gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Let's look at my desk.

It's an older Ikea desk, same model as the bookcases. I want to say Laska, but I don't think that's right. all I know is they've stopped making them. I'm glad I got this so the room looks at least mostly cohesive. We have the 4x4 bookcase and the TV shelving unit, all big black cubes, all stuffed to the gills.

The desk itself is just a work area attached to a vertical 4x2 bookcase, which gives me four cubes above the desk and four under. One guess which set of cubes become junk repositories. The black paint is starting to show wear in the places where my right arm rests when I'm using my mouse. I really should get a forearm rest.

The bookcase is up against the wall, and immediately to the left is s smaller cubical storage unit we got at Orchard Supply, this one a 3x2. So I have 14 cubes here, and I still don't have enough room.

On my right, we have my computer tower with two glass penguins and a stack of black DVDs perched on top. In front of the computer is the FATE rule book, the touristy pictures we had done at La Brea tar pits, my medicine box, and a coupon for getting Kirsten's car serviced. Just to the left of that is my phone stand, with the cord waiting forlornly for me to plug the phone it, my copy of Windows 10 For Dummies and the gorgeous hardback compilation edition of "The Illustrated Brief History of Time" and "The Universe in a Nutshell", both help up by one of my speakers.

Directly in front of me is my keyboard, a bottle of nasal medicine I use twice a day, an empty Coke can, the coaster the can should be on, two rolls of quarters and a spare phone charging cord, this one covered in Giants orange fabric. That cord is under my fairly new wire mesh monitor stand. That has a nice slide out draw that holds a lot of junk and two side bins where I keep business cards from various doctors and spare office supplies.

The stand holds my monitor, festooned with voting stickers from multiple elections, along with the cup where I keep my laundry tokens, my 4518th Lift Infantry Regiment challenge coin, the roll of Life Savers I was gifted at my first Burning Man, and little stone bear.

Moving ever farther to the left, we find chaos. My desk lamp, my landline, and the other computer speaker crowd the space behind a desk organizer, which is itself jammed with pens and pencils, a nail clipper, two small flashlights, and some other bric-a-brac. The Chinese ink stone I got as a gift after my dad went to China in the 70s shares spaces with two boxes of Altoids Artic, my Giants Zippo, and a Burning Man shot glass.

Behind this mess rise my books. The top left cube is filled with my writing books, and plays host to several penguins. The other three are filled with histories and science books. My two autographed Judas Priest CDs sit next to my ticket to the Military Museum in Istanbul. On top, there is an old photo of me, my father, and my brother Craig taken decades ago, my Mixie Award, and a photo of Kirsten and Me at AT&T Park.

The smaller storage space is home to my personal medicine shelf, when I store all the damn things I've been told to use along with every day things like band-aids and Pepto. That takes up the upper left cube. The next three are filled with my RPG collection, which is down to the point it actually all fits here. There's junk taking up space here as well, with empty cans and bottle and a compressed air can balanced where ever they fit.

On top of this storage space is my row of impressive books. The cultures of the Ancient Near East collection (Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, and Hittites) followed by the truly impressive Byzantium trilogy by John Jules Norwich. Then come two Ottoman histories, The Odessey, and a few selections from the Penguin Classics imprint.

On top of all that is a copy of the Koran I picked up at the Süleymaniye Mosque held in place by bobbleheas. One is the Giants' Matt Duffy, the other is the San Jose Sabercats' Jame Roe. Neither play for those teams anymore. Hell, the Sabercats don't even exist anymore. Finally, that shelf holds my little radio.

That's my desk, and my 750 words.

Kedi

5 Mar 2017 18:35
gridlore: Doug with Kirsten, both in nice clothes for a wedding. (Me - with Kirsten)
Just home from seeing "Kedi", a film we've been waiting to see for over a year, a time usually reserved for the next Star Wars or Marvel movie. But this was special. We discovered the existence of the movie while researching our trip to Istanbul in late 2015. That was when we discovered the unique cat culture of the city.

Istanbul, you see, is overrun with cats. Not feral, not house cats, but owned by no one and loved by almost all. The cats come and go as they please, and locals chip in to feed and care for them. The film examines the lives of several cats and the people whose lives have been changed by their interactions with the cats. Kedi is Turkish for cat.

But seeing the film made Kirsten and I only more determined to return to the ancient city we fell in love with about a year ago. We spent a week in the Queen of Cities last April, and were just getting good at it when it was time to leave. We had figured out the food, the taksis (taxis), the local public transit, and of course, the cats. We needed a few more days! Mainly because we discovered that it was insane to think you can do Topkapi Palace and the Archaeological Museum complex in one day. You need three. It's that big.

It's not that we missed a lot, it's that we never got into anything in great depth. We skimmed our way through places that deserved loving attention. Our mistake. But we did see a lot, and more importantly, we experienced the city. It's more than seeing the sites and listening to guides explain which Sultan built which mosque, it's more.

Istanbul, which was Constantinople up until the turn of the 20th century and Byzantium during the early Roman Empire, is an ancient place. The Old City, still mostly protected by the wall of Theodosius and the sea walls built by Constantine has been a city since the 7th century BCE. It was captured by Alexander the Great, absorbed by the Roman Empire and became its capital in 330 CE, before becoming the seat of the newly-forged Ottoman Empire in 1453. Our hotel stood on the street that had been the Silver Road, a Roman road that lead out of the city and headed north into Dalmatia.

Just walking down the street you were immersed in just how immortal this place is. It's a feeling. Almost as if the restless spirits of the city want to share their stories, and show you that the currency exchange with the flashing signs and digital display of exchange rates was doing the exact same job when it was sailors off the galleys and dhows that needed good Roman coin to spend at the wine shops and baths (both of which also still exist.)

The one place that really cemented the feeling of age for me was the Kariye Müzesi, also known as the Chora Church. This is a hilltop church built in the 4th century CE, filled with some spectacular frescoes and mosaics dating from 10th-11th centuries. It's spectacular. Now, when you think of hot tourist spots, you probably think of car parks, and spaces for the buses to offload hordes of camera-packing tourists. Not here! To get to the Chora your taksi driver takes you up a series of increasingly narrow roads, paced in cobblestones, finally stopping at the junction of four alleyways. He them points down one say "Kariye" before driving off. Because this isn't some thing that was built with greatness and access in mind. It's a local church that served the nearby residents . . . 1,700 years ago. Let that sink in.

One funny thing about that place. "Chora" means "in the fields", which made sense because when it was built it was outside the walls erected by Constantine. Barely a century after the church opened, the great walls built under Theodosius II were built, and the church was no firmly inside the walls. But everyone still called it the Chora. People never change, do they?

Yeah, we need to win the lottery and go back. We still have things to see in the Imperial City, and, if money allows, in Cappadocia and the Mediterranean shore as well. We might even learn a little more Turkish for the trip, although my mastery of "thank you" got me many smiles.

So go see Kedi. Marvel at the Queen of Cities, and the cats who rule it.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
This is a possible prelude for Task Force Singh, and is based on something I read in one of the books recommended to me for my research. As part of her Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria witnessed a parading of the fleet, including the new class of battleships, off Portsmouth. I'm taking that and using it to introduce my main antagonist, the UN officer who will command the fleet hunting down Task Force Singh.

--

The view for the tour ship was stunning. Arrayed in perfect formation to celebrate the 50th year of the Secretary-General's reign was the heart of the United Nation's Peacekeeper fleet, led by the eleven Continent-class battleships. Captain 1st Rank Kosan Gwazi gripped the polished teak railing tightly, knuckles turning white as he fumed. One of those ships should have been his.

Beside him a bland little man was prattling on and on. "Oh, yes, the Continents. Aren't they something? We had no end of trouble with them at the Bureau of Heraldry and Lineage, let me tell you! More ships than names! So many meetings and arguments, I expect every member of the Assembly marched through my door at some point or the other. But I was firm, and brokered a compromise!"

Wonderful, thought Gwazi, award yourself a medal. He made a show of using the viewing controls to get a magnified view of the City of Ravenna, an upgraded missile cruiser that was nearby. But the bureaucrat just kept babbling his tales of red-tape heroism.

"Asia was the hardest part, can't simply name a ship Asia, we'd have riots. I was the one who suggested the deal, you know. rammed it through in a marathon session. It's why we have the Great Russia, the Siberia, the India, and the Indochina. Quite proud of that one, I must say!"

Thankfully, at that moment the bosun at the viewing room blew his whistle. The piercing notes stopped all conversations dead. With everyone silenced, he announced "Ladies and Gentleman, Her Grace Nicole Martin, the Secretary-General of the United Nations!" Bows and curtsies as the Secretary-General strode in, trailing aides and security like debris from a wounded ship. She was wearing her naval uniform, showing that she was commander-in-chief of the Peacekeepers, her chest heavy with medals and orders.

After making some quick greetings, she crossed the room to where Gwazi was still standing by the transparent wall. She took in the view briefly, then turned to speak.

"Captain Gwazi, an honor to meet you." She glanced at the now sputtering bureaucrat. "Donald, a pleasure. May I have a moment with the Captain, please?" It was as polite an order as Gwazi had ever heard. Donald quickly backed away babbling pleasantries all the time.

The Secretary-General watched him go. "That man never shuts up, and now he's going to be bragging that I remembered his name for the next ten years."

"Well, Your Grace, it is something of an honor to have you recall who people are." Gwazi said, dipping in a semi-bow.

"Ha! Captain, if I walk into a room without being briefed on everyone who is inside, my staff has failed me. Information is as valuable to me as it is to you. Are you enjoy the fly-by, Kosan?

Her sudden change in subject and use of his first name threw Gwazi for a moment. "Of course, Your Grace. You've assembled a powerful force here, it's important to see it assembled. For everyone."

For several long seconds the Secretary-General stared out at the fleet slowly sliding by. A waiter brought two glasses of champagne, and Gwazi realized that the security staff had moved most of the crowd out of the room, creating a bubble in which only he, the Secretary-General, and a silent aide were standing.

"Peacekeeper," she finally said, reaching out and running her hand down the front of Gwazi's powder-blue dress jacket, "it's the oldest duty of the UN, even when it was toothless debating society. Keep the peace." She raised her head and looked Gwazi in the eyes. That stare was piercing. "Captain, I have dedicated my life to keeping humanity from tearing itself apart. Just as you have taken your oath, so I have sworn mine. We have both sacrificed much to serve, am I right?"

Gwazi could barely nod, his throat was dry. He took a sip of his champagne before speaking. "Of course, Your Grace. I cannot even begin to imagine the burdens you bear. Of course, Donald made sure I knew every detail of his battles."

The earned a surprisingly loud bout of laughter. She loses twenty years when she laughs, Gwazi thought. Then he remembered that this was a woman who had ordered her own father's execution. Tread carefully, for this chat was a minefield.

"God in Heaven, you have no idea. Kosan, the Secretariat is filled with the little gray mice, and they all pretend to be cats. Every so often, you find a cat disguised as a mouse, and they end up in charge. Donald is a mouse, a very loud mouse, but a mouse."

"I think I prefer grasers and attack drones, Your Grace, at least they are honest and do what they intend." I may have gone too far, he thought, as all the mirth drained from the Secretary-General's face. She took a serious tone.

"You were promised the Africa, yes? A Captain of the 1st Rank, worked on the development of the operational orders for the new fleet, ranked as 'recommended for early promotion and positions of authority' by almost every officer you ever served under. You were promised that command, and I took it from you myself. You wish honesty? There it is. On the advice of Peacekeeper Command and the Security Council, I personally changed your orders. Do you appreciate my honesty, Captain?"

Gwazi swallowed his first angry response, then the second. "I serve at Your Grace's pleasure, and will obey your orders. But may I ask why I was denied command? Did I offend someone?

"No, Captain, not at all." she turned to the still silent aide who handed her a small leather box. "I have spent my life working to maintain the peace, and in that time I've learned to read the tea leaves. It's falling apart. Ten years, maybe fifteen, and all of human space will be at war. It's coming and all we can do is prepare. So to that end . . ." She opened the case, inside were the insignia of a flag officer. "The paperwork will take a few days, but I'm promoting you to Contre-Admiral, and assigning you to head the War Plans office." Gwazi took the box with suddenly numb hands. He tried to say something, but the words caught in his throat. The Secretary-General smiled.

"Don't thank me, Admiral Gwazi, for I've just thrown you into the deep end. War is coming, and you will be in the heart of the fire." With that, she drained her glass and turned to leave, her aides and security forming a phalanx around her.

Holding the box with his new rank loosely in one hand, Gwazi looked again at the fleet still slowly passing by. That fleet will be needed, he thought, and sooner than we had hoped.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
I don't want to write today. I mean, I'm still siuck, I slept like a baby, eaning I woke up every hour and peed a lot (at least I make it to the bathroom for that.) My perpetually sore shoulder is telling me I might just have overdone it at the gym, and I just don't want to write!

Plus I have two huge library books to read, part of my research for Task Force Singh. These are monstrous tomes on both the race to develop the Imperial Germany and Royal Navies in the age of battleships, and the follow-on book about naval operations during WWI. I really should go back to bed and crack those.

I could even finish the three other books I'm reading. My Goodreads account mocks me daily which the static "what I'm reading" column. I really should update that . . . Or I could do the small pile of dishes. I could do a load of laundry, but I'm not really feeling that adventurous.

There's always Civilization VI, or Madden NFL. I haven't played the Grand Theft Auto game I got at Half-Price Books. But do I want to try a new game when my head feels this thick? I foresee rage quitting. I suppose I should clear off the coffee table, for Kirsten has said we're having pizza tonight.

Maybe later.

But I really dreaded opening my 750 words today. I'm watching the word count in the corner willing it to go higher. Just hit 250 words. 500 to go. Sigh. See, normally I have something to say, something for the book or some writing exercise or personal experience to share. I feel motivated to write, even if it's gibberish. I could go the Spider Jerusalem route and write "fuck" 750 times and claim it's a political article about the Trump administration. I could even cut and paste an older piece and just massage it a bit to fill my quota.

Because on March 1st I agreed to the site's monthly challenge. Write everyday. Even when you don't want to write. And anyone who knows me at all know how I am about living up to my pledges, even the silly ones. I won't even be winning anything, other than a couple of site badges. But it's the fact that I did agree to participate that is keeping me here at the keyboard when I'd rather be doing my part to lower the water level in Anderson Lake by taking a very long, very hot, shower. With the space heater blasting in the bathroom. I like things warm, OK?

436 words. Getting there!

I really should vacuum the filters on the air purifiers. But that's work, it can wait until I've have my live steam shower and a nap. Likewise, I could gather up the stray bits of recycling and corral it for a trip to the recycling place next week. But that involves moving. Later. Procrastination is something I'm always very prompt about.

Just had a sneezing fit. I own Sinuses of Holding. It's the only explanation for what just came out of my nose. Aren't all of you happy that I share these little details with you? Anything for my adoring audience. Send burritos.

The sad thing is that it's only when I'm this miserable that my broken brain decides to click on and show me all the things I've been avoiding in terms of house work. Since I am home almost all the time, I do what I can within my limitations. Dishes, laundry, taking the garbage out, whatever cleaning I can handle. But inevitably my brain gets overloaded with the sheer number of tasks needed to accomplish something as simple as vacuuming the living area that I burn out and need to stop. I really need to nuke this place of all the junk, call in a maid service for a one-time cleaning, and set a schedule for maintaining some order.

I also need to continue the purge of stuff that we just carry around with us. Half-Price Books is my new favorite place for losing unwanted clutter. And dear gods, do we have that.

696. Into the home stretch.

The good news is I do feel a bit better this morning, it's just the terrible night's sleep that has me dragging. I have eaten, and taken all my morning medications in the morning for a change. I think I will pull the two Great Tomes in to the bedroom, take a shower, then nap. Notice the word "read" never figured into that.

764 words. The streak continues.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
And I'm sick again. This is not abnormal, for me, a healthy week is the unusual occurrence to be commented on. Odds are, one of the adorable plague rats at the YMCA was carrying some form of Mongolian Death Yuck and the evil plague spirits, seeing a happy, undefended harbor, jumped me while I was sitting for a few minutes before heading home.

It's a little known fact that the Black Death was spread to Europe by a school field trip. True! Take my word on that, I own lots of history books!

So anyway, here I sit with a scratchy throat, sorer than my recent workout should account for, and in a general mood that should make you all happy that I don't have launch codes. Although in the marathon game of Civilization VI I played today, I did reach the point where I had missile-launching submarines and was using them to support my invasion of Egypt for her crime of sending wave after wave of religious units to my shores. If only we could deal with door-to-door religious nuts in the same way: submarine launched guided missiles. It's be hard on the driveway, and I'm sure cleaning up the mess would be a bitch, but I'm pretty sure the local Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses would quickly get the clue.

I do have to admit that I was past-due for a big sick this year. Usually, by this time in the cold and flu season, I've landed in the ER at least once if not endured a lovely night or two of observation and infusions. Traditionally, my ER visit happens close to if not on Christmas Eve. This is part of my rational atheism at work, really. I'm testing the theory that Santa Claus can find you no matter where you are in the world. If this is true, the fat boy and his flying elk should be leaving stuff in the hospital. So far, nothing. I am forced to concede that I may not pass muster for getting gifts from the elf with a thing for breaking and entering.

It seems like I'm always sick. It's either something like my allergies acting up, and opportunistic swarm of viral life forms, or some body part deciding to ignore its duties in favor of freelancing; I'm in a constant state of medical limbo. By that I mean, how low can I go? Seriously, my first oncologist, Dr. Waltuch, asked at one point in all seriousness if he could have a few words with the medical officer when the flying saucers came to take me home. My Hodgkin's was so unusual that bits of my spleen were sent winging around the world for research. My spleen has seen more of the world than I have, although I doubt you get good cabin service in a medical sample case.

A couple of years ago, I even managed to be trendy with my illnesses! I had H1N1 when it was cool! The actual Swine Flu when it was still making headlines. Which is where I ran into the big wall labeled "people are stupid." Once I had the verified diagnosis, I called work to tell they needed to warn *everyone* that they had been exposed. At which point my alleged boss, a man who made three times what I did, whined about this being a HIPAA violation. Even though I was on the phone TELLING him to warn people. I had to fax in a consent letter!

Sheesh. Remember, I was the one dying of hamthrax at that point. Figuring out how to use our fax machine (we owned one, which now lives at Kirsten's office) was far down on my list of things to do, somewhere below "dying" and "no, really, dying now would be great."

Thing is, I really can't be sick right now. For a guy on permanent disability I have a full calendar coming up. Saturday, Kiri and I are going out to pick up some stuff for the Free Trailer Beowulf; Sunday, we're meeting our moms to see "Kedi", a documentary about the cats of Istanbul; Monday I have some writing class and a biopsy on my back. To quote the former Governor of Minnesota, "I ain't got time to bleed."

Not joking. Go find "Predator" on Netflix or something and realize you are watching the future Governors of California and Minnesota fight a guy in a big rubber suit.

Ah, well. Sick again. I have books, hot chocolate, and plenty of burritos. I'll live.

Though I'm pretty sure I won't enjoy it.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
As promised, a look at life aboard ships in the Task Force Singh (TFS) universe. This is mostly going to be about the naval ships that are the center of the book, but I'll branch out a bit. As usual, my inspiration comes from the great "Age of Battleships" era from the 1880s up through the First World War.

To begin with, life on a naval warship is going to be cramped. Warships are going to be filled to the gills with equipment, munitions, supplies, and all the machinery that is needed to complete the mission. On a battle wagon like the Carnivora-class battleship, you'll find large magazines of canisters for the big grasers. A cruiser that is dedicated to using Autonomous Attack Vehicles is going to have launch and recovery bays for the missiles, as well as spaces for their maintenance and reloading. The only large open spaces are likely to be the hangers for small craft.

Crew accommodations are going to be tight. While hot-bunking (two crewmen sharing the same bunk, a practice common in submarines) isn't going to be the usual practice, a navy rating will have little more than a bunk with a privacy screen and a small storage are to call his own. Communal facilities for eating, cleaning, and toilets are the standard. I'm picturing six-man rooms for the crew with a very small space for relaxation. Nobody joins the navy for the luxury! Senior NCOs and junior officers will bunk two to a room, with the more senior officer and top petty officers getting single occupancy staterooms. The captain gets an actual suite, with an office and a room for his personal valet.

Because of the ever-present threat of electrical equipment damage in hyperspace, ships will be over designed in terms of backups and ruggedness. Whenever possible, mechanical systems will be used in place of electrical ones. No automatic sliding doors here, instead you have heavy hatches on the bulkheads and manual doors where needed. And since a warped frame can lock a door shut, there will be numerous places where there will be no door at all, just a curtain is you need to block light.

Expect to find heavy fuse boxes and thick bundles of cables in every corridor. Every mission critical system is going to have multiple redundant control lines with a very efficient fault detection system. All crew will be trained in damage control and how to repair their duty stations. Even the cooks will be qualified in damage control for the kitchens and mess areas. After every emergence from hyperspace, it will be standard to do an immediate fault check on every part of the ship. This is also a sweep for anyone overcome by the terminus shock effect. A well-trained crew can clear their area of responsibility within minutes of emergence into real space.

On civilian ships, especially the high-end liners carrying well-paying passengers from star to star, things will be more open and less draconian. The crew might be stuffed into tiny cabins, but the passengers - those in first class, anyway - will enjoy large staterooms with every convenience, wide open promenades through parks and gardens under artificial sunlight, and wide options of food and entertainment along with lots of alcohol. Lots and lots of booze, it keeps them quiet. You'll still have crew who are cross trained in repair and the like, but nowhere near the level of a military ship will show.

The reality of the dangers of hyperspace, resulting in less automation than used today, means these ships will be over-crewed by our standards. Almost every rating position is going to have a few extra bodies above the actual requirement. Gun turrets will be crowded with crew feeding canisters into the breech and confirming a full seal before firing, the power and engineering spaces will be crawling with men constantly adjusting and fixing every valuable piece of equipment, and even the bridge and combat command center will be over staffed. When you can find upwards of 20% of your crew knocked out for minutes to hours by the terminus shock (which is totally the name of the second book, by the way) having too many crew becomes a literal lifesaver.

Now these ships aren't all big levers and hand-cranked wheels. There are plenty of electronics in use. You couldn't navigate without computers, and the firing of guns and communications demand high quality electronic gear. So the control spaces are going to look like any modern command center. It just that there's going to be a lot of lower-tech back up.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
All right then. I've written about the hyperdrive, I've written about the weapons systems, so how about the ships themselves, as they are going to be characters in their own right as the book progresses.

In essence, all ships are the same, whether it is a Greek galley carrying goods to Constantinople or an interstellar-capable warship bristling with energy weapons. They both exist to transport people and cargo through a medium that is hazardous to unprotected humans. So there are certain basics functions that need to be covered.

The first is life support. In space, you need to maintain a breathable atmosphere, a livable temperature, and provide clean food and water while dealing with the inevitable waste products of life. The fist problem is handled by encasing the ship in an airtight hull with as few openings as possible. For most ships, advanced composites over metal sheeting is sufficient to handle both the pressure differences between the crew areas and the vacuum of space. Warships tend to pile on armor, mainly made of custom grown slabs of diamond and layers designed to quickly dissipate heat. More about that in another post.

Temperature control has been the gremlin stalking science fiction writers since we first understood the problem of getting rid of heat in space. The International Space Station has those giant "wings" not for solar power, but to get rid of heat. The Space Shuttle had orbit with its cargo doors open for the same reason. Without an effective method of bleeding heat, your safe time in space is limited. I'm thinking that a combination of extremely effective heat dumps and some sort of gravitic funnel will help vent excess heat. It will also create a noticeable infrared plume when in operation. Civilian ships, which operate at lower energy levels, will be easier to cool, and can risk traditional methods like radiator wings.

Clean food and water mean mass and space. An average human requires about 3 liters of water per day and about 2,500 calories of food intake to remain healthy. Starships use intensive water and waste recycling to reduce the need for more storage. But still, a ship with a thousand-person crew is going to need to devote a great deal of space to food and water storage, not to mention preparation areas and places to eat, as food is a communal thing in most cultures. In history, ships, especially submarines, heading out for long journeys tended to be packed to the walls with consumables. This is a good model for me to adhere to. Also, there's no reason why most ships couldn't have a few hydroponic gardens aboard to provide fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as fish. Also, these gardens help with the air recycling.

Now that we're somewhat safely in our ship, it's time to go somewhere. Since the nature of the hyperdrive demands a trip to the point where it is easy to enter hyperspace, the ships need a "real space" engine. This comes in the form of a reactionless thruster. Reactionless, in this context, means that the ship isn't using exhaust products to push itself forward, like a rocket does. Instead, the thruster uses the same control of gravity seen elsewhere to push against the universe itself.

These are going to be "hot" thrusters, as they produces a great deal of electromagnetic waste when in operation. They will be painfully bright to look at, produce very odd and dangerous gravitational fields in their immediate vicinity, and the plates themselves will produce a great deal of heat when in operation. Which means the plates cannot be inside the ship's structure, but stick out. This makes them juicy targets in battle.

The thruster drive is directional, meaning that the plates are built for an optional direction of thrust. They can be "feathered" to angle their thrust up to 180 degrees from the optional thrust line, but with decreasing effectiveness. Using your drive to slow down without flipping the ship can result in a loss of nearly 90% of the drive's power. Most ships just flip to decelerate.

Constant acceleration provided by these thruster plates varies by design and available power. Most have a "cruising" acceleration of between 1 and 2g of constant acceleration. Higher-powered drives can push up to 10g, which strains the ability of compensator systems. The drives used on kinetic-kill short attack missiles can blast a mind-numbing 50g acceleration, but the drive quickly overheats and fails. Since the missile is supposed to flash to plasma inside an enemy ship anyway, it's no big loss.

Almost all ships capable of interstellar flight have complete interior artificial gravity and acceleration compensation. If you were aboard one of these vessels, you would have no sense of movement at all. Additionally, there is a weak "deflector beam" used to push the gravel of space out of a ships path. Attempts to upgrade this system into something stronger have been stymied by the huge power requirements.

Losing your gravity is a bad thing, especially if the ship is under acceleration. Because it can happen, most naval architects plan ships as "stacks" with the main thruster assembly at the perceived bottom and the navigational deflector at the top. That way, if there is a mishap, there aren't any kilometer-long accessways to fall down. Designs vary, with luxury liners seemingly addicted to the "long deck" approach.

Finally, what do ships look like? The answer is, what every they want to look like. Warships tend to be long wedges or cones so they can get all their weapons facing a target. Freighters are spheres or cylinders to maximize holding space. Almost any design has been tried once, and is probably still flying.

Next up, how a ship runs.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Perhaps I should go into some detail about the setting I'm going to be using for my novel, tentatively titled "Task Force Singh." As always, I encourage questions, comments, and donations of burritos to the Starving Writers Fund.

We're about 450 years into the future. Mankind has spread out from Earth in a series of diasporas after the invention of the hyperdrive in the late 21st century. The first wave was well-funded mass colonization efforts from the industrialized portions of the world. China and India were leaders in the effort to send excess population to the newly discovered worlds. Western Europe and North America lagged, but caught up.

The second wave came when the now-empty colonial transports were looking for work. This wave was made up of ideological groups that were no long welcome on Earth. Many of these colonies were poorly funded and supported, many have degraded over the years.

The final wave was in the last century and came as the UN government on Earth became more aggressive and controlling. This wave tended to settle in established colonies, while a few utopian groups grabbed space wherever they could.

There is no unified state controlling human worlds. There are a dozen multi-system states in existence, with many more single system states scattered through near-Sol space. Relations are not always peaceful.

The two biggest technological advancements involve fusion power and the ability to manipulate gravity. Fusion reactors use Helium-3 fusion; as He3 is easier to store and the fusion process is cleaner. He3 is found in the regolith of airless worlds, deposited there by solar wind, and in the atmosphere of gas giants. Of the two, it's easier to scoop He3 from the gas giants. Most systems with a gas giant will have a refinery in orbit around it. Control of these planets is an important strategic objective in war.

Gravitic control is the key to the stars. Along with the long-promised flying cars, gravity control is the key to both the reactionless drives that move ships in normal space and the hyperdrive that allows ships to get around the speed of light limitations. Ships enjoy artificial gravity and compensators that eliminate the effects of high acceleration. Losing either of these benefits can be devastating to a ship.

On planets, near-limitless power and negating gravity has resulted in cityscapes that have soaring, mile-high towers and wide open parks. Most people on Earth live in massive arcologies, huge single building cities that can house millions. Most of the people on Earth are on Basic Income, as there are nowhere near enough jobs. Make-work and public education keeps things mostly calm.

Key to the novel is the growing tensions between my as yet unnamed coalition, probably centered around Epsilon Eridani (because I like the name Eridani Coalition Navy) and the United Nations over economic issues. The situation will resemble the situation at the dawn of the First World War. The Eridani are the German, the UN is England, and I've yet to cast France and the other powers.

The actual plot is drawn from the pursuit of the SMS Goeben and Breslau, Imperial German warships sent to Constantinople to bolster the Turkish Navy. To get there, the two ships had to pass through the British-dominated Mediterranean pursued by the Royal Navy. War between Britain and Germany hadn't yet been declared, but both commanders knew it was coming.

I'm translating this to space. The commander of the Task Force has to escort a small group of ships to an allied system while dodging UN ships. Both sides are waiting for the word to start shooting. I'm aiming for a tense game of chess played out over many light years.

I'm world building now because I realized why my NaNoWrMo attempt failed last year: I wasn't ready. This time, I'm going to have all my world building, character development, and plot set. I'm using a program called Scrivener which serves as a great tool for organizing your writing and creating chapters and keeping track of your plots and subplots. I'm writing this on 750words.com which is training me to write every day.

So come next November 1st, I'll be ready and armed for the task of writing 50,000 words in one month. I'm going to work on increasing my daily output from 750 or so words to around 1,400, which is the level you need to maintain to "win" NaNoWrMo. Along the way, I'll work on a few short stories and essays.

I'm ready to start writing. For real.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Getting away from the book setting for a day, because something has come up that has me both amused and perplexed, and no it's not the water levels in Coyote Creek. It's how some people, how have been gaming for as long as I have, seem to shudder in terror when confronted with a game like FATE. Which, sadly for everyone, has become my favorite system.

The annoying thing is FATE is so bloody simple! To illustrate this, I'm going to generate character right here before your eyes! No dice, no calculator, just fleshing out a character concept. I'll wait while several of you finish swooning? Better? Then here we go!

The first thing the understand is the concept of Fate Points. Everyone has a small stash of these, including the Game Master. They are used to invoke Aspects. Everything has Aspects. Characters, places, monsters . . . they are details that can be used to further the story and to create advantages or disadvantages. As an example, the old warehouse the characters are searching might be *poorly lit* and an *utter firetrap* fill with *dozens of old crates and shipping containers.* Everything inside the asterisks are Aspects. If you wanted to hide from the bad guys following you you could invoke *poorly lit* by spending a Fate Point and get a bonus on your roll not to be noticed. Conversely, a player could invoke the *firetrap* aspect as a negative to get a Fate Point when he announces that his blaster shot as set the place on fire. Got it?

OK, making a character. First thing is your high concept. This is who the character is. Noble Knight of the Realm, Handsome Starship Captain, Secret Mage in the Big Modern City. An Aspect should be able to be invoked in both positive and negative ways.

For my guys, I'm going with Notorious, Allegedly Reformed, Smuggler. That can brought into play in many ways. So there's my big concept.

Next comes your Trouble. This is a flaw that is persistent. Ideally it should be something that would be difficult to get rid off. For my smuggler, he's a bit proud, and Has A Hard Time Resisting A Challenge. This can get him in trouble any number of ways.

After that, we have what's called "The Phase Trio." Three additional aspects that are ideally developed in consultation with the GM and the other players. This is where you build the story of why the group is together. Lacking other people, I'll wing it.

OK, first is "Entangled With the Thousand Suns Tong." My character is caught in a complex web of favors owed and obligations with an interstellar crime cartel.

Next, he is "Always Looking Out For (Character)", a long time shipmate and the one who usually gets the short end of the stick.

Finally I want him to have a nemesis, but phrased in a way that can be a positive. "Enemies At Court" means I've ticked off at least one powerful faction or family, but that group's rivals can sometimes be counted on to come to my aid.

So far, I'm liking this guy. On to skills! Skills are done in a pyramid, and the best way is to just show you.

+4 Pilot
+3 Contacts, Rapport
+2 Deceive, Notice, Resources
+1 Fight, Investigate, Lore, Shoot.

FATE uses dice with two sides showing a +, two sides with a blank face, and the other two showing a -. You roll four dice, and look to exceed a difficulty level, adding any skill modifiers. Simple!

Finally, I get three to five Stunts. Stunts change how skills work for the character. Sometimes, a Stunt will cost a Fate Point. Taking more than three Stunts lowers the rate at which you get Fate Points back. I'll stick with three.

"Who Can Resist That Smile?" When using social skills on receptive members of the opposite sex, I get a +2.

"Physics, Shmisics, I'm Flying Here!" by spending a Fate Point when piloting a ship, I can get away with seemingly impossible things.

"I Ain't Going To Hit You, OK, I'm Going to Hit You." by spending a Fate Point when throwing the first punch in a fight, I render the target unconscious if it was possible for me to damage him. (This trick would not work on a person in a hard helmeted vacuum suit, for example.)

So there you have it. I could go on a detail the aspects of my smuggler's ship, but I think y'all get the point. FATE is not a scary system, just different.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
Doing a little more world building for my eventual NaNoWrMo project. I plan to have everything ready to roll come November 1st. Setting, characters, plot and subplots laid out in Scrivener (a program I heartily endorse, by the way) so that I can start writing. That's part of the reason I'm doing 750 words, to get into that writing habit day after day. Get the word count up, work on my typing, and most of all cure myself of that insufferable urge to correct my mistakes as I go, as that always derails my train of thought.

So, today I'm going to look at the weaponry these ships will be carrying. Again, I'm going for a Golden Age of Battleships feel for the book. So recreating what a WWI battleship would be carrying is my main thrust, with a few exceptions for logic's sake.

The battle is going to be split into two "zones" in terms of weapons usage. Beyong about 10 light seconds (call it 3 million kilometers) combat will be carried out by Autonomous Attack Vehicles. These are the setting's equivalents of torpedo boats. An AAT is an unmanned carrier system for payloads attached to a big honking drive and guided both by internal programing and orders from the launching ship.

AATs are going to be fast, agile, and designed to get close enough to the target to launch attacks with nearly no time for response. The standard configuration is a "bus" system where the AAT carries smaller missiles with sprint engines and hyper-dense penetrators. These are the no-nonsense, kinetic kill weapons. They poke holes in things, and a AAT might carry twenty of them, all launched at once.

Other common packages are electronic warfare loads designed to degrade the enemy's sensors, senor platforms, packages that drop decoys that mimic AATs, and even big freaking fusion bombs to destroy large soft targets like space stations.

AATs are multi-use vehicles. It is expected that every attempt will be made to bring them back safely after an attack run. Any Captain who fritters away his AAT compliment will soon find himself flying a desk. Capital ships like battleships and dreadnoughts, won't carry many AAT tubes. Cruisers are the AAT-heavy ships, especially specialized missile cruisers flown by most navies.

Inside 10LS the battle shifts to energy weapons. The near univeral weapon is the gamma-ray laser, or graser. This is an extremely power burst of coherent gamma rays directed at a target. The weapons are rated by their effective output in Gigajoules (GJ). 1 GJ is equal in power to about 500 lbs of TNT. A typical main gun on a battle ship will put 200 GJ onto the target, or the equivalent of nearly 48 tons of TNT focused on a very small area. The grasers are fired in pairs from the same mounting, with the shots going out a fraction of a second apart, so the two blasts hit in close succession. Smaller mounts range from 5 to 40 GJ.

To power these shots, the guns are fed "shells" consisting of the lasing apparatus and and fusion power plant that consumes itself in creating the pulse of energy. The shots travel down a barrel that is a combination of wave guides and scattering protection to prevent damage to the firing battleship. These barrels would be 3 or 4 meters long for the big guns. The entire firing mechanism is in a turret that can rotate and track to place rounds where they are needed.

Which is exactly the feel I'm looking for. Because of the higher than normal reliance on human crews caused by the problems with hyperspace travel, the gun mounts are going to be hives of frantic activity in tight quarters as shells (I need a better word for those . . . cartridges? charges?) come up from the magazine, are placed into the firing chamber, all safety checks done, and fire! An outside observer wouldn't see anything, these beams are afar, far outside human vision. But I imagine that the impact would be spectacular to say the least.

There is a third many weapon system, rapid fire railguns that send streams of fire to destroy ATTs that get to close. These are mostly seen on smaller escort ships like destroyers and frigates, but a big ship will mount a few just in case. Generally, these are slaved to their own fire control systems and once given the clear by command, operate independently.

The one place you don't want to be in my book is between to flotillas slugging it out. Not at all healthy.

All comments and questions welcomed, as always.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
That's "Hello to everyone, Let's talk about language" in Turkish. I wrote yesterday about how the treatment of non-humans in gaming and fiction bugged me, and here's another nit I like to pick.

I speak English, but my English is the result of 200 years of drift from the mother language in Britain. English is spoken all over the world, but is fractured by regional accents and developing dialects to the point that if you put someone from Maine in the same room as someone from Alabama, they'd barely be able to understand each other. And that' speaking the same base language.

Now add in the roughly 6,500 languages spoken on our planet. Most of which are mutually unintelligible to each other. There are many places where you can walk a half mile and find that the entire language has changed, and the people in this village don't share any common linguistic characteristics with the nice folks in the last village. Linguistic families shift, there are different alphabets, and so on.

So why would this be any different in fantasy or science fiction? Think about it, Elves, dwarfs, orcs, etc., are all separate species with wildly divergent cultures. Their languages would be in different families with almost no crossovers. Depending on your setting, human languages might have been influenced by the older races in some places, that's a pretty common trope. But still learning Elvish is going to be as hard as it is for an English speaker to learn Japanese or Russian. Orkish? Assuming you can even make the sounds, there are going to be severe cultural barriers to really understanding what you are saying.

Get out into space and things get worse. Every human language, thriving, threatened, or dead, has something in common: they evolved to take advantage of how our mouths and respiratory systems work. Even tongues with odd glottal stops and clicks can be learned with enough study. Now take an alien like my Storks. They have mouths and a jaw that looks a like an alligator snout with a long, flexible tongue. They have no lips. Stork speech has been described as sounding like a broken steam pipe scalding a turkey alive. We can't come close to speaking it, and there's no way a Stork could manage more than a few human sounds. So how do you talk when you physically can't communicate?

Oddly, the Chinese figured that out long ago. Written Chinese is ideogramic, and is universal across all spoken Chinese. It is as close to a universal language as we're ever going to get, as the written form expresses ideas rather than sounds. So you can write "Where is the Hilton Hotel?" and have it recognized everywhere the Chinese language is used.

There's a legend that when Europeans and the Chinese first met during the Age of Exploration, the Chinese suggested that we adopted their written language. Pity we didn't, it would have made things easier.

But anyway, back to my point. Languages change over time as regional accents and slang infect the mother tongue. Borrowed words and phrases creep in and become standard. Isolation increases the speed of these changes. Within a few generations - lacking a serious attempt to keep the language "pure" - you'll be getting new language forms developing and drifting away from the parent.

Which means in a setting with comparatively slow travel like the Third Imperium, there will be millions of languages. Isolated, low population planets might speak a few tongues completely unknown elsewhere. Translator technology is advanced today, but the sheer number of languages you'd need to load would be daunting. Plus, translators will largely miss context. If you're in Alabama and a woman looks at you and says "Well, bless your heart!" she's not being nice, she's calling you an idiot. Not knowing the vernacular can be dangerous.

Most settings include a "common" language. There is historical precedent. Latin and Greek were understood across most of the world during the heyday of the Roman Empire, for example, and you can usually find an Arabic speaker in an Islamic nation. French and English have both had turns as the lingua franca in trade and diplomacy. But those tend to be the languages spoken in the cities and along the trade routes. The merchants in Istanbul when we were there spoke wonder English, French, and Russian, because that was the main tourist demographic. I am certain that if we had headed out the east away from the big cities, finding English speakers would have presented a problem.

Like everything else, language is a big part of the setting, and present obstacles and aides to characters, whether they be in a game or in your stories.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
One of my favorite parts of writing is the world building phase. I love creating strange places and the people and things (and the things that are people) that inhabit those spaces. I steal gleefully from history for setting details and odd occurrences to throw in.

But I think my favorite thing is designing aliens. I'm using the word here to define anything other than a baseline human. Elves and dwarfs are aliens, as are those hyper-intelligent shades of green from Procyon. Because building these sort of things allows for great creativity.

One of the things I hate about most alien depictions is that they end up being humans in funny hats, to steal a line from TV Tropes. Oh, they might have weird heads or be CGI critters, but we can recognize their motivations and usually speak with them. Klingon honor is indistinguishable from human codes of honor. These are aliens! They should be, well, alien!

Take my favorite alien race from Traveller, as I was just talking about that yesterday. The K'kree. A hexapodal plains-dwelling race of militant vegans. The K'kree are gregarious to the point that just the thought of privacy makes them ill, claustrophobic as hell, and totally dedicated to the extermination or conversion of all meat-eaters in the galaxy.

You see, at the dawn of the K'kree's industrial age, a slower than light asteroid ship came to their world. Aboard were the G'naack (the K'kree name, means "carnivore" more or less) a species who saw Kiriur as an all you can eat BBQ. The war lasted centuries, and when it was over the K'kree were the survivors and they had a mission that had become beyond religious.

So tell me, would the K'kree trade with human kind? Exchange diplomatic pleasantries? Do anything other than send extermination fleet after extermination fleet towards the Third Imperium? Gateway Sector, where the Third Imperium and the 2,000 Words meet, should be a scene of near constant war, with smaller meeting engagements punctuated by horrific clashes of giant fleets. The worlds should be scoured of life as the K'kree fight to erase any human presence. A thriving trade in looting these shattered fleets and doomed world would attract adventurers willing to risk being stomped to death by K'kree military types in the hopes of striking it rich.

But instead we got a watered down version of this, where if you abstained from eating meat for several days, it was totally cool because the K'kree would ignore the existence of a few trillion meat-eating humans. That always bugged me no end.

Now when I do my own aliens, I look hard at what they are to begin to understand how they act. As an example, my race of sentient blimps (called Blimps by humans, their own language is a series of colors and shapes formed on their skin) evolved as grazers in swallow swamps and river deltas. They use long tentacles to grab both mooring points and food as they stride along. I decided that rather than having sex, Blimp females drop egg sacks in still waters, and males are attracted and fertilize them. Also, Blimps have distributed brain networks. Along with a large brain near the forward eye clusters, there are neural nodes all through the body. Blimps never sleep, completely. There's always some part of the brain that's awake. Which means that Blimps are awake and dreaming at the same time.

So here we have a race with no traditional family structure, as eggs and the spawn are community assets, a worldview that sees dreams and the waking world as one, and communicates by changing the patterns and colors of their skin. They are not going to have the same thoughts and goals as humans! Indeed, even once we figure out how to talk to them, it may be that we find them infuriatingly vague and other-worldly; while they find us to to be boring and rude. Artists would love the Blimps, and who knows, the Blimps might find some value in human visual arts.

Of course, Blimps use colors for mood enhancements. Since blue is the primary color of the swamps they live in, blue is the color a Blimp uses to hide, so it is associate with fear. Meaning they'd be quite confused by Picasso's Blue Period. Also, don't wear your red power tie to the meeting, Blimps use hydrogen to float, and they are a little touchy about fire-like colors. I love these guys, I just wish I could figure out how to write a book around them.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
Yesterday a man I was lucky to count as a friend and mentor passed away. I only ever met Loren Wiseman in the flesh once, and that was long before we had a professional relationship. But he was one of the architects of the role-playing games that I still love to this day, and as I told my mom on the phone, he was probably one of the guys she wanted to punch in the face when I was a teenager (I was just slightly obsessed with Traveller. Slightly.)

Ah, Traveller. When Craig came home from a local game convention with that iconic little black box and told me that he wanted to run a game for me, I was thrilled. It was the early summer of 1977. I wasn't quite 11 yet, and attention from my big brother that did not involve a pummeling was a good thing. I found out years later I was allowed to game only because his regular group wasn't interested in doing a science-fiction game.

But I rolled up a merchant named Beowulf Schaffer (yes, I was reading a lot of Larry Niven) and Craig had of course figured out a 3-D starmap based on the Known Worlds. I think that game lasted three or four sessions. But there were more to come, and eventually I rolled up the character who would stay with me for years, Captain Sir Arameth Gridlore, Master of the Free Trader Driver Carries No Cash. I played Gridlore in multiple games through the years, and I'm proud to say that the old ethically-challenged merchant has made it into several official Traveller publications.

Eventually, I had my own set of the rules, and used my weekly allowance to gather more and more Traveller stuff. This is where Loren comes back into the story. GDW, the publishers of Traveller and other fine games, started a magazine to support the game. The Journal of the Travellers Aid Society (JTAS) had short adventures, new aliens and equipment, and mostly articles that expanded the growing Third Imperium setting from a vague "there's an empire out there" to a living, breathing place. Loren was editing the magazine, and I didn't know it then, but his work honed my skills as a world builder.

Loren also was a great game designer in his own right. He did a series of war games set in Republican Rome, and was lead designer on a game called Twilight:2000. The setting of the game was central Europe in the aftermath of the Third World War and a limited nuclear exchange. The characters are soldiers in the US 5th Infantry Division who get a message from divisional command: "Good luck, you're on your own."

Needless to say this game was immensely popular at Fort Benning while I was stationed there. A game where all the officers are dead and we get all the cool stuff? Awesome! I still remember the day we were playing in the rec room at Delta, 3/7th Infantry. We had found an intact M109 self propelled artillery piece, and were having an argument over how fast it could shoot. Then we all remembered that right across from our barracks was the 2/10th Field Artillery. After confusing the staff Duty NCO, we eventually got a quick lecture on the vehicle and a spare Field Manual for it. All so we could blow up imaginary river pirates on the Vistula.

Fast forward several years. It is announced that Steve Jackson Games has gotten a license to produce a version of Traveller. Loren was going to be mostly in charge. The intial projects look great, and I'm checking the "writers wanted" section of the SJG website when I see a call for a GURPS Traveller book on the Imperial Army and Marines. With great trepidation I send in a proposed outline and writing sample. And wait. And wait. Finally, I summon the nerve to call SJG and speak to Loren, who remember is one of my idols, and ask him about it. "Oh, yeah, I'm giving you the contract." He may have said more words, but I had stopping having a functional brain.

Writing Ground Forces was a challenge. I had never tackled such a project before. Luckily, I was smart enough to ask for help from my fellow members of the Traveller Mailing List, and brave enough to pepper Loren with questions. Each one of which he answered fully. Ever written for publication? You send in your first draft and it comes back covered in red ink, possibly reeking of brimstone and charred at the edges. But mine also came with a note "You write like a pro! Fix these few problems, and we're all good!" Exactly what I needed to see.

I can never express how it felt to hold that first author's copy in my hands. It was a Traveller book with my name on it. It was a good book, and I'm proud to say that it's always been highly rated by Traveller fans. And it never would have happened without Loren Wiseman's guidance and patience. He'll be missed.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
As Valentine's Day has just passed, let me tell you about my first love. The one I spent so many hours with, had so many adventures with, and of course cost me a lot of money and eventually left me.

I am speaking of course, about my first car. What, you thought this was about a girl?

I grew up at was the end of the Golden Age of California car culture. Most of my friends had their licenses and access to a car by the time they were sixteen, and freedom was ours! Going to concerts, hitting Rocky Horror and then Denny's for fries and ranch sauce, and of course cruising the El Camino until it was time to head to the Cinema 150 for Rocky Horror.

For those of you under 40, cruising was when you and several hundred of other drivers packed their cars with friends and drive up and down El Camino Real in an endless loop while listening to to either KOME or KSJO. Certain heretics would listen to KMEL or KFJC, but we could drown them out. The key to cruising was at stoplights; where, at random, people would just switch cars. If you didn't ride in five different cars in four hours you were doing it wrong. I recall one night when I told the driver to let me off at the movie theater and only then realized that I was the only English speaker in the car.

Good times.

But I didn't get my own license until I was in the Army, and even then it was for military vehicles. Only when I came home did my father make a deal to get me a car for my own uses. It was a 1973 Datsun miniwagon. It was baby-shit yellow and had terrifying brakes (later repaired.) Of course I had to name it the Yellow Peril. Named after the yellow biplanes used by the Navy to train pilots before and during WWII. It was, in retrospect, not that great a car, but I loved it.

Because it meant freedom. I could get to Grateful Dead concerts and conventions and, yes, Rocky Horror without begging a ride. If I wanted to go to Santa Cruz and hang out at the Pacific Garden Mall for TOTALLY LEGITIMATE, LEGAL REASONS I could do so. I was only tethered by gas money and the mechanical strangeness of my car.

See, some flathead and pushed a Dodge engine into my little Japanese import and did a poor job of it. I guess he wanted a hot rod build, but in that body? The result was an overpowered engine on a under-powered transmission and drive train. It made for some strange looks from mechanics I knew.

But still, I was able to get around, and being me, the Yellow Peril's paint job soon began to vanish beneath a sea of bumper stickers. I've never been shy about expressing myself, and now I had a rolling forum for my views. Most of these views were "The Grateful Dead are awesome!", as Dead stickers were about 75% of the total surface area of stickers, but I also had funny ones and some political opinions mixed in.

Which led to one of the few times I've ever been pulled over. One of the biggest stickers was my white on bright red QUESTION AUTHORITY sticker which was centered right under the window on my back hatch. One night while driving home from a friend's place, I make the left turn onto Los Gatos-Almaden Road from Leigh and get lit up by the cop who had been following me. At first he said that I "cut the turn too sharply" (WTF?) but then begins interrogating me on my plethora of art and opinions, especially that one. I had to explain to a San Jose Police officer that questioning authority is a cornerstone of a free society, and everyone, including him, needs to be ready to stand up when an authority figure says something that sounds fishy.

In the end, I flat-out asked if I was getting a ticket. I got a verbal warning about my "overly sharp" turns and my "bad attitude" and he let me go. I was royally pissed off, as you can imagine, and decided then and there that I would double-down on my questioning of authority. Been doing so ever since.

Sadly, the Yellow Peril began showing signs of age. I had been riding her hard for a few years, and more problems were showing up than I could afford to fix. Shortly after Kirsten and I moved in together, she broke down for good. I ended up selling her for baby-shit colored scrap metal.

Now I have Darby, my Ford Ranger who I love and wouldn't trade for the world, but you never forget your first love. Even if she drank oil like it was going out of style.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
The winter storms have eaten my spoons.

No, that isn't some password code to my fellow spies, it's a succulent description of where I am right now, and I'm not at all happy about it. For those not familiar with spoon theory, here's a brief synopsis.

Spoon theory (so called because it was first explained in a restaurant using spoons) is the idea that every action you take in a normal day has a cost in physical and mental wear, called spoons. You only have so many spoons to get through the day, and when you run out, you're done for the day in every way.

Here's how it works. Getting up and showering takes a spoon. Getting dressed takes a spoon. Acquiring food, either by making it at home or hitting the Starbuck's drive-thru, another spoon. Driving to work, spoon. And so on, with everything you do whittling away at you stash of spoons. And there's no freebies. Getting up to use the bathroom is a spoon!

Normal folks in general good health have more than enough spoons to survive to the point of going to bed. They may be tired, but they can still manage nightly rituals with minimal competence. But those of us with chronic pain and health problems, well, we start out with a major spoon deficit. I'm in constant pain, which takes away spoons at the start. My thinking is muddied by stroke damage, which makes everything cost more spoons. Most days, I'm lucky to accomplish two or three chores before hitting my spoon limit for the day. At which point I crash on the futon and watch TV, as even reading is beyond me.

What's worse is there are things that can take all my spoons for days. Unexpected stress, mood swings, or sudden changes can derail me as my brain simple overloads. Which is where I am today. I was already stressed because of the trailer project. Kirsten, Halford bless her, has taken to this like a storm. It's amazing to see her get so exciting about something, it's what she's needed for a while. But it's thrown into sharp relief just how little I can contribute to the project. So I was already on edge.

Then we have what is supposed to be happening this upcoming weekend. Last fall we got notice that our village at Burning Man, 404: Village Not Found, was going to holding a planning even in February in Reno. One weekend, at a great little Burner-owned hostel. We decided to go. Now, Kiri has never driven in snow and ice, and the last time I did it I was driving a M113A3 armored personnel carrier, which is a bit easier to handle in those conditions. The decision was made to take Amtrak's California Zephyr from Emeryville to Reno. I've taken that trip once before, when I rode up to meet Kiri after the Burn. Beautiful ride, and quite affordable.

Now most of you know that California has been in an extreme drought for the last five years. We saw no indication that would change. The January came, and with it some of the biggest storms in living memory. Lake Oroville, the dam in the news this week for the near collapse of its emergency spillway? That ale was nearly empty last August. Huge amounts of snow and rain have fallen in the past six weeks, with a few more storms on the way.

The drought left hundreds of thousands of trees dead or dying throughout Northern California, and the wild fires have been devastating. Then add record-shattering rain to the mix. What do you get? Mudslides, rock slides, and closed highways and rail lines. The train we are supposed to be boarding at 0900 on Friday is not fucking running with no estimate on when it will resume. And this has me so off balance because I live by plans these days, and we had this planned.

And when I say planned, I mean down to the path we were going to walk from the Reno train station to our hotel. The exact time schedules of both trains. What exactly to pack. Because doing it any other way would cause me to lose my spoons as I tried to adjust to a new thing.

It's very frustrating, since I can remember when I wasn't like this. I used to be able to roll with the punches and change plans as needed. I used to be a fully-functional human being. Now, I have to keep adjusting to new normals.

I swear I'll be more positive tomorrow.

But we're checking Amtrak updates and if there's no change in status in the next 48 hours, we're pulling the plug and cancelling the trip. Damnit.
gridlore: Army Infantry school shield over crossed infantry rifles (Army Infantry)
Spent the morning at our local YMCA, where we've been members for a bit over a year. I did my full time on the treadmill, 45 minutes at a brisk walk, but cut my weight training short due to a sore shoulder.

Exercise and I have a checkered past. I was a weak kid who was scared of sports and getting hurt. My idea of recess was sitting in the shade and reading a Heinlein novel. Even when enrolled in PAL soccer, I still shied away from the ball, hating every second I was on the field. I think I actually made intentional contact with the ball twice in the few years I played.

That was the pattern through my teen years. I hated physical activity, and associated working out with the jocks who made my life a living hell. As an aside, one of those jocks was Ken Caminiti, a senior at Leigh High School when I was a freshman. He would go on to be a professional ballplayer, reaching the Major Leagues with the Houston Astros in 1987 and earning the National League MVP award as a Padre in 1996. Sadly, he was on steroids, HGH, and massive amounts of cocaine. He died in 2004.

So at least I can say I was pummeled by a future MVP. Baseball street cred for the win!

In retrospect, my attitude towards working out was self-destructive considering that my iron goal in life was to enlist in the United States Army. I had no vision of attending college, despite that being the entire push of the education system, I only wanted to have a bad haircut and run around the woods with a machine gun. It seemed a good plan at the time.

And in 1983 I got my wish. My parents faced reality and allowed me to enlist under the Delayed Entry Plan. My mom made damn sure I had a high school diploma before I left (which is a story in of itself) but still I couldn't take working out seriously.

But finally I reported to Fort Benning, Ga, to begin my training as an Infantryman. Another aside, while still in Reception Station, on the very first day, right after getting uniforms and haircuts, I met General John A. Wickham, Jr., Chief of Staff, U.S. Army. The man who was was in command of all 2 million soldiers in the regulars, National Guard, and reserves. He was literally the highest ranking man possible in my service, and I didn't know how to salute yet. He was a nice guy, probably because he knew we were shell-shocked sheep.

It when I get to Alpha Company, 7th Battalion, 1st Infantry Training Brigade, that my years of sloth catch up to me. Infantry OSUT (One Station Unit Training, we do both "basic" and "advanced skill" training in one go in the same place and unit) began with the Shock Treatment. Lots of yelling, being ordered to move from place to place quickly, constant dressing downs and, wait for it, push-ups.

Looking back, I have to laugh. We were getting dropped for 5 or 10 push-ups at a time, and the Drill Sergeants were being quite liberal with the push-ups they'd allow. The days of perfect form and not having back push-ups count would come the next day.

But I knew immediately that I was in trouble. I couldn't see that others were having the same struggles, I thought I was going to fail that first day. Which is kind of the point of Shock Treatment, to break down your ideas of training and put you on edge.

The very next morning, when it was still dark and already over 80 (yay for Georgia in late summer) we started out daily PT (physical training) sessions. Push-ups, regular and eight-count; side-straddle hops; sit-ups; mountain climbers; and more, followed by a two mile run. We did this six days a week with a voluntary PT session on Sundays, which most everyone ended up doing. We would also do PT in the evenings if training ended early. Add in getting dropping either singly or in groups for minor infractions like existing, and we were being transformed.

Thing is, you don't see it happening. The difficulty kept getting ramped up, so every day was still hard. You forget that while you're doing 50 push-ups today, last week you were only doing 25. You forget that the idea of walking 15 miles with a 50lb rucksack, weapon and all your gear was unthinkable just a few short weeks ago. We changed as a team, 2nd Platoon, A-7-1, Infantry, On The Road!

We only really knew that we had changed when we got our civies back. I literally could not get the blue jeans I had reported in past my thighs. My t-shirt was about to rip at the seams. At least my shoes still fit!

I'm still not a gym rat, and even when I was healthy I still had no interest in playing sports. But I worked blue collar jobs most of my life, and those kept me in shape. Now, when I'm at the gym, I can still hear Drill Sergeants Redding, Colom, Readen, Chin, and Senior Drill Sergeant Rodney Swanson telling not to quit, not to cheat my body.

Nice to know those guys are still on my side.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
I'm working on a setting for a science-fiction novel. Essentially I want to recreate the feel of travel in the Edwardian era. Travel taking days or weeks, constant danger, and poor communications.

The germ of this idea came from reading about the pursuit of the SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau, two ships of the Imperial German Navy sent to reinforce the Turkish fleet in the opening days of the First World War, before England entered the fight on the French side. The two ships had to run a gauntlet of Royal Navy vessels, constantly seeking to outwit the English, and dealing with damaged boilers and lack of safe harbors.

No imagine the same scene in space. A task force sent to support an ally, but having to evade an enemy force while both sides wait for the order to be given for open hostilities to commence. I figure it would have the same tense feel of a submarine/destroyer conflict, but rather than not being able to see the enemy, the suspense would be in figuring out where the enemy is going.

To create this tension, I'm setting up some base rules for how ships work.

1. Hyper-drive equipped ships can reach speeds of up to about 1,000c, or 1,000 times the speed of light. However, maintenance and fuel requirements rise sharply in drives designed for the highest speeds. Such high speeds require larger and more complex engineering spaces, reducing the effective carrying capacity of the hull. Most ships cruise at 200-250c.

2. Entering or exiting hyperspace requires a local gravity field of at least .000006g. Which in our solar system is roughly at the orbit of Saturn. Entry and exit can be pushed in high fields, but it's hard on the equipment. Ships trying to push deep past the hyper rim can be forced out of hyperspace without warning. This has been difficult for some people to get, but it's simple. Hyperspace entry and exit needs at least a minimal gravitational field to work. Theoretically, you could enter h-space from a planet's surface. However, "current" engineering limitations means that trick will end in a huge explosion. Ships therefore will enter normal space at or near the minimum gradiant, or "h-edge" to reduce stress on equipment.

3. Hyperspace is damaging. Ships and people in transit begin to suffer effects of hyperspace after several days of travel. Early symptoms of Hyperspace Adaptation Syndrome (HAS) are headaches, numbness or tingling in extremities, nausea, and vision or hearing issues. The longer a trip continues, the more severe the issues become. Extended voyages can result in permanent damage to the nervous system or death. Electronic systems on ships are also disrupted, though they can be better shielded. As a result, starships tend to have more redundancy in electrical systems and larger crews than we would expect today as they can't trust automated systems as much as we do.

4. Additionally, ships exiting hyperspace are subject to "terminus shock." This is a sudden attack of HAS, causing everyone on a ship emerging from hyperspace to be stunned or nauseated for as long as several minutes. Those already suffering from severe effects of travel can be killed by this shock. The deeper a ship goes past the hyper rim, the more severe the shock. Ship's systems already suffering from damage from h-space exposure can fail spectacularly due to terminus shock. It is customary for ships to run diagnostic tests on everything after exiting h-space.

5. Speed and distance increase the severity of negative effects of travel. The pilots of high-speed couriers tend to have short careers and amazing health care plans. Astrogators (the space travel version of a navigator) will need to plot courses that minimize their time in hyperspace by juggling speed and the distance to be traveled. Which means controlling access to certain stars will be quite lucrative as trade will funnel through them.

Now, interstellar communications. Faster than light (FTL) communications exist, but they are limited. The power and plant requirements for a true FTL sending station are massive. The systems that can afford them usually build sending stations on asteroids or moons close to the hyper rim. These stations tend to be heavily fortified against attack.

The sending system itself has limited bandwidth. Messages tend to be telegraph-short. Anything longer than a few hundred characters will take an extremely long time to send and consume vast amounts of power. Governments and big corporations tend to use codes whenever possible to reduce the sending costs.

Stations can broadcast or aim a message at another station. Directed messages will suffer some signal spread as they propagate, but the effect is minimal. Messages move at about 10,000c, so a message sent from Earth to Æsir, a planet orbiting Epsilon Eridani, 10.475 light years away, would arrive in just over nine hours. A ship traveling at 250c would make the same voyage in a bit over 15 days.

Larger ships can carry receivers. This allows them to get messages even when moving in hyperspace. Due to the limitations of the media, these tend to be three letter code groups, like used today with ballistic missile subs. Warships are issued code books (that are updated on a regular basis) used to determine what their orders are. As an example:

RQD (All 3rd Fleet Units)
YYT (War Plan Case Ocher)
SNW (Rendezvous Wolf 359)

In which case every ship of the 3rd Fleet would open their safes, pull out Case Ocher, and plot courses to Wolf 359. It's possible to issue different code books to different organizational units, so while YYT means war to 3rd Fleet, to 2nd Fleet units it means "Eat your veggies" and SNW mean "null message group."

I'll be doing more on weapons and tactics. I want to know my universe before I start writing in it.
gridlore: Gold football helmet with red 49ers logo (Football - 49ers helmet)
Another Superbowl has come and gone. Leaving us with the etenral question, is Super Bowl one word or two? I've seen it both ways, honestly, and even the official NFL material seems to be of two minds.

The game itself was amazing, featuring an astonishing comeback by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. I was rooting for Atlanta, as I always want to see a city lacking in championships earn one. That first parade is always magical. But the football gods were fickle, and Boston gets the joy.

The end of football season means that baseball, and my beloved San Francisco Giants, are just around the corner. We're already seeing photos from this year's commercial shoots, and Spring Training opens next week! Rapture! Joy! Beat L.A.!

Seriously, Beat L.A. With a stick. I hate the Dodgers.

But along with the overblown end of the NFL season came something I've come to dread on social media. People adopting elitist, dismissive attitudes about sports. Sadly, some people I consider friends to this. It annoys me no end, and I have to keep from exploding every time I see it. So I'll just explain why here in this space.

Calling all sports "sportsball" and pretending to be confused by the basic concepts of the game are insulting. Refusing to admit that sports are popular to a wide audience of all backgrounds is delusional. Whining about people spending money on watching sports is rude and controlling. If I choose to spend money on a Brandon Crawford jersey and pay to go to a game that's my business.

I have friends, some of whom have done the sportsball thing, who spend thousands of dollars every year to attend science-fiction conventions. I love conventions, but you don't think that someone somewhere isn't rolling their eyes at this? Two men I am proud to call friends have devoted thousands of hours and an equal amount of money to creating fantastic costumes and props, all for their own enjoyment. Surely there could have been a better use for that money, some would argue.

But it's what brings these people joy. So fuck off and let them enjoy it.

So why do I enjoy sports so much? I love watching skilled people do things that I could never do. A Major League pitcher can top 99mph on a fastball. The batter has less than a second to identify the speed and motion of the ball, make a swing/no swing decision, and commit to the act. Literally the slowest part of this action is the signal from the brain to the muscles to move. Yet a good batter will make contact over half the time.

A NFL quarterback has to be away of the position of 21 people at the time he gets the ball. He has to be able to track his receivers and throw the ball into a crowd and get it to the right guy. See how well you do at this when being pursued by guys who are big, fast, and strong. A few years ago my mom and I get great seats for a 49ers preseason game. We were right down by the sidelines near the end zone. We saw exactly how fast these players are, and how hard they hit.

There you go, I love sports because I love seeing amazing things unfold live.

But there's another reason why I love sports, and football in particular. 49ers football is probably my one good memory of my late father. Dad and I never got along. I often say that he wanted children and got Californians. Dad grew up in England during the Depression and WWII in a military family. He simple wasn't prepared for kids with political opinions and a sense of personal freedom. We locked horns on everything.

But on Sundays, we were a family united. I was raised a 49er Faithful. I joke that my first words were "wait 'till next year!" We lived and died by the Niners. Even when all my friends were rooting for the Steelers or Cowboys, the two dominant teams of the 1970s, I held fast to my roots.

My parents had season tickets at Candlestick Park, 45 yard line, right under the press box. Sometimes, I'd get to go to the game with Daddy. I can still remember riding up the long escalator while holding his hand, cheering as John Brodie let the Red and Gold down the field, getting to eat hot dogs and candy, and mainly just being with my dad as we followed the family religion.

Even later, at the worst of our estrangement, I would call him every Sunday during the season to talk about the game. It was the one common thread that held us together. And when he died, I think my first reaction was that I was going to miss those conversations.

In conclusion, if you don't like sports, good for you. But don't think that makes you better than anyone else, and don't be a condescending twat about it.

Oh, and Go Giants! BEAT L.A.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
Kirsten pointed me to 750 Words. This is my first try.

Testing one, two, three... I'm starting this as an exercise in getting words on the page, so to speak. Procrastination is my biggest foe. I find excuses to do anything but write. I need to check Facebook, I've got a good game of Civilization 6 going, whatever. The point is I want to write, and I want to get published.

One of the highlights of my life was writing GURPS Traveller: Ground Forces. It was a struggle, and Having someone like Steve Jackson, a legend in the gaming industry, write "STUPID, remove this" on your draft submission was not encouraging. But I soldiered on, pushing myself to make this book, the one I was destined to write, the best book I could.

And it paid off. Ground Forces was well received and I'm shocked at how people consistently rate it as one of the best Traveller products ever. I've had people come up to me and ask for autographs. At the 2014 Burning Man, I actually met a fan of my work in the plaza at the base of the Man. It's rather strange but satisfying.

That was 17 years ago. Oh, I have my excuses. I was working as a truck driver and was too tired to write. No gaming company wanted what I was offering. I was too sick to write, or had too much to do. The simple fact is that I was putting things off because as usual, my fear of failure was pushing me to not even try. This is a problem I've dealt with all my life. Rather than attempt something and accept failure, I've avoided the possibility of being embarrassed by my failures.

But now I'm running out of excuses. I'm also running out of time. In 2013 I suffered a stroke. That, and my other copious health problems, have made me aware of my own mortality. I need to do the work so I can say "I am a published science fiction/fantasy author" before I die. Just like holding that first copy of Ground Forces in my hands was magical, I expect that seeing my name on table of contents for a magazine like Analog or Strange Horizons would be equally amazing.

A Hugo Award wouldn't hurt, either. Just saying.

So, I'm going to write daily. Much of it will be gibberish. Much of it will suck rocks through a bendy straw. No matter. The stuff I like will be shared on my Dreamwidth. The other stuff . . . well, let's just say I'm happy that 750 words is private. This will also be useful for my writing group, as I'm expected to show up at each session with something to read. This will let me keep up with my amazing friend Rafael, a 93 year old USMC veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, who never fired a shot in anger in his career. The Marines found out he could type when he entered the service in 1943, and that sealed his fate. Rafael shows up every week with multiple pieces, sometimes as many as eight or nine, that he types out on an old typewriter. Surely I can keep up with him! Maybe.

What am I going to write about here? Some of it will be stuff like this, stream of consciousness thoughts and ideas. I'll be doing some world building for a setting I'm working on. I might review books and movies. Sometimes, I'll just rant about something. Most of the time I'll be trying to hone my story-telling skills. I need to work getting my words to paint a picture. I know I can do it. When Ground Forces came out there was one piece of art that made me squeal with joy. i had written a description of how prospective Imperial Marines began their combat training with spears and knives, to hone their awareness of their surroundings and build a hunter's instincts. One of the artist drew two marines pushing through thorny vines with spear, and the sheer look of exhaustion on their faces was *exactly* what I was going for. I believe I pointed at the picture and said "those are my words!"

This is the challenge I set for myself. A daily ritual of getting words out of my damaged brain through to my blazing two-fingered typing and onto the screen. I honestly don't know where this will lead. I do get badges for keeping up the work, and National Novel Writing Month is coming up again in November, so maybe this year I'll see it through.

As always, I'm thinking of it as an adventure.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Work continues on the Free Trailer Beowulf. I'm going to straight up admit that Kirsten has been doing most of the grunt work, and she's been stunning.

One thing we learned early is that we suck at backing the trailer into parking spots. To fix that, she bought a hitch dolly. A simple ball hitch attached to a wheeled dolly. Our trailer is light enough to be easily pushed by hand, and using this puts the pivot point right at the hitch point rather than 10' forward at the truck's front wheels. We used it today to correctly position the trailer in its storage yard slot. Along with that, we got a wheel dock to hold the front jack leg in place.

My contribution today was spraying the mold Kiri found with plenty of vinegar and pulling down the contact paper that was serving as wallpaper to see if the fungi had spread. We'll probably end up staining that wood and sealing it with a spray coating. Glow in the dark stars and moons will happen. During the process I found that the previous owner had left a small camp mirror behind. One less thing for us to buy!

Next step is to hook up the trailer and take it back over to Kiri's office. The Manly Men there saw some deficiencies in the front of the A-frame, and there is welding equipment and a stock of steel at the warehouse. The wiring is also a bit of a kludge, and needs to be cleaned up a little. While that's happening, I'll be inside carefully scrubbing the dead mold off the wood and sealing the affected areas.

After we took care of things at the storage yard, we decided to go check out the new Bass Pro Shop in New Almaden. Dear Gods, that place is huge, and so much fun to wander through! A giant aquarium stocked with really big fish, huge selections in every department, and even a well-stocked firearms section. We did buy handles for our 30oz thermal mugs. Prices there were iffy, but we can compare with REI for the best deals now that we know what's there.

The plan had been to hit the grocery store after all of this, but by that point we were both tired and my legs were spiking at seven on the pain scale. I'm planning on doing the Y tomorrow (I expect it to be empty) and I'll hit to store on the way back home.

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