Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tinkering with Comets and Stars

NOTE: Spent a fair amount of time staring at this photo from Rosetta. And got to writing again.

“Now,” Milson said, “for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”

There was a crackle of static, followed by silence broken only by the sounds of each man and woman breathing.

“But now mine own eyes have beheld God,” Milson continued, his voice sounding far away though he was near to hand. “But not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld.”

Shadows shifted swiftly on the walls of the valley as the wanderers stood in silence.

He turned to Captain Russo. Russo could not see Milson’s face – the glare shields on their space suits were down; in Milson’s all he could see was his own helmeted reflection.

“Who art thou?” Milson asked. “For behold, I am a son of God, in similitude of his only begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?”

Russo shifted uncomfortably.

Milson continued, not moving. “For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely?”

“Milson –“

“I – I’m sorry,” Milson said after a long silence. “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all of this.”
Elsewhere on the surface of the comet, breathing continued.

“I know you’re used to me being quiet, being the quiet one,” he continued. “But walking here, standing here . . . I had to say something.”

“Would you mind,” Captain Russo asked, “saying it not so loudly? You’ve got a few people a bit nervous here.”

“I’m sorry,” Milson said. “But I’d like to continue.”

Silence from the inhabitants of the comet.

“God,” Milson said into the darkness, in a whisper over the radio, as the distant sun shot its course through the black sky overhead. “Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?”

“I’ve had about enough of this,” Varney growled.

There was no echo of assent, other than the crackle of cosmic rays over the frequency.

“And behold,” Milson continued, “the glory of the Lord was upon Moses, so that Moses stood in the presence of God, and talked with him face to face. And the Lord God said to Moses: For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me. And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose, and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.”

Shadows crept through the canyon’s arroyos, up one side and down the other like quicksilver.
“But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you,” Milson continued. “For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.”

There was a long sigh, followed by Varney’s voice. “You’re not one of those nuts who insists the Earth is only six thousand years old, are you?”

“I am one of those nuts,” Milson said, “who believes there is other intelligent life in the universe. I am one of those nuts who believes it is not all an accident. I am one of those nuts who clings to religion not because I’m scared of science, but because I believe God himself is a scientist, tinkering with comets and stars and the dust of the cosmos much as we tinker with atoms.

“Do you believe Moses parted the Red Sea?” Varney asked.

Milson looked from one wall of the canyon to the other. Stars above whirled by, birthed by the lip of the canyon one minute, swallowed by the other lip the next.

“I believe we are the children of Israel, in all their ignorance and stubbornness and promise,” Milson said. “Not destined to the fate of the Egyptians who perished when the parted sea came together again.”

“I’m sorry I have a narrow point of view,” Milson said after a while, after no one spoke and the sound of marching and breathing once again came over the radio as the travelers walked through the canyon, moving around tumbled boulders and easing their way up and down the sides of gullies and through the powder of the comet’s surface. “I’ve studied the Buddhist cosmology, with its world and its gods and goddesses. I know I’m not alone in such thinking. I’m just most familiar with these scriptures, which my father read to me the nights we came home at three or four am, after hours spent staring through his telescope at the stars. We had to go into the foothills east of town, down in one of the dells far from the lights of the city and set up our telescope on a camp table. Our backyard was too light for the Perseids, the other meteor showers. But in the foothills we could gaze up to see the band of the Milky Way and count the stars. Count the stars!”

“And on the way home,” Milson continued, “we’d stop at the crest of the last hill on Lincoln Road, where we could see the lights of the city – three cities – below.”

“’The lights below reflect the stars above,’ my father would say. ‘Never think,’ he would add, looking from the valley floor to the sky above, ‘that we are alone. Some little boy, on a distant world, is looking up into the sky and seeing our sun, perhaps in the constellation they call the Gronkle after some beast on their world, wondering if there’s another little boy looking up at him. Look at the stars,’ my father said, ‘and wave.’”

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Amazon/Hachette Battle Continues into the Realm of Ideas

The Dread Pirate Roberts, it seems, has indeed come for our souls.

The Orwell kerfuffle aside, the battle between Hachette and Amazon is boiling down to ideas.
First, Amazon’s, as presented by Russell Grandinetti in an article from The Guardian:

Amazon claims its power in the market is exaggerated and publishers, ever on the lookout for a good storyline, are in love with a plot that ends with their own demise. "It's always the end of the world," Grandinetti says. "You could set your watch on it arriving." But, he adds, the publishing industry is going through a dramatic shift. "The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity."

Next, the viewpoint of 900 authors who feel their livelihood is harmed by Amazon’s position in the battle – a position they say is nothing more than Amazon pushing publishers out of the writer/reader picture not to the benefit of either, but so they can supplant the publisher in the picture (also from The Guardian):

As writers – most of us not published by Hachette – we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation.

I’m on the fence on the issue, as I’ve written before. In a battle of behemoths, it’s the little guy who gets squashed no matter who wins, and no matter what the rhetoric on either side is. As an unpublished author competing with many, many other unpublished and published authors, it’s easy to fall into Amazon’s camp as a way to get past the gatekeepers at traditional publishers. And yet it’s those gatekeepers – editors and marketers and others – who could help an unpublished author hone his or her craft and turn what could be a good book into a great one. Free marketing aside, there’s something to be said for not sniffing at the expertise traditional publishers can offer new writers.

If they can get in the door, that is.

So it begs the question: What am I doing with Doleful Creatures?

I finally have a beta reader who’s working through the book. And I’ve given it at least one cold assessment since I finished the fourth revision.

Hopefully, I’ll have a dog in this Amazon/Hachette battle before too long . . .

And here’s the bigger question: Is there a beast slouching toward Bethlehem that’ll supplant traditional publishers outside of Amazon’s coily embrace?

There’s a new wave of services, ranging from freelance editors to things like this, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting would-be author/publisher.

For the mere cost of $35, have your EPUB tested to see if it’ll meet the quality checks set forth by ebook publishers. And – bargain price – have 500 books tested at only $10 a pop. Buy in bulk to save.

Or learn how to do it for free by yourself, you know, to eliminate that new snake oil middleman.

Sounds like the purveyor of ISBNs, doling them out as if they were a scarce commodity, not a mere series of numbers generated in miliseconds by computers. These are hand-crafted ISBNs, people. Accept no substitutes. Because there aren’t any.

Some gatekeepers are disappearing, while others rush to fill that gap where many an author will know, as de the shubs and zuuls, what it is like to roast in the depths of a sloar.

Rosetta Continues to Astound

So familiar, yet so alien.

Those striations on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko could be erosion lines in a sand dune or arroyo on Earth – yet there they are, millions of miles from the sun on a chunk of ice and rock floating alone in the void.

What would it be like to walk in that valley – it would appear to be a valley to someone walking there – on that eerie world? What would the curve of the valley floor look like, as you walked to the horizon? And how long would it take until you found yourself following your own footprints?

That soil and ice in the bottom of the valley has got to be loose. I can’t imagine what underlying connection there could be between the comet’s two lobes. And the lobes, though joined, look so different, though perhaps the difference is an illusion of perception – the side of the valley we can’t see might be marked just as the other side is – and the “tops” of the lobes appear indistinguishable.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Phantom of a Novel

Last night, dreamed part of a novel:

The main character, a small boy – I think a Boy Scout, because scouts featured in my dream as well – was at some kind of camp, but one where there was either a cave or a monstrous abandoned theater nearby. In any case, the theater/cave was full of seats and had a stage with a curtain, etc. The cave/theater is populated with humans and animals, putting on shows every night. One night when the boy is watching a performance, some kind of creatures – black rats or some other kind of thing – burst onstage and demand to know who has the compass. No one really knows what they’re talking about, but the Boy Scout happens to have a compass on a string around his neck. Animals in the audience notice and the black creatures call him to the stage, where they then shove him through the curtain, and then through the wall behind the curtain, into their world/some kind of alternate world.

In that world, he still has his compass, but rather than showing directions, the compass shows seasons. As he arrives in this new world, he notices that the compass is pointed towards spring. He’s thrown into a dungeon while the black creatures try to decide what to do with him – they don’t take the compass from him because they’ve been told to wait for their master to arrive, who wants the bearer and the compass unseparated.

While in prison, other animals help break him out and they hide him in this world.

At the end, they’re all in a castle where the leader of the black creatures and the leader of the free creatures are holding some kind of council – meant to be farcical because the black creatures are in charge and are about to kill all the others. Someone somewhere has found additional instructions for the compass that the black creatures don’t know about – I’m not sure but it’s almost like the Boy Scout went through another curtain or wall and found another world where people know about the compass and how to use it – and he’s told to set the outer ring of the compass so it points to winter just before the leader of the black creatures takes it from him in triumph. Once taken, the compass freezes the king of the black creatures and his minions are in fear of the compass and their plans of domination fall apart. Then the Boy Scout makes it back to camp and is chastised because he’s been missing for a week and no one at camp got to earn any merit badges because they’d all been looking for him.

At this point, I’m not sure how much is dream and how much is embellishment as I mulled the dream over during the day. I just know it was very vivid and begged to be written down before I forgot it all.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

One USB to Bring Them All . . .

Read this today at arstechnica.com, concerning the coming of the USB Type-C connector:

Finally, the USB Type-C connector has been designed to scale with the USB spec as it gets faster, so as we move beyond USB 3.1 it should be possible to make future cables physically compatible with one another, avoiding ugly solutions like the micro USB 3.0 Type-B connector.

Can I just say it’s about time?

As spendy as Apple’s cables are, I’ll at least give them the credit for making them all the same size (if not all the same capacity and ability). Over the years, it’s been a nightmare, as a PC user, to keep up with the number of cables required to connect devices and to charge devices and to otherwise use devices. Seeing one type of connector coming in to make everything work happily together (eventually) is a good thing. I’m tired of the snarl of USB cables I have, some of which I no longer remember what they belong to, or even if I still have the device they originally came with. But hey, you can’t throw out cables, because sure’n if you do, as soon as they’ve gone to the trash you’ll remember why you need them.

I remember the day that I discovered my cell phone charger will also charge my Kindle Fire as one of the best days of my life.

"For the Rest of Your Life"

“Mom, how long will this happen to me?”

“For the rest of your life.”

A Ferguson, Mo., mother explaining to her 12-year-old son why he should get used to being patted down and questioned by local police, simply because of the color of his skin.

Something like that happening to me as a 12-year-old would have scared me to death.

Something like that happening to my own 12-year-old kid would make me mad.

And then you see pictures like this.

And then you’re told to tell your kids not to be afraid of the police.

If I saw this coming down the street at me while at a peaceful protest, I’d be crapping my pants. This is not police protection, or even police presence. This is police intimidation, pure and simple.

I do not know what happened leading up to Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson. I do not know the facts. I’m distrustful of what the police have to say because they’re seriously covering their asses right now. I’m distrustful of what witnesses said happened, because it’s known far and wide that witnesses above a certain age often report what they wanted to see, not what they actually saw.

This is what I see:

African-American families rightfully fearful of their local police force.

The local police force out in full riot gear, giving no one the appearance that they’re there to Serve and Protect.

If Ferguson, Mo., were my home town, I’d be ashamed. Ashamed of the looting and arson. Ashamed of a police force that thinks it has to pull out the heavy weaponry and arrest and harass journalists, let alone arresting and harassing those they’re paid to S&P. Good news came today when Missouri Go. Nixon pulled the St. Louis County Police out of Ferguson, substituting the highway patrol.

I've written a lot in the past few months about Aldous Huxley's vision of the world gone sour. Now suddenly George Orwell's police state rears its ugly head. Not sure which is worse, but I do know I'd rather see neither vision fulfilled.