Sciencing Fiction Be Hard

I like my science fiction accurate. I mean, Star Trek is fantasy, Star Wars is a space opera, and Firefly is a space western. The Expanse, with a couple of exceptions (and excepting the protomolecule and all that jazz), is pretty accurate. That’s what I look for.

So…last week, my critique group was working on two characters in a lunar lava tube with limited suit oxygen. “But there are oxygen candles,” geeknerd me said. But chemistry, but physics, But real rocket engineers in the critique group.

To the internet I go, trying to figure out how heavy a candle needed to be to provide oxygen for one person for eight hours. and what would be the gas volume for oxygen and how would a space suit accommodate the extra pressure. To say nothing of heat production… Sometimes there are bunny trails, sometimes there are rabbit holes, and sometimes…dragon lairs. Oh, and don’t bother Chat-GPT: to the same prompt, I got two different answers:
1. Asked the same prompt and got two answers. “…The amount of oxygen…[is] around 1 to 2 pounds of oxygen per hour…,” and
2. “The total amount [is]…in the range of tens to hundreds of liters per hour…”

In other words, GIGO, one the first computer acronyms that I learned so many years ago.

Watching a Randal Munroe interview was cathartic. Fractal science questioning and answering are what he lives for. (And, also, harassing Commander Hadfield about how a T-Rex would fly on top of an apparent 737s.) Buy his books! What If 2 is brilliant!

Randall’s got more time than I to turn BTUs into thermal conductivity for surface regolith on the Lunar South Pole and how long the tether from the candle to the spike on the surface could be before the cable melted. The solution to all the above? Write out the oxygen candles and have the characters’ situations be more dire. It’s good to be a god. The surviving characters will thank me.

Cartoon Copyright (C) Randall Munroe,, used according to site guidelines.

And Who By Fire…

Copyright (c) Washington Post

Five Jewish teens re: Auschwitz

This is a more poignant Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Memorial Day — than usual for me. It’s been a couple of years since my mother, an Auschwitz and death march survivor, passed away. Life for many years before her death lost relevance, obliterated by Alzheimer’s Disease.

She survived. She returned to her hometown of Sosnociec, married, moved to Sweden and then the United States, and had two of children. She raised them and, when my father was struck by a series of brain aneurysms, was his caretaker for the last ten years of his life.

She survived but was never truly free. She left chunks of herself behind in her home town and in the death camps. For all the freedom she enjoyed, it was a brittle construct, always with a tinge of fear, of anger, of worry that it might all slip away. My sister and I experienced very different childhoods in the same house. My takeaway was that those feelings drove her vituperation, her xenophobia, her need to manipulate and control.

Not all who lived survived to be free again. For some, only death frees from struggle, the rest of oblivion.

Now, as we grow the next generations of traumatized children and young adults, let’s consider how their lives will color whole generations in places like Syria, Myanmar, and, yes, in America. How their pain will inform their lives, their hates, and their legacy, in turn, to their children.

We have to stop the cycle. As best we can, with the tools we have.

Here’s thinking of you, mom…



Back from hiatus, and starting, edits on my second Shmuley Myers book. It builds on an ultra-Orthodox Jewish Austin police homicide detective in a world (soon to be real, apparently) where every non-birth pregnancy becomes a murder investigation, contraception is illegal, church and state prance together in an evil waltz.

Shmuley needs to balance his roles as a pious Jew, a loving husband, his job as a civil servant, and…

Censoring Gutenberg

While I’m sure that WordPress’ new post editing mechanism is a cool, slick, thing, it’s enough of a jump from the old way that I’ve heard several authors complain. Which is stupid. And that one needs to download (yet another) plugin to disable it is even sillier.

I should NOT have to wrestle with my blog editor to put pictures in-line with a list. Or have to manually decide to place a list when I’ve started a paragraph. It interrupts the flow of the writing and it makes for a rockier experience. Matt Mullenweg, I’m looking at you. Microsoft used to do these self-goal moves, and this is a big one.

I can’t speak for others, but as a tech professional I know that releases need to set expectations and listen to users. And if the user population isn’t asked, then expectations can’t be set. I’m not talking about avid beta testers and early adopters. I’m talking about folks that use the WordPress platform to facilitate their work, not be their work.

End result is that I’ve put off a number of posts simply because I got bogged down in the formatting and didn’t want to put out something that wasn’t to my liking. (Yeah, I know, the theme itself needs a wrecking ball, but that’s something else…)

Goals done, gone, ahead… and a musing

Goals people make are frequently not SMART. And that makes them all fuzzy, and frustrating, frankly, when trying to assess progress. 2018 has been, for me, surprisingly good, exciting, and charges me with hope and excitement for 2019.


It’s been a year. I worked as a contractor for two months, and had the amazing, humbling, and powerful experience of writing full-time. It’s thrilling. I’ve got a spreadsheet of data (see below), but I wrote approximately three in four days this year, with an average daily word count a bit over 1,600. I developed three separate “universes” and three of the six manuscripts draw from them. The last, for a project named “Qoch,” is my first true fantasy foray. Worldbuilding is a whole different matter than alternate history timelines. Wow.

I now have a literary agent: Martha Hopkins, of Terrace Partners. For traditional publishing, agents are a critical success factor, and Martha’s got the power and panache to find the right deal for my work product.

Novels were definitely my focus. That I have four novels in progress isn’t a good thing. There are logical reasons for why they’re that way, however.

  • Ken Yirbu is on hold pending my agent getting the first novel in the series, A Day at the Zoo, sold.
  • I had an editor do a developmental edit on Last Run, so the start of next year will be consumed with getting that out to my agent. It’s done, but not ready for publishing.
  • Brightly Needing I’ve rewritten from scratch five times, but I’m only counting the last. This might be a trunk novel, but the universe and some of its characters have promise. Call it on hold for now.
  • Qoch has three novellas/novels outlined, and I’m well into the first of them. It’s always a good sign when my characters wake me up to tell me what they want to do.

On the short story side while I’ve done some writing, it’s not been at the forefront of my writing. And zero acceptances for twenty submissions isn’t indicative of anything–too few to be statistically important. On one hand I’m bummed, but the time cost in shifting from one project to another, be it small or large, is expensive. Better to focus on a single novel plus edits than get creative in a few ways all at once. The one short I started and completed in 2018, Selection Bias, I’ll shop after getting it through the Slugtribe group’s review.


I dragged my heels for years before getting a degree, and worked at Charles Schwab for a year as a product owner without any formal training. While I’m not a fan of official stamps of approval that I know something, employment site AIs and corporate recruiterfolk are increasingly buzzword scanners rather than resume readers. So my investment in Agile-related certifications will, I hope, pay off in the new year. I’ve enjoyed doing development, but I’m more attracted to working with humans than screens. (Said the man who types in front of screens for hours on end…)

2019 Goals

I like my goals to be SMART. So here they are:


  • Write two novels in the Qoch universe (~70k words each). One in 1H, one in 2H. If the Shmuley Myers mystery/thriller series sells, possibly finish Ken Yirbu.
  • Write two novellas/short stories in the Brightly Needing universe. A minimum of 100k words between the two. I still think there’s at least one full novel in it, but the shorter works might (finally) kick that off. Timing: one in each half of 2019.
  • Have Last Run off to my agent at Terrace Partners by the end of 1Q.
  • Redo this web site so it’s mobile-friendly.
  • Write a minimum of one web post per week.
  • Restart my ceramic painting creativity such that I’m putting ten hours/week into it by the end of 2Q.


  • Get a position in a company with a great culture and good folks by the end of 1Q. Work/life balance very important.
  • Based on where I get the job, buy a house, possibly with acreage and possibly for sustainability as a goal, but that’s income-dependent.
  • I worked hard in 2017/2018 to get my weight down from heavy to just big. Need to continue that progress so I can (goal here) do a twenty-mile hike in a day without turning to mush and my weight down by fifty pounds from current weight.

It’s a new swing around the sun…

I’m looking forward to applying the momentum built up so far.

Trunk Novels & Research

By my count I blew five weeks and generated ~100k words on a novel I’m regretfully consigning to the metaphorical trunk. And what’s funny is that I’m sure that if this novel was written forty years ago, it’d be on its way to my agent.

The difference is research and realism. With a little research and math, for example, reveals the sheer impossibility of using a physical “curtain” to secure, deflect, or deorbit satellites. The power budget’s too large, the volume of space, as crowded as it is in LEO, is immense, and the time to manufacture a solution from the time of crisis needed to be measured in many years, if not decades.

Space vehicles aren’t created the way or at the velocity of airplanes that went from idea to combat in World War II. It’s not enough to weld some reaction tanks on a skeleton and call it good enough. I mean, sure, if one’s looking to build non-repeatable and occasionally lethal craft. And while it was easy for me to create and model a graphene/kevlar sheet that could be put into debris’ way in space, the size of the sheets, the speed of cleaning… did I mention that space is big?

One NASA engineer calculated that just LEO orbit was ~1,292,613,096,000 cubic kilometers[1]. Lasers zapping debris? Powdered regolith shot out in sprays to interdict anything in its way and slow it down to deorbit? Dozens of teams of “miners” pulling sats out of range for recycling? Heck, how about putting a small asteroid in orbit to clear a path[2]? These solutions all might have worked in the fanstastical, stories in the Analog of the 1960s through 1980s. But now? I think a writer should be fair with the reader: if it’s science fiction, it has to be based on the most we know of science. And manufacturing, and human nature.

So Brightly Needing is consigned to that black hole into which every novel whose momentum slows below the Schwartzschild radius goes.

Okay, fine. I’ve got short stories to submit, a few to edit and still others to write. Rocking on.

A Writer’s Primer on Computer Care and Feeding

We’re in the midst of National Novel Writing Month, and I’m reminded of several instances where the moan of “I just lost everything!” was heard over a coffee shop table. I’ve talked with writers who’ve lost entire manuscripts. Others that lost hours or days of work due to various issues. So, a quick technical primer and keeping “lossage” down to the minimum.

Work stably.

Make sure your computer works, that the operating system is patched regularly, and that you aren’t filling it up with “cool stuff I downloaded.” If you have a desktop computer, make sure it has a battery-backed UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). A flicker in the power is long enough to throw a desktop into memory chaos. Or, worse, corrupt the storage device. UPS’ are heavy, cost about $90 (here’s the one that I’ve used for years), and, if everything’s plugged in correctly, you have enough time to close up everything and power down normally. (Pro tip: plug the desktop and your primary monitor into the battery-backed AC sockets so you can see what you’re typing as you shut things down!) To avoid mumbo and its twin brother jumbo, a 650Kw UPS will hold everything up and running for at least the five minutes you’d need to cleanly power things down. If you have a laptop I still recommend a UPS, but you’d be served well by merely having a serious power spike protector. Looks for power strips with circuit breakers that will “pop” if the power suddenly spikes.) Nothing will stop a lightning strike, but it should keep minor disturbances of the force–I mean, the AC power-, my Lord Vader-from messing with your laptop’s power adapter. If your devices charges from a USB-C plug and you want to skip the boxy power adapter and buy a power strip that has that built into it, doubly ensure there’s a strong power protection for anything you buy.

Work safely.

Think of your writing environment the same way a chef looks at her or his kitchen before starting work. Bad ingredience, sloppy prep, and insufficient cleaning habits can and have ruined a restaurant’s business.

At a minimum, have a real anti-virus product that (a) scans files for infections, and (b) can safeguard your network connection. It doesn’t need backup (I’ll get to that below). It doesn’t need to check each web site you go to to assess its safety.

Check for viruses on files on your disk and incoming, and make sure your computer’s connection to the internet is safe. There’s a bunch of vendors, but I’ve been happy with Symantec’s Norton Security, for that, as well as for managing my passwords.

Work securely.

That means being secure that the story you’re writing will be there when you need it (or especially if you accidentally delete it!). Get software that copies what you write to the cloud. The goal is that if your computer goes up in smoke, your writing, at least, is safe.

The cloud is the vague, amorphous thing that we old-timers know as “a server with a disk somewhere else on the planet.” Microsoft offers it. I use Dropbox because it’s easy to recover a manuscript I’ve accidentally mangled but good. Some are free with a cost for more storage. I have a free Dropbox account because, frankly, manuscripts just don’t take up much room. I use Microsoft’s OneDrive for my non-writing documents and other files. Apple’s iCloud also works, however its integration with your computer is smoothest when you’re on Apple hardware/OS.

Optional: Work secretly.

I don’t like Google and Comcast and their ilk tracking my research. I can’t help but think that there’s a profile of me as a bomb-making, murder-planning, gun-crazed psychopath based on my book research. (Along with another profile of me as an astronaut interested in biological warfare and kinetic weapons.) Ads get targeted based on what you look at. The solution is a two (or three)-parter: hide your activity from your internet provider, and then hide what you look up from your search engine. So:

  • Look at a commercial, for-pay VPN software package. They’re simple to install and use, and usually one license gets you three computers to cover, which include phones. NordVPN and IPVanish (which I use) are two of the currently popular ones, and you’re looking at ~$75 for the subscription for the first year or two. They’re both offering discounts and sales all the time. If you want something that doesn’t encrypt your text, but still hides where you go, go to and get a free setup that at least hides what you do from the company providing you network access. Without it, Google, for example, knows about each site you visit (and then links that to your google profile).
  • Every time you search, the query and results are integrated into your “profile” that the search engine sells to advertisers. Or, who knows, maybe even to the black-hatted shadow, deep-state government that’s watching you from its black helicopters spraying chem trails! Regardless, there’s easy ways to look things up without having your searches tracked. I use, which is simply google but with a filter that doesn’t allow your computer’s activity to be linked to your searches. On mobile phones Firefox has the Focus app, which wipes all cookies and traces of your work.
  • For extra special paranoia (and I use this when I want to ask really awkward questions or research the nasty stuff), use the Tor browser, instead of Google, Safari, Firefox, or Edge browser. Tor encrypts everything everywhere to everyone from everyone. It’s a lot slower than a normal browser, and it doesn’t block ads like other browsers can. But those ads aren’t tied to you or your machine.

Work silently.

Not you, your environment. So:

  • If you can handle writing with music, keep that app up. Close all other apps, including your browser if you can. You can always put research into its own block of time.
  • Windows has an irritating notifications “capability.” It’s the ultimate in interrupt-driven information. If you’re afflicted with Windows 10, go to the notification settings and turn off everything that doesn’t need to be on. And that (especially) includes Facebook, twitter, and their ilk.
  • For browsers, get an ad blocker for it. That keeps distractions down to a minimum. I use AdBlock Plus, which is free. There are others.

Work succinctly.

(All right, that was a stretch usage of “succinctly.) Use the minimum tools to get the job done and distractions at the minimum.

  • One writing tool to bind them all.  Choose Word ($$), or OpenOffice (free). Or yWriter (free). Or Scrivener ($). Heck, or Notepad (free). But the fewer the better. Moving text from one app to another is a sure-fire way to lose or scramble hard-written words. I use Scrivener, FWIW.
  • Helper tools:
    1. I use Aeon ($$) for timelines (don’t recommend much), and Freemind (free) for sketching out plot directions and consequences and most other mind mapping needs. Google Earth Pro does my geographic research. Fun fact, it works on the Moon as well.
    2. Put interrupts into a parking lot. I use Trello (free) to write down “ooh, I need to do this…” things. It’s free, good for putting a to-do list together for multiple topics and projects. Has a mobile app. Did I mention it was free. This eliminates the “I’ll just do this one thing…” that sabotages your writing commitment.
    3. Other story ideas, chunks of writing, or notes? Consider either having a separate [word processor of your choice] document open just for snippets and other story ideas. That way they don’t derail you. Or use Evernote (free), for as long as it’s still in business. Oh, and Windows 10 offer the OneNote app. It can be very helpful, but I’m not a fan.

There. A longer post than I expected. Hopefully it’ll help you keep a stable, clean, calm, and productive environment in which to focus on your Writing.

WWI: A Century’s Past / Veterans Day

World War I was hideously expensive and wasteful in terms of talent. A generation of young people, of talent, of possibility–gone. The hope and potential of growing their lives and cultures mowed down, gassed, and slaughtered. And that lost of hope and potential kept the survivors from the social buoying that youth inevitably bring to the world. From its misery the clock to WW II was wound. My parents were born less than five years after this war, and lived to suffer through it’s implacable, inevitable, tsunami. The senselessness was compounded by the misery of the civilian survivors. And the tens of millions who died in The Great Influenza, a confluence of virus and circumstance putting so many young people, the virus’ prime target, in small, enclosed, and inescapable places.

Vietnam Vet in PTSD therapyVietnam Vets in the media were portrayed as unhinged, crazed people whose demons nipped their heels from acts one through three. And given that depressed and anxious people were told to “get over it,” or “cheer up,” or “leave that in the past,” I can’t say I blame them for being crazed (which they were and are not). PTSD’s stamp on the soul is so deep that epigenetics show it transmits to future generations. Generations of Holocaust survivors. Generations of Palestinians. Generations of African-Americans. Generations of people traumatized by the very government they look to for protection from want, from fear. From living (ahem) in pursuit of life and liberty and happiness. We’ve not learned this lesson in today’s America. We’ve backslid decades in years. If we ever really had that progress.

In my military service I learned many things. One of the big ones was: be nice to the support folks. Your food, your uniform, your mail, your weapon… your life… is in their hands. Eating manot krav (the Israeli equivalent of “C” rations) in a reeking uniform, trying to fix a damn machine gun some armorer hammered together the wrong way at T-20 before a live fire night exercise sucks. So everyone helps. In the moment you need the social worker so you can cry on her shoulder, she’s the most important person keeping you combat-ready.

Writing about ex-military is writing about people. Good ones, bad ones. Good ones in dark places, bad ones in a place they can find, for lack of a better term, grace. And while the military makes distinctions between combat soldier and not, the experiences, traumas, and acts of truck drivers, cooks, and anyone who wears the uniform as a target, must be acknowledged for their level of service and sacrifice. To write the soldier today is to dig into not just their history, their POV. It’s to understand how they process their military experience that’s never a Hurt Locker, and never a Wag the Dog (although…). M*A*S*H had it best: scared, frightened, and determined people with no more control over their lives than the combat soldiers they treated. But in it together, helping one another, in service of their comrades in arms and country. When writing, keeping the characters nuanced, conflicted, and real trumps the simplistic portrayal of veterans in our media.

So today, whether you moved paperwork in a Mississippi Air Station or did five tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I salute you. Your sacrifice in blood and treasure, or “merely” losing four years of youth being told what to do so someone, somewhere, had the clothing, toothpaste, AvGas, or ammunition to do their, more dangerous, job.

Hopes, Dashed

Novella "Stardance" coverI’m already several thousand words into my latest, but had to stop for some research. More research. Interviewing dancers research. (Okay, my daughter, but still…) And then I remembered Jeanne and Spider Robinson’s book “Stardance.” Well, I actually remember the original novella. It was a bit odd delving that far back into SF writings. Winced at casual misogyny in cover, in character descriptions. (The blog featured image is the cover of the original novella and it’s the least “Astounding Gran Tetons” cover of all the editions.)

And I’m gonna have to retool this baby from scratch. Zero-gee and low-grav dancing is possible—read said novella, which left me a little wetter-eyed than I expected at the story’s hook. But I’ve a new appreciation for the challenges that mooners—first generation moon-born people—will face.

We earthborn can scamper across the surface, glibly bouncing around in 1/6th earth gravity. And we have the musculature and bone density and tensile strength to torque and shove masses we’d never be able to heft on terra firma. But for people on the moon for five years, or ten, it’d be a different story. It’s a better tale than the same time in zero-gee, but the body does adapt to the “new norm.” And the Robinsons had astute visions of long-term zero-gee.

By my research the moonborn would have thinner bones, much thinner muscles. These aren’t zero-gee-adapted quaddies as described in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Falling Free. These are frail beings without the force necessary to create torque with their hands, their bodies.

Dancing would be interesting for the muscled earthers, as they’d have to learn how to tread more lightly, spin more softly. But yet another lethal barrier for those born under 1G in a 1G world.

Leonard Cohen: Yahrzeit

Photo courtesy University of Toronto. Click to see full article.

Leonard Cohen’s music and lyrics have been my life’s soundtrack. Not the theme, just as background, mind you. I sang it out loud in an empty room while waiting in hospital after one of my father’s aneurysms. It was playing on loop in my head after he died, sitting shiva in New York City.
And it was a friend, a mentor even, as I wrote the first two novels (so far) of a series starring a religious homicide detective. “Who by fire,” indeed.