Thursday, February 22, 2007

Star Trek New Voyages

Speaking of obsession...and I mean that in the best possible way...

If you love Star Trek, you must visit Star Trek New Voyages. A fan group, with the permission of Paramount, has gathered the time, money, and talent to produce a series of all new classic Trek episodes, available for free download online. It is a completely nonprofit operation, and yet they've gotten the support and participation of many veterans of the original series, including George Takei, Walter Koenig, writers Dorothy Fontana and David Gerrold (from whom I learned most of what I know about it), and even professional directors. So far, I've downloaded the first two episodes, but have only watched snippets. (I wanted to wait to watch the shows until I could get them burned to DVD and watch them on my TV.) The production values are astoundingly good. They have reproduced the look and feel of the show with incredible precision, and the special effects are up to the standards of current television shows.

The only thing that takes some adjustment is seeing a new generation of talented amateur actors play the parts of Kirk, Spock, and all the rest. Okay, they're not Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley—but who could be? My initial impression of their work is very favorable.

Talk about fans throwing themselves into something they love! These people are amazing.

(By the way, getting it onto DVD is easy in principle, if you have DVD burning software. But Sonic MyDVD, usually my Old Faithful, couldn't handle it, nor could Roxio MyDVD. Finally I tried Nero, and that worked very nicely. Note, this is precisely the opposite of the experience of the person who wrote their FAQ page.)

Oh—two other fan-created productions are also in the works, at: and


Wikis and Pedias and Obsessions, Oh My!

Somehow or other, I stumbled across the existence of Scifipedia, an SF-oriented wiki developed by Of course, I looked to see if they had a good section about authors, and specifically about me. The answer: authors, yes; me, no. So I set about to remedy the situation. You wouldn't believe how long it can take to compose a simple encyclopedia article about yourself, especially when most of the information already exists in various documents readily at hand. Nevertheless, I got it done, and you can read all about me and my stuff at Scifipedia | Literature | Authors.

Well, one thing leads to another, and soon I was checking to make sure that various articles about Battlestar Galactica included information about the novels. (They didn't; I fixed that.) And that led to the discovery of Battlestarwiki, and a search to see if the books were properly referenced there. At first, the answer seemed to be no. A search for novels didn't lead to much, but eventually I found an article titled "List of Books," which probably isn't the best title for search purposes, but never mind. That led to the discovery of a detailed page about my BSG novel, which is truly mind-boggling in its excruciating attention to detail. Some of their speculations are interesting and fun, and some lead me to scratch my head. I'm torn between awe at the energy and intelligence devoted to this, and wanting to say, "Get a—!" But no, no, that's the last thing I would say to fans! Amazing, truly amazing what these people have pulled together.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Boskone and Beyond

Last weekend was Boskone weekend here in Boston. Boskone is a convention run by members of NESFA (the New England Science Fiction Association), who are possibly the most organized people on the face of the planet, and who have a wonderful publishing program in NESFA Press, bringing back into print in beautiful durable editions all kinds of great classic stuff. A couple of blog readers said hello at the con, which was very nice (Todd, John, good to meet you). During the course of the weekend, I had a very pleasant conversation with David Gerrold, a lovely dinner with Jane Yolen and my own family, and a nice chat with SF artist Rick Berry (who, I had not realized, lives in my town—and whose wife and mine had actually worked together on a school-related thing, without my ever having made the connection).

Boskone this year was held at a new hotel, the Westin Waterfront, which was a nice hotel situated next to Boston's new convention center, in the midst of a concrete wilderness way out, yes, on the wharf. Let's hope they plant some trees and build some restaurants in the area soon. On Friday, I took public transit, which is easy enough except for the quarter mile walk across the icy, wind-swept wilderness. Leaving that night, I walked with a fellow Boskonite (Boskonian?), a woman of slender build who would have been carried off by the wind if she hadn't grabbed my arm.

Which brings me to a very strange news story that my wife came across online today: a German paraglider training for competition in Australia survived after being sucked up into a thunderstorm and carried to an altitude of 32,000 feet (that's jetliner altitude and higher than Mt. Everest), during which time she blacked out from hypoxia while being pelted by hail and surrounded by lightning. Miraculously, she escaped with some frostbite and bruises. A Chinese paraglider, caught in the same storm system, did not survive.

On a much lighter note, today's Sheldon comic is the funniest I've seen in a while. You will especially appreciate it if you have ever visited an Ikea store, as I have—once.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Fun in the Ice

It's been a funny winter, here in the Boston area. Here it is, mid-February, and we still haven't had a proper snowfall. On the other hand, yesterday was a carnival of sleet, sleet mixed with snow, and freezing sleet. Last night and today, everything was ice—including the snowplow ridges at the ends of the driveways. Ours was no treat to get out of, but we were better off than a neighbor who decided to drive over the ridge.

Here is the result, caught by my cell phone camera.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

What's in a Name, Mozy?

Back in the mid 1980s, my novel The Infinity Link first saw print. The main character, a young woman named Mozy, had her complete mind and personality uploaded to a spacecraft that was going to investigate alien visitors in the solar system. (Side note: The novel took me five and a half years to write, a record I hoped never to match. I just exceeded it, with Sunborn.)

The other day, I was reading in the latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly an article about computer backup systems. One of them is called Mozy. Writer James Fallows says, "Mozy mirrors your computer’s data not on a detachable drive or another machine but somewhere in the galactic cloud of Internet storage." Now, that coincidence struck me as being pretty cool. If it's not a coincidence, that would be even more cool. I emailed the company and asked them where their name came from. I'll let you know what they say.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Selling, Publishing, and Other Everyday Questions

I finally wrote up some answers to questions that people keep asking me by email—questions like, can you blurb my novel, and how can I find an agent? It's up on a new page on my web site. If these are questions that trouble you, or even just interest you, take a look at Getting Published, at

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Errant Astronauts, Friendly Fire, and Other Civics Lessons

Today's news was awash in stories that made me reflect on the vagaries of human nature, especially in the crazy world we live in. I'm going to assume you're familiar with the stories, but if you're not, just click the links for more information. The tales run from bizarre to tragic to uplifting, with a side trip to controversy.

The first one that hit me today was the story of the NASA astronaut, Lisa Nowak, accused of driving from Texas to Florida with the intention of murdering a romantic rival. I don't follow astronaut personalities the way I did when there were just seven of them, but I remembered Lisa Nowak from the coverage of the shuttle mission last summer: she was bright, competent, strikingly pretty, and by all accounts a great role model for girls and young women. What in the world happened, that she could do such a bizarre thing? Does she suffer from a psychological disorder that was hidden until now? Did she simply crack from the stress of being simultaneously an astronaut and a mother? I feel a mixture of sympathy, pity, puzzlement, and a bit of fear. Could any one of us crack this way? Does this dark side lurk in all of us? It makes me shiver a little, and vow to get more sleep.

Next came the furor over released cockpit video from two U.S. A-10 pilots who, in the early days of the Iraq war, mistakenly strafed friendly trucks, killing a British soldier. The incident was declared an innocent mistake and the pilots cleared of wrongdoing, back in 2003, but only recently was the cockpit video (containing the radio conversations) provided to the British government and subsequently leaked to the public. I watched the video—it's about 15 minutes long—and the first thing I noticed was how businesslike and calm it all seemed until the mistake was discovered, not at all the image of combat one gets from the movies. The guys saw orange panels on the roofs of the trucks—the sign of friendly forces—but because they were assured by their ground controller that no friendly forces were in the area, they concluded that they were looking at orange rocket launchers. And they opened fire. In hindsight, it's pretty easy to conclude that they made a dumb call—especially given how hard it is to see things on the ground from a cockpit. But it would also be a cheap shot, since I wasn't there.

What I really noticed was how different I felt about it after watching the video, versus reading the stories. The news reports said the pilots cursed, wept, and were distraught after learning that they'd just shot a friendly. But the selected quotes also made it sound as if they were mainly concerned about how much trouble they were in. Watch the video, and you get a different picture. They were beside themselves. Yes, they obviously knew they were in trouble, but they were also kicking themselves around the block for the error. The news reports one pilot saying to the other, Is your tape still running?—after which the recording stopped. What the pilot actually said was, My tape ran out; is yours still running?—and this when they were well on their way back to base. What comes across in the news story is, Can we cover our asses? Watch it, and you get something quite different. So...I guess this story made me think less about the possible culpability of the pilots than it did about just how easily the truth gets distorted. And how we have to form opinions and make decisions all the time, based on this kind of incomplete—or misleading—information.

On the flip side of the war, you have the court martial of Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused to go with his unit to Iraq, because he believed the war was illegal and immoral. From the San Jose Mercury News:

"...He took to heart a superior's advice to make exhaustive preparations for missions. What he found -- in reading international law, the history of war and the history of Iraq, and articles by governmental and independent agencies, journalists and scholars about the situation in Iraq -- changed his mind.

As he told the Army Times, he was in turmoil. "I found out this administration had gone to great lengths to deceive Congress and the people of this country to go to this war.''
With complete respect for those who are in Iraq right now, including one of our wrestling coaches, my hat's off to Lt. Watada for being willing to take a stand on principle, knowing he could be court-martialed, but believing that these things had to be said.

Of course, I'm basing that opinion on news reports. See earlier paragraph.

Finally, I read of actor Richard Dreyfuss's current passion—not acting in films, but teaching civic responsibility in schools. Among other things, he's working with a school system in Massachusetts to help create a civics curriculum for elementary schools, hoping to find ways to make this exciting for kids. You go.

Funny, I was not always a huge fan of Dreyfuss in the movies, especially his earlier ones—but I thought he was great in the quietly forgotten TV series, The Education of Max Bickford.

Which, coincidentally, is where I first encountered the actress Katee Sackhoff. Starbuck.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007's Site of the Week? Who Knew?

Well, I suppose a lot of people knew. But I didn't. Thanks to an alert young writer who emailed me, I found out that my free online writing guide,, is currently listed on as Site of the Week.

Flattery will get you...well, I'm not sure what. It reminds me that I've been meaning for ages to spend some time finishing the thing, and finding some better graphics, and eventually even getting some video clips up. (Stick that on my to-do list, will you? Along with revamping my regular web site. Thanks.)

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Interesting Science News and Other Cool Stuff

Meanwhile, I've been collecting stories and links, and I'll share a few of the ones I've managed to not lose.

Allergy vaccine: If, like me, you're subject to allergies, have hope: New Scientist reports major steps forward in the development of vaccines for allergies. One group has developed vaccines for dust mites, pollen, cat hair, and bee venom and tested them on cells from susceptible humans. Another study is in clinical trials. (Unfortunately for those of us in the U.S., these studies are in Europe; no word on how long it will take for treatments approved in Europe—assuming they reach that point—to make it to the U.S. But I'm ready to line up to be part of the trials.)

String theory: Can you explain it clearly in two minutes or less, on video? Discover Magazine has a contest underway, to see who can best convey the essence of string theory to a reasonably intelligent nonscientist. String theorist and popularizer Brian Greene will be the judge. Hurry—you've only got until March 16—two minutes!

Desert songs: Have you ever been a beach that made interesting squeaking or scrunching sounds as you walked on it? We have one in our area called Singing Beach, in Manchester-by-the-Sea, north of Boston. Well, there's a guy named Stéphane Douady who has made it his mission to record the sounds of sand dunes. And it's pretty cool. Put on your headphones or play these through a good stereo system. (I first tried to listen on my tinny laptop speakers, and I could barely hear anything. So don't do that.)

Finally, 181 Things To Do On The Moon: you know, in case you find yourself there one day with nothing else on your agenda. NASA has released a list of 181 things worth doing on the moon. This page has highlights. (The full list is in a hard-to-read pdf file. Ah, we can go to the moon, but can we put the reasons into an easy-to-read format that won't crash our browsers or ask for the 2-millionth update to Adobe Reader? Nah....)

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Burst Pipes and Other Winter Pastimes

One of the reasons I haven't been around much lately is that I had a homeowner's emergency to deal with—not my own home, but my in-laws' apartment not too far from us. Frigid temperatures, frozen pipes, and a croaked boiler all contributed to the fun. Nobody was there at the time—they live in Puerto Rico, but are using this as the first step to living closer as the trials of the senior years creep in. It's a lovely, quaint old apartment. And by quaint, I mean drafty and poorly insulated, as a part of its charm. Dealing with this took a surprising amount of time and energy, starting with a couple of hours with the shop-vac, sucking water up out of the basement. That was just for starters.

One good thing about the cold temperatures, though. It's eased my fears that global warming is coming at us like a runaway freight train. Maybe it's only coming at us like a lumbering freight train.