Friday, June 23, 2017

THERE GOES THE SUN: SOLAR ECLIPSE 2017




It may be a little early to note it here, but a celestial event of major importance is coming up August 21. It may take some planning to take full advantage. Yes, folks, a total solar eclipse will be visible to viewers in a wide swath of the United States on that date for the first time in 38 years. If you live in the area of the full eclipse (“totality”), you’re in luck. If not, and you haven’t made plans to get a hotel room, campsite or bunk in a friend’s home in the target area for the big event, you may be out of luck! 

Not sure if you’re in or out? The map below shows the path of totality.



If you’re located inside the path, the shadow of the moon will completely block the sun. Outside of the path, you’ll only see a partial eclipse, decreasing in coverage the further you are from the path. A nifty Eclipse Megamovie Simulator can help you figure out just how much eclipse you’ll see where you are. Enter your zip code in the simulator, slide the sun across the sky and watch it “disappear” behind the moon’s shadow to just the right degree.

As Americans are wont to do, we’ve gone a little bonkers in advance of the sunny shenanigans. There are planned eclipse-watching cruises, public and private parties, and themed events at national parks in the pathway, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park (sold out within minutes, of course). All this for a heavenly happening that will last no more than two minutes and forty seconds in the darkest part of the solar arc. (Oh, and by the way, except for the people of  Iceland and Scotland, who will see the full eclipse, the rest of the world will only get a peek at this particular event. The sunset will coincide with the eclipse in the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal.)

Still, I’m thinking hubby and I could take a little drive down to Greenville, South Carolina to make our observations. The little city is only about ninety minutes away, but the eclipse will be total there. I’m sure we’ll be able to find an outdoor cafĂ© at which to enjoy the sight. After all, a chance like this doesn’t come along but once every 38 years or so.

Cheers, Donna

*Information for this post provided by "Total Solar Eclipse 2017: How to Make Sure You Don't Miss It," by Sebastian Modak, Conde Nast Traveler Online, June 21, 2017.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Don't forget to back up


The importance of backing up your files cannot be over emphasized. You've all heard it - and I'll bet you've all suffered the consequences of not doing so. These days, it's a lot easier to backup your work because it's easy to save your files to online storage, and synchronize it across several of your own devices. I use Dropbox for any project I'm working on now. Apart from anything else, it's easy to share your work with other people via that system - or quite a few others. Windows 10 comes with Microsoft's own OneDrive, and in fact it defaults to saving documents there. I don't use OneDrive.
Seems to me Microsoft knows enough about me already, even though I turned off all the options to send stuff to Microsoft to 'improve your experience'. But that's another story.

It's pretty easy to restore a file from DropBox. The free software saves versions of your files for 30 days, and usually that's long enough if you have a system failure or something. You'll need to login to your Dropbox account and find deleted files. From there it's straight forward. If you accidentally delete a file, you can recover that, too. If it was on your hard drive, look in the recycle bin and recover it. If it was (say) a photo on an SD card or thumb drive, it won't be in the recycle bin, but it can be recovered. I deleted all the photos on an SD card recently, and recovered them. I described the process in detail here, so I won't repeat it.

So far, we've been talking about lost files. But there's another use for backup.

I'm working on a new project, and I'm about eleven thousand words in. But now I've decided I shouldn't have changed one of the early scenes. The story is coalescing in my mind, and the 'yes but' questions are bubbling to the surface. The changes I made don't work, so I want to go back to how the scene was written a number of days ago. I could restore the file to that date from Dropbox, but then I'd lose my current work. I could open an earlier version in Dropbox and find my deleted scene that way - but that means logging in to Dropbox, and if that version is more than 30 days old - it's gone.

When I start a new project I immediately create a file imaginatively entitled 'backup' under the project. Every day when I start work, before I do anything else, I copy my current file to backup and rename it with the date. eg WIP.docx is saved in backup as 170622 WIP.docx (ie yymmdd to keep the list in date order).

Later today I'm going to open the WIP from several days ago, copy the scene I want, and paste it into the current WIP. And since the project is in Dropbox, so are the backups - for double just in case.

For those interested in the project itself, the new book, currently titled 'Dryden 5', is set in the Dryden Universe, and kind of follows on from The Demon's Eye. It stars the same main characters, Tian Axmar and Brent Walker, with a solid supporting role for Admiral Ul-Mellor. It'll be done some time later this year.

And since Pip shows pictures of her chooks, maybe I can show pictures of my wild bird family. Just for something pretty to look at.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ready Player One read by Wesley Crusher

Since I moved outside Seattle and have children who live half the time in the city, I do a fair amount of driving. I initially opened an Audible account because the girls got it into their heads they wanted to learn French, and it seemed a good way to pass the drive time. Now we've rearranged our schedule so they are going back and forth less, and I've been using the Audible credits to listen to books I might not otherwise have the time to read. Plus, some books are just made to be read out loud. I particularly love listening to Neil Gaiman's books, because they are read by the author and I could listen to him talk about organizing his sock drawer.

Recently I had some credits to use up and went to the Oracle (Facebook) to ask for advice. A fellow author recommended READY PLAYER ONE, in particular because it is read by Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Wil is a funny guy, and he's played a gamer in a couple of YouTube series (my favorite being Felicia Day's THE GUILD). He is the perfect voice for the first-person perspective of a post-apocalyptic gamer geek, and there is this awesome moment when ... nope, not gonna spoil it.

So let me start by saying Donna reviewed this book back in 2013. I read her review again before posting this one to ensure there wasn't too much overlap. If you are interested in seeing the movie (scheduled for release next spring) AND you're one of those people like me who prefers to read the book BEFORE watching the movie, now you have your deadline.

This review is high-level and only contains minor spoilers. It's adapted from my Goodreads review specifically for Spacefreighters.

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline, read by Wil Wheaton
Genre: Young-adult sci-fi with romantic elements

I didn't have high expectations for this book. I'm a middle-aged woman, and READY PLAYER ONE ("RPO" henceforth) is about a teenage gamer essentially living inside a virtual world anchored in a post-apocalyptic society. I have played both arcade and computer-based games, but not in decades. I did not expect that I'd relate. But as Donna notes in her review, this novel is RIDDLED with references to 80s culture, and I was a teenager in the 80s. Music, TV shows, movies, commercials, even specific computer models I owned in early adulthood. What a genius decision by the author, amirite? You get the young adult audience, because that's the age of the protagonists, plus all the Gen Xers and some Baby Boomers too. And I had further reason to identify with the protagonist: he lives in a trailer park in Oklahoma City, where I was born and raised. (I never lived in a trailer park, but I knew people who did. Plus they were on the news every time there was a tornado.)
From the original book cover art. It's gorgeous,
though based on Cline's description
the trailer stacks were much closer together. 

RPO is sci-fi at its best. There's an underdog hero and an evil corporate villain, and they fight their battles with super cool tech, in both the real and virtual worlds. The post-apocalyptic world Cline paints is very believable, as you can see the seeds of his calamities already germinating in today's society. For example, Cline depicts government so ineffective and in bed with corporations as to be useless in its original role of serving the interests of the populace, and corporations that have been given broad powers over the lives of private citizens.

Believe it or not this young-adult-centered geekfest even includes a sweet love story. It doesn't take up a lot of screen time, but it's critical to the plot and the ending wouldn't be nearly as satisfying without it. Can you really fall in love with a person you've never actually met? You be the judge. And as for the ladies, they DO represent in this story. Frankly when I started this book, I figured I'd have to just be okay with it being about a bunch of dudes in their basements. Granted, a lot of the 80s reference ARE very male-oriented. The only female rock musician I remember being referenced (Pat Benatar) was mentioned in conjunction with Artemis, the protagonist's crush. But whatever.

Admittedly it took me a while to get into this story. As stated above, I have little in common with the protagonist (Wade) beyond our knowledge of 80s culture, and besides that there is a fair amount of setup and backstory to get through. Wade also has a tendency to use cliché phrases (ie, "armed to the teeth"), which as an editor and fellow author pulled me out of the story at times. But once the story clicked for me, I was swept away. (Hubs started listening to it with me about halfway through, on one of our drives to town, and after a bunch of initial protesting, he was asking to listen to it at home EVERY DAY until we finished it.) There's so much attention to detail in the world building, it feels like you're inside the game. In fact at times the detail can be a little tedious, but it fits the story, as these details MATTER to Wade.

Now I'll tell you what I liked best about this story, besides the amusement-park-ride quality of the plot. As Wade goes about his quest for the ultimate high-stakes Easter egg, which has been hidden inside the virtual world (the Oasis) by its now-deceased creator, you find yourself rooting and cheering at every turn. He's just a kid vying for a prize along with thousands of other "gunters," but it's fun to watch his obsessiveness and attention to detail begin to pay off. The REAL payoff, however, comes as Wade begins to evolve as a person, developing relationships that bring out his more noble qualities—empathy, loyalty, openness to emotional vulnerability. Qualities that, fairly or not, we don't often associate with gamer personalities. Wade learns to use his powers for the greater good, and that's a quality with timeless, universal appeal.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Not All Babies Are Beautiful To The Eye

This week I've been spending a lot of time on a special project out in my garden (more details later) instead of doing important stuff like editing or, in my husband's opinion, putting the laundry away (I'm a terrible housewife!). And during the week, a local pigeon kept spooking my chooks in the garden by repeatedly crashing into a nearby tree. It was particularly annoying because it was the same tree over and over again. This particular pigeon didn't seem to get the idea that this tree was just too difficult to land in.
But as I happened to glance up at yet another collision while I was hanging out the washing, I realized something. There wasn't just one pigeon. There were two. And the second was sitting on the ramshackle collection of twigs that passes for a pigeon nest (they're terrible nest builders). The pigeon's repeated crashing into the same tree suddenly made a lot more sense.
And because I'm the kind of girl who will happily climb up trees to check out a nest, I went up there. The sitting parent flew away at my arrival, revealing two tiny chicks (or squabs, as baby pigeons are called) lying very still on their precarious twig platform. Aww! (BTW, the parent bird came back). Photos are taken later when said parent became more tolerant of our intrustions.
One chick using parent as a backrest. The other is underneath.
17th June

Is it me, or does it look like a dodo?!

Both chicks looking maybe a smidge cuter? 19th June

My youngest is an absolute wildlife fanatic, so when we collected him from school I told him about the nest and pointed it out. Quick as a flash he shinned up the ladder. Fortunately his smaller size apparently made him less of a threat because the parent bird stayed put. Despite that, he was still able to see one of the chicks, which impressed him no end.
But when he came back down, he looked awkward. I asked him what was up. He gave me a quick glance before staring at his feet again.
"Pigeon chicks are really ugly," he ventured uncertainly.
I laughed. "Yup, they really are."
This seemed to relieve him. I found it cute that he felt bad about saying they were ugly, but got up the courage to say it anyway. They really aren't the cutest of chicks, though I've no doubt their parents think them beautiful...
Right now, Keir's Shadow is a chick of indeterminant species, adult feathers slowly and painfully emerging but as yet no swan, that's for sure. I just hope it isn't a pigeon.

Status Update
Despite my best efforts, I'm still struggling to get past 36% on Keir's Shadow, though I have made progress. I'm having to write new or rewrite old sections to fix the improbably plot lines and expand what is staying. So far it's now up to 93K (having started out at 75K and scenes being deleted). I expect it to grow past 100K despite more needing cutting. The half-hearted secondary romance also needs working into shape. So, it is moving ahead, just very, very slowly.
Reunion is still untouched after coming back from my editor, while Unexpected is still with my editor.
Although the 99 cents promo officially finished yesterday, you may still be able to pick up some of the books listed HERE. My book Tethered will remain at 99 cents until the end of June regardless.
A SciFi Romance Novella
Goodreads | Webpage
Available from...
Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks
Smashwords

Chook Update
There's excitement in the chook department! I've wanted some more chooks for a while, and youngest has been fascinated by the idea of hatching chicks since they incubated some duck eggs at school. Because we don't have a cockerel (too noisy, and you only need a cockerel for chicks, not to get eggs), I've had to buy hatching eggs.
Six Pekin eggs, helpfully labelled up with the colour of the hen that laid them.
We have splash (mostly white with dark markings), mottled (dark feathers with white splodges, like Pitch), millefleur (brown with white and black speckles), cuckoo (dark with small white markings), lemon (pale gold) and lavender (grey with a hint of mauve).

Of course, coming through the post isn't an ideal way for them to travel so there's no guarantee any of the six will hatch. One benefit of Pekin bantams is they make good brooders regardless of who the eggs came from. The downside of this is they go through periods of being broody - a bit like a phantom pregnancy. They'll sit in the nest, even if it's completely empty, not eating or drinking, and also not laying. This generally means that throughout the spring/summer, one of our girls is in this state. Fizzgig was kind of half and half, while Effie was completely broody (to the point she will scream at you even opening the nest box and will peck savagely at anything coming near her. So I moved them off to a separate coop to become mums for real (if the eggs hatch), only for Fizzgig to abandon hers, so Effie is going solo. But the separate coop means she won't get disturbed by the other hens and I can give them suitable chick food and supplements. If all goes well, the eggs are due to hatch around the 4th of July, or possibly as late as the 8th). Fingers crossed!
Nominated mum-to-be Effie

Pitch enjoying the sun...

...until Kyru decides to get in the way...

...and a disgruntled Pitch is forced to move.
More pictures next week!

Monday, June 19, 2017

5 Movies Writers Can Watch When Discouraged

It's tough being a writer these days. Although the gates were thrown wide open with the onset of independent publishing--thereby removing the "gatekeepers" and allowing thousands of writers to achieve their dream of becoming published authors, it also came with a downside.

It allowed thousands more writers to become published authors.

The advantage became the disadvantage. A two-edged sword indeed. Now that the marketplace is flooded with millions of books by independent authors, it's very difficult to get readers' attention among so many choices and titles. "Hey! Over here! Pick me! Pick me!" often gets drowned out in the constant background roar of book promotion.

So yeah, many of my peers have been feeling despondent about their careers and the general state of the industry of late. For most of us, the theme of "never give up, never surrender!" needs an occasional boost in the form of an inspiring story or message to buoy our spirits.

Today I'd like to share five that I'd recommend if you're looking for that inspirational shot in the arm. Probably for good reason, three of the five involve space or science fiction. :)

_____________________________________

1. Secretariat

This story is so much more than a story about a legendary horse, it's about the woman who made sure he had every shot at becoming a champion--while literally taking on all challengers. It's as much about the bravery and stick-to-it-iveness of Penny Chenery Tweedy as it is about winning the Triple Crown. In 1973, no horse had won a Triple Crown in 25 years and every contender sired by the great Bold Ruler had failed. No one believed Secretariat could do it--except Penny. In spite of family dramas, financial disasters and practically living in airports for three years, she never gave up on her dream...and the outcome, as everyone now knows, was history.

Buzzline: "Hey, Kentucky! You're about to see something you ain't never even seen before!" --Secretariat's groom shouting to the empty grandstands in the early morning hours of Kentucky Derby day.

The message: Put your heart into it and strive for your goals. Sometimes the world is blackest just before the dawn.

Secretariat advanced poster
issued by Disney Studios
_________________________________


2. Contact

This film was based on a novel written by one of my personal science heroes, Carl Sagan. Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway, after being inspired to explore astronomy by her late father, dedicates her life to searching the stars for extraterrestrial life. But her peers and superiors ridicule her work and tell her she is "wasting her life." In spite of many obstacles, pitfalls and funding struggles, it's Ellie's team who many years later is working at the VLA in New Mexico when the first intelligent extraterrestrial signal is detected. Suddenly her project is in the limelight and everyone wants a piece of the greatest event in human history, including one former boss who maneuvers to claim the glory for himself. After Ellie's team eventually deciphers the message, she's given a shot at her lifelong dream...making contact with extraterrestrial beings in an extraordinary way. But the question of "did she or didn't she?" actually make contact is left an open-ended question for the viewer to decide.

Buzzline: "Because if it's just us....it's a terrible waste of space."

The message: Believe in your dreams and have faith in yourself. Those who doubt you haven't shared your experiences.

___________________________________
 
 

3. Apollo 13

My heroes have always been astronauts, so I had to include this one. This fact-based story tells the story of three astronauts on the Apollo 13 Mission who survived an explosion in space, and how they and their Earth-bound team at NASA worked together to find solutions that turned certain tragedy into an historic, heroic achievement.

Buzzline: "Failure is not an option!"

The message: Work through your troubles and setbacks and never give up, or you may never realize how close you are to success.

___________________________________


4.  The Man from Snowy River
(or the sequel, Return to Snowy River)

With its unusual story about struggles in the Australian "wild west," The Man from Snowy River is about believing in yourself and recognizing your unique talents and abilities. Sometimes the least likely soul is the only one who can get the job done, because he believes in his own potential to do the seemingly impossible. Either story carries this message, and though my best advice would be to watch them in succession, in my humble opinion Return to Snowy River is one of those very rare movie sequels that builds and improves on the original. The two together were dubbed by Horse Nation as The Greatest Horse Movie Ever Made.

Buzzline: Not a line, but this movie made the French horn fanfare famous!

The message: Believe in your ability and your resolve to get the job done. No one can be you better than you.

DVD cover produced by 20th Century Fox
 
The Man from Snowy River was based on an old poem about the legendary rider. Here a shortened version of the poem is read paired with scenes from the movie. It's pretty inspiring by itself, and you get a taste of those legendary French horns.
 
 
 
  
________________________________

5. The Martian

Another inspiring astronaut's tale, this one also makes the cut! After a freak accident, Mark Watney is left for dead on the planet Mars after his fellow astronauts execute an emergency launch. Now he's faced with having to survive for four years until any hope of possible rescue can arrive, while facing five sobering possibilities: Die from thirst, habitat failure, accident or starvation...or find a way to survive. His unique skill set soon comes in to play when Watney declares he's going to "science the sh*t" out of the problem. In spite of impossible odds, Watney's sheer determination and know-how helps him find new ways of surviving each day as it comes.

The Buzzline: "In your face, Neil Armstrong!"

The message: Mark Watney probably said it best. "Work the problem. Then the next. And the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to go home." Take each difficulty as it comes and find solutions to help you reach your goals.


The Martian Extended Edition
blu-ray cover by 20th Century Fox

Have a great week.



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Solstice #Scifi #Romance #99cents #Sale #sfrb 16th-19th June

Get ready for summer with nine out of this world romances for just 99 cents each. But hurry, they won't stay in orbit for long! Click HERE or the banner above. for instant transportation to their homeworld and pick the retail portal of your choice.

Friday, June 16, 2017

EINSTEIN: OUR OWN (ADOPTED) GENIUS



Flynn and Rush as Einstein, young and old

Not so long ago, if you asked anyone in the world to name a famous scientist, he or she would respond with a single person: Albert Einstein. The physicist who developed the theory of general relativity (captured by a simple equation—E=MC²) was well known and loved in his later years as much for his gentle humor and his pacifist philosophy as for his groundbreaking theories. In fact, he was so well known his name had become synonymous with genius.

Of course, overturning the accepted Newtonian laws of gravity and physics as Einstein did earned him nothing but enmity in the beginning. Acceptance came much slower than we’d like to believe. The conservative academic world condemned him at first, especially because there was no experimental way to prove his theory (at least until astronomers observing the effect of gravity on light during a solar eclipse provided the needed observations).

Worse, a determined number of his German colleagues worked hard to deny his theories based solely on a single aspect of his character: the fact that he was Jewish. Led by one man in particular, physicist Philipp Lenar (who later headed the Nazi physics program), this group denied Einstein the Nobel prize for his work year after year, carrying out a publishing war throughout the 1920s and early 1930s to discredit Einstein’s theories.

All of this has been part of the fascinating story told in the National Geographic channel’s GENIUS series, just wrapping up now. The series stars Johnny Flynn as the scientist as a struggling young man and Geoffrey Rush as the more familiar figure with the wild hair and eccentric habits. 

Those of us who are science geeks may know parts of this story—that the young genius did poorly in school and was denied a teaching position at universities in Berlin or Zurich (both places in which he’d studied); that he was forced to take a position as a patents clerk to support his family. What I didn’t know about was the tragedy of his early marriage to a brilliant, but unstable fellow student, his dalliances with other women, and the fact that he came up with his major theories (of photo-electrics, molecular motion and relativity) before age 23 and spent the rest of his life trying to expand them to create a unified field theory of physics.

The most recent episode, set in turbulent pre-Nazi Germany, struck close to home. The Nazi Party, not yet in power but growing in strength, was making life difficult for Jews in all walks of life, but particularly at the higher levels of academia, business and professional circles. After Einstein himself was attacked on the street by armed “brownshirts,” he made the difficult decision to emigrate to the United States. 

But though he had a longstanding job offer from Princeton University, the process of entering the U.S.was not easy. He was called into an interview with American Consul General Raymond Geist at the U.S. Embassy, on orders of Director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover wanted to know if Einstein was a member of the Communist Party. Or a Socialist. Or a Zionist. Or had any of the people who had attended his lectures belonged to these organizations.

At first Einstein was angry and defiant. But his wife, Elsa, was a calming influence. And, gradually, he began to connect with his interviewer. Geist was basically a decent man, someone who joined the U.S. government in the first place “to be of service.” The scientist, a man of conscience, helped the agent see that in order to be of service, he must help innocent people escape a truly horrific situation—the oncoming Nazi holocaust. 

Despite Geist’s positive recommendation, Hoover was determined to keep Einstein out of America due to his reputation as an advocate for the Jewish cause. He denied the scientist’s visa application. But “somehow” the U.S. press got wind of Einstein’s plight, and the public forced the government to reverse the decision. (Geist, it turns out, had a permanent change of heart. A note at the end of the episode indicated that he personally was responsible for approving 50,000 applications for visas from beleaguered German Jews, saving them from the gas chambers.)

I could only wonder what might happen if a Muslim man of Einstein’s genius were to apply for a U.S. visa today from Syria or Iraq. Would there be a Raymond Geist to help him? And would that man be there for his new country later in an hour of desperate need, as Einstein was at the Manhattan Project? 

We think of Albert Einstein as our own beloved scientist. But in truth we adopted him, just as we have adopted so many others who have enriched this country and the world.

Cheers, Donna