Saturday, March 31, 2007

Electric Airplane (How Long Is Your Extension Cord?)

Although I have a private pilot's license, it's been some years since I've had enough coinola in the bank to do anything with it. (The most I ever managed to do was rent a plane once in a while to go for a local pleasure flight. Or, more frequently, rent a plane to go up and do some practice touch-and-go landings. Still, I always loved it.)

I think all the time about taking it up again sometime. But one thing that's always bothered me is the additional air pollution you create when you go up in a small plane. It's not like they're awful—but they don't have catalytic converters to clean up the exhaust, and for that matter, most of them burn leaded fuel. (Necessary to keep the cylinders cool.)

So I was cheered today when I got my email newsletter from AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), which had a news item titled: "Environmentally Friendly Aircraft To Take Flight This Year." It seems Boeing is working on a fuel-cell powered airplane! Here's an excerpt:

An emission-free experimental aircraft, powered only by a fuel cell and lightweight lithium-ion batteries, could take flight this year. Boeing researchers and industry partners in Europe announced the Fuel Cell Demonstrator Airplane project on March 27. The aircraft is currently undergoing systems integration testing to prepare for ground and flight testing. The aircraft uses a proton exchange membrane fuel cell, which converts hydrogen directly into electricity and heat without combustion, and lithium-ion batters to power an electric motor with a conventional propeller. The fuel cell will provide all of the cruise-flight power, while the batteries will power takeoff and climb phases of flight. Francisco Escarti, managing director of Boeing Research and Technology–Europe, said that the fuel cell and batteries likely won't power a commercial passenger airliner, but that "demonstrations like this help pave the way for potentially using this technology in small manned and unmanned air vehicles."

Now, that's the airplane I want to win in a sweepstakes!

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

By Saturn's Hexagon!

At last—a new oath for space opera heroes! And a really cool feature on Saturn's north pole—an enormous hexagonal feature, viewable in the infrared, that rotates along with the planet's rotation. Check out the Saturn hexagon at JPL's web site, including motion picture images from the Cassini spacecraft. (Thanks, Charlza, for the link.)

There are the usual typical scientific attempts by scientists to explain the phenomenon (atmospheric vortexes, dynamical patterns, blah-blah-blah). Nobody even mentions the most obvious explanation:

It's a giant hex-wrench socket left by aliens! They're storing the brains of abductees in the center of Saturn!

My God, what else might they be doing???

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School Committees and Other Snake Wranglers

Well, a big chunk of my day today (evening, really) got chomped by a school committee meeting. No, I'm not on our local school board—I wouldn't take that job at the point of a gun—but I've found myself at their meetings a lot more than I ever dreamed possible. Tonight's occasion was a special session for public input on whether our superintendent is out of his mind for not renewing the contract of our middle school principal. (Hint: He is.) The woman he's trying to get rid of is extremely capable, immensely popular, and unanimously supported by the staff and faculty of the school. Everyone loves her, including me and my family. (Even after my younger daughter pulled out to home-school, she continued to support and encourage us.)

The school committee blocked out two hours for public input, and even though neither of my kids is in middle school anymore, I felt I should put in a statement of support for her. Which meant taking some time to write it first, then waiting my turn for a very long time, sitting in the school gymnasium. Tons of people turned out. Thirty-some spoke, including me, and all but one or two were adamantly in support of Ms. Bouris. It was pretty amazing.

But did we have any effect, other than emotional? Too soon to tell. The school board cannot legally overturn the superintendent's hiring decisions, and he didn't show much sign of wavering. I guess we'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I learn more and more about local governance. As the great late House Speaker Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local."

I saw myself on TV later—in an incredibly poor-quality video feed to the community access cable channel. I thought I did okay. I also thought: man, that dude needs a haircut, something fierce. Shouldn't his wife tell him, or something? (Oh wait—she did. About three weeks ago. Okay, now I believe it.)

By the way, Daisy the Goose continues to lead the pack in search phrases that bring people to my blog. (Some portion of it, anyway.) But someone recently did a search for "snake propaganda," which I thought was sort of interesting. Why would someone do that?


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ultimate Science Fiction Writing Workshop

For any of you in the Boston area...

I will soon be co-teaching a 10-week SF and fantasy writing workshop, along with Craig Gardner. Here's the official press release:

The Ultimate Science Fiction Writing Workshop starts its second run! Two veteran SF/F writers—Jeffrey A. Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner—will teach elements of the craft and tricks of the trade, and conduct intensive workshopping of your work. This is a serious workshop for people seriously seeking to improve their science fiction and fantasy writing. It's a workshop for people eager to work hard, and willing to learn.

Between them, Jeff and Craig have written forty-some novels and a like number of short stories. Jeff has been a Nebula finalist, and Craig has made the NY Times bestseller list. Both have wide teaching experience. For more information about Jeff and Craig, visit their web sites at and

The workshop costs $400, starts April 2 at Pandemonium Books and Games in Central Square, Cambridge, and runs ten Monday evenings, 7:30-9:30, from April 2 until June 11 (Memorial Day excluded). Advance registration is required. You can pick up a registration form in the store, or request one by email from the instructors. Don't delay!

For more information, call Pandemonium at 617-547-3721, or email the instructors at jeff [at] or csgcsgcsg [at]

If you're in our area, and you're an aspiring writer, I hope you'll come join us!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sunborn Rewrite

I've been putting off writing this post, because I've been having a hard time dealing with the subject. If you're new here, I turned in my newest novel, Sunborn, back at the beginning of December. This is the long-delayed, way-overdue new volume in my continuing story called The Chaos Chronicles. It was a vast relief to have it done at last, and out of my hands. Gone. Done. Finished. On its way.

Well, my editor finally finished going through it and came back to me with revision requests. This is not unusual, and is part of the normal editing process. But...I so badly wanted to be done with this book that it hit me like a ton of bricks. (No, I do not want to rewrite the first fifty pages for the umpteenth time! I've been there, done that, don't want to do it again. I'm sick of it, do you hear me? Sick of it.) Well. That and a long scream will get you a headache.

So...I'm working on a revamped opening for the novel. I can't say I've gotten very far. Chalk some of it up to getting sick (cough cough), and some of it to our having a visiting Japanese exchange student for a week (what a sweetheart—but sometimes we were definitely lost in translation). But chalk most of it up to my brain's reluctance to go back to where it so recently trod...and trod...and trod.

I'll get there. But send good rewrite vibrations my way, okay? I need them.

Oh, hey—happy first day of Spring, everyone! (Everyone in the northern hemisphere, I mean. Happy first day of Fall, downunder!)

Celebrate by looking at a particularly beautiful picture of the moon, as seen from the International Space Station!

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Strange Visitations

As I've mentioned before, I like to check the Site Meter logs to see how many people have visited my blog (and my other web sites), what countries they're from, and so on. One of the things I can see is what the referring sites are—that is, where someone clicked a link to get here. The vast majority of links to my blog—or at least those which are identifiable—are either from my regular web site or my writing course, or from search engines. It's the search engine clicks that are interesting, because they show me what kinds of queries land people on my blog.

Lately, hands-down, the winner has been Daisy the Goose. I cannot believe how many people have searched for the Daisy the Flying Goose story and wound up at my blog. There has, in fact, been an upswing in visitors the last couple of weeks, and at least part of that is attributable to the goose. Another perennial search favorite is information about snakes, such as someone recently looking for "cool names for snakes." Google searches for images of "girls wrestling" are pretty common. I wondered at first if they were people looking for mud wrestling or whatever, but then realized they were coming from search pages that actually showed the images of high school wrestling, so I'm guessing it really is mostly people genuinely interested in girls participating in the sport of folk wrestling. More than a few people come looking for articles on intelligent design or "will people steal my story ideas."

Hardly anybody ever clicks through on the ads, by the way. After two years, I finally racked up enough earnings to get my first check for a hundred big ones. (I mistook the envelope the check was in for junk mail and nearly put it through the shredder.)

The blogosphere's a funny place. But you already knew that, right?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Low Flyover of Mars

This link to a pair of NASA videos comes courtesy of my friend Victoria (not to be confused with the Victoria Crater on Mars dramatically displayed in the first video). Want to make a low flying pass over some of the terrain that the Opportunity and Spirit rovers have explored? Thanks to some incredible photography from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, you can! This appears on the New Scientist web site, but if it's not on a lot of others, I'm sure it will be soon.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Where Does the Time Go?

The last two weeks sure went fast (at least in blog years). The nasty head cold that I'd been dodging all winter while people fell to my left and to my right finally caught me (and most of my family). With perfect timing, it came just before we were to receive a Japanese student to stay with us for five days. We took a lot of vitamins and Echinacea and green tea, and prayed. She arrived today, and is a total sweetheart. I know we're going to want to adopt her.

A week ago, the high school wrestling team had its annual end-of-season banquet. To my immense relief, someone else produced a video of season highlights, so I didn't have to. To my immense pride, my daughter Lexi (a graduating senior) received the Coach's Award for outstanding contribution to the team. She was taken completely by surprise, because she hadn't had a winning season. But the coach gave a very moving tribute to her hard work and discipline, and her willingness to compete head-on in a sport completely dominated by boys. It was a great moment.

I wrote a while back about the impressive work that Star Trek fans were doing in creating all-new Star Trek episodes. It seems that the producers of Battlestar Galactica have noticed all the fan activity, also, and have decided to facilitate it. They've created a video toolkit of special effects, sounds, etc., that anyone can use to produce their own four-minute BSG spinoffs. They've even got a couple of samples up. They're running a competition, and the winning piece will be shown along with an actual BSG episode. (Speaking of which, I'm a few weeks behind in watching, so don't anyone post any spoilers about what happened to Starbuck in the next-to-last episode!)

Finally, here's another interesting link, courtesy of my wife:

How about a dance club that's built their dance floor on top of piezoelectric elements, so that the bouncing of the dance steps provides the electricity to power the club? Go to, and scroll down a little ways to Sustainable Dance Club for a short video. Gotta dance!

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jet-Man, and Daisy the Goose

Two interesting videos crossed my radar today, both involving flying. One is about a man who has found a way to become a jet bird, and the other is a goose who thinks she's human.

Jet-Man is Yves Rossy, from Switzerland. When I first saw the email from my friend Keith, I thought it was going to be someone wearing the latest version of the Buck Rogers jet pack that's good for hovering around a parking lot but not too much else. But no—this is a guy who straps himself into a set of jet-powered wings and pushes himself out of an airplane like a skydiver...and then spends five minutes zooming and soaring like Rodan, or maybe the Jetsons. Watch the video—it's pretty amazing. He has a web site, but it's all in French, so I wasn't able to read any of the background info. (You can watch the video there, too, if you have trouble at the other link.)

And then...there's Daisy, the Canada goose. Daisy imprinted on a guy named Dan Steffan, and she likes to go flying with him—he in his speedboat, and she flying alongside. When she gets tired of flying, she perches next to his beagle Sam and enjoys the ride. (That dog sure reminds me of our dear departed beagle Sam!)

Edit Oct 2013: Something made me revisit this story, and I learned to my sadness that both Daisy and Dan Steffan are gone from this world. You can view the whole story here.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Strange Golf Toy, and the God Particle

I don't play golf. But I got a phone call yesterday from a software developer I once worked with, a voice-recognition wiz who created a very compact little program called Voice Lookup for Pocket PCs. (When I say I worked with him, I mean that I wrote the user's guide for him, not that I had anything to do with developing the software.) He's been working on this software for years, making about as much money as the average beginning fiction writer (of for that matter, the average veteran fiction writer, which is to say, not much). But a new product is about to appear, featuring his "talk to the chip" software—a golf cap that contains embedded GPS equipment, microphone, speakers, and voice-recognition capability.

A golf cap with GPS, you say? Yes, and its purpose isn't to keep you from getting lost on the links; it's to put a little advisor in your ear, which can tell you exactly how far you are from the hole, or from the water hazard! I'm not making this up! You can read about it at (Click Products to get the low-down.)

Meanwhile, in other news, scientists may at last be on the trail of the "God particle"—also known as the Higgs boson. You can read about that at the New Scientist.

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Conquering Chaos

One of the things I promised myself I'd do after finishing Sunborn was take a week and clean my office...really clean it, from top to bottom. It's been at least ten years since I've done this, and it's looking more than a little messy. I'm surrounded by mountains of half-read magazines, unread books, printouts of web pages, nearly-finished tax returns, unfiled bank statements, and a lifetime of photos, which I set out to organize (or at least box neatly) about six years ago. Didn't get very far on that one.

But I'm not getting very far on the new book, either. (By which I mean Chaos #5.) I figure if I do this, I'll feel better, and the feng shui, the chi, the karma, and the Yin Yang of my work space will all smooth out in a Harmonic Convergence that will bring my brain back to life! Also, I'll be able to vacuum. Or at least turn the Roomba loose.

I started on it this week. It's about the only job I can think of that competes with doing taxes for making me want to scream. Nevertheless, I will prevail. I think a week may be a little optimistic, though. I have decided that cleaning my office will be a major part of my Lenten devotions (also known as 40 Days of Faith—and boy, will this take faith).