Thursday, December 29, 2022

Death to the Emperor

My latest book, Death to the Emperor, has been released on Kindle and paperback. It's available on Amazon (Kindle and paperback) and Barnes and Noble (paperback).

For nearly twenty years, Titus Chumba has either worked for, or hidden from, the emperor of the Core Empire. Now he's become involved in a plot to assassinate the most powerful man in the galaxy. All Titus needs are rare and closely-guarded artifacts. Can he find what he needs and kill the emperor who has tormented him so much for decades? Or will the plot bring Titus to his own final demise?

I swear this is the last book I'm going to write about Titus Chumba! The other books dealing with Chumba are the Chumba of the Intelligence Corps and the Treasures of Space novels.

My next book, Annihilation from Above, will be coming out early next year from World Castle Publishing.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Winter Solstice

The winter solstice happened yesterday at 1:48 PM PST (4:48 PM EST, 21:48 UTC).(Some sources say 21:47 UTC.) The world "solstice" means "sun standing" in Latin. It is related to the word "armistice" basically meaning "arms standing," or the end of fighting.

The solstice happens when the sun is the farthest it gets from the equator. It is either over the Tropic of Cancer (summer in the Northern Hemisphere) or the Tropic of Capricorn (winter in the Northern Hemisphere) at its highest point. It stops moving north or south on the solstices. 

On the equinoxes (spring and fall), the sun is over the equator at its highest point.

It used to kill me as a kid that winter didn't start until late in December. Where I lived we usually got snow early in November. Or often on Halloween.

Now where I live, it's not quite so bad, but we did have below zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures and snow in early December.

Some people try to ascribe mythical qualities to equinoxes and solstices. But they are simply a result of the tilt of Earth's axis.

Starting today, the time of daylight will get longer until the summer solstice in June.

Thursday, December 15, 2022


The other day on Twitter I ran across a Robert Heinlein quotation. The quotation was: "Specialization is for insects."

Now, Heinlein is probably my favorite author. I've read everything he's written (almost, there was a recent release I haven't read yet)(After reading his first postmortem release, not sure I want to). 

Heinlein had a huge influence on me, not just my writing but my life and politics. I wanted to name one of my kids "Alexander Heinlein Townsend." (My wife put the kybosh on that.)

So, it was hard for me to admit that, in this case, I don't agree with Mr. Heinlein!

The full quote is:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

And in a way, he has a point. People should be able to do lots of things to live a full life. But that list is... long. I can do maybe half of them. But I don't agree with the last sentence. Specialization has given us the civilization we have today. People specialize in their field and improve our lives. I don't want Elon Musk to be my doctor, for example. That's not his specialization. Doctors specialize and for good reason. Scientists specialize. You wouldn't want a biologist running the James Webb Space Telescope.

And there's a reason insects are so successful (there's thought to be 10,000,000,000,000,000,000* of them): specialization.

So, yes, be able to do a lot of things, but also specialize in your field to become the best you can be in that field. 

Do you agree with me or with Robert Heinlein. Let me know in the comments below.

*That's 10^19


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Bad Book

Ladies and gentlemen, herein I am going to review a book, not a novel (I review the novel here).

I bought this book on advice from a friend. It's been a long time since I bought a mass market paperback. But I had no reason to think there would be issues.

There were.

As I read the book, I noticed the spine of the cover coming off!

This concerned me. I was worried that the book might just fall apart. But I kept reading... carefully.

By the time I finished the novel, the spine was almost gone from the book itself:

And, in fact, I could open the cover to the point that it was just barely hanging on:

And when I set the book down, it looked like this:

Now, the novel was very good. I enjoyed it a lot. But the book sucked. Maybe they are making all mass market paperback this poorly these days. Maybe I just got a bad one. I don't know. I didn't abuse the book (except once left it in a hot car). I was very gentle with it when I saw it was starting to fall apart. 

I don't know if this is typical of mass market paperbacks.

Have you had a similar experience? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Huskies' Regular Season is Over

The University of Washington's football team, the Huskies, have ended their regular season. And, unlike last year, it has been a pretty great season.

After the last season, almost the day after the Huskies lost the Apple Cup to the Washington State Cougars, the university's athletic department hired Kalen DeBoer to be head coach. DeBoer was, at the time, the head coach at Fresno State, a smaller school that was known for having a strong offense. And one thing the Huskies needed was a better offense. 

I was a bit worried. DeBoer had only been in Fresno one year. Before that he was at a very small school (University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota). How would DeBoer handle the pressures and spotlight of a much bigger school? Would he succeed? Or would it overwhelm him? Spoiler alert: he succeeded.

Back in 2008-2009 when the Huskies weren't doing very well, I delineated what I would call a "good season." It was:

  • Win at least 8 regular season games (out of 12)
  • Beat Oregon (we haven't beat Oregon since 2017)
  • Beat Washington State
  • Go to a good bowl game
  • Win that bowl game
And this year the Huskies have done the first three. They have won ten regular season games. They beat Oregon in an upset (ruining the Ducks' chance at a playoff spot), and they won the Apple Cup, beating Washington State.

(Because Oregon State beat Oregon, the Huskies are in third place in the Pac-12, with Oregon in fourth place.)

That is amazing for a coach's first year in a new (for him) program. There was a dark time during the season. In week five we lost to Arizona State and in week six we lost to UCLA. Both were away games. It doesn't seem to matter who is the coach or who are the players, we always seem to lose to Arizona State at their stadium and we tend to lose our first away game. 

We don't know what bowl game we'll get. There is a possibility we'd get the Rose Bowl and play Ohio State. That would be a tough game. In any case, we should get a good bowl game. We'll have to see if they win it.

The University has extended DeBoer's contract. They did that even before the Apple Cup. And they Huskies should only get better. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Editing as I Write

Happy Thanksgiving, US!

I've noticed an interesting phenomena with my writing. Usually, when I write a sentence, I have it in my mind what I want to write. That's for every sentence I write, even in an 80,000-word book. But as I write it, often I'll edit it and the sentence comes out better than my original thought.

They say don't edit as you write. But, apparently I do this automatically without thinking about it. And it sort of amazes me that I can do it. (Interestingly, that hasn't happened yet in this blog post.)

This seems to happen most when I'm writing a Facebook post of a Tweet or a text to someone. Probably because I type slower on my phone than on my computer. But it does happen when I'm writing on a fiction work, too.

It's kind of hard to explain. But in the previous sentence, I thought "kinda" and wrote "kind of." But it more than that. It's revising to improve the sentence.

Do you do this kind of editing? Almost automatic while you type or write? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Straight Indicator

The other day I was behind a pickup truck at an intersection. The guy didn't have any turn signals (blinkers) on, so I assumed he was going straight. But that's a bad assumption around Central Washington as I'd say at least half the drivers rarely bother with blinkers. And he did, in fact, go straight. But it got me thinking... maybe we need a "straight blinker" or a "straight indicator." 

We have turn signals but we have nothing that indicates that a car is going straight other than a lack of turn signals. My thought is, if people knew they had to signal that they were going straight, they might remember to signal they are turning. I'm thinking an amber light in the center on the car. And to activate it,  you push your turn signal stalk forward.

Then I thought more about it. You'd have to remember to do that at every single intersection. If you're going 55 down a country road and pass an intersection, you'd have to hit the "straight blinker." And this would be a pain and most people wouldn't do it. Including maybe... me.

Then I thought it could default to straight unless you turned on a turn signal. But that, too, would probably confuse everyone.

So I changed my mind. No straight indicators.

What do you think of straight indicators? Dumb idea or it might work? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Mandatory Supercar Training

There's a saying at the racetrack that goes "Money can't buy talent or skill." But it can buy too much car for someone to handle. For instance, the 2023 Corvette Z06 puts out an astonishing 670 horsepower. Frankly, that much power scares me. But I'd still love to drive one.

To be honest, my Corvette Z06 with 505 horsepower scared me until the day I sold it. Especially when I was doing 155 mph on the racetrack.

They used to call the old Porsche 911 Turbo (in the 70s) the "dentist killer." Because dentists (and other people with money) would buy one and not understand how that rear-engined car and the turbo boost works. They would take a corner and stomp on the gas at exit. The turbo would up the horsepower breaking the rear tires loose and the engine would work like a pendulum, and the car would spin and wrap around a tree. This was decades before traction control.

After an accident that killed a teenage girl, South Australia is thinking of requiring mandatory supercar training for those who buy such vehicles. They are also thinking of banning turning off traction control. 

This is not a bad idea. A lot of people buy too much car for their talents and skill (the racetrack is a great place to acquire skills). Some training maybe a good thing. I learned quickly not to turn off the traction control in my Corvette. I also never floored the gas unless I had a long straight bit of road ahead of me. That car was scary quick. You could easily get to 100 mph in the time lesser cars took to get to 60.

And that was after I paid to get trained at the racetrack. 

What do you think of mandatory supercar training? Is it a good idea or just government overreach? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Best EV You Can Buy Now is Not an EV

Toyota Prius
I'm not 100% against electric vehicles (EVs). There are some problems to solve. One is battery disposal. Maybe someone can come up with a way to make new batteries out of old ones. I don't know. 

My biggest issue with EVs is the range. The highest EPA range (which is not realistic for real-world conditions) is the Lucid Air at 520 miles. You can probably cut that by at least half if it's too hot, too cold, too hilly, or just plain not perfect. Plus the Lucid Air sells for $169,000 which is a little more than I want to spend on a car.

But there's a solution to the range problem: have a internal combustion engine (ICE) as a backup. The Chevrolet Volt was such a car, but it's been discontinues. Cars such as the Volt are called "Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles" or PHEVs. 

Despite the demise of the Volt, Toyota makes two PHEVs: a plug-in Prius, and a plug-in RAV4 small SUV hybrid. Volvo makes one, the XC60 Recharge. I thought those were the only three until I saw this list from Car and Driver. There are a lot more than I thought from Ford to Ferrari.

The advantage is, you can plug in the car overnight and charge its battery. Toyota claims a 25 miles battery-only range for the Prius and a 42 mile range for the RAV4. The Volvo says its range on electric-only is "up 35 miles." That could get you to work and back, or around town running errands. Then when you need to go on a longer trip, you have the ICE to back you up.

Am I going to buy one of these cars? Not yet. I bet for a lot of them either the driving experience is awful or they are very expensive (or both).

(Question: How well do EVs such as the Tesla corner?)

But for a lot of people, the plug-in hybrids might be the perfect EV.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, October 28, 2022



I will be at SpoCon this weekend at the Davenport Hotel, downtown Spokane. 

Here are my scheduled events:


1:00 PM: "Care and Feeding of a Writers Group" Matador Room

4:00 PM: "Flash Fiction: What is it?" Matador Room

7:00 PM: "That's too Political" State Room A


10:00 AM: "Navigating Your Debut Novel" Matador Room

11:00 AM: "Creatures" Matador Room

3:00 PM: I'll be doing a reading in State Room B

4:00 PM "Write What You Know" State Room B

I hope to see you there! 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Old Halloween Costumes

When I was a kid in the 1960s (yes, I'm that old), Halloween costumes you bought in the store were awful. For example, see the picture at left. What you usually got was a mask and a plastic top (that would probably go up in flames if it touched fire) that had a picture of the character and often their logo/name. The Bambi "costume" in the middle is a perfect example.

And, at the time, I thought "that's not a very good costume, it's more like an ad my parents pay for me to wear." So, I often wore homemade costumes. I don't ever remember wearing one of those abominations.

One year, my mother found a mask that was translucent and make me look like an adult male. I wore that with a tie a sportcoat to be an adult. I once made a robot costume out of a Clorox bottle and a devil costume. I don't remember any of my other costumes from when I was that young.

What kind of costumes did you wear at Halloween? What do you think of the costumes shown above? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Driving Shoes

 I used to think the notion of buying driving shoes was pretty ridiculous. I would see ads for them in car magazines. Ridiculous, that is, unless you are racing then you needed flame-resistant Nomex shoes. But for everyday driving, a good pair of running shoes would work.

Then I got the wrong shoes. For casual use, I always buy Asics Gel running shoes. They fit my feet and if I get the right size, I don't even have to try them on. They just fit. It's great.

Then I accidentally got a pair whose bottom looked like this:

(I think these are "trail running shoes.") And the way the bottom was made affected my driving.I'd go to brake and the car wouldn't slow as fast as I thought it should. I'd have to adjust my foot to get full braking power. I still don't understand why. But they definitely made driving more difficult.

So I recently replaced those shoes with shoes that look like this:

And the difference is amazing. When I brake, the car slows as much as I intend it to. 

So maybe driving shoes are not such a strange idea. But they are expensive.

Have you noticed different shoes affect your driving? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Are Public Bathrooms Public?

One time I was driving in Portland, Oregon on my way to see my grandchild. And I desperately needed to go to the bathroom. Traffic was moving slow otherwise I would have waited to get to the hotel. 

I saw a sign for a Starbucks at the next exit, so I took it. But the exit wasn't a simple one. There were multiple roads that could be accessed from that exit. And no signs for Starbucks. So I took a random road. There were no Starbucks there that I could find.

Now I don't feel bad about going into a Starbucks and only using their bathroom. I spend a lot of money at Starbucks. But I couldn't find a Starbucks. So I stopped at a McDonalds. But this was at the tail end of the pandemic (and Oregon was still pretty locked down) and only the drive through was open. Finally I found a gas station. I went inside. The bathroom was locked so I asked for the key. They gave it to me and I used the bathroom. Ahhhhhhhh.

As I was leaving (after returning the key), the manager glared at me since I didn't buy anything. Not even a bag of chips and certainly not gasoline. I feel kind of bad about that. But not too bad.

Sometimes you see signs such as "Bathrooms are for customers only." But when you need to go, you need to go. 

Conversely, on the way to Portland there's a gas station that we often stop at to use the bathroom. And I almost always buy something to drink and maybe a small bag of chips. I think the reason I do that is because we stop there often. The gas station in Portland I'll likely never be to again. I probably couldn't find it again if I tried.

What do you think? Do you think public bathrooms should be open to the public? Or is it okay to say "customers only"? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Book Review: Good Omens

I was looking for a new book to read (after re-reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein) and a friend recommended Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (the complete title is Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch).

The book is a fantasy set in the '80s (at least before cars had CD players). It is often laugh-out-loud funny at first, but then it settles into simply being amusing. As a writer, I know it's tough to maintain humor for a whole manuscript. It's set in England and some of the terminology is different than the US. For example, a telephone answering machine is called an "ansaphone." 

The story is that the forces of good and evil are about to clash for the end of the world battle (Armageddon). But first, the baby antiChrist needs to be brought to Earth. But then there's a mixup at the hospital and the antiChrist is... misplaced. And somehow an angel and a demon (who are unlikely friends) never figure it out.

I usually do my reading at Starbucks and I had at least five people come up to me and tell me this is their favorite book. It's a good book, but I don't see that it's worth being one's favorite. It's an amusing and fun read. I would recommend it easily. Maybe it was the buildup my friend gave it, but I was actually a bit let down by the whole thing. There was clever writing and clever takes on the whole end-of-the-world that the Bible predicts. For example, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypses ride motorcycles, not horses, and War is a woman.

So, yes, read this book. It's amusing. 

Have you read Good Omens? What did you think of it. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

My Favorite Bit of Opera

I'm taking a break from writing about cars today!

I have eclectic tastes in music. I can listen to most any music except rap/hip-hop and jazz. I can even listen to old country music.

Every now and then I just have to listen to my favorite bit of opera. It's the "Flower Duet" ("Sous le dôme épais") from the opera Lakmé, written by Léo Delibes. The opera was first performed in 1883.

I've never seen the whole opera and I don't really want to. It would be interesting but after the "Flower Duet" in Act 1, I'm sure the rest of the opera would be a let down.

I think it's likely the most beautiful piece of music ever written and performed. 

Judge for yourself here. That is the best performance of it I can find online. 

Even if you hate opera, give it a shot.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. 

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Video Game Instrument Panels

Oh, man, I'm writing about cars again!

There's a trend in automobiles, especially high-end ones, that I don't like. I call it the "video game instrument panel." The car industry called it the "digital instrument panel." In any case, I don't like it. It looks cheap to me.

My current car has what I guess could be called a hybrid instrument panel. There is a real tachometer and a real speedometer and between them is a digital display that can show various information. I like this set up. It is classic and it's useful. And it doesn't look cheap.

Maybe digital instrument panels are expensive. I don't know. So maybe that's why car makers think they are cool. And, yes, they are much more versatile than fixed dials. But no matter how expensive they are, they look cheap to me.

But I'm probably stuck with digital "video game" panels because that's what automakers are moving toward. Maybe I don't want to buy a new car soon.

How do you feel about digital instrument panels. Am I making a big deal out of nothing. Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Sip and Stroll in Moses Lake

Tomorrow (the 17th) I will be participating as an artist in the Moses Lake Downtown Association's "Sip and Stroll." (It used to be called the "Wine Walk" until they started bringing in distilled spirits in addition to wine.)

I will be at Skaug Brothers Carpet One Floor & Home, 222 East Third Avenue, selling and signing my exciting urban fantasy and science fiction novels. Hope to see you there! 

Judith Ann McDowell will also be there.

More information on the Sip and Stroll can be found here (scroll down a bit). You can also buy tickets there. VIP tickets get you access early (at noon).

Here's some of the books I'll be selling:

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Electric Cars Actually Put Out Less Carbon

I've written a bit about electric cars on this blog (see herehere, and here). But I've avoided, until now, something I think about electric cars: I believe that for the vast majority of people in the US, electric cars are dumb. But not so much for me.

Let me explain. Where I live, all of our electricity comes from renewable sources (mostly hydroelectric). So if I switched to an electric car, I would significantly cut down on my carbon footprint and other pollutants that internal combustion (ICE) cars emit.

But for most of the U.S., electricity comes from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Now using an electric car simply moves the tailpipe emissions from the car to a power plant somewhere. The only gain is that electric cars are generally more energy efficient than ICE cars. They have to be. The Tesla Model S Long Range has a 100 kWh (kilowatt hour) battery. That's the equivalent energy of about 2.8 gallons of gasoline. That a car can go almost 300 miles on 2.8 gallons of gas equivalent, is amazing to me. That's the equivalent of 107 miles per gallon.

(A lot of the energy ICE cars produce is lost to heat. In fact, keeping an ICE engine from overheating is a major engineering challenge. That doesn't happen as much in an electric car.)

The problem with electric cars is battery technology hasn't caught up yet. A 100 kWh battery is considered large in electric car terms. But it doesn't hold a lot of energy, relatively. A 15 gallon gas tank holds about 535 kWh of energy. 

Let's take the worst case scenario. Car and Driver magazine said in winter the efficiency of their Tesla Model 3 that they were long-term testing dropped in half. They also said they got 281 miles of range under ideal conditions with a Tesla Model S Long Range. So let's say one full battery gets you 145 miles of range (worst case) with 100 kWhs of electricity. If that electricity came from coal (the worst for carbon dioxide emissions), you will put out 2.23 pounds of carbon dioxide.

And, yes, I'm ignoring the oil and coal that goes into manufacturing an electric car. And disposal of the battery/car.

If you drive 145 miles in a car that gets, say, 25 mpg, you'll burn 5.8 gallons. A gallon of gas puts out 19.64 pounds of carbon dioxide when burned*. So that's 113.9 pounds. Or 51.1 times as much as the EV will put out. Or, you'd have to drive an ICE car that gets a whopping 1,277 miles per gallon to only put out as much carbon as a coal-powered EV under the worst circumstances (for the EV).

So there are significant savings in carbon dioxide output using an electric car. I just convinced myself that EVs aren't as dumb as I thought.

Do you agree with me or think I'm nuts. Let me know in the comments below.

*A gallon of gas weighs only 6.3 pounds. So how does burning one put out 19.64 pounds of carbon dioxide? The carbon in the gasoline combines with oxygen from the air to makes carbon dioxide. And there's two oxygen atoms per carbon atom (thus the name, carbon dioxide). So after combustion, gasoline puts out more carbon dioxide than it weighs. 

This is part of the study of stoichiometry in chemistry. Gasoline is a mixture of all sorts of things, so let's simplify and use natural gas which is (almost all) methane. One pound of methane (one carbon and four hydrogens) burns with 3.9 pounds of oxygen molecules (two oxygen atoms each) to make 2.74 pounds of carbon dioxide (and 2.24 pounds of water).

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Electric Cars Can Be Practical

Nissan Leaf
When I said "no" to electric cars, I did so because they can't meet my needs. I live in an isolated small town. I drive 200 miles round trip to see my eye doctor. Most of my wife's relatives live 180 miles away. My grandson lives 300 miles away. I need a car that can easily handle those distances without spending a lot of time charging the car. And right now, electric cars can't.

But there is one (at least) application that electric cars would be perfect for: driving around town. If you're not going to go very far, maybe just to work and back and run errands around town, an electric car would work great. But this would mean owning two cars in my case: one with an internal combustion engine for long distances and one electric for around town. But I own two cars now, my sedan and my wife's compact (she likes small cars). A lot of people can't afford having two cars. They'd need one car that could do both.

You wouldn't have to buy a car with a huge battery (which is what makes electric cars expensive) because you might just need 50 miles of range, not 300, which is rare in the EV world. According to Car and Driver, the Lucid Air Grand Touring went 410 miles on their 75-mph freeway test. However, the Lucid Air Grand Touring starts at $154,000 which is quite a chunk of money. And you can assume in winter that'll cut down to about 205 miles if it gets cold where you live.

The Chevrolet Bolt or the Nissan Leaf might be perfect (although the Bolt has had some issues and the Leaf has been discontinued). 

What do you think about small, shorter range electric cars? Are they practical? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

University of Washington Huskies Football Starts Saturday

The University of Washington Huskies start their 2022 season on Saturday. They will be playing Kent State in Husky Stadium in Seattle. The game starts at 7:30PM and will be shown on FS1. The Kent State Golden Flashes (okay, that's a silly name if you ask me) are an FBS team from Ohio. So, I don't know how tough they are going to be.

The Huskies have had four coaches in as many years. Three since Chris Petersen resigned if you count last year's interim head coach Bob Gregory (who went 0-3). This year we're starting with a new coach, Kalen DeBoer, who came from Fresno State where he supposedly did great things. We'll  have to see how he does with the glare of the spotlight in the Pac-1210.* 

I have no feelings good or bad about this season. I'm not expecting a season like 2016 when the Huskies went to the college football playoffs with a 12-2 record. But I'm not expecting a season like last year when we were 4-8. Since this is Deboer's first season, I'm assuming it will be a rebuilding year. I just hope we don't start building in the cellar.

I did hear a sportscaster predict the Huskies will start 4-0. That means beating Michigan State on September 17th (4:30 PM Pacific time on ABC). 

Are you looking forward to college football starting. Or could you not care less? Let me know in the comments below.

*USC and UCLA have both asked to leave the Pac-12 for the Big10, which already has 14 schools. So why isn't it the Big14? I don't know.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Are Self-Driving Cars Dangerous?

Tesla Model S
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has done a ten-month survey on crashes involving Level 2 automation in vehicles. As Car and Driver reports:

The U.S. agency [NHTSA]... published the initial results of that data collection, which reveals hundreds of crashes with vehicles using Level 2 driver-assistance technology.

Level 2 driver-assistance technology is described as:

This means advanced driver assistance systems or ADAS. The vehicle can control both steering and accelerating/decelerating. Here the automation falls short of self-driving because a human sits in the driver’s seat and can take control of the car at any time. Tesla Autopilot and Cadillac (General Motors) Super Cruise systems both qualify as Level 2. 

 NHTSA found that 392 crashes happened in a ten-month period. Most were Teslas with 272 crashes (or 69.4% of them). Probably because Tesla has the most level 2 cars on the road.

A NHTSA spokesman said that it's too early to draw conclusions. The accidents still might be driver-error. Or they might have been caused by the car. I had a near-accident where I was glad I didn't have driver assist of any kind because I was able, through my skill, to avoid the accident.

It'll be interesting to see what NHTSA comes up with as its conclusion. And what, if any, policy changes come as a result. Meanwhile, Ralph Nader has called for Tesla's autopilot to be recalled.

What do you think of driver assist technology? Do you think it's safe. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Better Call Saul is Over

The last episode ever of Better Call Saul aired Monday night, the last of 63 episodes since 2015. I knew it would be amazing. How could it be anything else? 

**Spoilers Ahead**

In the second episode of the second half of the season, Kim left Jimmy after what happened to Howard. I thought they were going to kill Kim, but they didn't. Then, in the same episode, they jumped ahead to when Jimmy, as Saul Goodman, had a thriving crooked lawyer business.

The episodes bounced between Jimmy hiding out in Nebraska after the events of Breaking Bad, which were in black and white, and Saul's days in Albuquerque. The eleventh episode was titled "Breaking Bad" and Walter White and Jesse Pinkman make an appearance (wearing ski hats because, I assume, Bryan Cranston didn't want to shave his head for that short cameo). To be honest, the Walter White/Jesse Pinkman scene seemed tacked on. Like "We need this, so stick it in there." Later it became clear why it happened. Why it had to happen.

The episode ended with Jimmy/Saul breaking a window in a door to access someone's house. I wondered if that was the "bad breaking."

In the penultimate episode we see Kim's new mundane life in Florida. But then she goes back to Albuquerque and makes a full confession to the DA and Howard's wife. 

We also find out how Jesse Pinkman finds out about Saul Goodman.

And Jimmy had his cover blown in Omaha at the end of the episode.

Everything goes downhill from there. In the last episode, Jimmy is caught and turned over to the Feds to face multiple charges.

The final episode was heart wrenching. Jimmy saves Kim but at the cost of everything. We see them together one last time and we last see Jimmy (not Saul) standing in a prison yard watching her walk away. Jimmy becomes the morally ambivalent (to put it mildly) Saul Goodman, then redeems himself, to be JImmy again, even though it did cost him his freedom for the rest of his life.

I'm going to miss this show. I have come love some of these characters. And loath others. Such a well-made and powerful show. I think it was better than Breaking Bad.

Did you watch Better Call Saul? What did you think of it and the last episode. Let me know in the comments below.

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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Lily (the Cat) Understands Static Electricity

My son's cat, Lily, who lives with us, has learned about static electricity. She's a smart cat, so this isn't a surprise. I've talked about how petting her causes static electricity and slightly painful shocks before. But Lily has learned that being touched or touching can cause pain. If I pet her, then touch her head, she'll flinch expecting a shock, which she sometimes gets. And when she walks over my leg as I'm sitting, she moves her paw close to it, pulls back, and then sets it down on my leg. She knows she might get shocked. 

I suppose this could just be a Pavlovian response. She's learned through experience. But isn't that how we all learn outside of formal schooling? It amazes me, though, that she knows enough to be wary of static electricity.

I don't know if other cats do this. This is the first cat I've had around as an adult. And the only cat I've had in the dry environment where I live.

Aside: I swear I remember in school learning that in the 18th century, someone rubbed a glass rod with a cat skin and got static electricity. There might be something about cat hide that makes static electricity happen more easily.

Does your cat know about static electricity? Or is Lily just extra smart. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Popular Blogs

I blog for a couple of reasons. One: I'm trying to sell books. But, also, it's a good way for me to get my thoughts down on... pixels.  

According to this website, there are certain types of blogs that are most popular. They are not in any particular order (as in most popular first). But here's a selection of them:

Fashion blogs: I know almost nothing about fashion. I'm more of a jeans and T-shirt kind of guy.

Food blogs: Anyone who knows me, knows I like food. But I can't see writing about it much except maybe restaurant reviews. But I don't go to that many restaurants, anyway. I live in a small town and the selection is limited (we do have two McDonalds).

Travel blogs: Due to health reasons, I can't really travel much. And I hate flying. If I can't drive there in one day, I don't want to go.

Music blogs: I've talked about music. But I don't listen to new music (anything past the early 1990s). So unless I rehash what I love about 70s rock music, I'm not going to fill a whole blog about it. And I don't know a lot about music. Just what I like but not the details of how it is made.

Fitness blogs: Har dee har har.

DIY blogs: This has to do with do it yourself (DIY) projects mostly around the home. Me, I can barely pound a nail straight. If I need something done around the house, I call a handyman or contractor.

Political blogs: I used to have a blog that was mostly political. I avoid politics here because why alienate half your audience. As Michael Jordon said (and I paraphrase), "Republicans buy sneakers too."

There's lots more. Probably this blog comes closest to being a "personal blog." I know there are blogs out there that get thousands of page views a day. I feel lucky if I get thirty. 

What kind of blogs do you read? What blog topics interest you? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, July 28, 2022


After two and a half years of the pandemic, I finally tested positive for COVID. I suspect I caught it on July 7th or 8th. I started feeling symptoms on the 12th. I did a COVID test on the 13th and it came back positive. I have no idea where or how I caught it. Interestingly, my wife didn't have it when I did. We think she caught it from me.

I've had both COVID shots and one booster. At my age, I'm eligible for two boosters, but I never got the second one. My symptoms were mild-ish. The first few days I coughed so much my ribs and diaphragm hurt. My nose ran constantly and I was taking DayQuil Extreme to control symptoms. That helped, I suppose. The fatigue was what I hated. I only had energy to sleep or watch TV. And I slept a lot. I got behind on my reading because I didn't have the energy to do so.

But, on the evening of Monday the 18th my breathing was very labored and my nail beds were turning blueish. I sign of too little oxygen. So I went to the ER. I was there about eight hours, leaving a little before 1AM. At first they were talking about admitting me for a day or two. Which I really didn't want. But then they said if my blood oxygen saturation stayed over 90% with no added oxygen, I could go home. It did.

They gave me an X-ray and a CAT scan. The nurse said all that showed up was COVID. So they shot me with a steroid to reduce inflammation. The problem with steroids is that I'm bipolar. And steroids make me (and every other bipolar person, I assume) manic. They said they gave me a small dose but I still got very silly and was singing in the halls as they wheeled me off to the CAT scan.

They also gave me a monoclonal anti-viral agent that the FDA has "emergency" approved. I don't know if it helped or not. But I did start feeling a little better. But I might have gotten better anyway.

The hardest part was the "self-isolation." I didn't leave the house for nearly two weeks except for that ER trip.

So now, after nearly three weeks, I'm feeling better and I'm back among the living.

Have you had COVID? How was your experience? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, July 21, 2022


Apollo 11: The Eagle
I recently had a birthday. Reminded me of all I've seen throughout my life. The first national event I remember is John F. Kennedy's funeral. I turned on the television and there was this boring parade on. And it was on both channels! Later in life when I saw pictures of that funeral, I realized that's what I had been watching. I don't remember the Kennedy assassination itself, though. I was three years old at the time. And I just dated myself.

I remember the moon landings. I was amazed by them. I thought we were entering the space age and when I was an adult, I could live on the moon. I had just turned nine. We are coming up on 53rd anniversary of the first one (July 20, 1969). And no one is living on the moon.

I remember the Vietnam War, Watergate, the fall of Saigon. I remember Nixon's resignation. 

I could go on, but I won't.

I met someone the other day who was just turning 21. So they were born in 2001. For them, 9/11 is history. You'd probably have to be born in 1996 about to remember 9/11. My youngest son was born in 1994 and he remembers it.

I have lived so much history. But younger people have not. My father was born in 1930. He's seen so much more than I. When he goes, so will a lot of what he knows about history.

It amazes me that anyone doesn't remember 9/11 because they are too young. They'll have to study it in school. 

What events do you remember? What history are you afraid is being lost? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

The first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (SNW) is over and is was, pretty much, very good.

I almost gave up after the first episode was a) boring and b) violated Star Trek canon with Spock and T'Pring (and had Vulcans acting human), and c) got political.

But after that, the writers laid off the politics and the series ended up being fun. Except I wish they'd skip the whole Spock/T'Pring stuff. 

I like Captain Pike. It's been a long time since I've seen "The Cage"/"The Menagerie" so I don't know how his character fits with the Pike seen in those episodes. It sometimes seems they are trying to make him like the Pike in the Kelvin Timeline. But Pike here is a man with a sense of duty to his crew and a sense of humor. His leadership style is more friendly than I think Star Fleet would like.

Number One in "The Cage"/"The Menagerie" was more Spock-like than the character in SNW.

The penultimate episode had shades of Alien/Aliens except with the species the Gorn not xenomorphs. 

The best episode of the season was definitely the last. No spoilers, but it helps to know your original series episodes. 

After that first episode misstep, the series has become fun and interesting. It is, I think, my favorite of the three current Star Trek series. I'm looking forward to season two.

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Thursday, July 7, 2022

Better Call Saul Season Six Second Half

There are six episodes of Better Call Saul left. They start on Monday the 11th. It's been a long wait since the seventh episode of this last season aired May 23rd.

When I first started watching, I thought the show was going to be about Saul Goodman's days as a crooked lawyer. But it was more about Jimmy McGill's downfall to become Saul. But the show is so well done, I was enraptured from the start. See, I don't only watch Star Trek.

*Spoilers ahead for season six part one*

I never quite understood why Jimmy and Kim worked so hard to destroy Howard Hamlin. Yes, he was a jerk to both of them, but did he deserve to be ruined?

Having said that, it was fun to watch them do it, especially in episode seven of season six, "Plan and Execution" (a double meaning if you've seen the episode). Better Call Saul is what I call a "handcrafted show." There's not a detail that isn't significant. And as the plan to ruin Howard's reputation grew, letting the viewer in on more and more information, it was simply a delight to watch. I had to pause every now and then and giggle at how well the plan worked.

But then came the shocker at the end of "Plan and Execution." The writers and producers left us hanging not knowing what's going to happen next. 

I can't talk about Better Call Saul without talking about Mike, played brilliantly by Jonathan Banks. If you watched Breaking Bad, you know what happens to him. Which makes it all the more tragic about his descent in being basically a hood for a drug dealer. We don't see his first murder, but we know it happened.

I will be DVRing Monday's episode and probably watching it Tuesday. It's been a long wait.

Will Walter White and/or Jesse Pinkman make an appearance? We'll have to see. What ever happens, it will be well written, well done, and probably surprising.

Have you watched Better Call Saul? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe

Over the weekend I watched  Beavis And Butt-Head Do The Universe on Paramount+. I was looking forward to it because Beavis And Butt-Head Do America (1996) was brilliant and funny and worked as social satire.

You might remember the Beavis and Butt-Head show on MTV in the 90s. It was controversial for lots of reasons. But it was done by Mike Judge and I thought it was a brilliant satire of the nihilism of many young men in America. Beavis and Butt-Head have two things they are interested in: hard rock music and "scoring." Today, we'd call them "incels."

Beavis And Butt-Head Do The Universe starts in the 1990s but the pair of idiots is sent into the future (which takes way too long). They are dropped in 2022. Now having these two in the "woke" 2020s was an amazing idea. Unfortunately, it was not executed well. They did wander into a feminist studies course in a college where they were told they had "white privilege" and could do whatever they wanted and not worry about the police. So, they do whatever they want. And get arrested.

I was disappointed. Maybe that type of humor doesn't work anymore. Of course, I'm 26 years older. Maybe that type of humor doesn't work for me anymore. 

Oh, and I swear Bobby Hill makes a cameo appearance as an adult.

This is, by the way, my 1,200th blog post on this blog!

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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Obi Wan Kenobi

The last of six episodes of Obi Wan Kenobi on Disney+ was released yesterday. I made sure to watch it.

I have to say this series is the best Star Wars series yet (yes, including The Mandalorian). It is exciting and scary and fun.

Obi Wan Kenobi is executive produced and directed by Deborah Chow. I don't know anything about her, but I wish she'd been in charge of the Star Wars sequels. According to the Internet Movie Database, she has also directed Better Call Saul and The Mandalorian. Both of those are very good series. As I look at the list of things she's directed, it includes a lot of good series television.

Another great aspect of the series is Vivien Lyra Blair, who plays young Princess Leia. For a ten-year-old kid, she's an amazing actor. And it's very easy to imagine her growing into the Princess Leia of the original Star Wars movies.

The series has several writers and they each do a great job building up the suspense and surprises. And they've made Darth Vader legitimately evil and scary. 

The finale had great tension and huge frights. You knew certain people couldn't die, but  you didn't know how they were going to survive. It kept me on the edge of my recliner. 

If you haven't seen Obi Wan Kenobi, it's worth watching. It's six hours of Star Wars fun.

What do you think of Obi Wan Kenobi. Did you enjoy it as much as I did. Let me know in the comments below.

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Thursday, June 16, 2022

Armageddon, the Movie

Over the weekend I watched the 1998 movie, Armageddon. It has a slightly similar plot to my current Work in Progress. Slightly.

It was on commercial cable television so I don't know how much if any they cut. They did edit some bad language. It was easy to tell because all they did was mute the soundtrack.

The best part of the movie was... Liv Tyler. Seriously, she was 21 years old and beautiful. Probably still is beautiful.

But the film itself is utterly ridiculous. The science is, well, not science at all. There's a list of a lot if its science errors here. I wonder if the filmmakers even did any research.

So I tried to ignore the science (or lack thereof) and look at the characters and story. And... there's a lot of dumb characters with strong outward traits. It was co-written by J.J. Abrams (of the Star Trek Kelvin timeline movies and the Star Wars sequels) so that makes a lot of sense. The man is not a great writer. Steve Buscemi plays probably the strongest character. But he's kind of cliched: The crazy guy who makes problems for everyone else.

And, at the end, Ben Affleck cries. But he had good reason to.

When I parked my brain (like I do for Star Wars) it actually wasn't a horrible movie. It just wasn't very good.

I also watched The Sound of Music with my wife. She likes that movie.

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Thursday, June 9, 2022

Best Songs of the Decades

I saw on Twitter that someone was listing their 100 favorite songs on their blog. I thought that was ambitious. I have probably have a hundred favorite songs (there's over 2,000 on my iPhone) but to list them all would be hard. And to separate the favorites from the ones I merely like would be arduous. 

So I thought I'd just list my few favorite songs. But then I remembered that I already did that. Okay, it was four years ago, but still...

So I had the idea: my favorite songs of each decade I've been alive. That seemed less laborious. I was born in the sixties so we'll start then. These are the songs that make me turn up the radio...

1960s: Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane.  It came out in 1967 so I must have discovered it later because I was very young in '67. I love the vocals and the driving beat. 

1970s: This is harder. The '70s are my favorite decade for music. There's Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix and Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. Add in Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple (some of the best guitar work of the decade). There's 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago. And the song I've always called "my favorite": We're an American Band by Grand Funk Railroad. So I guess that has to be my favorite of the 1970s.

1980s: Music changed in the '80s. The existence of MTV didn't help the headlong slide into commercialism. But there was still some good music. This one is easier. My favorite song of the 1980s is Money for Nothing by Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler's guitar work is amazing. Unfortunately, these days it's hard to find a copy online that hasn't been bowdlerized because one verse is offensive to some. They don't understand the context of the song.

1990s. This is even easier. I pretty much stopped listening to newly released music about 1992. It all just sucked too much (and it's only gotten worse). So my favorite song of the 1990s was released in 1991: Smells like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.

2000's through 2020s: Nada. Zip. Zero. I don't know if the music changed or my tastes changed. I suspect the former. 

Do you have favorite songs from the decades listed? Disagree with my opinion of the 2000s and up? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

"Not Yet" to Electric Cars

Tesla Model S
I'm half-heartedly looking for a new car. My current vehicle will be nine years old in December so I might want to buy a new car late in 2023. But I'm debating that because my current car, despite its age, runs great, looks great, rides great, handles great, etc. Part of that is the German engineering and part is that I've taken care of it.

I only want a sedan. I'm not interested in an SUV or-- gag--a crossover. I considered briefly a certain station wagon but decided to not go that way. I've narrowed it down to two cars: an Audi and a BMW. I was surprised to learn the BMW had more horsepower and was cheaper. And came with three years free maintenance.

But before I looked at internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, I looked at electrics. My criteria for an electric was 300 miles of realistic range and/or the ability to recharge in ten minutes.

When it comes to electric cars, there is something called the "EPA Range." This is like EPA mileage number for an ICE vehicle: not realistic in real-world driving. For example, the Tesla Model S Long Range has an EPA range of 375 miles. But Car and Driver magazine got only 281 miles diving the car at 75 miles per hour. And if the weather is hot, or cold, or you go up hill too much or you run the heat or the air conditioner, you can lower the range a lot. Car and Driver found with a Model 3 from Tesla, in cold weather the range was nearly cut in half.

Lucid Motors (which has yet to put a car on the road) claims an EPA range of 520 miles for its Air Dream Edition. But it's MSRP is $169,000 and that is rumored to be going up due to high demand. And that's a bit more than I want to spend on a car.

I was talking to a man who owns an electric car. He says if he wants to drive out of town, he rents an ICE car. Also, sometimes you come to a charger and someone is already charging so you have to wait. That adds to the "refuel" time.

I keep reading about coming amazing batteries that can go 1,000 miles and refill in 9 seconds. But who knows how long it'll be before those become reality. If ever.

For now, I'll stick with an ICE car. Even with gas prices being ridiculous.

UPDATE: Lucid has delivered 300 cars about to customers.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Two Basic Stories

I've thought about this for a long time when it comes to writing or fiction stories of any kind. And the movie Belfast reminded me of it. Here it is:

There are two basic types of stories in fiction. One is ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Such as the people in Belfast living through the "Troubles" in the late 1960s. 

The other type is extraordinary people doing what for them is ordinary things. Think superheroes saving the world. 

Ordinary people doing ordinary things would be rather boring, I think. So you have to add extraordinary drama to their lives to make a story.

Extraordinary people doing ordinary things (such as going to work, taking kids to soccer practice) would also be boring. But them doing things that are for them ordinary (saving the world) is not boring.

And that's my theory of fiction writing.

What do you think? Am I nuts? Or do you agree. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

My Issues with Star Trek: Picard Season Two

Star Trek: Picard season two is over. It was fairly interesting and somewhat fun. But it had a lot of issues with Star Trek canon.

**Spoilers Follow**

One: Guinan didn't recognize Picard. I can understand if she were surprised to see him in the 21st century. But she first met him in San Francisco in 1898. This happens in "Time's Arrow Part II," the first episode of season seven of Star Trek: The Next Generation (hereafter ST:TNG). In "Time's Arrow Part I," she tells him that he has to go back in time to meet her.

Two: Our intrepid heroes travel back to 2024.  Everything looks a lot like our current 2022. But, according to the "Space Seed" episode of Star Trek (the original series), there were massive eugenics wars in the 1990s. Here's a bit of dialogue:

Kirk: "Name: Khan Noonien Singh."

Spock:  "From 1992 through 1996, absolute ruler of more than a quarter of your world, from Asia through the Middle East." 

Kirk: "The last of the tyrants to be overthrown."

And from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Khan speaking: "...[T]he Enterprise picked up the Botany Bay, lost in space from the year 1996 with myself and the ship's company in cryogenic freeze?"

So there were eugenics wars that ended in 1996 and I doubt 2024 (less than 30 years later) everything would be hunky dory again and it would look anything like our world today. Yes, Soong pulled out a file marked "Project Khan" but that would move the eugenics wars to maybe 2030 instead of the 1990s. (This is also hinted at in the first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.)

Three: Picard's older brother, Robert. In the ST:TNG episode "Family" (second of the fourth season), Picard goes to his family home in France and encounters his older brother, Robert. Yet in all the flashbacks to Picard's painful childhood, Robert is never around.

Four: Wesley Crusher as a "traveler." In Star Trek: Nemesis, Wesley is seen in a Star Fleet uniform at Riker and Troi's wedding. But in the ST:TNG episode "Journey's End," (Season seven, episode 20),  Wesley did go off with the travelers. Which is why a lot of people were surprised to see him in Nemesis. So which is it, Star Trek?

Later I might talk about my problems with Strange New Worlds.

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Strange New Worlds Episode One

I was going to wait until the end of the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to comment on it. But I have a huge issue with the first episode so I'm going to discuss that here.

**Spoiler Alert**

In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Amok Time," Spock starts to experience the "Pon Farr." This is the once-every-seven-years mating period. It is strongly hinted here (and in other Star Trek canon) that Pon Farr is the only time Vulcans mate. 

Also, in "Amok Time," Spock explains that his marriage to T'Pring was arranged (I watched the episode on Paramount+ to confirm this). In that episode he says to Kirk and McCoy that the wedding was "By our parents arrangement when we were but seven years of age."

Yet, in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, T'Pring asks Spock to marry him (not have the marriage arranged) and they go off to celebrate by having sex. That is, mating. Like humans. Not Vulcans. (The sex is interrupted before it gets started by Captain Pike calling.)

I haven't seen today's episode yet, so I have no comment on it.

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