Featured

Visualizing BIG Numbers

Millions, Billions, Trillion; we hear these terms used about large values so often people have become numb to their actual meaning. I heard a fellow employee asked one time what he would do if he won a million dollars in the lottery. He replied, “a million isn’t enough to do anything.” He had no clue how much a million is. So, let’s take the most common object and use it to illustrate what these values are.

A dollar bill is .0043 inches thick. A stack of 1000 one-dollar bills would be 4.3 inches which are also 109.2 millimeters. For the sake of mathematical simplicity, I will be using the metric system from here on. I will convert the here and there so people using “Standard” and are not familiar with the metric system can understand. I will also round-up from 109.2 cm to 110 mm because by the time we get to billions, trillion, and beyond that small difference becomes negligible (if you’re picky, you can go back and use the precise value I’m just too lazy to deal with it).

Back to our stack of a thousand one-dollar bills. A 1000 one-dollar bills are 110 mm. A million, which is one thousand, thousand one-dollar bills (1000 x 1000) on top of each other would be 110,000 mm tall, or 110 meters high (see why metric is easy? 1000 mm = 1 meter). 110 meters is approximately 120 yards, longer than the length of a football field. That’s a million one-dollar bills stacked one on top of the other. So much for my fellow employee’s statement.

A billion is one thousand million. 110 meters is .11 kilometers and when you multiply that by a thousand, to get one billion, (.11 kilometers x 1000) you get a stack of one dollar bills 110 kilometers (approximately 68 miles) tall. Mount Everest is 8.85 km (5.5 miles). 110 km is almost 12.5 times the height of Mount Everest. Twelve and a half Mount Everest mountains on top of each other would equal a stack of one billion one-dollar bills. Presently, there are 7.5 billion people in the world. What if each dollar bill represented one person alive today that stack would be 825 km (approximately 513 miles) tall or 93.75 times the height of Mount Everest! This is the height most low orbiting satellites travel at.

 Take a moment to think about this. A stack of one billion one-dollar bills stacked on top of each other representing each person would be tall enough to reach space. I’ll wait.

That’s a lot of people living on Earth today.

This is why I find apocalyptic scenarios that speculate the complete extinction of human being so far-fetched. One billion is a large number and seven and a half, well, you see. Even if you were to kill off 99.99% of the human population there would still be 750,000 people alive. 750,000 is the estimated number of humans alive 10,000 years ago at the dawn of agriculture and city-states. From 750,000 to 7.5 billion in just 10,000 years, a blink of an eye in geological time! Hardly an extinction event in human terms. Nothing human beings have created thus far can kill every man, woman, and child on this planet. Yes, the human loss would be devastating but not complete. We are as indestructible as the worst of any infestation. Considering the number of species that have become extinct by our hands, beginning with the megafauna around 12,000 years ago, animal life on Earth has more to fear by our presence than any other natural event. By the end of the 21st century, if present trends continue, the human population on this planet will reach 10 billion! Not even climate change will kill us all off but the human suffering will be incalculable. Now, let’s take it up a notch and see what a stack of one trillion one-dollar bills would look like. That is if we can.

A trillion of anything is thrown around these days with as little true meaning as a billion was decades ago. A trillion is, in fact, a huge number. We just saw that our stack of one billion one-dollar bills would reach outer space. Doing the math as we have done before, multiplying by one thousand, our stack is now 825,000 km tall (512,630 miles). The distance to the moon is 363,100 km (238,900 miles). That would make our stack a little over two and a quarter-time the distance from the earth to the moon. Another way to think of it would be to make two equal stacks reaching the moon with a lot of change leftover. The stack laid on its side would circle the Earth a little over 33 times! The United States’ national debt is now at $28.3 trillion and growing every year.

I’ll give you another minute to think about that one.

$28 plus trillion dollars is an amount in debt your great, great, great-grandchildren would barely make a dent in paying it off. And like I said, it grows every year. The United States would have to run on a balanced budget up to its quadricentennial to pay it all off. It’s just impossible. Yet, politicians are always talking about how cutting a million here, or a million there makes them fiscally responsible. Who are they kidding if it’s not their constituents? Quibbling over a billion dollars, and cutting vital programs in the process, seems a little like trying to empty an ocean with a teacup.

Now, I’m going to skip a great deal of order of magnitude and discuss another term widely used but little understood by the general public, infinity. Just what does infinity mean? To most people, it means “something that goes on forever”. But can anybody truly picture what “forever’ means? Is it to the end of time? Well, no. Because the universe has a beginning, the Big Bang and, if physicists are correct, there is an end. One theory states that the “End” will come when the universe has expanded so far that star formation will come to a complete halt because the matter will be so thinned out no material could clump to make new stars a quadrillion years in the future. That’s one followed by fifteen zeros. What stars are left would form black holes that would eventually, due to the escape of Hawking radiation, will slowly fade away in ten to hundred quintillion (one followed by nineteen or twenty zeros) years from now. The only thing left at this point is a thin soup of basic particles that too will eventually lose energy and decay after a huge amount of time (1 followed by 200 zeros years from now). At this time, in the far, far future, with no movement, no particles, not even enough energy to register, time cannot be said to have any real meaning, and, so, it can be considered the “End of Time”. But this is not infinity for it goes on forever. This is why physicists hate infinity for to them it means simply “I don’t know”.

There you are, working on equations that will solve the Grand explanation of Everything and after years of work your answer comes out as “infinity”. Talk about frustration. Yet, the general public throws it around like it’s a household word. There are Infinity Stones, infinite multiverses (redundant, really), infinite possibilities (but, really, only a few possibilities). Infinity is, in human terms, an unknown and one that, by definition, can never be known.

-A. M. Holmes

Author’s Note; I’m not going to include any citations for the piece because I went to Google for such things as “how tall is Mount Everest” and “how far is the moon”. If I could do this, so can you if you have any doubts. I do think my math is pretty sound but if I did make mistakes please point them down in the comments along with the correct answer. -A. M. Holmes

Featured

Defining Science Fiction.

I just listened to an intriguing podcast on Science Fiction with Damien Walter where he tries to answer, ‘What is Science Fiction?’ (https://damiengwalter.com/2021/07/20/what-is-science-fiction/). In it, Walter brings up what he calls the three fallacies concerning science fiction. He says science fiction is not a genre as it is more like an artistic movement, it is not just “speculative fiction”, and not entertainment. I agree with what he said about two of these fallacies and slightly disagree with him on one.

First, what I agree with. Having viewed and read science fiction since I was a small child I have been inspired to write science fiction stories. For most of my life, I’ve done this as a hobby, something I did as a form of expression, to tell stories to myself. Now, encouraged by my wife’s publications, I wish to take this hobby and turn it into something that I can share with others. One of my wife’s questions, she writes epic fantasies, was what specific subgenre I was writing in. Well, I never considered that because to me science fiction is just that, and to break it down to a subgenre, or a sub-sub-genre seemed to me to be a ludicrous idea. Why would I want to pigeonhole myself into a specific slot and limit my creativity? Why does a story need to be limited to a specific arbitrary group when it can be more than that? “Who’s your target audience?” she answered. So the idea is a marketing tool and not a real literary definition. I agree with Damien Walter in that science fiction, with its crossover into many media forms and influence is more of an artistic movement no different than, say, post-modernism. It is only defined into its narrow literary definition of “genre” and all its “subs” to make it easier for the people who market it. So, the difficulty in defining it comes from it not being a specific product.

Is science fiction speculative fiction? Yes, it can be. But is it speculation? Not necessarily so. If you take science fiction out of being a genre you can do so much more with it along other avenues of thought. Rod Serling’s ‘The Twilight Zone’ did this in many of their stories. It wasn’t always about the “if this now, this is where we’ll end up” but at times about “here we are, now take a good close look at it”. Science fiction is storytelling with one foot in reality and the other in fantasy. It is the combination of the imaginative and the rational into one narrative. Technology, physical phenomenon (e.g. time travel, black holes, etc.), and non-human encounters are aspects of the setting unless they are the protagonist/antagonist of the story. They do not define science fiction but are part of the framework. I think Damien Walter’s explanation of science fiction as the melding of the “Mythos/Logos” is very much true. It is storytelling using the abstract notion of creativity with the rationality of realism. It is a form of expression distinctly unique as in any other artistic movement, for a movement it is.

Is it entertainment? Now, here is where he and I disagree. The reason I want to be a published writer is not that I want fame or notoriety, or to make a butt-load of money but to tell a good story. Storytelling is one of the oldest endeavors that first evolved in humankind. Our ancestors told stories around the campfire to educate and, depending on the manner it was told, to entertain. You can make the daily hunt more interesting if you tell it in a certain way. Storytelling is entertainment and science fiction is or should be, about the story.

-A.M. Holmes

Featured

“How do you create a book or characters that people will love?”

Someone on one of the social media creative writing groups I belong to posted, “Why in the world would anyone like Harry Potter? …How do you create a book or characters that people will love?”

It’s all about hard work, timing, and the fickle predilections of a fad. You can be a good writer with a good idea and never succeed because it just isn’t what the readership is looking for at the time. You can also be a good writer with a good idea that resonates with readers that, with their favorable reviews, may engage others, and your works become a hit.

J. K. Rowling’s success wasn’t overnight, it took years of effort to finally make it. Rowling worked on Harry Potter for five years, getting feedback, rewriting, more feedback, more rewriting, until she got something she was happy with. It still wasn’t easy, she had to get it published. When publishers refused to read it unless she got an agent she got one. Even after that, she was rejected by 12 publishers until one decided to print. Then came promoting it. Fortunately for ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ it connected with young people through its protagonist. The character of Harry resonated with adolescents through fantasy and plain good storytelling in a way they understood. The more the word spread about this book, the more excitement was generated about it, the more books flew off the shelves in sales. J. K. Rowling had a hit in little time after publishing, but also, after 7 long years of hard work. It could have just as easily, as many have learned on their own, never have amounted to anything. It could have ended up in the “Bargain Book” section after its first edition. There’s no way to predict what the public wants.

But there are ways to improve your chances by,

1. Make a good product (yeah, unless you’re doing this for fun, or obscurity, your book is a product). Edit, edit, EDIT! NOTHING IS SACRED! You, your family, and your friends may think your work is a masterpiece as is but unless they plan to purchase every single book published it’s the general public you have to convince (people can distinguish between something readable from crap).

2. Try to be original, fresh. If there are too many books about zombies, and you like writing about zombies, how can you make your “zombie story” different? (Or, here’s an idea, give up writing on zombies and find something different.)

3. Learn to promote your product (GET THE WORD OUT! People aren’t going to randomly flock to you just because YOU think YOU’RE great).

4. DON’T GIVE UP! The one thing that is common among successful writers is that THEY DIDN’T GIVE UP. QUITTERS NEVER WIN!

So, do you think you have the next “Best Selling” phenomenon? I know I hope I do with my work in progress. The difference may be all in the effort we put in and what readers are looking for.

-A. M. Holmes

Challenge Accepted!

A Pro-Trump Meme from Facebook I couldn’t resist trolling

Challenge accepted. I’ll go down the line of what I love about the Democratic platform (and what the party, Biden, and Harris have committed to) and then any of you Trumpsters can present the Republican’s version (betcha most of you don’t even know). And just like the meme says, INSTEAD OF BASHING DEMOCRATS, WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THE REPUBLICANS.

1. Instead of lying to the people of this country and not take responsibility how about acting like a real leader. When 9/11 happened, President Bush took control and mobilized our nation not only militarily but in political solidarity. We need that sort of leadership to get through the pandemic. Unity, not denial and finger-pointing.

2. Our economy is a mess and shoveling more money into big businesses isn’t doing anything but making the rich richer. We need to get our butts out of the 20th century and come up with new and innovative ideas to move forward. FDR did the same and brought our nation out of the Depression.

3. We have the ACA (Obamacare) and for as many times Republicans tried to repeal it, it remains. So, lets compromise and REFINE IT so it works for EVERYONE.

4. Reform, reform, reform. That’s all Washington has talked about concerning our justice system and all it has amounted to is building more prisons and shoving social worker duties onto our already overwhelmed police forces. What’s a “wellness check” going to do if crimes are committed elsewhere? The bottom line in many escalating circumstances is, we must separate mental/social care to those better trained, and the police to do what they do best -protecting people and property.

5. The scenes of the Western coast burn (due to severe drought), the numerous cat 4 hurricanes, weather patterns changing across the country are symptoms of what is happening around the world. You can continue to deny it, but the reality is CLIMATE CHANGE is here. But what can we do? There is an opportunity here that will not only provide jobs but make America the center of a NEW GREEN TECHNOLOGICAL INITIATIVE by investing time, money, and some of the brightest people to work on it. Fossil fuels, and the economies it supports, are like the diabetic eating only cake and ice cream, eventually, he will die soon than later. That’s what we need to avoid to make America TRULY great again.

6. Putting up a wall isn’t working. It never will and will be seen as a boondoggle someday. We have the technology (drones, motion cameras, etc.) that are more efficient than the old tech of “round them up and ship them out”. What about the ones already here? Let’s come up with a way to integrate them into our country. We’ve done it many times before with the Germans, Irish, Asians, Italians why not now? Canada has the largest number of immigrants and they can handle it by just doing that, handling it.

7. If there one thing that this pandemic has proven is that when it comes to wifi, we are a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY. Right now, there are Chinese goat herders in western China that gets better connectivity than most of us. What does this have to do with public education?  How many of you have kids who had to, or now, do online classes? Public education SHOULD BE FREE TO THE PUBLIC AND SO SHOULD THE MEANS IT IS PROVIDED!

8. Leadership. Truman once said, “Leadership is the ability to get men to do what they don’t want to do and like it.” Right now, nobody likes doing what needs to be done and avoiding responsibility. We need leadership back in our presidency and as another Truman quote goes, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” If you can’t stand the criticism, the hard work, the advice of others more learned in those areas of concern, then step down and let someone else a try.

Your turn. What’s good about the Republicans? And don’t use single-syllable words and GIFs. Speak up and defend what Trump will do for you. by saying “America will be GREAT and Safe” means absolutely NOTHING if you can’t back it up.

Featured

Trump and Pence Want 4 More Years. Let’s Think About This.

Trump at the RNC 2020 Convention in his acceptance speech in Washington DC spoke of dire consequences if Biden wins in November.

Let’s seriously think about this. Trump and Pence are running on the platform that Biden and Harris are going to make it worst for America and that they deserve 4 more years. And yet,

* We have 180,000 plus dead from the coronavirus pandemic (of which they talked of in the past tense at the RNC 2020 Convention) due to this administration’s mismanagement and continued denial.

* Because of the mismanagement of the pandemic this administration has killed the longest-running expansion of our economy (9 years! And yes, it was started by Obama’s Economic Recovery policies after the ’08 recession and not after Trump was inaugurated).

* The present demonstrations and rioting did not just flare up out of nowhere. This is the direct result of policies that would rather SUPPRESS than RESOLVE issues. We have a desperate and angry people in this country and a local police force ill-trained to cope with it. Compassion IS NOT Socialism, but Oppression IS Fascism.

* Finally, Where’s the Wall paid by Mexico? Where’s the Peace Treaty with North Korea? Afghanistan? Where are the benefits of the tariff war with China (have you noticed the grocery prices rise even BEFORE the Pandemic)? Where’s the START Treaty with Russia? Where’s the Affordable Healthcare Act reform Trump promised? The Farm Relieve Bill (which benefitted PROCESSORS AND BIG AGRICULTURAL CONGLOMERATES but not the small farmers) how did that help us? And who benefitted from the tax relief directives? The average worker got a few “Jacksons” while the top CEO’s got thousands of “Ben Franklins”.

Trump and Pence want 4 more years to do what? Stay the course? Buddy, we hit the iceberg and we’re sinking. Fix what they screwed up? You can’t bail a sinking ship with a sieve. The best course of action is to save as many lives as possible through careful thought and planning and taking the advice of those who know what to do. Unfortunately, this captain and first mate wish only to blame others and be first on the lifeboats.

-A. M. Holmes

Featured

Transparency in Science

Scientific research, unlike how it’s portray on the screen, is a lot of work spending many weeks in just data collecting. After that, comes the many days compiling and evaluating the research.

I have heard a lot on social media lately about how “scientific researchers are concealing information from the general public” that the scientific community are “colluding to inflate the number of those infected with the coronavirus to embarrass the president”, or that they are just lying about the results. These people say that there is a “lack of transparency” within the scientific community and that everything they say should be doubted. All of this comes from the lack of understanding of how research studies are reviewed before its publication and why peer review is so important.

For science to work there has to be transparency but sometimes you have to wait for the results to be evaluated and peer review. The general public has a problem understanding the last two, especially peer review. When a study is first presented it must be gone over by experts before publishing. This is not, as conspiracy nuts like to suggest, to protect the “Science Oligarchy” but to catch any missed errors in the methodology, data collecting, margin of error, and conclusion. A good study is one in which the data suggest something not quite as expected. If your research supports your hypothesis too strongly, one has to doubt the legitimacy of the methodology, data collection, or conclusion. This is why evaluation and peer review are important. When millions of dollars can sometimes ride on the correct results, it can be devastating to a group if there are mistakes in their study. Sometimes, and the news media like to report on these, some research groups have faked data, or cheated in their methodology to get the results they want. They are rare (100s of thousands of studies are done yearly) because most are caught during the review process. Getting caught cheating carries a heavy penalty. Not only do you lose your job, your reputation as a researcher and options for future work in the science field is permanently damaged.

Here are several recent Sars-Cov-2 vaccine studies. all you have to do is find where to look and read them. Oh, and most news media reporters do not have the time nor the technical know-how to figure out what these studies mean. These are the two leading vaccine studies most heard on the news lately. if you follow me you’d know I share the stuff.

For the Oxford-AstraZeneca study, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31604-4/fulltext#seccestitle80

For the NIAID-Moderna study, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2022483

-A. M. Holmes

Featured

Do You Know What White Privilege Means?

[Before I changed my surname to Holmes I was Gonzalez. I immigrated to the U.S. in 1969 when I was 6 years-old. -A. M. Holmes]

If you’ve never felt like crying when you were a child because you didn’t look or act like the other kids and they made fun of you, then you don’t know what White privilege means.

If you’ve never felt angry because the “funny” characters on tv shows and cartoons look and sound a lot like you, then you don’t know what White privilege means.

If you’ve never felt intimated or scared when a stranger, who is White, yells at you; calls you names; threatens you with bodily harm, for no reason other than because of who you are, then you don’t know what White privilege means.

If you’ve never experienced all of the above, then you have no idea what White privilege means or what racism is.

What You Should Remember On November 3rd, 2020

“Trump will attempt to start or buy a media company that can compete with Fox News and do battle with everyone else.” This is what Timothy L. O’Brien wrote in a Bloomberg Opinion article on June 7th, 2020  (https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-06-07/trump-s-ugly-week-reveals-how-he-wants-to-be-remembered).  I see this as a strong likelihood because if there has been one constant in the Trump administration it’s that everything centers around him. If you have any doubt of this just remember this, he has publicly referred to himself as “the Chosen One”. His arrogance, his megalomaniacal view of self-worth, lacks any justification. Donald J. Trump is a farce of a man with no substance.

This administration has given us no peace treaty with North Korea or Afghanistan. We have no trade agreements with China, Japan, the European Union (though NAFTA has been tweaked it still cannot be called “NAFTA 2”), or OPEC. “Law and Order” President? No reforms in gun control regulation at any time in the foreseeable future despite the school and public mass shootings. On the global scene, North Korea is still a “rogue” nation, the Taliban is leaving peace talks, and we have no SALT Treaty with Russia. Healthcare? Despite the over 50 attempts to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act by the GOP, Trump has not come up with a replacement (he does want to make changes to Medicare and Medicaid by allowing coverage through private insurers and cutting government spending). Immigration reform: increase in arrests and still pushing for a costly and mostly inefficient wall (there are alternatives in technology like the use of drones that would be more efficient and less costly).

Then there is what he has done. He has rolled back EPA standards and regulations almost to pre-Obama (even pre-Bush) times benefitting pollution producing industries like coal and petroleum. His Farm Relieve directives he signed to help farmers in the trade tariff war he created with China benefitted mostly the Big Agribusinesses and suppliers than small farms. He has increased funding to the Defense Department which mostly benefitted military manufacturers. Trump has stepped on state’s rights by rolling back interstate commercial transportation taxes. Talking about taxes, he has given tax credits to the wealthy and corporations with the idea that it will get to the regular worker (“trickle-down” has never worked before it will not work now). Oh, and he has bullied, insulted, and threatened everyone who has seen through incredulous scams. I can continue with the other debacles, “Russiagate”, Covid-19, George Floyd Protest, but why? We all saw it. His lack of leadership in any situation is very self-evident.

When November 3rd comes around I want you to remember the last 4 years and ask yourself this, must we allow this petty, shallow, self-gratifying man-child to serve another four more years?  I hope your answer is no and that you vote for Joe Biden.

Donald Trump’s June 1st strolled from the White House to the steps of St. John’s Church for a staged photo-op. Moments before Washington D.C. police tear gassed peaceful George Floyd protesters to make way for the president’s entourage of White House administrators, secret service personnel, and chosen media.

The 4 Categories of Star Wars Fans

All 9 of the “Skywalker” saga not including the side “Star Wars” story movies.

I love all sci-fi from books to movies to tv series so there are times like these where I can step back and watch what makes a “true fan” of a particular franchise.


As an observer, I find that ‘Star Wars’ fans fall into 4 categories that have a similarity to religious divisions. They are as follows,


1. Those that love the original 3 (as shown in the theater) movies and read the books as canon. They don’t like the later movies (especially the ‘Phantom Menace’ and ‘The Last Jedi’) and had a stroke when “The Mouse” took over.

2. Those that love all 6 movies from Lucas (including the digitally remastered), read the books as canon. They feel a little weird about ‘The Phantom Menace’ and hate ‘The Last Jedi’. They feel apprehensive about “The Mouse”.

3. Those that love all 9 movies plus the side stories (‘Rogue Squadron’ ‘Solo’), love ‘The Mandalorian’, have never read any of the books, feel J. J. Abrams has done okay, and are open to see what “The Mouse” does as long as they don’t ruin it (whatever that means).

4. And those that love all things ‘Star Wars’ -the movies, the t.v.shows, the games, the merch, EVERYTHING. They have even gone to Disney World to see Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.


Of course, there are those that overlap and just like religious fanatics, the most conservative of zealots are the most vocal.

And don’t get me started on the ‘Star Trek’ fans and their Paramount/Bad Robot/CBS divisions.