a user's pain point and in doing so, we can make some money providing a solution.

    While what we do isn't terribly complicated as websites go, this general concept is true across businesses: build your products to best suit your customer segments needs. I repeatedly refer to Malcom Gladwell's TED talk here at the office, where he describes the process of perfecting spaghetti sauce while working with Howard Moskowitz. The end lesson is this: Ragu was not looking for the perfect spaghetti sauce, they were looking for the perfect spaghetti sauces. Which quickly explained is this: know your customer segments and what they need to make the perfect products tailored for each segment and understand they may not actually be able to tell you what they want. That means interact with your users to figure out the best solutions to their problems!

    (I highly recommend anyone that does any work with identifying customer segments or building products watch Mr. Gladwell's talk.)

    So yesterday, many of us were watching the F8 keynote at our individual computers. I had a chat window opened with four different individuals separately. As Timeline was being described, three of the four individuals said "this is creepy" in one form or another. The fourth eventually made the same comment. Only one individual came by to talk about it and said that "it was cool".

    Now, I'm aware this is by no means a meaningful sample size and everyone I spoke to are web savvy individuals. However, it started me thinking about who Facebook is targeting with their updates. What's their sauce? Another individual made the observation that Facebook seems to be less about meaningful interaction and is becoming more about recording information. It's not really focusing on social activity.

    This got me to thinking and I started to come to these conclusions:

    Facebook is becoming a voyeur's year book. In fact, the new Ticker is letting you watch what interactions people are making with other people. Watching the ticker feels a bit weird to me. I watch my friends like other things, comments, posts, links. It's like being at the party, sitting in the corner, watching other people do things, but not interacting. I could interact, sure, but is it appropriate that I do?

    Add to this Timeline. Timeline will allow me to see your Facebook life post after post, scroll after scroll, day after day, year after year.

    Is that social? Or is that record keeping? Does Facebook become everyone's year book while G+ becomes the place where people talk? What I see happening on G+ is discourse using basic posts and Hangouts. I've interacted there with personalities that are some of the leading minds in their fields. I've had meaningful conversation about topics with friends and new digital friends I've made without a character limit. I can easily find others who share my interests without having to tell Google explicitly what I like, don't like, read, don't read, watch and don't watch.

    Instead of recording exactly what I've read, watched, or liked, I'd rather find and interact with the author of the book, the producer of the show, or the person behind the work. That's not to say that Facebook doesn't do these things. It does, after a fashion, with fan pages. But it's not the focus of the network. Facebook is more record keeping with some social elements than a social network with some record keeping elements. G+ seems focused on actual social activity.

    The Google team actually uses Hangouts with users, learning about their customers, asking their opinions, likes and dislikes, of G+. They're actually working to understand their user's pain points, or said another way, what spaghetti sauce different users want through personal interaction with them.

    I don't know if Facebook's team actively does this. My understanding of their culture is that it's heavily engineer-driven (which is why I think privacy seems to be a lost concept there). Are they trying to understand their segments? Or do they and they're focusing on record keeping over social interaction?

    We're seeing the fragmentation of the social networking spaghetti sauce. Some people are realizing that they don't like the record keeping flavor of Facebook and prefer the interaction flavor of Google+. Or some are realizing they like record keeping and are less worried about interaction. Some want to see pictures of their friend's kids. Others want to read and comment on the point of view a psychologist has on child development.

    The focus of Facebook is getting and recording your data. The focus of Google+ is promoting discussion. The focus of Twitter is pushing bites of data to many people at once.

    Choose which flavor is right for you or use them together.

    Update: As information is gathered which shows that Facebook's new Timeline also tracks you after you're logged out, I'm feeling that this is further evidence that Facebook is no longer a social network first. They really want to track your behavior and lifestyle first.

    Find me on G+.