Sunday, January 14, 2007

Time Wasting, The Twin Paradox (and SFWA and MySpace)

I need to start with this humble caveat:

I got a B grade in Biology Ordinary Level examinations --which was a pretty good grade in my day--, but the chemistry teacher competed with the music teacher to dump me (ie. both encouraged me to elect to study with the other).

The chemistry teacher lost out, in that I elected to inflict my youthful self upon her class for another year. She had what might now be described as a "snarky" streak, and I enjoyed her barbed wit, even when it was directed at me, more than I enjoyed sitting in the front row of the music class watching the music mistress's bare toes jerk in time with Beethoven's Fifth.

As you may infer, I've been a "Manwatcher" most of my life.

I write futuristic romance with a strongish bias towards character (over events, ideas, milieu). I've got my own under-the-stairs research library with fabulous resources such as The Physics of Star Trek, The Science of Star Wars, NASA handbooks about mining on the Moon, about a dozen Writers' Digest reference books on aliens, classes of stars, and worldbuilding...

In Insufficient Mating Material (out January 30th 2007) there's plenty of biology --after all, a significant portion of the story takes place on a deserted island-- and only a few NASA-inspired tidbits.

Shameful though it is to admit, I have a hard time with some aspects of science, like relativity. It doesn't help that "what is known" changes from time to time. Occasionally scientific theorists are discredited... or reinstated. It's not easy for layperson to keep up!

Actually, I occasionally have trouble with the deeper meaning of putting clocks forward and back, and the small examples of time travel in our everyday lives.

Last week, I did a bit of TimeWasting.

I googled NASA and Ask An Astronaut, to see what I could find out. What a wealth of fascinating insights, including definitive proof that projectile-firing weapons are not currently smiled upon in spaceships! (Great news for those who find sabers cool!)

My Search skills may be lacking. I had difficulty honing my search and only reading facts of immediate relevance to an alien hero revisiting Earth, who needs to know if his childhood friends will still be "the same age" as he is. I should have gone straight for The Twin Paradox (only I didn't know what it was called) or Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

That could be a useful tip, if anyone else at the moment is contemplating their own fictional heroes and heroines leaving Earth at light speed or faster, and coming home again after some time has elapsed.

I happen to be a member of SFWA -- www.sfwa.org -- and I should have asked a question on their message boards first. In fact, I asked on the MySpace Bulletin boards.

"...as the traveler approaches the speed of light, according to Einstein's theory of relativity, time would begin to slow until stopping soon after reaching the speed of light."

Helpful links that were suggested to me:

http://www.npl.co.uk/publications/metromnia/issue18/#article2

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2006/22mar_telomeres.htm

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/einstein/hotsciencetwin/

where you'll find a "game" to plug in the velocities and so on to find
out how much a traveler would age compared to his/her twin on earth.

After all this research, I may end up giving my hero a Swiss bank account!

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:30 AM EST

    We have some things in common! I kept a solid B average in biology too. And the music and chemistry teachers scrambled to get rid of me. Instead of inflicting myself upon them, however, I bailed. I was lucky enough to be in a school which taught history electives. I sat beside students three years older than me to take African American, Russian, and Nazi history, and Creative Writing, and I trumped them all! I even won the award for Creative Writing. It was great and led to greater things in college. But, I can see how sitting in a chemistry class with a barbed-witted teacher would be fun too. Great for polishing your skills for character development, which is just as important. I envy your library by the way. Thanks for sharing how you research. I didn't know anything about SWFA or MySpace.

    Kimber An
    starcaptainsdaughter.blogspot.com

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  2. Now I come to think of it, I was predisposed by my early enjoyment of my chemistry teacher to like the Potions Master, Severus Snape, wasn't I?

    I wonder whether there is something about all those chemistry lab fumes... that sharpens the wit and the tongue and the temper!

    Best wishes,
    Rowena Cherry

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  3. Is SWFA an organization?

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  4. SFWA is, James.
    Science Fiction Writers Association.

    :-)

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