Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's Not April 1, Right?


It's not.

So why am I seeing "A Live Action Tetris Movie Is On Its Way."

Bad enough that somebody tried to make a movie out of Battleship. It's being done by the same company, Threshold Entertainment, that did the Mortal Kombat movies...but Mortal Kombat as a movie made a certain amount of sense...but Tetris? They aren't revealing many details.

And I kind of don't even really want to know anyway.

Monday, September 29, 2014


So...a volcano in Japan caught us all napping. Vulcanologists had no idea that Mount Ontake was going to erupt - and while a small eruption, it caught a lot of hikers on the mountain, with at least one person killed and a number trapped in a mountain lodge.

Vulcanologists are always looking for better ways to predict eruptions, including imaging systems - the latest being tested can look up to 20 miles under the surface to follow magma movement. Most of the US systems are tested on Mt. St. Helen's, which last erupted 10 years ago. (St. Helen's is definitely recharging, but whether she'll erupt in years or decades is still up in the air).

In the mean time, if you go hiking on a volcano...well...be careful and aware that you're taking a risk. Sometimes we can predict eruptions.

Sometimes, as happened with Ontake, we can't.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Updates

I've mostly been working on [redacted] and also need to get [redacted] done.

Yes, I'm still in "watch this space" mode. You people will be amongst the first to know when I can finally stop running dark - at least on a couple of things, anyway ;).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why "Real Name Policies" on Social Media are bad.

I'm obligated to use Facebook - some of the publishers I work with insist on using it. It's also the primary means of communication with my overseas family.

The real name crackdown doesn't affect me - yes, I write under my real, legal name. I spent a lot of time searching my heart on it, but it's a memorable name, it's not similar to anyone else working in the genres and spheres I work in, and I don't write anything "problematic."

Many of my friends use pen names. This affects my friends. I have some friends who may be thrown off Facebook or forced to use their legal name. And Facebook's answer is: Set up a page.

Okay, that'll be $5 for every single post you want anyone to see - which may be a reason why Facebook is doing this. Pushing professionals into using pages not profiles is a money maker for Facebook - and a money drain for those professionals who, contrary to the popular image of business people, are generally not rich.

I went through this all when G+ was being stupid about real names. They stopped, and now Facebook has started. So, I'm going to go over the people this affects again:

1. Writers, artists, entertainers, and performers who are better known under their stage names or pen names. How many people know Lady Gaga's legal name without looking it up? For these people, being found under their real name would be impossible.

2. Writers of erotica who may not want their family (especially their parents or their children) to know what they write.

3. Members of the LGBT community who are afraid to come out to their boss (remember that it's legal to fire people for being gay or trans in many jurisdictions) or their family; particularly 13-18 year olds. Trans men and women may change their name socially before they do so legally.

4. People who are avoiding an abusive ex or a stalker and may literally be personally endangered if they're found.

Facebook can, of course, enforce any policy they want, but they have to realize that they are going to lose a lot of people over this - and thus the advertising revenue. Which will probably exceed page boost fees they're trying to get out of people. (Yes, I'm that cynical, but Facebook has been very money grabby lately).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Watched the first episode yesterday. I'm reserving judgment.

My big problem is that I'm finding it hard to buy their Jim Gordon, mostly physically. He just doesn't look like young Jim Gordon to me. He may grow on me, but Tom Welling never convinced me as Clark.

Second problem, what is with Barbara going-to-be-Gordon senior? They couldn't just have used Kate Kane? Maybe they thought fans would be mad with them for making her bisexual...but I dunno. I don't think I like this, and I would like it even less if she became Batwoman. Babs just can't be first.

(And Ivy can't be her real name, but people would never have realized who she was, so...)

On the good side?

Nice recognizability on the characters. Penguin was instantly recognizable. Their Selina was awesome and I am pleased they chose a darker-skinned Hispanic actress for Montoya (and didn't straightwash her). The overall visuals for Gotham itself were fitting - nice balance of neon and grit.

Still. Reserving judgment. It might be good, it might be terrible.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Space Elevator

It's an engineering problem - and engineers may have solved part of it.

One of the biggest obstacles to building a space elevator is finding a material strong enough and light enough to form the tether (It's not called a cable - when something holds two objects in space together it's a tether, even if one of them is a planet).

They were experimenting with benzene - and apparently if you compress benzene far enough then release the pressure slowly, it can turn into a chain of single carbon tetrahedrons. Otherwise known as diamonds.

A literal string of diamonds hooked together. Right now, they can only make very short strands, but if they can scale it up then this could be the answer.

So, maybe somebody should nickname the first climber "Lucy."

Monday, September 22, 2014

NASA Fashion?

Science fiction writers like to put characters in skin-tight spacesuits that just kind of pull on.

Real spacesuits are, of course, hideously bulky affairs that  are hard to maneuver in and probably hideously uncomfortable.

A lady named Dava Newman at MIT has the answer - spring-like coils that can sustain a pressure next to your skin that's equal to what you need to survive in space. They're still working on it, but the skintight, elegant spacesuit (that, of course, shows off your female character's curves) is probably not far in the future.

The direct pressure "active compression" suit will also save large amounts of space during launches (when astronauts wear pressure suits in case of emergency), and allow for much, much easier maneuvering on the moon...or Mars, where less pressure support is needed.

Find out more here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Updates

Mostly been working on client stuff this week, so I don't have much to report.

(Well, Scotland decided not to bail on the UK, I suppose that's news ;)).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Viruses, Colds, Allergies

So, we all have five viruses living in or on us...without causing any problems. We have a normal viral flora.

And one of the common "normal" viruses is adenovirus. If that seems familiar, it's because it's a very common virus that we all have to deal with - the common cold.

As we all know, the symptoms of a cold and the symptoms of an allergy attack are, well, very similar. But it's always the assumption that, oh, adenovirus makes us sick.

Except it doesn't. Not always. It may be that when things are working the way they should, adenovirus just...hangs out. It doesn't cause us any major problems, although it probably doesn't give us any benefits either. Or does it? Right now, we don't know whether these viruses should be considered symbiotes (meaning they "pay the rent" in some way) or exploitative parasites.

But here's what got me to thinking. What if the common cold and certain types of allergic reactions have the same basic symptoms because the common cold is an allergic reaction - our immune system reacting to what should be a normal part of our own biome? Or a reaction to something from somebody else's that doesn't quite work? (Or, it could be that mutations mess up whatever "deal" we have with the virus).

Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

So, That Scotland Thing

As you know, I try to keep this blog politics free. It's hard to do so right now, though. I was born in Nottingham, England...and tomorrow, Scotland will vote in a referendum on independence.

Needless to say, I'm a little more personally invested in this than the average American. Scotland and England were officially united in 1707 - and now the polls show a secession race too close to call. President Obama has spoken out in support of Scottish independence.

So, my stance? I'm going to say that I'm against it - and I have never been a Unionist.

I just question whether this is a good move for Scotland to take. The pro-independence people want to count on North Sea oil and gas, which makes up between 12 and 21 percent of their revenue - but the North Sea fields are, bluntly, starting to run low. Production is dropping and so are revenues.

On top of that, the pro independence people think they can just continue to use the pound sterling - whilst English Unionists are insisting they won't be allowed to do so. (The likely compromise - a new Scottish pound pegged to sterling on the exchange rate).

Oh, and quite a few companies are threatening to move their headquarters (and jobs) to England if the referendum passes.

Then there's the fact of the land border. Scotland, independent, would have to reapply for EU membership. So, border controls could be introduced - splitting families and possibly forcing some people to move. Or, it would end up like the US/Canada border. Either way, there will probably be some checks...and in some cases the border may even run through somebody's farm. (And even if Scotland does become part of the EU, there's a risk England would leave!)

So, do I think it's a good idea? No. The poorer part of the country seceding didn't work so well for Slovakia.

Do I think it will happen? A month ago I was pretty sure it was pie in the sky. And I'm not one to place overmuch reliance on polls, but...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fire And Brimstone?

They call it the Hadean period - the early life of the Earth from which even rock doesn't survive. So, it's long been assumed that the Earth was a molten rockball at this point.

The oldest rocks we do have are zircon crystals, some of which are more than four billion years old. And finally, it occurred to somebody to compare ancient zircon with recently-formed zircon. To do this, geologists went to Iceland, one of the most geologically active parts of the planet.


The conditions that formed the modern Icelandic zircon were worse (in terms of life) than those in which the ancient zircons formed. The environment they were created in were cooler and wetter. The early Earth may well have not looked so different from today. Or, it might have looked rather like, oh, this.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Convention Guest...Uh...Don'ts.

I admit this post was triggered by treatment I saw of a guest at a recent convention - which got me thinking about the things people do that, when I'm a guest, I don't or wouldn't appreciate happening to me.

When a creator goes to a convention as a guest - we're working. The benefit we get is exposure and marketing (and a lot of behind-the-scenes networking that regular attendees may or may not witness). Because of this, we're obliged to be professional - even when we want to strangle somebody. Here are a few tips on not being that person.

1. We're not convention staff (usually, there's sometimes an overlap) or volunteers. In other words, we're not there to help you find your panel room, registration, or the nearest rest room. If it's our first time at that con, we might not know either. Oh, and we aren't the hotel concierge, either. This doesn't mean we won't necessarily answer those questions, but you're much better off finding somebody with a volunteer shirt or badge - there's usually plenty.

2. If we're in a hurry we're...in a hurry. Maybe we're trying to get from one panel to another that's the far end of the hotel. Or we have an hour tops to get food (not uncommon at lit cons, even for dinner). Or, bluntly, we just need to use the restroom. If a guest doesn't stop to talk to you, we probably aren't being rude - we just have to be somewhere else stat.

3. If a guest, especially a media guest or somebody in comics or film/TV refuses to answer a question, don't keep asking it. Even in different wording. Even with slightly different details. Even if you weren't the person who asked the initial question. (This is the behavior that annoyed me at a recent con). We don't refuse to answer questions to be rude or difficult. We may not want to release spoilers, or announce something prematurely. Or, maybe, we're not allowed to answer that question - pretty much everyone who works on somebody else's IP is under some sort of non-disclosure agreement, and it's really, really annoying to be pressured about it.

4. If we're in deep conversation with somebody else - please just show common courtesy and don't interrupt.

Okay. For something more positive - if there's a guest at a con you really want to talk to, what's the best way to go about it?

At comics conventions most of the guests have signing tables that are open much of the day. Go early in the morning or towards the end of the con, and choose a moment when there isn't much of a line, and most people are willing to talk. Same at lit cons - if somebody's got a signing and there's nobody waiting.

Or, look at the person's schedule and find a panel they're on or a reading where they don't have anything scheduled afterwards. Attend the panel then approach them afterwards. I'm almost always willing to talk in that situation, although I might ask you to walk with me to a different room.

Hanging out at the hotel bar can also be a good opportunity to catch guests (although be warned, some of us...uh...indulge quite extensively - and, again, don't interrupt conversations).

Larger names at lit cons often have a kaffeeklatsche, although you have to sign up for these so there's no guarantee (I've also seen kaffeeklatsch seats being raffled). These are generally limited to 10 or 12 people, but if you really want to talk to somebody they're the best opportunity.

Finally, if the person you're looking for has a launch party - that can be the very best chance to corner somebody, as long as you're not greedy about our time.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

R.I.P. Richard Kiel

The best minion ever has left us. 74 year old Richard Kiel played the infamous Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

The 7'2 (yes, 7'2) actor also "reprised" his role when he played "Famous Big Guy with Silver Teeth" in the 1999 Inspector Gadget movie. He specialized in playing minions and thugs and did it very well. He was in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. a couple of times (Like about everyone else working at the time). He also almost played The Incredible Hulk, but was rapidly replaced by Lou Ferrigno - but he did end up left in in one scene, so it counts, right?

He had a long career - and a long life despite his condition (Kiel had acromegaly - he was a giant in the medical sense). But he'll always be remembered as the metal-toothed thug with the disturbing habits...but who was ultimately redeemed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Life On Europa

"All of these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there." - Arthur C. Clarke.

Europa has long been considered a possible candidate for extraterrestrial life in our own solar system. It's believed that the moon has an icy crust over a liquid water ocean. Or...should we say mantle?

Apparently, the movement of the ice on Europa appears to follow the same mechanism and rules as Earth's plate tectonics - previously thought to be unique.

And this allows for movement through the icy surface and underlying layers. Motion and change promote the development of life. So it's one more piece of evidence.

It also means that Europa has earthquakes and volcanoes - but those volcanoes spout water instead of lava.

The question now - should we attempt a landing there? Or do we risk contaminating a beautiful and different world?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cool Discoveries

The first one may be mildly NSFW. Why do whales still have a pelvic girdle? The common wisdom is that it's vestigial and will go away.

Nope. The reason whales still have pelvic bones is because they're actually quite useful for, uh, sex. Especially for the male.

Oh, and scientists have been working hard on invisibility. Which, of course, is about to turn into an arms race. The Center for Nanophysics and Advanced Materials have developed a light detector that can, yup, spot all of the existing "invisible" materials. That Romulan cloaking device might not be so useful after all...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Baltimore Comicon

Only made it to one day - downtown Baltimore is in that awkward distance where it's hard to commute and equally hard to justify sleeping over.

The good:

Gail Simone. Everyone says she's nice. I can vouch that she really is. Nice, greatly valuing diversity (I did not know there was an asexual character in The Movement), open. Most comics people are nice in person, but she's definitely a gem.

They managed to organize things so the entry line was inside the convention center rather than outside. That's much appreciated (especially when thinking about the poor volunteers).

I didn't get a picture of them for various reasons, but there was an awesome Cosima and Delphine cosplay.

Most annoying cosplay award? Deadpool. With his own soundtrack. The guy was carrying a boombox around. At a fairly high volume. If you're playing Deadpool and people don't want to punch you, you're doing it wrong.

The bad:

Some vendors were unable to get a cell phone signal. With a lot of people using the cell phone dongles, this left some people unable to take credit cards. Fail.

I wanted to strangle the Geico people. They bought a booth and hassled everyone who went near them to the point of probably affecting sales of the vendors next to them. That kind of hard sell behavior should really not be allowed. (I'm talking people stepping out of the booth into your path to try and get you to play a stupid game. Reminds me of how Wizards of the Coast made themselves the Most Hated Vendor at Origins several years in a row).

Panel organization. Why can't these people grasp that you can't run panels for the full 60 minute slot then schedule guests back to back (in different rooms)...then whine when things start running late? Listen to the lit con people. That 50 panel, 10 minute buffer system works much better. Admittedly it's more important when you might have to get to the far end of the con as opposed to the next room, but...

And another convention center fail. The sound in one panel room was mediocre. In the other it was actively bad with none of the mikes calibrated correctly. Baltimore Convention Center? You should have better people than that.

Overall, though, it was a good convention. Oddly, and I can't place why, I feel safer at Baltimore Comicon than I do at AwesomeCon. Maybe it's cons with higher numbers of media guests that start to get tense? I don't know. (Thoughts?)

Friday, September 5, 2014

We're Doomed...

Doomed, I tell you.

No, not really, but can you imagine the internet if everyone's using telepathy? People have few enough filters as it is...

On a serious note, machine-mediated telepathy has been in the works for a while, but a major breakthrough was made by an international team of researchers. They were able to send information from one person's brain to another's, over the internet, without any elective surgery.

Right now, the system uses glue on electrodes, and you also have to have a bit of training to use it as it only transmits binary, which your brain then has to translate for you. It's an upgrade of existing BCIs and quite a way from being able to pick up on all of your thoughts and vomit them all over, say, tumblr. (Thankfully). But it might allow, for example, direct communication between a stroke victim and their caregiver. It might let locked-in patients out of their prison. Or a better communication system for Stephen Hawking - what about it?

And yeah, this is a step towards a future in which you might be holding your phone conversations with your best friend through machine-mediated telepathy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Women, Swords, Warriors, Vikings?

We've got a pretty firm image of the "vikings" (Viking is, of course, actually a verb - to 'vik' is to raid). Many men going to sea, raiding, pillaging, raping, hauling back lissome slave girls while their wives wait on land (and presumably hope not to have to take in too many slave girls).

Supporting this image - warrior burials with swords and shields, men with the tools of war. And presumably the burials with just jewelry were their patient, long-suffering wives.

Evidence, of course, indicates that these wives had power - that they were in charge on land as men were at sea. But it's always been assumed...

...until now. Some nice archaeologists in, of all places, Australia, decided to go back and take another look at those warrior burials.

And they actually bothered to look at the skeletons.

Surprise surprise. Half of the warrior burials were of...yup. Women. Shieldmaidens. Lady warriors.

Now, other people are doubting these findings, but they're not doubting one basic fact. Women were buried as warriors in the early Medieval period.

Women may have gone a-viking with the men in some numbers. Or they may, like Samurai women, have trained to defend the farmstead when the men were away...but that doesn't quite explain why they would be buried as warriors specifically.

And there's an intriguing idea that comes out of this. Those lissome slave girls, especially on Iceland, Greenland and in other isolated settlements - there are villages in Norway accessible only by sea - would have been a valuable source of new genetic material. Just as a stock breeder might go import a few mares, so the vikings imported extra women to increase the size of the gene pool.

But as every stock breeder knows, sometimes there's a cheaper way to do so, and that's to put your mares out to stud. Although this is an anecdote, Icelandic women have a reputation for going overseas to look for "holiday romances" with the explicit purpose of getting pregnant.

Did some of these warrior women go a-viking to catch themselves a man who was not a blood relative? (Heck, did some of the women keep concubines as well as the men). Even if it's not real, it leads the mind along interesting sociological tracks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

So, About That Yellowstone Thing

The latest apocalypse: The Yellowstone Supervolcano will erupt and destroy our civilization.

The US Geological Survey got tired of the rumors, so they developed an actual computer model to try and work out what would happen (while stressing that an eruption is not remotely imminent, fleeing bison or not).

They modeled the biggest eruption likely to happen (a smaller one is much more likely). Would it cause huge problems? Yes. It would deposit ash everywhere, although not to the same degree. Cities close might be covered by over a meter of ash, but if you're in the midwest, it would be a few centimeters and the east coast would get millimeters.

How bad would it be? Small deposits might reduce road traction, causing an increase in accidents. The electrical grid might be shortened out in places. Larger deposits might collapse some buildings, block sewer lines and generally cause problems. Wind blown ash would cause respiratory problems, especially in people already susceptible. It would probably disrupt food production. Oh, and it might end our worries about global warming...at least for a while (a lesser eruption at Tamboa caused 1816's "year without a summer").

And it might happen...in a few centuries. In fact, all the evidence is that Yellowstone is slowly cooling off and activity there is declining.

Even if Yellowstone does erupt, we'll get plenty of warning and chances are it will be a small event with "minimal effect outside the park itself."

So. Stop worrying. We aren't all about to be buried in meters of ash. At least not from Yellowstone.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day

...and commiserations to schoolchildren everywhere. (I always felt I had it worse than most as pretty much every year the first day of school was my birthday).

Good luck to those starting college (or graduate school). Or, well, school.

It doesn't feel much like fall here yet, but I suppose it's coming.