Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rembrandt and More

The second flyby past Mercury is starting to yield new information, including a major new impact basin, an abundance of magnesium in Mercury's "exosphere" and changes to the planet's magnetic field.

One more flyby and then the orbital phase in March 2011.
Stross on Ideas

Charles Stross on where he gets ideas for stories.

Ideas! Ten a penny! New ideas, one slightly careless owner, get ’em cheap while they’re fresh!

Ideas, hah. The real challenge in this line of work is being able to weed the productive ones from the chaff, to decide which you’re going to spend the next six to nine months turning into something that people will pay for.

Remember: ideas are the easy bit. The rest, as the man said, is perspiration.
The Broken Model

What's wrong with the publishing industry? SF/F author Lois McMaster Bujold points to one major problem in this interview: here we have an author that had sold consistently well, who did not do "as good" when moving from paperback original to hardcover first.

I wish Mirror Dance had sold better in its debut and paperback debut. Although that wasn't as embarassing as the returns on my first hardcover, The Spirit Ring, 37% sell-through, ow, ow! Which Baen manfully ate. The book did earn out eventually. It can be discouraging to write evergreens in a market set up to reward bestsellers.

Teaching Math

Jon Titus yearns for the return of "simpler" mechanical devices...because they make you think.
Kamen and the Stirling

Dean Kamen (of the Segway Human Transporter) is pushing his re-launch of the Stirling engine again.

As an alternative, I'd suggest a read of Michael Yon's post Quick email from Borneo Island II, on the "Gobar Gas system" (next to last paragraph).
Batteries Are Included

The true story behind the dearth of Jedi in the Star Wars universe.
"Wasn't Thinking of Honor Harrington, Really..."

Spotted on a mailing list.

Bursting through the sixteenth wormhole
Fourteen hundred plus times light speed
Spaceship Hiawatha sparkled
Like an actinium torchlight

On the strangely still command deck
Lounged her steely-eyed commander
Captain Alexandra Dipthong
Lately of the planet Portia

She had come out here in search of
Evil pirates of this sector
Raiders of galactic shipping
Bad-ass nasties, every one

This time she was really after
One very special super asshole
Blackjack Andy Quentin Hardy
Torturer of little kittens

Hardy hid out somewhere close by
In his castle in the asteroids
Orbiting the blue star Astrid
Guarded by his dragon, Reggie

Hardy was from Alabama
Not the Earth one, but another
A planet settled by the rednecks
Ruled by the sons of NASCAR

Thrown out of the inner systems
Vowing vengeance on the good guys
They set up their silly kingdom
Dedicated to their visions

Slowly, Alexandra crept up
To the planet Alabama
Sensors seeking Andy Hardy
Into every nook and cranny

Suddenly a ping pinged onscreen
Of the major peeking peeker
Finding Andy's hidden castle
On the asteroid Dingleberry

Calling her assault commander
Alex sped down to the boat bay
Jumped aboard a landing craft there
Gave the order to get going

Swooping under Dingleberry
Assault craft in attack formation
Touched down softly on the asteroid
From which jumped marines with weapons

Lasers flashing, grenades booming
Pushed by jumpjets in their spacesuits
Alexandra's task force stormed on
Breaching Andy Hardy's holdout

After mopping up the stragglers
Troopers grabbed the super asshole
Held him tightly for their Captain
Who addressed him as he stood there:

"I have you now, you nasty villain
You will now face civil justice.
Taken to our courts you will be.
Probably, you will be quartered"

"Hah, you bitch", exclaimed the pris'ner
"You ain't got me to your home yet.
Many friends have I way out here.
They like you as much as I do."

Then they bundled up the captives
Loaded them into the shuttles
Took them to the Hiawatha
And departed for the homeland

As she gazed out of the porthole
At departing Dingleberry
Alexandra smiled with pleasure
Job accomplished, bad guy captured

But the thing that she remembered
Giving her the greatest pleasure
Was what she had done while leaving—
Shooting Andy's dragon Reggie

Author (?) credit: "MajorOz"
The Others

Several authors, including one favorite (P.C. Hodgell) respond to a query about using "others" in genre fiction.
For A Few Dollars More

For sale, one Titan missile base. Missiles must be purchased separately.
Paul Lehr

After yesterday's postings about covers for various science fiction novels, here's a pair of pages about Paul Lehr. Lehr contributed many covers (especially to the Berkley line).
Easy Travel to Other Planets (An Ongoing Series)

Dark Roasted Blend looks at imagined travel posters (to other worlds).

Or..."clear answers for common questions"...
Surface Tension

Fun things about liquids in microgravity.
Down to Earth

Jeff Patterson conquers the Solar System. Sort of.
Rendezvous with Rama

Say, whatever happened to the "real" Rendezvous with Rama film project? Here's a nifty (amateur) short...
1970's Redux

As a friend recently pointed out, it looks like we're living in a 1970's SF novel. Swine flu alerts and the problems of containing the outbreak. Captain Trips is gonna save me!

Feeling that the tide of history has marched past him, jihadist wingnut Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi looks to the West for verification that he is still number one.


The Young Lady read them...several times...and is doing so again. I read them again (for the first time since I was about her age). Now my wife is reading them. The Adventures of Tintin!
Cold Facts

A satellite orbit calculator. The basics of space flight. There you go, now write that novel!

When running Command Decision or other miniatures games, I often have to scramble for tokens to "mark" actions, the "state" of troops and the like. Here are some nifty tokens that could be used in CD or other games. For the modern-era variant (Combined Arms), this one would be fun!

Seven Sisters, One Moon, One Planet

If you weren't lucky enough to have had clear skies last Sunday, today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows you what you missed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ace is the Place

Covers from Ace Books. Ah, memories! Lots and lots of old friends here. I've looked at used copies, but Ace seems to be highly sought after.

It's horrible enough to be true...luckily it's only a NOVEL!

Classic covers from Penguin Books. I had a bunch of these, now reduced to mostly the Olaf Stapledon titles. I had most of the J.G. Ballard titles, but appear to have loaned them out at some point.
Cover Story

A collection of artwork gracing SF novels. I have a mixture of these.
The Death of Captain Future and Other Stories (and Other Stories)

Long before there was Perry Rhodan...we had Captain Future!

Now if only the Haffner Press collection of Edmond Hamilton classics would see light of print...

Under the Hood

The surface of Saturn's enigmatic moon. No longer quite as enigmatic! Still as cold, though...
End of an Era

No more bully beef? Say it ain't so!

Fighter jets unable to fly due to virus?
Truth vs. Fiction

Rambo? Wuss!
Electronic Thoughts

Some discussion on eBooks and eBook readers.
ISS Timeline

A timeline for the International Space Station. Flash, alas. (Blech. Don't get me wrong, wonderful graphic...but it takes forever to load on dial-up and you can't save it. What good is Flash?)
Cluster, No Eno

Ignore the io9 "article". Go right to the image. Galaxy cluster. Wowza!
The Consequences of a Clogged Inbox

How the heck did I overlook the April issue of Ansible? Especially with May breathing down our necks?

How Far is Far?

An XKCD classic. Inspired by this. Some explanations can be found here.
Silly Slang Song (Eric Bogle)

Do you remember the day when if you said that you were gay
It meant with joy, you could sing and shout?
When a fairy was enchanting and dressing up and camping
Was something you did with the Scouts?
That innocent age when an urgent case of aids
Was powdered milk we sent to the Sahara.
A fruit was something nice to eat, a poof was something for your feet
And a queen was an old tart in a tiara.
Chorus: Ah, look what we've done to the old Mother Tongue
It's a crime, the way we've misused it.
It's been totally tiswoggled, tronged and longed and gollywobbled
And we've strangled, frangled, mangled and abused it.
Ah, those halcyon times when a bong meant a chime
And a buzz was a noise insecticidal
A joint meant something between bones and getting really stoned
Only happened to bad people in the Bible.
When if you had a bad trip it meant you fell and broke your hip.
Cold turkey just meant Christmas at Aunt Dottie's.
Coke was something that you burned, smack was something that you earned
From your mumsy-wumsy when you had been naughty.

The years have gone, I'm afraid, when only eggs got laid,
And only the rhinosaurus got horny.
Only kangaroos jumped and only camels humped
Getting stuffed meant a little taxidermy.
Swnging was for trapeezes or Tarzan's chimpanzeses
Tossing off was something Scotsmen did with cabers.
Now it means something quite obscene while a heavy ugly scene
Is any movie starring Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Coda: They're only words, and words are what we use,
When we've got sod-all to say.
Three from the Legion

One of my all-time favorite space operas gets a look at Dark Roasted Blend.
The Warm Glow

A nifty-looking...gadget...using Nixie Tubes.
Nappy Conquers the World

The Grand Legos!
O'Brian's World

Personalities of the world of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. And the secret codes of diaries (Stephen Maturin employed several codes during the course of The Canon).
Chaos and Driving Miss Spirit

Views of "chaotic terrain" on the planet Mars, courtesy of the ESA's Mars Express orbiter.

Meanwhile, down on the surface of Mars, engineers are trying to diagnose memory problems with Spirit, while continuing to drive south (recall that Spirit has operated more than 20 times its original mission plan!).


NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer has been in operation for six years now.
Space Near and Far

A host of stories from the world of space. First, another potential candidate to run NASA takes his name out of the running. Who is running NASA? And what about those big decisions that need to be made? What about Congress deciding that an aging vehicle can be extended and extended (until another one goes "sprang", than suddenly it is NASA's fault...and not the fault of Congress, of course).

Over in the Constellation program there are hints that initially the Orion will fly with a smaller crew than originally planned (but could eventually be upgraded). And that the lunar base is out of the running (but a trip to a near-Earth asteroid is a is a Mars voyage—insane without extensive testing such as a Lunar base would give us, in my opinion). A small plus is that money is finally being made available for commercial manned flights.

Further out (way further out), hints as to why the plane of our galaxy "glows" with X-rays. And watch out! Rogue black holes may roam the galaxy, hungry for mass.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the furthest (in space and time) explosion yet detected by the orbiting Swift Observatory.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review, a few items of interest. Jeff Foust looks at Neil deGrasse Tyson's latest scree on Pluto. Taylor Dinerman looks at the latest blathering from the UN’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (wouldn't it be better if we had a Committee on the Useful Pieces of Outer Space)? My answer? Send up the Toybox! Finally, John Marburry looks at space-based solar power.

The Saturn V flies again!
A View of Earth

Since I have "Dish", I'll have to switch to channel 212 to see if this is available.
Worlds in Collision

The mystery of the missing exo-planets. Do most suns "eat" their "young"?

No, I'm Furious

Obama is furious. Bloomberg is furious. No...I'm furious. How stupid can you be?

Frakking idiots.
Reading About Reading

Sounds like something I'll need to look for: how books defined the life of Oscar Wilde.
Edge On

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the edge-on galaxy NGC 4565.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dusty Nebulae

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows some of the more difficult (for us amateur astronomers with light polluted skies and "modest aperture) sights in the sky to spot: Barnard's Dark Nebulae.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

With Friends Like These, Who Need Enemas?

A few of the more polite things said about SF author Tom Kratman (from his website):

"Tom Kratman's A Desert Called Peace is practically the platonic ideal of epic Jacksonian war-porn. The printing process involves soaking the books in testosterone. It is so beautifully, terribly and gloriously Jacksonian, in fact, that merely reading the book carries the risk of pregnancy for unprotected women and metrosexuals."
(Albert Norman)

"But Kratman knows his intended audience, and is only too happy to assuage the bloodlust of the red state rabble by letting our valiant SS paladins bust some hippie heads." (Thomas M. Wagner )

"Every word he writes is bad, and that includes 'a', 'an' and 'the'."
(Michael Weber)

Yes, you can't get higher literature than that."
(Nikki Fellenzer)

"Kratman is an idiot, and drools."
(Gene Ward Smith)

"The utter moral nihilism aside, A Watch on the Rhine and other books of its ilk reflect a worrying trend in science fiction."
(Randy McDonald)

"Kratman ist nur ein untalentierter Teilzeit-Schmierfink." ("Kratman is only an untalented small time lubrication finch." Loses a certain something in translation, doesn't it?)
(Martin Hoyer)

Hilarious stuff. From my exchanges with Colonel Kratman, he's a lot more polite than his "critics". I'm glad I've bought his books in hardcover, just to make sure he can write more and drive folks like this bat-crazy. It makes me chuckle. Deeply. And in an evil fashion.

Go, Colonel, go!

(Please note I've posted the picture on the left side of the blog, to counteract any right-wing tendencies alleged to the Colonel...)
The Ever-Hyper Ringo

Last The Future and You mention of the day: Listening now to a two-part interview with John Ringo. Interesting guy (putting it mildly!), even if he did jump out of perfectly good airplanes while in the U.S. Army.
Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing

Next up from The Future and You (well, on my listening list for today): A two-part interview with Shaun Farrell, one of the hosts of the excellent (and currently, sob, on hiatus) Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing.
Drake's Words

A two-part interview with SF/F author David Drake at The Future and You. The sound quality on David Drake's end is somewhat muddy, so you'll probably only be able to understand him with headphones, but a very good, wide-ranging interview. (Just wish the podcaster/interviewer would stop with the "um-huh", "uh-huh" and "ummmmm"'s!!!)

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Mighty Stephen Hawking

Reports are coming in that physicist Stephen Hawking is very ill.

Seth Shostak advocates for a robotic exploration of the universe. Why not a partnership of human and machine?
Job Posting

Think of the toys you'd get to play with on this job!
J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard has passed away. I had a pile of his books from Penguin, with stark, surreal covers. The Crystal World, The Wind from "Chip" Delany, Gene Wolfe, Robert Silverberg, I'll always associate my reading from the late 1960's and early 1970's with those books.

A brief sample here.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows flowing barchan dunes on the surface of Mars. Looks like something from a science fiction movie...look out, the blob!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Good Enough" Computing

Finally, the industry seems to be realizing I don't need a supercomputer to do most of my typical tasks. I recall people making fun of me when I said I was using my PDA more than my home computer...but for keeping track of contacts, making brief notes, managing a calendar, etc....why do you need a high-end desktop?

An expansion of the Alcubierre drive...with some string theory tossed in. For your next hard SF tale with FTL!
The Blue Event Horizon

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the calm space (not) around a black hole.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Send up the Toybox! The shuttle dodges space junk...
No Divorce?

The recently returned crew of Expedition 19 denies reports that Russian and US cosmonauts and astronauts cannot share facilities, food and equipment (this was pretty much contradicted by what you see on the screen if you watch any footage from the'll see shared meals where food items are swapped and shared, etc.).
On "Chip"

A pretty good article on author and professor Samuel R. Delany.
100,000 Bricks

100,000 Lego bricks went into this 20-foot long recreation of the battleship Yamato.

A review of Helix by Eric Brown. Ouch!
Asteroid Lander

Plans are afoot to land a probe on the large asteroid (small dwarf planet?) Ceres.

So what did Richard Garriott do on his recent vacation?
Stardust Memories

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows dust lanes in NGC 1333.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What If?

What if Patrick O'Brian and Tom Clancy had collaborated? Oh my aching head (and sides)...
Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill

A compromise has been reached in naming some NASA equipment.

"You know what? I think a treadmill is better than a node," reasoned Colbert, "because the node is just a box for the treadmill. Nobody says, 'Hey, my mom bought me a Nike box!' They want the shoes that are inside."
Ego Redux

We saw it in Vietnam. We saw it in Somalia. And here it is again. Micromanagement kills!
Space Cadet!

The space cadet keyboard. Another bit of history...
Personal vs. Positional

An excellent entry today at one of my favorite webcomics.
Sailing Ships

So it seems that cargo ships these days move slower than sailing ships used to. (This has some interesting implications for a story I'm vaguely, sort of, outlining, but that's another...story.)

Here are two articles that talk about this plus the use of automation on sailing ships to reduce crew size. I can see two problems with this: (1) What about an emergency situation where having a bigger crew might mean the difference between success and failure? (2) What about a pyrate attack (since pyrates are all the rage in the news, these days, despite being a problem for years)? A crew of one or two on a cargo vessel might not be able to man the guns, let alone pass out cutlasses to repel borders...
Solar Purchase

California's biggest utility wants to go solar...from space. Will this fly? Or is another pie-in-the-sky?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Filling in the Cracks

There's been a lot going on at home and outside the home the past few weeks. So, I have been unable to blog (away without access to the intertubes) or too tired to blog or too busy trying to catch up on e-mails and the like to blog.

My "Alerts" folder has 548 potential items to blog about...I'll go through and start posting, but probably will "back date" them as they get posted. A lot will go to the Space and Rocketry or Astronomy categories, so take a look from tonight onwards for "new" stuff.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us M101, The Pinwheel Galaxy. My next desktop picture!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Revolutionary Science Fiction and Postmodern Social Criticism

A pretty good article on Samuel R. Delany.
The Rapture and the Shine

'You will have to take on a mate or two in the polishing line,' said Jack to Killick, who was gazing round with a kind of imbecile rapture at the number of surfaces that he might now attack with powdered chalk and shammy leather: like many seamen he had a passion for making metal shine, and he had already reduced Jack's earliest silver plates to something not far removed from foil.

...a wearisome series of turns, slower, much longer, but not altogether unlike those of her captain as he paced out his mile after mile between the taffrail and a certain ringbolt just abaft the gangway, a ringbolt that his turning heel had long since polished to a silvery brightness.

(Patrick O'Brian, The Letter of Marque)

Looks like the ISS is going to get an extension to its lifespan. The only downside: will the extension siphon money from the plans for a return to the Moon?
Winter Cluster

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows M39 (one of the Messier objects), an open cluster in the constellation Cygnus.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fred's Reading Report (March 2009)

This month seemed a bit lighter on reading than February. I have read a bunch of short stories, but failed to keep track of them, so the Year in Shorts hasn't budged. Will have to work on that, figuring out what I had read.

As for books...28 books completed for the year, including for this month:

Leigh Brackett: Alpha Centauri or Die.

David Drake, Eric Flint and Jim Baen (Editors): The World Turned Upside Down.

Michael D. Lemonick: The Georgian Star.

Andre Norton: The Stars Are Ours! (half of the omnibus, Star Flight).

Patrick O'Brian: The Thirteen Gun Salute.

John Ringo: The Last Centurion.

David Weber: On Basilisk Station.

Roger Zelazny: Doorways in the Sand.

Books "in process" are many and varied. I'm mostly done with a Lt. Leary tale by David Drake, the other half of Star Flight (Star Born). In anticipation of the arrival of three more Honor Harrington volumes over the next year or so, I've started re-reading that series. Mount Toberead has all this and much more. Stay tuned!
Head Space

When looking at today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, just recall what today is.