Thursday, September 29, 2016

A meditation on Parent Moments: Far Flung, by Laura Montgomery

First, I review; then, I meditate.
Preliminary: You must know that I am writing this with my fat black Manx cat SugarBelly resting in the crook of my left arm. and looking over her shoulder at the keyboard from time to time in anticipation. I believe it's because one of Montgomery's earlier books is "Manx Prize," and SugarBelly thinks it's about her; and, by extension, she thinks every book and story Laura Montgomery writes is about her. I have ceased to argue the point. I think Mark Twain had observations about men and cats which apply. The reason I pass this bit of feline intrusion along is because at some point, SugarBelly will turn around, and start attempting to use the keyboard. Therefore, any unexpected change in point of view should be regarded with suspicion.
The review: Far Flung is a novella-length (53 pages) work painting the picture of a small population of adventurer-engineers who determine that libertarian principles will be better served by forming an independent nation. They acquire a decommissioned mining platform, add to it, and construct huge sea-going island, which they christen New Oregon. Most of the N.O. crew are from the United States, and they have formally renounced their US citizenship prior to declaring a new entity.
They are opposed in this endeavor by factions in the United States, some governmental, others private. The governmental factions are headed by the IRS, which regards the new nation as a fictional construct, designed to free the NO citizens from their tax burden (including prior accumulated debt). Other governmental agencies are interested in nationalizing new technology being pioneered in New Oregon. And finally, in the private sector, families of the relatively young crew/citizens of New Oregon want them to return to the US because of concerns for their safety.
All of this is brought to a head when Venezuela, pretty much acting as a rogue state, decides to annex New Oregon, claiming it has entered waters under their control. Since this is patent lie, provable  by satellite imagery and GPS recordings, it's clear that they are relying on brute force to impose their will, and give a black eye to the US in the process.
Communications have been established between the US government and the crew of New Oregon . As a libertarian state, New Oregon refuses to ask the US for aid, because they can't pay for it, and accepting it would revoke their independent status.
And as a kicker: the Secretary of State for New Oregon is engineer Betha Tenney, the daughter of Navy Captain Adam Tenney, who has been sent as an observer to the negotiations. This permeates the drama of the  "rebels with a cause" narrative with a personal tension, which brings the theoretical home to roost.
Thus endeth the review.
The meditation.
A quick quick bit of family background: My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA and I have between us 10 children and nine grandchildren, with one grandchild on the way. MY (biological) firstborn son, Jordan has two sons of his own, Heath and Eliott. When Heath was a newborn, March 2013,  Jordan was on active duty in the Georgia Army National Guard, and deployed to Shindand Air Base in Herat Province, Afghanistan.
A bad thing happened.
What with this and that, three years passed.
Last night, Vanessa and I were babysitting six month old Eliot while big brother Heath and Mommy Courtney were at church. Vanessa was moogling a laughing Eliott, and I was faithfully reading "Far Flung" in preparation for the review. And as I'm reading about the anguish Adam Tenney is experiencing, knowing that his daughter is in a situation in which she may be killed, and that she has freely chosen the path that lead her there, and that he is utterly POWERLESS to do anything to help her, Jordan calls me to tell me he's on his way to pick up Eliott. A short time later, he comes in the front door, the same door he's used since 1992; but now, he's using a cane. He eases himself into a seat on the couch, and we chat.
It's been three years since a 155 mm rocket blasted him into a concrete wall in Shindand, smashing his knee and giving him a traumatic brain injury. He has come a LONG way ; he has a long way to go.
After he and Eliott left to rejoin Mommy and Heath at home, I TRIED to return to "Far Flung." I couldn't do it. Reading about Adam Tenney experiencing the same thing I had experienced; and still experience; it was just too much for me.
So, I had a Parent Moment, and I cried.
I briefly raged. See, he had a college degree when he enlisted. His best friend had served two deployments in the Marines, and we have a family history of service including WWI, WWII, Korea & Viet Nam, plus all the non-combat service; so I GOT it that he wanted to serve. BUT he was supposed to be a cannon crew member, he was field artillery, NOT infantry! Not guarding an air base! I didn't rage long, though, because: he is a man I am proud of, and he told me: "I don't like the outcomes, but I'm proud of my decisions." And I can't rage at that. he is an honorable, righteous man, and a good father and husband.
And after I had my Parent Moment, I moved on, and breathed, and did the next right thing, which was to go to sleep.

My nam is SugarBelly Patterson, and I don't approve thsi coz he wasn't scratch my hed. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Surprising your wife, pleasantly; part the second

Dearest friends in internet land,

As you saw when last we met, I was able to get my beard trimmed. I DID find my Leatherman tool, and got the batteries charged on my electric drill.
But, I could not disassemble the Ground Fault Tolerant plug on the air conditioner; the screws holding it together were not something designed to be removed by the consumer.
Ha ha, I thought. They do not know Who They Are Dealing With. One time, I clamped a 5 inch circular saw blade on a router. It didn't turn out well, and somewhere in a neighboring county, there is a circular saw blade embedded in a rafter in the attic.
But, a tool for every job, and now I have a DREMEL!!! with lots of parts. I could cut that plug in two pieces, and THEN we'll see who has a screw loose!
But, I didn't do that. It seems we had an extra air conditioner window unit, which was replaced by a better-sealing window fan during the annual stink bug migration that has been a feature of the area for the past few years.
So, I used my manly muscles to remove the defective window unit and set it on top of a big storage container by my side of the bed, and then re-used my manly muscles (yes, they ARE re-usable!) to place the functioning air conditioning unit in our window, and replaced fasteners and curtain things and stuff, and with a whirr, we were back in the land of air conditioning.
BY THE WAY!!!! A literary acquaintance by the name of Clair Kiernan has written a FABULOUS! post about Atlanta summers on her Facebook page, and if that link worked, and if you are at ALL familiar with the climate in the South, you will appreciate the yock. I, myself, yocked and yocked, and then I read it to my gift-from-God, happy-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and she yocked as well.
So, manly muscles fatigued, cool air on the way, I retired to my Sunday rest.
Did I mention that Vanessa smiled when she saw my beard was trimmed? She did.
I love it when she smiles.
Something woke me up in the middle of the night. Fortunately, I had my handy flashlight. At least, I had somebody's handy flashlight; might have been Vanessa's. So, I flashed the room. And what did I find? There, creeping along the wall, was a cute little green frog, about the size of my thumb, with sticky pads on his feet, and big bulgy eyes, and a great big mouth! Where did he come from?
Well, as near as I can tell, he had been living in the air conditioner. There's a little clean space amongst the mossy green coating where his (or her; didn't check) tiny little butt had been resting, and waiting for more bugs to come visit.
No, I did NOT shoot the little green frog with any of the assortment of firearms which are always at hand. Instead, I used a MUCH rarer item (a clean hand towel) and wrapped him up and took him outside.
And Vanessa stayed asleep through the whole thing.
But when she did wake up, a bit later, I showed her the video, and she was disturbed. So I gave her a hug and a kiss, and it was alright. But she made me check for snakes. I knew there weren't any, but I checked anyway. And she smiled.
I love it when Vanessa smiles.
Here's the frog. It's a bad picture, captured from the video I took, and blown up using Paint. Precious, right?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

How to trim your beard & surprise your wife pleasantly

I need  know: How many Leatherman (or Gerber) Tool kits you need in an American household before you can find one. I know I have two, and I think there may be as many as six in the house, depending on what the boys took with them when they grew up and moved out; but so far, all I know is that it's a number greater than two.

I suspect it's not just a threshold number. My guess is that there is a predictive algorithm:

Tf = |To * - (.265Cy + .489Ct + .3201Car + .0645Canr)|

Which means Tools found equals the absolute value of Tools owned multiplied by negative values for the number of Children(young) + Children (teen)+ Children (adult, resident) + Children (adult, non-resident).
There is a bit of wiggle room in these figures. You will notice that there is no factor in here for 'Spouse.' That's because whenever I ask her where my whatever is, she hasn't seen it, doesn't know what it is, and she gave it back to me the other day, remember?
This is a hypothetical Spouse, NOT my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after- trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. She HAS no faults, thank you very much. Why, in fact, yesterday, she told me to plug in the electric drill for some reason, and I said okay, turned and looked at the drill (right next to my file cabinet), and it was fine. So, sometime in the night, someone stumbled over the cords, almost pulling down the printer, and coincidentally unplugging the drill.

Why do you want the drill? You said you were going to trim your beard!

Yesterday afternoon at some point, the ground-fault tolerant plug on our window air conditioner went out, and it's HOT in the bedroom, and even hotter in the bathroom. And the screw holding the head on the rotating fan is just loose enough that the fan slumps, dejectedly, moving air around my feet.

Is that it? You need the multitool to tighten the screw on the fan? How long does it TAKE you to trim your BEARD?

I was getting to that. About a week ago, I gave Kenneth the buzz cut he asked for, and the lad has this amazingly thick, soft, curly hair. When ever he goes out, the people always shout "Amazingly Thick Soft and Curly Hair, Na na na na na na na! He HATES that. So, I really did clean my Wahl trimmer (the industrial version, with the turbocharged diesel engine), but, as I'm about to trim the beard, I notice I missed some.
And to clean it properly, got to remove two little Phillips head screws.
And then I'm gonna tighten the fan.
And then trim my beard, and clean up.
And then see about repair or replace on the air conditioner GFT plug. You don't need all that stuff anyway, just cut the plug off, and stuff the bare wires in the light sockets.

Umm, I'm not gonna do that if I don't have to. The oven is one of those that is either gas or electric, and we use gas, so I think I have a heavy duty cord somewhere.

If I can fix everything needed to trim my beard (Scissors? Who said scissors? Go to the back, you) I will take a before and after picture.  And hope Vanessa smiles.
I LOVE it when Vanessa smiles.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Making baseball interesting and profitable for everyone

I've been a fan of the Atlanta Braves ever since they moved here from Milwaukee. It hasn't always been easy. I got to see some Hall of Fame players, and some that probably SHOULD have been Hall of Fame, but I also remember guys like Mike Lum, the utility infielder; Denis Menke, and of course, Felipe Alou. I got to see Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, and Joe Torre play, and I THINK, (but am not sure) that I also saw them homer, but not back-to-back, which they did on at least one occasion. The one game I was NEVER going to see was the one in which pitcher Tony Cloninger hit two grand slam home runs, because that was played in San Francisco, July 3, 1966, and we lived in Atlanta burbs.
There were some AWFUL years. I've been to games where there were no more than four thousand people in the ball park. On one season opener, the Atlanta Hawks were in the play-offs, and between innings they put that game up on the outfield wookidat-a-tron, and the crowd booed when they switched it off when the game resumed.
I remember looking at their performance once during the 70's and or 80's, and some sports writer was making a point that the team had lost more one run games than any other team in baseball. To be that close, and still lose; it was tough being a fan. And the one time the DID make it to the playoffs during those two decades, they found out in the clubhouse, watching SF Giants slugger Joe Morgan hit a three run homer to knock the Dodgers out of the race, and give the championship to the Braves. By one game.
Oh, yeah, at some point after that, and before they had their hats handed to them in the play-offs, Dale Murphy, the clean-living National League MVP, and center fielder, spoke to every player on the plane, reminding them of a game in which their performance had lead to a Braves victory. And he closed each memory by saying, 'and that's the game that gave us the championship.' What a class act; unfortunately, the talent ran pretty shallow most of those years. Exceptions, to my way of thinking, include Gene Garber, Bruce Benedict, Glenn Hubbard, and Phil Niekro. There were others, but I ain't a sportswriter, and besides: I already made the key point:
The Braves led baseball in the number of games lost by one run.
Now, you wouldn't think a teenage boy would spend THAT much time thinking about baseball, and certainly, by the time I was in my twenties and thirties, all my magical thinking SHOULD have been gone.
But, I just couldn't forget all those games lost by one run, and wish we could have saved some of those where we whaled the stew out of the opposing team. As a LATE example of that. the Braves were the first team to really take the measure of the Baby Bull, Fernando Valenzuela, knocking him out of the box early in the game. If we could somehow BANK those runs....
If we could bank those runs, it would make baseball much more enjoyable, and also increase the budget of 'less-than' teams, which could go to...I dunno...subsidizing the cost of hot dogs?
Here's how it works: The way it is now, teams that are going really well draw a lot of fans, which means increased revenue from ticket sales, advertising, and endorsements. Teams that DON'T do well get fewer bucks, and can't afford to pay for big ticket stars, which means losing more games.
So, we set up a Run Bank. Let's say the Braves beat the Dodgers by 10 runs. At a cost of 1,000,000 per run, they can BANK up to NINE of those runs to be used later. For each one of those runs, half of the money goes to the other team (the Dodgers in this case), 40 % goes into the Worlds Series Fund, 10% goes to the league for admin costs. So, at the end of the year, the Braves see, okay, we won 86 games, lost 74, and banked 200 runs. Out of those 74 games we lost, 43 of them were by one run. So, we add two runs to each of those games, which moves them into the win column. That gives us 117 wins, the most in baseball, so we are in the National League playoffs (forget the division champs; nobody cares, all right?)
BUT, the other guys have banked runs as well, so our 117 wins gets knocked down to 70. No problem, we only used 86 of our 200 banked runs; we have 114 more to go. That's enough to give us the win in 57 cases; we use them all, and we are back up to 127 wins, and in the playoffs, again.
And it only cost us $200,000,000.
A bargain.
The numbers may vary, but it's still a bargain.
The premium will be on high scoring contests, and teams with no hit/no pitch lineups will be as highly sought after as teams with a huge attendance draw; one has a big gate, the other has the potential for adding a lot of runs to the Run Bank.
Don't you think this would be GREAT?
If so, you must LOVE the Hugo voting rules.
(Had ya going there, didn't I?)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Amazon rankings are broken! 9/16/2016

Wow. Amazon's review system is broken.
I just now read the verification of that in the Reviewer Forum. While frequently flavored by spite, calumny, contempt, and mean-spirited attack posts, the forum DOES offer some inside information to outsiders like myself. And here's what I just found out, and why it might be important.
Reviewers are ranked based on the number, timeliness, helpfulness of their reviews, and whether or not they are a 'Verified Purchaser.'  That last means they purchased the product through Amazon; KU loans are excluded from that category. The higher a reviewer is  ranked, the more impact their review will have on a product. A side effect of this system is that top reviewers (the top 10,000) will often be solicited to write reviews for products, and there have been scams associated with the practice, including reviewers selling positive reviews.
On or about July 26, ALL reviewer ranks were frozen. Prior to that, rankings changed daily. I had peaked at 5,559, I believe, then slipped through non-participation to 6,179. And that number did not change, even though I started reviewing again and getting helpful votes.  I finally researched it, after yet another day of unchanged rating, and found it's like that for EVERYBODY.
WHY IT MIGHT BE IMPORTANT (to authors): No one is EXACTLY sure what the algorithm is for determining the rank of books. We DO know that rank is important, because random pickers like to get the highly ranked books. Other than that, sales figures and reviews are used to determine the rankings; a review from a top 100 reviewer is going to mean more than a review from a person who only writes one review, thus putting their name at the bottom of the list with a ranking somewhere in the vicinity of 35,000,000 (my ranking for my review of Amanda'a "Nocturnal Origins"  was 14, 360,604 on 10/28/14). As far as I know, we do not know how Amazon weights reviews vs sales.
BUT: a short freeze evidently happened once before, due to a software glitch, and it got fixed. We are coming up on two months for this freeze, and so far, NOBODY at Amazon has even admitted it's happening.
So I think: we are in for a re-set. I could be wrong, but I think that some of the loopholes in the reviewer system (like pay for review) got too egregious, and so they are going to dump the old system, and implement something new.
In the short term, this might impact book ratings and sales, but in the long term, I think it's gonna be okay. Amazon NEEDS a review system in place in order to run; that isn't the case since July 26, so a fix WILL happen.
Who knows?  Maybe it will take into consideration Kindle Unlimited as some fraction of a verified purchase. That's how it works with money.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Future of Science Fiction and Fantasy. And Stuff.

I've got an idea that people of a different time would have called "the cat's meow." I don't actually know when this time would be, and I'e never heard anyone use that phrase, but I'm sure I read it in a book or perhaps a magazine article or something. The idea is for a new KIND of award for works that fall into the category of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Vampires, Zombies, Monsters and Killing Them, Military Sci Fi, and whatever else we are reading, watching, listening to because we are trapped in this awful reality and really need to escape. Now, I live in Woodstock, GA, Cultural Center of the Universe, so I'm gonna have to have the award near me, at least until it's potty trained. I briefly thought about Dragon Con, which is sort of next door, but hey: I fought that Atlanta traffic for YEARS, since 1969, and I ain't going back there without a struggle. But just a little bit farther away in the opposite direction is Chattanooga, and as we all know, LibertyCon is the coolest EVER, so:
I propose that LibertyCon create a new award, addressing the future of science fiction and fantasy, and whatever else we are reading. I suggest the name "Thiotimoline Award," after the chemical compound which has the property of dissolving BEFORE being added to water. (The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline", Asimov, I., March 1948, J.A.S.F.)
The award would be given annually for the best work in each category (perhaps mirroring the Dragon Awards), but for future works, published, say...oh, I don't know...five years out?
So, at Liberty Con 2017, the Thiotimoline Award would go to the best work published in 2021, five years after the current eligible candidates for awards such as the Dragon, Hugo, Nebula, and John Campbell. I suspect this will rapidly become a highly favored award by Toni Weisskopf at Baen , always a forward-looking publishing house, and perhaps the Big Five (or is it Four? can't remember) publishers as well. For them, it will have the dual benefits of providing authors with manageable yet concrete deadlines, while also making possible a long-term publishing schedule, constructed around an award-winning work.
One category will become particularly popular with the entire F&SF community. "Best New Writer," also doing business as the John Campbell Award among others, is currently appallingly retrospective, looking BACK at newcomers for the previous year, or even from the year before that! Instead of being 'New,' the award as currently construed should really be stamped with an expiration date. The winners of the Thiotimoline Award for Best New Talent are undoubtedly either not in the profession at all at the moment of the award, or have been laboring over fine-tuning a work for an agonizing number of years. Receipt of the award will therefore instantly become the the sort of thing that eager candidates strive for to an unprecedented degree. Imagine the impact this could have had in years past: Michael Crichton would not have had to waste all those years in medical school, for example. 
While the Best New Writer is certain to be the headline award, the others are not without their own allure. On Sunday in the Mad Genius Club, Dorothy Grant wrote a wonderfully informed article about something I didn't understand because I didn't read it, but it at least mentioned in passing (or something) about authors being concerned about shifting their genre. I THINK this means ( I glimpsed some of the comments, but really, y'all, I just ran out of time) that if an author has been writing books about exploding spaceships, but then has an idea for a series about the conflict inherent in a love affair between a hyperintelligent shade of blue and a leopard who shape changes into another leopard, but just in spots, then winning the award for Best Novel would not even be necessary: just showing up on the list of nominations would provide the encouragement needed to take the plunge. "Look! I'm nominated for Best Novella for 'Lilac Summer!'" "Oh, really? What do you suppose THAT's about?" "I have no idea, but it's not about an accountant born without bones falsely imprisoned for making out with his music teacher and conquering the world wearing a power suit! I'm up to number twenty-two in that series! I knew I was ready for a change!"
And then we come to what is likely to be the most pernicious, heinous, malevolent criticism of this precious little white kitten of an idea: Won't fixing a particular outcome five years into the future be deterministic? What about the grandfather paradox? What about freedom of will?
I dunno. Try it; if the universe implodes, it was a bad idea.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Brings the Lightning, by Peter Grant

It would bother me greatly that I am such a fan boy of certain authors (and other people), if it weren't for the fact that I think. Yes, admittedly when I was in the third grade and eight years old, I was a gooey, sick kind of fan boy of Sergeant Rock, but then, it was also 1962 and my father and millions of people who mattered were all veterans of WWII. So, I practiced throwing grenades wit my step-dads sparkplugs for the SAAB he was rebuilding in the garage. He never should have left spark plugs on the kitchen counter, anyway; they look like hand grenades.
But, that was all pre-rational fan boy. I'm more than a half-century older now, and I actually THINK about the people I admire. I'm not going to go on and on about why I would admire Peter apart from his writing, because I think it would sound too much like a third-grader effusing about Sergeant Rock. Read what he has to say himself about where he's been and what he's done and what he thinks, and decide for yourself; I'm not selling memberships in the Peter Grant Fan Club.
But for me, he's one of the minor reasons I don't go to cons; if I were to encounter him in person, I'd make such an ass of myself that it would embarrass everybody in the neighborhood, the two principal embarassees being his insanely talented wife Dorothy and my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA.
He has two (related) space opera series; a profound autobiographical work called "Walls, Wires, Bars, and Souls;" and this new cowboy book.

Yeah, I said cowboy book. It ain't REALLY a cowboy book, but it is about the American West, in the aftermath of the Civil War.More specifically, it's about the choices and fortunes of one Walt Ames, a Confederate soldier discharged after Appomattox, who returns to his Tennessee home to find nothing to keep him.
He does have family, but in the hard-scraped days following the end of the War, there simply isn't enough coming in from the family farm to support another work hand.
And then, he gets to fulfill the fantasy of every teenage boy with a young and good-looking teacher, when he finds Rose Eliot, who taught him the penmanship he used to become a courier, has fallen on hard times, and he gets to provide her with the resources she needs and companionship out West, where she has the offer of a new teaching position.
If this was written by someone else, I suppose there would be a gratuitous sex scene tossed in here, before they had established a new relationship, but Peter has a better feel for frontier morality than that. SPOILER ALERT: they DO get married, and everything is done with propriety, and it takes rather longer than I wanted to; I figured out they would fall for each other quite a few chapters before they realize it.
Anybody who has heard family stories of a major move knows that the process was daunting. Walt has a hoard of gold coins come by honestly (well, by killing the guy who stole them) and that saves him from failure, but it is his skill as an armorer and (literally) a horse trader that makes the move out West a success. Walt also hires a crew of freemen to help manage the baggage train he puts together; to go much further would be to give away the story entirely. I will say that Grant has an excellent ear for dialogue, and does not make the mistake of confusing intelligence and ability with grammatical precision.
I'm looking forward to reading more in this series.