Who Knew There Was a Plant Pathologist?

Sign for NASA at 60


I went to the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival this weekend, at the Washington Convention Center.

The festival was focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and more particularly on drawing girls into the sciences.  And it was packed with lots of kids checking out the displays.  This was a huge facility, and people kept coming and coming.  There’s definite interest in science, despite what feels to me like we’ve veered away from it with big companies influencing the results of studies like in the food industry.

Some highlights:

Most popular section:  NASA and space travel.  This was more crowded than anywhere else.  Maybe we’ve got some future scientists who will figure out how to get us off the planet with artificial gravity.  Right now, to leave our gravity well, we have to put a lot of explosives under our space craft.

USDA’s job table was pretty cool.  They had jobs like:

  • Plant Pathologist: They figure out causes and controls of plant diseases.
  • Remote Sensing Specialists: Analyzes satellite images
  • Marine Scientists: Researches problems facing Marine life

I was grabbing those up, and it also told me that I could check on some of the government job listings in the science areas for research.

Probably the most interesting was a visit to a table of a man who had been out in the Arctic three times.  He had on display the boots he had to wear “Big Red,” which was the coat.  The boots were very heavy–you’d get a good workout just from them.  I was also able to put on “Big Red,” which was a goose down coat they wore.  It also was quite heavy.  Between those two, you’d get quite a workout!

Military was also there as well.  This is from the Air Force:

Air Force Plane on display

It was a lot of fun!

Uniforms for space travel

Woman soldier playing a guitar for a cat
Kitty likes being serenaded!

One of the things that’s always struck me about science fiction films is how unrealistic the uniforms sometimes are.  Star Trek’s was pretty cool for its time–color was a new thing on TV so everything had to be shiny and colorful.  They were iconic, if not always practical.

Then there was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century with Gil Gerard.  I watched it not too long ago, and it surprisingly still holds up.  Or at least the first season does.  The characters wore white, one piece bodysuits.  How do you even go to the bathroom?

Now there’s interest in the real thing–the military’s space force uniforms.

Soldiers have a love-hate relationship with their uniforms.  They have to wear them at least 5 days a week, more if deployed.  Then the senior leader of the service wants to make his mark, and uniforms are easy changes.

Of course, that was how the Air Force ended up with uniforms that made them look like airline pilots–hugely unpopular.  It was also how the Army ended up with the beret.  I got the tail end of that one.  The hats were expensive and had to be dry cleaned.  For a uniform where you might be working out in the rain all day?  Really?

I think the military ought to have one like the battle dress uniform we wore.  It’s practical across the board.  We had buttons for everything, so no expensive zipper repairs.  Big cargo pockets for holding gloves, or paperback novels (sneaky person that I was).

And …

Technology to make the camouflage changes colors and patterns.  It’s really the next step on a uniform to have some kind of tech like that.  Be pretty cool, too.  Wander around the post and stand next to things and watch the uniform change patterns.

Could that be done by embedding chips in the cloth itself?  Maybe threads that are very tiny chips?  But then what would happen to it if it was washed?  And, of course, the military wants everything pressed to a sharp crease.

Can you imagine a squad going to a planet and Private John Smith’s camo on one part of his uniform is stuttering and misfiring because he ironed it.  Oh dear.

What do you think the Space Force uniform should look like?

Distractions of Space, Gravity, and Chia Seeds

The other day I was making breakfast and managed to spill chia seeds all over the floor. If you’ve never seen them, they’re very small seeds, about the size of a pinhead.

And they got everywhere!  I’m still hunting down errant seeds.

So, while I was checking out zero-gravity on YouTube, I decided I’d probably be a disaster in space.  Check out these guys eating pizza.

Can you imagine chia seeds all floating around in zero gravity?  Oh, dear…


Adventures Around The Web November 4-10, 2017

It was unnaturally warm in Philadelphia last week. For Veteran’s Day, we’re getting cold and blustery. Down into the 20s.  The fall colors are finally coming in, but largely pretty washed out.  Not the vibrant ones that are so pretty.

10 Ways Posture Affects Productivity (and How to Improve Both)

Writing can be pretty sedentary, so it’s important to not park in the chair for hours on end and never get up and move around.

From pom-poms to combat boots: Miller joined Army in high school

Ah ha!  A story about a woman Desert Storm veteran.  But scroll all the way to the bottom for a slideshow about more women veterans.


Got this one from the BookBay conference.  You can plug in another writer’s site and see what kind of traffic they’re getting.

Google Speech Recognition

Also from the conference, if you want to try dictating stories.  Being handy too if you wanted to give your hands a break.

Daylight Saving: The Movie Trailer

This is hilarious! Last year, I showed up at the farmer’s market an hour too early.  This year, I worried about missing my train (which showed up late).  From Piper Bayard.


5 Fun Facts You Don’t Know About Me

  1. During a science fiction convention, two women and I ate lunch in the hotel restaurant with actor David Hedison (James Bond) and watched two cats play outside the window.
  2. I went to my first science fiction convention in 1976 costumed as Lieutenant Uhura and got trapped in a parking garage.
  3.  I’m a cat magnet.  When I visited my grandparents, I went outside and saw this beautiful white cat.  Started petting the cat, who acted like no one ever paid attention to.  Suddenly I was surrounded by cats!  And my grandfather hated cats.
  4. I’ve ridden in a pace car for a race.  It was just after the first Persian Gulf War ended, and a local race track in Washington State was looking for soldiers to ride in the pace car.  I went in my class A’s, and one of the guys was grabbed to join me.  I sat in the front seat and watched that speedometer.  We hit 100!
  5. The first computer I wrote a story on was a Heathkit H-89. Heathkit was known then as having kits of electronics you could put together in your house.  My father built the computer.  It was all one piece and booted off a 5 1/4 disk.  It’s hard to believe now that my tablet has more computing power than that big computer!


Adventures around the web August 5-9, 2017

Even though it’s August, the signs of fall are already showing up in Washington, DC.  I went to the farmer’s market in Old Town Alexandria this weekend and the first of the apples were for sale.  It’s hard to believe the summer is almost gone.  It always seems so short!

Kevin Tumlinson on Medium

Self Publishing Destroys the Universe

Post is courtesy of the writer above.  It goes after all the nonsense that self publishing means the books are terrible, or that somehow writing fewer books a year ensures quality.  A lot of silliness debunked.

World War Wings

Rare Footage of the Blackbird’s Last Flight

My father worked for Lockheed in Burbank, the company that developed the Blackbird.  One year, we went up to Palmdale for an organization day, and the Blackbird was on display.   I remember it had a guard in front of it and seemed kind of small.  I recently went to the Smithsonian, where the plane is on display.  It was huge!  I had to ask my father what he remembered, and he thought it was small, too.  So that one many years ago might have been a test model or one for display.   The video shows footage of the jet flying and landing.  Link from Wayne Guenther, Desert Storm veteran.

Helen Sedwick on Bookworks

5 Legal Myths That Writers Still Fall For, Debunked

This hits a bunch of myths floating out there that I’ve heard, like mailing your story to yourself.  The one that stands out most for me is #3.  There was a big lawsuit when a writer published a book with a very recognizable person in it, just renamed.  The individual was so recognizable that people who had read the book were commenting on it to her.  The writer was sued and lost.  Link from Anne Allen.

Orson Scott Card on Galaxy Press

Are We At the End of Science Fiction?

This is an interesting look at the science fiction genre.  It hasn’t sold well for a long time–I’ve seen several resources say the low sales are because they don’t have happy endings.  I’ve found myself passing on a lot of stories because the world has ended and humans are fighting for survival, and it’s such a negative for me that I don’t want to read it.  My own dream–completely outrageous–is that I want to be the writer like J.K. Rowlings who does that for science fiction.  Link is courtesy of the Writers of the Future Contest (I have three honorable mentions).

Tom on Feedreader

Information Overload vs. the Human Brain: Infobesity Causes, Symptoms, and How to Beat It

Overload is something I’ve had to look at because of my day job.  Most of the time management books talk about how to jam more in each day, not on how to push back on the sheer amount of data coming in a warp speed at us.  It’s always good to conduct a review of what we look at and drop anything that’s maybe not worth the time.  I’ve unfollowed sites that got too political over what their content should be, and others because they post way too many articles on a daily basis.

Kristen Lamb

Wonder Woman Vs. Atomic Blonde–What Truly Makes a Powerful Female Character?

I remember seeing one of the first books with this strong (and armed) female character, and it was just magic.  It filled a hole left by characters who whimpered in the corner and did nothing to help themselves.  Somehow it evolved in books to smart-mouthed characters I didn’t like and in movies to characters who seemed to be men in disguise.  This is a good discussion on what Wonder Woman did.  We’ll see if the film industry gets smart…


Adventures around the web July 29-August 4, 2017

Manu Saadia on The New Yorker

The Enduring Lessons of Star Trek

Very interesting article on how Star Trek The Next Generation went away from Star Trek’s original concept.  It mentions one of the things that I always had problems with: people all got along with each other.  That made it hard to do stories that were about the crew, without having some outside influence intervene.  I know that idea originated with Gene Roddenberry, but still…

Joris Nieuwint for War History Online

When His Landing Gear Failed, This Harrier Pilot Made An Emergency Landing… On A Stool

The primary thing the military does is train.  Because in war, training’s all you have when things go wrong.  All the training comes in handy in this video.

Zack Walkter on Do You Remember

Meet the First Woman to Cycle Around the World (in 1895)

This is a pretty cool story–and it’s got photos.  This actually started because of a bet two men made!

Josh Jones on Open Culture

Enter a Huge Archive of Amazing Stories, the World’s First Science Fiction Magazine, Launched in 1926

Writers today tend to diss the pulp writers as “hacks,” usually stories unseen because they produced a tremendous amount of stories.  Somehow speed has become equated with poor writing, though this era produced Dashiell Hammett.  If you haven’t read any of his stories, those are really good.  Link from Harvey Stanbrough (spell checker gave me Gainsborough for his name.  Weird).

Gary Grayson

Gary and the Seal in the Scilly Isles

A charming video from Rhonda Hopkins. The seal wants a belly rub and a chin scratch!

Adventures around the web July 9-14, 2017

A lot of good links this week.

Brett & Kate McKay from The Art of Manliness

The History of Obstacle Courses for Military Fitness, Sport, and All-Around Toughness

I’m using a military obstacle course for my third GALCOM Universe book, Cursed Planet. What better way to train for heavy gravity? While hunting down resources online for it, I ran across this nifty link about the history. Lots of historic photos.

John Allsopp from A List Apart

A Dao of Web Design

This is a fascinating look at how web design evolved, which starts by using the example of how TV evolved from radio.  The eBook industry is still very early in its own development (only about 10 years–can you believe that?), so it provokes the question about how ebooks might evolve in the future.

Piper Bayard and Jay Homes on Bayard & Holmes

Analyzing News: Considering the Source

With all the inaccurate news getting into major newspapers, it’s hard to navigate through what’s true and what isn’t.  This gives some guidelines for figuring out what’s fact and what might not be.  The guidelines are pretty sensible and allow you to make the decisions.

C. Hope Clark on Funds For Writers

What Attracts Readers to Books?

This was a survey of about 5,000 people on Facebook, and the results are pretty interesting.  Most readers pick a book based on genre.  Which makes sense.  If you walk into a bookstore or a library, you have to go to the right shelf to find the books you want to read and those are categorized as genre.

Margie Lawson

Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More

The lecture description doesn’t do this justice, I think because she’s focusing more on the EDITS system.  This lecture covers writing in depth–five senses, character opinions.  Best coverage I’ve seen of rhetorical devices and how to use them in novels.  And one hidden benefit…it covers an aspect of pacing  (backloading).  Loads of examples from best selling writers.

My version was from 2011, so there may be changes.  It came in a zip file with Word document.  Formatting made it hard to read.

When History Makes You Feel Old

I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History today.  They had an exhibit for one of the Tucker cars, which is a car that failed due to fraud and business mismanagement.  Car is stunning though.  That is the actual color.

There was also an exhibit called American Stories.  Dorothy’s red shoes from The Wizard of Oz was in the exhibit.  They made news because the Smithsonian did a Kickstarter to raise money to restore them.  The exhibit also had Archie and Edith Bunker’s chairs and Ernie from Sesame Street.

It also had one of the first computers that came out.

I remember getting one of those.  My father was a computer engineer and he was trying to come up with fusion, so he bought a Heathkit H-89 about 1980.  In those days, you could go to the Heathkit store and buy a product like a computer or a stereo or a clock and build it yourself.

The computer was all one piece–screen, keyboard, and floppy disk drives.   It was so new at the time that he didn’t have the hard drives we’re used to now.  Instead, we booted up the computer with the floppy disk.  The ones that immediately followed it were pretty primitive by today’s standards.  I had a Commodore-64, which I used to write screenplays.  Absolutely no redundancies or error protection.  I was writing along, tried to save the file, and computer informed me there wasn’t enough room on the disk and aborted.

It’s a long way from the ones of today.

But seeing computers like what you owned in a museum … oh yeah, I feel old!