Tuesday, December 6, 2016

By the numbers

If you took part in the recent SF and Nonsense reader survey (Touch this poll with a ten-foot pole?) -- thanks! I found the responses helpful, and I expect to use the feedback to keep this blog of value to you. If you as much as considered participating -- thanks for that, too. If you had no interest in the poll -- well, I appreciate your patience and hope you'll come back.

Many of you did take a minute to respond, and I suspect that you (and perhaps others) will be curious about the results. And so (drum roll) ...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Short fiction. Shorter updates.

On 8/30, I shared a few short-fiction announcements, as parts of Con-fusion / Writing updates. Happily, more short-fiction news has accumulated and, well, there's no time like the -- holiday pun unavoidable -- present.

Science Fiction by Scientists, an anthology by astronomer, SF author, and good buddy Michael Brotherton, is hot off the presses (and in other editions, fresh from the electron mines). It contains, among many interesting things, my short story "Turing de Force." Like every tale in the antho, mine has an afterword about the underlying science -- in this case, computer science.

(If the phrase "Turing de Force" evokes a sense of déjà vu, I suspect you're channeling my "Tour de Force." The latter short story, on an entirely different topic, is part of a fun antho, Impossible Futures, with an entirely different premise.)

Springer, the big textbook publisher, published SFbS. Alas, they priced this anthology more like a textbook than your typical SF antho. If you're curious but the pricing is rich for your taste, suggest the title to your local library. (As I type, the Kindle edition is marked down ... this is the time to check it out.)

But wait! There's more!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Buy-a-Book Saturday (heck, buy books all weekend)

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?

Why a 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 for yourself, of course :-)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

2016 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. Continuing an annual tradition, I'm posting pre-holiday shopping season about the most notable books so far from this year's reading. (And, occasionally, the year's rereading. That a book not only elicits a reread, but still impresses on the second time around, is certainly a recommendation.) 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 anything I didn't 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. Every cover is an Amazon link, often to newer editions than the original publication (and to Kindle editions, where available).

What made the cut? Read on ...

Friday, November 4, 2016

Back to the future (and futures past)

I try to blog weekly, most often on Monday or Tuesday. Next Tuesday is, of course, the long-anticipated presidential election, and not the ideal time for posting one of my wholly non-political posts. (They're all non-political, if you hadn't noticed.)

So: today it is. And yet, this post -- while entirely non-political -- has its electoral echoes ...

And some quite personal remembrances, too.

Yesterday I attended an IEEE meeting (IEEE being the the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional society of which I've been a member for 40+ years). That itself isn't especially newsworthy, but the session's topic -- basically the past, present, and future of computer memory -- sure spoke to me. Especially the first talk: "Memories of memories."

An Intel 1103 chip
In 1972, during my master's program in computer science, I chose to do independent study in computer memory. Semiconductor memories existed then --  just barely -- as in the Intel 1103 chip. It held an entire kilobit. Large-scale systems and any application requiring high reliability relied on magnetic memory, most often magnetic-core memory. That semiconductor memories would supplant magnetic technologies was then far from certain.

In 1973, my MS newly completed, I began working at Bell Labs. Telephone switches are both large scale and high reliability, and magnetic memory was the standard. (Our system used magnetic wire memory, rather than magnetic core -- the distinctions not being important to this narrative). Not coincidentally, I was assigned to the team working to introduce semiconductor memory to the telephone switch. Another part of the company handled the memory chip itself, but I designed some of the supporting/surrounding circuitry, analyzed possible failures and their system-level effects, and wrote much of the related software for fault recognition, system reconfiguration, and subsystem-level fault isolation.

So, definitely, that "Memories of memories" presentation spoke to me. As for an election tie-in, my independent study overlapped the consequential 1972 election. The summer of 1973, just before I started at Bell Labs, was in large part spent (in competition with finishing my thesis) glued to a TV watching the Watergate hearings.

Another presidential-election connection: The field trial of a switch with the new memory was in 1974 or '75 (I forget which), at an AT&T office in Macon, GA. I was onsite one night when a hardware fault -- not in anything I'd had any part of, I'm happy to say -- crashed the switch. That outage disrupted long-distance service for, among other locations, a nearby little town called Plains. If that name doesn't ring a bell (telephone pun of course intended), Plains was the home town of -- and campaign headquarters for -- a certain aspiring Georgia governor: Jimmy Carter.

Memory fab (file photo)
I was, however, interested in more than "Memories of memories" from yesterday's session. The specific agenda item that had assured my participation was the group tour of the Micron Technology factory. (Micron is one of the biggest memory-chip manufacturers in the world, and the largest in the US.) I think any engineer gets a kick out of touring any large engineering project, whether factory, power generation, or construction. But to see a semiconductor factory had a particular resonance for me. So off we go for another visit to the past ...

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Touch this poll with a ten-foot pole?

Everyone seems to want input and feedback these days -- and yes, I find that annoying, too -- but FWIW I solicit feedback less than once a year. If you're game, feedback does make for a more useful blog. A minute or two of your time should suffice.

Because it'd be helpful to know: What brings you? How do you come here? Are occasional updates re my books, stories, and articles a feature or a turn-off?

You'll find the anonymous, short (five questions, all multiple choice) survey here.

The survey will run through November. If surveys aren't your thing, input via comments is also welcome.

Whether or not you opt to give feedback, thanks for visiting and for hearing me out.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Of food (sorta, kinda) and bargains

Last post, in A day (well, a week) in the life, I mentioned a few of the many things that "writing" entails besides, well, writing. Among my activities during the previous week had been prepping a guest post for Eating Authors. It's where psychologist -- and fellow SF author -- Lawrence M. Schoen asks writers about their most memorable meal.

That post is now up, and you can click through to read about my most memorable meal (and see a few kind words from Lawrence).

New topic. We're approaching the end of October, and with it the bargains hinted at in the subject line. Those of you yet to look might want to check out Psst! Dark Secret is book of the month (and for this month, a steal!). I'm just sayin' ...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A day (well, a week) in the life

What do writers do all day? You might suppose, write. Enter text into the computer. It even happens that way ... sometimes.

15 May 1989 Dilbert, by Scott Adams


In the past week, I've managed to produce a few thousand new words toward the novel in progress. (No, I'm not ready to talk about that.) Mostly my time went to:
  •  Recovering from the realization that a character in the novel had available a cleverer ploy than what I'd already written; rewriting to take that factor into account; reworking my outline for the ripple effects.
  • Researching an unrelated story (likely to be a novelette) that also demands to be born.
  • Wrestling inconclusively with details of that story, all requiring resolution before I can commit Word One to actual text.
  • Preparing a guest post for another blog, supporting a colleague. 
  • Promoting my last novel out the door.
  • Chasing an intermittent computer problem(s). It's not easy to write a novel when the mouse driver spontaneously uninstalls, and when the mouse cursor randomly vanishes.
  • Chasing a completely different intermittent problem on my wife's computer.
  • Fretting about the spate of attacks (from Ukraine and France, mostly) upon my authorial website. If eyeballs and the firewall app can be believed, the site remains secure. (I hafta wonder: Why me?)
  •  Doing administrivia for that website and an offsite/cloud backup service.
  • Surfing altogether too much, in horror, for the latest news from the campaign trail. (I won't as much as hint at any intention, preference, or leaning. My fiction and blog are wholly apolitical.) I just can't look away ...
  • Surfing, somewhat more productively, to stay current with science news.
  • Staring at a night sky in which, due to overcast conditions, last night's spectacular, viewable all up and down the East Coast, Antares launch turned out not to be visible.
  • Other diversions, digressions, distractions, and detours that doubtless, at this moment, slip my mind.
  • And most recently ... knocking out this post.
It's time to see if I can knock out a few pages for the new novel this afternoon.