Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Whitehorse has a new single out, "Boys Like You," which is simultaneously polished and raw. I'm really impressed with how this duo is constantly pushing their sound into new directions, yet it always sounds like a natural extension of what they've done before. That's not an easy trick.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... J. Geils Band.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

J. Geils, founder and guitarist for the eponymous J. Geils Band, died this week. Everyone thought of the band as Peter Wolf and the other guys, but Geils was always a guiding force. I loved the fact that the band had a sense of humor that came through in its music. I initially wanted to feature the older "Musta Got Lost," but every video I could find focused on Peter Wolf yammering for five minutes before getting to the song. So instead, I'm going with "Love Stinks", which may very well be the most realistic take on romance ever put to music.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ìxtahuele.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Office build-along, pt. 12

Here's where my taking six months to router, sand, stain and varnish the lumber for my bookshelves comes back to bite me in the ass. The 2"x12" boards I'm using for the uprights were stored outside that entire time as I worked on them. Now, they were stored under cover out of rain and direct sunlight, and on 2"x4"s to keep them off the concrete, but the changes in humidity and temperature still had an impact. Two of the boards, in particular, showed significant bowing (significant being 3/4" for one and almost 2" for the other). For most of them, this wouldn't be an issue, since shelves on either side of them would force them straight. But these two... one is on the side of the corner cabinet, abutting the house support column with makes that wall irregular, and the other is the end piece closest to my office door. This is problematic, since there's not any shelving on the other side to force it straight. Because of the bowing, the carefully measured and cut shelves don't sit securely in their dado slots. See?

Not pretty. Since I don't want to mar the smooth face of the wood closest to the door, I instead drill holes through the upright paired with the bowed wood. I drill two holes in the two dado slots opposite the greatest extent of the other board's bow.

Then, I drill 1.75" wood screws through the holes into the shelves. This solidly anchors the shelves to the strong upright that is behaving itself. This is important for the next step.

The next step involved slathering an impressive amount of Titebond III wood glue into the dado slot. My choices to secure the shelf to the bowing board consist of screw, nail or glue. Either screwing or nailing from the opposite side would look damn ugly, and I'd be compelled to come up with a matching veneer to cover that with. That would be a major undertaking with disproportionate expense, not to mention taking a long time. So instead I decided on glue, crossing my fingers that the bow in the wood isn't stronger than the glue. To tilt the scales in my favor, I used Titebond III, which is a bit more expensive than the workhorse Titebond II, but is (I've been assured) a significantly more durable bonding agent. Note that I wiped all the oozing, dripping glue away with a damp cloth after this photo was taken.

The Titebond III instructions recommend clamping the glued joint together for 24 hours to allow sufficient drying time. I left them clamped for the better part of a week. Almost a month later, the join is holding steady. So, yay! First problem solved!

The next problem is more annoying. See that gap where the upright doesn't meet the corner cabinet? That's not an illusion created by the upright not being fully in position--the bow really is that bad. You could lose a small child down that gap. Yikes!

Compounding my problems is the structural column for the house protruding about 3" from the wall, creating a kind of vertical step, which isn't pretty, but it's the space I have to work with. I installed the next upright, and there's a 2.25" gap between them. Tiny, weird space. Fortunately, the top of the boards are pretty close to accurately spaced, so I measure the dado grooves and figure I need six narrow shelves not quite 3" wide to fit the gap. Since there are going to be horizontal load-bearing shelves, in this case the narrow width is a plus. I'm going to force the board straight via brute force. I also cut the outside corner so that the mini-shelves would match the geometric design aesthetic of my other protruding shelves.

My problem then became how to fit a 3" shelf into a 1.5" slot? Again, brute force is my friend. I used a crowbar to leverage the bowed board into position so I could insert the shelf. I'm not a total moron, however, so I used two wooden shims to protect the uprights' pretty stain/varnish finish from marring by the cold, cruel metal of the crowbar.

Here's a better view of my utilization of the classic simple machine.

And here's the shelf slotted into position. I was dreading dealing with the mini-shelves from the start of this project, and while the whole asymmetrical layout is still wonky, I think they look much better than I anticipated. Each shelf has enough space for a couple of books, plus a 4.5" "flying" ledge for action figures or other items to display. Not too shabby. Stay tuned. More to come.

Now Playing: Esquivel! Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music
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Friday, April 07, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

The weather's warming up, so that's stirring my interest in all things tiki. Naturally, that extends to music, and the music of tiki is exotica. Now, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Gene Rains and the like have their place, but I've discovered there are contemporary groups doing interesting things with that venerable sound. Take, for example, Ìxtahuele, quite possibly the only Swedish exotica band to exist, ever. The lack of a big tiki culture in Scandinavia hasn't stopped these guys from making cool music, however, as their "Curitiba Train" can attest. Fix yourself a mai tai, sit back and enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Genesis.

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Chicken Ranch does College Station!

Hey, College Station! I haven't had a public signing in the B/CS area since the A&M-Tennessee football game last fall, and I know some folks have asked when I'm heading back down that way. Well, tomorrow's your lucky day! I'll be signing copies of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch at Barnes & Noble College Station 1-3 p.m. Saturday, April 8. As far as I know, this is the last remaining non-used bookstore in town that's not on the Texas A&M campus.

I've done two signings at the MSC Bookstore on campus and another couple at the Theatre Center in Bryan back when they were staging The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I also did a radio interview with Chip Howard back in December. There's a significant interest in the Chicken Ranch's history in B/CS, and I'm looking forward to having a bunch of interesting conversations tomorrow. If you're in the neighborhood please stop in and chat for a while. I always love to share Chicken Ranch stories!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Sailing Venus: Riding the wave

Which way is up? That's a question I've struggled with a lot lately in relation to Venus. Here's the thing: Sailing Venus is, at its heart, an adventure story, but it's also a hard science fiction story as well. It's not hard SF in the sense that characters have rivets sticking out of their heads and speak in equations, but one where I try to get facts and details as correct as possible. I'm not writing about Venus' dinosaur-infested swamps, after all.

But you know what? As I get deeper into the story, something started going wonky. Venus is a weird world. It's a terrestrial planet like Earth, almost exactly the same size, but it has almost no water, is hotter than a pizza oven on the surface and its upper atmosphere whips around it in a superrotation that circumnavigates the planet every four Earth days (that's really, really fast). Venus has a day (243 Earth days) that is longer than it's year (225 Earth days), and also has a retrograde rotation, meaning the sun rises in the West and sets in the East. One would think that's pretty cut and dried, but it's not. Some Venus researchers don't view Venus as having a retrograde rotation, instead, consider it as flipped, with its north pole pointing "down" when viewed from the plane of the solar system, and a south pole pointing up. This nomenclature doesn't matter to me one iota, except that some websites and books present maps of Venus with one orientation, and others flip it. Clearly these are different schools of thought on which is the proper way to present Venus "right side up," but the trouble is, in most cases, they don't clearly identify which school of thought they subscribe to. So this is my dilemma--if I erroneously choose a "north is down" map, which has been flipped "right side up" so that Venus rotates in a counter-clockwise direction like all the other planets, the westward-blowing superrotation would be going backwards. Not only would that make me look stupid, it completely alters which locations are accessible to my protagonist--indeed, it profoundly affects the plot and even location of the various outposts on the planet. That's not something I can really fudge--which direction a continuous, 200 mph wind blows. To make matters even worse, several online science sites that claimed to set the record straight on this bit of befuddlement contradicted each other. Yeah, I could've emailed some NASA researchers, but I don't like to bother them unless absolutely necessary. And certainly not with a question as mind-numbingly stupid as this one. Fortunately, I stumbled across this graphic:

Is that not a thing of beauty? This is data from the Japanese space probe Akatsuki, super-imposed over a flattened map of the planet's entire surface. The colored elements of the image are infrared and ultraviolet renderings of a huge standing wave over the western portion of Aphrodite Terra. Not only does it clearly show the direction of the superrotation, it also specifically locates, geographically speaking, a significant atmospheric phenomenon that I'm going to put to good use in the narrative. So, yay!

But the hassle with "Which way is up?" got me to more closely examine other numbers floating around in my story. Most books and fact sheets about Venus list the extremes of the planet--highest pressure, fastest wind speed, highest temperature, etc. And it dawned on me that while I was using these numbers in my novel--accurate though they may be--they're not constant across the planet. Each changes with altitude, sometimes significantly. Venus' much-discussed superrotation? The top wind speed is roughly 223 mph around 45 miles up, but a little further down, around 33 miles up, it slows to about 150 mph. That's a big difference. Temperature's another biggie. The surface of Venus is hot enough to melt lead, and 29 miles up, it's still a blistering 197 degrees Fahrenheit. But jump to 35 miles up, and the temperature dips to 46F--enough to start worrying about hypothermia at those wind speeds. That is, were someone to be exposed to those conditions. Which nobody ever would be, certainly not in my book, right? From there I made the leap to realizing terminal velocity would be different on Venus as well. How different? Well, Venus' gravity is very close to that of Earth's, but the atmosphere, made up mostly of CO2, is very different. I thought the atmospheric pressure would have a big impact on terminal velocity, but it turns out that's not true. Pressure has no bearing, but density does. Those are distinct things. Researching density led me to individual gas constants, and from there back to drag coefficients. The irony is that I'm terrible at math, while my main character, Erica, is a whiz. I'm having to make my way very slowly and cautiously through these equations, which she could solve in her head.

And you know what? Ultimately, none of this will show up in the book. Oh, it'll be there, behind the scenes, informing what goes where and how this does that. But strictly as scaffolding and superstructure. I'm not stopping the narrative to deliver a physics lesson or print out some algebraic equations for readers to solve along at home. That's generally referred to as "I've suffered for my art, and now it's your turn" syndrome. No, I'm suffering for my art so you don't have to. Rest assured, though, that no matter how fantastical Erica's adventure may get, I've made a good-faith effort to ground it in reality.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra On the Third Day
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Friday, March 31, 2017

Old dog, new tricks, etc.

My first professionally-published piece of fiction, "Project Timespan," appeared in Interzone No. 116 in February of 1997.

Today, March 31, 2017, I received my first royalty check. Ever. Not first royalty statement--I've gotten plenty of those over the years. This is my first check. And no, I'm not about to retire off of it.

Let that sink in for a moment. I'll let you do the math.

I'm not Robert Silverberg-level productive by any stretch of the imagination, but I've published enough in my modest career to have escaped the one-and-done category. Occasionally, a random stranger will recognize my name. Some publications have been obscure, others have been fairly high profile. Fiction, non-fiction, reviews, essays, etc. I've not exactly pigeon-holed myself. A bit of my work's been reprinted. I received a reprint inquiry for one of my author interviews yesterday, in fact. Out of all of that, I've never earned a royalty check.

If anyone wonders why I've never made the jump to full-time freelance writer, that probably has something to do with it.

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