Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Battle of Jutland - 100 years ago today


On 31st May and through the night into 1st June 1916, the Battle of Jutland, the biggest ever clash of steel and steam in a single place in the history of naval warfare, took place in the North Sea, between England and Germany.  (The Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II involved far more ships, and also hundreds of naval aircraft, but it was actually four separate battles taking place almost simultaneously across a much wider area.)

The Battle of Jutland was tactically indecisive (although the Germans claimed victory based on sinking more ships than they lost).  Strategically it was a victory for the Royal Navy, which kept the German High Seas Fleet bottled up in its bases for the rest of the war.  However, that led to the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany in 1917, which almost brought Britain to its knees . . . but that's another story.

Here's a very informative animation of the battle, showing its major elements.  I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode.





At a century's remove, it's hard to imagine the impact of this battle at the time. Admiral Jellicoe was later criticized for his conduct of the battle, but his caution was understandable in the absence of hard and fast information.  Churchill said of him that he was "the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon".  That just about sums it up.  He may not have won the smashing victory for which England longed, but he kept the German navy penned up for the rest of the war.  That was enough to ensure a victory for Britain and her allies.  If the result of the Battle of Jutland had been different, seaborne supplies to England and France would have been terminally disrupted, probably drastically affecting the entry of the United States into the war.  Who knows what might have happened then?

Peter

Old NFO ventures into military science fiction


Jim Curtis, alias Old NFO in the blogosphere, has tried his hand at military science fiction.  His first short story in that genre, 'Rimworld: Stranded', has just been published on Amazon.com.  From the blurb:

Senior Sergeant McDougal wasn’t a combat troop, he was a maintainer. He was good at it, proud of his status, and on his first planetary detachment as the lead maintenance troop for an outpost.

But, when he got stranded on Regulus Four, a Rimworld and one of the clusters that formed the DMZ between the Patrol and the Dragoons, his status didn’t mean a thing…

Improvising, adapting, and trying like hell not to panic, he did his best to fulfill the Patrol’s prime directive to destroy the portable stargate, and still get himself off the planet in one piece before the Dragoons got to him.

I had the pleasure of being one of Jim's alpha readers on this project.  It's a lot of fun - and the role of illegally distilled moonshine, in a combat zone in space, is an unexpected twist.  To make it even better, the price (free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers, $0.99 to others) is unbeatable.  Go read, and enjoy!

Peter

Portable, battery-powered microwaves?


It looks like the microwave oven as we've always known it is about to become obsolete.

The Adventurer is a portable battery-powered microwave the size of a Thermos. Campers, hikers, and anyone else away from the grid can make a hot meal in minutes without a fire. Camp cooking could get a whole lot easier.

The three-pound Adventurer is more than a handy piece of kit, though. This is one of the first fruits of a new technology that could not only nuke your lunch on the go, but also make an impact in areas as diverse as crop protection and oil extraction.

. . .

Portable gadgets like the Adventurer are just the start—solid-state microwave sources are driving a new generation of kitchen appliances ... "The 'more controllable' feature cannot be overestimated," says Klaus Werner, executive director of the RF Energy Alliance, an organiation dedicated to realizing the potential of this technology. "It gives you perfect process control via fast control loops. The Magnetron is very slow at best. Sensitive processes such as food pasteurization, blood thawing, sous vide cooking or pharmaceutical reactions all benefit greatly from this technology."

Looking further afield, Werner says that solid state has myriad other possibilities. "The technology allows a number of hitherto impossible radio-frequency applications—automotive ignition, radio-frequency ablation, hypothermia treatment, plasma lighting, novel industrial heating systems..."

At the extreme end of the microwave revolution is a novel alternative to fracking. Rather than injecting the ground with chemicals at high pressure to force hydrocarbons out of shale, Peter Kearl and colleagues at Qmast LLC use microwaves ... The highly efficient heating provided by microwaves also makes them appealing for crop protection. Vines in particular are vulnerable to frost after new leaves break out. The traditional protection is to set out thousands of frost candles to warm the air, which are spectacular but inefficient. Some wine growers are now experimenting with microwave-based heating ... in which a series of emitters bathe the vines in gentle warmth when frost threatens. Someday, maybe solid-state microwaves will take our wines to a better state.

There's more at the link.

All this sounds fascinating, but what will exposure to such radiation do to humans in the area?  Current microwaves employ heavy shielding to protect those around them.  Even though the new technology emits much less radiation than traditional magnetron microwave ovens, won't even that lower radiation put people at risk?  After all, it's just been alleged by a very authoritative source that cellphone radiation - which is a tiny fraction of that from microwave emitters - is potentially hazardous to our health.  Who will guarantee - can anyone guarantee - that we don't face any risk from the new microwave appliances?

Peter

Doofus Of The Day #908


Today's award goes to all the racist idiots who tried to use the tragic incident at Cincinnati Zoo, in which a young toddler was injured and a gorilla shot and killed, to instigate racial tensions.  Breitbart reports that "angry black people in social media forums ... have been blaming the incident on entrenched white privilege".




Unfortunately for such idiots, the photographic evidence is clear:




The child was black, not white.

I suppose this proves, yet again, the wisdom of Abraham Maslow:  "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."  Since such people can only see the world through racist spectacles, it's understandable (even though lamentable and detestable) that they should see such an incident in the same light.  However, it also demonstrates their lack of honesty and integrity more clearly than almost anything else could.  They deserve neither our consideration nor our attention.

Peter

Monday, May 30, 2016

"Brings The Lightning": a first week report-back


My latest book and first Western novel, 'Brings The Lightning', was published a week ago today.




I honestly didn't know what to expect, and neither did my publisher, because of three factors:

  1. The Western market has been moribund for many years, abandoned by most of the bigger publishers and invaded by romance and erotica books that have little or nothing (besides their setting) to do with authentic Westerns.  It's difficult to judge the level of interest in a revival of the 'classic' Western such as 'Brings The Lightning'.
  2. We weren't sure whether my readers (who are accustomed to this blog, as well as science fiction novels from me) would be interested in a Western, and prepared to invest their money in one.
  3. We weren't sure how best to promote the novel to an audience interested in Westerns.  That was, and remains, a steep learning curve for us.

Despite those difficulties, the book has done moderately well.  It's sold close to a thousand copies in its first week on the market.  It's also attracted more (and more positive) reviews than any other novel I've written.  At the time of writing there are 34 reviews, of which 9 are 4-star and 25 5-star.  That's very gratifying, and I'm glad so many of you have enjoyed the book so much that you wanted to share that with other potential readers.  I'm particularly pleased with the lack of reviews of 3 stars and below.  Clearly, I've been able to improve my writing (with the help of my editor) to the point that some previous weaknesses have been addressed.  I'll strive to continue that improvement in future books.

A major sticking point is that most of those buying and reading 'Brings The Lightning' have been previous readers of either my books, or others published by Castalia House, or those published by the author-contributors to the Mad Genius Club writing blog.  This is clear from the 'also-boughts' on the book's Amazon web page (i.e. the series of books headlined, "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought").  There are few books listed there from the Western genre.  I've got to find a way to market my new novel directly to those who like Westerns.  It's obvious that nothing I've done so far is having that effect.  I'm exploring a number of options in that regard, including talking over the problem with experts, and there'll probably be some advertising in the not too distant future.  It'll take time to spread the word, but as that happens, I hope sales will improve.

Castalia House is hard at work on print and audiobook editions of 'Brings The Lightning'.  They should be available within a matter of weeks, so watch this space for details.  This will be my first venture into the audiobook market, so that's an exciting development.  If it's successful, we'll see about audio editions of some of my science fiction books as well.

All in all, I'm generally satisfied with the launch.  There's plenty of room for improvement in marketing, which I'll be tackling (with the able assistance of my wife and my publisher) over the next few weeks and months.  By the time the next book in the series comes out, about this time next year, I expect the ground to be much better prepared for its arrival.

Peter

More about Ray Carter


Following Ray Carter's death yesterday, I've heard from a few readers who didn't know him, and asked for more information.

Joe Huffman put up this post on his blog, which provides more background information about Ray.  I hope it'll help introduce him to those who didn't have the pleasure of knowing him.  Click over there to read more.

Peter

The Coopers Hill Cheese Roll is back!


After having been nobbled by the health and safety types for a couple of years, the Coopers Hill Cheese Roll and Wake is back!  We've covered earlier contests in these pages, and it's great to welcome back the revived tradition.

Here's sample footage of some of the runs this year.  You'll find more on YouTube.








Mad dogs and Englishmen - and, of course, wheels of Double Gloucestershire cheese . . .

Peter

Memorial Day 2016


It's that difficult time of year again - difficult for me, at any rate.  Every year on Memorial Day the USA remembers and honors those who died while serving in the armed forces.  That's laudable, and I share in their commemoration . . . but to me, there are so many more who should be part of that commemoration, but are not, because of the arbitrary cut-off of "served in the Armed Forces".  I know so many who died while doing their best to serve in wars and armed conflicts, but were never formally members of any military organization.  They are left out of celebrations like this, whereas a member of the armed forces who died of, say, appendicitis, or influenza, or something else unrelated to combat, is honored.  There's also the people who are left behind.  What about their sacrifice, their sorrow?  Why is that not honored too?

I still can't quite wrap my mind around those things.  I suppose that's part of being an immigrant to this country.  Our background, our perspective, is wider and more diverse than those who've grown up with the Memorial Day tradition.

I've said a lot in earlier years about what this day means to me.  I urge you to go and read those articles, if you haven't already done so.  One in particular - starred with asterisks below - can still bring tears to my eyes, because those memories have never grown less real to me;  in fact, they seem to grow more real over the years.  In chronological order, they are:




May all who served, and all who survived them, and all who gave their lives so that others (including ourselves) might know the blessings of peace, rest in peace.

Peter

Sunday, May 29, 2016

In Memoriam: Ray Carter (a.k.a. Freethinker)


I've just been informed that long-term friend, blogging buddy and Blogorado comrade-in-arms, Ray Carter, has died.




Ray had been suffering from a recurrence of cancer that he hoped he'd beaten a couple of years ago.  Sadly, this time, the cancer won.

Ray was an activist for gun rights.  He worked for the Second Amendment Foundation as its Director of Development, and was also active in the gay community, encouraging its members to defend themselves (lawfully, of course) against attack by those who stigmatized them in any way.  He was also a heck of a good guy in his own way, with an absolutely wicked sense of humor (which he would doubtless have preferred me to call "absolutely fabulous!").

So long, Ray.  It was good to know you.  Rest in peace, buddy, until (please God) we meet again.  Thanks for the memories.

Peter

It's not the size of the dog in the fight . . .


. . . it's the size of the fight in the dog, as Mark Twain put it.  Shamelessly stolen borrowed from C. W. Swanson:





I bet that dog was preening like mad as it trotted back to its owner.  "I showed 'em who's boss!"




Peter

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Lightning in very slow motion


Prof. Ningyu Liu, from NASA'S Geospace Physics Laboratory in Florida, recently filmed lightning using a special camera running at 7,000 frames per second.  Played back at 700 frames per second, the results are mesmerizing. Watch in full-screen mode for best results.





I'd love to see different types of lightning filmed like that - not just forked or chain lightning, but sheet and ball as well.  It gives a whole new perspective on the subject.

Peter

The Guardian's series on cities is complete


Back in March I mentioned that the Guardian had begun a series of 50 articles on the history of urbanization, under the overall title 'The Story of Cities'.  It's just completed the series with two wrap-up articles, 'What will our growing megacities really look like?' and 'The tales we missed'.

All 52 articles are now available at a single Web site, where you can read a little about each of the 50 cities covered and click on the article(s) concerned for more information.  It's a great resource for anyone interested in urbanization and the development of civilization - and a stark warning of what can happen when such developments are imposed from outside, rather than allowed to develop naturally.  (Not that the latter are always great, either, but at least there isn't some mastermind making decisions for people!)

Recommended reading.

Peter

The kid's never going to forget this!


And he has the coolest dad!





No word on what his mom had to say about it . . .

Peter

Friday, May 27, 2016

Special Forces and the threat of technological disruption


War on the Rocks asks whether emerging technologies threaten the mission of Special Forces.

What happens when the capabilities that we give to special operators can instead be deployed by amateurs? How will the special operations community respond?

. . .

To complete its missions in an increasingly chaotic world, U.S. special operations forces (SOF) must learn to rapidly adopt technologies that may only be months old. Just as machine intelligence transformed the professional chess circuit — today’s top chess teams are human-machine hybrids — so too must SOF evolve and drive emerging capabilities more deeply into its operational elements.

Fortunately for those involved in planning, training, and executing sensitive and special operations, no nuanced actor has yet synthesized all of these new tools into a precise instrument. But there are signs of experimentation by America’s potential adversaries, most notably in the special operations campaign run by the Russian government during its annexation of Ukraine.

. . .

For years we’ve been seeing an exponential increase in computer and communication capabilities. Exponential growth looks linear until it hits an inflection point. Are we there? Perhaps. The iPad 2, released in 2011, was more powerful than the 1985 Cray-2 Supercomputer, which cost $35 million in today’s dollars.

This comparison illustrates the commoditization of so-called “national technical means.” What was once the sole provenance of nation states can now be purchased at the corner store, and the downward price pressure on these capabilities is not limited to the digital spectrum. Unmanned aerial vehicles with cutting-edge optics, built and used by nation states for over half a century, are now available for the cost of a meal at a modest restaurant.

Combining sensors, actuators, transducers, and other analog and digital components hereto unknown provide a potential generational leap in asymmetric capability by non-state actors and non-elite units of potential competitor nations. How can we continue to man, train, and equip the best special operations forces in the world when the same capabilities they employ, which cost us billions of dollars to acquire and train up, are available to a weekend hobbyist for a few hundred dollars?

There's much more at the link.  Thought-provoking reading.

I suggest one place to start would be with Israel.  It's a highly technological society, reflected in the training and equipment of its defense forces.  It's facing terrorist opponents who are doing precisely as the above article postulates;  using over-the-counter technology to aid their operations.  Hezbollah has already deployed unmanned aerial vehicles operationally, and operates a drone base in Lebanon.  It's also intercepted radio transmissions from Israeli drones and used that intelligence operationally.  (The same was done more recently, in more sophisticated fashion, by US and British intelligence.)

Israel can probably teach us a lot about how to counter such dual-purpose technology.  I agree with the article's premise;  such technological overlap is going to make the life of our Special Forces troops - not to mention conventional forces - a lot more tricky.

Peter

Rest in peace, Sir. Mission accomplished.


I don't mind admitting that this report brought a tear to my eye.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector ... served ... with the 96th Bomb Group in 1945 as a radio operator and gunner on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, flying eight combat missions over Germany during the spring of the war's final year. On four of these missions, his plane came under heavy fire. One almost proved catastrophic, and the plane returned to base with holes dotting its wings.

. . .

On May 6, Rector stepped foot on British soil for the first time in 71 years. The group first visited RAF Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon.

Rector toured Battle of Britain Bunker, an underground command center where fighter airplane operations were directed during D-Day. After climbing back into the sunlight, he told Jowers he felt dizzy. She grabbed one of his arms, and a stranger grabbed the other.

There, just outside the bunker where Winston Churchill famously said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few," Rector died quietly.

"He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done," Jowers said.

. . .

Before repatriating his remains to the United States, a small service for the fallen hero was planned in Britain. It did not remain a small service.

"They just wanted something very simple. And when I found a little bit of background out about Melvin, there was no way we were going to just give him a very simple service," Neil Sherry, the British funeral director in charge of Rector's service, told ITV London News. "I wanted it to be as special as possible."

Though Jowers expected no more than four people, word of Rector's war record reached the American and British Armed Forces. The American Embassy donated a flag to drape over his coffin, and the room filled with servicemen and women and London historians who had never met Rector but wanted to pay their respects to their spiritual brother in arms.

There's more at the link.  I highly recommend clicking over there and reading it in full.

Here's a British news report on MSgt. Rector's funeral.





May MSgt. Rector rest in the peace he earned the hard way.

Peter

Cool!


Here's your timewaster for this morning.  Watch in full-screen mode for best results.





Someone took an awful lot of time and energy to put that together.  Well done, sir or ma'am!

Peter

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ammunition, and the storage thereof


I've been having a couple of interesting days sorting through my ammo stash, re-inventorying and re-packing everything so I know where I stand.  I've been astonished by how much I've accumulated in certain calibers and cartridges, particularly the ones I used to use to train disabled and handicapped shooters.  I won't have to buy ammo in those calibers for a few years, I should think.  Still, it's nice to have a decent-size reserve on hand, particularly if another 'ammo panic' follows the Presidential elections later this year.

I have to give a shout-out to a couple of suppliers (and no, they're not offering me any inducement, incentive or payment to mention them).  I needed more .30-caliber ammo cans, which I find very useful for storing smaller quantities of quality ammo, as well as practice ammo in bulk (putting the latter in .50-caliber cans can make them very heavy indeed - too much so for my fused spine's load limit).  After much shopping around the Internet and in local stores, I found the best current value for money came from AmmunitionStore.com in Ohio.  They offered brand-new .30-caliber metal cans for only $8.99 apiece.  Including shipping to Texas, they worked out to $13.51 each, which is only a couple of dollars more than the price of used, rusty and battered ammo cans at a local store.  I was happy to pay the difference to get factory-new production cans.  They arrived today, and are exactly as described - brand-new and unused, in perfect condition, and well packed against damage in transit.  I'll be buying from AmmunitionStore.com again.

When it comes to storing ammunition in bulk in ammo cans (i.e. not in the original boxes), I've found the anti-corrosion bags from ZCORR to be very useful indeed.  I bought 10 more of their .30-caliber ammo can liners this week, and have already filled more than half of them.  Each, inserted in the can empty, then filled, will hold 1,000 rounds of 9mm. ammo, or 750 rounds of .40 S&W, or comparable quantities of other calibers and cartridges, depending on size.  I also toss in a few silica gel desiccant bags. They seal water- and air-tight, so even if the seal on your ammo can is old and worn, its contents will still be protected.  They're very useful, and I highly recommend them from my own experience.

There are conflicting approaches to the conditions under which ammo should be stored.  Some (including myself) prefer to keep it in climate-controlled conditions, so that it doesn't get too hot, too cold or too humid/damp/moist/whatever.  Others argue this isn't necessary unless you're planning to keep it in stock for years, even decades, because quality ammo should be able to take normal summer and winter temperatures for a decade or more without degrading.  They point to military ammo storage in containers, in the middle of desert heat in Iraq and Afghanistan, as proof of that.  I'm not so sure.  I've known ammo to 'go bad' in very hot conditions during my previous military service.  Furthermore, degraded propellant can produce dangerously high or low pressures (high in that it can burst the breech;  low in that it can lodge a bullet in the barrel, a so-called 'squib load', which makes the next round you fire . . . interesting.)  I guess, if you plan to use it within five years, it probably doesn't matter much;  but I'll continue to store mine in the house, rather than in the heat/cold/whatever of the garage.  I just feel safer that way.

I'd dearly love to know, however, why I've ended up with odds and ends of ammo.  How did I come to have 37 rounds of 7.62x54R - a cartridge I haven't shot in years, and for which I don't currently have a rifle in my collection?  (Time to get one, maybe?  Ducks hurriedly to avoid swat from wife.)  And why 79 rounds of 8mm. Mauser, when I sold my rifle in that caliber even before my 2004 injury?  As for the half-box of 7mm. Remington Magnum, I've never owned a firearm chambered for it!  How on earth did it get into my stash?  Oh, well . . . I guess friends who shoot those cartridges and calibers are about to get lucky.

Peter

When cellphones become more irritating than helpful


Miss D. and I have just 'upgraded' our cellphones.  I say 'upgraded' in quotes, because it's not really a technological upgrade.  Our new units are a lot cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy 3 and Note 2 that we respectively replaced, and their performance is probably on a par with our earlier units.  However, we simply don't need all the bells, whistles and fancy features of the current-generation (and much more expensive) Galaxy 7 or its equivalents, so when Miss D.'s phone began to show signs of wearing out, we bought much cheaper replacements through the upgrade program.  Our two phones together cost less than half as much as a single Galaxy 7, which is much more to our budgetary taste.

I've got to give credit to Verizon:  the upgrade process (online) was about as painless as it could be.  We backed up all our data, called the support number, had the old phones 'disconnected' and the new ones 'connected' to our accounts (in a wireless sort of way), and were up and running within half an hour.  However, that's where the fun started.  Our new phones are from different manufacturers to our old ones, and their setup software and implementation of Android are different.  It took a while of poking and fiddling to figure out how to configure them to our liking.

One of the most frustrating things was that changes were hidden under innocuous settings that bore no outward relation to what the phones were doing.  For example, Miss D.'s phone would announce loudly, "Verizon Wireless" before receiving or dialing a call.  We couldn't figure out for love or money why it was doing that, and it rapidly got on our nerves.  Miss D. confessed she was on the point of throwing the phone into our town's water reservoir and switching service providers entirely, she was so frustrated by it.  I had similar issues configuring a couple of features where I knew precisely what I wanted, but couldn't get the phone and/or its apps to provide it to me.  Frustrating indeed!

This also exposed an issue with Verizon customer support centers.  Some are run by the company, with no excess charges or overhead.  Others, however, are franchises, charging far more for the same phones than Verizon itself, and "making up" for the difference in price by (loudly) claiming to offer "superior customer service" as a justification.  I found that argument unconvincing, to say the least.  After one such franchise unabashedly tried to get me to pay three times more for my new phone than Verizon itself wanted to charge me, I rapidly began to lose faith in its objectivity - and that's putting it mildly!

Fortunately, in the 'big city' nearby we found a Verizon-owned and -run customer support center.  The staff there were very helpful, and although the nice young lady assisting us was initially as puzzled as we were by the loud announcement of the carrier by Miss D.'s phone, she plugged her way through menus and settings to find the culprit.  It seems, on that particular make and model of phone, a setting will make it announce the identity of the cellphone service provider it's using before each call, incoming or outgoing.  Apparently this is so you always know whether you're using the 'home network', or roaming and using a different provider.  We found that an intensely irritating feature - as Miss D. observed bitterly, some software engineer deserves to be hit upside the head with a clue-by-four for not realizing how irritating it would be, "and his manager too, for approving such a dumb idea!"

At any rate, with that setting disabled, the phone is now blessedly silent about such matters.  My few problems have also been sorted out, and our new phones are serving us as efficiently as we hoped they would.  Kudos to Verizon for having some smart and helpful people staffing its support centers.

Aah, technology . . .

Peter

A naval terrorism threat?


I wonder why we haven't seen more coverage of this story in the mainstream media?

At least five officers of the Pakistan Navy received death sentences in a secret military trial for allegedly trying to hijack a Pakistan Navy vessel to attack a U.S. Navy refueling ship, Daily Pakistan reports.

The officers were convicted of planning and orchestrating the September 6, 2014, attack on the Karachi Naval Dockyard located at Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast. The attack was thwarted by Pakistani military personnel with purportedly two attackers killed and four arrested alive (some sources cite 10 killed, including four rogue naval officers).

The attackers allegedly attempted to hijack the F-22P Zulfiquar-class frigate Zulfiqar, the lead ship of its class, with the intention of using the ship’s missiles to attack a U.S. Navy refuel vessel in the Arabian Sea (other sources claim that the target was a U.S. aircraft carrier).

There's more at the link.

The Chinese-built frigate is armed with eight C-802 anti-ship missiles, among other weapons - the same missile used by Hezbollah to attack the Israeli corvette Hanit in 2006.  Eight C-802's probably wouldn't sink a 100,000-ton aircraft carrier, but they'd almost certainly cause enough damage to put it out of action for a long time.  If they were targeted on a replenishment tanker, they might well sink it, particularly if its cargo of oil fuel and other supplies (possibly including munitions) was ignited.

I'm not sure that we've heard the whole story about this attempt.  Five officers, most of them junior, would not have been able to take over and operate a modern frigate without assistance.  What about the rest of the crew?  Did the conspirators have an entire jihadist crew trained and ready to take over?  If so, what happened to them?  If not, how did they propose to succeed?  The unanswered questions are, if possible, even more interesting - and alarming - than the guilty verdict.

I wonder whether we'll ever find out the whole truth of this affair?  I suspect the powers that be would really rather we didn't, on the basis that what we don't know can't be used against them . . .

Peter

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A few examples of writers' Web sites


A big "Thank you!" to everyone who responded to my request for input yesterday.  I'm considering how to proceed with the various options open to me.

So you can get an idea of what's out there, here's an interesting article discussing ten different writers and their Web sites, showing how the latter fit into their marketing activities, help them earn a living, and introduce new readers to their portfolio.  I wouldn't fit any of the ten in terms of my 'mix' of books, blog and interests, but they give a pretty broad picture of what can be done.  For example, what sort of writer would you think has a Web site like this?  (Click the image for a larger view.)




There are many more examples at the link.

I'm not sure how my Web site should look.  Should I go for the old-style English country gentleman's office, complete with overstuffed leather chairs, overflowing bookcases, and a dog by the fireside?  Or a Colonial look, with me pursuing a marauding elephant through the garden with a double rifle while Miss D. serves tea on the verandah, sweetly calling to me to leave the chase until I've had a scone with jam and cream?  Perhaps a Texan look ... barbed wire strung around my desk as I sweat over the keyboard, with a red-hot brand poised threateningly next to my imperiled posterior, held by a hand with a tattoo on the wrist reading, "Write faster, dammit - OR ELSE!!!"?




Peter

Is the progressive Left taking a leaf out of the Marine Corps' book?


That's the intriguing idea posited by Timothy Birdnow in this article.  Here's an excerpt.

A thought occurred to me the other day, which does actually happen to me now and then; the whole of modern culture, the political correctness, the way the left approaches the rest of us, is very much a kind of boot camp for communism. The purpose of military boot camp is to break down the individual, to wed him to the group, to get him to believe things and do things that are clearly irrational, and to get him to obey orders unquestioningly. In the military this serves a real purpose, because a soldier has to act in ways contrary to personal interest and security.

Here is a good explanation of the purpose of boot camp from a Marine drill instructor:

“You have to train 18-year-olds to run to the sound of gunfire and perform under fire and the threat of death.

This act defies all logic, goes against all human instinct, and takes one of the most intensive acts of psychological reprogramming to overcome.”

Which is precisely what the Progressive Left must do; convince the public to defy logic, to defy human instinct, to fundamentally reprogram the American citizen.

The article continues:

“Another thing that is important is that everything they do is for a purpose, a rehearsed, manufactured, and engineered purpose.

It is about something else entirely.

[...]

“The most important single thing to know about boot camp is that it is 100 percent designed to reprogram children and civilians into warriors. It places within them a sense that they are expected to do important things, far more important things than could be expected from other 18-year-olds. This is all happening during one of the most intensely stressful periods of your life, when you are kept isolated from contact with your family and friends and taught that everything you were before entering the Marines was weak and lacking any real value until you too are a Marine. Cults are made this way too. I’m just saying. But in all seriousness, the psychological transformation of boot camp is a very intense and intentional effort by the Marine Corps to make warriors able to fight and kill out of kids who have just barely left high school. From the point that you graduate boot camp, you will be different and have parts of the Marine Corps culture as part of your psyche.”

See where I’m going with this?  Everything the Progressives do has a purpose, and usually not the one that is stated by them. Gay marriage, for instance, or transgendered bathrooms, or Black Lives Matter uprisings, have little to do with fairness for homosexuals and everything to do with breaking down the dominant culture.

It recruits a certain number of children or young people and turns them into social justice warriors, telling them they are fighting for freedom and justice. Those who won’t joint the campaigns are seen as the enemy, and are forced into silence through shaming, through bullying, through acts of aggression. You are taught that everything you were was weak and pathetic, oppressive and, well, wrong or even evil. You have to change, to become one of them.

Some of the ways that this is done is through a series of extremely well planned and timed events that, by themselves, are meaningless, but when strategically combined together will change a person.

The idea is to change people. While some won’t go along, many others - particularly the youths - will embrace the change, become social justice warriors.

There's much more at the link.  Challenging and recommended reading.

I've long known how all-encompassing are the demands imposed by Communism, Marxism, socialism, or any other kind of far-left-wing 'ism' on their followers.  I saw it at first hand in Africa, where hard-left-ideology terrorists thought nothing of blowing up infants so long as they could kill an enemy soldier by doing so, or gutting the corpse of a babe in arms and using its body to smuggle weapons through police roadblocks.  (Think I'm exaggerating?  I'm not.  Those things really happened.)  That sort of ideology dehumanizes those professing it, and they proceed to dehumanize all the 'converts' to their cause.  It's the only way they can succeed, and they know it.

For myself, I hold to the teachings of Christianity.  Those teachings tell us that there will come a Judgment for all of us.  I wouldn't like to be in the shoes of those who did such things when that time comes . . .

Peter

Sadly, "attack dog" Cato is no more


One of my favorite characters from the classic Pink Panther movies, Cato, is no more.  Burt Kwouk, the actor who portrayed him, has died.  From his obituary:

As well as answering the telephone and dealing with the inspector’s daily needs, Cato’s chief role was to keep Clouseau vigilant by attacking him whenever he least expected it. Their encounters became a running joke throughout the Pink Panther series and the scenes involving their preposterous karate-style sparring – interspersed with loud screams – generally resulted in the destruction of Clouseau’s flat and Cato himself being knocked out, usually because of one of Clouseau’s underhand tricks.

. . .

Although Kwouk appeared in three James Bond films (including the spoof Casino Royale in 1967) and had a successful subsequent career on British television, his fondest professional memories were of his time in the Pink Panther films, and his friendship with Sellers endured until the actor’s death in 1980. “I learnt a lot from Peter,” he later recalled. “Particularly how to be 'second banana’ – by which I mean like a straight man to him.”

He was sanguine about Clouseau’s affectionate references to Cato as his “little yellow friend”. “They can call me anything they like,” he once said, “as long as I get paid and my name is spelt correctly.”

. . .

In 1964, having appeared as a baddie in Goldfinger, Kwouk was offered the part of Kato (later changed to Cato) in A Shot in the Dark. After reading the script Kwouk turned the part down. “I couldn’t see the point,” he recalled, “the character didn’t have a lot of screen time, didn’t say very much, and kept getting knocked down.” His agent eventually persuaded him that he needed the money and Kwouk accepted the role.

“Peter Sellers made me,” he said later, “there’s no doubt about it. He raised me to higher level and was a very generous actor, he kept finding ways for Cato get a bigger laugh.” Despite Sellers’s eccentricities Kwouk maintained that they had a good working relationship. “Peter was odd,” he admitted, “but few geniuses are not odd. I learned a lot about comedy acting just by watching his eyes before a take.” Cato proved so popular that he was written into all but one of the subsequent films. “I loved playing the part,” Kwouk recalled, “but it was mayhem, half the time I was petrified I was actually going to get hurt by one of Peter’s wild lunges.”

There's more at the link.

How can I resist so obvious a temptation?  Here are all the great Inspector Clouseau vs. Cato moments from the classic movies.























Classics indeed!  Thanks for the laughter, Mr. Kwouk.  Rest in a Clouseau-free peace!

Peter

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I need your feedback, please


With the publication of my latest book, the time has come to look at my publishing activities overall, including this blog (which consumes up to 2 hours every day, finding material, preparing articles, and putting them up).  Blogger is a free platform, which helps, but it has limitations.  I need to think about a dedicated author Web site, which will include this blog, and also look into book promotion and other activities.  This will probably be accompanied by a legal framework for my writing, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

The problem is, my blog doesn't generate any income.  I don't want to generate funds by burdening my readers with advertisements.  I know how I loathe them, so why should I inflict them on you?  (Besides, I use ad blocking software, and I daresay many of you do as well.)  However, if I'm to invest in the services of a Web site designer, pay for hosting and ongoing upgrades, and migrate my blog to a new platform, I need to find some way to pay for it all.  Following my year-long hiatus in publishing, due to health reasons, I don't have the spare cash available to fund that sort of thing right now.

I've thought about setting up a so-called 'tip jar', where readers can make an ad hoc donation using Paypal.  Unfortunately, such income isn't regular or reliable.  One month I might do very well;  the following month, I might be left with unpaid bills.  It's just too chancy.

I'm therefore considering setting up a Patreon account, just as many other authors and artists have done.  Patreon offers fans of an author or artist the opportunity to sponsor him or her on a regular basis, usually in return for sneak previews of their current work and/or a free copy of each book as it's published.  I'm more than willing to adopt a similar approach, but I don't know how many readers will be interested in it.  If I can find a thousand readers willing to contribute $5 per month, there are no worries.  If there are only a hundred readers willing to contribute that much, and/or if average contributions are only a dollar or two . . . not so good.

I know other authors have succeeded in raising more than enough for such needs.  Luminaries such as Howard Tayler (creator of Schlock Mercenary) and Zach Weinersmith (of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal fame) are relying on it to fund their operations.  Can I also succeed?  I guess that's up to you, dear readers.  So, I'd be grateful if you'd please tell me in Comments whether you'd be interested in and/or willing to fund my operations through a regular monthly donation, and if so, approximately how much.  In return, you'd get a free copy of every book or story I write, as soon as it's published, and probably a sneak peek every month at a chapter from my work in progress, as well as a discussion of current projects.  I might also throw in some options like using your name for one of the characters in a book, in return for a donation.  (I promise not to kill off your namesake too messily - unless you want me to, of course!)

I know some of you simply can't afford anything due to the circumstances of your lives.  That's fine.  I'm never going to insist on support in return for access to my Web site, or anything like that.  All I want to do is investigate what's possible right now.  If there's sufficient interest, I can start planning to contract with a Web designer and get things moving.

Thanks in advance for your feedback.

Peter

Yay! - and Thank You!


Approximately 23 hours ago, the announcement of my new Western novel 'went live' here and elsewhere.  It was, of course, ranked approximately nowhere at the time, since no-one knew until then that it was available for sale.




As of a few moments ago, 'Brings The Lightning' was ranked #730 (paid) in the entire Kindle Store at Amazon.com (out of well over two million e-book titles in the store).  It had also reached the ranks of:


Not bad for less than a full day on the market!  Of course, short-term sales trajectory isn't as important, overall, as longer-term sales performance.  Nevertheless, this is a great start.  I hope the book's early success will be sustained.

Thank you so much, everyone, for your support.  As always, it's you, my readers, who make this possible - and worthwhile!

Peter

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why did I publish through Castalia House?


That's a question I knew I'd be asked on the publication of my Western novel.  It's actually a little disingenuous, because what the questioner(s) really mean is, "Why did you publish with Vox Day?"

Vox, a.k.a. Theodore Beale, the Managing Editor of Castalia House, is one of the most hated and vilified members of the science fiction and fantasy community, and roundly rejected by most of those with 'politically correct' opinions.  Personally, I think he's more sinned against than sinning.  He's been the target of vitriolic personal abuse over his non-politically-correct viewpoints, and the object of bitter personal attacks.  He was expelled from the Science Fiction Writers of America, SFWA (arguably illegally, because its own standards and procedures were not followed in the process).  Vox, not being a shrinking violet, has responded in kind and taken the struggle to new levels, particularly with his so-called 'Rabid Puppies' campaign to destabilize the Hugo Awards.

I've been surprised (and disappointed) by the number of people who react negatively to Vox Day solely on the basis of other peoples' opinion of him.  Without ever having met the man, or spoken with him, or corresponded with him, they condemn him out of hand.  A good example came from an author I otherwise respect, and whom I'd met from time to time.  In 2015 Marko Kloos withdrew his novel from nomination for a Hugo Award because Vox Day's Rabid Puppies had supported its inclusion.  On Facebook, he added:

I think Vox Day is a ****bag of the first order, and I don’t want any association with him, especially not a Hugo nomination made possible by his followers being the deciding factor. That stench don’t wash off.

I was profoundly disappointed that Marko would have made such a statement.  It wasn't like the man I thought I'd come to know.  He later apologized, but I think the damage was done - more to Marko than to Vox, I fear.  That's only one example of the extreme reactions against Vox Day that have circulated on the Internet from those who have, as far as I know, never had any direct contact with him at all.  They're taking their cue from others.  That's intellectual dishonesty and moral cowardice.  There's no other way to put it.

I first came into contact with Vox Day over the boycott of Tor Books for which I called last year.  (You can read all my articles on the subject, including quotes from Vox, in reverse chronological order at this link.)  I'd never spoken to him before - in fact, at that point I'd barely heard of him, since I'd never been (and still am not) a member of either the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies campaign - but he picked up on my challenge to senior Tor staff members concerning their bias towards and lies about people like me.  He became an ally in the campaign, and a very welcome one too.  I spoke with him on more than one occasion by telephone, and corresponded with him via e-mail.  I found him nothing but gentlemanly, polite and supportive.

Since that time I've continued to exchange e-mails with him from time to time.  When I recently put up on this blog a 'teaser' chapter from my proposed Western novel, he clearly liked what he saw, because he approached me within 24 hours and offered me a three-book contract.  I hadn't expected that at all, but I was honored that he was willing to take a risk on a first-time effort like mine in a moribund genre that had been declared all but dead by every major publisher out there.  I kicked my preparations into high gear.  This morning's publication of 'Brings The Lightning' is the result.

Vox was my editor in getting the book ready for publication.  He stated up front that he wanted to 'make a good book better', not try to remake it in his image, or make it into something it wasn't.  I found him a very effective editor indeed.  He went through my manuscript and made many proposed changes, averaging two or three per page, but did so on the basis that these were his suggestions rather than his demands.  I was free to accept or reject each of his proposed changes.  In about two-thirds of cases, I went along with his proposals.  They did, indeed, make the book better.  In the remaining third of cases, I went with what I'd originally written, or re-wrote a few lines, because I felt it fitted in better with my vision for the book and what I hope will be the series into which it will grow.  Vox accepted that with aplomb.  The man's a gentleman.

There will doubtless be those who'll be disappointed that I've chosen to publish with a man, and a publishing house, that they regard with the same revulsion as the Devil regards holy water.  To them I can only say, go read what my friend Larry Correia had to say about Vox last year.  I endorse his sentiments.  I don't share all - or possibly even most - of Vox's opinions, but then he's never asked me to share or support them in any way, shape or form.  He's merely tried to be the best editor he can be, and help me be the best writer I can be.  I'll be damned if I condemn him because of past history or exchanges to which I wasn't a party, and in which I had no involvement at allNot my circus, not my monkeys.  I certainly won't demand that he embrace political correctness.  As you've probably noted from my blog header, that's not exactly a position I embrace myself!

Vox shares my perspective that the 'classic' Western genre is ripe for revival.  I've grown very tired of romance or erotica masquerading as Westerns - to my mind, they belong in a different category.  I'm also fed up with the historical inaccuracies and fantastically high body counts of many so-called Westerns that are nothing more or less than violence porn (and sometimes actual porn as well, given the number of sex scenes they contain - something that would be anathema to every one of the great Western authors).  I tried to write in the classic style, and Vox actively tried to help me do that.  I appreciated his input.

Castalia House is a small publisher at this stage, but it's grown in stature and in the diversity of its offerings.  I'm honored - deeply honored - to join authors such as Jerry Pournelle and Martin van Creveld in its stable.  I've read both men for years, and their books are numbered among those in my permanent library.  (I note with amusement that Dr. Pournelle is a past President of SFWA.  That says a great deal about how that organization has changed since his tenure, epitomized by its treatment of Vox Day, and by Dr. Pournelle's willingness to be publicly associated with him, notwithstanding that.)  More recently, I discovered the work of John C. Wright through Castalia House, and have been enjoying it.  I look forward to continuing this Western series with Castalia and Vox Day, and I may in due course write some science fiction and/or space opera for them as well.  We'll see what readers think of this initial offering through them, and take it from there.

Thanks, Vox, for making my book much better than it would have been without your help.  You are (literally) a gentleman and a scholar, Sir, and I've enjoyed working with you.  I look forward to doing so again.

Peter

My first Western is published


My first (and hopefully by no means my last) Western, 'Brings The Lightning', has just been published by Castalia House.




It's been a labor of love for me, because I grew up on a steady diet of what I'd call 'classic' Westerns;  Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, the 'English Westerns' of J. T. Edson, and the like.  In military camps across Southern Africa, paperback copies of their books were in circulation.  One sometimes had to wait to get hold of two or three copies in order to finish the story, because missing pages at the beginning and end could make the books a little impenetrable;  but one knew there'd be more copies floating around at the next base.

I particularly strove for accuracy and historical authenticity.  I've gotten very tired of reading (and watching) Westerns where the weapons, or the food, or the wagons, or the clothes, weren't period-correct.  The real thing was fascinating;  the impact of the Industrial Revolution on so many areas of life was still making itself felt, so that from generation to generation, lives would be lived very differently.  I was able to take my time while writing it, assemble a fairly decent reference bookshelf or three, and make sure that what I wrote was as accurate as I could make it.  (I may have gone a bit too far in that direction for some readers, judging by early reviews, but it doesn't seem to have stopped them enjoying it.  So far, as I write these words, the book's already garnered four 4-star and six 5-star reviews.  That makes me very happy!)

The initial release is an e-book.  A print edition will follow within weeks, as Castalia House gears up for it;  and there may be some special news on that front, too.  (Later on today I'll put up an article about how I ended up at Castalia House with this book, and offering some thoughts on my experience working with them.  It's been a lot of fun.  You can read their perspective on that here.)

I hope you enjoy reading 'Brings The Lightning' as much as I've enjoyed writing it.  The sequel is already under way, to be published (hopefully) about this time next year.

Peter

Sunday, May 22, 2016

That's a thirsty fish!


I was a bit mind-boggled to come across this video from Brazil.





Real or fake?  You decide . . . but it looked real to me.  How on earth does a fish develop a beer habit?




Peter

Newton warned about this centuries ago


I'm not so much amused as depressed by the views of Israel's former defense minister.

Israel’s departing defence minister Moshe Ya’alon has denounced the "extremist and dangerous elements" which "have taken over Israel and the Likud party" as he left office.

Mr Ya’alon was speaking at the military headquarters of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in Tel Aviv amid a growing political storm over the country’s leadership.

He was forced to stand down to make way for Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the hard-right Yisrael Beitenu party, whose decision to join the Likud party-led cabinet has created what Israeli newspapers are calling the most right-wing government in Israel's history. He is now quitting the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

Mr Ya'alon said he had spent his career fighting extremism, violence and racism, but that they were threatening the "sturdiness" of society and trickling into the IDF.

"The state of Israel is patient and tolerant toward the weak among it and minorities," he said. "But to my great regret extremist and dangerous elements have overrun Israel as well as the Likud party, shaking up our home and threatening harm to those in it."

He added that he had "recently found myself in strong disagreement on moral and professional issues with the prime minister, a number of ministers and several MPs".

Mr Ya’alon’s dismissal as defence minister came after months of disagreements with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last Sunday, Mr Ya’alon was summoned for a “clarification” meeting with the Israeli prime minister following a speech in which he urged IDF generals to continue to voice their opinions, even if they contradicted government policy, while warning of increasingly militant views which he said had crept into mainstream Israeli society.

There's more at the link.

My initial reaction to Mr. Ya'alon's claims was a weary, "No ****, Sherlock!"  Of course the Israeli government - and its society in general - have become more polarized.  Just look at the environment they face!  Current threats include (but are not limited to):

  • A resurgent Assad administration in Syria, which means growing Iranian influence there - the same Iran that constantly threatens Israel with annihilation;
  • Iran's client terror movements, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. They will be more assured of resupply and support, including modern guided weapons and even, possibly, Iranian Revolutionary Guards to join their operations.  In return, it's reported that Iran will seek to use Hamas forces to combat ISIL in Syria, just as Hezbollah is already doing;
  • Hamas is trying to rebuild and expand its tunnel network into Israel, to carry out terror operations at times and places of its choosing;
  • Turkey has been a long-term supporter of ISIL in Syria.  As the latter teeters on the edge of defeat, Turkey may seek to reimpose itself as a dominant Islamic force in the Middle East, to serve as a counterweight to Assad in Syria and Iranian ambitions in the area;
  • Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are proposing to train and arm opponents of ISIL in Syria, in direct opposition to Iran's efforts in the area.  Israel's right in the cross-hairs if conflict erupts;
  • Instability in Iraq continues to threaten the entire Persian Gulf region;
  • Iran may abandon its 'nuke deal' with the USA and other powers and 'go it alone', leaving Israel more vulnerable if it should develop a nuclear weapon.

Given that combination of threats and influences, I'd be astonished if Israel as a whole - its government and its people - were not growing more paranoid, more hard-line in their response to the threats confronting them.  It's inevitable.  As Newton's Third Law of Motion put it, "To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction".  That seems to apply in politics as much as it does in physics.

I continue to be astonished that we haven't seen a major international conflict erupt in the Middle East over the past two to three years.  It's come pretty close at times, what with Russian, Iranian and Turkish intervention in the Syrian crisis, but it's always been kept under control.  However, Israel's now on a hair-trigger to defend its own interests and, if necessary, ensure its survival, no matter what the cost.  If Iran puts a foot wrong, I won't be surprised to see Teheran become a glass-topped parking lot in the Persian desert, along with every major Iranian city and installation of importance.

Peter

Too cute!


PawPaw brings us the tale (with photographic evidence) of an adventurous mouse in an unlikely place.  It's just too cute!  Click over there to see it for yourself.

Peter

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Water fast and diet update: Week 3


The past week's been pretty much a non-starter for my water fast and diet program.  My blood glucose levels were fluctuating pretty badly at the start of the week, and that's a danger sign I don't want to ignore;  so I didn't start fasting on Monday as I normally would, rather waiting to see if things stabilized after another day or two.

Unfortunately, they didn't.  I had an attack of severe gall bladder pain in mid-week, sufficient to keep me up most of the night, wishing I could rip the damn thing out with my bare hands!  This is a not unexpected consequence of the diet and fasting program - I have gallstones, although they haven't previously manifested any problems, and it's a known risk that they can act up during rapid weight loss.  Oh, well.  I guess I just became that well-known comic character, Statistical Norm.

I've eaten more or less normally this past week.  Of course, my weight's increased slightly, but I've kept off most of what I lost in the preceding two weeks.  On Monday, all being well, I'll start another 5-day water fast, and see about getting back into the routine.  I'm in no hurry.  I expect this process to take most (if not all) of a year, and I'm only three weeks into it.  I'll let nature take its course, and allow my body to dictate the pace at which I press on.  So far, so good.

Peter

This reminds me of Africa


Here's a video clip filmed on Bolivia's Yungas Road, also known as 'Death Road'.  I don't think it's really all that scary, because I've covered many miles on mountain roads in the Kingdom of Lesotho.  The Maloti Mountains (part of the larger Drakensberg chain) are just as steep, the trails just as narrow, and the hazards just as deadly.





And here's what can happen if the driver misjudges a turn . . .





Peter

Getting away from a catastrophe


I'm sure most readers are aware of the massive fire that caused the complete evacuation of the Canadian city of Fort McMurray a couple of weeks ago.  There's a very sobering article by a resident about his family's lack of preparation for such an emergency, and how it's caused him to re-evaluate many things.  Here's an excerpt.

I don’t know if you’re religious or not, but if you believe in some version of hell my family just drove through it. A few hours ago my family and I escaped the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta which as you may have seen on the news is burning.

We drove through the fire, avoiding dangling electrical wires. We are alive, we have found shelter for tonight in a motel. But like so many others we were unprepared to evacuate when we were told we needed to.

I am going to ask you to do what my family did not do, but wish we did: have an emergency kit ready.

Forest fires are not uncommon in Northern Alberta. Each year many fires occur in the vast Boreal forest that covers the Northern Region of the province, but most of them stay contained, or burn a safe distance from inhabited communities.

Living in Fort McMurray for the past three years (past two years for my wife Amanda and son Odin) we have been witness to these yearly events. Each time, my wife and I will say to each other “We should really think about having an Emergency Preparedness Kit”. We talk about it. We say what a good and practical idea it is. Then, like so many others, it gets put to the wayside and forgotten. We’ll get to it, we say, just like how we’ll get to all the other things in life we say we’ll get to eventually.

Today that forgetfulness put us in danger.

There's more at the link.

Another resident of Fort McMurray recorded a series of video clips of the evacuation.  They make for stunning (and very scary) viewing.  Here's the third in the series.  Just look at the numbers of cars all trying to funnel onto already clogged streets, surrounded by flames, to make their getaway . . . frightening indeed!  Watch in full-screen mode for best results.





The other videos, in sequence, are:








Sobering viewing indeed.  Are you ready for such a disaster?  Can anyone ever really be prepared for something that monumental?

Peter

Friday, May 20, 2016

Doofus Of The Day #907


Today's award goes to a Romanian driver who appears to have fallen asleep at the wheel - while approaching a traffic roundabout at high speed.  The results were filmed from several angles by police CCTV cameras.





Bumpy ride, what?

Peter

An interesting sci-fi experiment from John C. Wright


My wife and I met fellow authors John C. Wright and his wife, L. Jagi Lamplighter, at LibertyCon last year.  They're a delightful couple, and it was a pleasure to get to know them.  I've also reviewed one of John's books here before.

Now John's trying something new.

An internet magazine hired me to write an old-fashioned space opera in the mood and flavor of ‘World Wrecker’ Hamilton to run in fifty or so weekly episodes of two-thousand word each.

However, the magazine folded and returned the rights to me. It is my wish to bring it to my fan (Hi, Nate!) directly.

The title is SUPERLUMINARY.

The plot is this: The sole survivor of an illfated expedition to Pluto finds the Infinithedron, a library of supertechnology from the alien race that created life on earth and guided evolution to produce mankind.

He returns to earth only to discover world war has decimated civilization. Rather than sharing the secrets, he uses them to conquer mankind, impose peace and order, but also abolishing aging, disease, famine.

Lord Tellus (as he calls himself) imprints each of his children with a different branch of the alien science, but the whole of it is taught to none. These Lords of Creation (as they call themselves) are commanded to create life on each of the worlds and moons of the solar system. Scores of artificial intelligent races are fashioned, who adore the children as godlike. The secret of faster than light drive Lord Tellus keeps to himself: mankind he keeps in the solar system. But what is his reason?

He goes mad, and his children rise up in rebellion, and he vanishes, leaving behind mysteries and guesses.

Aeneas Tell, son of Lady Venus, youngest of the imperial family, dreams of overthrowing the his family in favor of a republic, but when he introduces a rebel into the imperial palace for a coup, he is betrayed, and barely escapes with his life, and flees to Pluto.

Here Aeneas discovers the horrific secret his grandfather was hiding, and an ancient evil that sleeps beneath the eternal ice. Aeneas finds himself snared in a labyrinth of intrigue, striving somehow to convince his Machiavellian family to cooperate against a mutual foe none of them credit.

Read the first episode here:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/superluminary-01-5489523

There's more at John's Patreon page.

The idea behind Patreon is that subscribers pay the artist/author/whatever a monthly amount in return for free access to their work.  In John's case, he's asking for a paltry $1 per month.  That's a bargain in anyone's language, although if you're feeling generous, a larger pledge is always an option.  He'll publish one episode of Superluminary every week for a year, hoping that he can make enough money from interested readers to make it worth his while.  (At the time of writing, 34 patrons have pledged a total of $155 per month.  I'll be joining their ranks shortly.)

I think it's a great idea.  If you like classic, well-written science fiction tales that carry a moral and make you think, they don't come much better than John's.  Recommended.

Peter

Thursday, May 19, 2016

I would say "Screw them!", but they'd probably like that . . .


I'm furious to read this report.

Hampden-Sydney College has caved to radical gender ideologues who demanded the firing of Ret. Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin after his criticism of transgender bathrooms.

Boykin – once commander of the Army’s elite Delta Force and currently executive vice president of Family Research Council – has been teaching at the all-male college located in Virginia.

Radical LGBT activists descended upon the college after Boykin’s comment, “...the first man who goes in the restroom with my daughter will not have to worry about surgery.” Through social media, emails and phone calls to the school, the leftwing ideologues demanded Boykin be fired for what they referred to as urging violence against gays and transgendered individuals.

. . .

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Boykin announced his termination:

Because some of you already know and are contacting me about it, let me make it official and let you all know that I have been terminated from teaching at Hampden-Sydney College after nine years there.
. . .

Boykin asserts he has never called for violence against any individual.

“I was referring to perverts who will use these policies to get into locker rooms with girls and women, and I object to that,” he stressed. “Nonetheless, I gave the LGBT community just what they needed to pressure the college leadership to terminate me and they did.”

. . .

Boykin said the real goal of the radical LGBT agenda is to intimidate parents who object to their daughters being in bathrooms with boys and men who claim to be girls. He invites Americans to sign a petition to push back against President Obama’s decree that all schools allow boys to use the girls’ bathrooms and vice versa, according to their wishes.

“Push back against these bathroom laws, and stand up if not for a moral reason, but for the safety of the women and young girls who would be put at risk,” he urges.

There's more at the link.

Just in case there's any doubt about my position on this matter, let me re-state it clearly and for the record.

  1. I have enormous sympathy for people suffering from a genuine chromosomal or genetic issue that causes gender difficulties.  However, such people are a tiny minority, measured in tenths or even hundreds of one per cent.  Most of those claiming to be transgendered are suffering from psychological or psychiatric aberrations.  I'm sorry for them, but I will not indulge or endorse their self-deception by pandering to it.
  2. I regard the whole transgender bathroom issue as a storm in a teacup.  Transgender people have been using bathrooms for one or the other gender for years, and no-one has minded, because they haven't made a fuss about it or tried to use it to make a public statement.  Unfortunately, the issue has now been politicized and made into a cause célèbre.  I will not permit, and I will not tolerate, any attempt to treat it as such in my presence, or on this blog.
  3. I endorse Lt-Gen. Boykin's reservations about the current administration's policy on this issue, and agree with him that it's an open invitation to perverts and criminals to take advantage of political correctness to get away with their sick obsession and criminal acts.  It will not happen on my watch to any person for whom I am responsible.  That's a promise.  I can and will do whatever it takes to make sure that no pervert uses any such opportunity to approach them.  If this causes distress to LGBT activists - tough shit.  Get used to it.  That's the way it is, and that's the way it's going to stay.
  4. I fear that Hampden-Sydney College has chosen to tar itself with the brush of political correctness, rather than stand up for free speech and normal, common human decency.  I submit that in the light of their decision, any parent who was considering sending his or her child to that college would now be well advised to look for a better institution - one where they'll get an education rather than an indoctrination.

Thank you, Lt.-Gen. Boykin, for taking a stand.  You have my respect, Sir.  I didn't serve in the US armed forces - my service was on another continent, in another war - but you can have a salute from me anytime.

Peter

Cool! - infrared edition


Here's a fascinating video clip from a British Coast Guard helicopter 'cloud surfing' in or near Scotland last week.  The forward looking infrared camera shows the helicopter's 'shadow' as it approaches each cloud, then 'vanishes' inside it.  It's an unusual perspective, to say the least.





I daresay the pilots were having a lot of fun there.

Peter

But what about the syrup?


I don't quite see the point of this, but I suppose the photographer/narrator had fun.





What? No maple syrup?

Peter

A shot across the bows for China's economy


The Telegraph reports on what may be a very significant change of direction for the Chinese economy.

Nobody rings a bell at the top of the credit supercycle, to misuse an old adage. Except that this time somebody very powerful in China has done exactly that.

China watchers are still struggling to identify the author of an electrifying article in the People's Daily that declares war on debt and the "fantasy" of perpetual stimulus.

Written in a imperial tone, it commands China to break its addiction to credit and take its punishment before matters spiral out of control. If that means bankruptcies must run their course, so be it.

Fifteen years ago such a mystery article would have been an arcane matter, of interest only to Sinologists. Today it is neuralgic for the entire global - and over-globalized - financial system.

China's debt is approaching $30 trillion. The fresh credit alone created since 2007 is greater than the outstanding liabilities of the US, Japanese, German, and Indian commercial banking systems combined.

. . .

To put matters in context, leverage rose by roughly 50 percentage points of GDP in Japan before the Nikkei bubble burst in 1990, or in Korea before the East Asia crisis in 1998, or in the US before the subprime debacle. This gauge is an almost  mechanical indicator of a future credit crisis.

As we all know, China is in a class of its own. Debt has risen by 120 to 140 percentage points. The scale of excess industrial capacity - and China's power and life and death over commodity markets -  mean that any serious policy pivot by the Communist Party would set off an international earthquake.

. . .

The rot in the country's $7.7 trillion bond markets is metastasizing. Bo Zhuang from Trusted Sources said more than 100 firms cancelled or delayed bond issues in April due to widening credit spreads.

Ten companies have defaulted this year, with the shipbuilder Evergreen, Nanjing Yurun Foods, and the solar group Yingli Green Energy all in trouble this month.  But what has really spooked markets is the suspension of nine bonds issued by the AA+ rated China Railways Materials, the first of the big central SOE's to signal default. "This has greatly weakened investors’ long-standing expectation of implicit government support," he said.

There's more at the link.

I can't emphasize too strongly the potential implications of this article.  If it turns out to be from a source with the authority to make the new approach stick, it will have a dramatic ripple effect on the entire global economy.  China (and the Asian market it dominates) now manufactures almost half of all the goods produced in the entire world.  That, in turn, drives imports (of raw materials to China) and exports (of manufactured goods from China) around the globe.  A severe contraction of that country's debt-fueled economy would put a very large proportion of that trade in immediate jeopardy, which would have instant effects on the economies of every other industrialized and developed nation.

I've written extensively about the problem of debt, and what it means for everything from national economies, through corporations, to individual consumers.  It looks like someone high up in the Chinese government has 'seen the light', and is trying to act before it's too late.  Trouble is, the debt problem there is already so immense that it may be too late for a 'soft landing'.  I suspect we're about to find out.

Peter