Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Chicken pox have struck the Blaschkes

As if dealing with Sigfreid's illness and death wasn't enough, Calista's come down with the pox. Keela has been battling eczema for a good long while now, so we're concerned that if she catches it, her skin will really react badly. Don't expect me to post much these next few days.

Now Playing: Andean Fusion Andean Sounds for the World vol. VII

Monday, June 28, 2004

Sigfreid Sebastian Bach (1991-2004)

I had my beagle, Sigfreid, euthanized today. He'd developed cancer, we discovered back in March, and his age made it pretty much impossible to do anything about it, as he'd exceeded the life expectancy of his breed several years back. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but I discovered him vomiting yesterday, and a nasty lesion on his underside. That he was energetic today, apparently recovered from Sunday's difficulties, made what I had to do a thousand times harder. He was not going to get better.

He was a good dog. The best I'd ever had. When I lived in Temple, before I met Lisa, he was the only companion I had. When he was a puppy, his ears were far too big for him, which made him look cartoonish as he walked around. I'd play hide-and-seek with him, ducking behind a door in the hallway and calling his name. He'd come tearing past, expecting to find me in another part of the house, then trotting back, quizzical and alert once he found out he'd been had. He'd always find me once he put his mind to it. We'd also play "find the treat" with him pawing at whichever hand of mine he thought held the dog biscuit. And he had the best temperament of any dog (or person) I've ever known. He was great with my little girls. Keela would scoop a big bucket of sand out of the sandbox, then dump it over Sigfreid's head. He'd sit there and happily take it, tail wagging, pleased with the attention.

Before I met Lisa, he had a certain phobia of strangers. I'd bring someone home, and he'd hide in the hallway, slowly creep his nose forward until he could see the interloper, then let out a comically-disapproving ruffff before hastily retreating back down the hall. He'd repeat this until the strange person left. Man or woman, it made no difference. The day I brought Lisa home, I warned her about this behavior. So naturally, Sigfreid trots right up to her, tail wagging, begging for attention. You can't tell me he didn't know exactly what he was doing.

Sigfreid (left), Jayme (center), Monkeyshine (right)

This is my favorite photo of me with my dogs. The irony is too much. Sigfreid's the one on the left, Monkeyshine's the one on the right. She's already wondering where he is, and I can't quite explain that he's not coming back. Damn, I loved that dog.

Now Playing: nothing

Sunday, June 27, 2004

And still more RevSF goodies

My review of Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis no. 1 has finally been posted over at RevolutionSF. You know, the website with all those Honorable Mentions in Gardner Dozois' Year's Best SF vol. 21. So what do I think of his new comic?
How do you solve a problem like Brad Meltzer? I realized a pattern emerged during his run on Green Arrow last year, and his first issue of Identity Crisis merely serves to confirm it: Meltzer writes things -- call them plot points, twists, events, scenes, whathaveyou -- that I really, sincerely and truly hate. Despise. Resent on a deeply personal and primal level in my atrophied reptilian hindbrain. Pretty cut and dried, right? Unfortunately, Meltzer pens these disgusting blasphemies of his in brilliant, gripping and -- dare I say it? -- even poignant ways.

And I go on like that for a few hundred more words, if you're motivated to follow up on my thoughts on the matter.

New fiction also features Scott Nicholson's Angelorum Orbis, a story of futuristic Roman-styled empire-builders planning the plunder of an apparently helpless world. But, of course, such worlds are rarely as helpless as they seem. Make sure to visit Scott's Haunted Computer site and tell him what you think.

Now Playing: Various Sensual Classics

Time to toot my own horn!

I just got word from Lou Antonelli, a disgustingly talented writer who occasionally contributes a story or two to RevSF, that Gardner Dozois lavishes love of the Biblical sort all over our sexy RevSF fiction:
More importantly, have you gotten a copy of the Year's Best Science Fiction 21t Edition yet? You called it! Gardner gave me an honorable mention for "Silence is Golden". He also gave Steve Utley and Jay Lake honorables, and he had a good write up in the summation.

After mentioning the on-line sites SciFiction, Infinite Matrix, Strange Horizons and Oceans of the Mind, he wrote:

"Below this point, most of the sites and e-magazines from which original fiction is available are less reliable; the stuff you find there won't always - or even mostly - be of professional quality, although sometimes there are above-average stories to be found. The best of the remaining sites is Revolution SF (; the bulk of its space is devoted to media and gaming reviews, book reviews, essays and interviews, but some good stories by Steve Utley, Jay Lake and Lou Antonelli, and others did appear there this year, and they seem to be increasing their emphasis on fiction."

Damn straight, I called it. That story was a great, old-school Asimov-styled throwback that you just don't see much of these days. In fact, I thought it had a better-than-average shot at actually getting picked for Gardner's collection, so much so that I almost felt guilty for stealing it for RevSF. Almost. You can read Silence is Golden for yourself, and see what all the fuss is about. And tomorrow or the next day I'm running out to grab my own copy of the book, and tell you what other stories we ran that earned honorable mentions...

Now Playing: Various The Best of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart vol. 1

Saturday, June 26, 2004

So Cheney drops the F-bomb...

By now, everyone and their dog has heard that the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, cursed out Senator Pat Leahy on the Senate floor, telling him to "f--- off" and/or "go f--- yourself" depending on which account you read. And Cheney doesn't think this kind of conduct from an administration that claims to be more "moral" than the opposition is inappropriate:
"Do you have any regrets?," Neil Cavuto asked.

"No. I said it," the vice president responded.

Does anyone else see black irony here? Is Cheney going to cough up a $50,000 fine to the FCC? Hello pot, this is the kettle calling...

Now Playing: Mark Snow The Truth and the Light: Music from the X-Files

Friday, June 25, 2004

Elephants at the Alamo

Well, Alamo Stadium, that is. A private group calling itself Gateway San Antonio is proposing a public art project to carve live-size elephants, giraffes, petroglyphs and other unique imagery on the limestone cliffs flanking U.S. 281 just north of downtown San Antonio. The animal motiff is appropos because of the close proximity of the San Antonio Zoo, which is one of the top 10 zoos in the country. The Express-News details the plans in 281 may become a real zoo:
The menagerie would be carved into rock beside U.S. 281 near the San Antonio Zoo. A group of private citizens wants to make the animal murals their gift to San Antonio, and city leaders have provided money for a fund-raising presentation.

On its Web site, Gateway San Antonio describes the public art project as "a timeless, panoramic storyboard so unique and compelling, so energized, it couldn't be told anywhere else."

Of course, San Antonio wouldn't be San Antonio if some controversy couldn't be wrung from this. In addition to complaints about $25,000 in city funding being given to the project early on--never mind that ultimately $10 million or more in private funds would come back to benefit the city. But here's the real howler:
The San Antonio Conservation Society sees something else.

"We think it's an inappropriate addition to a scenic corridor," said Barbara Johnson, the conservation society's president. "Being 'public art,' we feel there needs to be a lot more public input in the project."

Has Barbara Johnson ever actually driven down 281? Scenic? Two limestone cliffs that were bulldozed out of a hill way back when with no care given to aesthetics? The first thing of interest drivers see when headed southbound is the old shuttered Pearl Brewery, fer cryin' out loud! If you crane your neck just right, you can see the back of Alamo Stadium to the west, and the University of the Incarnate Word to the east. It's not a particularly ugly stretch of highway, but it's by no means scenic. No one will ever confuse it with a drive through the rolling Texas hill country, that's for sure. This public art project would make an otherwise boring and dull stretch of road funky and fun, with more than a passing touch of whimsy. No wonder there are sourpusses getting pissy about it...

Now Playing: Clandestine The Haunting

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Valley of Kings, American style

I am, quite simply, astonished. I had no idea an archaeological discovery of this magnitude would be possible anywhere in the world, much less in the United States. I seriously considered going into anthropology/archaeology in college, so this Range Creek find gets my blood pumping. By golly, there's the remains of an entire civilization dating back 3,000 years in Utah: Rancher keeps ancient Indian settlement secret for 50 years
Hidden deep inside Utah's nearly inaccessible Book Cliffs region, 130 miles from Salt Lake City, the prehistoric villages run for 12 miles and include hundreds of rock art panels, cliffside granaries, stone houses built halfway underground, rock shelters, and the mummified remains of long-ago inhabitants.

The site was occupied for at least 3,000 years until it abandoned more than 1,000 years ago, when the Fremont people mysteriously vanished.

No looters. That is truly amazing. The mind boggles at the magnitude of this archaeological treasure trove. I think people everywhere owe rancher Waldo Wilcox a huge debt of gratitude for his efforts in protecting and preserving this chain of ancient villages. Sure, he made out okay with $2.5 million for the sale of the land, but I daresay most others in his position would've sold the artifacts off piecemeal for whatever profit they offered, and not done nearly as much as Wilcox to ensure their preservation. My big concern now is that pothunters will swarm to the site, stealing in under the cover of darkness to plunder like the poachers they are. If National Geographic doesn't have a crew there ASAP, they might as well stop publishing their magazine...

Now Playing: Joanne Shenandoah and Lawrence Laughing Orenda

South San Antonio celebrates new bookstore

The new Waldenbooks has opened in south San Antonio, the result of a multi-year lobby by Books in the Barrio. The 3,000 square foot store features everything you'd expect from a Waldenbooks, plus an expanded Spanish-language section, which is only good sense: South Side, bookstore celebrate:
Bookstores usually don't open with blaring mariachi music, beaming politicians and misty-eyed community activists, but on Wednesday an honest-to-goodness bookseller opened for business on San Antonio's South Side. About 150 people were there to celebrate an arrival six years in the making.

The vibrantly decorated 3,082-square-foot Waldenbooks store at South Park Mall was stocked with more than 20,000 books, magazines, newspapers and best sellers. Store managers wouldn't say how many books had been sold by early evening, but they said the day's tally was three times their expectations.

I understand about demographics and disposable income. I know why market studies are relied on by corporate America. But sometimes this "research" can become little more than self-fulfilling prophecy. San Antonio is a city of 1.7 million people, the eighth largest in the U.S., but half of the people living there don't have a bookstore within 15 miles of them. Yes, that area of the city is overwhelmingly Hispanic, and yes, the average income level is lower than someone like, say, Macy's would want before opening a store there. No one was asking for a Border's superstore to be built across the street from a brand-new Barnes & Noble warehouse, with a Books-a-Million and Hastings down the street for good measure. But to say that a population amounting to a quarter of a million people couldn't support any bookstore is ludicrous.

Now Playing: Henry Mancini Instrumental Favorites

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Frellin' A! Farscape is back!

I'll admit it: This isn't exactly breaking news. But my previous post had soured my mood so that I needed something happy to pick me up, and there's not much that can top new Farscape for that! The new, four-hour miniseries Peacekeeper War has wrapped in Australia, and promo shots are beginning to trickle out. I swear, it's almost like water torture. There's no way I can wait all the way 'til October to see this thing when I know it's already finished.

Farscape: John and AerynFarscape: Chiana, Stark, Rygel and Zhaan?

These first two pictures are interesting and give glimpses of the arc's setup. First, we have John and Aeryn. When last seen, these two lovers had been turned into pillars of brown ash, which then crumbled into dirty little piles. They apparently get better--as if that was ever in doubt. Other stills show Aeryn as being very obviously pregnant, so at some point the embryo she's carrying gets activated (the whole delayed gestation thing isn't something Farscape simply invented as a plot device--some marsupials have this ability to delay the development of an embryo if a previous offspring isn't sufficiently independent of the mother yet. Amazing what inspiration filming in Australia offers!). The second pic is more intriguing. Here we see Chiana looking slightly different (it's the eyes, I think), along with Stark, a somewhat greener Rygel and a mysterious bald woman in the background. Could this be Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan? Rockne S. O'Bannon told Virginia Hey he wanted the character to return in the future, Hey always said she was willing to return in a more limited role (the blue makeup was reacting badly with her skin) and her death was somewhat ambiguous. This looks to me like Zhaan 2.0 come a'callin'.

Farscape: Luxan warriorsFarscape: John and Aeryn with Scarrens

The third picture reveals hints about the plot. At the end of season four, it was revealed that Commandant Cleavage was working to sell out the Luxan worlds to the Scarrens in exchange for continued peace. Think of the Luxan worlds as a SFnal version of the Sudetenland, only instead of the British handing it over to the Nazis, the Nazis are handing it over to Satan. From this image, it looks like the Luxans don't take kindly to the deal. The fourth image shows that, yes indeed, the Scarrens are mixed up in this Peacekeeper war, and John and Aeryn are up to their eyeballs with the ugly aliens. I expect many of the dangling plot threads to be addressed here in this mini, namely John's conflicted use of the wormhole technology, the Scarren aggression, Sputnik's collaboration with the Scarrens revealed, Chiana's "second sight" and Zhaan's fate. I also would not be surprised in the slightest if Crais and Talyn reappear, in some sort of twisted man-Leviathan hybrid. What I don't expect we'll see resolved is Rygel's efforts to reclaim the Hynerian throne and the Nebari attempts to conquer the galaxy using that genetically-engineered sleeper virus we haven't heard anything about since season two. That, and the connection Earth has with the Peacekeeper worlds, as referenced in the archaeology episodes early in season four. But that's to be expected, I suppose, since all the storylines planned for a full fifth season have essentially been cut and trimmed and distilled down into the equivalent of four episodes. Ouch. Curse you, SciFi Channel!

Okay, I'd better sign off now, before the bitterness returns...

Now Playing: SubVision & Guy Gross Farscape Soundtrack

All the dinosaurs drowned in the Great Flood

I don't believe in a God that plays "Gotcha!" I believe the Supreme Creator wants faith as opposed to blind faith, and that Homo sapiens was given intelligence and intellect to use. God did not plant evidence of the universe being billions of years old, of fossilized dinosaurs and the chain of evolution simply so he could trick gullible intellectuals and pop out from behind creation on Judgement Day shouting "Fooled you! Damnation is yours!" That kind of petty, twisted juvenile behavior I'd expect from a Ba'al or Zeus, but from the Christian God of love and peace? I view humanity's intellect, curiosity and drive to question and understand everything about the universe as a gift given to us by the master, not unlike that in the Parable of the Talents. Those fundamentalists that reject the evidence God has placed throughout the universe simply because "The Bible says so" are playing the role of the servant who buried his money and sat smugly until his lord returned home, while the other two servants went out and did something productive with their gifts.

I mean, even the Catholic Church has come out in support of the theory of evolution, albeit with some attached theological caveats.

So is it any wonder that stories like Christian dinosaur hunters dig for signs of Biblical dragons from The Telegraph drive me absolutely bonkers?
Evolution is "the dumbest and most dangerous idea in the history of humanity", said Kent Hovind, a vocal enthusiast for the cause who also runs the theme park in Florida. Explaining his Creationist creed, he said: "We think dinosaurs were part of the normal Creation and were just big lizards. Noah took some of them on the Ark, probably babies, when the floods came."

This is one of my really big push-button issues. Byzantium's Shores gets credit (or blame) for setting me onto this story. I've see so much faked "evidence" on the part of Creationists, outright fabrication and lies--I saw lots of this during my college years, as Creationists saw Texas A&M as fertile ground for their "seminars"--that I have to wonder how fragile their faith actually is, if they have to literally cheat to validate their own beliefs. Shouldn't the Truth be sufficient?

My family and I go to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose on occasion. Right outside the park entrance is the Creation Evidence Museum. Their claimm to fame is an "excavated" imprint of a human footprint overlapping a dinosaur footprint. Which, of course, "proves" that dinosaurs and man walked the Earth at the same time. I've been very, very tempted to go in, but never have. First, we suspect they charge an entrance fee, and I have no desire whatsoever to financially support these lunkheads. Second... well, Lisa doesn't want me to have a stroke or aneurysm. I wouldn't intentionally create a scene, but keeping all that contempt bottled up inside might send me into convulsions.

Now Playing: The Gypsy Guerrilla Band Ernie's Ottoman

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Tonight's the Battle of the Network Stars

While watching the twins edition of Fear Factor the other day in all it's jiggly glory, I had a sudden and profound flashback to the '70s of my childhood. I'd seen all this before. The force this realization struck me with was like that of an epiphany: The reality TV craze of today is a retread of that from three decades earlier. Instead of Real People we have The Simple Life. That's Incredible! has been retooled as Jackass. Wild Kingdom lives again as The Crocodile Hunter, and so on. Even Ripley's Believe It or Not! has resurfaced, albeit in a cruder, louder, freak show format.

Battle of the Network Stars

But Fear Factor is the key. It's setup is so much like that old classic Battle of the Network Stars that I'm surprised some enterprising producer hasn't launched a campaign to revive the old chestnut. After all, Battle of the Network Stars boasted as much jiggle appeal as the current bikini-clad contestants on Fear Factor, especially if you consider the all-supermodel contests that show has featured of late. Sure, a Network Stars revival wouldn't quite be the same without Howard Cosell and Dan Haggerty, but wouldn't it be great to see Bob Costas in the booth with Kiefer Sutherland and Jennifer Garner running a modern-day obstacle course, or the cast of Survivor in a life or death tug-o-war against the housemates of Big Brother? The mind boggles.

Now Playing: Sheryl Crow Tuesday Night Music Club

Nothing to see here...

Excruciatingly tedious on the writing front. Proofing of Voices of Vision continues, albeit at a snail's pace. The final revisions to the proof pages are due one week from today, so I'm certain this task will consume more and more of my waking hours until I reach the point of saying, "To hell with it. It's fine as it is." Which probably wouldn't be such a bad thing, as there aren't all that many errors in it to be corrected.

I also finally decided to get off my duff and catch up on all the reviews I've been putting off for The Unofficial Green Arrow Fansite. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that three issues cannot be found. I don't know where the heck they might be. My last update was back in the fall, right around the time we moved. I've got all the issues prior to that time, and everything since, but I have no idea where those three may have gone. I'll probably go ahead and review what I have available, but geeze Louise, it's embarassing. And this has happened once before: I wanted to review Green Lantern no. 47--the one right before Emerald Twilight, but my copy had vanished, and I had to buy a new one. What's more unfortunate is that during one of the site's server migrations (possibly even back when my Green Arrow Shrine merged with Scott McCullar's Green Arrow Compendium) that review of issue 47 got deleted. Poof. Gone. Someday I'll have to rewrite it. But not today.

Now Playing: Don Williams 20 Greatest Hits

Monday, June 21, 2004

Impressive... most impressive

Turns out there were more gremlins aboard SpaceShipOne than just that one "bang." The controls started acting up, and pilot Mike Melvill had to deal with a hypersonic craft that rolled 90 degrees to the left, then to the right. Yikes! One of my questions has been answered, however: The control problems forced Melvill to cut short the craft's planned climb. Although SpaceShipOne did enter space at 62-plus miles up, the original goal was to reach 68 miles--breaking the old altitude record of 67 miles set by our friend the X-15. Since I keep referencing the older space plane, here's a side-by-side comparison of the two:

Scales Composites' SpaceShipOne (left) and NASA's X-15 (right)

I'm all the more impressed by this accomplishment because of the potentially deadly obstacles Melvill had to overcome to reach that magical barrier 62 miles up. Let's hope the ship's problems can be corrected quickly so Scaled Composites can keep 'em flying.

Now Playing: Various Classical Relaxation vol. 9

The obligatory post-Father's Day report

My, what fun these Father's Day events can be. Presents came from all around. Lisa got me a copy of Warrior Women, a book that I've been wanting even before I started on the whole Wonder Woman/Amazons research kick. It looks like the kind of book I love. Calista got me two items: A Texas A&M shirt, which is always good, and a photo of her and me screaming down the log flume at Sea World. That one's in my office at work for all to see and admire. The prize for unique Father's Day gift goes to little Keela, however. She got me two pairs of Supergirl panties. Fairly skimpy Supergirl panties, which I couldn't fit into even if I were so inclined. Lisa, however, can wear them, so it's a win-win situation as far as I'm concerned...

Now Playing: Various Classical Relaxation vol. 9

A few more thoughts on SpaceShipOne

Now that I've had time to digest the news of the successful flight a little bit, a number of interesting questions pose themselves. What, in fact, are SpaceShipOne's estimated performance parameters? By that, I mean what are the theoretical limits to what it can do?

Let's compare SpaceShipOne to the old X-15, which made 199 flights between 1959 and 1968. The X-15 was dropped from the belly of its B-52 mothership at an altitude of 45,000 feet. The world altitude record for aircraft--just over 67 miles--was set by Joseph A. Walker Aug. 22, 1963. The world speed record for aircraft--Mach 6.7--was set by Pete Knight Oct. 3, 1967. SpaceShipOne is dropped from the belly of its mothership at an altitude of 50,000 feet, has reached an altitude of 62.5 miles and has approached speeds of close to Mach 3.5 during its ascent.

Simply stated, we don't know what SpaceShipOne is capable of, because privatly-held Scaled Composites has been fairly tight-lipped about their project. As well they should be, since they're in competition with several other teams for the $10 million X-Prize. But we can speculate, and indeed I shall. SpaceShipOne's previous flight topped 40 miles in altitude, and this flight topped 62 miles. Unless Scaled Composites is really pushing the ship's capabilities, I expect the X-15's record of 67 miles to fall shortly after the two qualifying flights to claim the X-Prize are completed. Having come this far, I'd be surprised if Burt Rutan couldn't coax another five miles or so of altitude out of his bird. The speed record is more of a challenge--that would mean doubling SpaceShipOne's top speed. But again, we don't know what SpaceShipOne's theoretical top speed actually is. These are still test flights, after all. If they open the throttle up all the way, who's to say they won't break the Mach 4 barrier? We don't know how much fuel the hybrid engine uses. The X-15 was the first plane ever to break the Mach 3 barrier, and went past Mach 4, 5 and 6 with the development of newer, more powerful engines. On its very first space flight, SpaceShipOne already topped Mach 3, so it is starting out somewhat ahead of the game from where the X-15 began--and at $30 million development cost, is significantly cheaper to fly than the X-15 as well.

We don't know a lot of things (something I seem to be repeating quite a bit) including maximum carrying capacity, although we do know it is at least equal to the weight of a pilot plus two passengers. But it could possibly be more. I also find myself wondering about SpaceShipOne's range--if, instead of immediately feathering the wings up to slow down and turn around, what if they continued in a ballistic trajectory for a while? What if they didn't turn around, and instead re-entered the atmosphere downrange? Could they launch in a trajectory that allows them to glide into Denver? The East Coast? Rutan's already spoken about "scaling up" the design and capability, so what are the prospects of a hypersonic spaceliner? Sure, space tourism is a nice start, but it's pointless to end things there. Scaled Composits could develop a hypersonic liner that carried, say, 30 passengers coast-to-coast or across the Atlantic or Pacific in an hour or so, while at the same time taking them into space, giving them the experience of weightlessness, well, that would be a winner on all levels. You'd still get tourism, sure, but you'd also capture a segment of the affluent business market--those movers and shakers who have to get from here to there, but want to have some adventure while doing so. A hypersonic space liner would give them a legitimate excuse.

I suspect Rutan is already thinking these things. Heck, it's pretty obvious from interviews with him that he's thinking orbit as well. If he's successful (and at this point I see no reason to doubt him) then pretty much every nation on Earth will be able to afford its own manned space program for just a little more than the cost of a state-of-the-art fighter jet. China is spending hundreds of millions, if not billions, on a long-range plan to land Taikonauts on the moon, solely for the prestige involved. The political ramifications of cheap (relatively speaking), universal space access are enormous. Scaled Composits is a small, innovative company with modest private backing. Can you imagine the potential if Boeing or Lockheed-Martin gets beind this? The market doesn't exist yet, but it would develop quickly. Very quickly, indeed.

Before any of that happens, thought, they'll need to fix SpaceShipOne. It seems that something went bump during the ascent, and there was obvious damage around one of the landing wheels when it touched down. Thank goodness nothing worse happened. But this will likely delay the X-Prize attempt by several weeks, at minimum.

Now Playing: London Philharmonic Symphony Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd

Flying into space

Well now friends and neighbors, it seems that good old Mike Melvill has gone and gotten himself a pair of astronaut wings. He few that wonderfully-designed but poorly-named SpaceShipOne into outer space today, reaching an altitude of 62.5 miles. The first private space flight in history. CNN has a good story up on the suborbital mission, as does MSNBC.

What does this mean? Well, it means Scaled Composites will check out all the data from the flight, then, if all is in order, will make a run for the X-Prize sometime soon by repeating this flight with a crew of three (or their equivalent weight). But they're not going to stop at edge-of-space tourism. Ship designer Burt Rutan said:
"We are heading to orbit sooner than you think," he said. "We do not intend to stay in low-earth orbit for decades. The next 25 years will be a wild ride. ... One that history will note was done for the benefit of everyone."

Hmm. You don't suppose that SpaceShipOne isn't an end unto itself, do you? Sure, that $10 million in X-Prize money will defray a large chunk of the $30 million Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen invested in the project, but not all of it. There's got to be a long-term, big picture goal behind the scenes. It wouldn't suprise me in the least if Scaled Composites have a vehicle capable of reaching LEO within 10 years, with development costs under $250 million. Compare that to the billions NASA is going to squander on feasability studies even before a contractor is selected to develop a successor to the shuttle fleet... folks, it doesn't take a genius to see which way the wind is blowing.

P.S. Yes, the migraine is still with me, but is much-diminished. Thanks for asking.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Fantasies & Delusions

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Oh. Now I get it.

Friday night I developed a headache while working late in my office. A little crescent of pain arcing over the top to the front of my right ear. When I woke up Saturday, it was still there. Huh. Aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofin, nothing really had any effect on it. Saturday night I still had it. This morning, it was waiting for me when I woke up. It was very strange, because although it wasn't a particularly bad headache, it was very sharply defined, and seemed physically anchored in that spot. Lisa, ever-knowledgeable about these things from personal experience, said it sounded like a migraine, because: 1) it lingers, and 2) it laughs in the face of any drugs I send its was. About an hour after Lisa's diagnosis, the headache exploded down my face and into my jaw. My teeth hurt now. I wouldn't call it debilitating pain, but it certainly isn't comfortable.

This is the first time I've ever experienced a migraine, and while I'm still functional, I kinda wish I wasn't. This isn't a whole lot of fun. I'm putting down a cocktail of different pain meds and bruying myself in a dark, quiet bedroom. I sincerely feel sorry for folks who have to cope with this on a regular basis.

Now Playing: What? Are you kidding me?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Marines getting plasma rifles, Starship Troopers still stuck with M-16s

This is one of those simultaneously fascinating/disturbing technological advancements. A New Scientist article, Sweeping Stun Guns to Target Crowds, discusses some of the weapons research going on that is about to bear fruit:
Weapons that can incapacitate crowds of people by sweeping a lightning-like beam of electricity across them are being readied for sale to military and police forces in the US and Europe.

At present, commercial stun guns target one person at a time, and work only at close quarters. The new breed of non-lethal weapons can be used on many people at once and operate over far greater distances.

From a purely techno geek, SFnal perspective, the advent of actual, living, breathing plasma rifles is a very cool prospect. The ones most likely to come into service first, produced by XADS, have a limited range of only three meters, but will be used by the U.S. Marine Corps for close-range crowd control. If nothing else, this kind of Star Trek weaponry will have a distinct intimidation advantage:
Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems (XADS), based in Anderson, Indiana, will be one of the first companies to market another type of wireless weapon. .... the $9000 Close Quarters Shock Rifle projects an ionised gas, or plasma, towards the target, producing a conducting channel. It will also interfere with electronic ignition systems and stop vehicles.

"We will be able to fire a stream of electricity like water out of a hose at one or many targets in a single sweep," claims XADS president Peter Bitar.

Not content with a wimpy three-meter range, however, XADS is upping the amperage--literally--by using a high-energy, solid-state laser to increase the range of said plasma rifles up to 100 meters. This makes it an effective, multi-purpose weapon, limited only by bulk (which will decrease) and cost (which has got to be obscenely expensive):
The laser pulse must be very intense, but can be brief. So the makers of the weapons plan to use a UV laser to fire a 5-joule pulse lasting just 0.4 picoseconds - equating to a momentary power of more than 10 million megawatts.

This intense pulse - which is said not to harm the eyes - ionises the air, producing long, thread-like filaments of glowing plasma that can be sustained by repeating the pulse every few milliseconds. This plasma channel is then used to deliver a shock to the victims similar to a Taser's 50,000-volt, 26-watt shock.

Of course, if you're building a miniature laser that powerful, why not just skip the whole plasma-shock middleman and just fry the target? Oh, right. Non-lethal weaponry. But surely I'm not the only one that has considered the fact that with energy weapons like this, the ability to adjust the intensity of the shock/discharge is not that great a leap. So within a few years of these entering production, troops will be able to adjust their weapons to "stun," "kill" or "take out that armored column."

The implications of this can be quite chilling, when viewed in an Orwellian sense. Non-lethal weapons systems generate far less public outcry than the development of new lethal systems. But for a totalitarian state, non-lethal systems are preferred. The unruly masses are easier to control and suppress (come on--streaming plasma beams that can affect multiple targets or rubber bullets? No contest). In violent confrontations between the military and “unarmed” civilian groups, there would be less outrage and outcry resulting from piles of corpses in the aftermath (think Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank). And soldiers (think Tiananmen Square here) would be less hesitant to put down an uprising if they knew they weren't really causing permanent harm to their fellow citizens. Such weapons perceived as "harmless" hold within them much potential for abuse, but for peacekeeping operations and specific circumstances, they could be vastly more effective than conventional weapons, and reduce the incidence of injury to innocent bystanders. I suspect these weapons will become very popular in short order to those who can afford them. This definitely bears watching.

Now Playing: The Kinks The Kink Kontroversy

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

My, that looks tasty and inviting

Sometimes, instead of doing the essential work that needs to be done, getting projects finished before the deadline arrives or any number of logical, responsible things, I have the irresistable urge to goof off and play around with something utterly inconsequential. So today I made lables for my mead. And yes, my mood was most decidedly whimsical at the time.

I'm also hard at work on a large, built-in wine rack for the kitchen. I sanded it down this evening and put another coat of stain/sealant on it. One more coat, and a final sanding should do it. Installation should be complete by this weekend, at which point I'll have a place to store my bottles of Bee Rider. I'll post some pictures if I remember to take some.

Now Playing: Wyndnwyre Under One Sky

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Psst! Wanna buy a comic?

I've gotten word from Scott McCullar that Shooting Star Comics Anthology no. 5 is now at the printer. This is good news, indeed. I've been slipping into that kind of paranoia mode where I expect a meteor to crash out of the sky and destroy the proofs any moment now, but by reaching the printing stage, well, I'm breathing a little sigh of relief. This issue features Dracosaur, my comic script-writing debut, which makes it a very valuable future collector's item. And it's that much closer to reaching comic shop shelves.

Of course, being a very small publisher, Shooting Star is buried in the back of the Diamond catalog, and many retailers don't look that deeply when placing their orders. So this next part is up to you (gosh, you just knew there'd be a homework assignment, didn't you?): You've got to ask for it by name. Actually, you've got to do a bit more than that, because many comic shop retailers will just look at you dumbly if it's not from Marvel or DC and say, "We can't get it." To which you reply: "To order from Diamond, simply request item #JUN042740 F. The book is listed on page 332 of the June issue of Previews." That way they don't have any excuse not to stock a whole bunch of those literary masterpieces...

Now Playing: Silly Wizard The Best of Silly Wizard

Monday, June 14, 2004

Manuscript retrieved

The quest to Bastrop turned out successfully. I now have the copyedited manuscript of Voices of Vision in my posession. Already I've seen a couple of copyedited mistakes that need to be fixed--but they're honest mistakes, the kind that stem from exceptions to standardized rules. I've also seen--I'm shamed to admit--several mistakes on my part that the copyeditor caught and fixed. Mistakes that saw print in the original publications. Oops. It'll take me a couple of days to complete the initial once-over, and we'll see where we stand then. But my first impression is that I've lucked into a competent copyeditor that knows her business. Lucky me.

I also had time tonight to finally bottle the batch of mead I've had going. It's just a tiny batch, and it filled seven-and-a-half 750ml green claret bottles I picked up at San Antonio Homebrew Supply over the weekend. After corking them all, they looked nice and clear with the exception of the half bottle, which was distrubingly cloudy. That one will have to be drunk as soon as the sediment settles. No time for aging with that much air in there. I sampled a tiny bit of the mead, and it caught me off guard. I could definitely taste the alcohol, and the acid/sweetness blend was well-balanced--the sweetness was almost neutral. But the overall flavor was somewhat bland. Maybe I've just gotten too used to the different, distinct personalities of beers and wines, but I expected the honey to have more oomph. It wasn't bad mind you, and I'd rather drink it than some commercial wines or beers I've had, but still. Mead's supposed to age for six months to a year before the flavor peaks, however, so we'll try it again this time next year. A name for this mead and lables are yet to come...

Now Playing: Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Adventures in publishing

So the book manuscript is supposed to come to me via FedEx or UPS or whatnot on the 9th or 10th, directly from the freelance, hired gun copy editor, at which point I have a two-week window to proof the whole 300-something pages. Any corrections I want made I'll have to make ASAP, because this version of the book is the one that they're going to set the printing plates from. So the arrival date has come and gone, with no manuscript in sight. Wherever could it be?


I know I updated my address with Nebraska. I know because some additional contract and publicity materials a few months ago wound up in Bastrop as well, and a few phone calls turned up the fact that Department A hasn't passed on the new address to Department B. For those this is lost upon, I moved to New Braunfels almost a year ago, after spending maybe six months in transit with Bastrop as my temporary mailing address.

So I get to make the drive to Bastrop tomorrow after work, to retrieve said manuscript. What fun that will be, in a car that has air conditioning, but which overheats if said air conditioning is operated. When I have several other projects--both writing and non-writing--that are in need of my immediate attention as well.

On the bright side, I got an email from Gary Westfahl saying my three entries to the encyclopedia looked great, and that he wasn't sending over Muggsy and Rocko to break some or all of my knees for wasting his time...

Now Playing: Various Best of Mozart

Friday, June 11, 2004

Putting your best breast forward

Spent today at the La Leche League state conference in San Antonio. Will spend Saturday and Sunday there as well. For the uninitiated, La Leche League is a breast-feeding advocacy group, which is really needed because the corporations that manufacture formula are scum of the earth. Seriously. Their tactics mirror Big Tobacco, and in some cases, put Big Tobacco to shame. My wife's a Leader, recently promoted to the position of district advisor for other Leaders. She's also helping run a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff at the conference.

The similarities between this breast-feeding conference and science fiction conventions are eerie. 1) The person with the key to the hospitality suite is never around when they're needed; 2) the dealer's room (in this instance, the dealer's lobby) is chok full of all sorts of oddball stuff you never even knew existed; 3) they speak a different language than "normal" folks, and geek out about issues they're passionate about; 4) programming panels are pretty much like what you get at SF cons, tho instead of Farscape and "erotica in science fiction" they discuss "organic nutrition" and really, really take joy in reaming Ezzo and his wretched Babywise book (which, incidentally, Lisa was instrumental in getting removed from Sam's Club stores nationwide a few years back...).

There are striking differences, too: 1) There are lots of kids. Lots of 'em; 2) there are lots of women. Seriously. Lots and lots of them. Many of whom are breast-feeding (which isn't titilating as the uninitiated might think); 3) there are a number of men around, looking befuddled and/or bemused while chasing after children. These guys are filling the role the wives usually play at SF conventions; 4) on the whole, La Leche Leaguers are in far better physical shape, and have far better fasion sense than what you'll get at your average SF con.

Now Playing: Ray Charles Ultimate Hits Collection

Thursday, June 10, 2004

And seven Spanish angels took another angel home

Damn. Ray Charles died today. I never got to see him perform. On our honeymoon, he was playing in Las Vegas, but not until the day after we left--and there was no way I was going to stick around god-forsaken slab of scorched asphalt for anyone, even Charles. Then, a few years ago, while I was still working in Temple, he was performing up in Waco. Unfortuantely, I had a work conflict and couldn't make it. But really, when people refer to the genius of Ray Charles, that's not hyperbole. I remember a story back in '86 or so when Billy Joel's The Bridge came out, and it sported a song called "Baby Grand" which was a duet with Joel and Charles. Apparently, Joel was so in awe of Charles in the studio that instead of deep and soulful, he started singing like a skinny white kid from the Bronx. And Charles followed his lead, singing like a skinny white kid from the Bronx. It was only when Joel got over his hero-worship and started singing like Ray Charles that the song came together.

Now Playing: Ray Charles Ultimate Hits Collection

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Have you seen this wizard?

Saw Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban last night at the IMAX in San Antonio. This wasn't simply a 35mm film projected onto the IMAX screen--it was an actual IMAX print. Wow. Talk about dazzling. The picture envelops you, and the digital sound was superb. I felt like I could count the feathers on Buckbeak.

I thought the book was the best of the series--Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix suffering from a severe case of bloat--and this film is the best of the three Potter movies filmed thus far. It's more fluid. Cuaron isn't afraid to jettison major sections rather than shoehorn them in, and rearranges things for dramatic effect. The pacing moves along at a good clip. Time passage is effectively conveyed via clever use of the Whomping Willow. And the kids are much more proactive in this one, as opposed to the last two films, in which they sat around waiting for stuff to happen. All in all, quite the enjoyable fantasy film.

But seriously, see it on IMAX if you get the chance.

Now Playing: SubVision and Guy Gross Farscape

Monday, June 07, 2004

Don't forget to turn out the lights

I'm currently reading The Last Man on the Moon by Gene Cernan and Donald Davis. I got it three, maybe four years ago, right when it came out. I was going through a spell where I was reading pretty much every book written or co-written by an astronaut. I do that sometimes. But I never got around to the Cernan book. Maybe because the title was just too depressing, from a reality standpoint.

But I'm reading it now, and it's a joy. What makes the difference, I'm convinced, is that it seems real. Other astronaut books get the facts right, and most of them are fairly well written. Michael Collins wrote Carrying the Fire without a "pro" writer to help him, and that book is one by which all others are measured. But they're all whitewashed to a certain degree: Everyone respected each other, and everyone has good things to say about the astronaut fraternity. Even well-known public disagreements are soft-pedaled. Cernan doesn't do this. He says, "You know so-and-so? He was a real jerk-face." Or, "This guy, he scared the willies outta me." He calls himself on his own shortcomings, and isn't afraid to point out those of others, either. But he does it in such a matter-of-fact way, there's no malice behind the words. Very entertaining. I almost feel like I know the guy, which isn't something I can say about John Glenn or Jim Lovell, even though their books are just as enjoyable...

Now Playing: Howard Shore The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Friday, June 04, 2004

Who was that Emerald Archer?

The San Antonio Express-News has been running a small filler story the past week or so, inviting readers to send in an letter describing their favorite super-hero, and explaining why this is so. Of course, yours truly, being the über-geek that I am, have sat myself down and pounded out my own ham-fisted missive extolling the virtues of Green Arrow. Some of you may know I have an afinity for that character. Below you may find my letter, presented here for your amusement:
Howdy Mr. Guzman,

I’d like to add my two cents to the Great Comic Book Hero debate. For my money, Green Arrow cannot be beat. I’ve loved the concept, loved the look ever since I first encountered him more than a quarter-century ago. You may have heard of him--he teamed up with fellow hero Green Lantern and went jaunting around the universe, righting wrongs and championing the oppressed way back in the ultra-groovy 70s. Or you may know of his through his long-time girlfriend, the fishnet stockings-wearing blonde bombshell, Black Canary. Or you may know him as that modern-day Robin Hood with a goatee that shoots crooks with a boxing glove arrow.

Okay, that boxing glove arrow’s a tough one to live down. I’ll give you that one.

But Green Arrow--otherwise known as Oliver Queen--has always been a hero with both feet planted on the ground. Like Robin Hood, he’s often the only one willing to step up for victims who have nowhere left to turn. He’s fought slum lords and poachers, investigated crimes that no one else took an interest in. He was rich once, but lost it all because he was more interested in tilting at windmills than negotiating corporate strategy. There’s not a lost cause that doesn’t have his name on it. He resigned from the Justice League of America because he was incensed by other heroes’ attitudes that some injustices were beneath their notice. He’s told Batman where to go and how to get there--and lived. He despises “all this cosmic crap” that pervades comics.

Unlike some popular characters, he isn’t an alien from a doomed world given powers by our yellow sun. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider as a teen. The U.S. Army didn’t inject him with Super Soldier Serum at the onset of World War II. He wasn’t given a glowing green ring by short blue aliens. He’s a regular guy, like you or I perhaps, with an overblown thrill seeker complex. He’s horribly flawed, but he likes his chili hot and his jazz cool. He’s a real person, or at least as real as comic book characters can ever be, which is why I’ve indulged myself with the Unofficial Green Arrow Fansite since 1998 or so. The updates thus far this year have been few and far between, I’m afraid, but there’s enough content currently online there to satisfy even your most obscure craving for Green Arrow trivia.

Now Playing: Johannes Brahms Handel Variations

Thursday, June 03, 2004

A topic is worth a thousand words

For future reference, when writing encyclopedic entries on SFnal matters, a thousand word limit is a real pain. I figured it would be, but great googaly moogaly, I never suspected how limiting it would be. My first draft entries--which I thought were bare bones and minimalist to begin with--turned out to be closer to 2,000 words in length. And the word limit was a hard one, with no wiggle room. I didn't trim. I hacked away with a machete. The hemmoraging was awful. Almost all my clever and groundbreaking insights fell away in agony. So if you're wondering why I don't discuss Themyscira, the formal name of Wonder Woman's home of Paradise Island and how it's named after the ancient Amazon capital on the shores of the Black Sea, or why the political crisis that faces the remnant Earth government in the "Paradise" chapter of Clifford Simak's City parallels the much smaller municipal political crisis that opens the book, well, blame the thousand word limit. Honestly, I could've written 5,000 words on these topics, easy.

Now I get to hold my breath waiting on Gary Westfahl to decide if they're acceptable or not...

Now Playing: Glasnots Brave Spirits

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Another Python weighs in

Terry Jones, the man who gave us the uneven but still underrated Eric the Viking weighs in this time. He makes many of the same points Eric Idle did in song, but isn't nearly as funny:
The justice department, for example, is boasting about spending $47m on a local law enforcement programme, when Bush had actually proposed cutting its budget by 87%. And the $11.7m that the secretary of health boasts they are setting aside to help those without healthcare is for a programme that Bush has tried to shut down every year he's been in office.

You can read the rest of Jones' rant, which pretty much continues along those lines, over at the Guardian. And if enough people read his column, maybe he'll finally publish his unproduced Gremlins script...

Now Playing: actually, I'm not listening to anything right now

Light this candle!

Most excellent news came out of California this morning: Scaled Composites has set June 21 as the launch date for the first official suborbital spaceflight of SpaceShipOne. They topped 40 miles in a test flight a month ago, which is effectively the edge of space. But this flight will take the spaceship above 63 miles in altitude, which is the threshhold for the $10 million X-Prize. NASA also considers the "official" boundary of space to be 50 miles, so whoever the pilot is will become the first private pilot to earn astronaut wings. (An interesting bit of trivia: Neil Armstrong earned astronaut's wings by piloting the X-15 above 50 miles long before he even joined NASA's astronaut corps.)

MSNBC has a pretty good history of SpaceShipOne and Scaled Composites online for further reading. If they really developed this entire system for $35 million or so, that's simply astounding. It could quite literally open space up to the general public, and make it affordable. Sure, SpaceShipOne is "only" suborbital, but I strongly suspect Scaled Composites could design a system with those capabilities for far less than the billions being bandied about by NASA...

Now Playing: Men At Work Business As Usual

They don't write 'em like that anymore

New skiffy goodness up at RevSF! Yea! The Tissue-Culture King is by Sir Julian Huxley, and is a great story about genetic engineering run amok--although, technically, there's no genetic engineering involved at all. Chapter 25 of Mark Finn's The Transformation of Lawrence Croft is live, and examines the question of what geeks do on the third day of a convention when money is running low. And we're up to installment 82 in Uncle Ovid's Exercise Book. And this one's weird. No, really. It is.

As an added treat, part two of the Top 75 Heroines of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror is live on the site, examining spots no. 55-36. Wow! That certainly spans a large, eclectic range. My personal contributions to the list include Sarah from Labyrinth, Black Canary, Jadzia Dax, Ellie Arroway, Scheherazade from 1001 Arabian Nights, Sydney Bristow from Alias and Dr. Susan Calvin from Asimov's book (not the movie--never the movie) I, Robot. Where do they rank, and what other women are listed? Well, you'll just have to read the article to find that out!

Now Playing: Greg Kihn Kihnsolidation

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

There may be something to this anniversary thing

One of the reasons I married Lisa was because she paid attention. Other girlfriends didn't, which was pretty obvious when they got me gifts--cologne (I never wear cologne), sweaters and other apparel items that make me cringe, leather handbags (!)--in short, pretty crummy gifts. Then they complained that I am hard to shop for. Me, who bounces up and down like a hyperactive puppy whenever I see something in the store I want, and sometimes even pick it up and dance around with it. Yet they "never can figure out" what kind of stuff I want.

Lisa got me the Firefly complete season DVD set for our anniversary. In the past she's gotten me homebrewing kits and truckloads of books--all titles that I desperately wanted, nary a media tie-in amongst them. Her complaint now is that she has a hard time deciding what I'd like best. It's nice to have a wife who understands my inner geek.

Of course, it helps that she operates on--if not the same frequency, then at least one with sympathetic resonance. My gift to her was The Simpsons Season 3 boxed set. When she started quoting lines from the episodes before the package was even open, I knew I'd picked a winner. As if there was any doubt...

Now Playing: Glasnots Beggar's Dance

Eight years ago today

As someone who tends to expect disaster lurking around the next corner, reaching our eight year wedding anniversary takes my breath away to a degree. Can so much time have passed so quickly? Let's see: Two daughters, four job changes, two new homes... yeah, I suppose that much time has passed. My life's completely different now than it was then, and that tremendous degree of change is intimidating.

Last night, Lisa said she was glad we'd reached our eighth anniversary without having to worry about the seven-year-itch. "Wait a minute--" I interrupt. "What seven-year-itch? I coulda had a seven-year-itch? No fair!" Nobody ever tells me these things. Sheesh.

Now Playing: Rush Chronicles