Geeking Science: Red Changes Everything

Geeking language today – how language is developed.

Language is the first tool humans learn to use – it’s necessary to control the parents. Instead of a cry for I hurt, I bored, I hungry, and I working on my lungs – suddenly you can say “nana” to get the yellow sweet thing and “down” frees you from Aunt Kissy-Duck-Face. Such power.

But how did this technological tool develop? How difficult is it? I mean a baby can learn it.

If I was creating a language for science fiction or fantasy, what limitations should I put on the color words? Is there an order to them. Dark and light is obviously. Then I would have assumed blue or green since they are so prevalent in the world. Turns out, for humans at least, the next word is Red. Blue as water and the sky is fairly far down on the list.

All bets are off for aliens and fantasy creatures, but if my worldbuilding goes down this path – figuring how what they see, how they see it, and how they group it can help me understand the culture which the sentient beings will develop.

Language is the bomb!

Geeking Science: Hydrophobic

Image courtesy of namakuki at

Have you ever considered the power of water? It’s enough to make one hydrophobic.

H2O, with its free ions, can act as an acid or a base. We live on a planet where the molecule can exist as gas, liquid, and solid – sometimes all within inches of each other. Plus it has a weird property of getting larger when changing from liquid to solid instead of condensing. Liquid water molecules glom onto neighbors with both “hands” if no one else is near creating a surface tension few substances can beat. All the while being anywhere from transparent to translucent – meaning light can pass through it in both liquid and solid forms, as well as gas. More about its properties can be found at the USGS Water Science School.

Water is amazing.

Taking all these amazing abilities and combining them is what sends a shiver down my spine. 

“Water finds a way.” Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Water vapor is everywhere. Getting a little cold it become water liquid and slips deep into cracks. The water freezes as the temperature drops even more, say a desert at night, and the crack expands. Water beats rock, every single time, fragmenting those hearty souls which traveled from the center of the earth to the surface. Eventually water will take the rock out like a ninja warrior, quiet and deadly. By crack, or acid, or base. Steel rusts. Clothing rots. Stone crumbles. Water allows us to create but also erases everything we make.

Water is scary.

In humanity’s constant search to improve, we are developing techniques of hydrophobic – making our creations throw off water. You may be familiar with some early examples of this field – polytetrafluoroethylene (telfon), stainless steel, and waxed coats. Telfon’s makes a corrosive resistant surface through its molecular bonds; basically water’s friendly ions can’t break into the carbon-fluorine party and start bonding to the surface – hence the non-stick surface. Similarly the process of making stainless steel alloy keeps water ions at bay and make the steel unrustable – but the nickel and chromium costs a lot more than carbon steel so large amounts aren’t practical. And waxed coats are made from cotton dipped in wax making them practical for working near seashores and on boats.

I remember once being in a car with no floor. Seeing the road rush by under your feet at 50 miles per hour is an experience. Younger readers may not remember cars with holes rusting at the doors and around the wheel beds from the combination of salt and water during the winter. Switching to plastic-based materials not only made the cars lighter, so saving gas in trying to move mass, and safer, steel sheets no longer bend into the human compartment during a crash, but the plastic also makes the car body stay together better in northern climates.

But that is then, what am I geeking about now?

Laser technology, chemical technology, nano technology. Scientists are developing other means to keep water from bullying other materials into rust. Why are we going through all this trouble? What possible results are worth this effort?

The field of hydropobics makes incredible practical items – as we previously seen with cutlery which won’t rust, kitchen pans no longer needing to be scrubbed after every use, car staying intact through winter slush, and clothing not getting soaked when working around water. Can we change the substance property? Should it be an ally, a coating, or maybe just modifying the shape can make something hydropobic?

You may have already seen one of the recent applications, hydrophobic paint. Some cities have started painting the outside of the first floor of buildings near the bar district. Now let the peeing person beware – draining the drink can bounce back at ya. Cool, right?

Anyone who travels during the winter – which water really shows off its ability to go from liquid to solid and back again – is well familiar with the wait for the deicing preparation of wings. Nasty chemicals are sprayed on the wings.

A new technology of laser technology changes the surface of the metal wings so water surface tension is shrugged off. No liquid water on wings means no ice forming from the liquid as the temperature drops. No deicing steps are needed, ever again – saving time, chemicals, and my holiday schedule. Totally geeking about this application.

Initially they were trying the paint, but that didn’t work. (MIT 2010) Instead a complicated pattern surface was recommended, something like what the University of Rochester has been working on. 

The deicing technology is important for food shipment, electrical wires, the car windshield in winter, sidewalks, as well as the previous mentioned planes.

And who wouldn’t want clothes which won’t stain. Liquid repel right off. Okay, taking water out of the equation will make washing them more difficult, but how often will you need to wash them, really? No sweat, mud, no food stains, no drinks down your back when someone bumps into you by “accident”. Sounds like Science Fiction – but it’s real. Available right now – not truly practical in price or application as yet unless you are one of those who can live in multi-million dollar homes as clothing.

I predict in a decade we will go crazy about this fabric just like we did with wrinkle free polyester in the sixties. It will last for about a year, just like the chainmetal cloth of the eighties. Why? Because one of the most important properties of clothing is wicking moisture (sweat) away from the body in a cooling action. The quote of “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” (Jurassic Park screenwriter) applies to hydrophobic clothing.

On the other hand, gloves able to shrug off concrete and tar and boots able to walk through mud are already an industrial application in use today.

Applications will continue to grow for hydrophobic technology, whether the long-imagined un-iceable plane or the unexpected application against nocturnal urination.

“Water finds a way.”

But humanity is going to make it really, really tough for water to win.

Geeking Science: Advertising

We Sell It – You Buy It

Advertising is a big business – forget multi-million or even multi-billion. If you are in business, you advertise by word-of-mouth, by business card, by video, by social media, – every means humans take in information to their brains is tapped. It is studied by scientists and con men alike, by people selling you breakfast cereals to the person asking you for a date.

And the Sell factor goes way beyond the simple advertising of putting the word on the street. The Sell encompasses a wide range of tactics including market studies, public relations, customer support, and media planning. Marketing – the creating and sustaining of a Market for the product is every business.

Writers are in business and not only have to sell their product through advertising, but market themselves. I market me, “Erin Penn”, through the website (, through a blog (, through my Facebook page (, by going to conventions (events) and attending a writer’s group, by talking to people and helping people get their writing started with advice and connections, by learning editing, and dozens of other ways so people not only know about my books but also about me and my reputation.

One of the easiest ways to connect to people is making the advertising fun. Look at the back of all the children cereal boxes, each has a game reiterating the name and logos of the cereal over and over again – this over and above the toy inside. Fast food puts in play areas and offer fun packages for children, setting up long-term associations with happy times and their food in people’s minds. Beer companies host parties and support sports.

And the military has found the movies. It’s fictional depiction of the perfect propaganda recruiting tool.

If you have read my book (Honestly), you find I both support the military with all my heart but do not turn my eye away from the dangers. The injuries, both physical and mental, sustained by the Troy Nguyen were inspired by like issues from friends who have served, including the loss of leg. I don’t do platitudes of “Thank you for serving”; I sit beside my friends during the Fourth of July and hold their hands while fireworks light the sky and deafen the present they are in with the noise of bombs exploding in their past. I believe in the military and support it; I also know the cost of freedom must be paid with every generation and I will not cheapen it by glossing over the cost. You will find characters from the military appearing again and again in my flashes and published works. And, I promise, they will always be human – good, bad, hero or villain – at the end of the day, they are human.

That being said, and remembering this is a Geeking Science Post, one of the ways the military tapped into the science of marketing and advertising last year is Wicked Cool. This cross-branding method is up there with the Heroes television show-comics-mobile-app-social-media mix. Goosebumps covered my arms when I first watched this video from the Pop Culture Detective. Science is Wicked Cool and this Geek’ed me out!

The ending is something every writer should inscribe in their minds, for this is a tremendous power and responsibility.

Fiction can be a very powerful and very effective way to influence people’s actions and attitudes.” – Jonathan McIntosh, Sept. 28, 2016 (Pop Culture Detective: Military Recruitment and Science Fiction Movies)


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.

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.