Monday Morning Flash Fiction

(Please forgive me…)

As she settled back into the control pod and closed her eyes, Sr. Mary Joseph, O.P. felt her senses merge with the Array and extend outward, touching and possessing the ion cannons atop Castel Sant’Angelo. The physical attack is always, in the end, a distraction, she thought, even in war. Responding to her will, the cannons fired, dimming lights throughout the Municipio I, reducing the incoming Rods of God  into a rain of tiny flash-cooled drops of tungsten.

The bulk of her attention, however, was on monitoring the Vatican’s black ice. There you are, thought the elderly religious, spotting a cleverly concealed virus packaged within the low level routing data on some routine diplomatic correspondence.

Gracious! she thought, somebody is behaving very badly! She deployed countermeasures.

Continents away, a roomful of hardware began to smolder, then burst into flames. Two operators, fleeing the growing inferno, escaped with their lives but earned themselves a week’s worth of splitting headaches. “How?” muttered one shaken neo- Pelagian, a drop of blood evident on the hands he held over his ears. 

“Sorry, boys, but you aren’t allowed in here,” Sr. Mary Joseph said aloud to the men she ‘saw’ through Array. She fired off a quick Ave for their souls. Although she never enjoyed hurting people, she had found to her surprise she really liked her job. Nothing like the teaching she had signed up for. And all because she’d volunteered to run the AV at St. Hyacinth’s all those years ago…

Summer Home Improvement Projects: Recap

I’ve got stuff to read and stuff to write, so of course I started not one, not 2, not three, but 3 and half projects. Not quick ones, and, with one exception, not finished ones, either – well, take a look:

The Project That Shall Not Be Named, except to call it the most over-engineered compost container known to man:

The close-up shows how what is basically a wooden box to throw vegetable scraps into is made of numerous little pieces of oak screwed together in a complicated way, backed by wire screen to keep the rats out, with the screen backed by old pieces of wainscoting to keep the temps up, and the whole thing coated with greenish anti-fungal copper-based wood protector. Two coats. Hinged door, anti-larger vermin brick deployed.

Sheesh. Well, not only does it work OK, unlike my other projects, it done, and has been since this summer, making it the only one of my summer project begun, finished and deployed in summer.

It gets better (I hope):

Front Yard Brick Extravaganza!



Front walk next to the driveway, two planters for trees and a bench. The full project includes a 36′ brick walk along the street side, and 12″ planters formed from parallel brick walls behind the walk and along the property line opposite what’s shown above.

Over the last couple years, my family and I have scrounged free bricks via Craig’s List. For this and, to a lesser extent, the next project, I have cleaned the mortar off of well over 2,000 bricks. Most are still in stacks and piles, some of which are visible in the background.

Had to stop here for the winter – too damp, not enough light. If by chance we get a full week or more of dry weather, I might continue this before next spring. But I kind of doubt it – one needs to pretty much go all-in on something like this.

The What Was I Thinking? Brick Oven: Once you’ve got a pile of bricks, why not make a brick oven? They’re so cute!

The above is just the base. On top, one builds a baking floor on top of 4-5″ of perlite insulation, thus:

Those are fire bricks, the major expense of this project – everything else I got cheap or free. All set to build the oven walls and barrel vault, then the outer walls, then lay in more insulation, then roof it over. Am going to deploy Mexican tiles as highlight and a Guadulapana (1) in tiles within that side arch seen in the first pictures. Unlike the front brick project, if it stays dry for a week or so and I’ve got the weekend time, I could conceivably work on this and have it ready for next spring! But I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Trees You Don’t See! It took me years to get started on the front walk project because, first, there was this large walnut tree in the yard (the cause of all the cracked pavement and curbs you may notice in the pictures) that had to come out. Now that the walnut tree is not there, we will plant some other trees: we have a Japanese maple that I’ll move to the front planter (it is too old, so the move will most likely kill it – oh, well, it can’t stay where it is, so we’ll get another one if it dies), a dwarf fig in a half-barrel for the planter nearer the house, a citrus tree in another half barrel that our eldest son of blessed memory started from a seed many years ago – it’s way too big for the pot. And we’re picking out a peach, an apricot and two avocado trees. So instead of a useless lawn, we’ll have a tiny orchard.  This is only half a project until we’ve ordered the trees – then, it becomes a real project. Them’s the rules.

Remember That Old Walnut Tree We Took Out? Hated to kill it, but it was old and leaning toward the house, so it had to go. I found an urban lumber hobbyist who was willing to take the larger pieces to mill them. I asked if he would give me a couple pieces, and he said yes. Well, today he showed up:

Those are about 16 7′ x 11″ x 1″ pieces! Wow! What a nice guy, I’d have counted it a great deal if he’d given me 3 or 4 pieces. Around 9 of the pieces are good solid lumber, no holes or bark, minimum knots; another couple are almost as good, and the rest have plenty of bark, knots and holes but some useable wood.

Got to let them dry for 9 months to a year, got them stickered up in the garage. Then, I’ll build something – a chest or a table, something like that – for the four living kids and my wife. Gonna need a better planer….

Now, the daylight is short and the days damp, so I turn to inside projects. Like, maybe, reading some books and writing some stuff.

  1. this one:


Writing Research: Fun Stuff

As Tom Lehrer said in a another context: I’d like to take you now on wings of song, as it were, and try and help you forget perhaps for a while your drab, wretched lives. How? By sharing fun stuff I’m digging up doing some basic research for the novel that perhaps soon will have a working name.

Note: I’ll assume that the pros or even any dedicated amateurs already know about all this, as it is readily available on the web, findable with even my meager searching chops. Nonetheless,  it remains cool, so here we go:

Space Settlement Basics.  It seems NASA wrote up this friendly little paper around 2004 to summarize the thinking behind the Stanford/NASA Ames Space Settlement Studies of the 1970s.  It helps me achieve the right mindset for appreciating this paper if, while reading it, I envisions something like the image below :

Image result for 1970s fashion
Scariest thought: I can’t swear I never wore anything remotely like this, as feverently as I’d like to deny it….(1)

No, really – there are links to 1970s space colony art, such as:

Trippy, man. The people live in the cylinder? 

My favorite passage:

People who wish to experiment with very different social and political forms could get away from restrictive social norms.

I love it when clueless science geeks try to slip in a little something risque or brave into their geek-spews. To sum up: it’s no big deal to have several trillion people living in millions of space colonies, and they will get to experiment with ‘very different’ social and political forms once they get away from restrictive social norms.

I’m thinking child sacrifice, cannibalism and harems of women bioengineered to serve only my pleasure! Oh, those restrictive social norms that prevent such a paradise here on earth!  They can’t mean experimenting with things like socialism and free sex, right? Not only has Captain Kirk already been there and done that, so has everybody else in the West. Wait – could I go to outer space to get away from socialism and free sex? Hmmm…

Anyway, it’s a rah-rah piece that contains more than a few remarkable passages:

Great views from Earth (and eventually other planets). Space colonization is, at its core, a real estate business. The value of real estate is determined by many things, including “the view.” Any space settlement will have a magnificent view of the stars at night. Any settlement on the Moon or Mars will also have a view of unchanging, starkly beautiful, dead-as-a-doornail, rock strewn surface. However, settlements in earth orbit will have one of the most stunning views in our solar system – the living, ever-changing Earth.

So, even though developing the taiga forests or Antarctica or even the Marianas Trench present fewer logistical problems than building a space colony, our real estate mavins are going to build space colonies – for the view?

Weightless recreation. Although space colonies will have 1g at the hull, in the center you will experience weightlessness. If you’ve ever jumped off a diving board, you’ve been weightless. It’s the feeling you have after jumping and before you hit the water. The difference in a space colony is that the feeling will last for as long as you like. If you’ve ever seen videos of astronauts playing in 0g you know weightlessness is fun. Acrobatics, sports and dance go to a new level when constraints of gravity are removed. It’s not going to be easy to keep the kids in 1g areas enough to satisfy Mom and Dad that their bones will be strong enough for a visit to Disneyland.

And we’ll sign up to go because it’ll be more fun than a visit to the Mall of America? Hmmm – could we couple, so to speak, weightless recreation with shedding those restrictive social norms? Or maybe Thunderdome? The mind reels… (Hope Disney paid some product placement dollars to NASA, there.)

Anyway, overall, it’s fun. Next up, we have

Theory of Light Sail Acceleration by Intense Lasers: an Overview. This is a much more technical paper, much of it over my head (not hard to do), but still a font of info on propulsive lasers as they stand now (well, 2014, but close).

Roundtrip Interstellar Travel Using Laser-Pushed LightsailsAnother oldie – 1984 – and also mostly over my head, but some fun stuff.

Finally, I’ve shared this before, but, c’mon, it is so cool. I especially like the multi-star systems toward the bottom.

  1. And the fairer sex did not escape the ravenous maw of the Idol of 1970s Fashion:
Image result for 1970s fashion
Although these might just be space aliens in feeble disguises. Space Princesses, perhaps? Space Princesses are inevitable, after all. 


For Democracy to Work

Everybody must believe that they can lose the next election. Everyone must understand that any power the winners grab, any abuse they heap upon the losers, becomes fair game to be used against them once the losers gain power back. I used to rail against Bush back in the stone ages when, as I imagined it, Rumsfeld kept slipping new presidential powers under his pillow as he slept.  One net result (and it didn’t start with Bush, it was a long time developing) was that the President could wage war without getting Congress to OK it. Direct usurpation of Congressional power (and Congressional responsibility) and violation of the Constitution – you know, that old rag.

Things have gotten much, much worse since then, because I don’t imagine it ever occurred to Bush and his team that they would never lose another Presidential election. Now? Well, we have a President who turned the IRS loose on the Tea Party, delaying past the point of usefulness their tax-exempt status and thus ability to raise funds and function. Chicago Machine tactics – kneecap your enemies so they can’t even fight. This, in combination with a rabid media vilification campaign, removed the most effective font of criticism his administration faced, and made it much easier for Obama to win reelection.

Note that this administration has little fear that this trick – using the IRS for political ends – will be used against them, because the Press will not let it. 24 x 7 banner headlines until heads roll, as opposed to ‘it was all just a misunderstanding’ with no fair asking exactly who misunderstood exactly what.

Now we have Hillary cheating Sanders out of the nomination (not that I’m feeling too bad about a lying socialist fat cat getting cheated by a lying power-hungry megalomaniac – but still). Trump, who is an embarrassment to say the least, gets hammered in the press every which way for issues that, unlike Hillary’s actions,  would only get him shamed, censured and perhaps thrown in jail. Hillary’s little foibles – selling influence to foreign powers while Secretary of State, for one of many examples – would have gotten her a dawn appointment with a firing squad in saner times. Now? It’s her turn, I suppose, so it’s misogynistic to point out she’s a traitor for any meaningful definition of the term.

Note that the Chicago Machine and its predecessors have been in power in Chicago and Illinois in general for over a century. It doesn’t matter that you could put together enough people to form a shadow government just out of Chicago Machine politicians currently in jail.(1) They win, despite the kinds of problems – terrible schools, insanely high murder rates, police corruption, a government of, by and for unindicted co-conspirators – that might, it is hoped, bring down a less, let us say, robust city government.

And this is what we face in this election. Hillary wins, and thus dies any fear that their own power grabs and dirty tricks (and worse) will ever be used against them. Without that check on their power, without a real fear that the other side will win and throw them all in jail (or worse – people kinda disappear in Chicago sometimes), there is only their sense of fair play (ha.) and sweet little imaginations to limit them. Hillary’s team, such as it is, has the Press and the Schools in total thrall.(2) It becomes merely an exercise in political mechanics to keep the opposition down – to find the weaknesses, the pressure points, and apply the pressure. Think contraceptive mandate, the NBA pulling its All-Star game from Charlotte, witch hunts against triggering on college campuses – people must be made to pay the price of opposition, regardless of how petty.

Two hopes: one is that the Left will start eating their own as soon as it looks like they’ve got a stranglehold on power. This is an historical given, the questions remaining only being how much damage will be done during this process, and whether the outcome is dissolution or Stalin – whether they fall apart or are united under the least scrupulous leader. It won’t be pretty either way. The second hope is that opposition will unite and throw the bums out in a more or less peaceful fashion at the ballot box.(3) This becomes less likely with each election cycle.

So let us pray and put on our spiritual armor. Hope I’m being pessimistic here, but I don’t think so.

Couple further notes/oddities:

  • On Google, “Alinsky” will no longer auto-complete. Funny, that.  On Twitter, “Alinsky” is identified as misspelled – in other words, it has been purged from whatever dictionary they use for spell-checking. This provides just a little bump in the road for those who might want to draw some connections that, given the obvious political biases of Google and Twitter, they might prefer not get drawn.
  • Never much cared for Scott Adams’ work – his work cartoons represent only a fraction of reality, the high-tech world where margins are high enough to accommodate almost bottomless incompetent management. He needs, IMO, to get out more and meet some real business people running real competitive businesses. BUT: his stand against bullying and willingness to take the financial and personal hits his calling out of Hillary and her thugs has brought on him – well, I’m impressed. Maybe I’ll buy some of his books.


  1. And recall that the judges in Illinois are appointed by the Machine, or at least can’t get their job without the at least tacit approval of the Machine. Judges have been intimidated, witnesses disappeared – the usual Mafia tactics. What we can conclude, then, is that Machine people end up in jail only when they have failed to please the Machine  – OR the Feds get ’em. Getting Obama elected put a stop to that last little loophole.
  2. As LBJ is reported to have said: “Once you have a man’s b*lls in your pocket, his heart and mind will follow”. The media and the schools hearts and minds are quite focused at the moment. Or, as Machiavelli said, when asked if it is better to be feared or loved: both, but, if you have to pick just one, fear is more reliable.
  3. More or less because the Machine doesn’t allow itself to voted out of office.

An Open Letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: Why I’m Dropping the NBA

(Just emailed this off to the NBA)

To: Adam Silver, Commissioner, National Basketball Association

Mr. Silver,

Hanging in my closet is a 1960s era replica Wilt Chamberlain Lakers jersey; I fondly remember, from my childhood, not just Wilt, whom I idolized, and the other Lakers superstars, but players such as Zelmo Beaty and Sweet Lou Hudson, Jerry Sloan and Chet Walker and dozens of others. As a 10-year old, I could have named the starting lineups of every team in the league. I cajoled my parents to take me to an open Lakers *practice*, for crying out loud!

When I moved to the Bay Area 30+ years ago, I got hooked on the Warriors, and have been fortunate enough to have seen in person Sleepy Floyd, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, Mullin, Bol, Sampson, on down to the current most excellent team. I’ve brought my kids to games, bought them gear. My teenage daughter, like millions of others, is a huge Curry fan. I’ve even brought customers from my company to Warriors games because why not? Greatest show in town.  I own Warriors *socks*.

I’m telling you all this to let you know that I’m a real fan, the kind that passes the game on to his kids and spreads the joy that basketball played at the highest level can bring. NBA basketball. Accept no substitutes.

Bu as of today, the start of a new season, no more. No more games, no more gear, not anything that will send a dime the NBA’s way. To sum up the reasons:

China, as is well known, holds tens of thousands of political prisoners, people denied freedom because they disagree with their government. These political prisoners are also routinely murdered for their organs – this is well-documented. Further, the government that had tanks run over peaceful protesters is the one still in power.

These are only the most egregious crimes committed by the Chinese government against its own citizens. Yet, the NBA thinks and says it’s perfectly OK to do business in China, even though there is in practice no way to do business in China without doing business with the Chinese government – that’s the way totalitarian governments work.

I have overlooked this for years on the theory that doing business with China may actually strengthen the position of the more Western-looking factions there. Something like that.

However, once you personally and the NBA officially decided that North Carolina, for the crime of (I read the damn document and I would assume you, as a lawyer, read it as well) restricting school and public bathrooms and locker rooms for the use of those for whose sex they were designated was far too evil for the NBA to do business with, I was done.

To sum up: China routinely arrests and murders innocent people – good to go, let’s play ball! North Carolina passes a law saying that I, for example, can’t use the same public rest room or dressing room as Steph Curry’s daughters even if I say I’m really a woman – is outrage! Must be punished! China: murder. North Carolina: might hurt somebody’s feelings, provided they decide in advance to have their feelings hurt.

And – the law only applies to *public* facilities – you want to run a private health club or bar or whatever, have at it! Do whatever you want.

Note that I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last 30+ years, and am thus very familiar with gay-alphabet-soup rights activists and their methods. One thing is to dismiss the possibility that the policies they favor will be abused – in fact, one is conclusively presumed to be evil if one even raises the subject – while downplaying both the obvious work-arounds on the one hand and the microscopic numbers of people who might even in theory be benefited on the other. In other words, simply noting that there are more child molesters than ‘transgender’ children is considered an act of oppression or bigotry or whatever Newspeak anathemas they are hurling this week. That the people of North Carolina might have a legitimate concern is a thought that simply cannot be allowed by certain self-identified open-minded people. Hmmm.

Whether you personally believe North Carolina is beyond the pale for potentially inconveniencing .01% or so of the population while China is cuddly-wuddly despite imprisoning and murdering thousands of innocents is immaterial at this point.  Fortunately, I have many wonderful ways to spend my entertainment dollars. I’ll probably miss the NBA, and have to work a little harder to come up with Christmas gifts going forward. And, hey, I’m probably an outlier – how much business can you lose to guys like me? Probably not enough to make a ripple.

But there is one thing you do have to worry about: the demands will never stop. There is no final victory after which everybody goes home happy. The people you are caving to now will not be happy – they are already planning the next step. One thing on the table is the denial of sexual differences. What do you do when some guy who says he’s a gal wants to play in the WNBA? It’s going to happen, if it hasn’t already. How will it work out when the pressure is on the NBA (I’d bet it’s on already, in the normalize the concept phase) to stop discriminating against women athletes, to put them on the court with the men? You and I both know that Brittney Griner, for example, while a spectacular athlete, wouldn’t last 5 minutes against an excellent boy’s high school team, let alone an NBA team – because (I hope you’re sitting down) boys and girls are different.

And the fans know it. The next challenge for your new friends is to mess with the on-court product. That’s what you need to worry about.


Joseph Moore

Drake/Space Princess/Lex Luther Equations: Doleful Update

Well, this is depressing. Seems I missed something when I wrote the Lex Luther Lemma to John C. Wright’s Space Princess Equation, something John Ringo notes in Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse – that Moore’s Law works, to use my terminology, to lower the thresholds of genius, wealth and crazy to the point where a moderately intelligent Lex with suburban level wealth who may be only a little off his rocker has or will soon have the answer to Fermi’s Paradox: where everybody is is dead, done in by their own inevitable Lex Luther, a brilliant (for ever-decreasing values of smart’), wealthy (ditto for ‘wealthy’) homicidal sociopath (for values of ‘homicidal sociopath’ converging on bitter teenager).

I was half-kidding. I mean, the values for variables in the LLL are all real – there really are geniuses, billionaires and homicidal sociopaths – but I wasn’t thinking the required confluence would necessarily happen any time soon. Each of these things exist today. The only assumption – and it’s not much of one – is that the variables are not exclusive: that being a sociopath doesn’t, for example, inhibit one also being a billionaire or a genius.

Brief recap: Wright & I, among others, are alternately amused and frustrated by those who treat the Drake Equation (1) as if it were science, as if, because we’ve arranged a series of unknown probabilities in a string, that somehow, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re stone cold certain that They are Out There. Fermi is our hero, because his quip – “then where is everybody?” – neatly sums up the issue: if you assume anything but vanishingly small numbers for the probabilities (and note: for most of them, you get to make up whatever you want, as there is no evidence to get in the way), then the galaxy should be positively festooned with signs of intelligent life.

Our Galactic Neighborhood, if it weren’t for that party-pooper Fermi.

So then begins the next game: explaining why Fermi is wrong – it’s become a cottage industry of sorts to show why there are still lots of aliens out there, they just hide/don’t like us/are too advanced/are too different. Be that as it may, such efforts merely provide fodder for mockery by we few, we band of jokers. John C. Wright tends toward lighter humor than I, and so pointed out that Drake’s logic would just as well support the conclusion that Space Princesses, beautiful and fell, exist. Follow the link above to see how that works.

I, being less funny and more dark, went with the Lex Luther Theorem/Corollary/Lemma (It’s my idea, let’s go with Lemma, so we can use LLL or L3 for short). Now, along comes John Ringo to point out that the mechanics of technological advance mean that, over time, what was accessible and doable only to the elite becomes accessible and doable by any halfway competent nitwit. The Lex Luther Threshold (again, I can call it what I want) is falling, as the commonwealth of ideas and  technology expands so that I, the individual, need less personal genius and wealth to use it. As it becomes easier to do what a few years earlier would have required an extensive lab, extensive funding and a high level of genius, more and more power will fall into the hands of  crazy people. It gets easier and easier to answer Fermi. There’s nobody here because some nut killed them all off.

But it gets worse: if it’s your own personal genius and money you’ll be using to destroy the world, there becomes a floor on how crazy you have to be – crazy enough to devote years to building a lair, assembling henchmen, and designing and building your Mega Death Ray. That’s pretty crazy. But if it only takes a week or to to build your killer virus in mom’s basement, you’ll only have to be snubbed by the prom-queen level crazy.

Ringo hangs his hope on countervailing tech – that the white hats will build anti-viral nano-bots, for example, that can be set to provide preemptive immunity to any bugs a maniac might release. I merely observe something long known in military circles: over time, the means to defeat expensive defenses are much less costly than what it takes to set up those defenses. Two guys with a horse can drag a cannon and blow down your castle walls, walls that took thousands of man hours to build;  a multi-billion-dollar carrier group’s defenses (much of those billions goes toward those defenses) can be taken out with a few million dollars worth of small nukes deployed to simply swarm them. And so on. So, I’m even less comforted than Ringo with the thought of anti-viral nano-bots, and he’s not very comforted at all.

In short, I thought I was half-kidding. In reality, we are so doomed.

  1. to recap, for any poor soul wandering over for the first time – the Drake variables:
    • (i) the average rate of star formation, R*, in our galaxy, (we can guess – at least, stars are formed in our Galaxy, so there’s something to guess about)
    • (ii) the fraction of formed stars, fp, that have planets, (Ditto)
    • (iii) the average number of planets per star, ne, that can potentially support life, (Hmmm – ‘can potentially support life’ is a bit open-ended. The only planet we know can support life is earth, so if we substituted ‘that are just like earth’ we’d be on firmer ground, scientifically. But, earth does exist, so, OK, sloppy, but not outrageous)
    • (iv) the fraction of those planets, fl, that actually develop life, (FULL STOP: the value here is somewhere between 0 and 1, inclusive – and we have NO EVIDENCE to suggest in any way where in that range it lies. Follow closely: we’d need to have at least 1 example of life arising somewhere other than earth to make this variable meaningful. We don’t. A probability can never be any more certain than the least certain of its terms. Dressing up our ignorance in an equation doesn’t make us any less ignorant.)
    • (v) the fraction of planets bearing life on which intelligent, civilized life, fi, has developed, (Ditto, times 100 – now, we’re just begging the question. IF there are any other civilizations out there – and, reminder, there’s exactly NO evidence there is – then we can start guessing how probable they are. But, if we find alien civilizations, the probability of their existence is 1 – and we don’t need no stinkin’ equation to tell us that. Lacking that evidence, WE DON’T KNOW how likely such an alien civilization is to exist. Smoke and mirror for the gullible.)
    • (vi) the fraction of these civilizations that have developed communications, fc, i.e., technologies that release detectable signs into space, (Piling on the stupid: once we FIND such a civilization, we’ll have some basis other than gullible fanboy enthusiasm for guessing how common they are) and
    • (vii) the length of time, L, over which such civilizations release detectable signals. (Warp signatures, for example. Although Spock showing up in depression era New York would work, too. Pure fantasy.)

Updates: Writing Research, YA Reading Recommendations

A. Was working on the Novel That Must Not Yet Be Named, and wanted to have somebody look through a backyard telescope, and realized I’d not done so myself since about age 10 – circa 1968. At that time I owned a cheap refractor which, nonetheless, allowed me to see, through the light pollution of L.A.,  the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn (a blurry blob, but still.)  A slightly older kid, who lived across the street, had a very cool reflector with a sidereal drive that took forever to set up (well, by 10-year-old standards of ‘forever’). I remember trying to see the moon – incredible detail at the time – and having it wander out of the the field of view because it did not in fact move as one with the background stars.

Paul – for that was the neighbor kid’s name – had a backyard that was a bit of a tunnel: the trees and building blocked off a lot of the nearer ambient city light, and so created a darker viewing space. The cost was that only a fairly narrow strip of sky was viewable at any time. Me, I’d set up out on the sidewalk, meaning street and house lights washed out anything that wasn’t magnitude 3 or better. I’d just point the thing at anything I could see. I about lost it when I saw Saturn, although I wasn’t sure what it was, thought maybe it was Andromeda or some other galaxy until I checked and discovered that none of them were visible to the naked eye under less than perfect conditions. And somewhere – Sky and Telescope? They had it in the library – had a chart where Saturn would be that month, so I figured it out. Back in those primitive times, you had to go look stuff up. In, like, books, even!

Anyway, so I wanted to describe this dad looking through a telescope to see the long ship being built for the colonists as it orbited in the sky.(1) And I realized that I was going to totally blow the terminology, thereby blowing a portion of the intended audience out of the story. So, research. Only took maybe 20 minutes to find what I needed, but this same sort of situation is likely to come up about every 5-10 pages…

Now I want a telescope. They are way cooler now, with way more bang-for-the-buck, than in the old days. Lot of light pollution in this neighborhood…

B. If you’re looking for YA books to read to your kids, please check out John C. Wright’s Moth and Cobweb series, the first two books of which are out and can be found here and here. Like all good YA stuff, they also reward adult-level reading, so, even if you don’t have kids, you will enjoy them. My review of the first book is here. Bottom line: my 12-year-old loves it, and I’m having fun reading it to him. We’re halfway through book 2, The Feast of the Elves.

Then the plan is to read some Jagi Lamplighter. This, around the next book in the queue, which is Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics by William Briggs, which haunts my nightstand.

  1. Occurs to me if you were going to use an asteroid as the basis of your generation ship, you might want to tow it/boost it to a Lagrange point, to make getting stuff to it more handy. Earth orbit might be too risky/unstable, unless you plopped it opposite the moon.  Maybe? This is the sort of thing I’ll end up writing around rather than thinking it through – unless I can get back in touch with my rocket scientist friends (yes, I know some real-deal rocket scientists – because their kid went to the same preschool as our kid) and have them vett it…

Writing That Novel: Thanks & Progress Report

Something like 150+ people so far have looked at that draft Prologue I threw up a couple days ago, and 6 of you even took time to comment and make suggestions. So, thanks again, that was very kind of you all.

Plus, since you all seemed to think it promising, will proceed with writing.  Here’s how it stands:

  • You’ve all seen the Prologue. Going to let that stew for a while before revisions.
  • I’ve written a draft climax/ending, which of course you all may not see. This is a big deal for me, as, in the half-dozen or so previous times in the last 40 years I’ve tried to write a novel, I soon run into the inevitable problem of not knowing where I’m going and stopping in frustration. Well, at least this time I know where I’m going.
  • Outline is now about 10 pages long. Lots of details missing, but, based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks to be a 300-400 page project. Doable? Heck if I know.
  • Have a small mountain of research assembled, including a couple books. Need a lot more. I really need a sort of discipline I’ve never had: to dig into a subject just enough to get what I need and no more. This will be a challenge. (When in business school, got a lot of fascinating reading done in the Cal State SF library, practically none of which had the slightest thing to do with the homework I supposedly was working on. I’m a bad, bad student…)
  • When I thought about it, I realized this whole thing traces back to a paper I wrote for a science class back when I was 15-16 years old, based on an essay by Azimov concerning the very weird nature of biochemical isomers. (I got an ‘A’).  I’m guessing it’s probably stewed enough?

Anyway, after I get happy with my climax/ending, I’ll go back to the beginning and write more chapters of approximately similar length and throw them up here, for as long as you kind folks will keep on humoring me.

Thanks again!

P.S. One weird thing, at least weird to me: I live inside my own head (duh) and dream up odd and convoluted scenarios that might make a story – always some weird technical thing I half understand. But when I write, what I like writing is dialogue and people. But that’s never what I think of until I’m actually writing. Weird, huh?

Bumper Sticker Sighting

I mentioned on somebody else’s blog that, even here in San Francisco Bay area, about as liberal and progressive an area in America, I rarely see any Hillary bumper stickers even now, mere weeks before the election – in fact, I see an order or two of magnitude more old Obama ’08 bumper stickers than ones backing the current Democratic candidate.

So yesterday, I pull up at a stop light and am and brought face to bumper with this:


A Saturn, which was the Prius-lite of an earlier generation, festooned, even, with bumper stickers. In case you can’t make them out in this blurry-through-the-window-at-a-traffic-light masterpiece of picture-taking:


We’ve got the classic ‘coexist’ concept, including, on the same tag, symbols of Islam, which has only occasionally coexisted with anything else, usually right up until the time when somebody reads what the sacred texts actually say, and Judaism, which has been on the receiving end of a lot of not-so-coexistence-promoting violence, and Christianity, which at least preaches peaceful coexistence, which has been every bit as effective as its preaching of humility and self control in other areas (1).

CORRECTION: a reader with the handle VFM and better eyes notes that this particular subspecies of COEXIST bumper sticker is the way cooler Sci Fi version, with the Death Star, a Klingon warbird and so on. If only I could be convinced that this is subversive mockery of the coexist concept rather than somebody thinking it cool to extend to concept to fantasy sci fi universes, I might have to reevaluate my whole view of this rolling sociopolitical statement. How ironic can one car be, after all? It would help, perhaps, if I could read the other stickers…

Then come a couple Hillary stickers, looking like losing entries in a ‘spiff up roadside Hospital Ahead signs’ contest. What might at first strike an outsider as discongruous – the Oakland Raiders sticker placed above the Hillary stickers  – is, upon a moment’s reflection, the cherry on the top its front and center location on the car suggests. The Raiders are a legendarily violent team which in its heydey had a bunch of thugs and criminals on the roster. The founding genius, a man with some noticeable sociopathic tendencies  named Al Davis, had the motto: ‘Just win, baby!’ Davis used the court system to finagle his way in and out of contracts and punish his enemies, leaving grieving fan bases – you know, the people who pay the bills – behind. And Raiders are, as the logo makes clear, pirates – people who violently and most often murderously take from those who have and give, well, to themselves.

So, the Raiders are deeply loved in liberal Oakland and Berkeley. Go figure. And sit here, in this artful array of stickers, atop the Hillary ones. I don’t know if it’s scarier to imagine this as a conscious or unconscious arrangement….

Anyway, the final kicker, the car-based message that kicks this vehicle up from mere Rolling PC Billboard & Virtue Signal to Cosmic Reality Assault Vehicle is the license plate frame:


Yes: Leap!!! The Net Will Appear. If this lady – it was an ancient (as in: even older than me) woman with flowing grey locks and a look of fury on her face (but, hey, to cut her some slack – if you were commuting home at that hour, you’d look less than completely composed, too.) – would actually leap with no net, maybe from the top of Half Dome, she could sell tickets. Heck, I might buy one.

But, alas! The True Believer, the acolytes of magical thinking, whereby the Forces of Nature or Karma or Fate or History or Anything-Just-As-Long-As-It-Isn’t-the-Christian-God make the Magic Pumpkin/Worker’s Paradise to appear just when we need it, no doubt with an audible pop, just as it appears we are heading for a moment of rapid and messy deceleration, seem disinclined to test their own theories with their own selves (2).

But we – the people who doubt somehow the efficacy of this particular brand of magic, and who are not in favor of pirating as a method of gaining and keeping political office and redistributing the wealth – we provide an abundant resource, as it were, with which to test the power of this magic, if only we will sidle up to that there cliff. All we need is a little push.

A hundred million corpses at the bottom attest to the vigor, if not the success, of this approach. But next time, for sure!

  1. In other words, surprisingly effective, given baseline human behavior as observed in all non-Christian cultures. If the standard is, say, how the Chinese or Yanomami treat outsiders, then Christians (and Jews, too!) rock – way more peaceful and tolerant. Of course, in the flat moral universe inhabited by moderns, not having succeeded perfectly is equivilent to have completely failed.
  2. To be completely fair, each generation of Marxists contains at least a few True Believers who take the leap. They are know as ‘corpses’.

Writing Sample – Feedback?

Experiment. Here is a draft preface to the first story in the sci fi novel I’ve largely pretended I was going to write over the past couple decades. Probably won’t use it, but it captures something of the ideas and flavor I’m going for. So I’m throwing it up here. What do you think?

  1.     Prologue

“What are your thoughts on murder?”

“Could you be a little more specific?” The young woman, with practiced calm, remained  unruffled.

“It’s a long trip.” Her interrogator, equally impassive, continued. “There’s bound to be a few people who get through the screening who can’t take it, where the combination of vast emptiness and tight confinement push them a bit too far.” He cocked his large grey head slightly on the other side of the plain grey desk. “Someone starts getting ideas, maybe not even crazy ideas, and starts telling himself that nobody else can be trusted, that everybody else needs to wake up.” His level gaze never left her face.

“The Argos is a huge ship,” she replied, wondering how hard she should stare back. Hard enough to say ‘confident’ but not cross the line to ‘aggressive’.  “I don’t think lack of space should be an issue.” She was stalling.    

The large, grey man stood up, and walked over to the window, and seemed to examine the skyscrapers it framed, his back to the applicant. “Have you ever been to Hawaii?” She waited. “Huge islands. Very beautiful, a paradise, even. Several million people live on them. But you can drive all the way around any one of them in a couple hours.” He paused.

Slowly, she ventured, “Some people don’t like it?”

He turned back toward her. “After three days there, I was itching to get back to the mainland. I had Honolulu behind me, looking out on thousands of miles of ocean in every direction. I felt trapped. Three days in, on paradise.”

“So, you’re not going?” She asked with genuine curiosity.

“Me? Nah.” He sat back down. “I’ll live out my days on this little rock, trying not to think how small it is compared to the enveloping black.” He settled in his chair, and seemed to relax a bit. “So, guy like me gets through the screening, a few years in, starts quietly freaking out – will you kill me if you have to?”

She weighed her choices, and decided to go with honest. “No. I would bring the situation to the attention of the proper authority.”

“And what if the proper authority doesn’t believe you or otherwise fails to act?”

“Then we have bigger problems than one lonely guy losing it.” Her gaze returned to steady.

He leaned back in his chair and gave a slight nod. “Good answer. Now, what do you think of marital fidelity?”

She started slightly, then recovered. “What does that have to do with the long ships?”

He leaned forward. “This is an important question. Do you believe two people can take such a vow to each other and honor it for the rest of their lives?”

She was taken aback. “I – I don’t know. I suppose they can. If they want.” She had anticipated, even dreamed of, all the weird requirements of long-term space travel, of the heroic sacrifices the team would have to make. But was there a requirement she live like her great grandparents? She wasn’t sure that was the sort of romantic adventure she hoped space travel to be.

“Knowing what you know about this mission, why do you suppose we ask about marital fidelity?”

She had a salvaging thought. “To weed out the religious fanatics?”

He was looking at his desk, and seemed to be reciting a speech. “We are expecting at least two or three generations of people to spend their lifetimes onboard a ship with other people not of their choosing, some of  whom they are guaranteed to dislike. The passengers and crew will take vows regarding their duties on board the ship, to obey the authorities, to honor the mission.”

“Years of research and dry runs have shown – to the surprise and disappointment of many, I might add – that in order to have one big bickering, grudge holding, petty family that, nonetheless, still can get the mission completed, you need moms and dads that stick to each other for better or worse, richer or poorer – all that hopelessly romantic claptrap.” He re-engaged his steely eyelock. “It only works if that level of dedication is inculcated from the womb, by the only person who matters to that baby.”  

“You’re kidding me.” She dropped her interview persona and slipped unconsciously into her default brilliant post doc. “You’re saying that, for this trip to succeed, only hetrosexual couples mentally inhabiting the Dark Ages need apply, and that mothers” she flinched, “must physically bear and raise their own children?”   

A slight curl raised a corner of his mouth. “Oh, it’s worse than that. It’s not just a matter of personal vows. The society on the ship must reinforce and, if necessary, enforce these  behaviors. They must be societal norms, accepted by everyone, expected by everyone.”  

He stood again and turned again to look out the window. He must have been an actor, she thought, with these dramatic pauses and bits.

He continued. “The very idea that someone would break a vow must be seen as a horror, a disgrace, a threat to everyone’s well-being. If not, why, all those pledges we extract from each person on board, to put the welfare of the ship and the colony first, don’t mean jack.”

Silence filled the room. The winter sun fell below the skyline, and darkness began to spread. Through the large window past the Interviewer, she saw one of those ubiquitous air party ships passing slowly between the slender skyscrapers, retro-neon lights flashing, illuminating its huge, bulbous hull. Along its bottom edge were many large sloping windows, through which she could imagine she saw the endless party therein contained. An observation deck, like a giant’s underbite, protruded from the ship’s leading edge. Scrolling illuminated text several stories high let it be known which sexual and chemical activities would be celebrated on-board.

“It’s not enough that you are allowed to do whatever you want,” the interviewer was clearly examining the scrolling text as well, “you must let everybody else know you’re doing whatever you want.”

He continued to speak with his back to her. “Oh, we know it won’t work perfectly, people being people. And we considered maybe something like Buddhism or even some sort deep training, with mental and physical disciplines – space Ninjas, we called that idea – but, in the end, the old bonds of family and friends seems to work best.”

He turned toward her, wresting her attention from the airship. “What do you think? You’re young, the file says you’re still fertile.” He wondered at that – most college girls got the treatment by the time they were 16. Some young people are just too proud. “Could you get and stay married for the rest of your life? We need replacement generations, and you might be called upon. Duty and all that.”

“I – I don’t know.”

“We didn’t think you would know,” he said, turning back to the window. “In fact, your profile suggests you would be a poor fit for our little medieval village in the sky.” Her face was a mask. He continued. “The reason you’re here at all is that, trumping even the need for faithful parents is the need for certain technical specialties. You’re the best of the best in exobiology. Terraforming will often involve a lot of pest control, you might say. The labs on the Argos are state of the art, finest money can buy. Shame if we couldn’t staff them with top talent.”

She said nothing. He went on, turning back to the airship, now facing them as it rounded Gilead Tower a mile away. “So, the real question is: can you fake it? Can you keep your personal opinions and behaviors to yourself? Or do you need to broadcast them, like those fine souls on that airship?”

The interviewer turned his head back toward her. Past him, she thought she saw a human form, tiny with distance, throw itself off the observation deck and disappear into the darkness below. Her face and voice were grim. “I think I can. I would give anything to try.”