gridlore: Army Infantry school shield over crossed infantry rifles (Army Infantry)
It's a pretty hot day here in the Valley of Silicon. Not terrible, that's still to come, but exceeding warm. Call it about 85 degrees right now. It's much warmer in Offhand Manor (our name for the apartment) and will turn into an Easy-Bake Oven as the summer progresses.

But as much as I dislike the extreme heat, and it's worse since all my health problems, hot days like this always trigger a memory for me, one that explains my fascination with storm gods.

Back in 1984-85, I was a stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Home of the Infantry, Benning was situated on a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River valley and the city of Columbus, Ga. It is the largest infantry training base in the world. It is also subject to some extreme weather.

The winters were cold, with rain and snow. Spring and autumn were pretty brief. Then there was summer. Summers in the Deep South have to be experienced to be believed. The heat and humidity are unbearable. Moving into the pine forests was like walking into an oven. The sun beat down like an angry god's hammer in some cosmic forge. Smart people retreated to air-conditioned homes and offices or escaped to Flat Rock Park to spend the day lying in the cool water.

We weren't smart, we were U.S. Army Infantry.

But a couple of times a week, we got a reprieve. An even that cut through the muggy heat and renewed our will to live. We were visited by the storm god.

Picture the scene: a company of infantry moving through one of the vast training areas. You are all dressed in camouflage Battle Dress Uniforms, wearing steel helmets, and carrying up to 60lbs of equipment. Everyone's faces and arms are coated in camouflage paint. The temperature has soared past 90 with no sign of stopping. The humidity is also in the low 90s. The air is thick as molasses, and there isn't a hint of a breeze. You feel as if you stood still, you would use up all the oxygen around you.

Your M-16A1 weighed about eight pounds when you started out. Now it weighs a ton. Your shirt is soaked with sweat, and you can feel your socks squishing in your boots. You're limited in the number of times you can drink from your canteen. Every gulp of air burns your throat.

Then you come to a clearing and looking west, you see that someone has stolen the sky. A wall of black thunderheads, towering like the walls of hell, sliding across Alabama towards your position. Flickers of lightning light portions of the clouds in unearthly shades of green and purple. Beneath the cloud, you can see the shifting curtain of rain. The storm is coming, and coming fast.

Around you, AN/PRC-77 backpack radios come to life with chatter. The order comes down: get into the tree line and stack all metal gear at a designated point. Those who have been through this a few times tie condoms around the muzzles of their weapons. Then we disperse. And still, the storm comes.

The air remains still and lifeless. You take off your BDU blouse and use it as an improvised rain cover. Nobody bothers with the issue ponchos, they are useless and hot.

Suddenly, the wind stirs, quickly rising to a steady wind. The temperature drops like a rock, and where you were near heat exhaustion minutes ago, now you're shivering in your sweat-soaked t-shirt. The air becomes like the finest crystal glass. What was blurred in the distance seconds ago is now in perfect focus.

With almost no warning, the sky goes black and an assault of rain and hail comes down. The sky goes blue-white against the black backdrop of clouds with lightning and the near-constant crash of thunder roars in your ears and shakes your bones. Above you, the clouds boil like a living thing. Lightning flashes from cloud to cloud, and slashes down to strike the proud pines standing on the hills and ridges.

And it keeps coming. The red clay dirt turns to mud and tiny rivulets of water around you swell to small streams. You realize that you are actually sinking into the mud, and shift to a solid root. Then it comes.

For the briefest moment, the entire world turns white. A millisecond later an angry ancient spirit, freed from confinement and hungry for vengeance, bellows a war cry that smashes into your entire body. As you blink away the spots, you hear something over the ringing in your ears and the pounding rain and hail.

Cheering. Every man in your company is yelling at the top of their lungs, and you realize that you are as well. You don't know why. It just feels right, and you go with it.

Soon enough, the front passes. The God of Storms allows the Sun God to return. You're a mess, soaked through and coated in red mud. You retrieve your gear and set to cleaning it. But you know this is Fort Benning in summer.

You know that there are good odds that the Storm God of the South will be back tomorrow.

Yeah, sometimes I miss Georgia.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
History and fantasy literature and filled with tales of lost cities and tribes, people cut off from the main course of events and left to their own devices for centuries, until found by accident. There are still places in the world where tribal people still live in the stone age. The vast Amazon basin in South America potentially has thousands of isolated tribes living in its vast reaches. Papua New Guinea also still hold many mysteries, including constant tales of uncontacted tribes wholly unaware of the modern world. Even in the frozen wastes of Siberia, there are reports of nomadic peoples who run from any contact.

But none of them can hold a candle to the people of North Sentinal Island. More than 745 miles from mainland India and just 87 miles from Sumatra at the nearest, North Sentinel Island is found at the west of the Andaman Islands. It is a mere 27.8 square miles, roughly twenty percent bigger than the area of Manhattan. The island is surrounded by jagged reefs, with only a few openings usable only at high tide. The local climate is stormy, with unpredictable storms and surges. All of which has made the Sentinelese the most isolated people in human history.

How isolated? It wasn't until 1867 that anyone was known to have landed on the island when an Indian ship called the Ninevah was wrecked on its beach. The 106 survivors set up a temporary camp and were attacked a few days later.

They managed to fend off the worst of the onslaught but, if it hadn’t been for a Royal Navy steamer which arrived shortly after to rescue them, it is unlikely the terrified group would have survived. After that, the island was wisely left along for another century. In 1974 a documentary crew from the National Geographic Society accompanied and Indian Navy contact team to North Sentinal.

The team left gifts; coconuts, knives, small tools, and the like, and retreated to their boats to wait. Only after the boats had moved a fair distance into the lagoon did the Sentinelese emerge. The replied to the gifts with aggressive posturing, similar to ritual war dances seen around the globe. When that didn't drive the boats off, they started shooting arrows using their huge longbows. The film director was hit in the leg. The arrow was over 8 feet long.

After a few more attempts at contact, the Indian government placed a ban on visiting or even approaching North Sentinal Island. It was a good plan, until to fisherman who had been poaching in the region drifted too close to the island. The Indian helicopter that tried to retrieve the bodies from where they had been killed was driven off by arrow fire coming from the dense jungle.

Here's the kicker. The tribal people on the other Andaman Islands refer to North Sentinel only as a place of death, they've never gone near it for as far back as their histories go. We know from archeological research and genetic heritage testing that the Andamans were first settled as long as 60,000 years ago. It's possible that the Sentinelese have been living in xenophobic isolation for ten times the length of human recorded history. It is entirely possible that they are the direct descendants of the first humans to move out of Africa.

It's possible. The island is practically a second Garden of Eden. The Andaman chain is home to many wild fruits and berries, and the wide lagoon is filled with fish. Migratory birds make nests on the island, providing a source of meat and eggs. So food isn't an issue. The island is large enough for an estimated population of anywhere between 400 and 1,000. Large enough to prevent inbreeding issues. The reef even provided a natural barrier to the effects of the 2004 Christmas Tsunami.

They've never had to develop the ability to sail the ocean. Never, as far as we can tell, had any need to tame fire. No need for clothing. None of the modern vices, as far as we can tell. They are a people frozen in time, a snapshot of our Neolithic ancestors.

But I can't stop wondering who they are as a people. We know, from the abortive contact programs of the 60s and 70s that they have a language. We saw what appeared to be a social order where one man was given orders. They laughed, told each other things that made them laugh, maybe laughing at their visitors. Then with no warning bows were raised and the threat-dancing began. What did we do?

How do they live? Do they sing tales of their ancestors? Where do they live? Do they build shelters? Who is in charge at home? What do they think of us? Why are they so hostile to outsiders?

Just how long have they been on that island?

All questions I'm never going to learn the answer to in this lifetime. Because the Sentinelese have made it clear that they aren't interested in our world. And as I watch the grainy video of their children playing on the beach under the watchful eyes of family, I have to wonder if maybe they aren't the ones who got it right.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
For a couple of years now I've going to a writing "class" offered by Santa Clara Adult Education. I put class in quotes because the format is more of a writing group, with people reading their works as the rest read along, and then offering comments and suggestions.

It's been amazingly good for me, both in terms of my mental health and in encouraging me to write on a more regular basis. Each session is four weeks, meeting on Monday mornings, with 4-5 sessions a year. There is a core of regulars who come to class after class, some for years. I've made good friends there, and I'm especially proud to call Rafael my friend. He's a 94-year-old retired US Marine who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Never once loaded a weapon, as the Marines realized very early that he could type and had been taking accounting classes. He's an incredible writer, and we have to keep him away from the women, as he remains an incurable flirt.

I am the youngest in the class by at least a decade. Which I don't mind at all, I love listening to the others' stories and memories. I like that my best friend in class is a fellow writer of fantasy and really value the feedback I get from them.

Then there's Ralph. Oh, dear Halford, there's Ralph.

Ralph is a nice enough guy, a retired engineer (like several people in the group) who wants to write fiction. However, there's a slight problem. He can't write to save his life. I wish I was kidding about this, but his work is just jaw dropping.

First of all, he writes like he's still writing engineering papers. Everything is stiff and formal, overloaded with technical details. In a series of stories he wrote about two women rowing across the Atlantic, he detailed every single building they passed while rowing down the East River towards the sea. No emotion about setting out on the trip, no description of the smell of the water, the weather, the sound of the oars in their docks . . . just a monotonous list of places. He does that all the time.

Then there are his characters. Think of the worst-acted movie you've ever seen. That's how his characters speak. Stange declarative sentences that pop out of nowhere, spoken with no emotion. No emotional reactions at all. In his latest masterpiece, a man with his family at the Santa Monica Pier realizes that the Big One is imminent, and races to reach the Mt. Wilson Observatory. At no time in this story do any of the adults question this action. Nor do any of the children react to suddenly pulled from a fun day at the beach in the traditional childish way. No one objects when a near stranger joins them.

It drives me crazy.

But today took the cake. I literally had to keep myself from screaming or writing "YOU ARE A HACK!" in giant letters across his latest. Because in today's installment, the characters, at the conveniently abandoned Mt. Wilson facility, having found the fully equipped arms locker found at all the best observatories, decide to take target practice. Just as two Evil Dudes on horses ride up. Remember, this was happening as target practice was underway. Evil Dudes seem to think that all the gun shots were signs that the people there were easy pickings. Two dead Evil Dudes and a rescued boy.

But afterward, we were confused about how long the Swiss Family Woebegone had been up there. "Oh, several months." Was Ralph's reply.

Several months. Let that roll around your head. He was writing about a quake and tsunami that devastated the Los Angeles basin. WHERE THE FUCK DID HE THINK THE REST OF THE COUNTRY HAD GONE? There would have been National Guard, FEMA, Red Cross, mutual support from fire departments across the state, aid coming in from Mexico. . . he just thought that a big earthquake in L.A. would be ignored.

Niven and Pournelle did it better, dude, and their end of the world novel was a racist, misogynistic mess.

He's no better reading your stuff. He misses the obvious and gets diverted by pointless details. I can't begin to calculate how much time has been wasted explaining to Ralph things that were in the work to begin with. As an example, I wrote a piece about our visit last year to the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul. I included how pleased I was to find a relief of Teshub. I gave his entire history, explaining how the storm god of the Hurrians moved west into Lydia and Greece, becoming Zeus along the way, and giving us the idea of God as a man sitting on a cloud.

Ralph's first comment? "This thing about Teshub, I feel I'd need to know who he is to appreciate it." I almost killed him.

He is the only thing about the group I don't like, and I can tolerate him. But I needed to get this rant out.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
But between weather extremes and the never-ending back troubles, I've been hard-pressed to find the energy to write.

This is a writing experiment to describe the bridge of the battleship Vajra, from Task Force Singh, my proposed National Novel Writing Month Project.

A couple of things. "kps" is kilometers per second, the standard measure of velocity. 1 kps is 2,237 miles per hour. These ships really move!

"mpss" or "mips" is meters per second squared. This a measure of acceleration. The Vajra can accelerate at 50mpss. Earth's gravity is 9.8 meters per second squared, so if it wasn't for the artificial gravity, people on the Vajra would experience over five times Earth's gravity at full acceleration.

"LS" is a light second, a unit of distance, 299,792 km.

--

"Captain, Glaser orbital control has cleared the squadron to depart. We have been cleared to departure area 117 by 230."

From his command chair, Singh nodded. It had been a productive visit, shoring up relations between the empire and the neutral Glaser Republic. But he doubted he could stand one more banquet. "Very well. Set the course and have the squadron set into travel formation."

He consulted his private plot on his repeater. "Engineering, please bring us to 75,000 kps once we clear the planet." Singh shifted his attention to the young officer of the deck. "Commander, set Condition Four and secure for movement. I will be in my office if I'm needed."

Satisfied that the small squadron was moving out according to orders, Singh walked the short distance to his day cabin, just to the rear of the bridge. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he settled at his desk with a sigh. Running a ship seemed to involve never-ending paperwork to keep the Fleet offices happy, and now he had to compile a report for the Foreign Office on the visit to Glaser.

He had barely begun that task when the door buzzer went off. 20 minutes, Singh thought, barely 20 minutes before I'm interrupted. "Come in!" he shouted, trying to hide the irritation in his voice. It was Khan, his executive. And he had a grin on his face.

"Alright, Ahriman, care to share the joke?" Singh said while Commander Khan helped himself to a mug of coffee.

"Did you happen to notice Lt. Metz just now?" Khan said as he settled onto the spartan bunk across from the desk.

"I was a little occupied," Singh admitted, a smile growing on his own face. "Was our favorite a little worse for wear?"

"He looked like the gravity was off. Holding onto a grab rail for dear life. My sources tell me he was half-carried aboard by several fellow officers just shy of curfew."

Singh chuckled. "Oh, dear me! Was it too much drinking? A whirlwind love affair? A blood feud with nefarious characters?"

"All three, if the stories are to be believed. Ah, to be young again! To hit dirtside leave with visions of wine, women, and song!"

"That was you, Ahriman. I don't drink and am a terrible singer. Which left me the women!"

Their laughter was interrupted by a call on the overhead speaker. "Captain to the bridge." Both Singh and Khan quickly returned to the bridge, waving the crew back to their seats as they entered.

The rating manning the Signals console remained standing. "Sir, Glaser Control is monitoring at least four hyperspace bowshocks approaching the system. They are not scheduled, and there isn't a known route to account for their approach vector. Control requests that we divert to meet these ships." The young rating fidgeted for a second, clearly wondering if he had to remain standing after his report, before awkwardly taking his seat.

Singh absent-mindedly stroked his beard as he stared at the large holographic main plot. The tactical officer had already updated the plot with this new data. Commander Khan leaned over to speak in Singh's ear. "It is part of the treaty, and we know there have been some pretty heavy raiding being done in this general area."

Singh nodded. "Absolutely." He raised his voice. "Set Condition Three. All hands prepare for battle stations." He looked to his left at the helm station. "Set a course that brings us to intercept in four hours. Let engineering know we're going to be making the turn. I want to enter the potential battle area at no more than 750 kps. Signals, send confirmations to Glaser control. Alert the squadron that I'm going to want formation Gamma one hour before arrival at the intercept point."

As Singh sat back on his couch, doing the math on intercepts in his head, Commander Khan spoke up. "You heard the Captain, now move! This is a battleship, not a luxury cruise! Get to work!"

Soon the bridge was filling with the battle staff. Every console was now manned. All eight gunnery control officers filled the sunken area known to everyone as the pit. Three ratings and a control officer at Signals. The A crew for the Sensors team. All ready to pass on information and command decisions. Singh allowed himself a slight smile. This was a good crew.

The squadron raced through the empty system, every sensor probing the area where the unknown ships would likely emerge from hyperspace. At one hour out, Commander Khan commanded "Set Condition Two." Klaxons blared across the ship. On the bridge, half the staff hurried out to a nearby ready room, returning in a very short time in combat vacuum gear. Then the other half repeated the act. When everyone else was suited up, Singh retreated to his day cabin to don his own suit, bright white with orange and red recognition panels and the Fleet Captain insignia comically large on his chest.

Once back on the bridge, he double checked that everyone was hooked into the ship's air supply and was ready for action. Captains did have to do that, but it helped morale. Satisfied, Singh returned to his own couch and hooked in.

Mere minutes later, the sensor team sat bolt upright, as if they had been shocked. "Captin, multiple hyperspace emergences at 012 by 362. Evaluate as two Kian-class armored cruisers, one Divad-class battle cruiser, and a large transport, class unknown. Updated to the main plot."

A few scant seconds later, the call came from the tactical officer. "We are being painted, multiple targeting lasers."

"Well, they wish to play? Set Condition One, battle stations." As the klaxon sounded again, Singh leaned forward toward the plot and addressed the chief gunnery officer. "Commander Khatib, you may fire when ready."
gridlore: Army Infantry school shield over crossed infantry rifles (Army Infantry)
Today is Camerone Day.

The French Army was besieging Puebla.

The mission of the Legion was to ensure the movement and safety of the convoys, over an 80 mile distance. On the 29th of April 1863, Colonel Jeanningros was informed that an important convoy was on its way to Puebla, with a load of 3 million francs, and material and munitions for the siege. Captain Danjou, his quartermaster, decided to send a company to escort the convoy. The 3rd company of the Foreign Regiment was assigned to this mission, but had no officers available. So Captain Danjou, himself, took the command and 2nd lieutenants Maudet, company guide, and Vilain, the paymaster, joined him voluntarily.

On the 30th of April, at 1 a.m., the 3rd company was on its way, with its 3 officers and 62 men. At 7 a.m., after a 15 mile march, it stopped at Palo Verde in order to get some rest. At this very moment, the enemy showed up and the battle began. Captain Danjou made the company take up a square formation and, even though retreating, he victoriously drove back several cavalry charges, inflicting the first heavy losses on the enemy .

By the inn of Camerone, a large building with a courtyard protected by a wall 3 meters high, Danjou decided to stay, in order to keep the enemy and so delay for as long as possible, any attacks on the convoy.

While the legionnaires were rapidly setting up the defense of the inn, a Mexican officer demanded that Captain Danjou surrender, pointing out the fact that the Mexican Army was greatly superior in number.

Danjou's answer was: "We have munitions. We will not surrender." Then, he swore to fight to the death and made his men swear the same. It was 10 a.m. Until 6 p.m., these 60 men who had had nothing to eat or drink since the day before, in spite of the extreme heat, of the thirst and hunger, resisted against 2,000 Mexicans: 800 cavalry and 1,200 infantry.

At noon, Captain Danjou was shot in the chest and died. At 2 p.m., 2nd lieutenant Vilain was shot in the head. About this time, the Mexican colonel succeeded in setting the inn on fire.

In spite of the heat and the smoke, the legionnaires resisted, but many of them were killed or injured. By 5 p.m., only 12 men could still fight with 2nd lieutenant Maudet. At this time, the Mexican colonel gathered his soldiers and told them what disgrace it would be if they were unable to defeat such a small number of men. The Mexicans were about to give the general assault through holes opened in the walls of the courtyard, but Colonel Milan, who had previously asked 2nd lieutenant Maudet to surrender, once again gave him the opportunity to. Maudet scornfully refused.

The final charge was given. Soon, only 5 men were left around Maudet; Corporal Maine, legionnaires Catteau, Wensel, Constantin and Leonard. Each had only one bullet left. In a corner of the courtyard, their back against the wall, still facing the enemy, they fixed bayonets. When the signal was given, they opened fire and fought with their bayonets. 2nd lieutenant Maudet and 2 legionnaires fell, mortally wounded. Maine and his 2 remaining companions were about to be slaughtered when a Mexican officer saved them. He shouted: "Surrender!"

"We will only if you promise to allow us to carry and care for our injured men and if you leave us our guns".

"Nothing can be refused to men like you!", answered the officer.

Captain Danjou's men had kept their promise; for 11 hours, they had resisted 2,000 enemy troops. They had killed 300 of them and had injured as many. Their sacrifice had saved the convoy and they had fulfilled their mission.

Emperor Napoleon III decided that the name of Camerone would be written on the flag of the Foreign Regiment and the names of Danjou, Vilain and Maudet would be engraved in golden letters on the walls of the Invalides, in Paris.

Moreover, a monument was built in 1892, at the very place of the fight. The following inscription can be read there:

Ils furent ici moins de soixante
Opposés à toute un armée,
Sa masse les écrasa.
La vie plutôt que le courage
Abandonna ces soldats Français
Le 30 avril 1863.


"Here there were less than sixty opposed to a whole army. Its mass crushed them. Life abandoned these French soldiers before courage. The 30th of April 1863."
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
I really need to thank my old high school friend Bruce Norbeck for pointing me at two great books. Since Task Force Singh is drawing from WWI naval combat, he suggested I read "Dreadnought" and "Castles of Steel," both by Robert K. Massie. The first is an account of the rapid expansion of both the Royal Navy and the Imperial High Seas Fleet in an age where a ten-year-old ship was already hopelessly obsolete. Imagine the tech cycle we experience with computers, but instead of laptops, we're talking about heavily gunned ships carrying close to a thousand crew members.

From that book, I harvested a treasure-trove of characters and background details to set the action. Then I dove into Castles, which more about the conduct of the war at sea, and it was there that I found that one piece I had been missing.

See, what inspired me to write Task Force Singh was the pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau, two German ships sent to bolster the Turkish Navy. This led to a tense hunt across the Mediterranean as ships of the Royal Navy, not yet at war with Germany, tried to track the Germans and prevent them from reaching Constantinople.

Spoiler, they made it. And when the Russian ambassador to the Sublime Porte complained about two German warships in the Bosporus, he was told that these were, in fact, Turkish ships. See the crew in their (hastily issued) fezzes?

So while it's a great story, there's very little action. Beyond a few breakdowns and concerns about coaling, the two forces just watched each other. I was going to have ti invent action. Also, the reason for the Goeben and Breslau to travel to the Ottoman capital makes little sense in space, even with my restrictions on the duration and distance of interstellar flight. Those ships were there to deny passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles to the Russians. I was going to have to stretch to find a local system that would work as such a choke point.

Which brings us to the other great chase I learned about in Castles of Steel. The German East Asia Squadron, based out of Tsingtao in Mainland China (know you know why Tsingtao beer is so good. Germans) found itself, as war loomed, in a very bad spot. Filled with older ships, surrounded by large forces of the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy, and probably facing the fleets of Japan and Russia as well, staying put was an invitation to a quick death.

So they ran. Across the Pacific. Heading for South America to engage in commerce raiding. That is a long way to go in coal-fired ships, so they had to stop to coal at neutral ports, raided French Polynesia, and sent a cruiser to Hawaii to pick up the mail. One cruiser, SMS Emden, was too slow to accompany the squadron, so stayed behind to raid until sunk.

The East Asia Squadron was commanded by Admiral von Spee, who swore that he would fight until he ran out of ammo or was destroyed. Of the coast of Chile, he annihilated one British force before being decimated himself in the Battle of the Falklands.

Which means I can combine the two events. Task Force Singh starts as a small unit assigned to protect a small colony far from home. Upon war breaking out, they are ordered to hit and run, concentrating on merchants whenever possible, and try to make it back home. This gives me several more ships to work with, meaning I get to kill more characters! Yay!

It also gives me two, possibly three big battles. The one where the Vajra and company defeat a Peacekeeper force in detail, the one where he wanders into an ambush, and possibly one near the end, although I'm trying to avoid a death ride. I'm not David bloody Weber.

After the losing battle, the mood shifts to a pursuit, as the battered ships race for safety being pursued by the admiral sent to destroy this threat. Very high tension as the damaged ships see systems fail due to battle damage or the effects of travel in hyperspace, the surviving ships are overcrowded with survivors of lost vessels, and the strain of each entry into every new system rises every time.

I really like how this is shaping up. I just to sketch out some characters for the major ships, and at least name commanders, figure out the composition of the fleets involved, and I'm ready to start outlining!

This may actually happen!
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Subject to change.

Hey Kids, Let's Put On A Religion!

Friday 15:00 - 16:30, Synergy 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

Let's build a God, and a religion to go with it. The audience will help the panelists create a theology and talk about our concepts of divinity, morality, and authority.

Douglas Berry, Colin Fisk (M), Fr John Blaker, Tory Parker, Prof. David McGaffey

Dystopian Space Opera from Ancillary Justice to Rogue One

Sunday 13:00 - 14:30, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

Loren Rhoads (M), Juliette Wade, Douglas Berry, Andrew Clark

Military Science Fiction

Sunday 17:30 - 19:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

James Jones (M), J. L. Doty, Douglas Berry, Tory Parker, Michael Garcia

How To Build Your Own Death Cart Using Only A Parrot

Sunday 19:00 - 20:30, Connect 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

The Programming Ninjas respectfully decline to be held responsible for Doug Berry. He was like this when we got him.

Douglas Berry (M), Steven Mix
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
I'm still deep in research and character creation for Task Force Singh and hope to have more concrete bits for all of you at some point soon. I've been dealing with some other issues that have kept me from being as diligent as I should be. Again, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

But I must admit that I've been pleased with the feedback I've been getting, and want to address some of the comments and suggestions I've received both on Dreamwidth and on Facebook. Let's make this a great ship and setting!

First of all, on further research, I'm changing something I stated earlier. At first, I didn't want ships traveling in hyperspace subject to detection by ships and stations in normal space. While reading multiple descriptions of naval combat in Castles of Steel, it's become clear that "spotting smoke" was quite often the signal for ships to rig for battle, or at least go to a higher state of readiness until the approaching ship or ships could be identified.

So now ships in hyper can be detected, but that detection is limited to the knowledge that there is something moving nearby in hyperspace. Extended observation can reveal a general course and measurement of speed, and in the case of multiple contacts, a rough count. But nothing beyond the roughest idea of size. At some points, three cruisers traveling together could present the signature of a single battleship.

While this ability is most important to solar systems for traffic control and the early warning of hostile craft, it also aides ships traveling as a squadron in station keeping. To keep the fog of war intact, this sort of detection isn't always available or certain. As with everything, distance equals loss of signal strength, so if the ship approaches a system far from the detectors, there will be little warning.

The same goes for ships in transit together. It is quite possible for a ship to wander "off the beam" and lose track of their squadron. Since warships travel under strict orders, it's entirely possible that a UN Destroyer, as an example, might not know the final destination of their group.

I almost used "flotilla" there. While I can transfer a lot of naval terms, that one won't fly.

A number of people asked about the Vajra's ship's mascot. While it's a fun idea, I'm vetoing that one. Hyperspace travel is harmful to anything that requires electrical fields to operate, including pretty much all forms of life that we know of. So it would be heartless to subject an innocent animal to the constant trauma of FTL flight, especially on a ship that makes runs of frankly dangerous distances at high speeds, two factors that increase the onset and severity of Hyperspace Adaptation Syndrome. Sorry, no space monkeys on the Vajra.

Nicknames. This one has come up a few times. Since Vajra means both thunderbolt and diamond, I'm thinking The Big Bolt. I'd love to connect to some Hindi speakers to find what a properly scatological nickname bestowed by the lower-ranking crew. I have a list of Hindi pejoratives to use when it comes to what the engineers call the engines, power plants, and all the damn things that break.

Ship's traditions. I'm open to suggestions. Just remember this is a ship of the Deep Space Fleet, under strict military discipline, operating in an environment where everything can kill you. So shenanigans should be subdued.

The Vajra was the first of her class to be built. Going back to the Dreadnought building war of the late 19th century, we can say that the Vajra was the first of her kind to be built. Perhaps it was a quantitative improvement in gravitics or fusion plant output that allowed for more heavy guns to be carried with more armor without sacrificing real-space acceleration or speed in hyperspace.

The real revolution in the Vajra-class was not installing Autonomous Attack Vehicle tubes and support in addition to the grasers. The Vajra was designed to be a brawler, built with ten 200 Gigajoule grasers in heavy two gun turrets, 12 108 Gigajoule graser turrets, and 12 64 Gigajoule rapid-fire grasers in barbettes. Devastating at close range, she has no long range punch. She was built to be the center of a squadron with other ships handling the AAV duties.

The changes were probably mostly cosmetic in the later hulls. No two warships are identical, and in her long life, the Vajra has probably been overhauled several times. The main difference between DSF Vajra and her newer sisters is the latest generation battlewagons will be bigger, faster, and carry heavier guns. Which is why at the beginning of the book the Vajra and her battle group are flying the flag far from the main action.
gridlore: Photo: penguin chick with its wings outstretched, captioned "Yay!" (Penguin - Yay!)
Ah, the Fantastic Four. Along with Spider-Man, Marvel's iconic characters. For over fifty years, they've fought cosmic threats to our world, confronted Dr. Doom over and over, bickered endlessly, broken up and reformed . . . and made terrible movies.

I'm serious. There has never been a good FF movie. Which is a shame, because they deserve it. Because great movies are about great characters, and the Fantastic Four are filled with them. To that end, allow me to present my concept for a great Fantastic Four film.

First off, no origin story. I'm not wasting twenty minutes retelling the same story over. It doesn't matter how they got their powers, they have them. Secondly, we see them as an established team already. Forget the fumbling starts and transformative moments. They've been around probably as long as the Avengers. Which brings me to my third change: I'm moving them out of New York. NYC is filled with heroes already.

My first choice is Boston since it is close to both Harvard and MIT, both of which would appeal to Reed Richards. But let's go farther afield and send them to Los Angeles. CalTech and Harvey Mudd would be happy to have Reed around as an occasional guest lecturer, and God knows Angelinos love seeing LA destroyed in the movies.

Now, out characters. Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic. A brilliant scientist and engineer, with a body that is elastic and extremely durable. He can stretch his body out like rubber, and take blows that would kill a normal man dead. He's also autistic. It's so bloody clear to me. Reed is somewhere on the spectrum. He has trouble with interpersonal relationships, is more comfortable with his theories than practical life, and doesn't get most normal references. It's why he decided to fly an unauthorized flight in an experimental spaceship with his friends! I see Reed as being in his late thirties. Reed is married to . . .

Susan Storm-Richards, the Invisible Woman. Strong, independent, and deeply in love with Reed but growing frustrated with his habits. She sees herself as the designated adult of the group. Along with turning herself invisible, Sue can protect invisible force fields in almost any shape. She can use these to protect people, hold things up or down, or restrain a combatant. Sue is younger than Reed by about eight years in my vision. Sue's brother is . . .

Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Still in his mid-twenties, Johnny has been a thrill seeker all his life. Before becoming the Torch, he raced dirt bikes, surfed, and had gotten into BASE jumping. As the Human Torch, he can transform into a humanoid creature made of fire. In this form, he can fly, project blasts of concentrated flame from his hands, and is highly resistant to injury. As a last resort, Johnny can "nova burst", creating a massive high-temperature explosion centered on himself. He is usually shocked back to human form and left drained by this act. Johnny is the one member of the team who revels in what he's become; accepting endorsement deals and dating starlets.

Lastly, Benjamin Grimm, the Thing. Left feeling deeply isolated by his transformation into a rock-skinned monster, Ben is often angry and sarcastic, lashing out at both friends and foes. He still blames Reed for the trip that led to this state for him. One thing I'd like to show in the film is Ben's faith, as he is supposedly an observant Jew. As the Thing, Ben is immensely strong, able to life items weigh many tons easily. His rocky skin makes him nigh impossible to hurt, although he can still feel things the way most people do.

There's the main cast. We start the movie by zooming into the Baxter Building (wherever it ends up) and coming into a room where the team has for. . . a merchandising meeting. PowerPoint, bullet charts, the whole deal. One by one the team makes excuses to leave. Reed left an experiment running, Johnny has to make a date for a movie premier (just for fun, I want him to say he's meeting Alison Blaire for the film. Just a nod to the Dazzler fans.) Ben just announces he's bored and leaves. Sue looks at the executives and says that once again, she's left to make the decisions.

So we've set the dynamic. What follows is a set of attacks on each of the characters when they are away from each other. Reed gets attacked at Harvey Mudd (Cathy can tell me what building she wants to be trashed), Johnny gets ambushed at an after party, Ben while walking through a park. All these attacks are tough, but each member is able to fight them off. Except for Sue. She gets jumped and captured.

At which point the remaining team members receive a message. From Victor von Doom.

Doctor Doom is the classic megavillain. Arrogant, overwhelmingly powerful, yet honorable in his own way, he's been the FF's main antagonist for years. Always clad in his trademark armor, face always masked to hide his scars, he speaks of himself in the third person and is playing four-dimensional chess at all times. Doom has two goals. Bring the world to order under his rule, and the utter destruction of Reed Richards, who he blames for his injuries in their college days.

Again, I'm amused by the idea of Dr. Doom being a Mudder. West is Best, Crush the Others Like Vermin!

Anyway, the team comes together, tracks down where Doom is holding Sue, release her, and have the big battle against Doom. Just Doom. No waves of troops, no big hole in the sky, Just Dr, Doom in all his glory. The fight will be epic. But in the end, the heroes prevail. Doom falls, and the team pulls off his mask to reveal. . . a robot. It speaks.

"Were you so foolish as to think that Doom would bother with you personally so early in the game. This has been a test, and you all performed as I expected. Fear not, Richards, for the seeds of your destruction have been planted, and soon Doom will reap his just rewards."

Then the robot blows up. Credits

The after credits scene is six weeks later at an OB/GYN office where Sue is being told she's pregnant. The doctor says that everything looks normal, but because of the parents, they want to monitor it closely. Reed and Sue walk out, obviously back in love again. The receptionist watches them go as lines of green text scroll down her eyes.

This sets up the next film and the birth of Franklin Richards. The third movie can be the coming of Galactus, not just to eat the Earth, but to destroy the threat of Franklin Richards to the Universe itself!
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
OK, I've been really bad about writing. Which pisses me off after successfully finishing the March challenge to write my 750 words every day of the month. I said I'd take a few days off, but I've gone way over that.

Part of it is stress. I'm dealing with the ongoing tumor treatments on my back. This is particularly annoying, as it is so drawn out. I have three sites. Each one has to get an approval for a biopsy, approval for a removal after the biopsy, and then repeating the process for the next site. The largest basal-cell tumor (the size of a freaking cashew) was removed, and the next removal is in two weeks. But this means that I have to do wound care and deal with some discomfort from having stitches in my back almost all the time.

Then there's the new tattoo. Yeah, I got it, and I was a stressed-out mess in the day leading up because, between my medical history and my history with bad tattoos, I was a bit worried about my appointment. Luckily, my tattoo artist, Alex at Black Dolphin, was great and I have my new tattoo is great! But again, I'm dealing with wound care for the tattoo. Still, love it.

Then there's simple writer's block. I can't tell you how many times I've opened 750words.com and just stared at the blank screen in frustration. I've tried my usual writing exercises, wrote rants about the Giants' slow start to the season that petered out after 200 words, and ended up rage-quitting the site.

Damn, it'd be nice to be able to drink booze on days like that.

But I'm trying. As I told Kirsten the other day, I need to buy a new notebook to organize my notes for the novel. I'm hoping to begin to block out a timeline and chapter outlines soon, along with a full list of major characters on both sides of the story. I can see where I want to go, the real task is getting things down. As this is going to be my National Novel Writing Month project, actual writing will commence November 1st. Expect calls for beta-readers around that time.

What else is going on, as I strive to find another 350 or so words to fill this out? Work on the Free Trailer Beowulf continues. This weekend, as the rains appear to have finally tapered off, we're painting the red stripe and the Imperial Sunburst man stencil. We tried to do the stripe with tape, but it didn't hold that well. So we have very nice red paint and a reflective covering coat. The Man is doing to be in black. We still need to make or buy the "Free Trailer Beowulf" lettering stencils.

Also on the list is installing the new roof vent. As I think I've mentioned before, the person who built this trailer installed a vent cover instead of an actual vent hatch that can be closed. This is an issue that probably led to the mold problem. We need to install and seal the new window we had cut at Tap Plastics. Finally, the guy who owns the custom door and window shop next to Kirsten's warehouse has offered to spray coat the interior with a dark stain and a sealing coat. Which will make the interior look amazing, as we've picked up glow-in-the-dark stars to put on the walls and ceiling.

It's going to be amazing when it's done. I just want it done. Which leads to another source of spoon-eating stress for me. I have a lot of trouble helping with these activities, because of the damage that I'd accumulated over the years. I get tired too fast, lose my words, and can't remember what I'm doing.

Such is life.

So, writing. I have to be better about this. I need to set aside a four-hour block each day for research, note-taking, writing drafts, and editing. I need to plot out some short stories and submit them until something sticks somewhere. I need to write enough articles for Chris Garcia until he gives up and produces the Douglas Berry issue of Journey Planet. I need to reclaim the discipline that I learned in the Army.

Because writing is what I have left. I'm never going to be a truck driver or dispatcher again. I can't go back to school with this Swiss-cheese brain, and my odd of getting drafted by the Giants to play left field are growing dimmer by the day. (Although, given the recent play of our outfield, you never know.)

So, this is a new start. They may not always make sense, but there will be something every day, or I'll tell you why I missed a day.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
I will occasionally answer a spam call by accident. Since 90% of them are robots, I just hang up. Today, it was a person, and I was bored.

Spammer: (the moment I say Hello) "I'm calling from the law firm of Identity, Theft, and Fraud about your recent accident. We want you to know that you are in line to get handsome compensation in damages.

Me: "Oh, that's wonderful! It was really terrible, you know."

Spammer: "I just need a few details, like your name . . ."

Me: (cutting him off) "I mean there we were just driving down the road, and we get hit by a train! Who knew those tracks were active? But anyway, our truck was totaled and we both died. I want to sue somebody!"

Spammer: ". . . died?"

Me: "Oh yeah, torn to bits. Luckily my big sister is a necromancer and was able to raise us both. Of course, now we have to avoid direct sunlight, can't enter holy ground, and feed off the flesh of the living, but at least we have our health, am I right?

Spammer: "If I could get your name, sir . . ."

Me: "I'm not comfortable doing this over the phone. If I give you my address could you send a representative over? Preferably one who works out, has a low body fat level, and no close relatives?"

Spammer: *click*
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)

HowManyOfMe.com
LogoThere are
286
people with my name in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?



gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
A look at one of the major, if not the most important, settings in Task
Force Singh: The GNJ Vajra, hull number BB-3126. The leading ship of her class, the Vajra has been in service for twenty years and is now considered a second-line capital ship.

Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning both thunderbolt and diamond. Additionally, it is a weapon won in battle which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). When it was first laid down, the new ship was the first of the big battleships to take advantages of improvements in materials technologies that allowed for heavier armor and more powerful weapons without sacrificing speed.

The ship is a slightly flattened cone 1,200 meters long and 500 meters wide at the stern. The interior decks are stacked perpendicular to the direction of thrust. There are 150 manned decks, which much of the interior space given over to power plants and munitions storage.

Beginning at the bow, you find a cluster of sensor arrays and the navigational deflector, a weak gravitational beam used to push dust and pebbles aside at high speeds. Attempts to ramp up this technology to a true deflector system able to push aside incoming penetrators have been unsuccessful, as the energy requirements are just too high.

Moving back, much of the forward quarter of the ship is given over to storage and docking facilities. The Vajra carries several shuttles, each able to move a hundred men and several tons of cargo between the ship and a planet's surface. The forward stores include fresh water tanks, replacement parts and raw materials for the machine shops, and enough dry goods storage to allow cruises lasting over a year. Also in this area are the ship's hydroponic gardens, which grow much of the food consumed by the crew. (Most Arjunans follow a mostly vegetarian diet, so fresh greens are vital.)

Behind this area, and clustered around the ship's core, is the main bridge and associated facilities. Senior officer quarters are found on these decks. The bridge itself is two decks high (roughly 4 meters) to allow for a large holographic display. Control stations are arranged in two tiers around this display, with the captain's station at the base. Just off the bridge is the captain's day office, a small mess mostly handling mid-watch snacks, and "crash rooms"; small spartan rooms for quick naps during extended operations.

Moving down the core, past a ring of fusion plants and magazines, is the main crew quartering areas. The Vajra has a crew of 258 officers and 7,740 ratings. The highest ranking petty officers and most commissioned officers get single accommodations. Junior officers and petty officers live two to a room, while the bulk of the crew live in six-man bunkrooms. Policy to mix-up the assignment of bunks so that crew working in different jobs live together. This encourages the cross-training the navy relies on.

The one and two man quarters enjoy private restrooms. The ratings make do with common showers and freshers. There are many mess facilities throughout the ship. As a rule, officers are encouraged to eat with the ratings as often as possible, to foster a sense of teamwork. There is a formal mess near the bridge for the senior staff. The mess crews compete to have the best food and cleanest facilities. They are not above sabotage in these competitions.

Also in the crew areas are the scattered medical facilities, with the main medical station being the equivalent of a small hospital. All the inhabited areas of the ship are built to be as open as possible. Wherever it is feasible, live plants are found. This not only helps with keeping the air fresh, it is a psychological boost as well. The crew is constantly urged to take the various classes offered while on a deployment, work to become cross-qualified in another technological specialty and strive to make their section the best on the ship.

Beyond another ring of fusion plants (the Vajra carries 36 plants in total) and more magazines for the ship's weapons, there are the engineering spaces. The Vajra uses four massive thrusters to maneuver in real space and has a powerful hyperdrive capable of hurling the ship at 270c if needed. In real space, the engines can accelerate the ship at a constant 1.8g.

That's a look at the insides of the battleship Vajra. Tomorrow, I'll write about the important parts, her armor, and her weapons, as well as dealing with the heat issues.

Folks, I really would like feedback on this. The Vajra needs to be a character, not just a name.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Yeah, I've been slacking a bit. I promise to be better about keeping up on my writing.

So the news today is that I have an appointment for getting my first tattoo in 32 years on Monday. If you've ever seen my one tattoo, the World's Worst Grateful Dead Tattoo, you'd know why I've been a little wary of adding to my inked hide. Why take the risk? I know the circumstances of the WWGDT were a tad unusual, but you can see why I was a little needle-shy.

There's also my changing tastes. I didn't want to end up with a design celebrating something now passe or downright embarrassing. The Dead art, while horrible, is at least a good story and Deadheads have always been a loyal tribe. There's also my ongoing health issues, which for years made me worry about getting my hide pierced a few thousand times with an ink-injecting needle. But when I asked, the anticoagulation clinic staff only asked what the design I was getting. They did say that working my appointment in to the times I'm off the Warfarin for the ongoing dermatology visits would be best.

So what is the design? Nothing fancy, just a list of the medical issues that have either drastically affected how I live my life or came close to killing me. They'll be down my right biceps, listed by the ICD-10 code, under a header reading, oddly enough, "ICD-10."

We're going in chronological order, so the festivities start off with G72.3, which is Hypokelemic Periodic Paralysis. This is a genetic disorder, so I've had it from the time I was a fertilized egg, but never knew it until a year or so ago. What it is is my body has a hard time channeling potassium properly when I'm under high levels of stress. Rather than sending the potassium to the muscles to help things move correctly, it gets locked up in red blood cells. This causes the extremities to lock up at the joints, mainly.

Looking back, I can see where I might have had an attack and just passed it off as something else. Like when I was running a marathon at Fort Benning, and my legs locked up at the 20 mile mark. I thought I was just not strong enough, or hadn't eaten correctly. But more likely I had put my body under so much stress that the HPP struct. I'm very fortunate that my threshold for attacks is very high. Some people deal with daily attacks of their limbs freezing up.

Next is C81.09. Stage IV-B Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Diagnosed after the removal of my spleen in late July of 1995. Stage IV means that the cancer was all through my lymphatic system and had jumped to my liver. At the time, I was given a 60% chance of living to see my 30th birthday, and that was with harsh treatment.

I made it, obviously, but the cancer and the treatment combined to really wreck my health. I was left with almost no immune system, I eventually lost my teeth, and all the other things on my list can be traced back to the fight of my life against Hodgkin's.

But before I could even start to fight the chemotherapy, I had to deal with I82.401, Deep Vein Thrombosis in my right hip. When I had my spleen removed as part of the lead up to my cancer diagnosis, my platelet count skyrocketed. Which led to an amazingly painful blood clot in the very large vein that drains the right leg. As a side note, I was in this kind of agony when i found out that Jerry Garcia had died. I was beginning to feel a bit like the Biblical Job at that point. Treatment required that I be hospitalized for three weeks. During this time, my weight dropped to 113lbs.

Next up, and this came quickly on the heels of the end of my chemotherapy, is J18.9, pneumonia. I have had eight or nine diagnosed cases of this disease since the first one in February 1996. Probable a baker's dozen more than never got the nod from the medical establishment. The first two cases came damn close to killing me. My lungs crackle when you listen to them, that's the damaged alveoli (air sacks) that were wrecked in my many fights with this problem.

I have never been fashionable. I've never been one to go with the latest trends. But I was on the cutting edge once, and boy did I hate it. This is when I got hit by J09.X2, the H1N1 Influenza. I never quite needed to be hospitalized, but it was close, and I was in the hot zone for people in danger of dying from this particular flu strain. Since then, I get my flu shot early.

After having the flu, my lungs continued to torture me. This one really hurts, because it cost me my job driving for Lord&Sons. I26.09, Pulmonary Embolisms. These are blood clots in the lungs, and are horrifically dangerous. Never mind the fact that they kill off sections of your lung tissue, they can move into your heart (and kill you) or into your brain (and kill you) or just stay where they are and eventually kill your lungs. Which is bad.

This was the point when I first filed for permanent disability, and was awarded it. However, the feds have an interesting idea of what permanent means, and a year later they declared me fit for work! I got a gig doing dispatch and reservation work for a small limousine company. But just over a year later, on July 31, 2013, Kirsten heard a crash in the bedroom and found me wedged between the bed and the dresser, totally unresponsive. A fast ambulance ride and a long two days (which I didn't noticed, due to the induced coma I was in) and we learned what a G45.9 Transient Ischemic Attack is. It's a stroke. My blood thinners just stopped working, and a blood clot made its way into my left parietal lobe. It's called a transient attack because the clot resolves on its own. In my case, I hit my head pretty hard going down, and that might have been enough to shake the clot into pieces.

But afterwards, I couldn't speak clearly for more than a few sentences. My memory was shot, and I had almost no proprioception on my right side. I had to learn to walk again. I had to teach myself to speak. I spent three weeks in between the hospital and the in-patient rehab clinic learning the skills possessed by the average 2 year old child. It was very frustrating. Follow that with about 3 months of outpatient rehabilitation. And sill i was never going to be the same.

Like a good mystery? Then try to explain why I developed G62.9 Peripheral Neuropathy. The sensory nerves in both my legs are dying, leading to near constant pain and sudden bursts of extreme shocks of pain. We call those the "floor weasels", because that's what it feels like most of the time; weasels ripping into my feet. Then there the involuntary muscle contractions. Usually later in the day, I'll get everything from twitches to fell on, kick like a Rockette, leg spasms. Which makes sleeping difficult. None of my doctors can figure out why this developed in me, and why it's so severe. One of the reasons i try to walk as much as I can and do my gym time is that regular exercise can slow the progress of the condition.

At this point, many of you are wide-eyed in horror, and thinking "Oh my God, the poor guy! Next time I see him I'm going to buy him a beer!" Hahahahahahaha Fuck My Life. No beer for me, you see, because about the same time I found out about the Hypokelemic Periodic Paralysis I also found out about my raging case of K85.20 Acute Alcoholic Pancreatitis. After years of moderate but steady drinking (my barracks had a beer machine, I loved the Army) and with all the other slings and arrows it had suffered. my pancreas stopped playing nice with booze. One can of Budweiser could make me sick for days. So I switch to non-alcoholic beers (I still like the taste) and face the world sober.

So that's it, my new tattoo explained. These are my campaign ribbons, showing the battles I've fought and the ones I'm still fighting. The ink will be starting high on my right arm and extend down. That way, I have room for more entries.
gridlore: The word "Done!" in bold red letters. (Done!)
If you are reading this and have a LiveJournal, go and delete it immediately. The new terms of service are binding only in Russian, so we have no clue what's actually in them. This is the final straw.

Ever since the sale to the Russians, LJ has slowly become unbearable. Good riddance.
gridlore: A pile of a dozen hardback books (Books)
The title is half of one of my favorite Grateful Dead lyrics.

Went up to Half Price Books today, it what is probably the last load of decluttering books for some time. While waiting for them to tabulate my payoff, I wandered around for a bit.

Wandering the history section, I scored. My friend Bruce Norbeck had suggested two books for me as part of me research for Task Force Singh, "Dreadnought" and "Castles of Steel", both by Robert K. Massie. The first is a detailed examination of the people and events that shaped the naval arms race between the United Kingdom and the German Empire in the decades leading up the First World War.

It's an amazing read, as Massie takes the time to introduce to characters like Kaiser William II and Admiral Jackie Fisher as people. Indeed, the book spends more time on how the personalities of the movers and shakers interacting with each other shaped the balance of power in Europe. This style also gives great insight to these powerful figures as human beings. Otto von Bismarck was a brilliant statesman, but also a petulant, petty jerk. King Edward VII was pretty lost as a monarch, happily deferring to his government on almost everything. And Winston Churchill had the crappiest childhood you can imagine.

All of this is wrapped around the whirl of European politics in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; the war that made the scattered German states into a single empire while causing the fall of France's Second Empire. It's really fascinating to see how England was stuck in the ideal of the Splendid Isolation, secure in the knowledge that the Royal Navy was a bulwark against any invasion. Even as the age of sail began to fade, the hide-bound traditionalists of the Royal Navy clung to sail. It took true revolutionaries and mavericks to drag the navy into the modern age.

In Germany, the Kaiser faced a similar problem. German had little coast line and limited access to the North Sea, so a navy had never been a concern. Besides, Germany's power was her armies. Vast, disciplined, and well led by a professional officer class, the Imperial German Army could crush any of her neighbors. Convincing the Reichstag to spend huge piles of marks on building battleships and improving the Kiel canal to allow them access to the North Sea was the work of years, and involved no small amount of dishonesty and gambling. Several times, the Kaiser ordered ships to be laid down before the funds had been approved, and then presented the assembly with a fait accompli.

All in all, a fascinating read. But as long one, and quite dense. I've already had to renew the books once, and the Santa Clara library never guarantees endless renewals. "Dreadnought" is almost a thousand pages long, and the next one is about the same length. But there's so much good material in here! I've already cribbed three characters, some setting details, and the casus belli that sets off the who plot.

Since these are library books, I've taken to taking pictures of important passages that I want to remember and emailing them to my self. Rather clumsy, but it works. I tend to do most of my reading in bed lying down, so taking notes would be an act of some contortion, and even I can't read my own writing these days.

So these books must be returned, and possibly soon. Which brings me back to Half Price Books. As I said, I was wandering the store, glancing at this and that, when I spied the Ballantine Books paperback edition of "Castles of Steel", which is more directly on point for the style of warfare I'm hoping to describe in Task Force Singh. New, this book goes for $20. I got it for about nine bucks, which I just took out of what I got for the books I was dropping off.

Now I can highlight, margin note, and page mark to my heart's content! I can take time, reread important bits, and really digest the material. Because I really want the foundations of the novel to be as strong as possible. As I mentioned in my writing group this morning, getting the basics right makes the whole story sing.

My next step in laying that foundation, is to design the Vajra, the Arjun battleship that will be one of the main locations for the events of the book. I'll be using GURPS Starships for at least an initial pass on making the ship more a place than an idea, but will be working out details of the living ship. Because down properly, the ship can become a character in its own right.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
OK, some changes and expansions of the setting for Task Force Singh. I'm still building the state my main protagonist comes from (there are actually two protagonists in opposition to each other, but this is the guy I thought up first.)

The Beta Hydi system was settled roughly 300 years before the book's starting date by way of a huge colonization effort headed by India. The effects of climate change and the ravages of the Warpox epidemic was leading to mass famine. Volunteers from across southern Asia begged to be included in the mission. All told, over 5 million refugees were packed into colony ships and sent out.

The rigorous conditions on their new home, named Arjuna after a mythical hero, led to the creation of a strict hierarchy and a strong work ethic. Shelters needed to be dug and fitted out, vast hydroponic farms put into operation, and a million other details worked out. The colony thrived with an isolated oligarchy running things. For the Traveller players reading this, it was a Feudal Technocracy.

Power has concentrated in the hands of the Jagirdar; landed nobles who ruled through sheer economic power. The Jagirdar were the captains of industry and operators of the vast warrens of worker housing. As the colony grew to exploit both the resources of Beta Hydri and those of nearby stars, conflict among the Jagir houses grew to near warfare. To end this, the houses agree to elect a dictator and form a constitutional monarchy.

Today, the Arjun Samarjy (Arjun Empire) controls eight star systems besides the home system. The ruler, the Samrat (Emperor) has full executive power. Technically, the assembly of Jagirdar elects the Samrat; in reality the ruling Samrat appoints his eldest child at birth and the nobles approve it.

The Jagirdar meets as an upper house of the government, known as the Gomed Hol (Oynx Hall) for the chamber they meet in. The Gomed Hol serves mainly as an advisory body, producing little legislation, as its members tend to be busy seeing to their own holdings.

The people are represented in the Samsad (Parliament) which is based on population. Currently the Samsad seats 573 voting members and numerous non-voting observers from the colonies. Members of the Samsad are elected from regional councils, which are elected by the people. One of the greatest issues on Arjuna is the growing demand for direct representation and more regional power. The Samsad is considered to remote, with each member speaking for an average of 3 million citizens. The Samsad is where legislation is introduced, debated, and passed. The state operates on a theory of implied royal assent. When a bill passes the Samsad, it is held for three days after the Samrat has been informed of the bill's passage. After that thime, the bill is law. The Samrat has the power to veto any bill. This power is almost never used.

The Samrat is the head of state. The head of the government is his Chancellor, a post selected by the Samrat himself. The Oynx Hall has the power to refuse to allow the Samrat's choice for office, but it takes a super-majority and has only been invoked twice. The Chancellor is charged with appointing officers to the various ministerial posts and running the day to day operations of the state and government. Chancellors are usually chosen by the party with the majority in the Samsad, or by coalition vote. The Samrat is usually quietly consulted as well. Chancellors remain in office at the pleasure of the Samrat or until his party falls out of the majority and a new Chancellor is called for.

There are several parties in the Empire. The major players are:

The Imperial Expansionists. They support a strong central government and expanding the Imperial holdings. Currently hold a slim majority in the Samsad.

The Traditionalists. A conservative, religious party dedicated to returning to old Hindu ways and promoting religious unification under one faith. The more radical members want a return to the caste system. They are partners with the Expansionists in the current government.

The Unionists. Their main platform is full membership in the empire and full citizenship for those living on the colony worlds.

The Democracy Now Party. They demand the dismantling of the imperial state and full suffrage and free elections under a new constitution. The hold a small number of seats, but are quite vocal and vote as a solid bloc.

The Consolidationists. Bitter foes of the Expansionists, they advocate spending precious Rupees on building infrastructure and improvements in the territories already controlled by the state, and improving the lot of the citizenry.

The Isolationists. The fight defense spending and expansion tooth and nail. Once the strongest voice in the Samsad, they've lost dozens of seats over the years and are now a distant third after the Imperial Expansionists and the Unionists. Natural allies of the Consolidation Party, they break on several issues so a true union seems impossible,

More to come.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Sitting on this barstool talking like a damn fool
Got the twelve o'clock news blues
And I've given up hope on the afternoon soaps
And a bottle of cold brew
Is it any wonder I'm not crazy? Is it any wonder I'm sane at all
Well I'm so tired of losing- I got nothing to do and all day to do it
I go out cruisin' but I've no place to go and all night to get there
Is it any wonder I'm not a criminal?
Is it any wonder I'm not in jail?


The joys of being retired, sick and recovery from minor surgery at the same time. I'm bored. I have things to do, but between the thankfully lessening pain of the incisions and the general yuck I've picked up, I'm well out of spoons after doing nothing. Even playing Civilization VI seems out of reach today. I've tried doing some writing and research on Task Force Singh, but nothing's there.

To make matters worse, we're currently a one-car household until we can Kirsten's car fixed in a few vital spots. That's happening this weekend, hopefully. But it means that right now I'm at home with no wheels.

Is it any wonder I've got
Too much time on my hands, it's ticking away with my sanity
I've got too much time on my hands, it's hard to believe such a calamity
I've got too much time on my hands and it's ticking away from me
Too much time on my hands, too much time on my hands
Too much time on my hands


But even if I had the truck, where would I go? I suppose I could go sit in the library and read graphic novels, but I'm tired. I'm going to want to lie down in a bit and nap. I do that a lot these days. Dealing with the whole back epic, and trying to get work down on the trailer, and waiting for news about Baycon panels . . . it's all contributing to a spoon deficit that I never make up.

I'm even falling behind on the little housework I do here. I have to get one load of laundry down today. But I feel like the gravity has been set on high here. I am in one of those stages where doing anything at all has become an epic chore. Even writing this, even with the big chunks of song lyrics, is a battle.

Well, I'm a jet fuel genius - I can solve the world's problems
Without even trying
I have dozens of friends and the fun never ends
That is, as long as I'm buying
Is it any wonder I'm not the president
(He's not the president)
Is it any wonder I'm null and void?


While I'm sure there will be better days, the fact is that right now I'm in a bad place physically and mentally. I keep getting reminded that I'm disabled. That sounds odd, I know, but most days I'm at least marginally functional. I can get through a day with a few errands, some creative work, and a little housework. I still have a spoon left when I go to bed, or at least enough of a spoon remnant to make it that far.

But these last few weeks? Whew. Too much happening. And that has forced me to scale back my activities, which causes stress when I see what isn't getting down, which causes spoon loss . . . you can see the cycle.

But this is the reality until we finish with my back. Which will be several weeks at this rate. I'm going to have stitches after every biopsy and removal. Meaning pain, not much activity, and more boredom. I've gotten quite good at adjusting to the new normal. I just don't have to like it.

It's 1537. I guess I'll start the laundry and watch old Law & Order episodes on Sundance until it's done. Then it's nap time. Tomorrow is another flipping day. I'll try for a good night's sleep, see if I can't raise the energy level a little, but as with everything, it's hard.

Is it any wonder I've got
Too much time on my hands, it's ticking away at my sanity
I've got too much time on my hands, it's hard to believe such a calamity
I've got too much time on my hands and it's ticking away from me
Too much time on my hands, too much time on my hands
Too much time on my hands


It's funny. Years ago when I got my job at PODS I wrote a piece like this using Styx's "Blue Collar Man" in a similar fashion. Who knew that this would be the band that wrote the themes of my life.

"Too Much Time On My Hands" written by Tommy Shaw, 1981
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Naming things, characters, places, even entire stories, has always been the bane of my creative existence. If I were an artist working in a visual medium, you'd see a lot of "Landscape No. 12" and "Unfinished Portrait of a Chihuahua No. 3" hanging on gallery walls. It's just part of my existence.

A big part of the problem is that I've always had trouble remembering names. For as long as I can remember this has been the case. Unless that name was presented to me daily over a period of months, it would slip away. This even goes for things like schools I attended. So, faced with the need to name things for the novel, I try to take the easy route so I can focus on the important things like the plot and the tension caused by the game of blind chess the two commanders will be playing over dozens of star systems.

There are several tools at my disposal. For example, there are dozens of great websites that generate names for you from any number of cultures and races, real and fictional. Using one geared to naming conventions of the Indian subcontinent has allowed me to name both my protagonist, his wife, and a few other characters of note. Other crew names are more generic Indian. I don't worry too much about mixing northern and southern names, as these people have been living on a different planet for centuries. Things have most likely gotten blurred and mixed in that time.

Other non-Indian names are needed. Both for the characters who are part of Task Force Singh and for the opposing forces. As the main opposing force is a UN flotilla, I can draw inspiration from pretty much the whole spectrum of human names. My main antagonist, for example, is a Zulu. I can use several generators to quickly name the critical characters and even the minor ones and the spear-carriers with ease. A few of my favorite name sites even allow you to select how odd you want the name to be. Very helpful.

The system Task Force Singh is going to be trying to reach is a failing set of Chinese-settled worlds, so I'll need to do research on Cantonese naming conventions. I'm trying to get it right. They are in a situation analogous to the threat faced by the Ottoman Empire in terms of the Russians, so I may make that threat a Manchurian interstellar state that is also facing instability, and wants the traditional shirt, victorious war to prop their government.

Finally, last year when we were fund-raising for the Istanbul trip, we promised to Tuckerize people who pledged at a certain level. I still have that list, and those names will be used, never fear.

Personal names are pretty easy, so long as you do the research to make sure you're getting the naming conventions for each language right. Things, however, open a whole new can of worms. Take ships.

Ships are kind of important in a military science-fiction novel about a tense set of fleet actions. Sadly, the Indian Navy doesn't really have the kind of names I could steal. More research is needed. Searching on Hindu legends and gods, I find Vajra. Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning both thunderbolt and diamond. Additionally, it is a weapon worn in battle which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). Perfect for the first of a new class of battleship! Which gives me the theme for the rest of the fleet, heroes and legends.

For the UN force, I've already identified the battleships as the Continent-class. Starting with Earth's continental masses, later builds would use land forms from UN-controlled worlds. I've also made it clear that a class of heavy missile cruiser is named for large cities. I can follow the naming conventions of the US and Royal Navy here for convenience.

Now worlds. Doing Beta Hydri was pretty easy. The first three worlds, small and unusable, I wanted to have whimsical names. So I cam up with Mongoose, Cobra, and Rat, all eternally chasing each other. For the others, I picked great leaders and martyrs of the Indian independence movement. So far, so good.

But I wanted something special for the main world. I picked the Hindi translation of "New Home" as a placeholder. I'm still mentally working out how this place was settled, so the name might reflect a challenge of or hardships. Given how I described it, I might look to see if there is a famous system of canals in India to name the planet after. But what ever happens, New Home is probably changing.

Lucky for me, most of the action will take place in systems with little or no population, so I'm good there. Fewer planets to name.
gridlore: Gold football helmet with red 49ers logo (Football - 49ers helmet)
Well, it was made official today. The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders are packing their bags and moving to Las Vegas. Eventually. Currently is for the Raiders to play the next two seasons at the O.Co (dumbest naming rights deal ever) Mausoleum before moving to their new digs in Sin City.

Isn't that going to be awkward? Anyone who has ever watched a Raiders' home game realizes that the Oakland fans are . . . special. Fanatical. OK, they're bloody lunatics. Elaborate costumes ranging from barbarians to Darth Raider that would turn heads at ComicCon, all in the iconic black and silver, and concentrated in the Black Hole, the seats at the south end of the field. You don't get that anywhere else.

It seems that the Raiders are the league's last old school football team. They've never been pretty. Raider uniforms attract mud, grass, and blood in great quantities. Their heroes have nicknames like "Snake" and "Assassin." Going to a Raiders game is to take your life in your hands. Even outside the Black Hole the fans tend to be raging, drunk, and more interested in fights than watching the game.

Sadly, this seems to be increasingly common at NFL games. Time to end tailgating and deny access to drunk fans.

But as crazy as that fan base is, they are devoted to the Raiders and to Raider Nation. They endured a 12 year shunning when the team moved to Los Angeles and welcomed them back with open arms. The venerated an owner who treated his fans as commodities, not part of the larger zeitgeist that made the Raiders so great, even in the long run of losing seasons that followed their humiliating loss in 2002's Super Bowl XVIII.

So a lot of people are asking why move the team? Why abandon this cultural phenomenon that has been roaring along since 1960? I've seen many, many fans declare that they are done. I'm seriously wondering how many people will both to go to games in the next two seasons as the new stadium is constructed in the desert?

The answer to my question is money. Unlike most NFL owners, the Davis family does not have extensive sources of income outside the team. Al Davis, who has a memorial eternal flame at the Coliseum, spent his life focused on the Raiders. He never built a large outside fortune. His son, Mark Davis, who inherited the team on his father's passing, wants to cash in. Las Vegas offered a big package.

Goodbye Raiders.

But like I said, they team has at least two seasons before they have anyplace in their new home to play. The stadium at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is completely inadequate when it comes to the demands of hosting a professional football game. It has been suggested that if the City of Oakland and Alameda County refuse to provide vital services for home games, the Raiders might play in Los Angeles, San Diego (which just lost the Chargers to Los Angeles) or at Levi's Stadium here in Santa Clara.

Ha. We'd demand a huge rent for that. Levi's is a shrine to the Forty-Niners. The Raiders would be playing in a red and gold temple to names like Montana and Rice. It would be awkward as hell for everyone involved. I've even seen Stanford of UC Berkeley mentioned as possible temporary shelters for the homeless wandering players.

Here's the nightmare scenario for everyone. Last season, the Raiders made the playoffs for the first time in fifteen years. What happens if they win big next year and go to the Super Bowl? How does that work in the face of a probable fan boycott? If the team plays the year in San Diego, and wins the Super Bowl, where do you hold the frigging parade? Do you dare hold it downtown Oakland, a city known for violent protests? San Diego, which won't really give a damn? The NFL must be cringing at the possibility.

But that's sports. My beloved Giants spent nearly a century in New York before moving west, and there aren't many lakes in Los Angeles to name the Lakers after. It is, at its heart, a business. And as majority owner, Mark Davis has every right to make the moves he feels best for the team. The only major sport franchise where this couldn't happen is with the Green Bay Packers, who are owned by the people of Green Bay, Wisconsin. I'd love to see that model expanded.

As a closing note, the vote of NFL team owners to allow the move was 31-1. The owner of the Miami Dolphins was the sole vote against. I guess he didn't want to give up the title of Tackiest NFL City.

Go NINERS!

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gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
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