Friday, December 28, 2018

Hot Tea For Sick Papa

Greetings, Internet Friends and Family!

It's that most wonderful time of the year, when we are cooped up with people bringing us gifts, food, and whatever virus they have encountered in the last week or so. 14-year-old Kenneth woke up on Christmas morning with a fever of 102.1, and Papa had it by the next day.

A cold is a virus, and unless you took action before you knew you needed to, there's nothing to do for it but treat the symptoms and wait it out, and try not to infect other people. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, has returned to the work place to see if she can spread a little disease there. That's mostly because she has this unbending streak of job loyalty, which won't allow her to take time off.

Not me, though. I did ALMOST go out yesterday to get some things I need, but then ran out of time and energy, and just started another pot of jasmine rice, and took a nap.

Best thing for the sore throat: hot tea. Good stuff to put in it: Lemon. Honey. Whatever. Ginger. It's mostly gonna help by keeping your throat warm and wet.

Now, STARTING OUT with hot tea is never a problem. Everyone knows how to do that. But, I like to drink out of my Papa mug, and it holds A LOT of liquid. And I found myself having to visit the microwave multiple times to reheat the stuff.

Kenneth suggested an insulated cup. Yes that's a good idea, except I don't have one and I don't want to go out and get one. Besides that, it's not my Papa cup.

Many, many moons ago, my coworker/trainer gave me a cute , dainty handmade coffee cup with  a matching lid, which she said would keep my coffee warm. Yeah, that MIGHT work...if I knew where it was and could tolerate having the frilly item in my man cave.

I could do like Steve McQueen does in "Bullitt" and use an immersion heater. Another cord would NEVER present a problem, particularly when attached to a hot piece of, no.

But then I remembered a trick learned in 1972 from a congenial Army mess sergeant: if you want hot coffee, you gotta warm the cup first. A few years later, I took a physics class, and got the basic theory down, and he was right. You can't GET hot coffee if you pour it into a room temperature cup; it's a matter of heat transfer to reach equilibrium.

I expanded that idea today, and realized what I needed: additional hot mass in my cup. Something dense, to act as a heat storage device, like the reverse of the heat sink you use when soldering electrical components.

I may have mentioned that I reload for my firearms. I have LOTS of metal on hand! However, I decided some time ago not to consume lead, put it in my mouth, or make eating utensils out of it or get shot by it. So, the bullets were a no-go.

The solution came when I found decorative rocks: dense, clean, and with life-affirming messages written on them that don't come off in hot liquids. I even used math to figure out some things, but that may bore you, so I'll leave most of that out.

My hot tea life-affirming rocks

I will say that the two rocks, "Courage" and "Persevere," weighed a total of 7.0 ounces, while only displacing 1.8 ounces of fluid.

And, it worked. My cup of lemons, honey, and whatever else I added, stayed hot enough to be a comfortable drink for quite a bit longer than it would otherwise.

This life hack has been brought to you by the Papa Pat and the rest of the Chattahoochee Pattersons, wishing you courage, the ability to persevere, and excellent health.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

"All Made of Hinges," an anthology of Mormon Steampunk

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Two questions I must address first:
1. Why MORMON Steampunk?
2. Why am I, a non-Mormon, and a member of a high commitment, non-traditional Christian church, reviewing this work?

My response to the two questions.
1. Why MORMON Steampunk?
I have only quotes by the editor, but whether those answer the question, I am not sure. James Wymore, in his introduction, offers these as something that may constitute an answer to 'Why is there an anthology of Mormon steampunk?':
A. Steampunk has always been good to him
B. He is a faithful Mormon
C. He was asked to do it. 

Those work as answers to me, but if you have more questions, direct them elsewhere. I only review, I do not justify. 
A very cursory run through my memory reveals no corresponding volume which is a precise match. Certainly, there are other forms of literature linked with a particular belief system: pure expositions of theology; collections of hymns; children's instructional literature. There may even be such a thing as a particular Baptist expression of art, or a Methodist-inspired school of photography, although I am familiar with neither. Precedent exists at those times when EVERYTHING artistic had to be sponsored by The Church, because no one else had enough money to divert from survival needs. I suppose that Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia" and the Space Trilogy, besides being explicitly Christian works, may also be Protestant Christianity, and thus have some degree of specificity about them, but I wouldn't put them in the same category as "Here I Stand: A Biography of Martin Luther." 

So, while it may not be a customary thing for a work of non-religious literature to be linked to a particular belief system, it is not without precedent.

2. Why am I, a non-Mormon, and a member of a high-commitment non-traditional Christian church, reviewing this work?
I was asked to.

The Reviews.

Mere Pulp, by D. J. Butler. It's my understanding from reading the intro that D J Butler is the other primary mover of this anthology, for which we accord him due accord. He has written some EXCELLENT alternative history, published by Baen, in the "Witchy Eye" series, the last of which, Witchy Winter,  was a finalist for the Dragon Award. The quality of writing extends here, in a plot/subplot/counterplot steampunk detective story, concerning a plot to reanimate the body of Brigham Young and purify/save the Church, and the non-believers can go jump in the lake.

Marching On to Glory, by John M. Olsen. This one is exciting! It also manages to bring in the truth that military leaders frequently do not take into consideration the strengths and limitations of their troops when they make their plans for conquest. It's also a good example of that genre of literature which demonstrates that a prophecy may be fulfilled in more ways than one. Join the troops of the gigantic airship, as they make their way to battle the mechanized monsters of the South, and on the way get a glimpse of what the Eternal City must be like. This one, as others, makes lovely reference to the genius works of John Moses Browning, one of which is strapped to my right hip at the moment.

A Strike To The Heart of the Cannon Lord, by Stephen L. Peck. It doesn't matter whether we are discussing steampunk, magic, Iron Age implements, or antimatter devices, SOME Bozo is going to find a way to make people miserable with it. And some force, even it dwindles down to a Remnant, will defy the Bozo. And someone is bound to fall in love, even in the middle of a war. In this case, the Bozo is the Cannon Lord, and his superior use of steampunk tech have prevailed, up until now. A pitiful handful makes the final assault.

Avenger's Angel, by Elizabeth Mueller.  She's just a poor orphan girl, down to one faithful retainer and the last bit of technology left to her by her father. Alas, whatever shall she do? Well, she can become a bounty hunter, using her feminine wiles to win the confidence of wicked evil-doers, and then clap the bracelets on them, and turn them in for the reward. Lately, though, a tall, dark, and handsome stranger, mysteriously costumed while remaining devastatingly gorgeous, is getting the drop on her, and shooting the bad guys before she can turn them in. Alas, whatever shall she do? (Hint: she isn't gonna quit.)

Ganesh, by Scott E. Tarbet.  It is ingrained into the nature of men under arms, or engaged in some other death-defying career, that when the moment for rest comes about, they talk about what brought them to the place where they are. This is one of those conversations, more engaging than many. That it takes place between a sentient airship and a mecha-man is irrelevant; the best parts are still about fidelity and love. I couldn't say whether this story is most similar to Kipling, Jack London, or O. Henry, but it has that pleasing comfort those stories can bring. 

The Pipes of Columbia, by Jay Barnson.  Premise: the steel of Deseret has properties not found in other metals. In this case, it is the acoustical properties that are of particular value to a miscreant. A lovely lady in distress reaches out for help to a man crushed beyond endurance. And then, we have a very fine detective story. 

Napoleon's Tallest Teamster, by Joe Monson. Dippel's Oil, in this universe, is more than an obsolete animal and insect repellent. It actually acts as a restorative agent, which permits the construction of reanimated men with mechanical enhancements. However, although the substance  may generate activity, it is the actions and ethics of the Teamster that drives the story. The loyalty and determination that drives him is thus entirely his own creation, and may thus commend to his Ultimate Maker, those his earthly maker find him repellent. Nicely based on real events taking place in those years when France was having more difficulty than usual.

Reversals of Fortune, by Amanda Hamblin.  It is in this story that I found my ignorance of Mormon history to strike the hardest. From the descriptions, I get the feeling that these characters represent actual persons; if not, then they are singularly well-drawn. A dark-skinned Methodist girl, on her way to Italy, to work with their advances in steam technology, intercepts a young white girl whom she believes is intent on some sort of sabotage. Two Mormon evangelists look on, and render what assistance they can.

The Machinations of Angels, by Christopher McAfee.  This is a ghost story. There is a moderate amount of Mormon references and steampunk devices, but the essential nature is that of BOO!  What would YOU do if an angel appeared, offering technology thought to be lost forever? We may not be able to count the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin; in fact, COUNTING appears to be one of the last things you will want to do with angels. (Spine-tingle!)

The Best Among Us, by Jace Killian. The details of the story include steampunk elements, such as airships, steam-powered guns, and mechanical legs. However, it's the message of alienation, repentance, and restoration which set this apart.

Strange Pilgrims, by John D. Payne. A house elf and a robot walk into a bar... 
Well, it's not a bar, it's a cargo hold. However, they DO strike up a conversation, just as strangers will sometimes do in a bar. What is the nature of man? It almost always comes down to that, doesn't it?

Tracting Out Cthulhu, by Lee Allred. (Did you ever want to write Cat Hewell Hugh, and then get into an argument about the correct spelling? Never mind.) This installment has the best bad guys, and what might be the best good guys, and the goofiest pun. You'll know the pun when you get to it; it's the name of a robot. The heroes include Japanese schoolgirls, and genius John Moses Browning is respected for his works, one of which I have strapped to my right hip at the moment. The sufficiently advanced steampunk technology is indistinguishable from magic, and a wicked-efficient airship captain spits tobacco. Nasty human bad guys are attempting to restore Cthulhu to power, and their location is hidden, and must be determined by sending Mormon missionaries door-to-door. Help! Help! The world is under attack!

I just went back over the list to see if I could find a favorite, and found it impossible. I MIGHT be able to pick a top five. I even might be able to separate the stories into two groups: stories I will read again, and those I won't. Even that would be twitchy: the story I am MOST likely not to read again is  so well crafted, I think it belongs in a 'Best Of' collection. I just don't LIKE stories in that genre. 

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Amazon, Facebook and Privacy Concerns

A person who posts from time to time on a social networking site I'm a member of alerted me to this article on Gizmodo, and this item in the New York Times.

Let me give a tiny summing up, and why it matters:

1. Facebook, Amazon, and other agencies shared user data without permission.
2. They continued to do so after they said they had never done it, and they wouldn't do it again.
3. The resulting data mining led to some invasions of privacy, including
4. Amazon deleting a book review a user submitted, saying she had a relationship with the author.
5. There WAS no relationship between the two; they were both members of some Facebook group(s). In addition, both had attended a conference.

How do you prove a negative? Absence of proof is not proof of absence, and it is VERY difficult to prove that Reviewer A is not friends with Writer B. Rather it is very difficult to prove that Writer B is not receiving inequitable advantage from Reviewer A.

A few years ago, Amazon had some significant problems with for-pay / for-reimbursement reviews. They slammed the door HARD on those companies that recruited reviewers, and wiped out thousands of reviews it found to be tainted.

Actually, that was something that needed to happen. Along with millions of other people, I BUY things from Amazon, and I count on the reviews to tell me what products to stay away from, as well as looking for good values. As a consumer, I really don't want to have to suspect the reviews of being purchased, rather than earned.

It's important to me as a reviewer as well. I have the best job in the world: I read books, and review them. 41 years of employment as everything from a shoe-shine boy to a college Dean of Admissions provided me with a retirement income that meets my needs, so I don't HAVE to generate more cash with my labor. I'm doing what I want to do; even though I make no money from it, though, I still want it to matter. So, yeah, Amazon, go ahead and dump the fraudulent review system. I'm with you! Facebook, some of those frauds used Facebook groups to run their scam. Sure, go ahead and ban them!

I'm not behind you if you are sifting through my internet presence, looking for a reason to clobber me, though.
First, stay out of my business. You have no need to know whether or not I am a member of any organization, or what my belief system is, in order to do your job. Shut up, and do YOUR job.
Second, bite me. I've written over 600 reviews on Amazon over the last several years, and they have all been authentic. If the the things I did on AMAZON present a problem, THEN maybe you need to get a clarification.
Third, stay out of my business and bite me.  How are you going to win my trust back? I didn't give you permission to talk to each other about me. I'm not talking about Homeland Security sifting through stanko-bytes of info, looking for terrorists; they've already disclosed that they do that. I'm talking about CORPORATIONS hooking up to gain money and influence by massaging my keystrokes. Are you the reason I keep getting these robo-callers? Prove to me you're not!

You can't do it, can you? Particularly since you have a track record of being untrustworthy, which is what the two articles cited make abundantly clear.

This is highly relevant to me at this moment, because a couple of weeks ago, one of my reviews was refused. And before I could find out WHY,  speculation happened. Was the review refused because I'm a racist? Because I'm a violent individualist? Or because (gasp) I had prior communication with the author?

That third one is true. (The first are probably true as well. I just don't give a flip about those.) The author and I are both people who have posted on Mad Genius Club, we both are members of a Facebook group, composed of writers and readers (gasp), and the author has responded when I have announced that I have space in my queue for books to review.

Fortunately, my review of Laura Montgomery's book "Like A Continental Soldier" was denied because I had included a picture of a chicken with the review. When you write an Amazon review, they ASK for pictures. And I picked a chicken because a major plot-point in that series is that the planet native vegetation and wildlife don't include an amino acid (IIRC) needed for human life, so humans have to eat an egg every couple of days, and chickens are therefore a HIGHLY valued commodity. However, the Amazon Enforcement Cabal failed to make the connection, and blocked the review.

I'm actually okay with that. It MIGHT have been a nasty in-joke or something.

What I am NOT okay with is that the initial rejection email is generic; just says I violated guidelines. It took a phone chat and a referral to the Amazon Star Chamber to find out that the problem was the chicken picture.

Can we trust Amazon and Facebook and the other offenders to process the data we give them, for the purpose we give it, and not share, and milk the result, looking for collusion?

HEY! WE are not the ones guilty of collusion. YOU ARE.

You should stop.

But, if you aren't going to stop, how about getting a better notification system going? How about the FIRST email to say "Unless you can explain to us why a picture of a chicken is attached to the review, we are taking it down." Is that too much to ask?

If you think it is, Amazon/Facebook/et al, then shut up, mind your own business, bite me, AND FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO IT RIGHT. That is, after all, your job.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

"Trade Winds," by Sarah A. Hoyt

What follows is a link to the book on Amazon, BUT, if you are running an ad-blocker (as I am) you won't see anything.

For those who can't see it (like me), it's a nice thumbnail of the cover, with a purchase link.
Ad blockers don't like pictures with purchase links, so, if you run your system in the same way I do, you get zip.

I don't like it when I get zip, and I imaging most people don't. There is a way to pause your adblocker, but I also don't like having to do that, and I REALLY don't like trying to provide instructions. But I do not wish for you to be deprived of a link and a picture, just because you run an ad blocker.

Therefore, I will provide for you THIS LINK TO THE BOOK, and a picture of me cuddling my newest granddaughter, Miss Evelyn.
Papa and Miss Evelyn Hart, 11/19/18

Preliminary note to the review: I grabbed this book the INSTANT it was released! No, not really. It was released on September 5, and I got it September 7. But I did read it immediately. 
So, why is the review being published three months later?
Short answer: my reviewer function got messed up. You've all heard of a comedy of errors, right? I suppose there is also a tragedy of errors. What I experienced was more a mediocrity, a BOREDOM of errors. And while that was happening, this book got knocked out of my TBR&R sequence.
But, I'm back now. I think.

Making things up out of whole cloth. I want to talk about the cover first.
Some 50+ years ago, when I was 15, the husband and wife of the family I was living with at the time were experiencing marital discord. So, they sent me to a psychologist. (I learned later, in my own graduate studies, that this response is common enough in dysfunctional family systems that it has a name.) One of the first thing the doc did with me was administer the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which is allegedly a series of ambiguous pictures for the client to make up stories about. Well, THESE pictures weren't ambiguous in the slightest! Every picture was about a teenage boy murdering people in his house, and getting revenge on all who had harmed him. I wasn't ABOUT to tell THAT to the doc; he'd think I was crazy!

I'm giving you this background so you will take my perception of the cover with a grain of salt.

It's a beautifully executed cover. An attractive woman of indeterminate years (long graying hair, but an unlined face) stands with her head turned away from the cathedral-type window, which appears to be executed in stone. (I'm sure there is a more precise term, but architecture isn't my thing.) Through the window, we see starry skies, and a departing spaceship, shown to be such by the blue exhaust.
The woman is wearing a sky-blue garment; it MAY be a jacket, as there is a hint of darker color at her neckline. On the right shoulder of the jacket is a circular patch, depicting an ancient sailing ship of the longship or birlinn type, single-masted, with three oars visible.

I conclude: she is a naval officer, who has chosen, with regret, to be left behind in port when her ship leaves. I say officer, instead of ordinary seaman, because of the length and condition of her hair; swabbies don't like to have to fool around with the long stuff, because it gets in their way, gets caught in capstans, and who has time to take care of it when yer swabbing decks and chipping paint? Since she is an attractive woman, this MUST be a matter of the heart; physical beauty in literature is never wasted on the uninteresting. The regret is evidenced by the fact that she has turned her head AWAY from the departing ship, and the utter absence of a smile.

And now, the reviews.
Nice intro by Sam Schall. I'd like to see more of those done.

And Your Little Dog, Too. I love that phrase from "The Wizard of Oz," and use it frequently. However, in this story, it sort of applies. An aerospace engineering student with interest in flying saucers picks up an old hitchhiker and his dog on a lonely country road. Nobody gets slashed! However, the old hitchhiker has some interesting ideas about contacting aliens, and he is..strange, somehow. And his little dog, too.

Who Goes Boing? Eccentric genius nerds with high technology at their fingertips and a commanding officer from 'the REAL Army' have to explore a new planet. Cartoons are funny, aren't they? Here, have a cigar. I'll light it for you.

A Cog In Time. Anytime you can hang out with David Drake is a good time. I was appalled when I realized I spent a year living in Chapel Hill and never crossed paths with him. He MAY have been involved with other things, at the time. Or maybe it was another time.

All Who Are Thirsty.  Not nearly old enough to have been an authentic Hippie, but of that genre anyway, she really wanted to bean archaeologist and study ancient cultures. Until the aliens landed. And whereas all of the classics films had them giving us advanced technology, and sometimes eating us, NONE of these BEMs wanted anything except to discover God. They had never HEARD of such a concept until Earth entered their lives. But she's an atheist! Selling crap in a New Age bookstore!

Yearning To Breathe Free. Since it's pretty much determined that humans arose out of Africa, EVERYONE in the United States has ancestors who immigrated here from somewhere else, whether it was a land bridge from Siberia, on a boat or for a fortunate few, on a plane. You think we would have adapted to the problems of immigration by now. Evidently not. These undocumented aliens will get eaten if they are deported, though. Should that matter?

Calling The Mom Squad. Those of us who have actually had to shuttle kids to soccer practice, ballet, scouts, karate, and attend orchestra concerts on the same night we are at a cheerleading function know this: it ain't no picnic being a soccer mom. These particular moms also have to fight dragons, though. Yeah, I'd take the dragon fighting, too, except it's NOT "do this OR do that." It's "do this AND do that." And keep it a secret, too, okay?

On Edge. In what was SUPPOSED to be discovering new ways to deliver packages for Amazon, the geniuses discover how to open up doors to other times and other worlds. Here's a helpful hint for you, should you be working on the same thing: don't be the first guy through the door.

Some Other Pieta. Okay, here's a thought problem for you: what kind of child would a marriage between Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa produce? That's not what happens in this story, but I would encourage you to consider the ramifications anyway. One other thing: the bad guys have six arms.

Leaving Home.  All across America, you can find little ghost towns that faded away when the railroad came through in the 1880's, or when the Interstate was built in the 1960's. What happens to the junction points in future travel, when you can cross light years in a moment? And then, something better comes along?

Flying. Earth is maybe an okay place to be for most people, but some folks must emigrate or they will die. However, the government controls the entire system of moving off-planet. If YOU were the head of government, would YOU let just anybody move into your bright and shiny new planets?

The Big Ship and The Wise Old Owl. I don't think Robert Heinlein invented the idea of the generation ship, but he sure did more to  popularize it to my generation than anyone else has. I've read several stories using the idea of the generation ship as a basis, and most involve the idea that the people on the ship have forgotten what's really going on. In this variation, nursery rhymes have a special meaning, for those who are able to to hear.

And Not To Yield.  If you are already a fan of Sarah Hoyt, you know about her novels dealing with the society run by the Good Men, who are anything but. This is a story set in that universe. For the novice, this is a story about a revolution against tyranny, when the USA is only a distant memory, repressed by a few who hold ultimate power.

Trade Winds. I LOVE alternate history! In this story, Hannibal won against Rome, and Carthage became the primary cultural influence. Their society was founded on trade, rather than conquest, and civilization has advanced faster and farther. Even so, some people are still treacherous.

At last, at 4:03 Eastern on Tuesday, December 18, 2018, I have completed the assignment I gave myself months ago. I offer my apology to Sarah A Hoyt, who is a Space Princess of some influence, and her fans in the Diner and elsewhere.

Peace be on your household.