Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Writers Guild Win and Artificial Intelligence


Given the debate about generative AI, the terms obtained by the Writers Guild from studios may be of interest. A studio exec said the plan was to starve the writers out until they lost their homes (yes, he said that, literally) but the studios eventually decided they were losing too much money. Among other things, the studios agreed for the first time ever to share information about viewership and popularity of streaming shows: while they added some limits and weasel wording, this ends the situation where the studios were black boxes that hid all the data and paid residuals based on whatever they claimed the data said.

In this and other areas, it was a major win

(, marked Free to Use and Share)

 for writers. Congratulations!

The AI terms:

"AI can’t write or rewrite literary material, and AI-generated material will not be considered source material under the MBA, meaning that AI-generated material can’t be used to undermine a writer’s credit or separated rights. 

A writer can choose to use AI when performing writing services, if the company consents and provided that the writer follows applicable company policies, but the company can’t require the writer to use AI software (e.g., ChatGPT) when performing writing services. 

The Company must disclose to the writer if any materials given to the writer have been generated by AI or incorporate AI-generated material.

The WGA reserves the right to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI is prohibited by MBA [this agreement] or other law." (i.e., the lawsuits by the WGA [and every other major writers' and artists' organization] about ripping off their copyrighted property in training AI and wording outputs can continue separately.)

 Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website:

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction. Your search for the world's new and undiscovered animals begins here!

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Work in Progress: Apex Predator

I'm continuing my search for the right agent and publisher for my next novel, Apex Predator.  Apex was born from my love of "creature" novels and my noticing that such novels (with a few praiseworthy exceptions) handwave the science and consider most characters "monster chow." Apex is about the human drama surrounding the discovery of a spectacular and dangerous (not to mention endangered)  prehistoric predator, Dunkleosteus terrelli, in a remote Alaskan lake. The story offers accurate science and explores the deadly clash of interests that would accompany something so historic and potentially lucrative. 

Here's the moodboard (all images public domain or by permission.) All suggestions are welcome! 

 Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website:

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction. Your search for the world's new and undiscovered animals begins here!

Bennu Samples are Safe on Earth

The OSIRIS-REx probe has safely deposited at least 250 mg (about 0.45 pounds) of samples from asteroid Bennu in the Utah desert. 

The spacecraft approached Earth at 47,000 km/hr (faster than an Apollo moon capsule), survived the heat of reentry, and released the 46kg capsule. The capsule landed by parachute with helicopters swarming around it like, well, helicopters at 0852 Mountain Time.  While two Japanese probes have grabbed samples off asteroids, the new sample is much larger, allowing for multiple teams of scientists to study it and for some to be locked away for the next generations of scientists to study afresh.  The NASA team, plus other affiliated scientists, will be examining the material for any signs of amino acids or even primitive organic matter that may offer clues to the development of life here and elsewhere. 

NASA depiction of OSIRIS-REx approaching landing 

Watch the landing video here

Bennu, the self-declared mission mascot owned by my friend / space nut Kris Winkler and her husband, former Lockheed Martin VP Blake Davis, pops his head up to watch the coverage and is ecstatic as the probe (built by Lockheed in partnership with NASA), 

Project manager Richard Burns said, "What would be really exciting is if we saw any evidence that those amino acids had started to link together to form a  chain, which we call peptides. That would give us some indication that, towards the origin of life, protein evolution may have occurred," Burns said, although he admitted finding organic matter was "a long shot." See the mission page here

Seven years after launch, the $800m program has delivered pieces of Bennu - chosen because it might hold carbon and water, essential for development of any life, in its grit and rock - to advance science in half a dozen disciplines.  

Congratulations to all!

Bennu, like the mission team, was wiped out by all the excitement.

Images from NASA

Matt Bille is a science writer and lead author of the NASA-published history The First Space Race: Launching the World's First Satellites.

 Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website:


Friday, September 22, 2023

NASA Waits for Bennu

 It's one of NASA's most audacious robotic space missions. This weekend, if a lot of things go right, a capsule carrying 250 grams of material from the asteroid Bennu will touch down in the military's Utah Test and Training Range. The OSIRIS-REx mission collected the precious sample in October 2020.  On September 5, an airplane dropped a replica of the return capsule into the desert site.

The replica used in tests with Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta of one of NASA's partners, the University of Arizona.

The parachutes worked well, and the replica was recovered without incident or damage. Still, such a recovery is always a risky endeavor, and the mission team has its collective fingers crossed. 

In 2004, the Genesis mission capsule, carrying samples of a comet along with interstellar particles. crash-landed at 322 km/hr when its parafoil, intended to slow it while a helicopter snagged it in mid-air) failed to deploy. Fortunately, much of the material was still recovered. OSIRIS-REx went with a more traditional parachute recovery. That is the same system used successfully by the Stardust mission, The Stardust capsule, with samples similar to those on Genesis, landed in 2006.

Bennu the cat, companion of my friend and fellow space enthusiast Kris Winkler, clutches his toy as he anxiously waits for news.. 

 News items usually mention that Bennu has a microscopic chance of colliding with Earth in 2182, but NASA hopes we don't have to wait that long for a sample. The asteroid has been described as "the size of a skyscraper."

See tomorrow's blog!

  Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website: He is the lead author of The First Space Race: Launching the World's First Satellites (Texas A&M, 2004).

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction. Your search for the world's new and undiscovered animals begins here!

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Launch in 24 hours!

Congratulations to Firefly Aerospace, which has fulfilled the responsive space test of a 24-hour launch-on-notice of the VICTUS NOX mission. To be honest, I wasn't sure the company was mature enough to do it yet but I’m glad to see that they are. While the company takes its much-deserved victory lap, one question remains: “Why did it take so long to demonstrate responsive launch?”

Mission patch for Firefly VICTUS NOX launch 

The idea that highly responsive launch was not possible or practical was embedded in the Air Force and Air Force Space Command for several decades. Of course, it was legitimate to discuss the need for rapid lunch, but the idea it wasn't workable was more because it didn't fit in with the belief system than it was about technology. We've always been able to do responsive spot their effort. When the US built its first large missiles, starting with the Redstone in the early 1950s, they were designed to be responsive. Experience during that decade narrowed the time needed to launch a missile further and further until it got into the classified times of modern ICBMs.

So the technology was always there. What was missing was the will to accomplish it, the money to accomplish it, and the overhead and regulations that built up over time. In 1997, Air Force Space Command, Directorate of Requirements, Missiles (AFSPC/DRM, for ICBM Requirements) commissioned the Tactical Launch Study in response to a proposal by your own beloved historian. This was the first study to examine all aspects of responsive space units, from top-level requirements and directives to a very thorough cost evaluation. It got nowhere.

Granted, the infrastructure, both physical and command and control, was not in place for this sort of activity, because the USAF had never supported such activity and developed such infrastructure. It was wedded to enormous high-capacity satellites that has to be launched on schedule. It would be many years (and many technical improvements) before the US military accepted that small satellites, which could derive useful advantages from rapid paunch, were important. The study did describe how that might be short circuited using modified procedures and revised command and control to adapt specifically for those launches, but no one was interested in paying for it. There were several stabs before and after that report at actually creating responsive launch. Space historian Dwayne Day in particular has done has documented a large number of programs generally forgotten by the public, including launch for a B-52 and an F-106 Delta Dart [publication pending]. Programs that did exist included the Navy's Project Pilot (audacious but a technical failure) and the Air Force’s Blue Scout (axed for lack of perceived

requirement and a middling record before it really set to work on shortening its launch times).

Several programs in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s were proposed or attempted, including an Army plan to launch boosters off mobile systems in Europe to provide tactical support and the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office. All such efforts to speed up the launch process all came to naught, in part simply because of the existing paradigm. The 2003-4 DARPA Falcon program (not related to the SpaceX Falcon rockets) came to grief the same way as did the AirLaunch QuickReach project, which got only as far as dropping an inert rocket from a C-17 cargo plane in 2006. Some potential answers, like the Air Force’s Super Strypi-based SPARK and DARPA's ALASA program, failed in their first efforts and were abandoned.

Satellites which began as small multi-kilogram craft in the 1950s had evolved by the 1970s into increasingly costly and complex multi-ton satellites. Launch risk had to be driven down as far as possible, a very successful effort but one which required the aforementioned long, complex launch-on-schedule process. With the military wholly dependent on such large satellites with perhaps eight launches in a given year, small launch was either not done at all or carried out on a contracted basis without a responsive timeline. The air-launched Pegasus was originally supposed to be capable of a very short timeline (indeed, this is a main justification of air launch - no need for traditional ranges and their timelines), but DoD never paid to demonstrate this.

The Firefly launch has ended any debate about whether a 24-hour timeline was technically feasible and about whether infrastructure and command and control could support a timeline of that sort. The next question for the USSF, then, is “Where do we go from here?” Will the Service continue with this type of one-at-a-time contracted launches, or consider the Guardian Scout model from your author and his colleagues, who proposed a permanent unit with active-duty officers rotating through to get experience in launch as well as provide the capability? The answer is not yet final.

This is a case where we do NOT want to repeat history. Past efforts at responsive launch have been one-offs, short-lived programs, or subject to cancellation to pay other bills or as a response to perceived lack of need. Now? As a history buff, I conjecture what Benjamin Franklin might say in response to the question, “What have we created?“ “A responsive launch capability, if you can keep it.”

Guardian Scout: Military Space from the Pad Up | AIAA SciTech Forum

Firefly Aerospace Successfully Launches U.S. Space Force VICTUS NOX Responsive Space Mission with 24-Hour Notice - SpaceRef

AirLaunch To Learn Fate of QuickReach in December - SpaceNews

Matt is the author of The First Space Race: Launching the World's First Satellites (TAMU, 2004)

Friday, September 15, 2023

Annual post: Things in science that ain't so

 Ok, this post is not annual, but probably needs to be, however small an audience I might reach. I'm a science writer: no degrees in engineering, architecture, or medicine. But I will argue very strongly that my logic is sound, and the expert sour es given at the end back me up. 

1. The US Government has no contact with aliens. Such an event would become the central fact driving US space, defense, and intelligence budgets. It's not mentioned once in the massive leaks of Top Secret material, including the entire intelligence budget, a few years ago. That isn't possible.  The revelations of 2023 have been more like rehashes. It's always "someone said they'd heard this."  The only thing proven thus far is that the government took more interest and did more studies than the public knew, but that only matters if they found anything. 

I'm glad to see the shift to the more neutral term UAP as opposed to UFO (after all, something seen in the sky may not be technically "flying" or an "object"). Reasonable explanations have been put forward for the spectacular Navy videos, and I do know even flight crews can get excited and misinterpret things. (I heard that from a flight crew that called in they were being paced by a UFO that turned out to be the planet Venus with a little atmospheric haze thrown in.)  But NASA's new study just made the same statement earlier studies have: there are sightings that bear further investigation, but there is no evidence of intelligent life, contact, or recovery other than individual testimony.  Concerning contact with aliens, the case (so far) is closed. 

2. There are no simple natural cures for cancer or other killer diseases. Arguing otherwise means that doctors, medical researchers, and pharma CEOs are letting their own cancer-afflicted families die, sometimes horribly, rather than admit to simple cures and diminish drug profits. Case closed. 

3. Vaccines are effective. The modern victories against diseases like polio are aided but demonstrably not caused by improved sanitation, etc., because vaccines stop these diseases even in nations where the poverty and sanitation remain terrible.  Case closed.  The claim vaccines have never been subject to trials likewise defies logic: they've been tested in use on billions of humans. There's no possible information trials of a few thousand people could add.  Case closed. Finally, the government made numerous strategy changes and backtracks on advice during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was frustrating, but inevitable, dealing with a new virus needing new treatments and vaccines as deaths mounted, all in real time. 

4. Climate change or AGW is not a hoax. One "whistleblower" scientist claimed climate scientists are going along with the consensus for "fame and fortune." It's very hard to find anyone who's attained either.  The money is in being a contrarian and getting paid for speeches at MAGA conventions. There are a handful of genuinely qualified scientists who think the consensus is wrong, and they deserve to be heard, but why can't they convert any of their brethren after decades of AGW being a major issue?  I speak as a onetime doubter of AGW - the early computer modeling seemed inadequate for such a complex system, the data from different sensors was in conflict, and the early apocalyptic projections were wrong.  I was convinced by new data and better tools.    

As to "the scientists are just finding what they are paid to find," claim, tthere are three objections. A: Scientists spend their lives dedicated to finding knowledge. That ethic does not extend to all scientists, but certainly to a majority. B. There is peer review, replication, and self-correction in the field. Again, not perfect, but the last two examples of doctors or scientists who were widely rejected and even ridiculed for a theory (i.e., the cause of ulcers and the existence of quasicrystals) resulted in Nobel prizes after the data became convincing. C. Scientists live in this world. So do their families and descendants. That's a powerful, oft-overlooked incentive to tell the truth as best they can discern it.  The case sounds closed to me, pending some new and startling evidence. 

5. There is nothing left to dispute about the 9/11 building damage and destruction. It's been gone over by the world's finest engineers, with the best tools, in exhaustive depth.  The common "truther" claims are rehashes of disproven arguments, "an insider told me" stories, or outright lies. There ARE some little oddities here and there, like the survival of a terrorist's passport, but when an incredibly complex event happens for the first time, there are always going to be outliers. Case long since closed. 

Recommended Reading: 

NASA UAP Report, Independent Study Team - Final Report_0.pdf

USAF, The Roswell Report: Case ClosedThe Roswell Report (

Analysis: Whistleblower testimonies did not change our basic understanding of UFOs | PBS NewsHour

Carl Zimmer, A Planet of VirusesA Planet of Viruses: Third Edition: Zimmer, Carl, Schoenherr, Ian: 9780226782591: Books

COVID-19 Vaccination Clinical and Professional Resources | CDC

Addressing COVID-19 Misinformation on Social Media Preemptively and Responsively - Volume 27, Number 2—February 2021 - Emerging Infectious Diseases journal - CDC

Vaccine rumours debunked: Microchips, 'altered DNA' and more - BBC News

Connecting the dots...Provectus Biopharmaceuticals: Debunking the Cancer Drug Conspiracy Myth by Craig Dees (

US Government Global Change Research Program, The Climate Report: National Climate Assessment-Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: U.S. Global Change Research Program: 9781612198026: Books

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History: Kolbert, Elizabeth: 9781250062185: Books   See my brief review in Matt's Sci/Tech Blog: Earth Day, a Pulitzer, and a planet full of species (

9/11 Myths: FAQ, Debunking 9/11 Myths - Frequently Asked Questions - Conspiracy Theories (

Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts: Popular Mechanics, Dunbar, David, Reagan, Brad, Meigs, James B.: 9781588165473: Books

 Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website:

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction. Your search for the world's new and undiscovered animals begins here!