Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Yeoman Martha Landon Passed Away

This was not your average blonde, female yeoman on the old Star Trek. Skip to 6:15 on this clip, and witness how Yeoman Landon takes out two natives who attack the landing party.

She was played by Celeste Yarnall, who had roles in Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, and It Takes a Thief. She passed away this past Sunday, October 7.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Stop Google from Going Googly on You

Ever look up vests on Google, or just the word “invest,” and for weeks it shows you ads on vests? What’s disturbing is not so much their taste in vests (which is questionable), but the fact they are tracking every word you use. Supposedly, this is just to do nice things for you like show you ads for stuff you like. Right. Why don’t we just let them search through our wallets? (More on that later.)

Kim Commando is a very reliable tech guru who has been giving valuable free advice for years. If you want to stop Google’s personalized ads, click here and go down to “Here's how to turn off Google's personalized ads.” The interfaces may look a little different from what she described, but the process works. Google’s ads only have short-term memory for me now.

That’s a start. But is that the end of Google’s data collection efforts on you? For irony, look at this puff piece they’ve put out for themselves. It’s funny at 2:50. The woman says, “Google has such a wide reach, so anything that I work on, I know it’s impacting, like, hundreds of thousands, probably millions.”

But it’s all to do nice things for you. Right.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Dragon Con—Log Supplemental II—CNN

Dragon Con was held in Atlanta. I so wanted to stay in one of the three main con hotels, but I was shut out. I ended up booking in the Omni Hotel. It happens to adjoin CNN headquarters.

They have tours for a reasonable price, so I signed up for one. But first, here’s what part of their food court looks like. Yes, they own the Cartoon Network.

Each bear is about the size of a person on all fours

Not only is that the CNN globe, but that’s a narrow escalator leading up to it. It’s the longest open-air escalator in the country. And that’s what we took to start the tour.

The tour truly was behind-the-scenes. We saw the set for Headline News—CNN owns HLN. The regular morning anchor wasn’t there; it was the weekend host. She wasn’t on camera at the moment, so she waved at us through thick glass. She chatted with the guy in charge of the robocams—huge cameras that moved by remote control.

We were not allowed to take any pictures inside, so we were free to gaze down from a balcony at their newsroom. It looked like any open-air office with cubicles, but with large monitors. Our guide pointed out which desks covered foreign news. They receive news feeds from all over the world and decide what to put on the air.

A particular news studio was incredibly cramped. It showcased smaller segments for CNN, like their medical show. Our guide explained how one man operated all the lights in this studio. I think it was over seventy.

This clip gives you an idea of how cramped some of their studios are. If you don’t like one side or the other of the politics involved, just watch with the sound off.

So this brings me to a short segment from my science fiction novel, Alpha Shift. It’s a minor detail, but one producer operates all the cameras. Knowing that one man runs a multitude of cameras in the present day gives me affirmation. Here, the producer comes out in the open because she wants to meet a celebrity. Is it a good idea?


Terrence ignored the baritone reply and linked his hardcel to the monitor in the corridor to the left, through which Halak had entered. The four assistants from the shuttle loitered there—by coincidence, the same number as their remaining bridge crew: security guard, tech specialist, makeup artist, and producer. The producer—who looked insect-like with her headset, eyepiece, and large microphone stem—normally was back in the control room behind the cameras, using voice commands to operate them and give them signals, but was so eager to meet Halak that she had emerged and was operating the cameras by remote control.

Something strategic. The four assistants had gradually shifted so each one was behind or beside one of their crew.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Dragon Con—Log Supplemental I

Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia, is billed as the largest science fiction/fantasy/gaming/comics convention in the world. I went there for the first time. Also, believe it or not, I used Uber for the first time. I never had need of it before, but it’s much cheaper than those airport shuttles.

I had planned out just about every hour of my stay there in great (but not neurotic) detail on a Word document. But I concentrated so much on summoning Uber correctly, I walked out the door and left all my schedule and all my notepaper behind—including my two no. 2 ½ pencils!

But I did make it to the SeaTac Airport. No, this was not the plane I flew, but a marvelous display of a real plane inside the airport.

I had enough of my schedule memorized, and Dragon Con had sent me a link to their massive program list, so after some feverish work I managed to recreate my schedule using a notepad from the hotel store and a hotel pen.

Sample Page - click to enlarge

The convention was so gigantic, it completely booked three massive hotels, as well as having events at a couple of other hotels and other buildings. Here is a beautiful piece of art in the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

The lobbies were jammed. You might see people in costume, or just some lone figure amidst the bustle.

On a similar theme, here’s a stormtrooper and son.

Sometimes a child will have political differences from his father, but that’s okay. 

I saw Harley Quinn there.

A girl needs to get some coffee, right?

Also, Leeloo from The Fifth Element.

They were both dressed for the heat, which was in the upper 80s or 90 degrees, with a good amount of humidity. Because of that, I didn’t stand around for the Dragon Con Parade. But the police were out in force to make sure everyone had a safe time.

They seemed highly amused by the all the cosplayers.

Inside, I confess I didn’t expect to see these gentlemen.

You might decipher from my hand-written schedule that one of the people I wanted to see was John Hemry, who writes by the pen name of Jack Campbell. He’s my favorite author, and I’ve spoken to him at a number of Worldcons. Since I haven’t seen him in a couple of years, I didn’t expect him to recognize me. But though I sat several rows back from where he was speaking on a panel, he spotted me in the audience and waved to me.

For such an accomplished author, he’s a friendly guy and very approachable. You might check out his latest series, The Genesis Fleet.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Dragon Con—Writers Conference II

I forgot to mention in my previous postabout the writers conferencethat Jody Lynn Nye brought in professionals to give us expert opinion about the real world of writing.

First was Anne Sowards, an editor at Ace Books. I met her several years ago at a Worldcon. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of her, since it would be outré to take pictures during the conference.

We also had Lucienne Diver, an agent at the Knight Agency. I do have a picture of her from a Worldcon in 2011.

We also had S.M. Stirling speak. Because of an alternate history he’s written, he was quite the expert on Theodore Roosevelt, regaling us with interesting trivia.

All in all, this was a series of experts who were able to answer our questions about this most quirky of careers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Dragon Con—Writers Conference

Dragon Con in Atlanta is billed as the largest science fiction/fantasy convention in the country. The main reason I went was to attend a two-day writers conference hosted by Jody Lynn Nye, a writer I respect. I took along a copy of The Monster Hunter Files for her to autograph. It’s a collection of short stories, and she wrote one of the entries, though this version of the cover doesn’t show her name.

Ms. Nye ran the conference in the traditional style: We had each submitted about the first twenty-five pages of a novel, or a short story. We each wrote down our critiques, either as summary statements or notes on pages. Then one aspiring writer would sit quietly while the other twenty students read or stated from memory their critiques. Then Ms. Nye would give her more extended critique.

This is a very enlightening method. Having to come up with honest critiques of the other writers sharpens one’s own game. And listening to the others helps to crystalize certain thoughts. Ms. Nye gave very detailed critiques of some of us that had a better a chance of getting published, and I think that was her way of pushing us through the last mile.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Vampire Parody—Dumping on TV Shows and Book Covers

The writer knows as Authoress has an interesting website. Once in a while she’ll call for submissions of snippets from beginning writers’ works in progress, which she’ll then post for people to make polite comments on. This time around, she wanted a short piece of dialogue. The entries should show up on her site tomorrow or soon after. 

Here’s what I submitted, from my vampire parody. 

photo by KMJ at German Wikipedia

Dee, a homeschooling mother, slays the occasional vampire that comes her way. She and her friend Hope follow a map that may lead to the source of the vampires.

Dee was grateful they were walking on grass that didn’t crackle too much, since it was still soft from September rains. “I suppose now I should start waving my flashlight around for no reason as we walk, the way all those stupid people do on TV shows where they’re hunting vampires or werewolves.”
Hope brought the smartphone closer to her face. It was finally lit enough to show she was frowning. “You really watch the werewolf stuff?”
“I guess there’s not as much on TV about werewolves as there is about vampires. But those novels in bookstores with threatening covers—eyes filled with contempt, strange tattoos, edged weapons—and those are just the women!”
“Doesn’t it bother you that they portray werewolves and other such things as sexy nowadays?”
“Sex sells, sister.”
Hope came to a dead stop. “This makes no sense. The path we’ve been following from this map keeps going straight. But you can see where the trail we’re walking on goes.” She gestured to the left, where the trail curved.
“Isn’t that just some tiny blip your map doesn’t show?”
“No, this trail we’re on doesn’t curve back to match the online path. You can see why.” She pointed to the steep hillside ahead of them. “Are we supposed to climb up and hike cross-country?”
“The answer is in front of your face.” Dee pointed with her flashlight. 
For another scene from my vampire parody, click here

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Galaxy J7

So I finally bought a new smartphone. I was going to get the original Google Pixel, but reviews said sales were collapsing because users found it hard to manage. I then browsed the older Galaxy S models, but they can be sold by third parties that get terrible reviews on Amazon.

Along the way, I saw some Galaxy J models that were a lot less expensive than the S models, so I turned my nose up at the cheap things.

Looking at multiple reviews, I began to see the sense of the J models. Instead of being the flagship Galaxy S models, they were midline, workable phones that had what I needed without being the latest shiny object. Advertised for 219.99, I managed to get it for a little less when the clerk at the BestBuy brought up a discount. Of course I’ll get the protective case, since my manager recently dropped her S9 into soft dirt, and the screen got a spiderweb crack.

When I say finally, you may not believe what my previous phone was. It had the Microsoft operating system. Some of you will say, “There’s no such thing . . . oh, right.” My friend Kelly introduced me to it years ago, saying it worked just like the commercials said it did. It was the shiny new thing. But years went by. People stopped making apps for it. And it couldn’t download any Android or Apple apps.

So I’ve finally modernized.

On the subject of phones, here’s an excerpt from my urban fantasy manuscript, The Weapons of our Warfare. Stephen, a church intern, has discovered a coven has been spying on them. He returns the favor, with two teams of two on a hilltop in a wilderness. Unfortunately, the coven leader has a certain power.


Frustrated, Stephen listened to the static on his phone, keeping it pressed close to his ear so the sound wouldn’t carry.
“I thought we were far enough away.” Beverly’s jaunty mood was gone. “How are we going to tell them to move into position?”
“The coven leader’s definitely jamming it.” He looked up at the white glow. “But no reaction. As if she sets up a large jamming field by habit.”
Their plan had been simple, but bold. Before the coven leader could start her incantations, he and Beverly would confront her. If they were charged, he would throw Beverly down the hillside, if necessary, to save her.
Stephen’s hand tightened into a fist around the cell phone as he stayed determined to keep that part of the plan from her. Assuming the coven leader would flee in the opposite direction, Terrence and Minerva would apprehend her, Terrence using his authority as a police officer and a certain obscure statute they had looked up. The coven members would scatter.
But the hiss of static threatened to make it all in vain. The two teams couldn’t communicate, couldn’t warn or assure each other. Even worse, Stephen couldn’t tell if she knew they were there after all. Was it right for him to lead on, risking the others?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Side Effects of Stevia

Recently I bought some Snapple straight-up unsweetened ice tea. I figured I could add stevia to it, and that would be better than sugar. Stevia is natural, and I thought it would be better than artificial sweeteners.

public domain 

I added a stevia packet to a bottle at work one day. It was barely noticeable. Okay, so the next day I added three packets to a bottle. Later that morning, I felt like I was almost drowning because I was so badly congested. And my eyebrows were itchy. My eyebrows?

So I looked up the side effects of stevia. It turns out that if a person is allergic to ragweed (and I’ve had hay fever all my life), the body might react to stevia the same way. So it was like I just drank a bunch of ragweed.

I’ll set the box of stevia packets I bought in the lunchroom, for my co-workers to enjoy.

Which leads me to an excerpt from my novel manuscript Werewolf in the Fold. As something unique, it is set squarely in the year 1999. I know that most nostalgia stories are set in the 80s, but as people get older, they’ll get nostalgic for a time when the Backstreet Boys were popular, and the dot coms were a new way of doing business. The statements about aspartame and stevia are accurate.

Oh yes, it’s a slightly alternate reality, with certain minority groups. A rather innocent minor character Lily May is interacting with her friend Fonda.


And here she had met such people: Blacks who were well-educated and thought it normal to look white people in the eye and move into management positions, Asians (who didn’t call themselves Orientals anymore) who had been born in this country—just as their parents or even their grandparents before them—and who were as American as anyone else, and Elves like Fonda, who had befriended her and knew so much about fashion tips.
Lily May was well aware of the stereotype that Elves were amoral and chafed at society’s boundaries of decency. But if her friend had seemed to fit that stereotype for a moment there, she downplayed, suppressed, and forgot it in the slim moments between Fonda’s last comment and the next.
Fonda pointed a slim fingernail at Lily May’s soda. “And you chose the color of that to match your blazer? Those are too tame. Want some sweetener?” She rummaged in her tiny purse.
Lily May tried to snort, but it just sounded like a bad inhale. “I’m not that naïve. You just want to pour some sugar or that new aspartame stuff into it, to fizz out the carbonation.”
Fonda produced a small bottle. “Stevia. A natural sweetener. It’s banned here, but my people in Latin America like to chew the leaves.” She offered it.
Lily May thought that sounded too much like chewing some other kind of leaf, so she waved it off. Then she heard the sound of male voices approaching.
She put a finger to her lips, then whipped halfway around so she was facing Fonda with her blazer open. She kept her black Italian soda on the desk—something the guys could pretend to look at while noticing her new look.


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