Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Doofus Of The Day #908

Today's award goes to all the racist idiots who tried to use the tragic incident at Cincinnati Zoo, in which a young toddler was injured and a gorilla shot and killed, to instigate racial tensions.  Breitbart reports that "angry black people in social media forums ... have been blaming the incident on entrenched white privilege".

Unfortunately for such idiots, the photographic evidence is clear:

The child was black, not white.

I suppose this proves, yet again, the wisdom of Abraham Maslow:  "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."  Since such people can only see the world through racist spectacles, it's understandable (even though lamentable and detestable) that they should see such an incident in the same light.  However, it also demonstrates their lack of honesty and integrity more clearly than almost anything else could.  They deserve neither our consideration nor our attention.


Monday, May 30, 2016

"Brings The Lightning": a first week report-back

My latest book and first Western novel, 'Brings The Lightning', was published a week ago today.

I honestly didn't know what to expect, and neither did my publisher, because of three factors:

  1. The Western market has been moribund for many years, abandoned by most of the bigger publishers and invaded by romance and erotica books that have little or nothing (besides their setting) to do with authentic Westerns.  It's difficult to judge the level of interest in a revival of the 'classic' Western such as 'Brings The Lightning'.
  2. We weren't sure whether my readers (who are accustomed to this blog, as well as science fiction novels from me) would be interested in a Western, and prepared to invest their money in one.
  3. We weren't sure how best to promote the novel to an audience interested in Westerns.  That was, and remains, a steep learning curve for us.

Despite those difficulties, the book has done moderately well.  It's sold close to a thousand copies in its first week on the market.  It's also attracted more (and more positive) reviews than any other novel I've written.  At the time of writing there are 34 reviews, of which 9 are 4-star and 25 5-star.  That's very gratifying, and I'm glad so many of you have enjoyed the book so much that you wanted to share that with other potential readers.  I'm particularly pleased with the lack of reviews of 3 stars and below.  Clearly, I've been able to improve my writing (with the help of my editor) to the point that some previous weaknesses have been addressed.  I'll strive to continue that improvement in future books.

A major sticking point is that most of those buying and reading 'Brings The Lightning' have been previous readers of either my books, or others published by Castalia House, or those published by the author-contributors to the Mad Genius Club writing blog.  This is clear from the 'also-boughts' on the book's Amazon web page (i.e. the series of books headlined, "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought").  There are few books listed there from the Western genre.  I've got to find a way to market my new novel directly to those who like Westerns.  It's obvious that nothing I've done so far is having that effect.  I'm exploring a number of options in that regard, including talking over the problem with experts, and there'll probably be some advertising in the not too distant future.  It'll take time to spread the word, but as that happens, I hope sales will improve.

Castalia House is hard at work on print and audiobook editions of 'Brings The Lightning'.  They should be available within a matter of weeks, so watch this space for details.  This will be my first venture into the audiobook market, so that's an exciting development.  If it's successful, we'll see about audio editions of some of my science fiction books as well.

All in all, I'm generally satisfied with the launch.  There's plenty of room for improvement in marketing, which I'll be tackling (with the able assistance of my wife and my publisher) over the next few weeks and months.  By the time the next book in the series comes out, about this time next year, I expect the ground to be much better prepared for its arrival.


More about Ray Carter

Following Ray Carter's death yesterday, I've heard from a few readers who didn't know him, and asked for more information.

Joe Huffman put up this post on his blog, which provides more background information about Ray.  I hope it'll help introduce him to those who didn't have the pleasure of knowing him.  Click over there to read more.


The Coopers Hill Cheese Roll is back!

After having been nobbled by the health and safety types for a couple of years, the Coopers Hill Cheese Roll and Wake is back!  We've covered earlier contests in these pages, and it's great to welcome back the revived tradition.

Here's sample footage of some of the runs this year.  You'll find more on YouTube.

Mad dogs and Englishmen - and, of course, wheels of Double Gloucestershire cheese . . .


Memorial Day 2016

It's that difficult time of year again - difficult for me, at any rate.  Every year on Memorial Day the USA remembers and honors those who died while serving in the armed forces.  That's laudable, and I share in their commemoration . . . but to me, there are so many more who should be part of that commemoration, but are not, because of the arbitrary cut-off of "served in the Armed Forces".  I know so many who died while doing their best to serve in wars and armed conflicts, but were never formally members of any military organization.  They are left out of celebrations like this, whereas a member of the armed forces who died of, say, appendicitis, or influenza, or something else unrelated to combat, is honored.  There's also the people who are left behind.  What about their sacrifice, their sorrow?  Why is that not honored too?

I still can't quite wrap my mind around those things.  I suppose that's part of being an immigrant to this country.  Our background, our perspective, is wider and more diverse than those who've grown up with the Memorial Day tradition.

I've said a lot in earlier years about what this day means to me.  I urge you to go and read those articles, if you haven't already done so.  One in particular - starred with asterisks below - can still bring tears to my eyes, because those memories have never grown less real to me;  in fact, they seem to grow more real over the years.  In chronological order, they are:

May all who served, and all who survived them, and all who gave their lives so that others (including ourselves) might know the blessings of peace, rest in peace.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

In Memoriam: Ray Carter (a.k.a. Freethinker)

I've just been informed that long-term friend, blogging buddy and Blogorado comrade-in-arms, Ray Carter, has died.

Ray had been suffering from a recurrence of cancer that he hoped he'd beaten a couple of years ago.  Sadly, this time, the cancer won.

Ray was an activist for gun rights.  He worked for the Second Amendment Foundation as its Director of Development, and was also active in the gay community, encouraging its members to defend themselves (lawfully, of course) against attack by those who stigmatized them in any way.  He was also a heck of a good guy in his own way, with an absolutely wicked sense of humor (which he would doubtless have preferred me to call "absolutely fabulous!").

So long, Ray.  It was good to know you.  Rest in peace, buddy, until (please God) we meet again.  Thanks for the memories.


It's not the size of the dog in the fight . . .

. . . it's the size of the fight in the dog, as Mark Twain put it.  Shamelessly stolen borrowed from C. W. Swanson:

I bet that dog was preening like mad as it trotted back to its owner.  "I showed 'em who's boss!"


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Lightning in very slow motion

Prof. Ningyu Liu, from NASA'S Geospace Physics Laboratory in Florida, recently filmed lightning using a special camera running at 7,000 frames per second.  Played back at 700 frames per second, the results are mesmerizing. Watch in full-screen mode for best results.

I'd love to see different types of lightning filmed like that - not just forked or chain lightning, but sheet and ball as well.  It gives a whole new perspective on the subject.


The Guardian's series on cities is complete

Back in March I mentioned that the Guardian had begun a series of 50 articles on the history of urbanization, under the overall title 'The Story of Cities'.  It's just completed the series with two wrap-up articles, 'What will our growing megacities really look like?' and 'The tales we missed'.

All 52 articles are now available at a single Web site, where you can read a little about each of the 50 cities covered and click on the article(s) concerned for more information.  It's a great resource for anyone interested in urbanization and the development of civilization - and a stark warning of what can happen when such developments are imposed from outside, rather than allowed to develop naturally.  (Not that the latter are always great, either, but at least there isn't some mastermind making decisions for people!)

Recommended reading.


The kid's never going to forget this!

And he has the coolest dad!

No word on what his mom had to say about it . . .


Friday, May 27, 2016

Special Forces and the threat of technological disruption

War on the Rocks asks whether emerging technologies threaten the mission of Special Forces.

What happens when the capabilities that we give to special operators can instead be deployed by amateurs? How will the special operations community respond?

. . .

To complete its missions in an increasingly chaotic world, U.S. special operations forces (SOF) must learn to rapidly adopt technologies that may only be months old. Just as machine intelligence transformed the professional chess circuit — today’s top chess teams are human-machine hybrids — so too must SOF evolve and drive emerging capabilities more deeply into its operational elements.

Fortunately for those involved in planning, training, and executing sensitive and special operations, no nuanced actor has yet synthesized all of these new tools into a precise instrument. But there are signs of experimentation by America’s potential adversaries, most notably in the special operations campaign run by the Russian government during its annexation of Ukraine.

. . .

For years we’ve been seeing an exponential increase in computer and communication capabilities. Exponential growth looks linear until it hits an inflection point. Are we there? Perhaps. The iPad 2, released in 2011, was more powerful than the 1985 Cray-2 Supercomputer, which cost $35 million in today’s dollars.

This comparison illustrates the commoditization of so-called “national technical means.” What was once the sole provenance of nation states can now be purchased at the corner store, and the downward price pressure on these capabilities is not limited to the digital spectrum. Unmanned aerial vehicles with cutting-edge optics, built and used by nation states for over half a century, are now available for the cost of a meal at a modest restaurant.

Combining sensors, actuators, transducers, and other analog and digital components hereto unknown provide a potential generational leap in asymmetric capability by non-state actors and non-elite units of potential competitor nations. How can we continue to man, train, and equip the best special operations forces in the world when the same capabilities they employ, which cost us billions of dollars to acquire and train up, are available to a weekend hobbyist for a few hundred dollars?

There's much more at the link.  Thought-provoking reading.

I suggest one place to start would be with Israel.  It's a highly technological society, reflected in the training and equipment of its defense forces.  It's facing terrorist opponents who are doing precisely as the above article postulates;  using over-the-counter technology to aid their operations.  Hezbollah has already deployed unmanned aerial vehicles operationally, and operates a drone base in Lebanon.  It's also intercepted radio transmissions from Israeli drones and used that intelligence operationally.  (The same was done more recently, in more sophisticated fashion, by US and British intelligence.)

Israel can probably teach us a lot about how to counter such dual-purpose technology.  I agree with the article's premise;  such technological overlap is going to make the life of our Special Forces troops - not to mention conventional forces - a lot more tricky.


Rest in peace, Sir. Mission accomplished.

I don't mind admitting that this report brought a tear to my eye.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector ... served ... with the 96th Bomb Group in 1945 as a radio operator and gunner on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, flying eight combat missions over Germany during the spring of the war's final year. On four of these missions, his plane came under heavy fire. One almost proved catastrophic, and the plane returned to base with holes dotting its wings.

. . .

On May 6, Rector stepped foot on British soil for the first time in 71 years. The group first visited RAF Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon.

Rector toured Battle of Britain Bunker, an underground command center where fighter airplane operations were directed during D-Day. After climbing back into the sunlight, he told Jowers he felt dizzy. She grabbed one of his arms, and a stranger grabbed the other.

There, just outside the bunker where Winston Churchill famously said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few," Rector died quietly.

"He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done," Jowers said.

. . .

Before repatriating his remains to the United States, a small service for the fallen hero was planned in Britain. It did not remain a small service.

"They just wanted something very simple. And when I found a little bit of background out about Melvin, there was no way we were going to just give him a very simple service," Neil Sherry, the British funeral director in charge of Rector's service, told ITV London News. "I wanted it to be as special as possible."

Though Jowers expected no more than four people, word of Rector's war record reached the American and British Armed Forces. The American Embassy donated a flag to drape over his coffin, and the room filled with servicemen and women and London historians who had never met Rector but wanted to pay their respects to their spiritual brother in arms.

There's more at the link.  I highly recommend clicking over there and reading it in full.

Here's a British news report on MSgt. Rector's funeral.

May MSgt. Rector rest in the peace he earned the hard way.



Here's your timewaster for this morning.  Watch in full-screen mode for best results.

Someone took an awful lot of time and energy to put that together.  Well done, sir or ma'am!