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.

Dogs, Tricks, New. Damnit!

I’m a recalcitrant writer when it comes to technology, which is funny considering I’ve been neck-deep in emerging technologies for, um, four decades?

It took me over ten years to slide from Word to Scrivener. I still think it’s got a clunky UI, complex more than necessary. But when writing 90k-150k novels spanning many chapters, it made sense. “Compiling” the manuscript to Word or other formats is an excruciating pain in the ass. But here I am.

Grammarly has been around for years, and I’ve scoffed at using such a crutch. But, lured by claims linking it to AI technology (a whole other post, but let’s not go there now), I signed up for the free version.

I’ve paid the $120/year subscription after spending 2 hours taking a story I deemed finished and being marketed through its wringer. I. Am. Humbled. Not bad: 50 or so corrections for 6,300 words. I didn’t accept about a fifth of the suggestions; they were inappropriate for the dialog or tone I was looking for. However, when I looked at the corrections I made in one of my writing groups and read their feedback on my scenes, it was clear that, had I run them through this tool, I’d have far more effective critiquing.

So I’ve got a new trick, one that’ll help my writing sit up and beg.

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…)

A Progress Tool

Recently I posted a graphic showing words per day. (I’ve used it before: you can see posts here and here.) It’s part of my musings about writing velocity and general “feeling like an author.” I’ll tee up a few posts on that in the future, but for now I wanted to provide a Google Sheet, called Writing Progress, open for anyone can copy, then modify on their own account as they see fit. Once you’ve got it you can try exporting it to Excel (see pix at end of post.) The Microsoft version needed tweaking, especially on the timeline sheet, with might not be worth fixing vs. recreating, provided you have basic pivot table skills.

The goal for the sheet is twofold. First, to share something folks have asked about, because that’s what some authors do.

Second, it does for free, and with little grief, that thing that I paid Aeon Timeline $ome $illy $um of $50 to have and then to puzzle over. It integrates with Scrivener, which I (very reluctantly, see here, here, and here) use, but has been too much trouble to set up and keep linked. And if you don’t use Scrivener, I don’t see much reason in buying Aeon.

So head out to the Writing Progress sheet and see it for yourself. (No login required to check it out, but I’m guessing you need Google Drive to copy it.)

Screen Shots of Writing Progress Sheets

Novel Progress page

Timeline Entry Page

Screen shot of Excel Export

Progress page as an excel export

Writing and Fancy Keyboards

I splurged yesterday and got myself a gaming keyboard. Not that I game, mind you, but I miss the clickety-clack of keys, and the Microsoft Ergonomic keyboard that I use at home is a pain in the tush to lug around to coffee shops all the time. So I went a bit wild, and ended up with something that’s smaller, clickety, and has glowing keys in every color and pattern.

Why someone would want to have a keyboard that swirls in every color of the rainbow is beyond me. Or flashes, strobe-like. But, used wisely, the keyboard color scheme can be helpful. Between disabling unused keys and creating a few nifty shortcuts I’ve made my Scrivener‘s experiment a bit more livable (still not too happy with a lot of it’s kludgy design), but that’s for another post.