Gab Interview with Hans G. Schantz

Hans G. Schantz is a scientist (PhD in theoretical physics), an entrepreneur, and an author of the fictional book The Hidden Truth, an Ayn Rand-like book that merges philosophy, science, and the “big ideas” into a tight thriller narrative. It is the first in his series of books exploring those topics. You can pick up a copy of his novel here. Or check out his website at aetherczar.com He also gabs at gab.ai/aetherczar

  1. Tell me a little bit about how you grew up? Were you a nerdy kid who was always into science or did that come later? What types of books did you read growing up?

I was always fascinated with science. I specifically remember reading books about astronomy and astrophysics, space exploration, dinosaurs, hurricanes and tornados, and archeology. What really turned me on to science, however, was the writings of Isaac Asimov. For years, he wrote a monthly essay on whatever scientific topic caught his fancy. As he completed 17 essays, he compiled them in a book. It was an eclectic and wide-ranging introduction to science. I also read fiction, works like the Hardy Boys, although I preferred Alfred Hitchcock’s Four Investigators. I read Heinlein juveniles, Robert Silverberg, Lester del Rey, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia, Encyclopedia Brown, Harry Reed, Danny Dunn, and I loved The Mad Scientist Club. I read lots of history, including my parents’ college history texts. My favorite biographies included works on Daniel Boone and the Wright Brothers. In high school, I ran cross country, participated in speech and debate, and was excellent at quiz competitions.

  1. OK you have a very unique handle and I have to ask, what is an Aetherczar?

I worked with a patent attorney who used “patentczar” as a handle. I thought “aetherczar” would make a cool brand name if I ever sold antennas or other electromagnetic products, so I registered the domain name. Years later, when I decided to start my blog, I used the domain and adopted the handle. Literally, I interpret “aetherczar” as a ruler or master of all things electromagnetic. The name itself is more inspirational and aspiration than descriptive, however! Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed. My research focuses on how bound, static, or reactive electromagnetic energy transforms to radiant or moving energy. To master all things electromagnetic, to become a true aetherczar, you have to understand that process, which is what I aim to accomplish in my research and work.

  1. Tell me how you got into theoretical physics and what made you pursue the PhD? Were you interested in academia or did you always know you wanted to work in the private sector?

I knew I wanted to work in science or some technical endeavor when I grew up. But it wasn’t until I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged that I decided to become an entrepreneur.

I studied industrial engineering at Purdue University to master the technical skills I’d need to run my railroad, steel mill, or copper mine. A few years into that course of study, it slowly dawned on me that my father did not in fact own a railroad or mine to bequeath to me, and no one was going to hand me a steel mill. I figured I needed to discover and invent something that I could sell as the basis of a business.

On my twentieth birthday, in 1986, I mapped out what I wanted to do with my life by decades. I allocated the first decade of my career to the goal of making some kind of breakthrough – discovering something interesting and worthwhile. I completed my industrial engineering degree in 1988 and my physics degree in 1990. Then I went to the University of Texas at Austin for graduate school. I discussed my graduate school experience in more detail in a blog post honoring one of my teachers, John A. Wheeler (http://aetherczar.com/?p=1416).

I discovered a little understood yet basic principle of electromagnetics – that fields and energy are only loosely coupled to each other. The result is that fields and energy propagate differently through electromagnetic systems taking different paths and telling different stories about how electromagnetic systems work. I graduated with my PhD in 1995.

I applied my understanding to designing ultrawideband antennas, and then to developing near-field indoor location systems. Along with a couple other UWB veterans, I founded Q-Track in 2002 to commercialize the way I found to utilize near-field behavior to deliver precise indoor location.

  1. You’re a little different than most authors I’ve interviewed here in that you’ve actually written a textbook (In addition to your fiction). Can you talk a little about what made you want to write your book on Ultra Wideband Antennas? How did you go about finding a publisher for the book and how often do you find yourself updating the book as new information becomes available?

I had a couple of motivations. When I started working as an ultrawideband (UWB) antenna designer, there was a widespread misconception that compact, efficient UWB antennas were impossible. I applied my understanding of electromagnetic energy to design antennas to solve that problem – only to discover that many of my “inventions” were actually anticipated by earlier inventors. As I dug into understanding antenna history, I discovered that many antennas had been discovered and rediscovered multiple times. The biconical antenna was invented in the 1890s and again a couple of times in the 1930s. Horn antennas were invented in the 1890s and again in the 1940s. Pioneering work in millimeter wave RF was performed in the 1890s. And many obscure 20th century designs anticipated my own work. My first goal was to document all this prior work to save future antenna designers from wasting time rediscovering the designs of their predecessors, as had happened to me.

My second goal was to share my unique insights to electromagnetic behavior. I approach antennas by looking energy flow in the time domain. Most engineers and scientists look at fields in a time-average or frequency domain approach. I approach antennas from a time-domain energy approach which yields different insights. My antenna book is actually a complete text in microwave engineering from the time domain perspective.

I finished the first edition in 2005, and the updated second edition in 2015. Ten years is about right for a revised edition.

I found my publisher, Artech House, by word of mouth from a friend who was already published by them. Working through a traditional publisher was helpful because they had the distribution and marketing all laid out. I delivered camera ready copy and they produced it and sold it for me, giving me a modest royalty. I discovered, though, that I was doing a good portion of the promotion myself. With the development of self-publishing, I became convinced that I could do production and marketing myself and cut out the middle man. Furthermore, I think their price point is ridiculously high ($130 list with a discount to $100). I’d sell many more copies and make more money at a lower price point, but that’s their call, not mine. That experience is why I self-published my novel, The Hidden Truth, and why I intend to self-publish my future works.

I talk more about my UWB antenna book and explain how to get a 25% discount in this blog post: http://aetherczar.com/?p=4569.

  1. Can you talk a little about the use of UWB antennas in industry? Most people probably don’t think much about them in their daily lives, but they seem to play an important role in the modern world. What would you like people to know about them that they might not already?

Ultrawideband (UWB) is finally emerging as a wireless alternative in niche applications, principally in radar and location, some fifteen years after the technology received regulatory approval. The technology has potential, but does not yet play a significant role. The limitations of UWB technology for location are why my Q-Track colleagues and I chose to implement our indoor location products using relatively low frequencies around 1MHz, but that’s a technical discussion for another day.

What I’d like people to know about UWB is the political dimension of how industry incumbents use the regulatory apparatus to throttle insurgent technologies by wrapping them up in red tape, imposing added cost and delays. UWB has roots in WWII era technology, and by the 1980s, start-ups were prototyping and demonstrating UWB wireless systems.

Incumbents raised fears of interference to delay approval until 2002, and even then, opponents of UWB were successful in restricting the technology to a higher frequency band, making the technology less useful and harder to implement. Adding insult to injury, incumbents pushed a common “standard” for implementing the technology whose complexity probably added another decade to development.

Such incidents happen time and again. Edwin Howard Armstrong invented frequency modulation (FM) radio in 1933. The incumbent, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) felt threatened – they were pouring their profits into developing television and didn’t want their AM radio revenue stream disrupted. Armstrong had a growing network of customers and broadcasters using his technology in the 42-50MHz band. RCA lobbied the FCC to outlaw this use and push FM up to the harder-to-implement 88-108MHz band in 1945. At the stroke of a pen millions of dollars of broadcast and receiver hardware became obsolete. Draconian restrictions were imposed on transmit power as well. These rules combined to set back FM a decade or more. The FCC reallocated the spectrum for television. The Chairman of the FCC at the time, Paul Porter, was previously legal counsel for CBS who benefitted from the decision. A few years later, FCC Chairman Charles Denny resigned to take a lucrative position with NBC. Embroiled in lawsuits over his FM patents, Edwin Howard Armstrong committed suicide in 1956. See Empire of the Air by Tom Lewis or the Ken Burns documentary for the whole story.

  1. What do you think of the state of science education in the United States today? Are the pop-science people like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a good job getting young people interested in science or are they more about pushing a left-wing political agenda?

There’s more information than ever available. I’m amazed by the wide selection of information and videos available online. In my day, I read the World Book Encylopedia. Now, you can browse Wikipedia, or the emerging, less biased alternative, Infogalactic, jumping from topic to topic and absorbing the world’s knowledge.

Popular science has always pushed political and cultural agendas. In my youth, the end was nigh due to overpopulation and running out of resources. Paul Ehrlich scientifically demonstrated that mass starvation was inevitable by the 1980s. We were about to run out of oil, and civilization would soon collapse without strong centralized government action. I remember stories in my Scholastic Reader describing a food riot as people fought each other for their meager ration of turkey at Thanksgiving. And all the irreplaceable fossil fuels we were burning put soot into the atmosphere which caused global cooling. An ice age was imminent, unless scientifically-minded people banded together to get the government to save us all. Funny how the cure is always the same, no matter what the disease.

I’m not a fan of either Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson. I do miss Asimov’s science writing which, while still valuable, has become more dated in the decades after the author’s death. Nevertheless, you’ll find more good popular science writing out there than ever. Here are a few general science books I can recommend:

I can offer many more suggestions if anyone shares my particular interest in RF and wireless enough to ask.

  1. What do you make of the recent push by feminists to get more women into STEM fields? What do you think will be the long term repercussions on science as well as on the happiness of those individual women who go in thinking they are breaking a glass ceiling?

I think it’s a good idea to expose more students – male and female alike – to the possibilities of a STEM education and career. I am concerned, however, that those who succumb to the high-pressure sales tactics used in promoting STEM studies may lack the inner drive to succeed. STEM degrees are difficult. If you are prone to fits and fainting spells when a professional colleague wears Hawaiian print shirts featuring pin-up models, STEM is not for you. I can assure you that there are far more challenging hurdles to overcome in your studies and potential career than the dubious fashion sense of your future colleagues.

All this STEM cheerleading also tends to denigrate parenthood. I’m the father of two sets of twins. Taking care of them is every bit as challenging and rewarding as anything I’ve done in my technical work. A century from now when I have returned to the dust, there may be a few antenna and physics enthusiasts who read my book and papers the same way I enjoy learning the insights of my own predecessors. But my more significant impact will be through the lives of my children and their children, through the values and ideas I have imparted to them. My only regret is that I was not in a place to get started raising a family earlier. It doesn’t get any easier if you put it off childrearing into your thirties and forties! I would advise men and women alike to make room in their lives for starting a family and not deny themselves the many rewards of being a parent.

In fact, one secondary theme of The Hidden Truth explores this concept. The conspiracy uncovered by the hero aims (among other things) to implement social change by promoting feminism. Get women out of the home and into a career where they can be taxed. Get children out of the home and into schools and day care where they can be indoctrinated. Indoctrinate women that men are evil and convince women to stay in the workplace to reduce family sizes and suppress population growth. One reader, the science fiction writer Francis W. Porretto, was so struck by the potential validity of my conspiratorial “fantasy” that he excerpted my villain’s monologue here: http://bastionofliberty.blogspot.ca/2016/10/the-game-plan.html

The late Aaron Russo claimed that the first two of those goals were the explicit aims of certain members of the elite: https://youtu.be/h9Wsb4qBckU?t=9m I added the third justification in my fiction, since it seemed a plausible corollary of the other two. The conspiracy I concocted has an ironic twist: the notion that radical feminists are actually the tools and dupes of the patriarchy they profess to despise. The extent to which there’s any truth in my fiction I leave to the reader to decide.

  1. What makes for a good scientist? I was a geophysics undergrad, but later decided to study history and write novels. How does one know they are cut out for a life in the sciences or engineering?

I almost went the other way! As a senior, I pursued studies in American history and particularly in the history of the American frontier. I completed an independent research project on John Charles Fremont that became my first foray into self-publishing just recently. I enjoy history and historical research, and even though I chose a life in science and entrepreneurship instead, I’ve found historical studies of great value in scientific research.

There’s a notion that science is a linear progression from ignorance to truth. Just as the victors write the history books, so also does the prevailing scientific orthodoxy write the text books. All the false starts, clever but not immediately useful insights, and alternate interpretations are swept under the rug in the interest of a single, unified narrative in which today’s orthodoxy is the logical conclusion.

There are good sociological reasons for this to occur. The scientific knowledge available to any given discipline is too vast for any one person to comprehend. Professionals pick and choose the most useful concepts and nuggets of fact to impart to their own students. A generation or two later, and any number of fascinating and useful concepts have been forgotten, because they weren’t of immediate practical use to the professors who wrote the textbooks.

I believe that the most creative scientists and engineers are likely to be those who read the old masters – who dig through the forgotten insights of a few generations ago finding clever ideas to apply to today’s problems.

There’s a spectrum or continuum of technical and scientific work. On the one end you have pure research. It tends to be poorly paid and subject to the whims of funding agencies as to what trends are popular and worth support. Even if you are successful, you will be spending much of your time in grant and proposal writing and program management, instead of pursuing the science you love. And it’s so easy to find yourself chasing your tail working on today’s “sexy” science that has no particular practical application.

As you move toward more applied science, you have a chance to support your work by putting it to practical use. You invent new products that provide enough value to customers that they will part with their money. That provides great feedback to keep you focused and on track. If you are successful, you will have a certain amount of time you can set aside to pursue new and innovative ideas, without the burden of convincing peer review committees that your ideas deserve support.

What makes a good scientist? Science and engineering require a real passion for understanding nature, figuring out how it works, and putting it to practical use. Even if you have the requisite skill, it takes study and practice to get really good at it. Passion is required to keep your motivation. I didn’t really find my own passion to inspire me until I was well into my PhD program. And then, Edison’s law takes hold – success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

  1. Tell me about your book “The Hidden Truth” It seems to be a little techno-thriller and a little philosophical. Can you describe for the reader briefly, what the book is about and what types of themes you touch on in the book?

The Hidden Truth is a techno-thriller that touches on some big ideas. My principal motivation was to provide a narrative of why socialism and collectivism are evil at a very visceral level. I will be continuing to explore that theme in the sequel and future installments of the series. I use an alternate history – just slightly different from our won – and a conspiracy theory to construct my narrative.

A friend of mine, the Vigilante Author, Robert Bidinotto, introduced me to the role and importance of narrative in human thought. We are hard-wired to seek out and identify patterns in the events we witness in reality, and organize them in a coherent story. That’s part of the attraction of conspiracy thinking.

In The Hidden Truth, I’m laying the foundation for a narrative to explain the fundamental question of how and why society is the way it is and how society may be changed for the better. The superficial answer evident at the end of The Hidden Truth is that an evil conspiracy is at work, trying to take over the world, and they’ve been at it a long time. Exactly who they are and what are their motives will have to await future installments of my tale.

A secondary motivation was to explore some of my electromagnetic ideas. My energy-flow-related interpretations of electromagnetics are logical extensions of work performed by the Maxwellians, men like Maxwell, Hertz, Lodge, Fitzgerald, and Heaviside. I’m deeply surprised that Heaviside didn’t reach the same conclusions I have about how electromagnetics works. His third volume of Electromagnetic Theory comes so close but doesn’t quite get to my conclusions. What if Heaviside did actually stumble across my new ideas? Why was he prevented from publishing them? By whom? Can it be a coincidence that three of the five electromagnetic pioneers I identified died in the prime of their careers of various cancers and other such ailments? The conspiracy theory almost writes itself.

Finally, I’ve always wanted to read a series like The Hidden Truth. I enjoy the Horatio Hornblower type series of a young hero growing in skill and capability as he tackles ever greater challenges. In science fiction, the challenges are often jumped over. The hero has a cool idea in Chapter 1, in Chapter 2 he builds a rocket ship, and in Chapter 3, he and his band of allies are off on an adventure. That’s fantasy, not science fiction. I want to show character development from high school (as in The Hidden Truth), through an undergrad degree (A Rambling Wreck, The Brave and the Bold, A Hell of An Engineer), and into an entrepreneurial career. I want my characters’ great discoveries to be the logical conclusion of years of goal-directed effort, not a deus ex machina. There’s lots of great military science fiction written in this saga style. Weber’s Honor Harrington, Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan, or Grant’s Steve Maxwell come close to what I aim to write. There’s not nearly as much set in academic or entrepreneurial settings. I think there’s an opportunity for me as an author to address that niche. In my next few books, set at Georgia Tech, I’m aiming for the sense-of-life of one of my favorite (if somewhat offbeat) movies, Real Genius: smart, capable students working together in creative ways to overcome seemingly invincible obstacles.

  1. One of your readers describes it as “Dan Brown meets Ayn Rand” would you say you’re influenced, as a writer, by either of those two?

I’m more influenced by Ayn Rand than Dan Brown. Like Ayn Rand, my novel addresses big ideas, and I have a couple good monologues – my villain has a lengthy rant (previously described) and one of my protagonists explains some of the philosophic principles of fourth generation warfare as applied to ideological conflict. But Ayn Rand was a magnificent prose stylist, capable of exquisitely beautiful and intricate descriptions that juxtapose diverse elements in support of her ideas. Only a few contemporary authors, like John C. Wright, are in her league, and my own writing is nowhere near that caliber.

Instead, I’ve worked to strip out superfluous description – I leave as many details as possible to my reader’s imaginations. My approach, focusing on action and dialog, helps me write a fast-paced story that is easy to read, despite the occasional historical or technical digression. The digressions may appear irrelevant, but I’m a strong advocate of what’s called the principle of “Chekov’s gun” – if you have a gun fire in the third act, it better be hanging on the wall in the first act and vice versa. When I appear to digress into a historical or scientific tangent, it’s because the reader needs to know that piece of the puzzle to appreciate what may be going on, if not in this book but in a future installment.

I also like writing in first person perspective to help the reader imagine themselves as my protagonist and be further captured by the story telling. I include stories within my story as other characters tell stories to my protagonist to further explain the context and offer addition insights and clues.

Like some of Dan Brown’s works, my novel includes a wealth of historical and scientific information woven into a mystery. There’s also a strong cybersecurity and online privacy element to my book. I had to study this area to get up to speed, and I’m delighted that a number of informed reviewers regard my depiction as spot on. I liked the science in Deception Point. But I found The da Vinci Code disappointing because the religious conspiracy seemed so far-fetched. I’ve tried to keep my conspiracies better grounded and more plausible! I appreciate a healthy dose of factual information delivered along with my fiction reading, and I try to weave interesting and useful facts in my own story telling – useful not only in the context of understanding the story but also useful in general.

  1. Who are some of your favorite writers both historically and working today? And who are some of your favorite philosophers? Who really influences your thinking?

My favorite classic authors include Dumas (particularly The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo), Sabatini (Scaramouche and Captain Blood), Haggard (King Solomon’s Mine), and Orczy (The Scarlet Pimpernel).

Frederic Brown was a genius of the short-short story: “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door…” His longer works are excellent as well. The Lenient Beast is a masterful mystery told in first person perspective from a half dozen points of view including that of the murderer and the police detectives trying to catch him. I’ve tried to emulate Brown’s fast-paced, clever, twisty, ironic style.

Other than Ayn Rand, my favorite author is Heinlein, particularly his juveniles. Consider Citizen of the Galaxy. His protagonist begins as a slave, escapes into life as a free trader roaming the galaxy, and in a third phase, discovers his origins and returns to his true destiny. Most modern authors would take that inspiration and stretch it out into a trilogy. Heinlein compresses all that plot and action into a rip-roaring tale that makes a relatively short novel. Too many modern novels are padded with seemingly endless scenes and pointless descriptions that meander all over the place and squander the reader’s time.

My favorite authors today? My long-standing traditionally-published favorites, like Lois McMaster Bujold, Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, and Jim Butcher, have been joined by indie standouts like Chris Nuttall, John C. Wright, Robert Bidinotto, Peter Grant, Vin Suprynowicz, and a host of others who’ve offered an excellent story or two and may yet become favorites. Authors like these are helping restore and uphold the ideals of liberty, honor, and justice in our culture. I aim to do my part as well.

  1. What do you have planned for your next book? More fiction or more non-fiction? What do you enjoy writing more, and why? What does one give you that the other does not?

I’m working on the sequel to The Hidden Truth. Set a year later, A Rambling Wreck will describe how the narrator and his friend navigate through their first year at Georgia Tech, making new allies and thwarting their enemies.

I also want to write a text on near-field wireless technology, and an introductory work on electromagnetics. I switched to fiction after I wrote the second edition of my UWB antenna text book. I was burned out from formatting all the figures and equations and particularly the references – one chapter had a couple hundred. It’s tricky but rewarding to master that complexity and tie together a rigorous technical and historical description of a field.

Fiction lacks all those issues but requires an even higher degree of integration and artistry that can be difficult to achieve. My fiction writing includes a variety of mutually reinforcing and complementary plot strands all developing in parallel – strands which all need to come to fruition at the right moments while sounding the right thematic notes in a realistic and believable fashion. I like how my first novel worked out, and I’m enjoying applying what I learned to the second one. Eventually, though, I’ll be ready to shift back to non-fiction. Each form of writing has its own unique challenges and rewards.

  1. What is your view on what Andrew Breitbart used to say, “politics is downstream from culture.” Do you think people who love freedom and free speech are making inroads into the cultural war?

Absolutely! I agree completely that politics is downstream from culture. One should work toward personal excellence and cultural change instead of pinning one’s hopes and future on a political salvation.

In his groundbreaking work, The Storytelling Animal, author Jonathan Gottschall offers a unified theory of storytelling. He argues that the human mind is wired to seek out the structure or pattern underlying everyday events and spin them together in a coherent narrative. Drawing on neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and psychology, Gottschall argues that storytelling is a key characteristic of human cognition. Gottschall’s insights are critical for anyone seeking to change the culture at its roots through better, more compelling narratives, rather than wasting time attempting to prune the political branches.

For too long, too many advocates of liberty have taken our cultural and philosophic foundations for granted. They focus on political wrangling and rhetoric while our culture erodes beneath our feet. I am encouraged by how rapidly all that is changing, however.

Only a few years ago, if I wanted to read good fiction, I had to go back and reread Heinlein or Rand for the umpteenth time. I followed a few Baen authors like David Weber, Sarah Hoyt, Lois Bujold, and Larry Correia, and I discovered and enjoyed Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books. But I was lucky to find a couple of new books in a given year that I cared about. Now, my Kindle is full of wonderful, inspiring books. I keep discovering. Castalia House, The Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance (CLFA), and GabWriters keep introducing me to new, engaging literary works almost on a weekly basis. I can hardly keep up with it all.

  1. What inspires you?

My wife and two sets of twins! A family does a wonderful job of keeping you focused on doing what it takes to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. But beyond that, I’m also inspired by the examples of heroes in fiction, history, and real life. Their stories help us practice and apply the sometimes difficult art of moral decision making. We relive the context and choices of our heroes and apply their lessons to develop good judgment in our own lives. I’m eager to impart what nuggets of wisdom I’ve gleaned from life and literature and share them with my own readers.