August 26, 2011

Some Scientist Stole My Storyline

My day job is teaching tech at a K-8 school. My night job is writing–everything. I write, blogs, book reviews, Amazon Vine Voice reviews, columns for ezines…

And books. My first book was on the paleo-life of Homo habilis. It shared my educated guess on what life was like for man when Nature ruled and we just hung on for dear life. I called it Evolution: A Biography. I started the sequel (Born in a Treacherous Time) about the paleo-life of Homo habilis‘ successor, Homo erectus. By this time in man’s history, we’d acquired tools, rudimentary problem-solving and a small amount of control over our lives. I read a library of books to learn what I needed to know to create these worlds, many of them reviewed for you here.

I still love paleo-history, but a publisher I was trying to convince to publish my paleo-histories, suggested I bring my stories into modern time to widen their appeal. OK. I didn’t mind trying that. I decided to create stories where the sizzle of science and the brilliance of our big brains created the plot’s drama, crises, climaxes and resolutions. I wrote my first thriller about a brilliant scientist, a former Navy SEAL, a quirky almost-human AI named Otto (you see the palindrome?) and how they saved the world. It involved some intriguing science about magnetic signatures and artificial intelligence. I called it To Hunt a Sub.

Then, my daughter joined the Navy, was stationed on a cruiser, and I fell in love with America’s warships–cruisers, frigates, destroyers, and submarines. They are beautiful in their power, efficiency and ability to do so much on so many fronts. If you don’t know about the Aegis Combat System, now the backbone of our destroyers and cruisers, you don’t know jack about the Navy. They inspired me to think beyond our current defense to what comes next and I wrote the military thriller, Twenty Four Days. The story’s brilliant. Literally. Everyone uses their brains to create problems and solve others. I kept the brilliant scientist, the former Navy SEAL, and the quirky AI named Otto, and involved them in the search for hijacked submarines and terrorists bent on destroying the Western way of life. Then I did that Star-Trek thing where you take an existing science and stretch it to a conceivable conclusion that doesn’t yet exist. In this case, I used metamaterials–tiny man-made particles that are the current rage in scientific development. I’ve written several articles about them over the past several years. In my story, they’re used to make submarines invisible to sonar.

Imagine my distress when I read this article:

Acoustic Invisibility Cloak Makes Objects Unhearable

Could shield ships from sonar, create better concert halls
A new acoustic invisibility cloak made of a plastic metamaterial makes objects invisible to sound waves, researchers say. It could be used to shield ships from sonar, or build better soundproof walls for concert halls and other spaces. We’ve seen this idea before, but now Duke University researchers have actually built it.
Invisibility cloaks work by bending light waves in ways that would not normally be possible, through the use of man-made materials called metamaterials. This cloak uses many of the same principles to bend sound waves, so a ship made of this material would render sonar useless, because the sound waves would not bounce back.This device consists of stacked sheets of plastic peppered with holes, whose arrangement and size redirects sound waves, BBC News reports. The device resonates at frequencies that either absorb or reflect sound waves, so it both blocks and contains them — anything underneath the stack would not hear sound, and sound waves could not be used to locate something coated with the stack. It works in air for audible frequencies between one and four kilohertz, which corresponds to two octaves on the higher half of a piano, BBC says.Researchers led by Steven Cummer of Duke University tested the stacked sheets on a flat surface, placing a 4-inch block of wood underneath it. The block of wood could not “hear” the sound — there were no sound waves passing through — and “attempts to locate the object using sound waves would not find it,” BBC reports. (read on…)
I better finish my book and get it out there before it’s nothing but old news.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, an ISTE article reviewer, an IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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