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.

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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.



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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.

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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.

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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.


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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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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day, Extreme!

(GOING LIVE ON 3.14.15 AT 9:26.  Five... four... three... two... [finger points])


Happy Pi Day! No, I don’t mean pie day. I mean Ratio of a Circle’s Circumference to Its Diameter Day! Or approximately 3.1415926, followed by a lot more digits, going on forever. It’s the universal number signifying the presence of an intelligent, sentient species. If we ever detect that number being beamed to us from space, it’s either from one of us, or there are Intelligent Beings out there, with both math and transmitters. My dog Captain Jack is pretty smart, but I don’t think he knows about pi. My cat Moonlight... well, she might.

Anyway, Pi Day comes around in a minor way every March 14. (3-14)  But today is Pi Day Extreme: 3.14.15. That won’t happen again for a century!

Pi Day is also when the MIT Admissions Department sends out its notices of acceptance. In fact, according to the Boston Globe, this year’s admission notices will be released on Saturday, March 14, at 9:26 a.m. That works out to 3.1415926, which is pi to seven decimal places. I love MIT.

Here’s a video MIT prepared, depicting the admission notices going out en masse by quadcopter drones, set to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries:




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjw9-E3_GbM&feature=youtu.be

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Friday, March 13, 2015

GNU Terry Pratchett!



Good day readers. This is Jeff's daughter Julia, and I hope you don't mind my taking some of your time.

We lost Terry Pratchett yesterday. It seems like a particularly unfair kind of cruelty to lose him barely a week after we lost Leonard Nimoy. My dad has never found the right Pratchett book to suck him into the series, or maybe he just hasn't found the time, which is why I'm here talking to you about him instead.

To be entirely honest, I kind of expected to one day get to meet Sir Terry. I imagined that I would quietly say that I was a big fan, ask him to sign a book (Going Postal, probably -- it was my first) and then escape before embarrassing myself or discovering too much about my hero.

I'm a little bit of a cynic sometimes, though not nearly as much of one as I pretend to be in public. (Look, the lure of "coolness" is strong, powerful. Don't talk to me about honesty.) Terry Pratchett was a little bit of a cynic as well, and by 'a little bit of a cynic' I mean 'incredibly unbelievably cynical'. He was also an incredible idealist. I don't quite know how he managed to be those two things at once, without having Terry Pratchett to show him the way.

As I said, Going Postal was my first Terry Pratchett book. I vaguely recall receiving it as a Christmas or birthday present when I was somewhere around twelve years old, and nothing about it seemed deep or meaningful to me except for how very clever it was. It seemed like delightful, fluffy, brain candy that I devoured like, well, candy, and giggled at nonstop. The first of his books that made me think thoughts about morality and philosophy and the nature of the world was Hogfather, and it did so by hitting me over the head with a sledgehammer that was somehow full of nuance. And then I think it stole my wallet, but what can you do. It also made me think a lot of thoughts about how much I wanted to be Susan Sto Helit. And then came I Shall Wear Midnight, which is the last Tiffany Aching book but the first one I read, and it was the first of his books to reach out and take me by the hand and help me become a stronger person. I never wanted to be Tiffany Aching, I just needed her example to follow.

The best way I can describe the world as it is shown to me by Terry Pratchett is that it is incredibly possible. It's a world where you can look true things in the eye and yet somehow not despair. It's a world in which you can do the task in front of you, because it is there needing doing and you are there in front of it, and so it is yours to do. It's a world in which you can become a real witch in five easy steps, by which I mean that everything important is very very difficult and requires care and thoughtfulness but maybe you can manage not to screw up too badly if you try your very best.

Terry Pratchett helped me in much the same way that going to my church helps me -- in that I don't do it very often, I'm always promising to apply its lessons more consistently, and when I do make use of it, the world looks a little different and my efforts in the world work a little better. My mother is going to be very upset with the syntax of that sentence. Sorry mother. Some forces are too powerful for good syntax.

Terry Pratchett helped me do things. He helped me think things. I understand that he was an atheist, but I hope he won't mind too terribly when I say that Terry Pratchett was one of my favorite pastors.

GNU Terry Pratchett.


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Sunday, March 01, 2015

I Defy You, Winter!

Yes, it's snowing again.


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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Losing Leonard Nimoy Is Hard. Losing Spock Is Even Harder.

The passing of Leonard Nimoy at age 83 saddens me in much the same way that losing Neil Armstrong did, back in August of 2012. (Has it really been two and a half years?) Armstrong was a space pioneer. Nimoy created the role of a space-fiction pioneer. And both carved lasting places in my heart, and in my view of the world and the century I’ve lived in.


I never knew Nimoy personally, but I do feel that I know, and love, Spock. As a science fictionally literate teenager, my initial reaction to Star Trek in its original 1960s run was that the pointy ears and walled-off emotions were pretty cheesy and unoriginal. But Spock grew on me with time, as did all of the Trek characters. It wasn’t until years later, after countless viewings of the reruns, that I came to appreciate Nimoy’s acting, and to realize that it was Enterprise family I loved, more than any of the much-touted forward-thinking virtues of the show (though those were good, too). And at the heart of the family were Spock and Kirk, with Spock possibly at the heart of the heart. Later came the movies, and the death and rebirth of Spock, and that’s when he really came into his own as a character, and as a friend in my own mind.

We’ll always have Spock with us, of course. And in his own way, Leonard Nimoy will always be with us, even as he journeys now in the beyond. But we’ll never again get to see him play Spock in something new. And that, in a way, is what hurts the most.

Godspeed, Leonard Nimoy. Live long and prosper. And thanks for all that you’ve given us.



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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Beneath the Seas of Ernathe

In the latest bold stroke of my continuing campaign to take over the world, I have just released an all-new edition of my very first novel of the Star Rigger Universe, Seas of Ernathe. Eat your hearts out, Lee Child and George R.R. Martin!

Okay, I guess it’s not all new, in the sense that the words are the same, give or take a few corrections, as the book I wrote quite a few years ago. But the formatting is all new, far more attractive than the previous editions, and it boasts a gorgeous new cover by Chris Howard, whose other work you can sample here.

Seas of Ernathe was in fact my first venture into the novel form, though it tells a story set the farthest into the future of all of my Star Rigger stories. Whether that reflects my innate upside-down genius vision of the universe, or my essential backassward way of doing things, I leave to the reader to decide.

Here’s the short blurb:

"Starship rigging is a long-lost art. But the ocean world Ernathe may hold the key to its rediscovery, if a young star pilot can learn the ways of the mysterious sea people, the Nale’nid. A touching story of love and personal discovery, Seas of Ernathe takes us on a journey back toward the mode of star travel that once knit the galaxy together."

Kindle | Nook | iBooks


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Monday, February 23, 2015

Where All the Ladders Start

If you like private eye novels, and if you like near-future civilization-grinding-down novels, and if you like great characters and witty dialogue and sharp writing, why don’t you check out my friend Richard Bowker’s new book, Where All the Ladders Start. Because it has all that, and more.

I got to read this one in manuscript—actually, in several different drafts—and it’s really good. I understand it’s available now in both ebook and paper. Check it out!






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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Yesterday...and Today

Yesterday I looked down from my third-floor office window and realized that the back side of our garage was just as heavily laden with snow as the side I’d laboriously cleared the other day. My camera arm wasn't long enough to show it, but here I am literally standing in snow up to my waist, in the backyard neighbor's yard, raking at the roof. The word roof-rake wasn't even in my vocabulary a year ago!


And let me tell you, that snow had hardened! I wish I had gone at it when it was fresh powder. But after I'd cleared it and stood inside the garage looking up at the old rafters, I thanked God that the structure was still standing.




Today the temperature is 37 degrees, and things are finally melting!



It’s gonna get cold again real soon. Subzero low predicted for Monday night. Some days I feel as if I’m living on one of those alien worlds I write about.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Glacier on the Garage Roof

What with all the warnings (and news reports) about roofs collapsing under the weight of all the snow we’ve received this month, I finally decided it was time to do something about this huge snow cap on our garage roof. It has compressed down and hardened over the last week or two—and they are predicting wet snow or “wintry mix” this weekend. That’s a lot of weight on aging timbers.



Armed with our new roof rake from Ace Is the Place, we set to work. First, I had to carve something resembling a path to a point in the back yard from which we could work. This meant using the snow blower to tunnel into the mountain ridge that walls the Valley of the Snowba. Good news! My new carburetor arrived from China yesterday, and the old Snowba  runs like a new machine now! Let’s hear it for Chinese manufacturing! (Actually, I spent about an hour trying to MacGyver a choke control, because the choke assembly on the new carb does not even remotely match the one on the old carb. Finally I gave up and tried starting it with no choke at all. It blasted off on the first pull!)



Anyway, here’s what it all looked like. I spent 2-3 hours out there, and let me tell you, I was ready for some brandy in my coffee when I got back inside.





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Cheap Books! Cheap Books!

It’s that time of the month again. If you’ve subscribed to Bookbub.com (as I have so often exhorted you to do), you already know this: The Rapture Effect is on sale for a buck minus a penny, for a week and a day minus a day. Get it while you can!

The Rapture Effect was my first book after The Infinity Link, which I recently blabbed about. It’s about artificial intelligence and alien contact, two of my favorite themes, with overtones of music and dance. Oh, and an interstellar war. It has some great aliens, with names like Moramaharta and Dououraym. I think you’ll like it.


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Sunday, February 15, 2015

’Nother Day, ’Nother Foot o’ Snow

I’ll just let the pictures speak, instead of lifting all those heavy words.
Click any picture to biggify.

The sand worm passes

Dive! Dive!

Surface!

A neighbor's collection of shovels

The Valley of the Snowba

To the left, there, you can see the top of the railing on our elevated deck. At this point, to clear a pathway on the deck, we have to heave the snow down into the valley, and then use the Snowba to hurl it further out. That's getting to be quite a throw.


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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What Do You Mean There’s More Snow Coming?


I know I’m a good digger, but really.

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The Long and Winding Road of The Infinity Link

The Infinity Link, my fourth novel and my first biiig novel, is now available in an all-new ebook edition. The cover art is still the gorgeous David Mattingly painting that has been on every previous edition, from the Bluejay hardcover to the Tor paperback to the earlier E-reads ebook edition. But inside the cover, the ebook has gone through a complete reformatting and beautification, and I think it looks great. In the years since E-reads put out their edition, the tools for ebook formatting have improved dramatically, as have the reading devices themselves.

This 180,000 word novel started as a short story in my head, with just the main character and her plight (an impossible love, at the other end of a tachyon beam). It grew quickly into a longer story, and then a full novel. And then a big novel.

Funny thing about big (thick) novels: They seem to go in and out of style with remarkable speed. When the first paperback edition came out, the publisher lamented to me about the length. (I love your book. I just wish it weren’t so long. It’s hard to fit thick novels into book racks in drugstores and supermarkets, and even in bookstores you can’t get as many on the shelf.) To his credit, he didn’t ask me to change it; he just told me the facts of life as he saw them. Historical note: Back then, they actually sold SF books in drugstores and supermarkets, and those were very important parts of the marketplace.

A few years later, the same publisher reissued the paperback, with a different cover treatment (same art, but used differently), and they printed it on thicker paper, making the whole package thicker—yes, bigger and fatter. I never was given a reason for this, but could only conclude that that year, fat books were in.

Here’s the sales blurb:

Ancient alien travelers. Hopeless love. Astonishing encounter. Mozelle Moi’s life turns into a flight of fear and astounding discovery, as she becomes enmeshed in a secret government project to make first contact with visitors from the stars. Caught in a telepathic link with the Talenki voyagers, Mozy's personal odyssey will soon be entwined with the fate of all of Humanity.

Combining visionary scientific speculation with passionate human characters, The Infinity Link is an epic work of transcendent science fiction and an exploration into the very nature of humanity. From the Nebula-nominated author of Eternity’s End.

REVIEWS:

“A long, ambitious work, painted on a canvas as big as the solar system. The concept itself is even larger—the eventual linkup of various intelligent life forms of our galaxy, including humans, whales and several alien races.  Carver carefully sets up his story and develops it in a meticulous fashion...it works very well.” —Publishers Weekly

“A complex, rich, and satisfying novel.” —Fantasy Review

There are more review quotes that you can read on the actual sale pages, if you want.

The Infinity Link debuts today at Book View Café, and is also available (or will  be shortly) wherever fine SF ebooks are sold!

 



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Monday, February 09, 2015

Buried By Snow on a Snowy Evening

My friend Rich Bowker has been posting a series of snow poems by actual poets. I thought I would add my own stanza to the ouvre.

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the snowdrift though
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods swall’w’d up by snow.


—Robert Frosty


The ground is down there somewhere. Way down.

Another foot or so predicted tonight and tomorrow, after the foot or so we’ve had over the last couple of days. It’s getting really hard to pile it any higher.

Captain Jack's enjoying it.

Something interesting

My snow blower continues to work, off and on, coughing and sputtering. I believe it’s running way too rich on the bad carburetor (new one still en route from China), and after few hours it quits and I have to feed it a new spark plug because the old one is fouled with carbon. I only have so many new spark plugs on hand to feed it. (Like, that was my last.)

The bike path transformed

We will remember this winter, I think.

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