Monday, December 22, 2014

Why Math?

When I was teaching math and computers in college, some freshman would invariably ask: why do I have to learn this? Why math? One of my professors replied: "Why art? Why a baby?"
He was right. In its purist form, math is art. Anyone who has looked at fractals can tell you that. Zoom in on a Mandelbrot set and you'll find another one underneath. I'm sure the movie Frozen wouldn't have been the same without them.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_set
Pythagoras, the discoverer of the formula for a triangle's hypotenuse and prime numbers, was considered a philosopher by the ancient Greeks. This is the realm of number theory, where you get to peek at the secret rules of the universe, but there is rarely any progress. It's still intoxicating to play with, though, because you find patterns. If you take two to a prime number and subtract one, that number will also be prime. There are numbers (like 6) Pythagoras called "Perfect" because when you add up all their factors, it makes the number itself. Some pairs of numbers form each other.
Pure math is concerned with topics like how do I find this animal, or how can I prove this general rule I came up with? Sadly, mathematicians spend so much time locked up with this ideal of beauty that they sometimes refer to short, elegant proofs as "sexy."

The moment math applies to the real world, it's soiled and most purists won't touch it anymore. For example, guys like Diffie and Hellman noticed that certain math problems easy to describe and generate but incredibly difficult to reverse to the solution. Such one-way behavior is ideal for cryptography. Their discovery forms the basis for your secure computer transactions when you type https. Applied math people ask questions related to the real world, like "how can I fly to every city on my route the cheapest way possible, visiting each exactly once?", which is known as the Traveling Salesman Problem. If there are ten cities, there are 10 choices for the first stop, 9 for the second, and so on. Before you know it, the number of combinations explodes into 3,628,800 routes. This unruly behavior is known as a Non-Polynomial equation (NP), and it appears in every aspect of life, from trash collection routes to odds in Poker or the best move in Chess. It's a very dangerous animal.

Polynomial equations (P), by contrast, are simple and tame. Problems such as sorting this list of students by score, or finding the amount of light on every surface in your computer simulation are based on the number of data points squared or cubed at worst. Engineers can find cheats to reduce the complexity to N log N or 6 N squared. Throw enough computing power at P problems and they go away. Most of computer science revolves around the proper understanding of and taming of combinatorics. Knuth wrote the definitive series of textbooks on this topic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_Computer_Programming 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SC5CX8drAtU
Why is NP so dangerous? Some NP problems have a flaw if you look at them the right way. You don't need to solve the perfect abstract problem, only the common case. For example, the costs to fly somewhere in the Traveling Salesman problem are primarily due to fuel costs and hours or crew time, both of which are dominated by the absolute distance between two points. For most cases, if you put a dot on each city on the map, a four-year-old could play connect the dots along the outer rim and get a solution that's close. These heuristics (greedy algorithm) are not a guarantee of the best solution, but are usually within an acceptable percent of perfect in almost no time. The Maps program on my wife's phone helped us find the best route to visit every quilt store in Minnesota.

In my job as an engineer, each time I could get "close enough" to an NP problem like the Knapsack Problem for scheduling computer resources, it was worth a patent. Each time I "knew" it could be simplified, it took me two months locked in solitary for a prototype and a year to build a safe version for the customer. They are deceptively simple, with the promise of big payoffs.

Numb3rs (2005) PosterThe problem comes when you can't find a hack. Mathematicians put these hard problems in a zoo and name them. They fill journals and books. To get into this hall of shame, they need be mapped with a few word changes and order P math steps into another NP complete problem. Thus, if you can solve ONE of these monsters in P time, all of them will fall to the same sword. In the TV series Numbers, the main character nearly has a breakdown when he spends a year trying to crack this problem. I can see how easy this would be, fixating on something that is just beyond your grasp and having faith that it just takes the right point of view and tenets. Math is still part philosophy. Through the use of neural nets we can model an NP problem with circuits and allow the current to settle to its natural solution state. In quantum computing, it should be possible to just "guess" the right answer. The computer will see all solutions simultaneously and collapse the waveform to the one we want. All of this could happen within our lifetime, and it will transform the economy and touch every science. "Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I can move the world." -- Archimedes, another dead Greek geek.

Why do I care? In 2008, I lost six months of spare time and sleep trying to conquer a simple puzzle called Eternity 2--a simple 256 piece puzzle so devious that to exhaust every possibility on existing computers would probably take until the sun burns out. But what if it has a weakness or I could get close enough? The solution was worth a couple million dollars, and would prove P=NP. I solved other puzzles to earn the placement of 4 of the pieces, but this didn't make the puzzle any easier. With the initial set of corner pieces and random guesses, I notices that in 200 attempts, one of the choices for upper-right corner went further than all the others. My working theory was that of fixed-point iteration or seeking the path of least resistance through repetition--like Newton's square-root technique or the Hailstone Seed Problem, the problem wanted to converge on a solution and would lead me to that end. Therefore, I would test each of the options for an added piece a few hundred times and measure successes. I only chose those additions with overwhelming success, or split the search when there were two close options. Most attempts with some wouldn't get past the halfway point. Indeed, some choices might make the problem unsolvable. By following success, I hoped to find increasingly better solutions.  I came closest with 211 sequential pieces and 22 edge mismatches in the overall attempt. I also suspect that the pieces with multiple triangle of the same color were a flaw to exploit. I stopped when I reached 19 edge mismatches and forced myself to quit cold turkey.

IQ is nothing without common sense. Here's the problem, like a lottery, I could EARN a million dollars in the time it took me to solve this one puzzle, with no general purpose solution. I also wanted to spend time with my children and wife. (I have a more normal definition of "sexy".) Though the siren song of NP calls from time to time, I spend my spare cycles writing fiction now, making other art that will hopefully last beyond me or improve the world today. That is how this discussion began after all. Math practiced properly is a life-changing philosophy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Hidden Cost of Higher Book Prices

One of the hardest decisions to make as a self-published author is what price to put on your completed work. As quickly as possible, you want to pay for the editing, cover, and three months of electricity and health insurance you just incurred. However, you also know that lower prices can mean higher volume. With the advent of KDP Select, this decision got much easier. Earning 30 percent of 99 cents per book outside the program pales in comparison to the 70 percent of 2.99 inside the program. Sales go down by less than a factor of two and you earnings go up by a factor of seven! Given user psychology about the desirability of cheap books, you may actually see a slight increase in demand for a higher price point.

Now Amazon is sharing some of its incredible sales data with the author in a beta program. They offer this service at the touch of a button as step 9 of publishing your e-book.

9. Set Your Pricing and Royalty

KDP Pricing Support (Beta)

See the relationship between price and past sales and author earnings for KDP books like yours.
This sounds amazing. It shows you for books like yours (length, genre, your popularity as an author)  how much increasing the price should affect the demand for the produce. This is know as "elasticity of demand." Then they multiply the sales by volume for each price point to find the best spot on the profit curve. In terms of ECON 101, the example where adding more fertilizer on the field stops being profitable is called the point of diminishing returns. I can't show you the curve for one of my books because Amazon may view this as a breach of sales data, and for books that have a low sales history, the curve recommendation changes every hour. But the upshot is clear: for a strong book, you can take a hit of 30-45 percent on the volume, raise the price to 5 to 8 dollars a book, and make a lot more money. On my highest seller, if I sell 100 books a month today at $3 each, I earn $300. If I bumped the price to $8 and sold only 55, I could make $440. Why wouldn't I?

In my genres and experience, a series tends to attract ten times the readers of a stand-alone.  I like series because 70 percent of the buyers of book one spring for book two, and those loyal readers generally purchase all the books I have out in the series. I refer to this as "follow" or drag. That's a huge incentive for an author. However, the graph results from Amazon comes with an explicit warning that "You indicated this is the first book in a series. This case may be different." Because if you constrict the volume on book one by even a little, you hurt every book in your series.

While ever case is different, here is an illustration where doubling the price and profit of book one restricts volume of sales by x percent. Note that I've never seen a restriction of less than 30 percent on a recommended price increase. You can see by the chart that any decrease in volume costs you more as the length of the series increases. Even for a typical fantasy trilogy, the net effect is money out of your pocket if you follow the recommendation for book one. This drag effect is why some authors with a long series are willing to give away the first novel for 99 cents or free to hook people (the heroin model of marketing). For a short series, you can locate the acceptable audience loss level on their curve and try a partial increase. Be conservative, though. This is still a dark art, not an exact science.

% volume % earnings % follow Books in series
lost book one lost 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
5 190 3.5 186.5 183 179.5 176 172.5 169 165.5
10 180 7 173 166 159 152 145 138 131
15 170 10.5 159.5 149 138.5 128 117.5 107 96.5
20 160 14 146 132 118 104 90 76 62
25 150 17.5 132.5 115 97.5 80 62.5 45 27.5
30 140 21 119 98 77 56 35 14 -7
35 130 24.5 105.5 81 56.5 32 7.5 -17 -41.5
40 120 28 92 64 36 8 -20 -48 -76
45 110 31.5 78.5 47 15.5 -16 -47.5 -79 -110.5
50 100 35 65 30 -5 -40 -75 -110 -145

In conclusion, while an excellent resource for an author with a long, stable sales history and a stand-alone book, Indies who want to attract as many new customers as possible will have to modify Amazon's suggestions to balance our needs.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Release of the Jezebel Series Finale

Senescence is the final stage of life, where cells can no longer regenerate--the fate that awaits us all when we stop growing and changing. The starship Sanctuary has returned home after twenty years to a strange and hostile world. Stewart is sent as an ambassador to see if Earth still has the capacity to change or whether the crew will let the world suffer the consequences of corporate policies. Billionaire geneticist Laura Zeiss holds his fate in her hands ... and thereby the planet's. Will she choose to become one of the rulers of a decaying world or risk everything to save a naive young man? When Stewart finds out her secrets, will he still want her help?


As the final book, this was the hardest to write. It took twice as many revisions as any book I've done before. I did a lot of research on the coming "singularity" in 2045. What impressed me most was not the new technology, which I include, but the projected increase in human suffering. Worse, most of that suffering seemed destined for women and children. Every time I'd listen to a news cast or pundit, or research another topic, I would become more appalled and angry at what women are enduring today. A lot of that anger made its way in to the story. I focused on the world's richest woman and what she tries to do within the system for decades, including a reality TV show called Ballbusters that brainstorms creative solutions to raise awareness. Then I bring in a man, from another world, who sees the injustices and objects. Because he's a man, it makes news. Science fiction, right?

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Space Opera Outline

In September, I began the outline for a new series, a space opera, So far I am up to 32 single-spaced typed pages. I'm almost ready to begin book one. I carry a small school composition notebook with me everywhere. After 6 weeks, it's only half full. Everything--how stars are distributed in this galaxy, size, grouping, habitable planets, and even the gaps between stars--leads to plot points and characterization. Form follows function in my universe. The way FTL travel works affects everything from the banking system to how races expand.

Although I have three or four specific books I want to write, the back ground material would support a dozen. Set 400 years in the the future of the Jezebel universe, I planned out a very detailed timeline of Earth's colonization of the stars, construction of ships, trade, interaction with other species, and eventually war, I could even go back later and write about any period in between like Modesitt did with the imager series. Stewart Llewellyn, the hero from the Jez finale, founds the Anodyne colony and plays a big role leading humanity until the war. Our new hero, Max Culp takes over from there. As a twist from last book, I thought I would make him part !Kung, one of the click speak tribes of Africa, which makes him skilled on low tech world survival and immune to remote sensing by people with mental abilities--both assets to special forces. He is a combination of mankind at its most primitive and advanced. A medic present at two of the most horrific battles in the war, Max struggles to find a new path in the chaotic peacetime Union worlds. First, he hunts the race responsible. When those are gone, he faces a crisis. He has guilt for things he's done, especially failures, grinding his teeth at night. He copes by saving one person. Eventually, with the help of the talented people who collect around him like driftwood, Max becomes a leader at the forefront of Union decisions for the next era.

However, I need to paint a detailed picture for myself of each of the major colonies, Earth itself, the megacorportations/oligarchs, and technologies. Not all of this will appear explicitly in the work, but the structure is necessary for depth and texture. Below is a sample page of notes:

Anodyne

A sketch of the first human colony in space. The very name means healing and freeing from pain. Initial population 77 living astronauts and about 1000 embryos. Smaller than Earth, lower g. The hardest part to learn after landing was working with the ecosystem. Residents tend to pacifists, but not gullible. Leaders have lofty morals. Ivory towers are literally synthetic bone. Citizens get treatments to live 150 years. Stu lived over 200 years. They have eliminated dementia, cancer, and arthritis, almost as much through lifestyles and industrial rules as treatment.
Two hops from Earth along the Ceti route (24LY, end to end about 68.4 days + 91 for each end and turns conserving fuel ballpark = 160 days trip time) They have refueling stations in every direction to protect them. The colony projects influence. Renown for philosophy, design, ethics, hospitals, terraforming, planning, art, and university. Considered by the Sentient Union to be the capital of the Human commonwealth, which is a point of resentment among other humans. Very proud of their enlightened history. Each building and statue is a testament to some achievement. Trade began here, although more volume goes through other places. The seat of the current Llewellyn. Since YR 15, the captain of Sanctuary has always been one of the lineage. Laura froze about 20 embryos and after her death, Stu raises a new child every 16 years to keep him from dying from the pair-bond.
When his mother in-law Mira dies in YR 20, they promise her they will try to save Earth from itself. YR 30, Stu’s third child, Dominic develops theory of why 128 engines are needed to breach subspace. Around YR 65 they build the orbital shipyard and test, but never developed the population and industrial base to build their own starship. By then the original Sanctuary crew is dead. When they threaten to voyage on their own, blind, Mercy shows them the Magi star charts.
YR 70 Stu contacts the Sentient Union directly. Anodyne buys an ansible to communicate faster than light. They trade the basic laws/safety regulations for starships with Mnamnabonians for human entertainment. They trade the secret of Joan to the Magi for principles of Terraforming. She becomes the planet’s memory.
In YR 80, they return to earth to teach the basics of starships. Anodyne population is only about 770. Trying to be sustainable. Link to Sanctuary is still their umbilical. Only one city. Learn that building codes for space port must last over 500 years. Forced to start another—University. This remains the biggest single metropolitan area.
In 105 at the next Union convocation, humans are named the mentor race for the pandas.
With the migration and building/trade boom, by YR 110, the population is up to 9000. About 1000 more every decade, handpicked from best earth scientists.
In 115, they take over the colony Overlook near Oblivion, with a mahdra crystal plantation, a battery that charges with radiation or sunlight and has over 90 percent retention, the foundation of portable Magi technology. Upper limit population of 5k, this is a research station with amazing wealth.

By 120 Anodyne has 3rd city and 50k.
...
In 321, the last Llewellyn child raised by Stu is killed on a diplomatic mission,
beginning the Gigaparsec War. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Loro Parque: Zoo Extraordinaire

This summer, my family and I went on a 14 night, transatlantic Disney cruise. Gaining an hour's sleep a night as we changed time zones was cool, but the highlight of our cruise was the Loro Parque zoo. Warning: this is more photos than I've ever put in a blog entry, but we took hundreds.
There was no premade excursion for this, so we had to roll our own. The taxi ride to the park costs about 100 euros round trip (you have to bargain), but takes you over volcanic peaks so close to the clouds you can touch them. Over the half hour drive, you get to see a city nestled into the mountainside, black beaches, and banana plantations. Loro Parque has more birds that any zoo in the world, dolphins, jellyfish, orcas, a white tiger, and more penguins than anywhere outside Antarctica. Plan to spend at least three hours.

 


 The killer whales make a point of splashing the first dozen or so rows. The zoo sells ponchos for 6 euros a piece, but they don't help. When that wave hits, you get soaked, and everybody else laughs.

But the major attraction, the one that awed everyone, was the penguin habitat. My son's first movie was March of the Penguins, and apart from a recent fondness for dragons, it is still his favorite animal.



Picture a horseshoe-shaped moving sidewalk. In the center, is a two-story, glassed in habitat the size of a football field.
 

They have what seemed like a dozen species of penguin on rocks, surrounded by imitation ice floes and water teeming with fish. The temperature is kept at zero and lights are dimmed to match the cycles of Antarctica.


As we entered to the strains of Vangelis' instrumental Antarctica, we were stunned to see snow coming out of the holes in the ceiling. Pierce's smile couldn't have been any wider. (He took many of these photos.) The penguins napped and played on the rocks, but rocketed through the water like torpedoes, leaping like dolphins. We went through for a second pass and sat in the bleachers, still amazed. As we stared, they came up to stare back at us.
 


As they say in the credit card commercial: Having your son's childhood idol come up to him nose-to-nose to say hi: priceless.






Monday, August 25, 2014

Twelve Thousand Books

I am reminded of an episode of The Simpsons where Bart is forced to write "I will not celebrate meaningless benchmarks" one hundred times on a blackboard. I reached 250 Goodreads ratings and 150 Amazon reviews. This month, I also hit sale number twelve thousand for e-books, for which I am extremely grateful. This was roughly distributed as:

  • 7300 for the Jezebel's Ladder hard sci-fi series.
  • 4100 for the Doors to Eternity epic fantasy series.
  • 400 for the Ryoku series and spinoff in the contemporary/urban magic world.
  • 200 for the other five books I wrote combined.

Since I just finished the last book if the Jezebel series (Senescence), I'm planning a big event for the release in early October, but I'm treading water while I wait for editing feedback. This is a good time for reflection.What did I learn in the last three years, and how will it change me as a writer going forward?

  1. A good series is your bread and butter. I have no idea what book I will write next, but I should plan for a series. They sell 10 to 14 times what a standalone does. I already have an idea for a Jez spinoff set on the moon. The self-aware computer expanding over the entire lunar surface is likely to be a major backdrop. Over my upcoming vacation, I'll write up some notes and see where it leads.
  2. If I research what I'm passionate about, I'll find something there to write about. Writers make connections in the weirdest places. Learning keeps my brain active and the subject matter alive/realistic. I've written on everything from djinn to space colonies, and it's all fun.
  3. Stick with your target audience. If they don't want something, people get mean, even when it's free. When Jez was number 4 on the free sci-fi list, a lot of people took a chance and downloaded a copy without reading the blurb. Those people weren't my audience or demographic. As a consequence, I got three scathing reviews that week that took months to recover from. On a related note, always watch your tags. Someone with a financial interest added a false BDSM tag to take readers to the top twenty books in that category. One reviewer got a little peeved when my book didn't deliver in that department. Even stranger, after months on the top one hundred sci-fi, Amazon ate Jez's sci-fi category on a routine pitch update. The problem took months for a friend to spot, and the book never achieved its former rank on the chart.
  4. My style changes over time. This is a good thing. It's much easier now for me to strike a note and carry it through a scene. Each time I attempt something more difficult or pick a new editor, I learn more about the craft. A year after I release each book, I go back and polish in order to incorporate what I've learned since. I always like the characters and flow, but I am sometimes embarrassed by word repetition, dialog tags, or some other small mechanics item. Lately, I think that I may be growing more as an editor than as a writer.
  5. Every new book is like betting on a horse race. As a writer, I never know what will sell. My YA books haven't sold squat, despite the fact that my kids loved them. LE Modesitt warned me not to try to be all things to all people, but I wanted to share an adventure with my son, Pierce. I still have a decent hit ratio. My highest rated book ever (4.8/5) and the one that has garnered some of my most loyal and vocal fans is "Foundation for the Lost." However, it just doesn't sell. After devoting time to this issue, I have decided that first, the book belongs in Urban not Epic fantasy. Further, the cover, which brings most people into the parlor to shop, needed help. Renee did exactly what I asked, but I asked for the wrong thing. Since the chess pieces on the cover may have turned people off, I asked her to update the cover. She squeezed me in on her birthday. (thanks!) Here's the before and after for Foundation:
 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cover Reveal: Senescence

I'm on what should be the last three chapters of the finale of the Jezebel series! The characters still keep surprising me with innovative solutions to modern problems. High level edits are done on the first half of the novel. I hope to hand the rest over for edit before Labor Day. Target for release is October 1.

Senescence is the final stage of life, where cells can no longer regenerate--the fate that awaits us all when we stop growing and changing. The starship Sanctuary has returned home after twenty years to a strange and hostile world. Stewart is sent as an ambassador to see if Earth still has the capacity to change or whether the crew will let the world suffer the consequences of corporate policies. Billionaire geneticist Laura Zeiss holds his fate in her hands ... and thereby the planet's. Will she choose to become of the rulers of a decaying world or risk everything to save a naive young man? When Stewart finds out her secrets, will he still want her help?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Global Connections

For the past four weeks, we've had an eleven-year-old girl staying with us from Northern Ireland--Amie.
She'll turn twelve next week, the day we take her to the airport to return home. Tomorrow we're throwing her a birthday party with an Adventure Time theme cake. Amie did a poster board for the fair, in a category called Global Connections, reserved for children who spend time in other countries and share their experiences. She won a reserve champion ribbon. As I supplied the photos and the editing, I'm reproducing some of her essay here.
[ In this photo, she's eating fresh strawberries she picked herself with whipped cream. For the first morning, she was homesick, but after that, she and my daughter Emily were too busy. ]



The family that I am staying with here in America are Tammy and Scott Rhine, their two children Emily, who is ten, Pierce, who is twelve, and their three pets: Angel, Ninja, and Clay. They have been so nice and so welcoming, and it’s great to be staying with them. [ She is standing second from the left in the photo. After several hours of delay in Chicago, she fell asleep about ten minutes into the drive home. ]

I got the opportunity to come here from the Children’s Program of Northern Ireland (CPN). I heard about CPNI from one of my teachers from my primary school, Brooklands. He told the p7s could go so I signed up for it. I have never been to America,  so its been a great experience.

Back home I live in the city, and here I’m in the country. It’s a big change but the country is beautiful. It’s also a lot sunnier here. Some of the things I like about America are: it’s very warm, strawberries, candy, chocolate chip pancakes, swimming in the lakes, horse riding, and tubing. Things I dislike are: long drives, mosquito bites, and all the insects. [ Photo of the girls waiting for fireworks to start on the Fourth of July. ]






[ photo of the girls with the quilt Tammy helped Amie make for her bed--also a reserve champion winner at the fair. Last photo is of the donuts, cinnamon rolls, and caramel rolls Tammy made from scratch with them.]
Mum tells me that my Irish accent is starting to fade.
In America they use different words for some things:



Northern Irish
American
Mum
Mom
bin
trash
chips
fries
crisps
chips
boot
trunk
winding up
teasing
lift
elevator
sweets
candy
yous
you all

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

County Fair Photography

This week is our county fair. My children, in 4H, have been busy readying all manner of projects. I stayed up till 4 a.m. on a work night with my wife to quilt Amie's nine-patch. She's our exchange student from Northern Ireland. (more in another blog entry) The next day, I helped the children narrow hundreds of photos from the year down to five each. Then I had to edit, crop, print, and mount each. Here is a sampling of this year's entries. All the photos below won blue ribbons. We'll find out today if they won anything bigger.

Emily

Her favorite photos have always been of pets and flowers.
 


Pierce

He managed to capture the dragonfly wings in sunlight--not easy to do.















Amie

 She had a "Twilight" theme this year.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Cover Reveal: Shaman

Here is Renee's latest, the cover for Behind the Walls of Sleep 2: Shaman.
Daniel is training to become a shaman and living on the Dakota reservation with his grandfather. As a member of the thunderbird people, he can visit a shared dream world and meet others like himself. Over summer break, he takes a road trip to New Orleans to rescue a sixteen-year-old girl from the Dark Tree Coven. Daniel knows he’s going to be grounded, but promises his cousins that the adventure will be worth the punishment.
What follows reads like a Native American “Blues Brothers” with a trained raccoon.
“We have the raccoon and the police gear. All we need is a net, an acetylene-propane torch, forty feet of rope, a Bavarian cream doughnut, Karo syrup, and red food coloring.”


Sioux, shaman, dream, dragon, YA, adventure, coming of age

Friday, May 23, 2014

Making her Quilt Racks

In the movie Phenomenon, John Travolta demonstrates he likes a certain woman by buying all her handmade chairs so that she'll come back to visit him again. My wife watches bad sci-fi with me, and I listen to romance books on iPod with her. We call it buying each others' chairs, which builds a relationship. We were engaged for eighteen months and have been married for twenty years. That exercise never stops.


 My wife loves to quilt. She has both children entering the fair with quilts of their own. Although I don't sew, I help program and repair her quilting machine. Last year, her brother Brian and I put together a prototype wooden clamp bar to hang her quilts. This year, for Mother's Day the kids and I bought everything we would need to make a decorative light box for displaying her quilts. It became a family project.

We started with an existing design from a magazine and modified it to use a decorative valence with leaves and a solid oak frame with a routered bottom. She wanted the whole thing stained like cherry with three coats.

The design was modified to be two-thirds the height, half the width, and use an LED to be one-third the weight. It should use less than two dollars of electricity a year.

After trying to router oak without a router table, we gave up and bought pre-routered trim at the proper width. (We now own the table for future projects.)

 I made all the corners mitered with the chop saw and used a wooden biscuit to reinforce the corners. The glue said, "Dries in 30 minutes." Never believe what you read. We had to reglue that corner because it broke apart. Once I put both layers together, that reglue mess made the inside too big. I had to cut them apart and saw new holes. I staggered the layers to hide the panel that holds the light in a recess. However, gluing and holding would be almost impossible to achieve by hand in such a confined space, so I bought a nail gun. Then I had to go back to buy brads that were an eighth inch smaller.

 Mounting this to the wall was tricky. I pre-drilled the back support bar for the 12.5 degrees needed for the main board, not the higher, staggered valence. So we couldn't mount it to the wall until I redrilled every angle through the same hole. This also meant that the screws had to be half an inch longer.
Total time for the adventure: 3 weeks.
Cost... well let's just say I may be selling these to Tammy's quilting friends... in addition to the dozen I'll be making for around the house and her office. Of course, there will be some design changes for many of the others, but Tammy is very happy, which was the point of the exercise to begin with.

After all, she does proofread every one of my books.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Senescence: prologue

The working title of the conclusion to the Jez series is Senescence--the final stage of aging where your cells no longer renew themselves. Barring violence or disease, it is the death that awaits the entire human race. This story combines futurism, feminism, genetic engineering, and choices for our planet.

Prologue – T plus 13 years


“In the future, everyone will have their own channel,” the world’s richest woman announced to the crowd of reporters and news drones that followed her from her jet into the Welsh airport. Technically, Mira Hollis had over twenty blogosphere feeds dedicated to stalking her. As CEO for Fortune Enterprises, she was the most public and transparent executive ever. While her competitors analyzed every voice stress, groupies purchased the same clothes and makeup. She was corporate royalty. Her security handle was ‘Golden Goose.’ “With advances in microcameras and Internet capacity, everyone can have a safety feed. Imagine the elderly and young, monitored twenty-four-seven.”
A man from a competing mega-corp piped in. “Won’t the government use that to infringe on our privacy?”
Mira smiled. “They already do. In public places, there are an average of twenty-two cameras on each person in Great Britain. This will give the public a chance to see what their elected representatives are doing as well. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Who watches the watchers? Fortune Multimedia will give you that power.” Her own info-link broadcast verified references for each of her statistics, the official product announcement, and the Plato quote.
During the armored limo ride, through the green and sunny countryside, the online commentators speculated. “Actually,” corrected the fact guru, Martin, “That estimate is already obsolete. With the advent of the new crosswalk safety measures last month and the independence of the Faukland Islands, that average increases to twenty-three.”
Gavin, the history correspondent, said, “The real question is: why is she coming to Wales? Sheep don’t care about tech.”
The fact guru replied, “She has a lawyer on the flight manifest who isn’t an employee of Fortune. Eliot Cook a specialist in British estate law. She’s only used their firm once before…the week of the mass funeral for Alcantara Spaceport.” Three seconds of silence ruled, out of respect for the dead. “Her entire family was wiped out in the Algerian reprisal for the Ascension landing on the alien artifact.” A stream of hyperlinks scrolled across the connection.
Bunny, the social commentator squealed. “That’s when she met with that dream boat Kieran Llewellyn.”
Gavin groaned over the link.
Martin punched up pop-feeds on Kieran’s residence. “The Ascension Memorial Museum closed early today. Directional analysis confirms—we have a destination. Deploy the high resolution cameras for the arrival.” His feed shifted to a commercial while technicians hustled to stage the next scene.
Eager to fill in, Bunny said, “After the death of her friends and family, Mira inherited majority ownership of Fortune. She was also one of the only three surviving board members, known as the Triumvate. The Chinese-Muslim alliance had declared war on her company and placed a bounty on her head. She had to force herself to be strong. Only after the treaty, at the funeral, could she allow herself to be vulnerable.” Someone posted a photo of the handsome, red-head Kieran with his arm around Mira. “He was ten years older than her, but he had lost his family as well.”
“The Llewellyns are all womanizers,” Gavin complained. “The will left everything to Captain Llewellyn. As a penniless cousin, Kieran had nothing to offer her. That’s why their mutual media blackout only lasted three days.”
“Well, he must have offered her something pretty special, because she loaned him the millions to renovate the family estate,” Bunny countered. “He was the first Cinderfella… and the biggest.” This is what the bloggers called the men Mira slept with and then made into successes—all of them subsidiaries of Fortune Enterprises.
Gavin grumbled, “She arranged for Kieran to head the foundation to hold the family lands in trust. That’s all.”
“He became the most eligible bachelor in Wales after that, but he still hasn’t settled down.”
“We know the who and where. The question becomes: why now?”

Bunny replied, “It has been eleven months and three days since her last acquisition. The Golden Goose needs to get laid. Maybe she’s never forgotten him.” In the background, producers scrambled for recent photos of each to splice together into a heart-shaped frame. This feed went to commercial as the romance-gossip team prepared for the reunion of old flames after thirteen years.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Genocide in Oz

I was researching Sioux history for my next YA book (Shaman) and came across a quote from Frank L. Baum (Oz) that floored me. In Chapter 6 of "Native American Tribes: the History and Culture of the Sioux" by Charles River Editors:

"Our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up with one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past."

Turns out that before he wrote children's stories, he was a newspaper publisher in the 1890's in South Dakota during the Indian Wars. This was from his editorial pouring salt in the wound of Wounded Knee.

From his Sitting Bull editorial  (which I quote from an NPR article by JJ Sutherland), he says, "The Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs... The Whites, by law of conquest... are masters of the American continent. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better they die than live the miserable wretches that they are."

I just read a 2004 CounterPunch article explaining the yellow-brick road as the path to the Black Hills gold territory. He was explaining political realities to children, including the opium use. In his book about Santa Claus, the chapter entitled "the Wickedness of the Awgwas" reviles a fallen race who are now only "earthen hillocks dotting the plain"...after the Wounded Knee massacre. This article also points out KKK parallels.

The only people to criticize him for this recently was the Times of Israel when the new Oz movie came out. Turns out that Baum converted to Theosophy, which is also antisemitic. They claim Oz painted Baum spiritual journey. Evidently, he was heavily edited to tone down his racism, including pictures and poems which were anti-African. His descendants have since apologized to the Sioux.

My conclusion: The wicked witch was probably just the wrong color and killed in her sleep by a guest. The winner wrote history.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review of Book Blogs

I'm flogging my latest book now and started with a list of 65 pages of YA blog names in a word document. I spent a great deal of time slogging through the blogs. In about 2.5 hours of surfing, I find 10 that may be a good fit for my book. Then I email the information requested to each blogger or fill out their forms. Most bloggers want the same title and five pieces of info about my story, so I mail (BCC) every two hours for the ones with the same content. Forgive me for not personalizing more, but I try to put the key filters for you to accept or reject in one line. Next, I paste the cover, and last the pitch. I feel like a door to door salesman and get that door slammed in my face a lot. Now, I get my say for a few minutes while the bruises are healing.

You have to right to put anything you want in your blog, but here are some suggestion after viewing hundreds.

  1. Professionals have a tab at the top called "policies" or "review policies" or a bolded subtitle in the About/Contact sections. It makes everyone's life easier.
  2. The contact section should have an email address or a form if you want people to contact you. If you don't want your email shared because of spam, say that and a professional will bcc or make one-to-one mailings. If you only respond to email with personal greetings, put that in the instructions, too, but be sure to put your name and gender in the about section. I don't know how to address a cat photo on a blog called AnarchyofHate.com or KnittingFun.
  3. If you have fewer than four followers or four books posted, you do not have the right to require 150 previous reviews on a book before you'll look at it. At that point, you need us for free stuff more than we need you for buzz. The biggest Kindle blogs only require ten.
  4. "I don't have an e-reader" is not an excuse. You have a computer and all the major formats have free readers for your PC/MAC/idevice. We're the majority now.
  5. "I don't read self-published" is blatantly hypocritical. Your blog is self-published.
  6. Be polite in your refusals. If you actually slam Indies for bad editing, make sure you spell check your own policies page.
  7. Put "closed to reviews" at the top of your policy page, not at the bottom of screen 16, or people will jump to the bottom and spam you.
  8. If you've been on "temporary hiatus" for two years, your blog is officially dead. My favorite was the policy page with the picture of the EPT stick positive.
  9. If all you review is romance, be honest and say so. Don't enroll yourself at a blog promotion site as YA. YA does not mean R-rated. If your "about" section say "I prefer Male on Male" or your featured book is "Wallbanger"... in fact, if every cover on your first screen is a woman in the throes of ecstasy, reconsider your self-classification.
  10. If you live in New Zealand, or any other island over 20 hours of flying away, take a reality pill and use an ereader. I'm not mailing you an ARC.
  11. Realize that your blog name is part of your brand and will affect the submissions to it. For example: if you have the word "Heaven" in your blog name, don't complain about being flooded by religious books.
  12. Reviewing classics that have been around for over 25 years isn't very interesting.
  13. Talking about only your own book isn't really a "book blog". This goes for publishing companies and authors both.
  14. Consider adding a Goodreads user link to see if your reading list is compatible with the author's. If nothing else, the two of you can see what each other likes in an automated fashion. I've made several friends this way, and we both build our following network.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cover Reveal-- Messenger

Messenger – Book One of Behind the Walls of Sleep
(YA Fantasy, 75K words)

When we close our eyes at night, we all see the same ancient place. Exploring Astra is like living a videogame. Tomorrow, I’m going goblin-tipping with some of the other wizards. The first rule of being a dream wizard is “no photos.” You don’t want the bad guys finding you where you have no powers. The waking world sucks.

Since Mom went to prison, the Nevada foster system sent me to Minnesota to meet an Uncle Joe I never knew I had. Snow loses its charm after five days. Only music and the dreams make my life bearable.
The weird thing is that elements of the worlds are bleeding into each other. Someone is trying to kill me, and I’m not sure who: the criminal underworld, the elves, or the crazy wizard causing these freaky storms.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Futurism, an Agent of Change

I just finished my first YA fantasy, and it's in edit now. My next project will be to finish the Jezebel series. The target is about 40 from now--2054. There will be 9 billion people on the planet by then, one and a half today's levels, most of the growth occurring in Africa and Asia. Extrapolating the technology won't be as hard as finding possible solutions. There are a few problems to tackle, such as the fact that more than a billion, perhaps two, of that enormous population will be so poor they will be starving. Health care and education are also critical, but human dignity will take center stage in this story.

The female lead characters are already concentrating on solving the problems through:
  1. educating woman in third-world countries in science, math, and technology in a program that encourages beneficiaries to pay forward.
  2. kindle schools for elementary education in remote areas
  3. cheap universally available male birth control (nanotech called the genilock).
  4. genetically engineering people immune to aids and several other life-threatening conditions.
  5. access to close, clean water so that women don't need to spend all day gathering it.
  6. processing of human waste and trash by insects that can in-turn be eaten, making slums more self sustaining.
  7. factory jobs that produce things the people need for their own uplift.
The hardest part of any great endeavor is not the technology; rather, it is changing the tacit opinions of the society. Most of this education revolves around the treatment of women. Ultimately, parents and communities should handle the moral education of young boys. Corporations should also be leaders, paying living and equal wages instead of spending profits to maintain the status quo. (Can you guess who the villains in this story are going to be?) However, where they fail, media will need to pick up the slack. Therefore, the number one net show in my next story will be "Ball Busters", like Myth Busters, where they tackle a different public egregious wrong against women each episode. With over a million in revenue each week (plus corporate donations of gadgets in exchange for advertisement) they can tackle almost any issue. 

The first issue they tackle is men who have the means but don't pay child support. Picture any episode of Cops where former military women from the US and Israel are given a photo of an offender and a warrant for a forced genilock. The chase him down and zap him in the balls with a device which prevents him from having any more kids until he takes care of the ones he's already made. His genitals have a "boot" on them like a car with too many tickets. The woman reporting the problem has all child support paid by the show as incentive. As far as reality shows, this would be dirt cheap. With population growth and abandonment so out of control, this practice could be accepted.

The larger issue they need to address is the tolerance of rape.The team finds a problem spot (gang rapes in country X, police non-enforcement, rape kits unprocessed, refugees attacked when they go for water, etc) where they sweep in, brain storm, and then address the issue. Hopefully others with the same problem are shamed into fixing it before the team needs to intervene. The mindset of the show is follow the laws that already exist and restate the mantra "No one should be subjected to this."

Technology available will be:
  1. inexpensive fabrication of key drugs.
  2. inexpensive basic construction through "printing".
  3. cheap and plentiful web cameras.
  4. watcher participation to spot infractions.
  5. genetic testing to prove paternity.
  6. a way to trace the strain of a given venereal disease to force the man spreading it to pay for the treatment.
We have all this to some degree today. I'll just extend it and combine it. For example, they will distribute a mace-like spray with a built-in signal for help and a video feed. When used, the spray releases pink dye onto the suspect along with an enzyme like PDE5 which gets rid of any erection. Given that help is on the way, prosecution of the tagged and videoed man will be much easier. 

Right now, only about 3 percent of all rapists spend any time behind bars. What I want to show in Jezebel 5 is a society that works to fix this problem, because until we do, we're shooting our future before it can be formed. A society that can address this problem can accomplish anything.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Geneology Homework

My son Pierce was just in the hospital for a week and recovered on pain meds for another week. Now he's catching up on homework. For one assignment, he needed to interview a family member about a great grandparent. Since Pierce interviewed me, I figured I would publish the interview in my blog.

Albert was my great grandfather. He was born in East Hanover Township, 1/11/1902 on his family’s farm in Pennsylvania. His family, descended from a Philadelphia cabinet maker from the Rhine Valley in Germany, still spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. He attended Findlay Divinity College in Ohio on a work-study program and shoveled coal to keep the school heated. He was ordained in the Church of God (before the split over tongues) and found his calling “repairing churches.” Whenever there was a problem, they would call him in. He could talk to anyone and always had a joke about any subject. His family moved a lot.
He was married to a younger Vera Valentine Eshlemann and had six children: Marlin, David, Stan, Eloise, Shirley, and Ken (my grandfather). She was good at baking pies, and after every meal she would hold up her hands and say, “I never owned a dishwasher my whole life, these were my dishwashers.”
By the time my grandfather was born, Albert’s oldest children were in the military. My grandfather joined too, because they were too poor to go to college without the GI Bill. When asked about President Eisenhower, Albert complained, “Ike promised our children would never again fight in foreign wars, and now my boys are in Korea.” He preferred reading the comics in the newspaper. He told his grandchildren jokes like
“Who was the shortest man in the Bible? Nehemiah (pronounced Knee-high-miah) or Bart the shoe-height.”
“Where is baseball mentioned in the Bible? In the big inning.”
“Where are there cars in the Bible? The apostles gathered together and were in one Accord. Before that they only had motorcycles, the Triumph of Gideon was heard throughout the land.”
His last official church was in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where he married my Great Aunt Shirley and Great Uncle Larry. This is the place he lived the longest. After he retired, he bought a row house there a block from the church, where he could hear the clock bells. He maintained a long, narrow flower garden with snapdragons, Peruvian daffodils, and roses, which he gave clippings of to my grandparents. My grandfather gave children of the same daffodils to my parents. Even retired, Albert drove a 20 year old Dodge Dart to preach at two small local churches. He only stopped after a stroke ruined his night vision because he didn’t want to hurt anyone.
Albert and Vera visited one summer when Grandpa Ken was stationed in Alaska. Ken took him salmon fishing that weekend when he had off work. On Sunday, in the stream, Albert reeled in a prize on steel leader, a salmon so big it took five people to help wrestle into the net. His response was, “This is God’s joke on me. It’s the biggest fish I’ll ever catch in my life, and I can’t tell anyone because I caught it on the Lord’s day.”

When he died in late May 1984, the funeral was huge. The line to view the casket stretched around the block. The oddest person there was a mentally challenged woman in a raccoon-skin coat (in summer). Nobody recognized her. When asked, she said she met him at the bus stop. He was the only one who would talk to her, and he would be missed.