Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Three Thoughts for Halloween

No, not spooky thoughts, or even deep thoughts. Just...weird, funny, unexpected.

I'm sure you all know what CAPTCHAs are. No? I didn't, either, until I read the article I'm about to refer you to. But you've dealt with them. CAPTCHAs are those little boxes where you have to decipher squiggly or morphed letters of the alphabet and type them into another box before you can proceed (for example, to add a comment to this blog). Their purpose is to ensure that a real human, and not a robot, is leaving a post or opening an email account.

The evil spammers have come up with a new way around these: a sexy picture of a scantily clad blonde, and an invitation to entice her to take off her clothes by...yes, deciphering a CAPTCHA and entering the code. But when you do this, you're performing a service for the spammers: enabling them to get past these protective devices. Read about it on the Washington Post Security Fix column, where I saw it.

To veer wildly in the direction of the physics of life, ponder the possibility that life may evolve in the form of plasma or ionized dust creatures (in space). Invasion of the Plasmozoids! Or whatever you might like to call them. The New Scientist magazine has asked for ideas of what to call these hypothetical beings.

And for one final twist into oddity, watch this brief video of a train in Bangkok. Be sure to watch all the way to the end.

Happy Halloween!

"We tend to think things are new because we've just discovered them." —Madeleine L'Engle

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Firefox on the Mac and My Blog

I spent a couple of hours tonight trying to isolate the problem (which is more widespread than I had realized) of my blog causing Firefox on the Mac to freeze. It wasn't the most recent entry that was at fault at all. It seemed I was offending Firefox/Mac in several ways. As nearly as I can tell, Firefox/Mac:

  • Doesn't like it when I have italics in the title of a post
  • Doesn't like it (sometimes) when I have an Amazon ad for a book in a post
  • Doesn't like it (sometimes) when I use blockquote in text

It took a while to root all of those out, or at least those going back a little over a year. None of them caused trouble in Firefox/Windows or Safari/Mac (that I know of). Anyway, this blog no longer freezes my wife's Mac, which is a hopeful sign.

I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who has had trouble viewing my blog in the past. If you could leave a comment letting me know if you can view it now, that would be very helpful.


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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Paradigms to the Right of Us, Paradigms to the Left of Us

Okay, I haven't written an entry in over two weeks. Time to get going. One reason I've been away is that I've started to pick up some traction on the new book (working title, Reefs of Time), and didn't want to distract myself from that. On the other hand, my last entry (or something, anyway) caused both my wife's and my brother's browsers to freeze when they view my blog in Firefox on a Mac, and because I have no idea what could be causing that, it sort of took the wind out of my sails, blog-wise. If any of you out there has a clue what could cause that, please let me know!

Anyway, since I last posted, a lot of notable events have occurred. Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in Literature! Who would have thought they'd ever give the Nobel to someone who wrote science fiction?! Woo-hoo! (I haven't actually read her books, though, so I can't really make any comment on the appropriateness of their choosing her for the prize, instead of, oh, say, me.)

Also the Red Sox have made it to the World Series again, which is an equally drastic paradigm shift. Now, I really pay very little attention to baseball. When I flew from Cleveland to Boston recently, my seatmate asked me if I was an Indians or a Red Sox fan. I replied that I only paid attention if the Sox actually made it to the playoffs. She looked at me in amusement, tapped the newspaper, and said, "They're in the playoffs." So after that, I started paying attention. I even watched a couple of games! I'm even planning to watch some of the first World Series game tonight! (This is the biggest paradigm shift of the three, I think. I watched the Indians on TV, growing up, but watching professional sports on TV is something I almost never do now.)

And for one last paradigm bender: What do you think would happen if a hungry, VW-sized polar bear happened upon a leashed sled dog? Maybe not what you think. Watch this slide show: Polar Bear and Husky.

Then read about the Hippo and Tortoise.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." —Groucho Marx

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Dragonbreath and Buckbeak

I said earlier that I'd post some pix of us on our cool mopeds when I had some. Well, here they are!

Allysen's Dragonbreath (a.k.a Dracos, a.k.a. Buglet) is definitely the Town Car of mopeds. My Buckbeak (a.k.a. the Growler) is clearly the Jeep. Hers was made by Honda, mine by Tomos (in Slovenia, probably in an old Yugo factory). We love 'em both.

Dragonbreath, Buckbeak

Tough hombre biker

We ride, we ride!

"It's true that writing is a solitary occupation, but you would be surprised at how much companionship a group of imaginary characters can offer once you get to know them." —Anne Tyler

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X-wing Fighter Flies! (briefly)

Some people talk, and some people do. Here's a group of people who decided to build their own X-wing fighter model (you know, the craft Luke Skywalker flew in Star Wars), and make it fly! We're not talking a little bitty model, but a model 21 feet long! That's ambition. Before you look at the video, take a look at their beautiful project.

Now you can watch it fly in two different video views (scroll down for second). Well, U.S. rockets used to blow up all the time, too. But they got better.

Here's a longer video, showing the setup, etc.

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." —Thomas Mann

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Sputnik, Half a Century Later

Can it really be fifty years since Sputnik beep-beeped its way around the globe, ushering in the space age and scaring Americans half to death? (The Commies are going to bomb us! Their rockets work, but ours always blow up!) I guess it has been. (By the time I get this up, it's going to be October 5, but let's just pretend it's still October 4, okay? I mean, somewhere in the U.S., it still is.)

Lots has been written in newspapers and elsewhere about the anniversary, but I thought I'd note a few reflections about what Sputnik meant to me, an 8-year-old kid in Huron, Ohio. I remember fear, because the Russkies were ahead of us. But I also remember great excitement, because we were finally in space! (In this part of the brain, it was okay to think of them as being part of us, which was really how I preferred to think of things anyway.) In the long run, the excitement way outweighed the fear. The Space Race was on!

I can still taste the thrill of watching our early rockets lift off, of following every single space mission with intense interest—and I don't just mean manned space missions. I mean everything. The Echo satellite, a big Mylar balloon that reflected radio waves. Telstar, the first active communications satellite. Ranger and Surveyor to the moon. Mariner to Mars and Venus. I knew all the rockets by shape and size: Delta, Atlas, Titan, Atlas Agena, Atlas Centaur, Saturn. I knew what rockets were coming down the pike. (I'm still waiting for the Nova, which would have dwarfed the Saturn V.) I idolized Werner von Braun. (We didn't know about the Nazi part then.)

And then, of course, there were the manned missions. I remember our classes at school (6th or 7th grade) being pulled out to go to the room where there was a TV to watch both the scrubbed attempts and finally the launch of Alan Shepherd into space. "Why don't you fix your little problem and light this candle?" I think I was at home for Gus Grissom's flight. In school for John Glenn's. It was a wondrous time. So full of passion and innocence. But I also remember the devastating news of the Apollo 1 fire, which put an end to the innocence. And finally on up to the landing of the Eagle. "Tranquility Base here..." I still get shivers when I watch video footage of Apollo 11's launch.

Besides engrossing me, one pronounced effect of this ferment of space activity was my passion for reading science fiction. I'm pretty sure the two were linked. As I watched the real space travelers, I had no doubt—one iota of doubt— that our future as a species was in space. I lived that future through the exploits of Tom Swift, Jr. and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet—and of course through the stories of Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke and Leinster and Del Rey and Lesser and Nourse and Norton and White and a hundred others. I never felt that there was anything unreal about these visions of our future in the stars. On those periodic occasions when someone asked me why I didn't read about real things, I simply didn't know how to answer; the question made no sense to me.

In a way, it still makes no sense to me. That was the beginning but not the end of my love affair with science fiction, and I have always felt that it was the most real of all kinds of fiction.

Hey, Sputnik—thanks for getting the ball rolling.

"Writing itself is an act of faith, and nothing else." —E. B. White

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Uncle Jay Explains the News

Thanks go to my sister Nancy, who forwarded a link to an Uncle Jay Explains the News video—explaining the system by which Congress takes well-earned recesses. Uncle Jay was news to me, but he's hilarious—very smart, and an equal-opportunity acid-wit. I immediately started watching a bunch more. One of the best is his shtick on, er, blogs.

If you don't know Uncle Jay, take a few minutes and go watch.

Oh, and when you've watched some of those, take in a few of Walt Handelsman's animated editorial cartoons.

"An eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a façade of order—and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order." —Douglas Hofstadter

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Book Signing and Reunion in Ohio

I spent last weekend in Sandusky, Ohio, where I spent a fair number of hours at the Kalahari Waterpark Resort, signing books—and also enjoyed a reunion with a lot of high school classmates, many of whom I had not seen in forty years. Everyone looked just the same (yeah, just like I do). I sort of, almost recognized a lot of people—especially after we all put name badges on. Everyone greeted me warmly, a little bit like a homecoming celebrity (strange, but nice, I thought); and I finally found out why everyone recognized me so easily. Turns out, a new hometown newspaper whose existence I hadn't even been aware of had run a nice front-page spread on me that week! I had no idea what people were talking about when they referred to the newspaper article—but finally, just as I was packing up to leave, I was given a copy. Nice!

My wife wasn't there, so the mice got to play: during the music and dance part of the reunion, I finally danced with all those girls I was too shy to ask to dance with me when I was in high school! (Danced with them all at once, more or less.) The book signing went very well; a few people (not classmates) had even come looking for me, because I'd posted info on my web site. That's not something that happens every day. I even sold enough books to cover my airfare!

Plus, I brought back five 12-packs of Vernors ginger ale. (Yay!) I had it neatly and securely duct-taped together, but the airline made me buy a box from them to put it in. (Boo!) Hey, Vernors—you make great ginger ale, so how about selling it in New England, so I don't have to keep doing this, eh?

The following pretty well expresses how progress on my followup book to Sunborn is coming:

"Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." —Gene Fowler