Sunday, November 16, 2014

We Beat Ourselves . . .

I should be working on my NaNoWriMo novel, but I'm so traumatized by yesterday's University of Washington Huskies football loss I'm having trouble concentrating.

Yesterday, against #14 Arizona, the Huskies dominated from the start, their offense able to move the ball, their defense holding Arizona better then anyone expected.

But they kept making mistakes. Bad snaps leading to fumbles (and in one case, a missed PAT; who the hell misses a PAT?). A fumble in the last few minutes of the game giving the ball to the Wildcats which they then were able to turn into a game-winning field goal. Arizona won by one point (the one point of that missed PAT).

In addition to those miscues, the Huskies kept getting penalties including one that cost them a touchdown.

In other words, we beat ourselves with mistakes and penalties. The final score was 27-26.

We have two games left and we have to win one of them to be bowl eligible. Next week we play Oregon State at home. OSU is 5-5. But they'll be coming off an upset victory over #6 Arizona State late yesterday. The Huskies are 6-5 after yesterday's loss.

Then the last game of the year is the Apple Cup against Washington State University Cougars.  Ironically, they beat Oregon State last week after losing their star quarterback to a career-ending broken fibia. They had a bye this week and next week fast Arizona State. I expect Arizona State to drop a bit in the polls with that lost to Oregon State.

So far this has been a frustrating season, the first one for new head coach Chris Petersen. But it takes time to get a new program going and next year he'll have had almost two years to change the culture at Washington and get the program under his control. He'll also have players he recruited. I hate to say it (I've been saying it for over 10 years, now) but next year should be better.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Speculative Fiction Cantina with Special Guest Stephanie Osborn

Today on a special edition of the Speculative Fiction Cantina we welcome scientist and writer Stephanie Osborn 

Stephanie Osborn 

Interstellar Woman of Mystery

Stephanie Osborn
Few can claim the varied background of Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery.

Veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs, she worked on numerous space shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Her space experience also includes Spacelab and ISS operations, variable star astrophysics, Martian aeolian geophysics, radiation physics, and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons effects.

Stephanie holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is “fluent” in several more, including geology and anatomy. 

In addition she possesses a license of ministry, has been a duly sworn, certified police officer, and is a National Weather Service certified storm spotter. 

Her travels have taken her to the top of Pikes Peak, across the world’s highest suspension bridge, down gold mines, in the footsteps of dinosaurs, through groves of giant Sequoias, and even to the volcanoes of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest, where she was present for several phreatic eruptions of Mount St. Helens. 

Now retired from space work, Stephanie has trained her sights on writing. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 20 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The Mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the “Cresperian Saga,” book series, and currently writes the critically acclaimed “Displaced Detective” series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.” She recently released the paranormal/horror novella El Vengador, based on a true story, as an ebook.

In addition to her writing work, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.

The Mystery continues.

Stephanie's books include:

The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus (DD#1-4, ebook only) (SF/Mystery) 

A Case of Spontaneous Combustion (DD#5) (SF/Mystery) 

El Vengador (Paranormal horror) 

Stephanie's Links:

Blog ("Comet Tales")

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

One of the great things about science fiction (and fantasy to an extent) is you can put humans in some unique circumstance and see how they react. The good science fiction has the the humans reacting as real life people would.

 The movie Snowpiercer is such an experiment. You sort of have to forget the ridiculous circumstances which would be destroyed in a with a moment's thought (see spoilers below) and look at the basic humanity of the characters. And this is where Snowpiercer succeeds as some science fiction doesn't. In the movie (based on a graphic novel, I believe), an macroengineering project to "solve" global warming goes horribly wrong and the entire planet is plunged into a super ice age. The only surviving humans are on a train (!) that circles the globe once per year. Depending on your "ticket" where you are on the train determines how well you live. The people on the back of the train, who apparently didn't have tickets, live very poorly and eat "protein bars." The story of the movie is a revolt by these people against the upper classes in the forward cars of the very long train.

At times brutal, other times funny, the movie moves forward and forward, contrasting the squalled existence of the people in the last car with the luxury of the forward cars. The goal of the rebels is to reach the engine and take over the train.

My biggest problem with this movie is the economic system. The people in the last car don't work in order to provide luxuries for the forward cars. They don't do anything but bitch. The forward cars have lots of luxuries, but where do they come from? This, to me, made the movie even less realistic than the problems discussed below (see spoilers).

So while there are implausibilities, the reason for the movie isn't any science, it's to explore the human condition under these circumstances. But we don't learn much other than people without much will rebel if they can. It was an interesting movie but not very enjoyable. And I found the ending implausible.

Now, I shall list all the other problems I had that are SPOILERS:

1) The train is supposed to circle the Earth once per year. The Earth is about 25,000 miles in circumference.  Let's say for some reason the train travels twice that, 50,000 miles per year. That would mean it would have to travel at a speed of 5.7 miles per hour. Yet in the movie it is shown speeding along as if it's going around 100 mph.

2) The forward cars have luxuries but there doesn't seem to be anyway for them to get them. At one point the characters walk through a freezer with sides of beef hanging. But they never walk through a car with cattle.

3) The protein bars are made out of insects that are mashed up in a large vat. But where do the insects come from?

4) And, at the end: the polar bear will most likely eat them.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Four Novels

I have five published novels (see links above). But I also have four novels somewhere between writing "Chapter One" and being published. This is keeping me busy and a bit frustrated.

1) The Terror of Tombstone, a fantasy western (yes) is waiting to be edited at World Castle Publishing. We have a signed contract and so now it's just a matter of waiting (and working with the publisher on a cover design).

2) Treasure of the Black Hole is at a different publisher, still under consideration (I hope). I think I'll email them Monday for an update.

3) The Alien Fleet Wars was just emailed to my friend Sare for proofreading, after my wife proofread it. Next comes having my wife read it out loud to me, then another edit by me, then beta reads.

4) Untitled Treasure of the Black Hole sequel is my NaNoWriMo project. I have written just over 21,000 words but I haven't hit today's minimum quota of 1,667 words, yet. But I have written myself into a corner and I need to figure out how my hero is going to save himself . . . again!

My point? When I decided to write full time, at first I wrote occasionally. Now I'm writing nearly constantly. I'm not sure what I'll do after NaNoWriMo and that project is finished. I don't have any ideas at the moment. But I'm sure one will come to me. Maybe I'll do that long awaited Rock Killer sequel.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Speculative Fiction Cantina with Voss Foster and Justin Oldham

Today on the Speculative Fiction Cantina we are proud to welcome Voss Foster and Justin Oldham

Voss Foster

Voss Foster
Voss Foster lives in the middle of the Eastern Washington Desert, where he writes speculative fiction and drinks far too much coffee. When he can be pried away from his keyboard, he can be found singing, cooking, playing trombone, and belly dancing, though rarely all at the same time. He is the author of Tartaros and The King Jester Trilogy, both available through Prizm Books.

Voss' Books:

Tartaros (Paranormal)

Zirkua Fantastic (Contemporary fantasy)

The Jester Prince (Contemporary Fantasy)

Voss' Links:


Justin Oldham

Justin Oldham
Justin Oldham is a legally blind writer who lives in Anchorage Alaska. He was born with an eye problem called Aniridia, sometimes known as Sturge-Weber Syndrome.  This means he has no iris or lens in his eyes.  He lost an eye to glaucoma when he was a teenager.

A graduate of North Pole High School, Justin went on to complete bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and History from the University of Alaska.  He worked for the Bureau of Land Management before becoming a full-time writer.

In addition to his speculative fiction which features Alaskan themes, Justin also writes on the subject of vision impairment with guidance from medical professionals and disability experts.  These titles explain what it’s like to be legally blind or to lose an eye.

Justin's Books:

Tales from the Kodiak Starport


Justin's Links:


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Huskies Beat Colorado!

Yes, I know it's Thursday and the game was last Saturday. Saturday morning, in fact.

The problem is, I'm doing NaNoWriMo and after writing 2,641 words in a day (that's what I'm averaging) that doesn't leave me wanting to write a lot more.

But I decided I should write about the Huskies' victory over the Colorado Buffaloes. But since it's been so long I don't remember a lot of the details.

For a great deal of the first half of the game, I was worried. What I thought would be an easy win for the Huskies was looking like a debacle. There weren't a lot of Husky mistakes, they were just being out-played by the 2-6 Buffaloes. In fact, this was, for the Huskies, a remarkably error-free and penalty-free game.

At the half the Huskies did managed to tighten up the score to 20-17 with Colorado in the lead.

But in the second half, Colorado only managed one field goal while the Huskies racked up 21 points for a final score of 38-23.

This brings the Huskies to 6-3 so far this season, but only 2-3 in the Pac 12.

And I have to correct something I said last week. Winning this game does not make the Huskies bowl eligible. To be bowl eligible you have to have a winning record. Most teams play 12 games so they are bowl eligible at six wins. But because the Huskies went to Hawaii they get to play an extra game and that means, with a 13-game schedule, they have to win seven to be bowl eligible. Which means they have to win one of their last four games against UCLA (currently ranked 18th), Arizona (ranked 19th), Oregon State and Washington State. Last week WSU's star quarter back had a college-career-ending injury in a broken fibia. So WSU should be easier to beat in the Apple Cup game.

Well, maybe next year we can be ranked and compete with the likes of Oregon and UCLA.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Whither the Manual Transmission

I have always, if it's available, ordered a stick shift, or manual transmission, for my cars. I think driving a manual makes the driving experience more fun and more engaging. There's something about hitting the correct gear as you downshift out of a corner to maximize the car's torque to accelerate.

Plus, in the past, manuals got better gas mileage, and had less maintenance and break-down issues.

The only problem I have with manuals is I've never mastered heel-and-toe downshifts. I blame this on ankles that don't like to be turned certain directions, but it might just be I'm not coordinated enough.

Fewer and fewer cars are now being offered with manuals and, according to an article a few years back in the Wall Street Journal, less than 20% of Americans can drive a manual. Which I thought was horrible when I read that.

And I'm starting to think it doesn't matter.

Last year (on Christmas Eve) I bought a new car. This car's transmission has three modes: regular (although I'm sure the marketing department calls it something else), manual, and sport. To put it in sport mode, you pull back on the shift lever when the car is in "Drive" and an "S" appears on the instrument panel under the "D" for "Drive." You can also push the lever to the right for "Manual" mode and shift using the paddles behind the steering wheel. (You can also while in "D" mode use the paddles to manually shift and after about a minute it goes back to automatic mode.)

In the year I've owned the car I've tried everything with the transmission, every mode of driving it. I have found that for passing (depending on how slow the car you want to pass is going) if you're in D you pull the left paddle to shift down to fourth or third, then accelerate. The car will automatically shift at the redline (6,200 RPM). This makes the pass very quick (and you have to be careful not to accelerate too much. First time I did that I was over 100 mph before I knew it).

Or, if you put the transmission in sport mode, it downshifts for you, always keeping the engine in what's called the "power band" where torque and horsepower are maximized. It does this better and faster than I can using the paddles.

Finally, if you try to shift using the paddles, you might miss the power band or short shift it. A human is just not as precises and accurate as the computer.

And, if you leave the transmission in "D" (normal), and accelerate moderately, it shifts often (it has 7 gears) and keeps the RPMs low to maximize gas mileage. It often shifts before 2,000 RPM. I've tried to replicate that using the paddles, and, again, can't shift fast or accurately enough.

In other words, in this car with this transmission, there's no need to shift manually even if a manual were an option. The computer can handle the gears better than I ever could. I do not miss having a manual at all. In fact, I enjoy NOT having a manual and letting the computer do the hard work.

One reason manuals are going away is because it is harder to make a manual transmission car meet federal regulations for pollution and mpg. But with the transmissions like in my new car, I may not care.