Winterfam

The Website of Author M G Knight

Go Virtually Anywhere...

So right now I'm in the middle of writing COOP (Christmas On Other Planets), the next book in the Winter Family Saga.

It's going to feature some hot new tech and crazy physics and I wanted to share some real life examples of how these amazing new advances are either just around the corner or HERE today.

First off there's Mixed Reality, I get to play with this at work sometimes and the overlaying of "holograms" onto your point of view with a wearable PC is a brillant experience. We're also lucky to have a PS VR and Occulus GO headset, so my kids are VR savvy all the way! But Microsoft is working with NASA to help plan rover missions exploring the surface of the red planet. I found out about this not long after I wrote about putting Oliver and his friends on other planets in a realistic way, without cheating and making it a simulation!

I need my books to be grounded in reality as much as possible and today's children are so lucky to live in an age where these dreams are becoming everyday things.

The next incredible piece of tech are tiny robot bees (like Elfites!) that may also be used to explore the surface of Mars. Nanobots that can send back data to Earth about conditions on a world millions of miles distant. I can't wait for this to happen and neither could Enzo in the new book. He finds novel ways of getting his tiny explorers into space!

Which brings me to the quantum realm! No, not Ant Man, but the real life physics of Quantum Entanglement. Sub-atomic particles that when born in pairs mirror the changes that happen to one another, even across long distances, with no transmission of ANYTHING between them! This really sparked my imagination and wait until you see how The Order of Saint Nicholas is using the science of Quantum Communication.

Here are the links for you to check all this out - don't take my word for it!

Microsoft Hololens on Mars

Real life Elfites

Quantum Communication

Keep searching!

 

M G

 

Oliver and the gang will use VR in their next adventure!

Circuit Training: 3 Extra things to know about circuits this term

This week here on the awesome knowledge page, we’re thinking about electrical circuits and how energy flows around them. You may be doing some practical experiments in school this term with simple circuits, so if you want a little extra background, here we go…

 

How fast does the electricity travel through a circuit?

First, let’s think about where electrical energy comes from. In a circuit the charge moving around a circuit is carried by something called an electron. This is an unbelievably small particle, which can be found in every atom which carries a negative electrical charge.

 

All objects with an electrical charge generate what is known as an electrical field. Think of this as the invisible lines of force which move an object from one point to another. When charge is moved in this way the result is measured as energy. Energy that can be used to power anything from a single light bulb to the most complicated circuits found inside things like mobile phones and computers.

 

If you have a simple circuit, with a battery, switch and a bulb in it and you close the switch, you complete the circuit and the energy starts to flow.

 

Have you ever noticed any time delay from the moment you flick the switch to the moment the light from hits the back of your eye? It appears to happen in an instant? And the reason has to do with the speed that the energy is flowing.

 

The electrical field we mentioned earlier spreads at the same speed as light. Which you might recall is 186,000 miles per second. As the energy flows due to the electrical field it typically travels at a speed close to the speed of light. (This can vary due to what the light is travelling through.)

 

So, no surprise that the light comes in as soon as you flick the switch!

 

You could beat an electron in a race easily!

 

We’ve talked about the speed that the energy flows around a circuit, but did you know that the electrons themselves hardly move at all? Because of the way that they transfer themselves from atom to atom in a material that is conducting electricity. The movement is random and because the atoms in the wire are packed tightly and closely together, they push into one another moving the charge as described above like a row of marbles colliding – it’s like a chain reaction. With all this random zig-zagging the electrons only actually move at a rate something like 1.2 metres per hour! You could outrun that easily!

 

Electrons probably don’t flow in the direction you’d expect

You already know that a battery has a positive + and a negative – connector or terminal. When you plug your battery into the wiring of your circuit which way would you think the energy flows? It’s easy to assume that the flow would be positive to negative. Because more is giving to less, right? Wrong. What actually happens is the opposite and this is because electrons carry a negative charge which is attracted to the positive and therefore flow in that direction.

 

A great way to experiment and learn more…

If you’ve enjoyed learning about circuits and want to discover more, the Cambridge Brainbox kits are a brilliant way to experiment safely with plugging components together to see what each one does. You’ll learn about more circuitry symbols and have a great time building some fun projects, with step by step instructions. They are available on Amazon now!

 

Keep searching!

 

M G

 

A typical Atom, complete with electrons, yesterday...

What's your twitter handle mate?

Tweet about this with your kids this weekend!

We're not all about curved spacetime and vast cloning facilities here at Winterfam, we love getting out into the world and taking in the wonders of nature in practice rather than pure theory.

 

We all need a reason to get out from in front of whatever screen we usually find ourselves gawping at over the weekend (by choice or not!) and whether you're a kid, parent or grandparent we've got a great one for you this weekend!

 

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch takes place on Jan 26th/27th and is a brilliant activity around spotting different species of birds in your own backyard and logging what you see for an hour. It's that simple, but is amazing fun and you'll learn a thing or two while you're at it.

 

We've got a nice way to extend the twitching with this little experiment. See if you can attract a Robin into your garden, by playing the bird's song from this android app:

eGuide to British Birds

(You can also use YouTube for this)

 

Pick a quiet spot and search for the robin in the app, then play its call out loud a few times. We've done this and always been visited by a male of the species within minutes. Make sure you dig up a patch of earth nearby and the little fellow will have somewhere to feed.

 

Robin's are very territorial and hearing the call of another bird, never fails to bring one flapping.

 

Enjoy your citizen science data logging as a family this weekend!

 

MG 

 

 

Why a Moon landing is still a big deal

A question for you, Dear Reader...

You do know that mankind first landed on the Moon way back in 1969, right? If you were born after 2005, there's a good chance that this INCREDIBLE fact may have passed you by in the storm of other facts that compete for space in our heads.

 

Just imagine the worldwide excitement that was generated by this amazing feat back on that July day in the late 1960's. This was the first time a human being had stood on another planetary body other than the Earth. Imagine how the world will react when we discover life that originated somewhere other than on our home planet? That's probably going to be similar to the global reaction of mankind seen on the days around the Moon landings.

 

I wasn't born until 1972, the year that the last lunar mission, Apollo 17 took place. Just the thought of astronauts taking steps up there, 238,857 miles away fills me with awe and wonder. How does it make you feel? Does it seem as amazing to you? I hope so.

 

Man hasn't set foot on the Moon since those days. But on December 7th 2018 an unmanned Chinese mission set off to somewhere that a robotic probe, let alone a human being has never been. The lunar dark-side.

 

We shouldn't really refer to the landing site in that way though as it's not always dark. Because of the way the moon rotates as it orbits the Earth, from our point of view, when we look up, we always see the same side. The near side. The far side is where the latest chinese probe has touched down and although people often call it the dark-side of the moon, its not always facing away from the sun and receives sunlight just like any other area of the surface.

 

A funny thing though. A few years ago, I was on a trip to central India. One night, a full Moon bathed the evening in reflected starlight. It was beautiful as always. But to me, and maybe it's just looking at the Moon from a vastly different spot on the Earth, it did look different. If you're ever lucky enough to go globe trotting - see what you think.

 

Why not try an experiment to recreate the Moon's orbit around the Earth next time you're at the park? Jump on the roundabout and set it going. Not too fast. Then, get a friend to try and keep up with you while spinning themselves. Can you recreate the same effect so your friend is always facing you? It's a recipe for dizzyness so be careful!

 

One of the interesting things about the latest lunar mission is the fact that a satellite had to be put into orbit in such a position that it acts as a relay for communication between mission control in China and the Moon lander. This is because... you guessed it, the space-probe touched down on the side of the Moon facing away from us.

 

The radio signals carrying pictures and other data are bounced off the artificial moon back down to Earth and vice-versa. Although it took 5 days for the Chang'e 3 lander to reach the Moon the communications are fortunately a little faster as can be seen from the amazing images received only hours after touchdown.

 

The mission aims to study the huge crater that the craft touched down in as its believed a huge and ancient impact has exposed rocks usually hidden deep below the ground. Also experiments to see if a Radio Telescope could be placed on the Moon are being carried out.

 

The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program also hope to land men on the Moon in years to come and are working on their own equivalent to the International Space Station.

 

Do you want to go to the Moon? If you do, wait for the next clear night and get a good look at where you're headed. Borrow a pair of binoculars or if you are lucky enough to have a telescope, get it trained on the Lunar surface. Check out the BBC Sky at Night Website for more tips.

 

In the next episode of the Winter Family Saga, Oliver will get to travel to the far-side of the moon, where The Order of Saint Nicholas have a secret hidden from mankind for over a thousand years. And that's just the start of a whole new adventure.

 

Keep searching

 

MG

 

 

 

Our stepping stone to the rest of the solar system?

Avoiding the demonization of technology

Quadcopters and Drones are incredible tech

Why we must better protect ourselves through careful design

This post may contain spoliers if you haven't read further than March in The Science of Santa Claus - you've been warned :-)

 

Any technology that man creates can be used for good or ill. Even the earliest man who stood with a burning branch in his hand was faced with a choice. Burn his neighbour's shelter or share the flame's warmth?

 

Recent happenings at Gatwick airport have shown that drones can be used to disrupt people's lives in ways that no-one was expecting. Its important to recognise that its the choices of the people in control of the quadcopter that are the cause of the disruption and NOT the 'copter itself.

 

When we build the amazing devices that fill our world we have a responsibility. The young readers who will be building the next generation of software and machines that will fill the world of twenty years from now, must be responsible in the way they build the future in a way that current innovators haven't always been.

 

As much as possible, safeguards that will prevent devices from being mis-used need to be put in place while these wonders are on the drawing board (or CAD screen, we should probably say.)  In order to do that, the designers of the future need to think about risk. Ask themselves what is the potential impact of the mis-use of this internet connected talking doll or online microwave oven? If someone takes control of it without consent, what could be the consequences and most importantly how can we prevent them?

 

If you've owned an XBOX games console, you may not realise these facts. The original version of the console, when launched was hacked within days. The second within months and the third? Well the XBOX One hasn't been hacked... yet

 

The designers at Microsoft learnt the lessons for us and we have to make sure that we shortcut the process and build in consumer protection from the first product that rolls of the automated production lines of the future.

 

This theme is explored in the The Science of Santa Claus when cloning systems of The Order of Saint Nicholas are used to create the horrifying Gingerbread Men that attack Oliver and his friends during what should have been a fun school fayre. The safeguards of The Order were overcome through brute force with terrible consequences.

 

So if you're a young coder, just starting out with Scratch or something like it, remember, the software systems you may write in the future will need to be secure against the same types of bad guy.

 

Killer robots will not one day rule the Earth, unless we let them. So when people demonize the drone, stick up for it. If the designers had built in geo-fencing to stop them being flown within a certain distance of an airport, a whole lot of heartache could have been avoided this Christmas.

 

Keep searching!

 

MG

 

 

Like Science and tech? You're NOT a geek!

In my book The Science of Santa Claus, we mention some pretty cool science and technology. And guess what? If this stuff interests you - YOU ARE NOT a geek!

 

Some of the coolest people that ever lived - folks that changed the world and ARE changing the world today - might have once been considered nerdy. But not any more.

 

Science and Tech is the thing to get in to in the 21st century and here's why. During your lifetime, artificial intelligence will revolutionize the way we live, work, shop and travel. So why not get on board and start to shape the future yourself?

 

Just think about how you buy from Amazon today - it has AI built in that suggests what you might want to buy next or as well as what you've been searching for.

 

You've heard of Uber? Well those guys use AI to calculate the cost of your journey and in future they could launch services with flying vehicles (they already have boats!) that are totally pilotless. Imagine - going to work in a Dasher!

 

As we live longer - our healthcare services are even more in demand. Imagine being part of a team that writes AI medical software - helping people access the help they need 24/7!

 

So here are a few links to sites that you might find interesting and set you on your way to becoming the coolest person that ever picked up a keyboard, a screwdriver or even a test tube!

 

 

Predict the future with Artificial Intelligence - How did the Order of Saint Nicholas know how children's futures would turn out? Read on!

 

Nano Tech - you want your own Elfites to build stuff for you at an atomic level? Start here!

 

General Relativity - if we're going to travel to the stars or even Mars - we might need a way of folding spacetime. Get working on that today! 

 

Keep searching!

 

MG

 

 

 

Why not ask Santa for a Microscope this Christmas?

Getting to space in a lift could be a reality sooner than you think...

If you haven't read past August in The Science of Santa Claus - spoiler alert!

 

Oliver and his family have a crazy ride in August after they discover one of the Order of Saint Nicholas' bases in a finnish forest. The space elevator that they travel into orbit on is an idea that's been around for many years. I first came across it in a piece by a guy called Arthur C Clarke (check out his mysterious world on YouTube!).

 

The basic idea is to attach a space station to the Earth with an incredibly long cable that would need to be made from a material stronger than anything you can imagine. That was the biggest problem until the invention of materials like Buckminster Fullerene and Carbon Nanotubes. Funny names for really really tough stuff that can be formed into a tether.

 

Imagine standing still, holding a rope with a heavy weight tied to one end. Now imagine swinging it around above your head - that's the principle behind the space elevator - the weight would be the space station and you would be the spinning planet!

 

As for how the Order built something like that (there may be more than one!) without mankind noticing is something of a puzzle. A question for another book I think!

 

In the meantime, do some further learning on Space Elevators by clicking the link and...

 

Keep searching!

 

MG

 

 

 

 

A space elevator