Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Flash: Pickup Line
[Pickup Line - flash story]

“Hey, come here often?”

Debb looked up from the book covers she was perusing at the remodeled book store. The guy was cute in a geeky way. Thin glasses propped on his hawkish nose. Trimmed sides with a flop on top reminiscent of childhood shaves in the Southern boys get each summer. An overlarge T-shirt proclaiming the supremacy of RetroBand, hung past his waist over black jeans. Hiking boots prepared him just in case a mountain suddenly sprouted in the shopping center. He only had one visible ink, on the back of his hand. She couldn’t make out the runes. She liked his smile.

“No, just had to see the new store. Don’t have them yet out in Shelby.”

The man looked around the modernized store. Amelie’s coffee, a favorite of the chain, remained up front, though the worn leather seats had been replaced. Nearly everything else had been changed a couple months ago. The book shelves where slimmer with all the covers facing out. Only one cashier station was up front to take care of people buying stuff. Thanks to the Replicator-Source model, less clutter filled the aisles. Even so, little keychains, games, and T-shirts seemed to outnumber the shelf space reserved for books in the bookstore. The main concession to the bookstores official purposes were the two B&N replicators which took credit and spat out actual books, plus an eBook browsing station.

“Is that a good or bad thing?” The guy wiped his hand on his jeans before offering it. “Cameron.”

“Debb.” She shook hands. “I don’t know yet. Book prices don’t seem different, but I like the fact I can still touch something. I end up doing most of my shopping on-line now and, for speed sake, I usually just download to my tablet. I miss being able to actually hold a book.”

Cameron’s straight teeth became visible as he gave her a huge grin. “Me too. Had to go with a tablet since I moved out of my parents and got my own place, but there is just something about ink and paper.”

“Absolutely.” She agreed. “I read differently when I got a real book. I flip ahead, and go back. I set it down for a quick run to the bathroom, lay it on my chest to contemplate a scene, put it on a shelf and then pick it up again later to open to a favorite section. My tablet, I just read it front to back and am done. I don’t know why I even bother to keep books on the tablet when I am through. I think I have gone back to only one book once I was done reading.”

“Aside from school work, which I am so glad I don’t have to lug around my electronic manuals, I avoid reading eBooks. Pleasure reading is one hundred percent a paper experience.” Cameron saw a slight frown on her face. “Not that eBooks are bad. They are great – manuals need constant updating and upgrading and I don’t have to worry about that at all. I just like my fun reading to feel like fun. – Huh, what do you like to read for fun?”

Debb nodded at the section they were in. “Science Fiction, obviously, then fantasy, poetry, mystery, romance, thriller. Pretty much if they have a section in the store, I will read it.”

Cameron picked up a cover-one. To save on money and space, books stores with replicators where printing covers and the first chapter of books and placing them on the shelves. Saved in shipping full books and still let people who wanted to touch books still have something to hold while they think about buying. The really popular books, printed as cover-threes, were near the coffee shop. Marketing figured if you got through three chapters with your coffee, you were hooked enough to meander over to the browsers or replicator and pick up a full copy. The rest of the store was for serious readers looking for suggestions.

“Do you like any of these?” Cameron asked as he put the cover-one back.

Turning back to the shelf, Debb looked at the covers again. “Thinking about a Weber, he is always good and I love Asimov returning to his proper prominence on the shelves. Have you heard of Kagan or Hartness?

“John Hartness is a South Carolina writer like David Weber, newer. Mostly fantasy fiction along the lines of Shawn of the Dead and World’s End – urban fantasy comedy - his Bubba the Monster Hunter books are classics - but since 2018 he has tried his hand at sci-fi a couple times.” Cameron picked up Janet Kagan’s Mirable. “While he is great if you want something silly, Kagan is an unacknowledged master. She only got out three books before her death, but each one is fantastic. I think her Uhura’s Song is the best of the Star Trek series. The other two are completely her own universe.”

“I haven’t read a good comedy in a while, but Kagan sounds interesting.” Debb plucked the Mirable cover-one out of Cameron’s hands.

“If you can afford the time, why don’t I go find the Bubba Omnibus and buy that for you, plus a coffee?”

No guy had ever bought a book for her before. A few had tried to buy her drinks while she was out with friends. They never got anywhere. Half-drunk people don’t have interesting conversations. The book version was much more appealing. Intrigued, Debb said yes.

Cameron made his way to the Fantasy section, while Debb headed to the front with the cover-one in hand. Inserting Mirable back down in the scanner, the B&N replicator lifted the details. Debb then placed her left hand on the sensor. The screen popped up asking which credit or debit provider was to be used. She ran through the options, pleased to see her credit card had a lower balance than she remembered when her account information was verified. She approved the transaction, choose the paperback with normal print option, and the replicator started slushing material out of the source module.

Waiting for the replicator to finish, she watched Cameron start the other replicator going. He swiped with an actual credit card. Some people were deep old school, while she debated getting the injected chip with her credit and medical links built in. The medical was the real selling point. If a bad accident broke off her medic alert bracelet, her aspirin allergy could be deadly.

A soft bell heralded the satisfying thump of a book landing in the completed area. Debb moved the cover-one to the filing cart for a clerk to return to the shelves. Then she joined Cameron as he waited for his book to be ejected.

“I prefer bubble tea.” Debb leaned against the machine. “Amelie’s coconut cream boba is to die for.”

Cameron gazed up at her. “Never tried it – sounds interesting.”

“Shall I go order two while you finish?”

“Sure, and pick out something to eat if you want.”

Debb sauntered over to the coffee stand, considering the pastry selection. She had a free afternoon, and if the guy was interested in food as well as drink, he had free time too. Could be a fun afternoon. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Cameron approach. Could be a fun evening as well, the guy was really cute, and, so far, not a single slurred joke. Maybe she should hang out in bookstores more.

(words 1,246 - first published 9/25/2013)

Geeking Science: 3D Printer Tech

Artificial bone made using a 3D printer

New type of blog entry. Don't know how often I will write a "Geeking Science" blog, but I hope you enjoy them.


So, you may ask, what is Source-Replicator technology and why do I think it is a “near future” science fiction.

3D printing technology will be the next major game changer. Just like wireless communication has affected nearly everything we do – TV remotes, cell phones, computer wi-fi, the wireless keyboard and mouse, eBooks, pre-pay toll booths, RFID inventory, GPS car directions – once printing technology matures the applications will be countless. And it is very nearly mature.

Experiments and actual use of the technology is happening in the automotive, dental, medical, fashion, food, and many other industries. Open source 3D printing is available for several items.

Where most manufacturing is about removing stuff you don’t need – trimming wood or metal down until you have the object’s shape, 3D printing is about additive manufacturing. You only use the materials you need to make the item.

In automotive, computer modeling has replaced many of the physical modules they used to build. They still need to make a few modules, usually sculptures, to do real world tests. Now a flick of the button releases the prototype, saving weeks in the development cycle.

What makes this a game changer is ANYTHING which can be crafted can be “printed”. Pizza for Mars ( in development.  Need to replace compressed spinal bones (a common back aliment), already done in Japan with printed bone transplants ( Well bone is easy, but how about more complicated items forever on the transplant wait list? How about a working liver? A “printed” one has been successfully placed into a mouse ( Oh, and rejection? The base is from the patient’s own cells. Bioprinting skin grafts for burn victims, new heart valves to replaced damaged ones, even replacement ears – all happening RIGHT NOW!

That printer for skin grafts – they are making it portable. As in, be able to take into the field for disasters and third world hospitals.

Imagine wearing clothes made for you. Not just off the shelf, but going into a store, getting laser measured and a pair of jeans comes out ten minutes later fitted for your bootie. No more compromising a dress either too tight on top or too loose on bottom.  The next generation will look back and laugh, going – didn’t they know how to wear clothes? Like the present generation, when we talk about a car stalling out and walking to the nearest gas station – why didn’t you just call on your cell mom?

How about getting a car repaired? Have to wait until the mechanic order parts? No more. The wait is maybe 30 minutes if the material needed for the part isn’t too specialized like a platinum plug.

This is very real, and very now. In the 80’s we laughed at the large cell phones, even as we saw their potential. We did not realize all the things that would change with the wireless technology.

I don’t know what all will change with the 3D printing technology, but the writing on the wall has started. Industries will vanish, while new ones form. Medical will continue to evolve, making us healthier, longer – and for less expense – and all the implications of long-life impacting social security, job opportunities, and  recreational freedom.

I labeled flashes of "Pickup" and "Keep Trucking" as science fiction. They were actually intellectual exercises figuring out how our lives may change in the near future.

We live in amazing times.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Blog: Caught Up

I can't believe I caught up. When I first realized how much I would need to write, I thought I would be finishing sometime in the middle of the winter holidays. Instead it was only 16 days. 

Only being a realative term for kicking out 17K of fiction. Some nights my mind was crossing and my eyes were dead. Or is that vice versa?

Now to go back to the normal Sunday - Wednesday schedule instead of daily or twice daily or thrice daily postings.

I have only 10 pictures left from the old Breathless Press Sunday Flash. The last one of those will be published late in November. Then I will need to figure where I am going from there.

Stick around, I've already got some ideas. - Erin Penn

Flash: Keep Trucking
[Keep Trucking - flash story]

“I can’t believe it! The feds are withdrawing funding for broadening I-85.” Betty shifted her tablet to a better reading position. “Citing budgets issues and projected reduced truck volume, the House passed a bill to freeze all new interstate construction for two years. Funds not already committed will be diverted to increase maintenance on existing roads and to underwrite the overextended healthcare marketplace.”

She continued, “In response, North Carolina Department of Transportation has shelved plans to complete I-485 yet again. – Charlotte can’t win for losing.”

“At least they didn’t stop underwriting the airport upgrade.” Harlan responded as he finished merging onto Charlotte’s major artery.

“Only because we threaten them every time they do.” Betty stared out of the car as they passed a flatbed truck loaded with source modules. “Have to admit they’re right. I’m seeing fewer trucks on the roads.”

“Remember when we were kids and we would try and get trucks to blow their air horns?” Harlan teased his wife of forty years.

She took up the challenge. Since they hit sixty last year, they started a game of remember when. Remember your first color television, remember when you needed to soak pans overnight, and remember Disneyland before Hurricane Hermine hit?

“Then truckers slept in their cabs.”

Harlan nodded, not taking his eyes off the road. “But then came those caps to cut down on draft.”

“I loved looking at the tops trying to figure out if they were living quarters or hollow shells. The companies sometimes put fake windows on the shells, so you couldn’t always tell until you were right behind them.” Betty’s head craned. “There’s an old style now, and it is … cabin space. The truck even has the underhang thing-a-bob.”

“It’s called a side skirt, hon, though I suppose the word is going to leave the vocabulary as quickly as it was added. I can even remember when they started putting mud guards on the trucks.”

His wife laughed. “Yes, follow at your own risk. Stones were thrown back all the time. I lost a windshield following one in ’84. And now every dump truck and hauler has that net thing to cover so nothing flies out of the load, as well as the mud flaps protecting tailgating idiots like me from road debris.”

Harlan signaled as he moved into the middle lane to let other cars merge. “Debris is way down. Cars don’t drop as much stuff, less litter, and I don’t think I have seen truck rubber in a couple of years.”

“In the sixties, there was so much, my older siblings made sandals out of them. They were such hippies.”

“If you remember the sixties, you didn’t live through it.” Harlan quoted the ancient meme.

“Drugs, free love, and bra burning, what a legacy. I think we did much better as teenagers.” Betty said primly.

Loving his wife sarcasm, he responded in kind. “Because our gift of disco to prosperity outweighs getting man to the moon.”

“The disco beat still throbs today, shall I prove it?”

Harlan slapped her hand has she reached toward the console. It was set to his voice at the moment, though with her in the driver’s seat the car switches vocal controls to her voice as it adjusted the seat for her height and weight. “Nope, I’m good just listening to the woman who rocked low-riding bell bottoms.”

A few moments passed in companionship silence before Betty flipped over her tablet and finished going through the morning news. She had the speaker directed for personal acoustic transmission, so Harlan only heard a slight murmur from stray sound waves.

He merged onto Route 77 and stated “Exit 82, confirm 82.” The car connected to the DOT-Fi and took over driving. Harlan clasped and unclasped his hands a couple times. Arthritis made driving long distances difficult, but seeing the grandchildren was worth a little pain.

“So are you going to miss them?” Betty asked.

Harlan turned his head to look at his wife. “Who?”

“Trucks. Semis.”

“Well, they do more damage to the roads than normal cars, so we’ll have less potholes.”

“All the changes and testing on new formulas on the road have paid off too.” Betty commented. “I remember my parents had us do a reunion in ’76 to celebrate the bicentennial. Potholes abounded.”

“On the other hand, I don’t think we will be seeing the drop off the politicians think we are going to get as we go to a Source-and-Replicator manufacturing base.”

“Really? Why?” Betty still was surprised when her husband came up with opinions she hadn’t heard.

“The Replicators are a great technology - pizza has never been better, getting your car repaired and not waiting a week to get a part in is a dream come true. But most of the transport over the Interstates has been raw materials, and source modules are raw materials.” Harlan reached for his wife’s hand. One of the benefits of technology was being able to hold her hand on long car trips. “What we are going to see is a lot less of the small trucks darting around town taking parts here and there. Source modules store better and longer, and businesses are just flipping over their storage space for the new model.”

“I think the local book store has done away with storage all together. It got in two B&N Replicators and that new eBook browsing station last week; now they are knocking out the back wall that used to store all the magazines are setting up two small rooms. They already have several reading clubs and non-profit groups asking to set up regular meetings.”

Light beeping gave the ten minute warning. Harlan tapped the console. “Hadn’t heard about that. … They are getting rid of all the magazines? I thought print wasn’t dead … oh, right, magazines are prefect for Replicators. Need the latest Hunting magazine? Just tap the screen and wait five minutes.”

“We live in amazing times.” Betty concluded.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to work in amazing times. Manufacturing is going to die as Replicators take over that slot like electricity killed the wick trimming business. That is going to leave food preparation and retail sales at the low end of the spectrum, and then a huge leap to educated, complicated jobs working the knowledge industry. With nothing in between. Physically skilled jobs outside of sports is going to go away. Maybe some construction until we figure out a Replicator to kick out prefab rooms.”

Betty nodded sadly seeing a glimpse in the future for her grandchildren, trying to find something to challenge them and give them purpose. Welfare is going to have to increase as there just won’t be the jobs; humans had become too efficient at streamlining what they need to survive. Her retirement was going to be relaxing, but she wasn’t certain if Magnolia, Sawyer and Parker would ever understand the difference between work years and retirement years.

She let go of her husband’s hand and he took back control of the car to maneuver the turns from the exit to their daughter’s house. At the traffic light, Harlan slipped behind another flatbed delivering source modules, these were bright orange and marked with the Home Depot logo. She speculated if they destined for the personal Replications to make stuff like screws, or if they would be used for the main store’s inventory of larger items, table-saws and hammers.

As Harlan made the snaky turns into the mountains, Betty wondered how long it would take before the overcrowded cities start regulating weight limits or volume limits on personal Replicators; the throw-away society already filled most existing dumps. Being able to easily redecorate a house each major holiday could fill a dump with Halloween and Christmas paraphernalia in no time flat.

But, she remaindered herself, people used to scream about litter, and then about ocean dumping. Humans are clever. Something will be figured out. But not by her, not today, she thought as the car pulled to a stop. Opening the door to three screaming, welcoming, jumping grandchildren, Betty thought, today was the day to keep trucking through her life and enjoy both where she has been and where she was going.

(words 1,374 - first published 9/19/2013)