An Epiphany

This morning, I attended a brunch to honor Carl Brookins, a founder of the critique group Crème de la Crime and author of several crime novels and series. Crème de la Crime was born from a writing course at The Loft, the organization which is to the Twin Cities writing community what infrastructure is to travel. Carl has decided to become emeritus after a 20-year-plus run of providing coffee, popcorn, and a lovely home to the group.The gathering of current and former members was an occasion for reminiscence, celebration, and conversation.  How lucky I am to live in the Twin Cities and to have such resources as these.

So there I was, enjoying breakfast with friends, when the epiphany hit.

See, I have always been a science-based sort of guy.  No mysterious suprafactual forces in my universe.  But … something happened as I was bathing in the flow of conversation this morning. Maybe sitting in the aura of massive writerly power (there were seventeen of us) threw a switch somewhere in the occipital or parietal lobes and made me see the truth I have been missing.

I have been struggling with the design of my fourth Mayfield-Napolitani novel.  So far, it has the problems I was tasked to change in the other novels:  a complex plot (gene therapy gone bad) and too many characters.  In writing Mayfield-Napolitani #1, Fatal Score, I was a proud seat-of-the-pantser.  Also a not so proud and often frustrated rewriter (I published rewrite #14).  This time, I knew I needed to outline.  As a result, I have been writing out the procession of people and events, getting tangled, tripping, starting over.  

Maybe it was always obvious, just not to me, but the outline I need is about what happens; how the story is finally presented is another matter entirely.  Nobody told me that directly this afternoon; it appeared while I was contemplating the last bits of scrambled egg.  I guess there are things we do not understand about the brain.  

The brunch buffet was tasty, too.

Projecting the future (everyday technology)

In the last post, I covered the two major ideas that underlie my three, going on four, novels.  I would love to have readers’ thinking on future technology (and, if you want to get into the hard stuff, social relations).

Here are some of the projections I made about everyday technology/living:

A 128-megabyte disk drive, late ’70’s

e-pad: Personal computers are becoming more and more portable.  So it was easy to envision the e-pad (no lawsuits here!), a handheld device that does computation, audio, video and so on.  Also, in Fatal Score, I assume a 3 terabyte storage device the size of a bouillon cube. I had pretty good history to go on there. Moore’s Law, which posits a doubling of computing capacity every 18 months (sometimes two years) gets me there.  After all, a 128 mb of a high-tech disk drive in the

My stick drive

early ’80’s was the size of a small refrigerator.  I just bought a 64 gigabyte stick drive (500 times the capacity of that ’80’s disk drive) for $14.95 to back up Fatal Score audio files. The three-terabyte bouillon cube in Fatal Score (23,000 times the capacity of the ’80’s disk drive) was a linear projection of Moore’s Law. (I did set the story a bit farther in the future in its original version.  Then along came the 2016 election, Russian hacking and social media attacks, and … I pulled back.)

Partially self-driving cars?  Sure, we’re already seeing the first inklings. I forecasted that we will see use of autopilot on big, well-defined roads.  So, in Fatal Score, Joe can turn on autopilot going north out of New Orleans on Highway 61, but he’s got to turn it off on the dirt roads around Panacea.  Perhaps the slowest-developing of the various technologies influencing (invading?) our lives is the vaunted Artificial Intelligence, which can now project that we’re interested in shoes … wait for it! … if we search the web for shoes.  I think it’ll take longer than the decade between now and Fatal Score go to full autodrive.

Bluetooth implants:  They enter my fiction in Skins and Bone (book 2), when the Wall Street hot shots are using them.  Joe gets one by partway through Skins. It is removed (painfully) in Fail Deadly (book 3).  The evolution of technology makes implanting make sense to me. Go to any mall (please, before Amazon wipes them out) and check out how many people have earphones in as they walk around.  How much more convenient to have the audio delivered directly to your ear through your mastoid bone.

Solar power: The plot of Fail Deadly (book 3) turns on solar power.  When I began outlining the story, solar power was not efficient enough to be truly cost competitive with traditional coal/gas/nuclear power.  Something to do with the Shockley–Queisser limit.  But there’s an often-repeated pattern in technology development that drives efficiency up (and cost down) once the science is established.  That is happening faster than I expected … the SQ Limit is being overcome by layering of transistor junctions, more efficient impedance-matching and so on. I’d better get #3 published before solar takes over!

Trains (and transportation in general): So far, I’m missing on this one.  In 2011, I projected that USA would copy Europe and (particularly) China in rapid development of rail and light-rail. I thought air travel would decline.  In my lifetime, it has fallen from exciting to necessary to grubby, and I projected that it would follow the cost curve down to disgusting. In all the books, Joe and Weezy usually ride trains or use autocars (self-driving Ubers) in cities. Instead, New York’s century-old subway system is crumbling, as is much of our infrastructure (though that’s hard for me to square with the many road construction projects in the Twin Cities).

Drones:  They are ubiquitous, though usable only by license, except for the government. Seems obvious to me that something with so much potential for danger and capability to invade private spaces will eventually be regulated.  But I guess I’m a logical optimist on that subject, given our experience to date on regulating firearms. 

So, what do you project?