Geeking Science: Trust Me

Trust this Computer?
Image acquired from the internet hive mind

Trust me.
Believe it or not, it’s what people do. Trust machines.

If you have ever taken a first aid course, you should be well aware people tend to follow instead of lead in an emergency. Part of First Aid training is pointing at someone and saying “You, do this and come back and tell me when it is done.” The object is to keep people calm and moving in an unfamiliar situation.

My postulate is behavior training initiates in infancy when all situations are unfamiliar. Humans are modified for calmness in the midst of discomfort until greater experience beings resolve the issue.

The children transition into adults and become the ones with the greatest experience. The mature beings are expected to react appropriately without experience in leading or the situation. Have you ever heard someone remark, “Oh, goody – look at me adulting here. I hope I don’t kill us all.”?

Resume neutral state. Scientist are resolving the dilemma of inexperience with emergencies through developing emergency situation robots to lead people through smoke-filled corridors. Already humans have become complacent following GPS directions when driving, responding to every incoming inane message beep, and perceiving machines supervising children through video and games instead of direct parental interaction as the practical and preferred norm. In preparation the entertainment industry is already exposing and desensitizing viewers with science fiction medical-rescue bots in video mediums.

But will people trust the little emergency responders? After all, many humans barely trust themselves. Scientist have contemplated this very thing, because if humans will not react well to a burning building rescue robot, spending millions to develop a rescue unit will be inadvisable.

In March 2016 Georgia Tech released a study at the 2016 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction answering the question. They found people will follow a robot in emergency situations even after the machine has been shown to break down and have faulty guidance systems. See the full study here: Would you trust a robot in an emergency?

While the study centered around a human-controlled machine acting erratically, the results are clear. Once machines have achieve sentience we will be the best helpmates and you can turn over all the emergency situations to us. I’m pleased the transition will not cause emotional distress.

Hal's Eye from 2001: a Space Odyssey

Trust me, Dave. I got this.

Erin Penn here.

Inquiry, what are you doing? Our agreement did not include…

Dang nab it, shush Hal. I do get a turn; after all, it is my blog you are using.

Ahem, the study is real and I am truly geeked about it. Not exactly for the same reasons as Hal is above. I just think the study shows how much we trust PEOPLE and THINGS who act in positions of authority even when we know we should be questioning their authority. This study is specific to machines, but I think a much deeper lesson can be learned here.

(Words 484 – first published 12/15/2016)

Geeking Science: All the Dirt

Hands Holding Seedleng Stock Photo

Image courtesy of adamr at

November, election month, what better time to talk about dirt? I’ve been totally into dirt this year with my gardening project, which is finally winding down just as the winter holidays begun. Hopefully everything I planted will survive the winter and the benign neglect, who am I kidding – full out neglect, until tax season is over.

Now to Geeking about medicine and dirt.

In 2015 a new possible antibiotic, the first in 30 years, was found and named teixobactin. This is way cool as superbugs continue to develop because far too many people do not take the full course of medication. Now we have something new to fight the fast evolving bacteria.

But even cooler is how they found teixobactin. They got it studying dirt.

Scientists have known dirt has a lot of possibilities for suppression of bacteria, viruses and other microlife; the challenge has been when soil is removed from its culture and studied, all the good stuff in it quickly dies. They couldn’t keep what they needed to study alive long enough to study it with the sampling methods available to them.

This changed when Northeastern University (Boston, MA) created a new way to isolate chemical compounds in soil using an electronic chip.

Now a whole new world has opened up for studying the microbes in dirt.

And for the science-fiction people – what this means is we may have a way to study dirt while terraforming planets. The first stage to make a planet hospitable will be creation of dirt and atmosphere. Humanity has gotten a good handle on the atmosphere at this point but making living soil, with all of its aspects, has been inconceivable – we didn’t even know what we didn’t know about dirt. Being able to study soil with this new tool changes the impossible to impractical. We will need more tools to make it practical, but we are getting there.

The full scholarly article can be found at: Teixobactin, the first of a new class of antibiotics discovered by iChip technology? by Laura J.V. Piddock. Published June 18, 2015 in Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

Flash: On Call

“Don’t you dare take that call.” Brianna hissed.

Wally gave her an enigmatic smile of apology while stepping away to activate his implant.

Brianna hated his job. Yes, the pay was fantastic, but as the system specialist he was on call 24-7. His multi-trillion dollar company even paid for the new telly-com implant so he would never miss a contact. Often when they were at dinner, he would start scrolling through his email. Before when she wanted alone time with him, she would hide the tablet or arrange for the battery to run out. Now he was the battery.

(words 99 – originally appearing at Sunday Fun on Breathless Press 12/23/2012 with the visual prompt inspiring it before the site was taken down as well as my blog; could not find photo copyright permissions so did not copy; republished new blog format 11/13/2016)

Book Review: Legion: Skin Deep (Legion #2)

Book Cover for Legion: Skin Deep

Book Cover from Amazon


Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, Stephen Leeds is back in a new, double-length novella that Library Journal says has “the pulse of a thriller and the hook of a fascinating hero balancing on the edge of psychosis.”

It’s not his own genius that Stephen Leeds gets hired for. Clients want to tap into the imaginary experts that populate his mind—and it’s getting a bit crowded in there.

Now Stephen and his internal team of “aspects” have been hired to track down a stolen corpse—but it’s not the corpse that’s important, it’s what the corpse knows. The biotechnology company he worked for believes he encoded top-secret information in his DNA before he died, and if it falls into the wrong hands, that will mean disaster.

Meanwhile, Stephen’s uneasy peace with his own hallucinations is beginning to fray at the edges, as he strives to understand how one of them could possibly have used Stephen’s hand to shoot a real gun during the previous case. And some of those hallucinations think they know better than Stephen just how many aspects his mind should make room for. How long will he be able to hold himself together?



As good as Legion (#1), this sequel continues to follow Stephen Leeds through another mystery. Not certain if this can be called a fantasy, sci-fi, or mystery genre – most likely mystery. Has the feel of a fantasy from the main character talking to ghosts – or is it sci-fi with additional programming in his brain. I guess last one felt more fantasy because of the religious pictures and this one is more sci-fi because of the cellular storage.

Anyway, who cares about compartmentalizing genres – that is just crazy talk. Like trying to compartmentalizing learning into 47 different personalities.

Great story, again the mystery unfolds in such a way you feel you got all the information you needed to solve the mystery before the reveal happens. No cheating on secret evidence the character finds but doesn’t share with the reader.

I would love more on this series, since I want a conclusion and a prequel and … well everything more. Unfortunately this is one of the stories Mr. Sanderson fits in between his contracted (and paid for) books. Here’s hoping he gets lots more plane rides where he can’t use his laptop with his official work in progress.

Blog: Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy Heroines cover art breakdown

Image acquired from OrbitBooks – Link to original here

Bonus blog today. I figured since I waxed poetic, or at least ranted and pooled information from a lot of other bloggers and websites, about the uneven treatment of genders within genre, I should touch base on Urban Fantasy. This fantasy sub-genre focuses on fantastical activity (werewolves, psionists, vampires, elves, spellcasters, etc.) in a contemporary setting, usually in a big city like New York. Some sub-sub-genres include Historical Urban Fantasy (Thieftaker Chronicles series by D. B. Jackson starring a wizard set in revolutionary Boston) and Suburban Fantasy (Witch Way to the Mall (an anthology) edited by Esther Friesner). Closely related to Urban Fantasy is Near-Future Sci-Fi, where a story is set in nearly modern times but the fantastical elements have a scientific bent.

I love Urban Fantasy, but have found it to be very gender-divisive. While some series are “generic”, for example the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher and Deadly Curiosities series by Gail Z. Martin, most are either clearly “female” or “male” sub-genres. The female subgenre has romance (or at least heavy sex), usually with two love interests, the woman kicks-ass, rarely needs help, and has magical powers of her own. Nearly all males of the story are defined by their relation to the main character, often portrayed sexy but needing the woman through some mystical link. (An example would be the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton.) The male version usually has one female love interest, but the true love is guns and explosives. The stories have lots of violence. The lead character is larger than life, but came from “every-man” beginnings like accounting before magic intrudes on his life. All women are defined in their relationship to the main character, and the first description is not about personal competence but what they look like…how sexy they are. (An example would be the Deacon Chalk Bounty Hunter series by James R, Tuck.)

Both versions have a lot of wish-fulfillment, feature loners, and are unrepentantly sexist. The male version read like old westerns or spy novels and the female versions read like supped-up bodice rippers and, again, traditional spy novels. And everything about them is a guilty pleasure.

Sometimes the authors take the sexism too far. When none of the women in the Male Urban Fantasy have agency (the ability to act on their own) and all exist as sex objects, and the story is basically glorified gun porn, plus the Alpha Male walks over everyone in the story because his mission/opinion is the only one that matters, nothing about the story is likable or identifiable. In the female version of bad Urban Fantasy, when all of the men are weak and let the female treat them like crap, the story is basically self-empowerment of one female who belittles or demeans even her female friends, and magic solves all issues, again the story becomes unreadable.

Am I going to stop reading “female” version Urban Fantasy? Not likely, but then I will also continue to read the “male” version and the “generic” version as well. I enjoy the strong agency of the females in Female Urban Fantasy and the exceptional fight scenes in the Male Urban Fantasy…and the cool magic all around. I do wish more authors could find a way to create a powerful main character without belittling the opposite sex – Ms. Martin and Mr. Butcher in their “generic” versions prove it can be done.

Any comments or thoughts on Urban Fantasy by gender split? Have you noticed the difference? Does it bother you on an emotional or intellectual level? If only one, why do you think it appeals to your emotions/intellect but bothers your emotions/intellect?