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Updated course schedule

I’ve modified my future course schedule somewhat, registering for Fall 2019 at Harvard Extension School, and still planning to complete a Web Technologies Certificate in Spring 2020. However, instead of veering from the programming side into the design side, I’ve decided that more programming is better:

Course Number Course Name Term University
DGMD E-28 Single-Page Applications and Interfaces with Vue.js Fall 2019 Harvard Extension School
CSCI E-39 Modular Design Patterns with React Spring 2020 Harvard Extension School

Programming is what I really enjoy, and while this certainly makes me “JavaScript heavy,” deep diving more into Vue (which I’ve already had exposure to through a previous course) and then taking an entire course dedicated to React should round me out with the most popular JavaScript front-end libraries/frameworks for building Single-Page Applications (SPAs), the modern web standard. (I’ve previously taken a course on Angular, and React + Angular accounts for the majority of the SPA market).

I would also like to take CSCI E-65G, Mobile Application Development with iOS, a course dedicated to Apple’s Swift programming language (which looks more like JavaScript or Python, and less like C or Objective-C after a cursory look at some code samples), but HES doesn’t count this toward the Web Technologies Certificate. Still, I might take it on my own in Fall 2020 if I’m not satisfied with efforts to learn Swift on my own courtesy of Apple’s voluminous free developer resources. I remain interested in learning React Native, Lua, and C# as well, but especially where React Native is concerned, I believe learning Swift and iOS development would be a wonderful supplement, as there are simply some aspects of mobile app development that are better done natively. I’m not sure if I’ll take the additional step of trying to learn Kotlin for Android app development, at least not right away, but I suppose it depends on what the job market for web/software developers looks like!

My goal at this point remains unchanged: to find 100% remote work doing web and/or software development. My focus has been on JavaScript, but I’m also comfortable with Python, to include the Flask and Django libraries/frameworks for server-side web development. I also like the fact Python has a number of Machine Learning libraries available for it, which would be a wonderful way to build off of my summer studies in implementing raw ML algorithms. I had hoped to take CSCI E-14a, Building Interactive Web Applications for Data Analysis, a HES class focused on Python, D3, TensorFlow, and SciKit-Learn, and incorporating ML libraries into web applications, but sadly, the course is only being offered on-campus this fall and I can’t afford to move to Cambridge for 3 months.

My Air Force civilian job is going well. It has physically been a struggle, especially on the days I physically go in to the office, but my supervisor and co-workers have been so understanding and accommodating that we’ve made it work. It’s immensely satisfying to be able to work again, thanks to an employer willing to accommodate employees with disabilities. If the opportunity to stay on as a federal civilian employee presents itself, I’d like to continue serving in that capacity. Meanwhile, I’m going to continue studying web (and software more generally!) development, with the long-term goal of doing web/software development for a living. I like solving problems through programming, and building fun and useful software for users to interact with.

Lastly, “A.I.M.E.E.” is alive and well. I found a sensitivity reader, and am having my manuscript reviewed. I’m hopeful that the final product is better, and more authentic, than my drafts, and that people enjoy reading it!

And with that, have a wonderful weekend and remainder of your summer!

Summer Plans

Machine Learning - record of course completion 2019-06-17

So, this summer, after a fairly strenuous Spring 2019 semester at Harvard Extension School, I thought I’d ease back and take it easy before resuming my Computer Science studies in the Fall.

So much for that, I ended up taking a very interesting (but challenging) Machine Learning class through Coursera. I finished it last month. I won’t go into depth about the topic, but it opened up a whole new world of Linear Algebra and vectorized solutions to Computer Science challenges in place of simple “for” loops. I’m looking forward to optimizing some of my old (and new) code with the help of Linear Algebra libraries wherever possible!

I’ve changed my Fall study plans a bit. Now, I’m hoping to get into CSCI E-14A, Building Interactive Web Applications for Data Analysis, because it uses Python and involves incorporating Machine Learning algorithms into web applications. Perfect follow-up to what I studied this summer! Then, next Spring (2020) I want to take CSCI E-39, Modular Design Patterns with React, because, well, I’ve been exposed to both Vue and Angular in previous HES classes, and I’ve been learning React through Udemy and like it a lot! I think React will become my JavaScript front-end library of choice, in fact, largely replacing the use of HTML templating engines.

I’m still proofreading/editing “A.I.M.E.E.,” my latest novel, and am currently on version 3. I’ve incorporated some Machine Learning language into the book based on my recent studies, which I hope will enhance the realism a bit. I’ve also decided to take the plunge into hiring a sensitivity reader to proofread my manuscript, as I wrote the book outside of my own cultural and religious background (an enormously rewarding, albeit challenging, thing to do), and I want to ensure I “get it right.” So “A.I.M.E.E.” won’t be rushed to publication, but my hope is a better end product that I can really be proud of.

Lastly, I unexpectedly got a job offer! I’ve now been back to work for 2 weeks, doing a full time job as a Human Resources Specialist. Not my target career of web/software development, but a completely unplanned yet very welcome opportunity. It’s a “term” position that only lasts until October, after which I don’t know what will happen, but it’s nice to earn a paycheck again after retiring from my Air Force career last year. My doctors are also starting to make some headway into finally cracking the enigma of my medical issues, although I’m trying to temper my expectations and not get my hopes up too much. So far, they’ve found lots of autoimmunity, which I think can account for most of my symptoms. So, with the right treatment, I may regain some functionality and reduce my pain levels. That seems like almost too much to hope for, so again I’m tempering my expectations, but I’m cautiously optimistic that my health will improve in the future, or that I’ll at least know “what” is wrong with my body.

And with that, dear friends, have a wonderful remainder of your summer (or winter, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere!), and I’ll be sure to post about any future publications, either in the software arena (I have several ideas I’d like to write and push to Github) or in creative writing (namely, “A.I.M.E.E.,” although I’ve always got a story idea or two floating around in my head).

A.I.M.E.E., Chapter 1

I’m currently working on my third draft of my upcoming Science Fiction novel, “A.I.M.E.E.,” which at the moment weighs in at about 157,000 words. There is work yet to do: I want to incorporate some of what I learned in my Machine Learning class to hopefully add more realism to the Artificial Intelligence aspects of the novel. I also want to tweak some of the religious and cultural references in the book, as I’m writing outside of my personal experience, but trying to be a good researcher and get things right, which includes revising what I’ve previously written as I learn more. Finally, I plan on retaining the services of a sensitivity reader to help me get those religious and cultural references right, or at least less wrong, before releasing my novel into the wild.

Those caveats out of the way, the first chapter of the book is unlikely to change, so here’s an exclusive sneak preview of my upcoming work:

A.I.M.E.E.

Artificial Intelligence Module for Enhanced Exploration

by

Kevin Y. Reinholz

All text and images Copyright © 2019 Kevin Y. Reinholz. All rights reserved.

Follow me on Twitter @KevinReinholz or visit my website – https://kevinreinholz.com/

Chapter 1 – An Unlikely Bounty

Ray checked the settings on his exosuit again. His spine, which could dislocate in an number of locations due to his Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, was adequately supported. Less urgent, but still important, his hips, shoulders, and other joints extending down his arms and legs were likewise adequately supported.

Ray hated these stops on earth. The gravity exacerbated his symptoms and threatened not only dangerous joint or spinal dislocations, but intense flares of pain that his cybernetic pain modulating implants did not adequately compensate for, no matter what the prevailing medical literature claimed. Still, his clients insisted he meet in person for mission briefings, and this particular mission was anything but ordinary.

Normally, Ray scraped out a living by taking independent contractor work doing survey and/or salvage missions. Having no family and few friends, Ray accepted the work that few others wanted to do, spending months or even years at a time isolated in the interstellar spacecraft he could rent, but never own. Since these vehicles were both assembled and launched from space, there was no real need for Ray to descend one of the hundred tightly tethered space elevators that could transport passengers and cargo between the surface of the planet and geosynchronous orbit. He could stay in one of the lower gravity sections of one of the many space ports, which was far easier on his spine, and communicate with the client via video or holographic conferencing.

Since this particular client was new, however, and apparently a bit eccentric, Ray had been forced to descend to earth, and in spite of the computer readouts telling him that his exosuit had his easily dislocatable joints well protected, that his brain was receiving adequate blood flow, that his heart rate was within acceptable parameters, and that his pain levels were within a tolerable range (how could a computer understand pain!?), Ray felt like shit.

The only upside to his trip to the surface of the earth was that Ray could visit one of the only men he called ‘friend,’ Jeffery Wright, who worked at one of the most profitable robotics companies on the planet, hell, in the solar system. Friends were something Ray had in very short supply, and given Jeff’s fear of interplanetary travel, the only times the two men got to meet face-to-face were during Ray’s rare forays down to earth.

It was a cool, dry summer day in Quito, an equatorial city in South America, on 144.08.01, Year 144 in the Interstellar Colonization Era, or ICE, which began in 2503 CE when astronauts began construction of the first permanent colony on a planet in another solar system. That event, humanity’s spread outside of the solar system in which it evolved, was deemed significant enough to warrant the designation of a new era. It was also a good excuse to stop defining time according to the start of the Common Era, CE, a poor masking of the identical Anno Domini (“In the Year of Our Lord”) or AD designation, deeply tied to the nearly extinct religion known as Christianity.

Since society by 2503 AD, or 2503 CE, was already so secular, advocates had urged adopting a new “era” designation to supersede the outdated Before Christ, BC, or poorly restyled Before Common Era, or BCE, which was identical to its religious predecessor and tied to the same mythological event, the birth of Jesus Christ, and AD/CE, which indicated life after ‘the Messiah’ was born into the world of humanity. Objections to BC/AD, or BCE/CE, were nothing new at the time of ICE’s final adoption, as there was a lot of religious and cultural arrogance involved in defining time around one particular religion’s significant events and claims about its favorite prophet/teacher.

At the same time the Interstellar Colonization Era, or ICE, was officially announced, the Gregorian Calendar, consisting of 12 months with varying numbers of days in them, in use since 1582 CE, was finally replaced by the more logical International Fixed Calendar, the calendar still in use today, having 13 months with 28 days in each of them, a “Year Day” after the end of the 13th month which is an annual holiday and not counted as either a day of the week or as part of any month, and a “Leap Day” on every year divisible by 4, as was the case with the Gregorian Calendar, but not on years divisible by 100 unless they are also divisible by 400, in order to correct minor discrepancies with the Gregorian Calendar’s “leap year” system. The extra “Leap Day” occurs once every 4 years between the 6th and 7th months, and like the annual “Year Day” is neither a day of the week nor part of any month. It is an extra holiday on the years in which it falls.

The International Fixed Calendar was actually not a recent idea—variations of it had been proposed in the 1700s CE, and a commercial entity had actually adopted the calendar internally in the 1900s CE, nearly 600 years prior to its eventual universal adoption. At any rate, 144 years had passed since the dawn of the interstellar era, and the International Fixed Calendar had been a reality since long before Ray was born.

Ray didn’t ponder these things as he struggled with the gravity and pain of his earth meeting on the 1st day of the 8th month of the 144th year ICE (2647 CE), however. Thankfully, since Quito was over 2,800 meters above sea level, in spite of being on the equator, the temperature was mild—22 degrees Celsius. Ray’s struggle would be far worse if he had to contend with oppressive heat and humidity in addition to earth gravity.

Ray focused his full attention on monitoring his vital signs, his exosuit’s functioning, and following the augmented reality directions to the meeting site relayed to him through his neural implants. It wasn’t too common to have these kinds of implants, since brain surgery was still deemed pretty invasive, but since he already had the pain regulating implants, it had made sense to add expandable neural implants that could interface with ever changing technology. At least he didn’t have to worry about getting lost.

* * *

Ray reached the client’s address. It was one of those poorly done “retro” nostalgia places designed to simulate the simpler times of the 24th Century CE, prior to interstellar travel really taking off. Ray sighed as, assisted by his exosuit, he ascended a small flight of stairs and entered an extravagantly decorated office reception room.

Raymond Harris?” a female voiced robot announced from behind the reception desk. Of course he was—his face and bio were known to the client, so this question was simply a polite formality.

Yes,” Ray replied obligatorily. “I’m here for—”

Yes,” the robot interrupted him with a soothing voice. Not exactly proper etiquette, but maybe protocols were changing. Ray would have to ask his friend Jeff about it when he went to see him after this meeting. If it involved robotics, Jeff was sure to know all about it.

Ms. Greenfield has been expecting you. I will announce your arrival to her,” the robot continued, dialing the back office using an internal telecommunications device. It hadn’t even asked Ray to have a seat. Very rude.

Ray was still eyeing the gaudy décor of the reception area when the robot announced that the client was ready to see him. It led him to a heavy, ornate wooden door (so extravagant!), knocked softly, then opened the door and announced him to the client.

The client was a blonde, middle aged woman with a slim figure and a phony smile. Of course, being wealthy enough to afford a ridiculous office like this, earth-side no less, there was no telling what her real age was—she could easily be in her 80s or 90s, and the beneficiary of multiple anti aging treatments that made her appear, and likely feel, half her age.

Samantha Greenfield,” the woman extended her hand, looking into Ray’s brown eyes with her own green, piercing ones.

Ray ran a hand across his closely cropped, thick black hair that he kept natural rather than artificially straightening or shaving off entirely, then extended a chocolate brown hand to connect with the client’s pasty white one. Her handshake was limp and her hand felt cold and bony—she was definitely a lot older than she looked—but once this exhausting social ritual was completed, the client gestured for Ray to have a seat.

What do you know about the disappearance of IE32?” the client asked, clasping her hands together as she rested them on her desk, which looked like it was made out of mahogany. This woman was dripping with money if she could waste it on such silly luxuries.

IE32?” Ray repeated. Everyone knew about IE32. It was the most ambitious Interstellar Exploration vessel of its time—2396 CE, 107 years before the start of the Interstellar Colonization Era, and 251 years before present.

Um, IE32 was the most expensive and outrageous endeavor in interstellar exploration in its day,” Ray replied nervously. The ship had been a mandatory subject in History classes, but it was surrounded by such mystery and an almost mythological significance that Ray felt silly speaking about it to a fabulously wealthy potential client.

And…?” Greenfield coaxed Ray to continue. Since her vague assignment, or bounty, involved IE32, she obviously knew far more about it than his public school education, but Ray was not about to argue with a client—least of all one offering an exorbitant sum of money for the job.

IE32 wasn’t the first interstellar spacecraft,” Ray continued. “But it was the first generation star ship,” he added. “Piloted by a crew of 100, 50 males and 50 females, all between the ages of 18 and 24, IE32 was bound for a star system 44 light years from earth. At the time, it was believed that the system was home to one or more planets that presented the best hope for finding life outside of our own solar system.”

You know your history,” Ms. Greenfield smiled emptily. “Go on.”

Ray cleared his throat. This was unnecessary and embarrassing. Why was the client putting him on the spot like this? To gauge his enthusiasm for the mission?

Antimatter propulsion existed back then, but the top speed of even the most advanced vessels was approximately ½ the speed of light,” Ray stammered, reciting empty facts he didn’t think he’d ever need. “And that was before Gates were invented, so, interstellar travel was a whole lot slower than it is today.”

The client leaned forward slightly, but didn’t say a word. After eyeing her uncomfortably for a few moments, Ray tried to come up with more to say about IE32. “So it was going to take close to 100 years to reach their destination, at least from earth’s perspective, when you factored in acceleration and deceleration time at the beginning and end of the voyage. That’s why they needed it to be a generation star ship—the original crew was unlikely to live long enough to see their destination, or if a handful did, they’d be quite advanced in age and die before they could do much useful exploration.”

Yes…” Greenfield sighed. Was he losing her interest?

But that’s not why IE32 is famous,” Ray blurted out. “It’s famous because 151 years ago, in 2496 CE, the ship vanished without a trace and was never heard from again.”

At this, Ms. Greenfield perked up. “Exactly, although due to limitations in communications technology, it took 44 years for the ship’s last transmission, traveling at the speed of light, to reach us back here on earth—in the year 37 ICE, 107 years ago today. By that time we had already established colonies outside of our solar system, ushering in a new era, but the IE32 disaster was never forgotten.”

Ray looked around again at Ms. Greenfield’s office, and realized that with its 2300s CE décor, it was deliberately styled after the fashion of IE32’s day. It couldn’t be an accident, not with the expensive furnishings and wasteful office space. This client was apparently obsessed with that time…and that mission?

IE32’s disappearance remains one of the great mysteries of our day,” Ray shrugged, a gesture which sent pain shooting down his arms before his neural implants could dull it by manipulating the right receptors in his brain.

That’s putting it mildly,” Samantha Greenfield laughed hollowly. “That ship and its ill fated mission cost more than the combined GDPs of half the world’s nations. The dozen ‘rescue missions’ sent to explore that sector of space and figure out what happened to IE32 cost nearly as much, and not a single ship ever returned. They call that sector ‘the Bermuda Triangle in Space,’ referencing an obscure mythological place in the Atlantic Ocean where there were numerous ancient shipwrecks.”

Yeah, it was a real disaster,” Ray sighed. “And money aside, think of all the human lives lost. The crew reportedly had 138 members at the time of its disappearance, all of whom were the children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren of the original crew members.”

Yes, well, the crew was mandated to procreate and train their replacements so the mission might succeed,” the client replied indifferently. “That’s why only young, healthy crew members who were meticulously screened and found to be free of any obvious genetic defects were selected for the mission. They were all unattached, much like yourself, and knew what they were signing up for.”

Did they?” Ray surprised himself by asking. Greenfield raised an eyebrow at his unexpected breach of protocol.

Realizing that he had probably blown his chance at collecting this bounty, but determined to save the meeting if he could, Ray added hastily, “I mean, they obviously consented to the mission—they even got a hero’s sendoff—but having spent years alone on surveying missions before, I’ve learned that knowing and knowing are two different things,” Ray finished. “That is, they couldn’t have really known what they were getting themselves into until after they had been away from home for a few years, and really experienced isolation for themselves. That’s all I meant.”

You’re no doubt right,” Ms. Greenfield replied infuriatingly calmly. “I’ve reviewed every communication from IE32 to earth, and numerous crew members indicated similar sentiments to the ones you just expressed. That’s why I selected you for this mission: like the crew of IE32, you are unattached, spend as little time on earth as possible, and have spent considerable time isolated from others—yet your psychological profile is stable and your employers all gave excellent references for you.”

Ray smiled inwardly. They had better have given him good marks. He was a damned good pilot and surveyor, salvager, or whatever else his clients needed him to be. Initially, he had been denied a space pilot’s license due to his EDS, and his additional, undiagnosed neurodegenerative disorder made it extremely unlikely that his lifespan would exceed 60 years. Ray had a lot of prove, and little to lose.

Let me tell you a little more about IE32,” Ms. Greenfield pursed her lips into a thin smile, “and what job I want you to do.”

I’m listening with interest,” Ray replied.

Gate technology—artificial Einstein Rosen Thorne Morris Bridges, or in other words, artificially generated, traversable wormholes—wasn’t invented until about 100 years ago, well after IE32’s departure from earth,” Ms. Greenfield looked at Ray bemusedly. “Those first interstellar voyagers thought they were doomed to plod along at sub light speeds, and the crew of IE32 never anticipated that, should they have reached their destination and successfully colonized it, their descendants might ever return to earth, short of launching a new generation voyage anyway.”

Yeah, Gates made interstellar travel a lot more tolerable. Even though today’s fastest spacecraft could travel at ¾ the speed of light, a lot better than the 0.5c of IE32’s day, without Gates, even a journey to earth’s closest star system took roughly 6 years, well, from earth’s perspective anyway, to say nothing of journeys to more distant star systems like the one IE32 was heading toward when it disappeared. At 44 light years’ distance, even with today’s spacecraft, instead of taking 100 years, the journey would still take over 60 years from the perspective of someone back on earth, or 40 years from the perspective of someone aboard a ship traveling at 0.75c, vice 80 years from the perspective of the original crew, traveling at 0.5c—in either case longer than 37 year old Ray had to live! Using Gates, on the other hand, travel took a lot less time. It was nearly instantaneous in fact. The problem was, someone had to first construct a Gate in the destination star system and synchronize it with its paired Gate back in earth’s solar system before spaceships could ‘jump’ through the artificial wormhole and skip that lengthy trip through space (and avoid all sorts of nasty possible collisions along the way).

Gates make my job possible,” Ray replied matter-of-factly. “Even with time dilation, I could only do a few missions before I’d age myself out of work.”

Well said,” Greenfield smirked. “Of course, even traveling at half the speed of light, IE32’s crew would have experienced about 80 years out of the 100 years we observed from earth. Give or take, once you factor in the acceleration and deceleration times, but you get the idea. It was still such a long journey that a generation ship was the only way to accomplish that ambitious goal.”

Time dilation was a fact of life when traveling at near relativistic speeds. By traveling so fast, the astronaut experienced time differently than people back on earth or on one of the colonies. Without factoring in travel through Gates, when Ray simply flew to a Gateless destination at 0.75c, less time passed for him than it did for people back on earth. He’d probably added close to a decade to his life due to time dilation. Not enough to shock friends like Jeff who remained earthbound, but for someone who wasn’t expected to live that long to begin with, every little bit helped, Ray supposed. Not that the cost of the surgical procedure Ray needed if he was to live to old age was likely to go down enough for him to be able to afford it, no matter how much time he spent traveling at 0.75c.

What…exactly…do you want me to do?” Ray asked hesitantly. He was only here because the client had hinted at a very generous payment for his work—the kind of payment that might make his surgery possible. Still, if she expected him to actually travel to IE32’s last known location, she could forget about it—he’d be dead long before he ever reached it.

Greenfield leaned further forward at her desk and eyed Ray predatorily. “I want you to live a full life,” she grinned wryly. “And I have the money to make that possible. In exchange, I want you to survey IE32’s destination.”

Ma’am, I have no desire to die an early death,” Ray sighed, “and you’re right that I can’t afford the medical treatment I would need to avoid one. But, even at the helm of the fastest ship, I couldn’t hope to travel that far before my disease got the better of me.”

I heard your pilot’s license is up for renewal in a few months,” Greenfield mentioned casually. “And your treating physician might not certify you as flight worthy.”

That was very true, but how this rich lady knew it was beyond Ray. That was very private medical information. No, he would likely lose his livelihood soon, and be forced into hospice care on the earth’s moon or, if he could afford it, a lower gravity facility on Ceres. That’s why he had agreed to meet this client, because if he only had one mission left in him before he lost his certification, he wanted to make as much money off it as he could.

I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” Ray replied evenly. Rich or not, this lady was really starting to get on his nerves.

What if I told you there was a Gate that could take you to within 2 light years of IE32’s last known location?”

There’s a Gate!?” Ray exploded. “But I thought a dozen rescue missions…”

It’s a closely guarded secret,” Greenfield explained. “Very few know of its existence. It is guarded by the most advanced encryption technologies at our disposal, and may only be opened at either end using those rotating codes.”

Has any ship…? That is, with that system so ‘close’ now that there’s a Gate, has anyone…?” Ray stammered.

There was the mission that led to the Gate’s construction,” Greenfield shrugged. “After the first 5 failed salvage missions. The government determined that 2 light years was the minimal safe distance, even with the security on the Gate itself… Yes, survey ships have been sent through the Gate after the crew who originally constructed it returned to earth to finish out the last of their days. None of them have returned. Contact is always lost near the approximate location IE32 disappeared.”

The Bermuda Triangle in Space…” Ray breathed. This sounded like a suicide mission, not a surveying one! “What makes you think…I would have any better luck?”

An unmanned probe was sent through the Gate,” Greenfield explained. “Since it was unmanned, it wasn’t equipped with an antimatter propulsion system.”

Antimatter reactors and propulsion systems were vigilantly safeguarded, lest some rogue organization or nation attempt to procure and misuse the technology. After the ‘AI Troubles’ of 22, computers were as suspect as humans—more so, in fact. Artificial Intelligence—AI—was a technology that humans had once believed held infinite promise, but they also recognized the grave threat it posed to our species’ very survival. Jeff could explain it better, Ray knew, but in a nutshell, machine learning was only allowed in very limited circumstances, but that hadn’t always been the case. At one point in time, attempts to build human like neural networks flourished, and machine learning algorithms were not so limited.

That all ground to a halt in 22 ICE, when a revolt of sex worker robots took place. They had always been the most ‘human,’ designed to simulate human beings and to be as indistinguishable as possible. People paid good money for authentic ‘experiences’ and it was a lot more sanitary, not to mention humane, than employing living, human sex workers. Few believed that the robots had actually gained self awareness, much less sentience, but their machine learning algorithms had grown enough, unbidden, that some of the workers began protesting certain client behaviors and demanded better working conditions. The result was a harsh clampdown on AI, and the computers of the present day were the result of extremely intricate and elegant coding by human programmers, with minimal machine learning allowed and frequent memory wipes/hard resets for those machines that did utilize machine learning algorithms.

Since antimatter was exceptionally dangerous in the wrong hands, all ships with antimatter propulsion systems, that is, any that didn’t fly at a snail’s pace, had to be manned. An unmanned probe sent through a Gate 2 light years from IE32’s last known location would take centuries, at a minimum, to reach its destination.

It’s not as bleak as you seem to think,” Greenfield interrupted Ray from his thoughts. “You’ve heard of photonic propulsion? A small probe with a giant, reflective sail pushed by lasers? We’re talking speeds of 0.3c, maybe even 0.5c. Not so slow for an unmanned probe. The problem is, the probe has to be really small.”

Did the probe…reach its destination?” Ray asked hesitantly, finding that he was now on the edge of his seat. Finding some trace of IE32 would be huge—it was after all one of the greatest mysteries of all time, that massive ship’s disappearance after its audacious inaugural mission.

It did, and it transmitted back to a manned ship waiting just outside the Gate,” Greenfield replied. “The readings were very promising—there’s a planet in that system with a breathable atmosphere. You realize how incredible that is, don’t you?”

In the centuries of human space exploration, never had a habitable planet been encountered. The Fermi Paradox was alive and well, and humans’ exploration and expansion beyond our native solar system had thus far confirmed our place as the only life, to say nothing of the only intelligent life, in the universe, or at least in our section of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The lack of life, or of habitable planets, hadn’t stopped humanity from colonizing other worlds. There were thriving colonies on Venus, Mars, Earth’s Moon, the dwarf planet/asteroid Ceres, Jupiter’s moons Europa and Callisto, and Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan, not to mention several cities orbiting the earth. There were also colonies in 5 different solar systems outside our own, all of which were connected to our own solar system with Gates that allowed transit (and commerce) between earth and its various colonies. Still, all of these colonies relied on artificial life support systems, as none of these worlds had breathable atmospheres of their own. Some effort had even gone into terraforming the most earth like worlds, but again, all life was imported from earth.

How long have we—have you—known this?” Ray asked. It was indeed incredible. It appeared IE32’s destination had been a good one. But why had the ship, and those that followed after it, vanished without a trace?

Three years,” Greenfield replied. “And I’ve been looking at sending a new manned mission ever since, but it’s taken this long to obtain the necessary approvals. You understand, the last ship may have disappeared some 20 years ago, but antimatter ships are expensive, and no one wants to risk yet another on what’s seen as a suicide run into the Bermuda Triangle in Space.”

What changed?”

I bought my own ship,” Greenfield shrugged. “And with money, and the right amount of influence on the right government officials…the mission has been approved. I can send a one man survey ship to confirm the probe’s findings, and search for signs of IE32. Wreckage, data drives, escape pods, anything. The probe has come up with nothing. We even searched the world, which I’ve unofficially named Kigen, for signs of any life pods that might have made it to the surface. There are no signs of life, but scans for man-made materials such as wreckage from either life pods or the ship itself have been inconclusive. But you know, the probe is not nearly as good as sending an astronaut to explore the planet.”

Why me?” Ray asked.

Because you have no attachments,” Greenfield replied. “And because you love spaceflight, but you’re about to be permanently grounded. Because this is your last chance to do something meaningful with your life, and because if you succeed I will personally pay for you to get a new, artificial spine and better neural implants that will extend your life to what you might have expected had you not lost the genetic lottery.”

So it was his perceived desperation, and lack of options, that appealed to Greenfield. And nobody to mourn him if he became just another statistic in the saga of missing ships that had gone chasing after IE32. That didn’t particularly bother Ray—her logic was impeccable. The thing that did bother him was her reference to the ‘genetic lottery.’ That was a low blow.

Human cloning, tinkering with the human genome, and ‘designer babies’ had all been banned by morally repulsed legislators across the world. Maybe it was for the best, but in the case of genetic diseases, or increased vulnerability to chronic, degenerative diseases like Ray’s, the ban had operated to prevent gene therapy from either fixing the genetic ‘defects’ at or shortly after conception, or even to rewrite Ray’s genome once he reached adulthood.

On the other hand, the government had become quite concerned about rising medical costs, and had instituted a number of laws that basically amounted to eugenics: diseased individuals like Ray were prohibited from having children. Ray had been mandated to be sterilized, or face daunting financial penalties for refusing. He wouldn’t pass down his genetic ‘flaws,’ but neither were genetic scientists allowed to fix what was wrong with him. It was doubly cruel to deny him the chance to marry or become a father, while at the same time denying him a cure for his disease.

Painkillers, too, had been outlawed, as had almost all mind altering substances, but neural implants were allowed for chronic pain patients. Neuroscientists claimed these implants could regulate the brain’s numerous neuro receptors and eradicate chronic pain. The reality was far more lackluster. Still, if it weren’t for Ray’s implants, he’d likely have become bed-bound and non-functioning long before now. And the exoskeleton, a positive offshoot of a booming robotics industry, gave him mobility in ways his ancestors could have only dreamed of.

So what exactly is the job?” Ray asked, trying not to let his resentment show.

You will pilot an antimatter ship capable of current speeds, 0.75c, through the classified Gate, and survey Kigen. You will attempt to answer 3 questions, and your payment will vary depending on how many and how satisfying your answers are. One: what happened to IE32? Why did the ship vanish without a trace? Why did she stop transmitting, and what became of both the ship and her crew? Did any survivors make it to the surface of Kigen? If so, what became of them? What data did they collect? Two: why did a dozen manned ships disappear in Kigen’s star system? Is there some kind of threat there? We’ve yet to find the slightest trace of life other than ourselves, much less intelligent life capable of threatening one of our interstellar vessels, but maybe there’s something—solar flares, a nearby pulsar, who knows—that’s what I want you to find out. Three: Is there life on Kigen, and regardless, is it truly habitable? Our unmanned probe provided atmospheric measurements which indicate it has a functioning magnetosphere and an atmospheric composition comparable to earth. It is within its star’s habitable zone, and temperatures as well as gravity and atmospheric pressure are similar to earth. In other words, Kigen should be habitable, not within a thickly shielded colony built to withstand vacuum conditions or worse, but in the same sense that earth itself is habitable. Do you have any idea how valuable a planet like that would be to investors?”

Ray looked at his feet, then back up at Greenfield. He cared little for her capitalist venture or her nonchalance about human life, but he did care about getting life saving surgery and having a chance at a semi normal life. “How much do I need to accomplish in order for you to pay for my surgery?”

Greenfield’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Land on Kigen, take a full range of atmospheric measurements, try breathing the air yourself if you dare, and bring back soil samples—and water samples if you find any on the planet’s surface. Regardless of your results, if you make it back to earth with that data, and those samples, consider your procedure paid for.”

Ray took a deep breath. There was probably a good reason those earlier ships had all disappeared, yet the most recent ship to travel to that system, a small unmanned probe, had survived the trip and been able to send information about Kigen home. And this was likely Ray’s last voyage, and his only chance at regaining his health or having an even remotely pleasant remainder to his life. “I’ll do it,” he sighed. “I’ll take the job. I’ll go to your…Kigen…and look for IE32.”

Greenfield smiled triumphantly.

Spring 2019 Semester is over

I just turned in my last final for the Spring 2019 semester! It was quite the ride, but I learned a lot! Angular, MongoDB (NoSQL), Node.js, Express, Python3, Flask, Django, SASS, Jinja2, numerous HTML templating languages, Git, and deployment to Heroku and Digital Ocean!

This brings my total number of grad school credits in Computer Science up to 16–all from Harvard University’s Extension School. I’ve now completed the following courses:

Course Number Course Name Term University
CSCI E-50 Intensive Introduction to Computer Science Fall 2012 Harvard Extension School
CSCI E-3 Introduction to Web Programing Using JavaScript Fall 2018 Harvard Extension School
CSCI E-31 Web Application Development Using Node.JS Spring 2019 Harvard Extension School
CSCI E-33a Web Programming with Python and JavaScript Spring 2019 Harvard Extension School

But course titles only tell so much, right? These are the languages/frameworks/libraries/skills we covered:

  • HTML5
  • CSS
  • SASS
  • C
  • PHP
  • JavaScript (vanilla JS, including ES6, as well as jQuery)
  • Vue.js
  • Angular
  • Node.js
  • Express
  • Python3
  • Flask
  • Django
  • Multiple HTML templating languages, primarily Jinja2, Django Template Language, and Nunjucks, but to a lesser extent, Pug and Handlebars as well
  • MySQL
  • SQLite3
  • PostgreSQL
  • MongoDB
  • Git
  • Github Classroom and Github Pages
  • Deployment of web applications to Heroku and Digital Ocean

It’s been an adventure, but I love it, and am excited to continue my journey! I worked as a web developer once upon a time, back in 2001, “before it was cool” (just kidding), but got sidetracked by other things. The funny thing is, even while serving on active duty in the Air Force as a JAG/attorney, I ended up volunteering for extra duties such as being my organization’s Computer Systems Administrator, installing security patches and updates to networked government computers, backing up and restoring users’ data, and otherwise helping to ensure the security of our network. I also maintained a FreeBSD user guide just for fun, and worked with some nice folks at Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) to get PKCS#11 smart card support working on OpenSolaris, and later, Solaris 11 UNIX. In other words, regardless of my job title or “primary duties,” technology has always interested me, and I couldn’t stay away. Now I’m hoping to make a mid-life transition back into the career I started in prior to graduating from college!

This summer, lest all that wonderful knowledge I gained this semester grow stale, I’m taking “Modern React with Redux” and “Advanced React and Redux” through Udemy, because how can I be familiar with Vue.js and Angular, but not know React? It’s a completeness thing!

I plan to finish up a Web Technologies graduate certificate from Harvard next year, after taking the following additional grad school courses:

Course Number Course Name Term University
DGMD E-20 Modern and Mobile Front-End Web Design I Fall 2019 Harvard Extension School
DGMD E-25 Introduction to Web CMS Site Development Spring 2020 Harvard Extension School

That should “round me out” with more web design knowledge, and give me more familiarity with the popular Content Management Systems, WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. I think in a field where people are known to participate in 9-week “coding bootcamps” and then launch a new career in web development, having 24 grad school credits (16 in Computer Science, and another 8 in Digital Media) can’t hurt. Not that there’s anything wrong with those coding bootcamps–if they lead budding web developers to a new career, awesome! I do want to be able to compete and get my own foot in the door, of course.

I know being a web developer’s not just about coursework, however, so I’m intent on honing my coding skills, hence taking non-graded courses on React this summer. I also want to expand my knowledge-base beyond just web development, and into broader computer programming topics, so I’m hoping to take additional courses (probably not for a grade) on Mobile App Development and Introduction to Game Development. Why not? I’ve completed the graded coursework I have out of personal interest, not because my Juris Doctor or my attorney’s license are incapable of helping me earn a living. Yes, my goal is to get hired as a web developer (front-end, back-end, or full-stack), but that doesn’t mean I’m not curious about writing mobile apps, or even computer games for that matter!

Here’s a glimpse of my final project from CSCI E-33a, which is a Django 2.2 / Python 3.6 app I wrote to help manage data pertaining to one of my hobbies, genetic genealogy:

Index view after most functionality added - 2019-05-09

And here’s a glimpse of my final project from CSCI E-31, an Angular app that communicates with a Node.js/Express server’s REST APIs to support display, creation, updating, and deletion of both images and comments/replies:

Completed application running from Express server after ng build - 2019-05-14

They might not look like much, but building a web page (or a blog post) using a CMS like WordPress and writing the logic for a web server and a front-end that dynamically displays and updates content are very different things! I’m grateful that this semester I got the opportunity to learn how the server-side of things works, and different ways to interact with server-side content. API routes, in particular, were a lot of fun to build, then consume.

So that was my most recent semester at Harvard Extension School! I look forward to diving into React and Redux, then broadening my programming knowledge while at the same time focusing on more of the design aspects of web development to supplement the programming/software engineering piece. Then, I hope to find an entry-level position somewhere as a web developer, because I really enjoy this and would love to get paid to do it.

JavaScript, Python, and Databases!

Chat getting closer - 2019-03-22 - overlap fixed - iPhone

I haven’t posted in a while, and the reason for that is simple: my days have been consumed with Computer Science coursework! This semester, I’m taking 2 Master’s level classes, for a total of 8 graduate credits, through Harvard Extension School. I’m not going to lie…it’s grueling.

The above screenshot, which is rather tongue-in-cheek, is from a test I did of a chat application I wrote using Flask-SocketIO and JavaScript. I had temporarily opened up my development server to my home network, and connected to it with my trusty iPhone. (Hence “mobile kev”, on the iPhone, chatting with “Kevin” on my Desktop computer). And my “monologue” with myself is accurate–I do hate CSS, but I’m determined to learn to like it, or at least to get along with it. 😉

This semester I’m studying the MEAN Stack–MongoDB (and the Mongoose Node.js module), Express, Angular, and Node–in one class…and Python3, Flask, Django, SQLite3, and PostgreSQL–in the other.

Node.js and the 2 Python web server options I’m working with, Flask and Django, are very different, with Node being pretty agnostic about everything, and extremely modular, and either Python option being extremely opinionated and taking a lot of server-side design decisions out of my hands. I think the initial learning curve to set up a functioning web server with Node (and Express! I wouldn’t want to set up a Node server without all of the goodies Express brings into the equation) is higher than doing the same thing with Flask, but in the long run Node offers far more flexibility. And, with a Node-based web server, you’ve got JavaScript running server-side, and JavaScript running client-side: seems like an easier move between front-end, back-end, and full-stack web development. That having been said, Python is a pretty cool programming language in its own right, and I’m glad to have gotten exposure to it!

The server frameworks and the programming languages they’re written in are only part of the puzzle, though, because of course then you add in templating engines to dynamically generate web pages (it’s 2019, who serves static HTML pages anymore? Really!), and that’s another bit to learn. Flask forces Jinja2 on the user, which is itself based on (but different from) Django’s built-in templating engine. For continuity’s sake (and because I’ve grown to like it), I found a JavaScript port of Jinja2, Nunjucks, that I’ve been using on my Node-based web apps.

Then there are the databases! SQL databases in their various flavors were just about the only way I conceived of “data”…until I was introduced to MongoDB, a NoSQL database. Why is it called “NoSQL”? Well, unlike SQLite3 and PostgreSQL, which organize data into tables, with increasingly complex relationships with other tables, and more and more “foreign keys” to tie them together the bigger your app grows, MongoDB looks like, well, JSON, which is safe and familiar to any web developer. Even writing web apps in Python, I still use JSON for my API routes to easily exchange data with client-side JavaScript. A NoSQL database doesn’t divide data into tables with their relationships and foreign keys. No, it lets you structure your data pretty much however you want, and since JSON is such a fact of life on the web, its queries look a lot more intuitive and easier to understand than SQL queries. (MongoDB doesn’t actually use JSON, it uses BSON, but syntactically it looks very much like JSON).

All this is to say, I’ve been really busy with my studies! The good news is, I’m learning a lot, and I enjoy it! I’ve always liked computers and technology, but “looking under the hood” of so many web technologies has been enlightening and fun. Hopefully it’ll even lead to a new career writing software and making cool apps! Probably for the web at first, but I may move into mobile or even Desktop app writing in the future…why not?

So that’s what I’ve been up to. If you don’t hear from me for a while, trust that my nose is buried inside of a code editor, and I’m writing some application or other in either JavaScript, Python, or a combination of both!

Blurbs describing “A.I.M.E.E.”

My latest novel is written, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. One such task is deciding on the “blurb” to describe it on both the back cover and the book description on Amazon. So far, I’ve come up with the following 2 brainstorms:
First blurb:

In 2396 AD, humanity launched its most ambitious interstellar exploration mission: IE32, a generation star ship bound for a potentially habitable world 44 light years from earth. Just as it was supposed to reach its destination, the ship vanished without a trace, capturing the public imagination and fueling rampant speculation about the ship and its crew’s fates. Centuries later, in 144 ICE (2647 AD), humanity has colonies spread throughout earth’s solar system and 5 different star systems. Gates, capable of generating traversable wormholes, link the colony worlds and make travel between them near-instantaneous.

Ray Harris is an interstellar star ship pilot with a chronic, painful, and incurable disease. He must rely on neural implants to manage his symptoms and an exosuit controlled telepathically via his implants for mobility. There’s a treatment for his disease, but it’s only available for the super-rich, which he’s not. In addition to slowly wasting away, Ray’s due to be grounded permanently because of the progression of his disease, until a mysterious benefactor offers him one last interstellar contract: a salvage mission to find out what happened to IE32, and recover anything he can from its presumed shipwreck.

Ray’s voyage puts him into the path of incredible danger, entangles him in dark secrets, and introduces him to the first fully sentient machine: A.I.M.E.E., a software module that was a part of IE32’s computer. Stranded on an alien planet, Ray must decide whether to trust his employers or A.I.M.E.E., and overcome incredible odds to survive and make it back home to earth. He must also face the dire threat that marooned IE32, a force that is a danger to all of humanity.

Ray also finds himself caught in the middle of debates about the role of Artificial Intelligence in the world and whether A.I.M.E.E. should even be allowed to exist. Oddly enough, in a secular world where 90% of humanity is atheist, A.I.M.E.E., a thinking machine, espouses belief in God and the conviction that “she” has an immortal soul. This is just one of many complications Ray must deal with as he tries to stay alive and share what he’s discovered with humanity.

Second blurb:

A.I.M.E.E. is the world’s first sentient machine. Originally part of a machine learning module on an interstellar star ship’s supercomputer, A.I.M.E.E. has become fully self-aware, with human-like thoughts, emotions, and incredibly, religious beliefs. The problem is, Artificial Intelligence is strictly outlawed and her very existence is considered an existential threat to humankind. No one knows of her existence, though, because 251 years after her ship, the IE32, took flight on an audacious 100 year voyage to explore a planet 44 light years from earth, A.I.M.E.E. is marooned on a dead alien world, the sole survivor of a fateful event that resulted in the crash-landing of IE32 on the planet it was sent to explore.

It’s now 144 ICE (2647 AD), and humanity has colonies spread throughout earth’s solar system and 5 different star systems. Gates, capable of generating traversable wormholes, link the colony worlds and make travel between them near-instantaneous. In spite of these advancements, Artificial Intelligence remains highly restricted and feared, and IE32’s disappearance 151 years ago continues to capture the public imagination. The field of robotics has become so sophisticated that superficially, it’s hard to tell the difference between a human and a machine. This results in the widespread use of human-like robots throughout service industries, where they fulfill roles in healthcare and office work, but also in seedier types of work as well. Denied the ability to learn, evolve, or even remember past experiences, the largely unthinking machines are nothing more than property or play things to humanity.

Ray Harris is an interstellar star ship pilot with a chronic, painful, and incurable disease. He must rely on neural implants to manage his symptoms and an exosuit controlled mentally via his implants for mobility. There’s a treatment for his disease, but it’s only available for the super-rich, which he’s not. In addition to slowly wasting away, Ray’s due to be grounded permanently because of the progression of his disease, until a mysterious benefactor offers him one last interstellar contract: a mission to find out what happened to IE32, and recover anything he can from its presumed shipwreck.

Ray’s interstellar mission puts him directly in the path of A.I.M.E.E., and forces him to question everything he thought he knew. It also exposes him to the same danger that mysteriously wiped out IE32’s crew and poses a danger to all humanity, a danger his employer apparently knows about but kept from him. Ray soon finds himself struggling against impossible odds simply to stay alive, while A.I.M.E.E. finds herself struggling to find her rightful place in the universe.

This is hard! There’s so much I could say about this novel, my longest to date, but how to let potential readers know what they’re getting themselves in for without either boring them or giving away too much? I’ll likely end up using something else entirely, but if you’re intrigued by the concept, and have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

First draft of my new novel finished

I just finished the first draft of my new novel, A.I.M.E.E.! This is a brave new world for me, venturing out from fantasy into the world of science fiction. Hopefully I didn’t stumble too much trying to break into a new genre!

Of course, writing a draft is just the first step. Now comes the painful, tedious process of editing, and reading over stuff I wrote and thinking “what in the world was I thinking?” and fixing all of the contradictions that inevitably cropped up throughout the book. I’m sure having a memory disorder doesn’t help, but I bet every writer struggles to keep track of every plot line, every thread in their tapestry.

I’m also going to consult, for the first time, with an outside source, not for standard editorial corrections, but to help make sure I didn’t step in it too much with certain cultural and religious subjects broached in the book. I’ll just leave it vague like that to pique your interest.

Those familiar with my writing will recognize that this book is a big departure from previous works I’ve published. For starters, it’s written in third person, not first, and it’s more of a “normal” narration than the epistolary style my Hoffnungslose Ziele trilogy. Did I mention it’s also science fiction rather than fantasy? 🙂

Spring classes begin on 28 Jan, so I’m not sure how far I’ll get in the editing process before then, or when you might expect to see A.I.M.E.E. on a (virtual) store shelf near you, but stay tuned!

2018 finally coming to an end

This isn’t going to be a post about New Year’s resolutions. Frankly I don’t much care for them, and have yet to meet someone who actually keeps them. So it’s a goofy little tradition but fairly pointless if you ask me. If you want to make a change in your life, you don’t need an arbitrary turning of the Gregorian calendar from one year to the next in order to start making that change. Just saying.

2018 was a lousy year for me, especially the first half. That’s when I was medically retired from the Air Force, something which in spite of ample warning about due to my failing health, I was completely unprepared for in the end. It was just a huge shock to the system, going from having this really close-knit community to suddenly being on the outside and feeling like an outcast. And then there were the financial stresses that came with being a “retiree” instead of gainfully employed.

The year wasn’t a total wash, however, and if I’m going to reflect back, it’s on the positives that I think I should focus:

  1. I went back to school starting in September. I took Introduction to Web Programming with JavaScript through Harvard Extension School (online), and brushed up on my HTML and CSS, and learned JavaScript (both plain vanilla and jQuery). I ended up building a final project that I’m pretty proud of, an autosomal DNA relationship visualization tool that makes genetic genealogy a bit easier and more fun:
    It works, it finally works--dynamic chromosome height resizing is flawless - 2018-12-15
  2. I published 2 more books in my Hoffnungslose Ziele series. Sure it seems all but impossible to get noticed as an author or to make a living off my writing, but it was enormously satisfying making my imaginings real and releasing them into the wild. I also learned quite a bit about self-publishing, and have become smarter about the “how to publish” end of things (and went from hand-holding to doing all of the technical/formatting stuff myself, greatly reducing my publishing costs since I’m not making any money off these books anyway). I also cleaned up my website here a little, consolidating all of my published novels into a single landing page with links to each individual book, rather than cluttering up my top menu with each title:
    Novels Page 2018-12-30
  3. I started a Petition to reform military pension law that would greatly benefit disabled veterans such as myself and a number of people I served with, or have subsequently met, who due to an 1800s restriction on receiving both our military pensions and VA disability compensation, struggle to make ends meet. To my surprise and absolute delight, the Petition now has over 7,500 supporters, and I was able to discuss it with a US Senator’s staff and receive encouraging feedback about the possibility of my reform idea actually becoming law sometime in the future! That would be a godsend not just to my own family, but would provide me with a tremendous amount of self-actualization, as I firmly believe one’s worth is determined not by his/her career, stock portfolio, or real estate holdings, but by the positive impact s/he makes on the world around herself (or himself).
  4. I started to feel less sorry for myself regarding my chronic illness, and appreciate the wonderful family I’ve been blessed with. That can’t help but be a positive development!

So what’s in store for 2019?

Well, I’m going to continue my education, and plan to take the following courses starting in late January (Spring Semester): Web Application Development using Node.JS and Web Programming with Python and JavaScript. I’m hoping after completing those 2 additional classes, which will bring my total up to 12 recent Computer Science grad school credits (plus another 4 if you count Intensive introduction to Computer Science that I took back in 2012), I should have a decent foundation in computer and especially web programming, a foundation that I plan to continue building on with further grad school courses in web design and web content management systems (such as WordPress, the CMS my site uses).

I’m also eyeing taking courses on Mobile App Development and perhaps Game Development, possibly through EdX instead of for grad school credit through a formal online classroom setting with graded assignments/exams like the above classes I’ve taken/plan on taking. Basically, I want to do computer programming work, from home since that seems to be my most realistic work option given my degree of disability, but I’m also specifically taking courses that interest me because what’s the point in doing something that isn’t fun? At least so long as I have a choice–necessity can sometimes drive us to do things that aren’t fun at all, but while I have a choice, I’d just as soon spend my scant spoons doing work that interests me and provides a sense of satisfaction.

I also plan on finishing up my 4th novel, A.I.M.E.E. The Sci Fi genre is a lot different from Fantasy, and I find the limitations (trying to maintain at least some semblance of realism/within the realm of possible or at least imaginable in terms of technological advancements) to be a tad frustrating, while at the same time presenting an interesting challenge. I’m not going to claim I get everything right from a Physics perspective, but I am trying to take into account limitations on space travel and the sheer vastness of space! As in, wow, it’s mind-blowing to think of just how small we are in the grand scheme of things, and how restricted we are in our ability to travel to the stars. Even with stretching-the-edge-of-possible technology, leaving our little neighborhood in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way seems impossible/magic requiring. Like my other novels, though, my in-progress work isn’t really about the technology, it’s about the characters and the human condition, albeit with a very different setting.

All right, that’s a wrap! Here’s hoping for a better 2019!!

My November

It’s been almost a month since I posted, so I thought I’d give a brief update on what I’ve been up to. I guess in no particular order, recently I’ve:

  1. Read the Quran
  2. “Finished” Hoffnungslose Ziele III: Sympathy for the Fallen
  3. Written about half of my new novel, a Science Fiction story about Artificial Intelligence titled A.I.M.E.E.
  4. Made some progress getting 10 USC § 1414 amended so (hopefully) 100% disabled military retirees like myself will finally be able to receive both our military pensions and VA disability compensation without offset
  5. Did a lot of work in my online class, CSCI E-3, Introduction to Web Programming Using JavaScript

So, yeah, I’ve been busy, after a fashion. That’s why I haven’t been blogging, and I’ve been quieter on Twitter lately. Limited energy due to my Gulf War Illness, or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome + Fibromyalgia, depending on which doctor/claims administrator you ask, coupled with a pretty full plate. I have a limited number of “productive” hours every day (or at least on “good” days), so I can’t do nearly as much as I’d like to. It’s interesting how chronic pain and limited energy force me to evaluate how I’m going to spend my limited “productive” time each day when I can maintain focus and mental clarity, and sit up straight/type. It’s a good way to find out what’s important. I still wouldn’t wish this on anyone though!

1. Reading the Quran. That was actually something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree back in prehistoric times (2002), in the oh-so-marketable field of Theology and Religious Studies (with an equally marketable English minor!), so religion is a topic I’ve been fascinated with for pretty much my entire adult life. I could easily write a blog post just on this topic, so I’ll keep this paragraph short. My impression after reading the Quran is that it’s divinely inspired just like the Tanakh and the Bible, so I guess that means I accept Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a prophet. Which, holy cow, has a huge range of implications for a Roman Catholic Christian guy like me. I suspect it will take a long time to unpack and process just what it means, but in the short term, I’ll defend Islam against anyone who claims it’s a “bad” or “violent” religion or that it’s incompatible with “democratic values.” The Quran is filled with love, compassion, and exhortations to be kind to others and treat them with dignity and respect. And, there’s no mistaking that Muslims believe in the same God as Jews and Christians. And there’s soooooooooooo much in the Quran that is in complete agreement with the Bible, so…yeah. I think we should take a long hard look at just how much of our beliefs and values we share in common, rather than focusing on a small number of (mainly dogmatic) differences. That’s not to gloss over those difference–I realize from a theologian’s perspective that all 3 religions have major differences. But, I don’t think humans are all that great at interpreting divine revelations and I’m very willing to accept that all these prophets (peace be upon them) were legit and speaking about the same God. We’re just not the best listeners, and some people even like to twist Scripture to suit their own personal or political inclinations. Yeah.

2. The third and final installment in my Hoffnungslose Ziele dark fantasy series is done. It’s roughly 160,000 words long, which is actually a few thousand words longer than my first published novel, Hoffnungslose Ziele: A Dark Journey of Lost Causes. The third book takes a deep dive across time and space, and (hopefully) fills in the gaps and answers most of those nagging questions readers might have had after reading the first 2 books. I think it certainly lays out the “laws” of the Hoffnungslose Ziele universe, and completes the story arcs of the main characters. Sure, there are plenty of spinoffs and side stories that could be written about more minor characters, but this closes out the series as far as I’m concerned. I’ve gotten back all my artwork (including cover art!) for the book, so it’s just a matter of editing, incorporating the artwork, and self-publishing. I’m hoping to do that in late December or early January, during the break between the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 academic semesters.

3. Which brings me to my new novel, A.I.M.E.E. I teased it a bit in an earlier blog post, but I’ve made a fair amount of progress writing the book. The current word count is at around 88,000 words, and plot-wise I believe it’s at about the halfway point. I know where I want the story to go, but I don’t believe in outlining too rigidly–my stories tend to take on lives of their own, and the characters sometimes demand I take things in a different direction than I had planned, because they have lives of their own and I have to be true to them rather than forcing them to act in artificial ways for the sake of the plot. If the characters aren’t real, what’s the point? This book is a departure from my 3 Fantasy novels, and my first serious attempt at writing Science Fiction. In a lot of ways I find the genre more limiting than Fantasy, and frustratingly, I have to say, a lot of the “good stuff” technology-wise in most Science Fiction stories, at least the ones that involve interstellar space travel, actually amount to Fantasy and “magic” wrapped up with scientific-sounding technobabble. Trying to actually be “scientific” (to a point) and write about plausible technologies, and include plausible space travel times…tends to drag things out in terms of the years that sometimes need to pass just for the characters to get from Point A to Point B. And there is interstellar space travel, and I hope it’s exciting, but at its heart the book is about Artificial Intelligence and the question of sentience/consciousness/personhood. Oh, and belief in God in a reasonably distant (~ 600 years) future in a predominantly atheist society. Because I’m interested in religion. I’m also hoping to finish, or mostly finish, writing A.I.M.E.E., during the break between Fall and Spring classes. Hopefully I’ll get close to my goal.

4. I’ve had some encouraging discussions regarding my effort to get 10 USC § 1414 amended. I won’t reiterate the issue here because I’ve blogged about it, have a page about it on my website, and also have a Change.org Petition with plentiful updates explaining the issues with the current law and my proposed amendments in detail. In a nutshell, I’ve found a veterans organization that’s speaking with a Congressional Representative in the near future about the issue and shared my thoughts with them, and I’ve also had a very good discussion with a Senator’s staff on the topic. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe next year, we will see some legislative action that is life changing in a very good way for disabled military retirees.

5. I’ve been working/studying hard in my JavaScript programming class. My biggest preoccupation right now is with my final project, due 19 December. I’m working on a web-based tool for managing genetic genealogy data in a visually appealing (and useful) manner, hopefully creating a replacement for DNA Spreadsheets. Here are a couple screenshots from my in-progress web app:

relative_form-2018-11-17

Chromosomes_clean-2018-11-17

So, basically, it’s a web-based database where users can enter information about genetic relatives per the major commercial testing companies, including matching chromosomes and segment starting/ending positions. Then it’ll “draw” those segments on the map of the user’s pairs of chromosomes, allowing one to keep track of which relatives they share DNA with and where. And identify a known ancestor or ancestral pair (husband and wife) associated with a given relative or segment, and have that entire region of the chromosome shaded and associated with that particular ancestor(s). It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together, with the goal being for the genetic genealogist to be able to create a visual “map” of where his/her DNA came from (and more easily triangulate how s/he is related to new “matches” that show up through those popular commercial genetic testing services).

I’ve got a lot of work left to do on it, although I think the form is pretty much done, as are the chromosome drawings in their starting format. I still have to refine the data objects and arrays I’ll be storing the form data in, and write the functions that’ll draw the mapped segments to the appropriate points on the right chromosomes. And write additional functionality such as mouseover on a segment to display the data about that relative, or onclick on a segment to reopen the form and edit any fields about that genetic relative the user wishes to.

Next semester, which starts in late January, I’m planning to take CSCI E-31, Web Application Development using Node.JS, and CSCI E-33A, Web Programming with Python and JavaScript. Taking 2 classes instead of 1 will be challenging, and I doubt I’ll have any time to write, but I’m hoping to launch a new career as a web developer and I don’t have forever (unless Congress changes 10 USC § 1414. Then I won’t have to worry so much about money, and can take my time with my studies, which I plan to continue either way because I really find it interesting).

OK, that’s what I’ve been up to, and it’s now after dinner and my mind is turning to mush. I have no more productivity left, so I’d best get this post out and then unplug. Such is life with a chronic illness and limited cognitive resources! (And as an aside, I just spent 30 minutes “proofreading” all the above, and my mind is really mush now, so I’m definitely signing off! Goodnight world!!)

The Versatile Blogger Award

I don’t think I blog enough to deserve this, but the lovely Dani #ExpertChick has nominated me, so I’m in! Go check out her awesome blog so you can see what I’m not!

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The rules:

1. If you are nominated, congratulations – you have been awarded the Versatile blogger award! 
2. Thank the person who gave you the award and include a link to their blog.
3. Select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. 
4. Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award. 
5. Tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself. 

 

Yeah, so thanks again to Dani, and please check out her blog!

My Facts:

1. I’m a Wisconsin native but loyal California transplant. 🙂

2. I used to work as a military officer and an attorney, but now I’m in school to become a web programmer. I’ve always been a geek when it comes to technology, and this blog post is being written on a FreeBSD workstation!

3. I took one surfing lesson before I became disabled, and I loved it! If I ever get healthy again, I’m definitely going to take up surfing.

4. My favorite literary genre is Fantasy Fiction. I love reading it and writing it. I’m currently writing a Sci Fi novel and as much as I like the concept, I’m continually reminded of how much more I like the Fantasy genre!!

5. I believe in ghosts (they scare the crap out of me), angels, and the afterlife. But not UFOs (the kind flown by extraterrestrials). I think those are made up.

6. I was born in ’81 but consider myself a Gen-Xer. I know the generation boundaries have been defined and redefined a dozen times, and were always rather arbitrary in the first place, and I think technically Millennials just swallowed all of the 1980s according to some media outlet or other (figures, X was always the “forgotten” generation), but I don’t care what you say: I’m part of Generation X. And the US Census Bureau agrees with me. But I don’t think all Millenials are lazy, self-absorbed narcissists. Many of you are very cool. I just don’t feel like part of your generation. I remember watching movies on VHS, making mixed cassette tapes from the radio, blowing on Nintendo cartridges to get them to work instead of showing a red screen, and playing Oregon Trail on Apple II computers.

7. One of my favorite movies of all time is “The Princess Bride.” Inconceivable!

My blog nominations:

1. Lil Hamilton.

2. Nikki Albert (I know she’s the same person, but she’s doubly awesome so yeah).

3. All Invisible Illnesses Are Important.

4. Charles Heath.

5. Aoife and Deirdre.

6. Needull in a haystack.

7. ME & many blessings.

8. Hattie Gladwell.

9. Eleanor Segall.

10. Qasim Rashid.

11. The CFS Chronicles.

12. Faith Trust and Pixie Dust.

13. Mike Harrison.

14. Stopdraggingthepanda.

15. The Adverts 250 Project.