Monday, February 28, 2011

Thoughts on the end of the Space Shuttle

Those who know me have heard this rant before, so bear with me.

NASA screwed up the space shuttle.

What, you say? It was a successful workhorse for how many years?

It was...or was it? The shuttle's massive and expensive turnaround was only part of the problem. A space shuttle is only partially reusable. After each flight, it has to be extensively rebuilt and then tested.

But what NASA screwed up was more basic. They built the space shuttle. They got it more or less spaceworthy, then they went 'Oh, yeah. We have a reusable orbiter. You can all go home now.'

Challenger was a freak accident. But Columbia was largely contributed to by the age of the orbiter. Furthermore, parts for the shuttle's electronics eventually had to be purchased on eBay. Where else, in this day and age, would you find seven and a quarter inch floppies. Yes. That's what the space shuttle's disk drives read.

It's unbelievable, isn't it. And the only reasonable suggestion made by the Bush government for a replacement was to go back to Apollo technology. Obama? He's had no ideas at all...

Where would we be now had NASA kept the team that designed the shuttle together and told them to start working on the NEXT shuttle?

Mars, maybe.

Friday, February 25, 2011


It's bad. But so is exposition through the back door, as I've seen before.

People know not to explain X, Y and Z through narration. But having a character sit everyone down and lecture...that's no better.

Besides. Keep people guessing. Keep your mystery and people will keep turning the next page to find out what's going on.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Posting this...

...just because the title is so cool.

Flat universe society?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Best wishes... all of those affected by the Christchurch earthquake. A big one is always painful, and this was a big one. There are many losses to mourn, both of human lives and beautiful architecture.

Sometimes, the world just sucks.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


...setting up fantastic new computer.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cruelty to children?

Some couple in Egypt have named their daughter 'Facebook'.

I think that beats out anything Sarah Palin has ever done. Although it sort of gives me a character idea. Hrm. Maybe.

Friday, February 18, 2011

We can rebuild him...

Definitely getting there. I suppose, in some ways, the recent conflicts will benefit us in the long run.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


will it become evil and take over the world?

I'm talking about 'Watson', the room sized IBM computer that toppled two Jeopardy champions including the infamous Ken Jennings.

It might sound very trivial, but playing Jeopardy does not just require very good recall. It requires understanding of natural language...a breakthrough in AI development. Of course, it did have the unfair advantage of being able to press the button quite a bit faster.

Oh yes, and it got quite a few questions wrong, too...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


So, let's see. Borders is filing for bankruptcy. Other large booksellers are struggling.

I wonder if the era of the mom and pop bookstore is actually about to return. When you can order any book in print and quite a few that aren't from Amazon and have it arrive on your doorstep, why go to a bookstore?

There has to be a reason other than to buy books. In the future, the small bookstore cafe, which focuses heavily on the cafe part, may come out the 'winner' in the bookstore evolutionary race. Yes, Borders and B&N tag on cafes to their stores, but they're exactly that. Tagged on. The bookstore cafe of the future needs to be equally both, not just offer a few kinds of coffee. Ideally, it should have a liquor license and transform itself into the bookstore bar when the sun goes down. It should have spoken word events and author readings almost every night. Maybe the occasional bit of live music. Poetry jams. Open mike nights. Children's reading hours in the afternoons after school.

You can't get people in the doors with 'We have books' any more. You have to offer a literary experience. And you have to offer the kind of expert, personalized assistance and recommendations that Amazon...and the big boxes...can't.

So, here's my prediction: Goodbye impersonal big box. Hello friendly bookseller.

And is that such a bad thing?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Plug, plug, plug!

As some of you know, I have a story, 'Walk Through The Fire' in Zombiality. Vote for me. Vote for the wonderful Bill Tucker. Yes, I'm going to be shameless and demand votes! It's an awesome anthology.

I think Horror Comes Out is going to be even better!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Well, to those who have somebody to celebrate with. To the rest...I do wonder about a holiday that celebrates something not everyone can achieve.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Societal trends...

Here's one that disturbs me. The growing trend for employers to poke their noses into the private lives of employees and what they do off the clock.

It's bad enough that our society tends to demand that people work 80-100 hour weeks, often for no extra pay. It's bad enough that many employers will discipline employees who turn off their cell phones...ever, for any reason. (There are occasions when society requires cell phones be turned of the worst offenders being somebody who refused to turn theirs off during religious services).

But there are growing trends for employers to refuse to hire smokers, or demand an employee lose weight.

And what worries me is that it meshes with the government's growing desire to be the public health Big Brother. For example, now jurisdictions are taxing regular soda in an attempt to encourage people to switch to diet. Of course, diet soda doesn't actually help you lose weight and recent studies indicate it increases stroke risk. This is probably down to aspartame, a common migraine trigger.

You don't have to be a libertarian to start worrying that governments and employers are going to start trying to dictate everything we eat and everything we do. What about people who choose to take part in risky sports...and their potential effect on health insurance premiums? And what about the fact that for some people, dietary requirements are different.

I once spent a week in a household where every member was on a diet. These people would not have anything in the house that was not low fat, low carb and low sugar. I was a guest and graciously requested that they allow me to have my own food. As a teenager and into my mid twenties, I had problems keeping my weight UP. In that week, I lost three pounds and became lethargic and lost energy, because their diet did not work for me and they would not respect my needs as a guest.

Everyone has DIFFERENT needs. And everything causes cancer...everything. Life causes cancer. Best not to worry about it, and find our own balance. We don't need to be threatened with extra taxes or, worse, losing our job if we don't follow the 'current standards' of diet and exercise.

And as the big brother trend continues, will we become a society afraid of risk?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ebooks and cell phones

No, I don't mean reading an ebook on your cell phone.

I mean the growing feeling I have that ebook readers are going to become like cell phones. In the economic sense.

Cell phone handsets are cheap. Even high end smartphones are often sold for less than they are worth. Why? Because the money is in the provision of the service not the sale of the devices. Hence why you can get a deeply discounted handset with a two year contract.

As ebooks become more common, I predict that ereaders will come to be treated the same way. Amazon already cheerfully provides free apps for other devices. Because...they aren't making their money from selling readers. They're making it from selling books.

So, today's prediction: Ebook readers will become loss leaders for booksellers just as cell phones are for communications companies.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


At the risk of sounding could one really have any sympathy for this particular winner of a Darwin Award?

(I'm not an animal rights person, but I AM against cockfighting, dog fighting, bear/badger baiting, etc).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Life goes on.

I'm just...right now? Watching the Egypt situation, working on a short story and some non-fiction and watching somebody's very cute black and white dog play outside.

The snow's all gone. Life's...pretty good, really.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Feeling a hint of spring...

It's in the air. Of course, here, that means nothing. We commonly get the worst snow in March...

I wouldn't mind a little bit of snow, but don't want to get snowed in again. Still plugging through some short stories and some non-fiction. (Anyone need a writer? I'm available...)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Too tired...

to post today. If it's not good, I won't bother. Hopefully I'll have some news soon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Time sense...

Understanding about how our body clock works may allow us to adjust it. This would be a boon not just for shift workers but for the thousands of people who suffer from Delayed Phase Disorder (the body clock being mis-set to a period of longer than 24 hours) or its reverse. It might offer the possibility of a cure for jet lag, even.

And its an important thing to think about for science fiction writers too. A day on Mars is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds long. It is just about possible for a trained human to adapt to a day that length, but what about any animals a colony might take with them? And once we get into extrasolar planets, we might be dealing with 20 hour days or 30 or...who knows.

As far as I know nobody in a story has thought of using some kind of therapy to adjust a colonist's body clock to a different length of day...I'll have to remember that for the future.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Oh, and some news

I was so busy this weekend I forgot.

Mannequins is now online at Silver Blade magazine. You can read it free here.

Also my story 'Of War And Vengeance' will be included in the Library of the Living Dead's anthology 'The South Will Rise Undead'. Last year we did cowboys...this year it's the Civil War. With zombies. Because everything is better with zombies.

So, antennae?

Metal, right?

Maybe not...check out what the US Navy is working on. It's kind of cool.