Friday, March 31, 2017

SpaceX Pulls It Off

The first launch (to orbit - Blue Origin has already done suborbital launches) of a "second hand" rocket yesterday was textbook for SpaceX and communications company SES.

Oh, and it launched from the same pad as the Apollo missions.

The booster was safely landed and retrieved, and will be put on permanent display at Cape Kennedy.

On top of that, quietly, SpaceX managed their first retrieval of the second stage of the rocket - something that also marks a milestone for the quest towards cheaper rocket launches.

(Although we should definitely be looking into other ways to getting into space, cheap rockets may remain the best way to launch communications satellites and similar that need to be inserted into precise orbits).

Thursday, March 30, 2017

FLASH! Fiction Anthology Kickstarter

Slightly late because I didn't get the email.

FLASH! Fiction Anthology

100 very short stories by 100 different authors. If you back you can get the electronic or print version considerably cheaper than waiting for it to come out.

The anthology will contain my horror/dark fantasy short "The Jester's Runes."

It's a multi-genre anthology, so should have something for everyone, and you can get the ebook copy by pledging only $5.

Great bite-sized reads for your commute, too.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Spells For The Common Man

And...I got so distracted I forgot to announce this one.

Broken Zenith has released "101 Spells For The Common Man" - a book of, mostly, utility spells for Pathfinder. And extra NPCs and such. Most of the spells are for practical uses, but if you're creative...

Find it on RPG now here.

Eyes On The Sky...

...SpaceX will be attempting to reuse a Falcon 9 for the first time tomorrow. The planned launch time is 6pm EST, and it will be live streamed on their Youtube page.

The payload will be a communications satellite for SES.

Here's wishing them luck - if this goes well it could be a date to put next to the launch of Sputnik - the first commercial launch using a used rocket.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Uh, tigers?

Tasmanian, that is - apparently there have been a couple of very clear sightings. Enough that a new search for the supposedly extinct animal has been started.

I have to hope they find something - on the other hand, seeing a Tasmanian tiger is about as common as mountain lions in DC...

Monday, March 27, 2017

Logan, Unforgiven, and Genre (Spoilerish)

So, I went to see "Logan" this weekend. If you haven't seen it yet - be aware. It seriously earns that R rating for violence, there are large needles involved, and Professor X swears. A lot.

Less than serious note aside - Logan was a very interesting movie. It did not feel in any way, shape, or form like a superhero movie. Of course, this could readily be put down to the lack of spandex (but the other Wolverine movies tended to be spandex-lite too) or the Reservoir Dogs level of graphic violence. Not that the violence was gratuitous - it was definitely an example of what Nobilis Reed likes to call "aretica" - the violence served the plot and developed the characters.

But there was a bit more to it than that. I came out of the movie thinking that it was completely unlike any other superhero movie I'd seen...

...and incredibly like the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven.

Wait, a western?

Yes, a western. Now, I'm not saying Logan was a western, although we did briefly see some horses.

I'm saying that Logan partook of certain tonal and feel elements, including in cinematography, that made it feel like a western.

This was likely deliberate. The movie explicitly referenced a 1953 western named Shane. I have not seen this movie, but it's considered a classic of the genre. In fact, we even see footage from the movie, and it is directly quoted.

And when I look up Shane, well, let's see. The themes are similar - the drifter who takes in the kid (in this case, the kid is Logan's - Laura/X-23 is his clone in the comics but his daughter here, illicitly created from stolen DNA).

In other words, Logan is a homage to Shane - and the fact that it reminded me of Unforgiven says they got it right.

So, what does this say about genre? It says something quite interesting. I've always argued there are genres of setting (e.g. science fiction) and genres of mood (e.g. horror).

But aren't superheroes and westerns both genres of setting? I came to the realization that both are in fact hybrid genres, because they are both. We have certain expectations of tone and feel in a superhero movie or show, epitomized most recently by The Flash on CW. We expect spandex. We expect killing to be relatively rare, and agonized over when it must happen.

And we have expectations of tone and feel in a western. We expect high levels of violence, we expect lone gunslingers, we expect outlaws and loners.

Logan took the setting of a superhero movie and blended it, expertly, with the mood of a western. This is not the same as, say, Caves of Steel - because we have no expectations of tone and feel in science fiction, so putting a police procedural in a science fiction setting is layering a genre of mood over a genre of setting.

Logan takes two hybrid genres - two genres where we expect both setting and mood - and blends them. And I think this is something to think about if you want to break new ground.

Friday, March 24, 2017

So, dinosaurs...

...come in two "flavors," right? Bird-hipped and lizard-hipped.

Well, now paleontologists aren't sure that's the most important division any more, and are paying more attention to other aspects. Oh, and the first dinosaurs were bipedal - the quadrupeds actually went back to being quadrupedal (Of course, all surviving "dinosaurs" are bipedal, so...)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

No, Scientists...'s definitely a supervillain's evil plan.

Synlight, that is, a light system built in Germany that can focus the equivalent of 10,000 times sunlight onto a single spot.

It has its uses - creating hydrogen fuel. Although right now it uses far more energy than you get out of it, so I'm sticking with "Evil Mad Scientists' Weapon."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Let's Go To Mars

Unfortunately, it's on Vimeo and Blogger will only properly embed videos from Youtube, but check out this "travelogue" put together by Finnish filmographer Jan Frojdman from MRO pictures.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Global Warming and Diabetes

Apparently, one of the problems caused by climate change increase in Type 2 Diabetes.

A Dutch team discovered - even if they adjusted the results by obesity - that a higher outdoor temperature equates to higher incidence. The theory is that exposure to cold improves certain parts of fat metabolism.

Which made me wonder. We can't go by current ethnic distributions of diabetes in the US, where black people are at higher average risk because of race and poverty issues (obesity has become a disease of poverty in this country). But the "faulty" gene that causes Type 2 diabetes is surprisingly common. It might be that it isn't selected against because even if somebody gets the disease, they've usually already successfully reproduced. And, of course, not everyone with the gene gets the disease, and the better their diet the later they get it (kids getting Type 2 is a very bad means we aren't feeding our kids right at all).

But what if the "genetic susceptibility" to Type 2 diabetes is actually factors that give a survival advantage in cold conditions? (There's no specific Type 2 gene, and obesity, etc, are a much higher risk than temperature). This would have developed in the last Ice Age. It's a thought, albeit a weird one.

When something is common, it usually means it conferred an advantage at some point in the past or under specific circumstances (e.g. sickle cell anemia).

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cheerios - And An Ill-Thought Out Plan To Save Bees

Cheerios has decided to save the bees by distributing millions of seed packets of wildflowers across Canada.

The problem is, as it turns out, they're sending the same packets to every household.

In other words, they're encouraging people to plant "wildflowers" that are not native to the area. Please, if you want to help bees, find out what already grows locally. Or just leave a corner of your yard to the "weeds."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ridiculous Space...

...shooting stars to order. For a lot of money, of course. The project involves launching a satellite that will then release pellets designed to burn up in the atmosphere above the site.

Kind of very expensive fireworks. I dunno. I suppose if you have that much money to literally burn...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Democracy in South America.

No, this isn't a politics post.

Apparently, indigenous South American societies were quite a bit more democratic than we thought. Albeit in their own way.

Candidates for senator in Tlexcallan, for example, had to stand firm while their constitutions hurled insults and objects at them, presumably to test their ability to handle being mocked during a debate, drilled on the law for two years and put through various ordeals before they could take their seat. I can't see the average American senator tolerating even a bit of those. Well, except the insult-hurling, which has apparently always been a part of politics.

And the study has helped archaeologists learn patterns - for example, cities dominated by plazas rather than palaces - that show when a society may be more "democratic" in some sense.

Worth remembering for world building. (Also, can we have more fantasy democracies? Please?)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Small Updates

The first of several feat books I put together for Avalon Game Company's Heroes Wear Masks setting is now available:

Heroes Wear Masks Feat Books: Acrobat Feats

Some of these may also be suitable for swashbuckling type characters, or give ideas for abilities for superheroes in other systems!

I'm also currently available for work - looking for proofreading, guest blog posts, RPG work, etc.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stellar Vampires

How about this one - a stable binary pair consisting of a black hole and a white dwarf. The black hole is feeding from the white dwarf, but it could still last billions of years.

It's a great opportunity to study black holes and how they work. And the artists' impression is spectacular. I want to park a starship there and take pictures.

Monday, March 13, 2017

This Bud's For...


Budweiser has announced an initiative to try and solve the problem of the fact that if you take beer (or any other carbonated beverage) into space, it goes flat and becomes, well, miserably undrinkable. The problem is that without gravity, the bubbles don't float to the top (and no head), and with the pressure difference...well, let's say experiments with soda got messy.

Mars might be a little better, as it does have gravity. But...

Why would Budweiser do this? Probably because of what we can potentially learn to improve brewing beer right here on Earth. But those Martians...let's just say human colonies that don't have alcohol in some form are...well. Not going to exist. And beer is what turned us into farmers in the first place.

They aren't going to be shipping a Clydesdale to the ISS any time soon, though.

Friday, March 10, 2017

20 Years...

..of Buffy.

True, I haven't liked everything Joss has done since. But...there's still a special place for this show in my heart.

I can't believe it's been that long. I feel rather old right now, but I'm also glad that technology is such that people can still enjoy it.

Thank you - everyone involved. (Also, the best RPG campaign I was ever in and may well ever be in was a Buffy campaign that developed into Callahan's-style telepathy by the end.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Liar, Liar...

...I can't help but laugh. I shouldn't, but I can't help it.

During closing arguments in an arson case, a lawyer's pants caught on fire. Yes, literally on fire. Apparently, his e-cigarette was to blame, but...

...seriously? I think the defendant should get a retrial with a fresh jury, because the original jurors probably haven't stopped laughing yet.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mind Controlled Robots?

MIT has built some. I mean, they can't do that much yet - the actual experiment was monitoring and correcting a small industrial robot as it sorted things into two boxes.

The technology might be useful for advanced prosthetics, helper robots for the disabled (and the lazy), and may solve one of the biggest issues with self-driving cars - the issue of the car making moral decisions. (You don't have to be a qualified driver to think "Swerve").

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Living On Mars

So, one of the big obstacles towards living on Mars is the planet's lack of a magnetosphere.

Mars had one, once, but it's "cooled off." There are a few places on the surface where there are localized magnetic fields - and colonies could theoretically be positioned within them. Other than that, anyone living on Mars would be completely exposed to the radiation of the solar wind. (Other solutions would be protective domes with magnetic fields in them, living underground, etc).

So, how about giving Mars its own magnetic field, artificially? Dr. Jim Green suggests this might be possible. You'd need to place a spaceship at a L1 point that created a magnetic "tail" surrounding the planet. A big spaceship.

The neat part? JUST giving Mars a magnetosphere would warm the planet, thicken the atmosphere and potentially render the planet habitable.

In the nearer term, artificial magnetospheres could be used to shield space stations and craft from radiation...or make those magnetic domes I was talking about earlier.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Thoughts on Campaign Styles

I thought about this after two things. One of them was somebody saying they hated the term "Game Master" because it has "Master" in it. The other was comparing some of the campaigns I've been in.

Pretty much all of the campaigns I've done have fit into the following four categories:

1. Traditional. The Game Master determines the storyline. The dice are never fudged for drama, stats are more important than backgrounds. Dungeon crawls and the like are important and the GM often uses modules. Character death is considered a reasonable outcome, without the need for any "story" reason for it. Ultimately, the dice rule. Plot is paramount and character is often minimal.

2. Storyteller. The Game Master determines the storyline, but may over-rule the dice. There is almost always an overall plot or arc that the players are expected to follow. Character death is less common and the GM may fudge the dice to avoid it if it does not fit the plot. (Although some GMs believe the dice should never be fudged regardless of the style). The focus is on telling a good story, but the outline of the story is often already written. Plot comes before character, but character has an importance.

3. Troupe. The Game Master is a facilitator, but the overall storyline is determined by the players and their interactions. The players have real choices, and the GM is ready to rewrite the entire campaign (or send everyone to Riverworld, ahem) if needed. Character comes before plot, but the overall plot remains important.

4. Sandbox. The Game Master is purely a facilitator who sets the rules of the world. There is a setting, but often no overall plot. The characters are free to make their own choices within the world as defined, regardless of consequences. Character is paramount and plot is almost unimportant.

One interesting thought on this is that Traditional pretty much always takes place face to face, while Sandbox is very common online (the typical MUD, for example, is a Sandbox).

Thoughts? Am I missing anything?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Letting Go released!

Centropic Oracle podcast has released my flash fiction Letting Go. You can hear it read by the able CB Droege here.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


...there's an awful lot of talk about what the seven planets in the Trappist system should be called.

I have a suggestion...and no this is not a joke.

Obviously? They have to be named after types of beer.

You laugh, but it's now looking more and more likely that the entire reason humans invented agriculture in the first place was to make beer. I don't even like the stuff, but I still acknowledge that it's important.

Trappist Ale is considered one of the best kinds of beer on the planet. (I tried it. I still didn't like it).

Besides, it'll be fun to speculate about who's living on Guinness.

What about it?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

We really...

...need to stop envisioning dinosaurs as, well... -saurs. Because saur means lizard and it's more and more obvious that dinosaurs simply never were, well.


Check out this article for a great view on what they might actually have looked like.