Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lunar Eclipse, with Lightning

Check out this stunning photo in full size on Astrononomy Picture of the Day, with explanation. Photo by Jose Antonio Hervás. Check out his site, too, for a lot of stunning photographs.


Monday, September 28, 2015


Last night’s supermoon lunar eclipse was gorgeous, even viewed from our suburban Boston driveway. It gave me a reason to bring out my Meade ETX-90 Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope, which is a compact 3.5 inch reflector that I don’t use as much as I would like. I don’t have equipment for taking pictures, so I’ll show you some that other people took.

The thing that most struck me was how much the reddened Moon, with its dark, patchy maria, looked like pictures of Mars, especially from the days when astronomers had only modest ground-based telescopes—but even now, with the Hubble.  I'll show you one of those, below the moon shots.

The other thing, as I peered through the lens wishing I could see the Apollo lander equipment, was that twelve men walked on that world over forty years ago. It’s high time some more men took that stroll—and some women, too. And maybe for some to go there to stay.

The third thing was, this was an anniversary of sorts for Allysen and me. It was the last supermoon eclipse, in 1982, that got us started dating!

Here (if the code works) is a slideshow the Telegraph put together on short notice. Our view probably looked most like the one you’ll see from Paris, here.

And here’s a shot of Mars, from the Hubble Space Telescope. Reminiscent, no?

And what the hey, in keeping with the theme, here’s a picture of Moonlight:


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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Happy Birthday to All of Us—Play It, Sam!

No more do you have to pay a royalty to Warner Chappell Music if you want to use the “Happy Birthday” song in public, in a film, or in your dining room! For most of us, it’s been an interesting bit of trivia that the song “Happy Birthday to You” was under copyright. But for filmmakers and others, it’s been a significant expense. In fact, Warner Chappell Music has been making millions of dollars on it. Well, no more.

US district judge George H King, in Los Angeles, has ruled the copyright claim invalid. The history of the song rights is something of a convoluted story, which you can read about in the LA Times or The Guardian. The bottom line, according the court ruling, is that the 1935 copyright claim applied to a specific arrangement of the song, not the tune itself. And the lyrics apparently were never copyrighted. Warner Chappell Music may be facing significant claims for refunds of the millions they’ve charged over the years.

Play it again and again, Sam! Play it in public!

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Volkswagen Cheats the World

Every time I think I’m beyond surprise at what complete jerks large corporations can be, something comes along like the latest from Volkswagen. In case you’ve been on a camping trip and haven’t heard the news, the CEO of Volkswagen has admitted that VW has for years been installing software on their diesel-powered cars designed specifically to cheat emissions testing. Customers who bought cars thinking they were buying the latest in safety for the environment and fuel efficiency were getting neither.

This short video from the Washington Post sums the whole thing up in stunning detail.

What I’m wondering is why the CEO of VW is still employed and, for that matter, hasn’t been arrested.

More here.

Update: The CEO of VW has resigned. Who knew I wielded such power? 


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Free Range Panglor!

The tide waters have receded, and I am back to my usual shenanigans. Today I am mercilessly giving away ebooks of my novel Panglor, to anyone who will take a copy.

That’s right. Panglor’s story is FREE, for a limited time only, in just about every ebookstore you can ask for. Buy it now! It’s free! It’s almost like not buying it at all! (But you still have to “buy” it to get it for free.)

If you are a regular listener, you know that I have done this sort of thing before. In fact, last May 21st, I ran a Bookbub ad for Neptune Crossing free, and over about a week and a half, there were something like forty-thousand downloads. That’s a lot of new readers and potential readers. (Even I realize that not everyone is immediately hunkering down to read their free downloads. But you know what, it turns out a lot of them did.) That last giveaway, intended to /s/e/t/ t/h/e/ h/o/o/k/ i/n/t/o/ entertain readers who were previously unaware of The Chaos Chronicles, was a big success. Sales were up for a good two, two and a half months after the ad.

Just to clarify for the sake of you aspiring writers hoping for fame and fortune, this does not mean I’m getting rich. I could still earn more in just about any other line of work, except maybe teaching. But sales are going nicely indeed, and I’m getting occasional gratifying emails from appreciative readers who discovered those books via the free intro.

So I’m trying again, but this time with the Star Rigger Universe—which is a more loosely bound collection of stories than the linear Chaos series. Panglor is the first book, at least in the chronology of the future history, but after that, the order is not intuitively obvious. I’ve spent much of the last week, when not fighting back floodwaters, writing all-new “from the author” notes at the end of each book, suggesting the next read in the series—and putting in appropriate excerpts of the recommended next book. Time consuming, that, but I hope in the long run it will help readers find their way in an enjoyable tour of the Star Rigger Universe.

In just twelve hours since the Bookbub ad ran, there have been over 21,000 downloads—in the Kindle store alone!

So what are you waiting for?? Queue up and buy your free book!

Kobo | iTunes | Google

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Sunday, September 06, 2015

What a Week It’s Been!

    You know how sometimes it’s just one damn thing after another? Well, around here lately it’s been one damn thing after another after another after another....

    The hardest thing actually happened first, while we were at Sasquan (see earlier posts). My mother-in-law’s dog Diego, a charming and beloved cairn terrier who was her lifeline, died unexpectedly. We were very sad, and she was devastated, and we cut short our planned post-con vacation and came home to be with her.

    From there, it was simply adding insult to injury, a concatenation of minor and major mishaps that left me reeling. For starters, everything around me started breaking:

    • On the way home, my suitcase wheels break.  
    • After arriving home on the red-eye from Seattle, I collapse into my living room recliner. Whoomp. The back flops horizontaland that’s where it stays. (The gas cylinder has just given out. The gas cylinder for which you can't buy a replacement. I eventually epoxied it back in the upright position.)  
    • Next day, Allysen informs me that the refrigerator isn't working right. What? That can’t be! We just bought it only, like, 24 years ago! I spend two hours cleaning dust and fur out from under and behind and in the works. That brings it almost up to spec on max cool, but I think a new one is in our future. 
    • The next day, I flick on the cable TV. No sound. I unplug the cable box/DVR, and plug it back in. That’s done it: It’s dead, Jim. (On Monday, the cable guys spend two hours replacing the power cord, the HDMI cable, and half the house wiring.) 
    • 2 a.m., a couple of days later. My daughter on the cell. A close friend of hers, a student with no family within a thousand miles, has been arrested for—let’s just call it very bad driving choices—in a town forty minutes away, and could I go bail him out. (A great kid who made some regrettable decisions that night.)  At least the local magistrate, rousted out of bed at 4 a.m. to release him on bond, is cheerful and friendly. See you in court Monday morning!

    In the meantime, I am working feverishly getting some changes made to six of my books in preparation for a big promotion coming up next week. Also, a reorganization proposal for my website is on my desk, waiting for me to look at it. And the person who’s going to help me get print editions in the works waits patiently for me to get back to her with some answers to basic questions. Do I know what font I want? Umm...

    • Court for the friend is an interesting experience, which I write up for my own story notes. Gotta use that some day. The end result of the court appearance being, of course, a future court date. 
    • Give it a couple of days, and I’m standing outside talking to someone on the street. My downstairs neighbor calls from the front door: “There’s water coming from my ceiling!”  I sprint upstairs. Our tiny pantry/laundry room is flooded. Our two-year-old washer (a Samsung, a Consumer Reports Best Buy!) has let go from the drain pump, sending water down through the walls to the first floor and basement. The basement ceiling and various places in the walls are opened up as I write, with fans blowing.
    • Do I think I’m done with flooding? No, one more little nose-tweak. Last night, I’m walking through the basement and almost miss it: the pool of water overflowing the particle-board shelf where sit—sat—our jugs of emergency water. Really? 
    So far, today has been uneventful. Dare I hope?

    For a writer, all things are fodder. Surely, one day I will get a story out of all this!


    Sunday, August 30, 2015

    Schrödinger’s Sasquan—Part 3

    It takes a good sense of humor to attend a worldcon. Last year, at Loncon, we procrastinated too long in getting a place to stay, and we wound up camping on a sailboat moored somewhere off the Thames. This year, we put in for a room early, and requested a room on a quiet floor of the main con hotel. (No more schlepping an hour each way to get to the con for us!) What did we get? A room two doors down from the con hospitality suite, open 24 hours a day!

    To our surprise, it worked out okay. The soundproofing was good, and we were rarely bothered by the noise. And when we got the munchies around midnight, we just had to throw on some pants and shoes and go down the hall.

    If there’s one thing (most) science fiction fans have in abundance, it’s a sense of humor. When I saw this T-shirt at Sasquan (just weeks after my attendance at the Schrödinger Sessions for SF writers), I knew I had to have it.

    Wanted: Schrödinger’s Cat
    After Sasquan, we visited relatives in the Puget Sound region, and got a further look at the extreme drought conditions currently afflicting the U.S. Northwest. The grass is brown, and even many bushes are brown. Here’s picture of a rhododendron that’s surely alive... and dead... all at the same time. (Not unlike some con-goers I saw early Sunday morning.)

    Schrödinger’s Rhodo 
    One personal highlight of the con was at last meeting my friend Ann, who for years has been helping me format my ebooks—yes, those same ebooks I’ve been flogging (not too relentlessly, I hope) for almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog. Ann lives in Washington, and all this time our communication has been by email. She's a fan who offered to help, because it's fun! (!!!) At last, we met face-to-face, and Allysen and I got to take her out to dinner, as a very small thank-you for all the work she’s done for us. (But was I smart enough to take a picture? Noooo...)

    Finally, here’s some of the quirky fan art that accompanied Sasquan. I love fan art.

    Artist: Fan GoH Brad Foster

    Artist: Ray VanTilburg
    And that's my roundup of the 2015 Worldcon!

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    Saturday, August 29, 2015

    Sad Sad Puppies Affair—Sasquan Roundup, Part 2

    During the lead-up to the worldcon and the Hugo Awards, there was a good deal of commotion about the attempt by the Sad Puppies coalition (consisting largely, but not entirely, of conservative white male writers), joined by the more toxic Rabid Puppies, to hijack the awards and stuff the final ballot with their choices of candidate works. I say “attempted,” but in fact they managed to overwhelm several of the major categories. (You might have heard about it on NPR, or read about it on Slate.com, or seen it elsewhere on the net, where it seemed to be ubiquitous. Personally, I tried to avoid spending much time reading about it, because life is short and mean-spirited drama is long.) If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy, those links will bring you up to speed. The bottom line: A group of conservative-to-rabid voters organized to game the awards this year. In response, a couple of thousand more convention registrants than usual showed up to vote, in defense of an open awards process.

    After a long, angry buildup, many con-goers expected to see blood in the hallways of the convention center. It didn’t happen. David Gerrold, one of two author Guests of Honor (Vonda McIntyre was the other), was a target of some nasty pre-con slurring, and he could have chosen to lash out in his GoH speech. He did not. In fact, he delivered a classy affirmation of his love of science fiction and science fiction fandom (transcript here). His only reference to the whole affair was an expression of gratitude to those (not present) who had helped clarify in his mind what he wanted to say. Connie Willis, who had earlier declined to be a presenter, showed up in mid-program to cheer on the process.

    David Gerrold and Tananarive Due MC the Hugos

    Awards time came, and in five categories that had been largely or completely taken over by the puppies, the voters chose “No Award,” in a clear repudiation of the hijack attempt. You can see the final results here, including the categories voted "no award." My congratulations to the winners! But it was not a victory without price.

    While I stand firmly with the rejection of the gaming effort of the SPs, I feel for those writers and editors who were hurt by the whole affair. Some innocent writers and editors were unwillingly associated with the puppies slate, because the SPs happened to like their work. Other worthy individuals were kept off the final ballot because of the stuffing. Still, the winning novel, The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu), got its place on the ballot because another author withdrew his work after receiving support from the stuffers.

    Some say that the Hugo Awards as an institution were strengthened by the voters’ repudiation of the attempt to game the system, and I hope that turns out to be true. But it’s hard to say that there were winners in the affected categories. Those writers who were shut out may get another chance, another year, and then again they may not. Either way, it has to hurt.

    For perhaps the most thorough summary of the matter, I recommend this article from Wired, which includes coverage of “supplementary awards,” the Alfies, created and handed out with great cheer by Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin. In all, I have to agree with his summation, that vindication of the process came with considerable regret.

    If you'd like to watch the entire proceedings, you can stream the Hugo Awards video here:

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    Friday, August 28, 2015

    Smokycon—er, Sasquan—Roundup, Part 1

    We’ve returned home at last from Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention. It was a wonderful worldcon, though for much of the time the air in Spokane was borderline unbreathable due to wildfire smoke. Here are a few photos taken at various times, during bad air and good. 

    The first is a view out the convention center window, when the air was turbid with haze—and a sign that appeared on the doors leading out of the convention center that day. (Later in the evening I looked out our hotel room window over the sepia-colored skyline of the city, and saw a long train of black tanker cars winding through the center of the city. I thought I was witnessing the beginning of the eco-apocalypse.)

    The next day the wind shifted, and the air was much nicer. That’s when I took these, on the riverside park bordering the convention center.

    There are lots of quirky touches to the park. Sculptures along the river, molded directly into the railing. And the giant red Radio Flyer wagon, with the built-in slide for kids. Not to mention the trash-eating mechanical goat, here being fed a napkin by my wife Allysen.

    The programming included a wonderful Guest of Honor speech by David Gerrold, affirming his love of science fiction. (Short version: Reading SF changes the way you view life and the universe. It builds empathy, especially for those who are different from you. Empathy is the first step toward true sentience. Follow this road long enough, and you reach the beginning of wisdom.)

    I unfortunately missed the speech by the other Guest of Honor, Vonda N. McIntyre; but I did get to chat with her and to share a couple of program items, including a panel on Book View Café as a model for cooperative publishing by groups of authors. My other panel, on the New Space Opera (sharing the stage with Charles Stross, Hugo-nominee Ann Leckie, and several others) played to a standing-room-only audience. I hope I said something intelligent—but as is my practice, I leave that to the audience to decide. Suffice it to say here that space opera (once a term that was used pejoratively) is now a part of our greater cultural landscape, including not just print fiction but TV and movies, and it’s grown up a lot in the last 60-70 years.

    The much-covered Sad Puppies drama played itself out in the Hugo Awards ceremony. That’s next.

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    Thursday, August 20, 2015

    Worldcon, Spokane, and Wildfire Smoke

    We’re enjoying the start of Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention (aka worldcon) in lovely Spokane, Washington. The Spokane (rhymes with can) Convention Center is located right next to the aptly named Spokane River, with a beautiful riverside park. We’ve already seen a number of friends, and I listened to a great talk by a Vatican astronomer on astronomical models that were almost right, but not quite—usually because the astronomers of the time didn’t make the leap from the data they had to imagining the right questions to ask.

    The air, however, is a bit thick here. Washington state and neighboring Canada have a lot of wildfires going, and it makes for uncomfortable breathing at times—and eerily red sunsets. My phone camera failed to catch the effect, so I don’t have a good picture. But here’s a map of the fires currently going, and you can see that the U.S. Northwest and Canada are getting the brunt of it. But the smoke is actually carrying all the way across the U.S. on the jetstream.


    On our drive from Seattle to Spokane, we stopped off to see the Grand Coulee Dam, and I talked to a U.S. Forest Service guy who had also stopped to see the dam. He was on his way to a fire. I asked what his role was. He said he manages a group of helicopters that takes firefighters in to rappel down close to fires in hopes of cutting them off before they can spread. Gottta hand it to those guys!

    Meanwhile, if you're attending the con, I hope you'll stop by one of my events and say hello. Today (Thursday) I'm on a panel about Book View Cafe, an author collaborative. Saturday I'm autographing, and also participating on a panel on Space Opera.

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    Saturday, August 08, 2015

    Our Hot New Grill

    Not long ago, I remarked to someone that it was a point of pride with me that I’d never actually bought a gas grill, but had gotten along for years on trash-picked models that simply required some repair. (In our town, trash-picking is a well-regarded means of recycling things. Sometimes people even post to the town email list about items they’re putting out at the curb, which is how I got our lawnmower, our snowblower, and our first couple of gas grills.)

    I can no longer make that brag. Our grill has been tottering on its last legs for a while, and it never was all that good to begin with. Allysen quietly decided to get me a new grill as an early birthday present. She did all the online research, reading reviews and searching for features. Upon my return from the quantum workshop I found a huge box in the back of our truck, bearing the words “Kenmore Gas Grill. Assembly required.”

    What fun! Some assembly was indeed required. Much assembly was required. Not all the parts fit. There are two parts left over, angle irons with holes drilled in them. What are those for? I learned that—contrary to common practice—assembling large pieces of hardware in the dark, or alternatively, in the hot blazing sun, is not necessarily the smartest way to do it. But now it’s together. And what a glorious gas grill!  I especially like the built-in LED lights and the fold-out side table.

    I have not yet cooked anything on it, because every evening this week has been booked up. But I’m hankering to. I might just go out there and cook a single veggie burger on it, if that’s what it takes to get this thing rolling!


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    Friday, August 07, 2015

    Dragons Fly Free in Dragon Rigger!

    My novel Dragon Rigger, sequel to Dragons in the Stars, has been unavailable as a stand-alone book for over a year now. No more! My new edition has just gone up in all the stores, with a new cover and all-new formatting.

    Dragon Rigger continues the story of Jael and the dragons she met in Dragons in the Stars, but much of this book is the dragons’ stories more than hers, and much of the book is told from the viewpoints of fire-breathing lizards. It’s not fantasy, though, except in the broadest sense. It’s science fiction, with a mythical and fantasy feel, set in a universe of interstellar travel. It’s a book I’m particularly proud of, even if it didn’t gain its full audience in its original print publication from Tor. The ebook audience seems to like it.

    Here’s the blurb (short form):

    A realm at war. The star dragons struggle under the oppression of a terrible power, one that’s intent upon twisting spacetime itself into a web of subjugation and death. According to prophecy, One will come from outside to challenge the darkness. Star pilot Jael may be that One. But if the prophecy is true, the price of victory over the darkness will be Jael’s own life.

    Kindle | Nook | Apple | Kobo

    Truth in advertising note: Dragon Rigger is part of the boxed set Dragon Space: A Star Rigger Omnibus. If you have that, you only need this edition if you’re a complete collector.

    Download it and fly free with the dragons and the ifflings!

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    Sunday, August 02, 2015

    The Cat’s Still Alive (and Dead)! — Schrödinger Sessions

    Not really Schrödinger's cat, but she is in a box.
    I’ve just come back from an incredible weekend at the Schrödinger Sessions: Science for Science Fiction, at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland, near Washington, D.C. The JQI staff hosted just over a dozen SF writers, and for several days stuffed our heads full of information about quantum physics. It was head-exploding. But in a good way!

    Here are some of the things we learned from Chad Orzel, Steve Rolston, Chris Monroe, and others:
    • How to become quantum (which only works if you are very small, much smaller even than I was when I was at my low weight).
    • How (if you can master the first step) you can be in two places at one time—and also how to collapse that state so that you’re just in one.
    • How to trap a single charged atom (ion) in a vacuum trap and cool it to just a whisker above Absolute Zero. (And we leaned over and didn’t touch! equipment that does just that.)
    • How to quantum-entangle two or more particles in the above-mentioned apparatus. (Okay, I still don’t really understand how to do that.)
    • How to make light disappear with two polarized filters, and reappear with the addition of a third. (I sort of understand that.)
    • That sometimes the answer to the question “Why?” is “Just shut up and calculate.”
    • That probability is not a definition of a thing, but a statement of our knowledge of a system.
    • That probability is not a definition of knowledge after all, but of our ignorance about a system.
    • That there are two rules of quantum mechanics:
    1. Quantum objects are waves, and can be in states of superposition (more than one position at a time).
    2. Rule #1 holds as long as you don’t look!
    Professor James Gates (familiar from countless PBS documentaries) told us why he doesn’t buy the extra dimensions suggested by most string theorists.
    Professor Raman Sundrum (of the Randall-Sundrum Model) told us why he does, and furthermore why it’s possible we’re living in a holographic universe.

    I learned that quantum physicists say "I don't know" a lot.

    There was tons more, presented by a bunch of professors. I hope I can remember it. Or most of it. Or some of it.

    Part of it, in fact, plays right into what I’m trying to do in The Reefs of Time. So I really hope I can remember that part.

    Maybe I’ll buy the book by Chad Orzel, one of the workshop leaders, How to Teach [Quantum] Physics to Your Dog.

    Down in there is a glowing cluster of verra verra cold ytterbium atoms.  

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    Saturday, July 18, 2015

    Loving This View of Pluto

    NASA has put together a short animation from some of the images taken by New Horizons, showing amazing detail of the mountain range and one of the smoother sections. This is only the beginning. Think of it! We are all part of the generation of Humanity that got to see Pluto up close for the first time! (Actually, come to think of it, I have lived to see, with the rest of the world, every planet in the solar system up close for the first time. That’s pretty amazing.)

    You can see it bigger at APOD.

    How can you not heart Pluto? I’m sure the aliens who painted this feature on the surface of the planet were much nicer than the ones I wrote about last time.

    The heart-shaped feature has been provisionally named Tombaugh Regio for farmer-astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. (And whom I got to hear speak at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, back in the late 1980s.)


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    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    Pluto! And Charon!

    Charon and Pluto, seen from New Horizons

    Today’s the day! NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will whiz past Pluto at a distance of only 7800 miles today—in fact, by the time you read this, will already have made the flyby! This little spacecraft has sent us some amazing pictures of Pluto and Charon, and if everything goes right, they will only get better. The spacecraft will be out of contact with Earth during the flyby, the better to frantically shoot pictures and hoover up as much data as it can during the brief encounter. That data will be sent back at a very slow bit-rate, because of the distance, and will take over a year to be transmitted in its entirety!

    I’ve always felt that Pluto, way out in the dark of farthest interplanetary space, was one of our most fascinating planets. And yes, the astronomers have agreed now that it’s a dwarf planet—but to me, it will always be our ninth planet.

    In fact, when I was a kid, a favorite science fiction novel was called Secret of the Ninth Planet, by Donald A. Wollheim (who later went on to found DAW Books). It involved a kid traveling on an emergency expedition to visit all the planets of the solar system, to learn why the sun was getting dimmer. They found out, all right—it was a bunch of crummy, scum-sucking aliens, who had planted special antennae on each planet, to somehow draw off power from the sun for the aliens’ nefarious purposes. It took cleverness, grit, and maybe a few nukes, but we took care of that. I read that story at least a dozen or two dozen times when I was at a certain age.

    You can download this science fiction classic from Project Gutenberg.

    Oh, and you can follow the real-life Pluto mission here on space.com or here at NASA. Don’t miss it!

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    Saturday, July 04, 2015

    Commas Rule, This July Fourth!

    Do commas matter? According to an Ohio Court of Appeals, they do.

    As we U.S. Americans celebrate the birth of our democracy today, it’s fitting to celebrate recent court victories on behalf of the common man (and woman)—and common sense. I’m not talking about the Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex marriage equality, though I celebrate that, as well. I’m talking about the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals ruling which overturned a West Jefferson, Ohio woman’s ticket-and-tow citation when she left her pickup truck parked on the street overnight.

    The reason her truck was towed? A village ordinance makes it illegal to park “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” on a street for more than 24 hours.

    The woman argued that her truck was not a “motor vehicle camper,” and should not have been towed. The trial court ruled that the ordinance meant to say, “motor vehicle, camper, trailer, etc.” and that the missing comma was just a typo.

    No way, said the Court of Appeals. If your meaning requires a comma, you need to put the comma in. We’re not responsible for your careless writing. Yay! Let’s hear it for clear writing, I say!

    You can read the whole story in the Washington Post, which seems to have rereported it from the Columbus Dispatch.

    Now, if I could just collect a fine every time I caught the Boston Globe mangling grammar, spelling, or punctuation (as opposed to “grammar spelling, or punctuation”). It would probably cover the cost of my subscription.

    A special tip of the hat today to copy editors everywhere!


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    Tuesday, June 30, 2015

    Space-X Explosion: Even the Students Feel the Pain

    Julia Powell, age 15, is in high school. Her group’s science experiment was on its way to the International Space Station aboard the Space-X rocket when it was blown to smithereens by the failure of the Falcon 9 booster last Sunday.

    That’s got to hurt.

    What’s got to hurt even more is that it was the second time her experiment was blown up in a launch failure. Yes, she and fellow students had their first space-bound experiment aboard the Antares rocket that exploded on launch last October.

    Those students are learning just how hard spaceflight can be. But God bless them, they’re not giving up. You go, girls and guys.

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    Happy Asteroid Day!

    Yes, today is Asteroid Day, intended to heighten our awareness of our planet’s vulnerability to assault by Nature, in the form of asteroids that could smack us and reduce cities—or even civilization itself—to rubble. The threat is not imminent, perhaps, but it’s certainly real. And some of our agencies are starting to get serious about planning ways to protect ourselves.

    Proposed methods of diverting asteroids range from painting one side of a threatening asteroid white (to change the balance of sunlight pressure and outgassing), to using ion traction motors, to repurposing something else that threatens our world: nuclear weapons.

    I like to think of this day as also celebrating the opportunity to do cool and constructive things with asteroids, like mining them for water and metals, and hollowing them out to live in them. We’re working on that, too. 

    Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a picture of the biggest asteroid in the inner solar system, Ceres, currently being orbited by the Dawn spacecraft—and its mysterious white spots. Alien winter Olympics? Alien ice cream stands? I guess we’ll find out together.

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    Monday, June 29, 2015

    Curse You, Skunk Baron! [PHEW!]

    He looks innocent, doesn’t he? All doe eyed and mild mannered. Well, at 2:45 a.m. Sunday morning, when I took him out for a late-night pee, he wasn’t so mild mannered—not when he saw Philippe LePew in the bushes in front of our house. He vaulted over the side of the steps and dove after it, nearly yanking me head over heels with him. (Thank God for retractable leashes—and that he was on the leash.)

    As I yanked him back, I saw the flash of white and black in the bushes, and I knew my night—which just hours before had been a pleasant gathering of friends for movie night—had just taken a serious turn for the worse.

    Going inside was out of the question, even though it was cold and raining. I leaned on the doorbell, rousting Allysen out of bed. She began a long series of trips up and down the stairs, bringing me all the supplies: bucket, rubber gloves, old T-shirt, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, dish detergent, vinegar, Nature’s Miracle, towels, etc. (Forget tomato juice; it doesn’t work.) Here’s the recipe we used (it’s on a refrigerator magnet that we got at the animal hospital):

    1 quart hydrogen peroxide
    ¼ cup baking soda
    2 teaspoons dish detergent

    Mix it up, lather it in, and wait 20 minutes. I especially liked the waiting part, standing in the cold rain in bare feet, in shorts and t-shirt, trying to keep Captain Jack from shaking it off all over me. Then around the house to the hose, to wash him down. Repeat. We were soon out of H2O2, so I switched to vinegar and baking soda.

    Eventually I toweled him down and poured Nature’s Miracle skunk treatment all over him. By the time we got upstairs it was 4:30 a.m., and Allysen had set up sleeping arrangements for us in the living room—Jack in his crate, me on the sofa on multiple sets of sheets, and a fan in the window. (No way was I going to risk taking skunk essence into our bedroom.)

    Me sleeping on the sofa and Jack in his crate was the sight that met our daughter Lexi when she passed through early Sunday morning. What have they done to make Mom that mad? she wondered.

    Amazingly, the next day, the skunk smell was almost entirely gone. But Captain Jack hadn’t forgotten. The next few times we went out, one thing was clear: He wanted to find that skunk and teach him a lesson he wouldn’t forget!

    Fortunately, Philippe the skunk had moved on.

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    Friday, June 26, 2015

    You Cannot Sell the Sun!

    I have a t-shirt with the warning “You cannot split the sun!” on the back. It’s a souvenir of the first time I spoke at the Odyssey Fantasy Workshop. It seems there was a student who wrote a story in which a character did something to split the sun in the half. The class unanimously roared, “You cannot split the sun!” And when they created their class t-shirt, that’s what they put on it.

    Well, it seems there’s a lady in Madrid who has been making a nice little business of selling plots of “land” on the surface of the sun—selling them on eBay, in fact. Until eBay shut her down. Now she’s taking eBay to court. Here’s what Newser.com had to say about it:

    She had been selling parcels of about 11 square feet for about $1 each and had racked up 600 orders before eBay shut her down....

    “I am not a stupid person and I know the law,” Duran has said of her solar real estate gambit. She's basing her claim on a loophole in the UN's Outer Space Treaty that says no nation can stake ownership to a heavenly body but makes no mention of individuals.
    The court, alas, will rule only on whether she violated eBay’s terms of agreement, not on whether she can claim ownership over these plots on the sun.


    Wednesday, June 24, 2015

    James Horner, 1953 – 2015

    Another heartbreaking loss for film and music lovers. Composer James Horner died in a small plane crash north of Santa Barbara last Monday. He was 61.

    James Horner was right up there with John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith in my pantheon of beloved composers. I first fell in love with his music with the scores for two of the best classic Star Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock. Just as the second movie built on the first, so too did the music, adding depth and texture to the themes introduced in Khan. There was a nautical flavor to the themes, evoking the wonder and peril of deep space like nothing else I had heard.

    His credits included Aliens, Titanic, Avatar, Apollo 13, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, and countless other films. He was by all accounts a man of extraordinary generosity.

    James Cameron, in a tribute in Hollywood Reporter, recalls beginning work with Horner on the score for Titanic:
    I asked if he could write some melodies. I believe that a great score really consists of something you can whistle. If that melody gets embedded in your mind, it takes the score to a different level. I drove over to his house and he sat at the piano and said, “I see this as the main theme for the ship." He played it once through and I was crying. Then he played Rose’s theme and I was crying again. They were so bittersweet and emotionally resonant. He hadn’t orchestrated a thing, and I knew it was going to be one of cinema’s great scores. No matter how the movie turned out, and no one knew at that point — it could have been a dog — I knew it would be a great score. He thought he had done only five percent of the work, but I knew he had cracked the heart and soul.
    Of all of them, though, his haunting score for The Search for Spock is the most memorable to me, and one I’ve listened to countless times while writing.

    Farewell, James Horner. May you continue to fill the heavens with your splendid music!

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    Tuesday, June 23, 2015

    Note to Self: Include Cat Check in Preflight

    It’s been a few years since I last had a chance to do any private flying. But I’m pretty sure I never missed this when I performed a preflight on a rented Cessna. Look for a third passenger somewhere around the 35 second mark.

    More on the story here.

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    Tuesday, June 16, 2015

    Spot the Robodog Isn’t Herding Sheep. Yet.

    Spot isn’t Captain Jack, but it’s still pretty nifty. Check out this robot from Boston Dynamics (now owned by Google), running through its paces.

    More about Spot and his siblings here: The Guardian

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    Monday, June 15, 2015

    How to Tire Out a Border Collie If You Don’t Have a Herd

    Captain Jack considers my socks from the hamper and his pillow from my office to be his flock, his to move about the house as the need comes over him. It’s cute, but it doesn’t really serve the purpose of tiring him out.

    This might. 

    Click picture to biggify

    This is our new 1-Running-Dog Bike Tow Leash, attached to my recumbent bike. It weirded him out pretty good for the first few minutes, but now that he’s gotten the hang of it, he really seems to like it. We live near a bike path, so we can get going without worrying about car traffic, at least for the first mile. I’ll have to get some video of it. When he breaks into a gallop, I feel like Roy Rogers on Trigger, with Bullet racing alongside.

    I also have to say I like our town. In the space of two minutes, yesterday, I passed a young girl on a unicycle and a guy on a Segway. The Segwayist yelled to me and Jack, “Man, that... is... cool!”

    I  had to agree. But I’m already starting to see signs of Jack getting into shape. A vigorous forty-five minute run just leaves him wanting more. 

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    Friday, June 05, 2015

    Thar Be Dragons in Them Stars!! Arrr!

    It’s been almost a year since my novel Dragons in the Stars was available as a standalone book. Well, it’s back, all reformatted and with a brand-new cover! The artist, Magdalena Almero Nocea, is a European artist. This is the first time I’ve worked with her, and I’m quite pleased with the result. (She’s hard at work right now on a new cover for the sequel, Dragon Rigger.)

    This book was something of a departure from the hard SF I had been writing, even from the other Star Rigger novels, which were a little more rubbery than, say, The Infinity Link. For one thing, it had dragons. In space. Dragons that felt very much like fantasy dragons. Except that they appeared in the Flux of hyperspace, and liked to duel with unsuspecting star pilots who ventured too close. (The first mention of them was in Star Rigger’s Way, in an offhand comment in a spaceport bar. They appeared for real in a short story, “Though All the Mountains Lie Between.” And that story became the basis of this novel.)

    I was deliberately blending the genres of SF and fantasy, and that presented both writing challenges and marketing challenges. My editor was all for it, but my agent was a little skeptical. They were both right. The final book was one I liked a lot, and would have wanted to read, if I hadn’t written it myself. But marketing it, and especially the sequel, which ventured even further into mythic fantasy territory, was a tougher sell than my other work.

    But that was then, and this is now. You don’t have to pay attention to any of that. It’s a story I’m glad to have told, and whether you already own it or are just hearing of it for the first time, I hope it’s one you enjoy.

    (By the way, it’s also in ebook as part of Dragon Space: A Star Rigger Omnibus*. If you own that, you don’t need this. Unless you prefer individual books, or just really like that cover.)

    *To folks who’ve recently bought Dragon Space: Some typographical issues with the recently revamped edition have come to light. I expect to have a corrected version up by sometime next week.

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    Thursday, June 04, 2015

    Summer’s Here! And So Is Our New Rhodo!

    After all those pictures of snow last winter, I thought it’d be nice to post a picture of our new, baby rhododendron, at the front of our house. It was in full bloom just a few days after we planted it!

    Can you suggest a name for it? (Free ebook to the person whose suggestion we use!)

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    Tuesday, June 02, 2015

    Another Ebook You Should Read

    If you like to laugh, that is. My friend Craig Shaw Gardner recently reissued his Cineverse Cycle in ebook form, and it’s probably my favorite of his funny trilogies. (His humorous fantasy is often compared to that of Terry Pratchett.)

    The series starts with Slaves of the Volcano Gods. But honestly, the best title of the bunch (and really, one of the best titles in all of literature) is the third book, Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies. Slaves is where you start, though, with Roger’s life changing forever with his discovery of the secret decoder ring that unlocks the parallel universes of B-movies! And pits his destiny against that of the grand Plotmaster!

    Totally silly, totally fun.

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    How Many Ebooks Can We Give Away? And Why Would We?

    The ebook in question is Neptune Crossing, which has been my free loss-leader for several years now. I ran a Bookbub ad on it the other day, to try to goose interest in the downloads, which had dwindled to a small handful every day. The result? Over 32,000 downloads in two days! Zounds! (About three fourths of the free downloads are at Amazon Kindle, and the other quarter are spread out among B&N Nook, Apple, Google, and Kobo.)

    Why would I want to do such a crazy thing? Ha-ha, crazy like a fox! (A smart fox, I hope, not a rabid fox.) The answer, of course, is that I hope everyone who reads their free copy will be so eager to read the next books in the series that they’ll fall all over themselves rushing to buy them. Stampede! That’s what I’m talking about.

    So is it happening? Well, paid sales went up the same day at Amazon Kindle. Not out-of-the-ballpark up, but nicely and encouragingly up. At the other stores, I haven’t seen any change whatsoever. Is that because of the sheer weight of Amazon, or because of some difference in the algorithms of how books are shown to customers in the stores? Wouldn’t I like to know.

    Anyway, time will tell. People need a chance to read the books, after all. I hope it looks interesting enough that they won’t put it on their to-read pile and forget about it. Excuse me a moment while I shout:

    “Hey, folks who downloaded Neptune Crossing! I hope you read it and like it! And if you do, please leave a review! And try the next book in the series!”

    And thank you.

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    Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    Update on The Reefs of Time

    I haven’t been present here much lately, and that’s partly because I’ve been focusing on my other writing, specifically the next Chaos Chronicles book, The Reefs of Time. I am without doubt leaving in ruins any previous record for length of time spent writing a new book. But I hit a marker recently when I finished the major part of the rewrite on Part 1 of the book. That might not sound like a lot of progress to you. But to me, it was huge. (Actually, I only figured out a couple of weeks ago that the book needs to have major parts to it.)

    I’ve worked my way through a lot of places where the first draft had hand-waving and confident notes to myself that something would happen here, or that chapter would get fixed in the second draft. So far, I think it’s actually working out pretty well.

    In July, by the way, I’ll be attending a several-day workshop called The Schrödinger Sessions, which was conceived for the purpose of teaching science fiction writers as much about quantum theory as can be crammed into three days. I can’t wait. As it happens, I’m invoking elements of quantum theory, especially quantum entanglement, in an important subplot of The Reefs of Time. Won’t it be great if I can actually get it right?

    Besides, I want to find out what happens to that cat!

    Google doodle of Schrödinger's cat, dead and alive

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    Blue Angels Over My Town

    And I missed it!

    I’ve always wanted to see the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s precision flying squadron. Yesterday I had my chance—except I didn’t know about it! I was in the shower when I heard a thunderous roar of aircraft flying nearby. It sounded right overhead, which is occasionally the case with traffic out of Boston’s Logan Airport. But this didn’t sound like commercial airliners; it had the distinctive crackle of jet fighters. I tried to look out the bathroom window, but saw nothing in the sky but clouds. The last time I’d heard that sound in real life, it was a pair of F-15s flying over Fenway Park.

    An hour later, I read in the online edition of the Boston Globe that the Blue Angels (flying their gorgeous blue and yellow FA-18 Hornets) had been in town for a photo shoot, and had just made several passes above the city, including over Fenway Park. It’s entirely possible that they did fly over my house, while I was in the shower.

    I was fit to be tied. But I thought, at least I should be able to see some good video footage of it, from the local TV stations. Forget it. As it turns out, about the only videos I’ve found online have been clips from private citizens, probably shot on their cell phones. Here’s a still, though, from the Boston Globe. It’s pretty cool: the six-plane squadron plus a photo plane, passing behind Boston's Prudential Center.

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    Tuesday, April 21, 2015

    Back, Live on the Web!

    Verizon has finally fixed the problem (fingers crossed!), and my websites are back on the air! Yay!

    That's the good news. The bad news is, Google is changing their search algorithms for searches made from smartphones, and web sites that are not optimized for mobile viewing are going to be severely demoted in the search rankings. Mobilegeddon.

    Yeah, that would be me. This blog, apparently, is okay. But my author page and my writing course are both in plain html, and I don't know how to optimize them without rebuilding them from the ground up. Yes, I have been meaning for years now to make a transition to Wordpress, because that seems to be the way to go. But who has the time? I have a book to finish! Augh. 

    I know this is something I need to do, anyway--probably by hiring someone to do it for me. But when? I just don't know.


    Monday, April 20, 2015

    Websites Still Down, No thanks to Verizon

    Both of my websites have been down since last week, thanks to Verizon botching an upgrade to the connection between them and my hosting service, SFF Net. This affects both my author website at www.starrigger.net and my online writing course at www.writeSF.com. If you click either of those links right now, you'll get nada.

    I am just one of a large number of authors affected by this, and other Verizon corporate customers as well. The fact that this has been going on for almost a week now gives you a pretty good indication of how well Verizon takes care of its customers. (But I'm sure our business is important to them!)

    This means if you happen to be reading one of my ebooks, and you get to the end, and find a link to see "more ebooks by Jeffrey A. Carver," you can click the link all night, but you won't see bupkis except for error messages.

    Repair updates continue to stream at https://twitter.com/sffnet, offering alternately hope and despair. 

    Hosting sites like mine is SF Net's business. They must be about ready to fall on their swords. Don't, guys! We'll get through this.

    Verizon technical support

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    Sunday, April 19, 2015

    The Infinity Link for the Price of a Buck!

    It’s been over a month since I’ve had a big book sale, and let me tell you, it shows in the sales numbers. Jeez, people, don’t you ever buy anything that’s not on sale? I don’t mean you people, of course. Of course you’ve been buying my books, and bless you! No, I mean all those other people who have been choosing to spend their money on—I don’t know what, shoes for their kids, or cocaine, or other people’s books. Enough of that, I say.

    Starting today, and for a limited time only, you can snag yourself a copy of the first book of mine that really got “serious” attention, and my first monster epic that took years to write. Yes, The Infinity Link. (No, not The Infinite Sea. That’s my other “infinite” book, intended to keep you on your toes.)

    Anyway, here’s what it looks like, with a lovely cover by David B. Mattingly. And right below are the places where—for a limited time only!—you can get your ebook for just $.99. As I never tire of telling the world, that’s way less than a cup of coffee, for reading pleasure that will last long after those gritty coffee dregs grow cold. Act now!

    (Is this a Bookbub special? Of course it is!)  

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    Friday, April 17, 2015

    My Five-Minute Essay on Hello Horatio

    Hello Horatio is a brand-new website featuring a lot of short essays on this or that, with the common thread being an interest in saying something personal about the deeper meanings of life, and generally sharing our stories. The name Horatio comes from the line in Hamlet: “There is more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    The unstated (at least so far) goal of the site is to encourage open conversations among people of faith, of different faiths, of secular faith, or of no faith at all—in short, to quit worrying about how we label ourselves or each other, and to share what we think about things that matter. I chose to share why I find science fiction to be such an important way of thinking about life and my place in it. It’s called “A Fine View of the Universe,” and here’s how it starts...

    “A few years ago, a new remake of an old TV show hit the airwaves and created quite a stir. The show was Battlestar Galactica, and its arrival in the form of a four-hour miniseries signaled a creative breakthrough...” [read more]

    I was a little startled to see that my daughter also has a piece just up, called “A Car Accident Rescued Me from My Wrong Life.” It starts...

    “I'm so glad I got hit by a car...” [read more]

    Surely that should get your attention. Take a look at some of the other essays while you’re there. They're all short, and pretty interesting.

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    Websites Down, with a Little Help from Verizon

    On the off-chance you've tried to look at either of my websites* in the last day or so, you were no doubt disappointed. They've been down, thanks to something Verizon did somewhere near Dallas, Texas. And they're still down.
     *My author website at starrigger.net, or my free online writing course at writeSF.com.

    My websites are hosted by SFF.Net, which for many years has provided reliable email and web-hosting at a reasonable price to a sizable chunk of the SF community. One thing I've always liked about SFF Net is that if you have a question or problem, you can shoot them an email and often have a friendly and helpful reply back within the hour. For many years, they've hosted my writing site for free or for a discounted price, simply because the course (nonprofit) is written primarily for kids, and they like to help kids.

    SFF Net in turn is linked to the internet through its connection to Verizon. And when Verizon made some change without warning, all of SFF Net's websites went down, too. Apparently it was a pretty drastic (and destructive) change, because almost two days later, they're still down--while SFF Net waits for Verizon to provide needed technical assistance, allegedly sometime today. (They're keeping us updated via their twitter feed.)

    So thanks, Verizon, for being right there to help when you're needed! Uh-huh. But seriously, thanks, SFF Net, for being such a great hosting service. Even when lumbering giants trample over all your good work.


    Thursday, April 16, 2015

    Nomorobo Beats “Rachel at Cardholder Services”

    Rachel has such a bright, charming voice, and I’m sure she’s only trying to sell me something good. But I don’t know, because I’ve only ever hung up on her before she could finish her pitch. Like, about a thousand times. You may know her, too. Especially if you have a landline in the U.S.

    Do you know about NOMOROBO? If you’re driven crazy by robot spam callers as I once was, go at once to nomorobo.com and sign up for the free call-blocking service. Nomorobo was the winner of a competition sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission to find a way to stop infuriating marketing calls—and it really works! It’s like an anti-virus program for your computer. It screens incoming calls, and if the numbers match profiles of known spammers, it rejects the calls after one ring.

    Here’s the only catch: It works only on landlines that use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). But that’s most of the majors. I have Comcast, and I had no idea our phone calls went by VOIP. But they do. The sign-up is not quite as simple as they make it out to be, but neither is it as complicated as their instructions make it seem. It took me fifteen or twenty minutes to work through it. And once you’re registered, that’s it. You’re protected against most nuisance calls.

    I had gotten to the point that when our landline rang, I often didn’t even bother to get up to see who it was; I just knew it was probably a spammer. Now, I listen—and if it rings once, then stops, I high-five the air. Because Nomorobo has just kicked a robot call back to the netherhells from whence it came.

    Let’s hear it for the invention of the year!

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    I’ve Cast Off the Yokes of Sickness and Taxes!

    For much of my last week I have been occupied by twin plagues: getting through my first miserable cold of the season (Spring is here!), and finishing my tax returns. On one return, I owe money, and on another I get money back, and so on. Life is good!

    Did you know that if you live in Massachusetts, but you get paid to teach at a weekend workshop in Vermont, you wind up having to file a tax return to the Green Mountain State as well as the Bay State? As well as the United States? Probably you didn’t know, and I’m betting you didn’t care. But you do.

    But wait. Did you know that if you put solar panels on your roof to generate electricity and help the planet, no one can tell you—not the IRS, not the online tax advisors, not Turbotax—whether the solar energy credits you eventually get from the utilities are taxable income? Or if they are, how you balance them against the money you spent putting up the panels. You’d think the IRS would have a position on the question. But apparently they don’t. You’re on your own with that one, buddy.

    Well, who cares now, because it’s all signed and done, and I went out rollerblading to celebrate! And then I came home and made a nice, fresh batch of frozen margaritas!

    I do love frozen margaritas.


    Sunday, April 05, 2015

    Happy Easter, 2015!

    Whether you celebrate the day as a holiday of faith, or a holiday of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, or both—have a beautiful day!

    This picture from Muir National Monument seems to fit the occasion.


    Saturday, April 04, 2015

    Our Sojourn in San Francisco Bay

    Well, not in the bay, but in the bay area. We’ve just returned from a trip west, visiting my brother and his wife, who are visiting scholars this year at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. We got to see lovely Palo Alto and Stanford itself, which besides advanced study boasts two fantastic art museums, and the Herbert Hoover Tower, which houses the former president’s library as well as a great observation deck. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia (I forgot to take my own).

    I’m not entirely without snapshots, though. One day we drove to and through San Francisco, and over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Muir National Monument, which is an island in the middle of beautiful state parkland, and the home to a gorgeous redwood forest. It took us a while to get there, but the walk through the redwoods was well worth it. So was the view from the low mountain slopes back across San Francisco Bay toward the city. These pix don’t really do them justice.

    If you zoom way in, you can see the San Francisco skyline.

    Treebeard would approve. Maybe these are the Entwives?

    Another day we drove south to see elephant seals lounging on the beach, gathering their strength for a nine-month swim that would take them thousands of miles across the ocean, eating and swimming, until their return for mating season on this beach next year. Did you know elephant seals can dive to 1500 feet and stay down for an hour, while holding their breaths? On the beach, they look like enormous stuffed dog toys, idly flicking sand onto their bodies with their flippers.

    On the final day, we visited the Cantor and Anderson art museums. Here's Rodin's "Thinker," one of seven castings made by Rodin.

    The driving game of choice in Palo Alto, by the way, is seeing how many Teslas you can spot per trip. It didn’t take long to develop Tesla envy.

    It was a short visit, but memorable. Remind me to get an appointment to Stanford the next time I’m on sabbatical!

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