Thursday, December 7, 2017

A (non)post

Yeah, I'm overdue to post. Apart from a brief(?) rant, not gonna happen this week. Because of:
  • the wife's Windows 7 PC dying. (At least it died when sales are on.)
  • her new PC (which I picked and ordered, so I'm not blaming her), on which Windows 10 came out of the box looking nothing like Windows 10 on my PC.
  • the vendor hiding the Windows product key, and telling me I'd never need to know it. (Because nothing ever goes wrong with Windows? Or disk drives?) 
  • the absurd length of time Windows Update takes.
  • the fact PCs now ship without manuals, or even a link to where on the vendor's website to find a manual. 
  • the toner cartridge that arrived looking like it had been attacked by wolverines. 
  • the peripheral manufacturers who abandoned hardware support, rather than produce Windows 10 drivers for customers who own their products.
  • the Windows compatibility mode that wouldn't run Windows 7 drivers.
  • the disk-partitioning utility that screwed up permissions. 
  • the LAN software that ... well, that's so hosed, I'm still sorting things out.
  • the crappy excuses for keyboards PC manufacturers ship nowadays. Not everyone wants to use a tablet or touch screen!
  • the apps with opaque or nonexistent guidance on how to migrate libraries (images, audio files, and the like) to a new PC.
I could share more about my recent involuntary sysadmin experience, but I won't. You're welcome. Be back (hopefully) soon.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Shopped out yet? Then thank your lucky stars for *this*

Okay, not stars exactly, lucky or otherwise. But nonetheless astronomy news to take your mind off the post-Thanksgiving rat race ....

(Wait. What? You say you're not yet shopped out? Then see "Buy-a-Book Saturday redux." No need to be too literal here.)

Let's start with "An interstellar rock gets a name." The very first known interstellar interloper will henceforth be known -- never mind that it will soon have receded forever beyond our sight -- as Oumuamua. ("This is a Hawaiian name, meaning, roughly, 'very first scout.' ") Or, more formally, as 1I/2017 U1.

Oumuamua (an artists' conception)

We've even gained an inkling about the appearance of Oumuamua. See "ESO Observations Show First Interstellar Asteroid is Like Nothing Seen Before: VLT reveals dark, reddish and highly-elongated object." (ESO is the European Southern Observatory. VLT is ESO's Very Large Telescope.)

You've likely encountered reports that surface flows of water have been detected on Mars. Not so fast. Once geologists from the US Geological Survey reviewed the satellite observations, they reached a different conclusion: that "The case for flowing water on Mars is drying up." More specifically, the geologists interpreted:

... the “streaks” didn't behave like flowing water. For one thing, they existed only at the tops of very steep slopes. For another, the streaks all seemed to end when their slopes matched the dynamic  “angle of repose” — the steepest angle at which a given material can be piled without slumping.

If you've ever tried to build a sand castle, you're familiar with this concept. It's why dry sand -- which has a very shallow angle of repose -- tends to slide out of shape, but wet sand -- with a steeper angle of repose -- can be piled into towers and turrets.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Buy-a-Book Saturday redux

Regularly since 2010, at about this time of year, I've posted about Buy-a-Book Saturday. That's my personal variation on Small Business Saturday: a day (specifically, the second day after Thanksgiving, and one day after retail's infamous Black Friday) on which holiday shoppers are especially encouraged to patronize small businesses. The big-box stores and Internet giants will do fine this holiday season. But will your neighborhood, non-chain shops and boutiques?

Rara avis! Is that a book store? Check it out.

Why the buy-a-book variant? Because what business is smaller than the author toiling away by him- or herself? Because, as I (and many others) post from time to time, the publishing business is becoming tougher and tougher -- especially for authors. Because more than likely you're a reader, else you wouldn't have stopped by this blog.

So: I'm here to suggest you give serious consideration to books -- whether print or electronic  or audio -- for some of your holiday gifting. Friends, relatives, coworkers, your kids' teachers, the local library you support ... surely there's a book that's right for each of them. And at least one for yourself, of course ;-)

Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 best reads

I read a lot: as research, to stay knowledgeable about the genre in which I write, and simply for enjoyment -- overlapping categories, to be sure. Once again continuing an annual tradition, I'm posting before the holiday shopping onslaught about the most notable books from my reading so far this year. When I mention a book, I really enjoyed it and/or found it very useful. Life's too short to carp about what I didn't find notable (much less the several books I elected not to finish).
Presuming that you visit SF and Nonsense because you appreciate my take on science or technology or fiction, you might find, in the post that follows, books you (and like-minded friends, relatives, etc.) will also enjoy. Unless otherwise indicated, the dates shown are for original publication. Each cover shown is an Amazon link, often to newer editions than the original publication (and to Kindle editions, where available).

What's made the cut so far in 2017? Read on ...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Telling (copy)right from wrong ...

Two troubling tidbits from the wild wild world of the creative arts ...

What part of the creative content of a CGI character resides in a movie's script? How much is attributable to the software that shaped the CGI character? If a copyright-able element of a character can reside in a programming tool, does that mean Microsoft has a copyright interest in stories and novels composed using Word? That Adobe has a stake in anything ever Photoshopped?

It turns out those issues are being litigated. See "Hollywood Confronts a Copyright Argument With Potential for Mass Disruption." At stake: who has what rights to use CGI characters in sequels. (And without sequels, it sometimes seems half of Hollywood would be idle.) With super-heroic (and ironic?) restraint and understatement, I can only say ... interesting.

Con artists can also be creative -- and some prey upon aspiring authors. In a scam that was new to me (and abusive of a venerable, well-respected publication), I recently read "Fraudsters Targeting Freelancers With Fake Job Offers." Quoting a key snippet from the Writer Beware post:

Fraudsters are reportedly conducting a phishing scheme aimed at freelance writers.

Individuals using the names of editors and senior management for The Atlantic magazine have sent out numerous fake job and interview offers, using multiple email addresses and made-up domain names. The goal is to obtain personal information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, and other sensitive data. More than 50 writers have reported being targeted by the scheme.

And with that -- all the while imagining my own creative endeavors will somehow avoid entanglement in uncertainty and criminal intent -- I'm off to apply my skills to the novel in progress ...

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

When the Moon hits your eye ...

It may or may not be amore, but I do quite enjoy astronomy. (Dean Martin? Not so much.) So, in today's post, we'll consider a few recent and exciting bits of astronomical analysis and discovery.

A dominant feature of modern geological thought is plate tectonics. Tectonics is (in part) a mechanism for recycling Earth's carbon, which would otherwise have long ago become tied up in, for example, limestone and carbonaceous ocean sediments. A strong case can be made that without tectonics none of us, or even much more basic carbon-based life, would exist on this planet. But there's scant evidence that other worlds have tectonics, or any sense of what brought about the formation of Earth's crustal plates. 

Plate tectonics
Which makes this astronomical tie-in -- still only a speculation, to be sure -- fascinating: "Did meteorites create the Earth’s tectonic plates? Modelling suggests that plate tectonics and the Earth’s magnetic field were the result of massive collisions during the 'geologic dark age.'"

Monday, October 23, 2017

Stranger than fiction?

Some situations are so implausible that it takes a Charles Dickens to dare put them into a novel.(*) Certainly, I try not to pull rabbits (or rodents of any sort) out of my authorial hat.
Free Kindle edition
Free Kindle edition

(*) That's not only my opinion: "Dickens particularly resented the fact that his early novels were criticised for relying too heavily on coincidence. This criticism was certainly merited: In his first novel, Oliver Twist, the young Oliver is saved from the streets by pure chance and taken in as a charity case by a wealthy family who just happen to be his actual relatives who have spent ten fruitless years searching the country for their lost boy!"

Still, there is no denying that oddities and coincidences do occur. Today, I'm happy to relate two unlikely instances of the Right Thing happening. And involving the publishing industry, no less ...

First, a district court in New York issued a ruling sure to warm the cockles of any writer's heart. (And, incidentally, that brings us to a semantic oddity. Cockles can be bivalve molluscs. Also, hard candies. I wonder: in which sense does a heart have cockles? And why in that locale do they relate to deep feelings?) The key point (for the full story, see "Court Rules Copyright is Not a 'Use It or Lose It' Right"):
In the case of Penguin Random House v. Colting, the Court ruled that the failure of a copyright owner to enter a segment of the market for an expressive work, here, the children’s market, did not entitle an unlicensed interloper to enter that market under the doctrine of fair use.

(The significance of the ruling doesn't require any direct SFnal tie-in, but there is one. To wit: among the infringed titles was 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fleet of Worlds: The Tintinnabulation

On October 16, 2007, Fleet of Worlds was first published. That is: ten years ago to the day.

Larry and Ed at 2015 Nebula weekend
This epic space opera, a collaboration with Larry Niven set in his Known Space future history(*), remains my most popular title. Fleet of Worlds has been translated into eight languages. It was selected (by what was not yet called the SyFy channel) as a Sci Fi Essential title, had a slot as a Science Fiction Book Club featured book, and was a finalist for a Prometheus Award.

(*) Which isn't to say that Fleet assumes the reader is familiar with any other story or book. But if you are a Known Space aficionado? If the name Beowulf Shaeffer rings a bell, or the title Ringworld elicits fond memories, I'm happy to say Fleet offers you the occasional Easter egg ...