Reciprocity – First Peek

shutterstock_117410959Happy Holidays everyone! Hope this post finds everyone safe, snug and warm in their homes, preferably surrounded by loved ones and lots of new swag! While I’m on break from my writing jobs, I thought I’d switch gears and get back to my personal writing for a bit.

And as luck would have it, I made some headway with my latest story idea – the near-future thriller Reciprocity – and I thought I’d share some of it. So far, I’ve got a few introductory chapters, and a prologue that introduces the antagonist. So, over the next few days, I thought I might share some of this work and see how it stacks up.

Here is the first snippet, which takes place in the Philippines in the year 2029. Enjoy!

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Manila, Philippines, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative

He was bathing in a sea of connectivity, looking out onto the second skin that blanketed the Earth. There was virtually no corner of it now that wasn’t covered, but finding oneself in a major city was like standing directly in a pivot. After spending many weeks off the grid, it was like stepping back into the light of day after days in a dark cave. His entire body awash with high-fidelity photonic light and a microwave glow.

He felt like his skin should be burning, and yet it wasn’t…

Setting his glasses to normal view, the microwave landscape disappeared and was replaced by the stark, colorful reality of the favela. At once, his sense adjusted the combination of movement and sound that was so common to such places. A world of congestion, decay, and waste, yet teeming with so much life. Shen remembered coming to the region before, back in the day before reality could be mediated and augmented.

Now, the unseen energy and information that coursed through the landscape was illustrated in any number of ways.

At the moment, it took the form of a dozen colorful overlays that played across his contacts. He looked left and right along the thoroughfare and was awarded with helpful icons and some less-than-helpful adverts. Compared to the Metro area, the visual landscape here was not nearly as cluttered. But there were still tourist markers and small tags that he could access if he so chose. Slum tourism had become its own business of sorts, a form of adventure tourism that appealed to the reckless and irresponsible.

And for their convenience, Tondo’s checkered past and the locales that had played a role were mapped out and catalogued. They walked a few more blocks, sticking to the overhang that shaded them from the beating sun. Bagyó season was fast approaching, and the air had taken on a sticky, wet quality. For those unaccustomed, it could be the most stifling thing in the world. But for expats accustomed to venturing across the Pacific, it was within the realm of the ordinary.

They passed several rows of vendors; men, women and children who had brought their stands directly out into the street, offering large piles of oranges, bananas, watermelon, dragonfruit, mangosteens, and lychees. Farther on, they were hit with the scent of fresh and rotted produce, and the stands changed their offering to provisions of cassava, okra, pak choi, and bitter melon.

Much like the clothiers, toy sellers and peddlers or wearables that resided not far away, they would be sitting on the very edge of the streets until the weather turned. Until the rain began to pelt down with incredible fury and the flooding began. A tenacious folk, and one that seemed to respond to escalating catastrophes like the coming and going of the tide.

“Is that it?” asked Ping, pointing to a hazy standing structure at the end of the block.

Shen squinted to allow his contacts to zoom in on the building, shrouded by dew and smog. An icon appeared over top that read Cathay Towers, and a small stub explaining the nature of the housing project and how its status was currently listed as Postponed Indefinitely.

“Yes, it is,” Shen replied, tapping on his glasses again to adjust the display. He cycled to IR and noted the sheer number of heat signatures located on the first three floors. “Looks like Wáng has found himself a colorful place to live.”

“Is it safe to just walk in?”

Shen looked to the fourth floor, noted the few bodies that were standing about. Another tap and the display adjusted again, aided by the small sensor suite attached to the outer frame. He zoomed and adjusted until the scanner had just the right resolution, producing signature of a different kind and in different color. Opal and green came together to indicate the outline of weapons, all small arms from the look of it.

“There’s not many protecting him. And their weapons are antiquated. We’ll have no trouble.”

They pressed on, moving through the sea of humanity and commerce. Upon reaching the thoroughfare that ran perpendicular to them, they passed into a different crush. Countless vehicles, smart and dumb, forced them to pick up their feet and weave through the tangled mass of metal and plastic. The shouts of vendors were replaced by cab drivers and commuters exchanging expletives in Tagalog, Spanish and English – often in the same sentence.

At the front entrance, a large set of double doors that were permanently open, they paused. Shen touched the small protrusion in his jacket pocket to make sure it was still there. An odd thing to do, but if things went awry in there, it was his assurance that they might make it through.

He looked to Ping, who appeared to be doing the same. Except in his case, his fingers tapped against the PDW stashed under his coat and next to his hip. In a pinch, he knew the boy could be counted on to retrieve it and squeeze off a maelstrom before anyone else got a shot. Hopefully, his old friend would be in a talking mood and it wouldn’t come to that.

“You ready?” he asked. Ping nodded, a look of hard resolve on his face. “Good. Stay close and try not to be appalled by what you see inside.”

Powered by the Sun: Breakthrough Solar Cells

solar1In addition to becoming cheaper, and increasing in efficiency and yields, solar cell technology is also growing in terms of innovative design. By going beyond the conventional design of silicon panels and electrical cables, researchers are ensuring that solar technology can go farther. And the latest advances in design are especially far-sighted, aiming to merge solar technology with just about any surface, and even sending it into space.

In the former case, researchers at Michigan State University have created a fully transparent solar concentrator, which could turn any window or sheet of glass – from highrise buildings to the screens on smartphones and tablets – into a photovoltaic solar cell. And whereas other “transparent” solar panels have been designed in the past, this one is the first that truly lives up to the word.

transparent-solar-cellScientifically, a transparent solar panel is something of an oxymoron. Solar cells, specifically the photovoltaic kind, make energy by absorbing photons and converting them into electrons. If a material is transparent, by definition it means that all of the light passes through the medium. This is why previous transparent solar cells have actually only been partially transparent, and usually cast a colorful shadow.

To get around this limitation, the Michigan State researchers use a slightly different technique for gathering sunlight. Instead of trying to create a transparent photovoltaic cell, they used a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC), which consists of organic salts that absorb specific non-visible wavelengths of ultraviolet and infrared light, which they then luminesce (glow) as another wavelength of infrared light (also non-visible).

https://i0.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/transparent-luminescent-solar-concentrator-colorful.jpgThis emitted infrared light is guided to the edge of plastic, where thin strips of conventional photovoltaic solar cell convert it into electricity. Currently, the Michigan TLSC has an efficiency of around 1%, but they think 5% should be possible. On their own, these aren’t huge figures, but on a larger scale — every window in a house or office block — the numbers quickly add up to a significant electrical yield.

Moreover, the researchers are confident that the technology can be scaled all the way from large industrial and commercial applications, down to consumer devices, while remaining “affordable.” So far, one of the larger barriers to large-scale adoption of solar power is the intrusive and ugly nature of solar panels. But if large amounts of solar power can be produced from sheets of glass and plastic, it would go a long way to making the scaling process feasible.

solar_panel_origamiAnother major innovation comes from Brigham Young University, where researchers have been working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to address the challenge of Space-Based Solar Power. For some time, scientists have understood that a solar array in orbit of Earth would be ideally suited for solar power collection, since it would be immune to weather, cloud cover or diurnal cycles (aka. nighttime).

Unfortunately, getting solar cells into space is a bit of a problem. In order to be effective, solar panels need to be thin have a large surface area to soak up more rays. This makes it difficult to transport them into orbit, and requires that they be broken down,and flown up piece by piece, and then assembled once in orbit. Given the cost of mounting a sending a single rocket into orbit, this prospect becomes very costly very fast.

solar_panel_origami1However, the Brigham team came up with a simple and elegant solution to this problem, and found it in the form of origami. By working with complex origami folds, they were able to design a solar array that can shrink down to one-tenth of its original size. Folded up, the device is 2.7 meters (8.9 feet) across and can easily wrap around a spacecraft. Once it reaches space, the array would then unfold to become as wide as 25 meters (82 feet).

Given that solar panels deal with large, flat, thin structures, the origami concept seems like a natural fit. And this is not the first time that it has been used in space equipment design – in the 1990’s, Japanese astrophysicist Koryo Miura created a prototype for another folding solar panel. However, that project was abandoned for various reasons, not the least of which was lack of funding.

space-solar-headTo make the concept work and renew interest in the application, he Brigham team worked with Robert Lang, a world-renowned origami expert who also happens to be a mathematician and engineer and once worked at JPL himself. As Brian Trease, a mechanical engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said:

He was trained as a physicist, used to work at JPL, and then got tired of the formal bureaucracy and left to start folding paper. Now he’s a world expert… We see value in going directly to any artist, even if they don’t have his credentials, because they have the thousands of hours or folding and tinkering to realize what can and can’t be done. Anytime you can bring in other disciplines, they just visualize things differently and bring in different solutions to your problems.

The new solar panels could be used to power spacecraft and potentially also on orbiting power stations that could wirelessly send energy to Earth via microwaves. A similar design could also be used on Earth to provide new options for portable solar power in remote locations. The same type of design might also be used in architecture or product design because of its unusual looks and function.

NASA_suntowerAccording to Trease, the Department of Defense has already been in touch with them regarding applications for soldiers in the field:

Soldiers right now might carry around 100 pounds, 15 of those pounds are batteries and fuel. If you can eliminate that, you’ve dramatically reduced their load… It’s different from opening an umbrella, because it can accommodate rigid material. You could do something like a deployable glass chandelier or a table. When it’s deployed, it looks like a flower blooming–it’s got a nice aesthetic to it.

In the next few weeks, Trease will also meet with other experts to consider different potential applications for space equipment, like antennas and reflectors, that could also deploy using origami. And given the rapidly-dropping prices associated with placing objects into orbit, this could prove to be the basis for the dream of Space-Based Solar Power – where all our energy needs are met by solar arrays in orbit that then beam them to Earth.

 

Source: extremetech.com, fastcoexist.com

Oscar Mike – Chapter Two

M113_command

In such dangerous things as war the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.

-General Karl von Clausewitz

Haynes gave his spine a quick adjustment, pushing his stomach out and driving his hands into the small of his back. Command vehicles were known for being cramped, but it felt like they had stuffed the entire HQ into the back of the vehicle and brought it with them. In front of him, a small table stacked with papers lay, and beyond that, the crew of the vehicle huddled amidst enough C and C and radio equipment to run a small army.

Appropriate, since that was precisely what they were doing. Sitting just to the rear of the staging area, the rear door down and letting in the morning air, General Haynes found himself surrounded by all the sights and sounds of an army ready to deploy. Though things were relatively calm at the moment, the energy was undeniable. Now was the time before everything hit the fan, when the tanks and troop carriers began to roll out and hit the field full on. It was a time of quiet contemplation, a time to nurse the last-minute thoughts and doubts.

A small clink a few feet away drew his attention away from the maps and assorted papers spread across the table. He looked up to see the eyes of a meek-looking Private setting a cup down before him, the thick brown contents sending steam wafting up towards him.

“Coffee, General?” he said, stepping back from the table.

“Thanks, Private,” Haynes said with a smile, and took a few generous sips. He noted the intense bitterness, but was thankful that it at least had some milk in it. Though they could hardly be accused of growing anything comparable to what had been available in the old days, the local farmers were still to be commended for trying their hand with coffee beans. And it was good to know that some luxuries were still afforded to them these days…

Placing the cup down, he went back to the first of several annotated maps before him. The first was map of the region’s main highway and the various towns that dotted the landscape, with Espanola featured most prominently in the upper right. On the one beneath it and sticking out at the edge, the 200th Infantry Brigade’s staging area was featured, as well as the comparatively small township of Sombrillo, and the first objective of the day. On these and the others that made up the pile, the name Rolling Thunder was scrawled in the lower right hand margin.

Around the map, several aerial photographs lay, all of them rendered in the bright white, black and grey hues of infrared.

The sight of these once again made him sigh, particularly the way the streets showed virtually no traces of heat signatures. None of the bright whites that denoted uninfected, or the mottled greys that usually denoted Whiskeys.

Beyond that, there were pictures taken by the same reconnaissance flight of the hamlets of Cuartelez and La Puebla. These were much the same, appearing dark except for a few patches which appeared to be fires burning themselves out in open areas. In all likelihood, these areas had been overrun, but they were not his main concern right now. Once the main objective had been taken, these areas could be cordoned off, cleared and repopulated with ease.

In the end, the first phase of the operation came down to Sombrillo. As the largest settlement, and the one that straddled the highway and connected several other arteries of traffic to it, it was the gateway. 2nd Battalion was already poised to push back in Espanola by the southern road, but to ensure that they enveloped all the infected inside the town, he needed 1st pushing in from the east. Only then could they expect to deal a permanent and crushing blow on the bastards, and ensure they could not possibly escape.

He looked once more at the image of Sombrillo. From all outward appearances, the walls were still intact, but that didn’t mean the infected couldn’t have found another way in. They were good that way, and it only ever took one…

It was little wonder then why he had organized their advance the way he had. Moving the photos aside, he looked back to the main map, studying the icons and lines of advance that were emblazoned on it. The units that made up the 200th Rattlensakes sat in the lower right corner, their designations printed beneath them. Reaching out, a long series of solid and dotted lines ran, representing the entirety of Rolling Thunder. Its every action and contingency, those that could be foreseen at any rate, planned out in detail.

“Sir?” another voice called to him. He looked up to see the face of Colonel Coombs standing there, his arms crossed behind his back. He knew instantly what he was about to say, but let him say it anyway. At moments like this, one had to respect the procedural details. They made things feel more official. “It’s time, sir.”

“Good,” he replied curtly. “Give the go order to all units. Commander order: Siren.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the Colonel, and turned around and stepped to the vehicles open rear door. Poking his head outside, he began barking orders to the communications crews sitting in their radio huts.

“All stations. Command order: Siren!”

The radio operators obliged and began calling the code word in. Within moments, the sounds of engines firing in the distance would be heard – an entire squadron of A-10s and AC-130s powering up their engines and getting ready to enter the target area to provide overwatch and close air support. Since they were based back in the capitol, the planes had a head start, and would begin deploying in waves to conserve fuel and ordinance for the big fight.

He checked his watch to mark the time. 0500 hours, right on schedule.

Within fifteen minutes, he would issue the second code word, Thunder, at which point, the ground forces would start moving.

Haynes took a deep breath and finished the last of his coffee. The charged liquid quickly entered his bloodstream, contributing to his already escalating heart rate. He had to admit, it felt good. After weeks of planning, preparing, and resupplying, the troops were finally committing to their first offensive under his leadership. The transition had been difficult, and he knew the grunts were nursing their own share of worries. But alas, they were his troops now. And watching them enter into their old stomping grounds and liberating it at last would finally silence any and all lingering doubts about who was in command.

I never asked to replace him¸ he thought, thinking at last of his fallen superior. But I will not shrink from the role that has been thrust upon me.

Perhaps, in time, Thur would recover fully and return to his old command. Until such time, Haynes knew he would do the job, and do it right. In his hands, the Rattlesnakes would emerge from this latest setback victorious. He couldn’t let it be otherwise…

Typhoon Haiyan From Space

typhoon_haiyanEarlier this month, the Super Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the island nation of the Philippines, leaving an enormous amount of death and destruction in its wake. According to NASA, the typhoon struck with winds that exceeded 379 kilometers per hour (235 mph), while the U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center indicates that it has since sustained wind speeds of over 315 kilometers per hour (95 MPH).

Classified as a Category 5 monster storm on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale, Haiyan is reported to be the largest and most powerful storm ever to make landfall in recorded human history. The current estimates claim that some 5000 people have died so far, with the final toll expected to be far higher.

haiyan_8_november_2013_0019_utc_0-566x580Given the enormous scale of this typhoon, many of the clearest pictures of it have come from space. Since it first made landfall on Friday, November 8th, many detailed images have been captured by NASA, the Russian Space Agency, the India’s newly-launched Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), and even from the ISS – courtesy of astronaut Karen Nyberg.

According to NASA, the most detailed data on the storm came from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite, which captured visible, microwave and infrared data on the storm just as it was crossing the island of Leyte in the central Philippines. In addition to gauging wind speed, the satellite was also able to measure precipitation rates and temperature fluctuations.

typhoon_haiyan1Far from simply documenting this tragedy, the high resolution imagery and precise measurements provided by these and other satellites have been absolutely essential to tracking this storm and providing advance warning. Whereas thousands have died in the effected areas, some 800,000 more have been evacuated from the central region of the country.

Coincidentally, NASA’s Goddard Flight Center has just finished assembling the next generation weather satellite known as the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM), an observatory that is scheduled to replace the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission. GPM is equipped with advanced, higher resolution radar instruments and is vital to the continued effort of providing forecasts and advance warning of extreme super storms.

typhoon_haiyan2In the midst of tragedies like Hurricane Sandy and Haiyan, not to mention the escalating risk of super-storms associated with Climate Change, it is good to know that there are silver linings, such as advanced warning and sophisticated instruments that can keep us apprised of the threats we face. For more information on Super Typhoon Haiyan and how you can aid in the recovery, check out the Internationa Red Cross’ website.

And be sure to check out this video of Haiyan as it made landfall, as captured by the Russian weather satellite Electro-L:


Source: universetoday.com, bbc.co.uk , icrc.org