Monday, December 31, 2012

"RESOLUTIONS" for New Year's 2013!

            “Fifteen minutes until the ball drops!”  Langley was rushing around excitedly, handing out noisemakers and party hats.

              “Whoopee,” Mary said, waving one finger in the air.  She never lifted her eyes from her computer screen.

            “That’s not exactly the holiday spirit, Mary,” her friend Cal chided her.

            “Maybe because I’m working on New Year’s Eve, trying to get these images interpreted from the satellite,” Mary responded tartly.

            “You chose that,” Cal pointed out.  “It could wait until January 3.”

            Mary was horrified.  “The images are being taken now!  I couldn’t bear to wait that long.”

            “Neither could anyone else, apparently,” Cal said as he looked around the analysis room of the JHU/Goddard Space Flight Center.  Fourteen scientists milled around, waiting for the images from the Super Massive Astronomical Observer (SMAO) in orbit around the Moon to be assembled by the powerful computers downstairs.  Langley, the “clown” of the group of astronomers and astrophysicists, had turned the TV in the room to the Times Square countdown and was dancing – poorly – with a giggling red-headed graduate student from MIT.

            “These are the best images ever taken of a Wolf-Rayet type pair, Cal,” Mary said impatiently.  “The resolution on the SMAO telescope is good enough for us to see the discs of the actual stars of WR-104 that make up the binary pair.”

            WR-104 lay 8,000 light-years away from the Earth and was Mary’s and Cal’s obsession, though for different reasons.  Cal’s dissertation had been on the stellar gases surrounding WR-104 – a gorgeous pinwheel of light thrown off by the two giant stars spinning around each other.  The elemental makeup of that pinwheel could be studied, and provided crucial clues to the make up of the Solar System early in its history.

            WR-104 was particularly interesting because the axis of the two stars pointed in the Earth’s direction; the “pinwheel” which revolved around them was perpendicular to the Earth and in full view of telescopes in the Solar System.

            That same position gave telescopes a perfect view of the stars orbital dance, which was Mary’s specialty.  She had written her dissertation about gravitational anomalies in the orbits of stars, and WR-104 was the perfect laboratory to observe any such problems.

            “I think Langley has a different kind of resolution in mind,” Cal observed dryly.

            Langley was up near the TV, hand in the air, solemnly resolving to lose twenty pounds in the New Year.  He pointed to another scientist, and he swore to stop smoking.

            “You have any resolutions, Mary?”

            She didn’t answer him, but continued to stare at her screen.


            She shook suddenly, then turned to him.  Her face was pale.  Cal, come look at this.”

            He leaned over her shoulder, putting a hand on her back.  He recoiled slightly from her trembling.  “Mary, what’s wrong?”

            “The binary pair.  Look at its orbit.”

            Carl looked at the data and the image and blinked.  The two stars of WR-104 orbited around each other every two hundred and twenty days, at a distance of two hundred million miles.  Except now the fuzzy plasma discs of the stars’ coronas actually overlapped each other.

            “What’s going on, Mary?”

            She shook her head.  “Some sort of gravitational instability has broken up their orbit.  They’re going to crash into each other.  If they explode as a hypernova, we may get a GRB.”

            A gamma ray burster, or GRB, was one of the most energetic objects in the universe.  A super-massive star collapsing into a hypernova would leave behind a black hole – and generate a massive pulse of gamma rays.  Telescopes had observed gamma ray bursts from the edge of the universe and from galaxies millions of light years away.

            GRB’s generated a focused pulse along the objects rotational axis – like twin search-lights pulsing straight out from the north and south poles of the star.  Radiation outside of the poles was limited – within the beam it was apocalyptic.

            Earth lay directly in line of the poles of WR-104.  A GRB within ten thousand light years would deliver ten times the lethal dose of radiation to every life form not shielded by a kilometer of rock or water.  Everything on Earth with a nervous system would die, painfully and fairly quickly.

            “How long?” Carl asked hoarsely.

            WR-104 was 8000 light years away.  The collision between the two giant stars, if it happened, had occurred before the Pyramids were erected.  Gamma rays traveled at the speed of light; if the collision happened eight thousand years less one hour ago, the rays would arrive at the Earth in one hour.

            “I think they’re about eighty seconds from collision in this image,” Mary said.  Her voice was quiet.

            “So.  We’ll know in half-a-minute.”

            “Yes.  Yes we will.”

            As they looked at each other, pale and frightened, Langley and the other scientists joined in a group hug in front of the TV focused on Times Square, in New York.

They counted out joyfully, “Ten!”




Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cromwell v. Maryland - Legal SF



Arthur L. CROMWELL vs. State of MARYLAND

No. 2397 Fall 2023 Term

Argued October 12, 2023 - Decided March 10, 2024

Unanimous opinion by Martinez, Chief Justice – This case appears before this Court by writ of certiorari issued to the Court of Appeals of Maryland to review its decision in Cromwell v. State, 567 Md. 889, 107 A.3d 223 (2022).  Cromwell contends his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination was violated when his own electronically recorded memories were used in court against him...[procedural history omitted].


            Petitioner Arthur Cromwell was the president and head scientist at the Brain-Machine Interface Corporation (“BMIC”) in Rockville, Maryland.  After billions of dollars of federal and state grants and other funds as well as hundreds of man-years from many brilliant persons, BMIC developed a method to “off-load” a person’s memories and, perhaps, very personality onto an extremely complex optical storage device.  This memory could be kept stored and, perhaps, “re-installed” into another, cloned brain.  See New York Times, “Digital Immortality Invented?” at A-1, February 5, 2021.

            As with all breath-taking discoveries, there were questions about costs.  Specifically, allegations arose that BMIC had used test animals from small mammals to chimpanzees in any number of gruesome and fatal experiments which had not been disclosed on grant applications as required by law.  The Maryland Office of Special Prosecutor executed an otherwise valid search warrant on March 23, 2021 and seized, among other items, the complete data storage of Petitioner Cromwell – in essence, a copy of his memories.

            The State of Maryland indicted Petitioner Cromwell on fifty-two counts of felony aggravated animal cruelty, Ann. Code of Md., Crim. Law Art., sec. 10-606 (2020 Ed).  Cromwell moved to exclude his memories from trial, arguing such evidence violated the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.  His motion was denied; he was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County of all counts, and sentenced to five consecutive years incarceration on each count.  All subsequent state appeals were denied, and Cromwell sought relief with this Court.

            Cromwell contends he would not have been convicted absent the use of his memories, as there were no documents remaining in existence concerning the experiments and no other testimony was elicited.  The Attorney General of Maryland, before us in oral argument, concedes Cromwell’s memories were pivotal, but contends there was no error.


            The Fifth Amendment provides, in relevant part, that “No person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself...”  Cromwell argues that when his memories were played as evidence, he was essentially compelled to be a witness.  Maryland contends such evidence was no different than the production of records and diaries which a defendant maintains.

            The restriction against compelled self-incrimination is an ancient one in our law, having been brought by the Puritans to America, in response to their experiences with the oath ex-officio...[historical review omitted].  Cromwell argues use of his own memories is “monstrous,” relying in part on language from one of the most famous cases in existence at the time of the drafting of the Constitution.  See Entwick v. Carrington, 19 Howell’s State Trials 1029 (1765)(Lord Camden, J.)(“Has a secretary of state a right to see all a man’s private [papers]?  This would be monstrous indeed!”).  In Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886), we rejected use of a diary as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, calling it a person’s “dearest property.”  Are his memories, Cromwell asks, any less valuable?

            The Attorney General replies, quite naturally, that we have successively eliminated or narrowed the privilege in Boyd.  See, e.g, Couch v. United States, 409 U.S. 322 (1973)(no privilege when handed to a third person); Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391 (1976)(producing documents not ‘testimonial’).  Quoting Fisher, the Attorney General argues “[s]everal of Boyd’s express or implicit declarations have not stood the test of time.”  Fisher, supra at 407.  Mechanically applying our post-Boyd cases would seem to make a result clear: using Cromwell’s own memories against him does not violate the Fifth Amendment. 

Such a conclusion seems repugnant to the very idea of a “private inner sanctum of individual feeling and thought” the Fifth Amendment was designed to protect.  Bellis v. United States, 417 U.S. 85, 19 (1974).  These are not gambling sheets.  These are not tax returns.  These are the very memories from Petitioner Cromwell’s brain.  If the privilege against self-incrimination, a bedrock fundamental right, is to mean anything in this “Brave New World” of  “brain copying” and “memory downloads,” than the thoughts and memories of an individual – regardless of whether they are stored in silicon, photons or messy old proteins – must be protected.  Any subsequent language narrowing or eliminating Boyd is hereby repudiated.  It was a violation of the privilege against self-incrimination for Cromwell’s memories to be seized and admitted at trial.


            For the foregoing reasons, the decision of the Court of Appeals of Maryland is REVERSED, the conviction of Petitioner Cromwell is VACATED and the matter is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Me and Some Guy Named Mike Resnick are in "Not Just Rockets and Robots"

The first anthology from Daily Science Fiction ( is out and it looks great!

There's some awesome stories from Tim Pratt, Cat Rambo and lauded SF author Mike Resnick in the book - and a short SF flash from little ole me!  Amazing to be sharing a ToC with these names!

If you want to order a copy, here is the link:

Best $24.95 you can spend this holiday!