Saturday, July 25, 2015

I'm pretty much the best scientist I know, except for the part where I'm not actually a scientist and don't really know very much about science. Have I said "science" enough in this title? Science. SCIENCESCIENCESCIENCE enough.

There's a story on Geekologie this week about a 3-D printed house, which looks like this when it's almost finished:

According to Geekologie,
The company says it takes about 9 days to produce the modules. That is pretty impressive. Even more impressive considering the home is capable of withstanding a magnitude-9 earthquake and is constructed using a proprietary new building material that is "sourced from industrial and agricultural waste, is fireproof and waterproof, and is free from harmful substances such as formaldehyde, ammonia, and radon."

Now, I'm not going to do what I usually do and claim that someone stole my idea (they did) and that obviously those home-printers read my blog (they do). Instead, I'm going to point out why the existence of this house makes me a better scientist than pretty much every actual scientist, including Neil DeBuzzkill Tyson. The reason is this:


I say that because I originally envisioned using printers to build houses back in about 2009, when I wrote Santa, Godzilla & Jesus Walk Into A Bar.  That story (which you should read) told the origins of Xmas, which came about when Wenceslas built his "Xmas" machine.  The "Xmas Machine" was a version of a 'Santa Claus machine,' and either way is a machine that scientists hypothesize could be created which would take raw materials and convert it into finished products.

A 3D printer, although they didn't call it that back in 2009, when I listened to a "Stuff To Blow Your Mind" podcast about Santa Claus Machines, and learned that scientists feared Santa Claus machines, because not only were they worried they would simply replicate themselves (huh?) but also the podcast people said it would be "the end of design," that once we had machines that could make anything from simple raw materials everything would be homogenized and identical.

I thought exactly the opposite.  In an afterword to my book, I talked about Santa Claus machines and noted that once such machines existed, there would no doubt be apps that would let us print things in different styles:

Apps for our Machines would be huge, of course: You’d need an app for a ham sandwich, and an app for a car, and an app for a house, and machines of different sizes. Your average person, for example, would probably have a machine no larger than their refrigerator – for making household goods like clothes and meals and such. 

And then I said:

Contractors would have the big machines, to pre-form houses.


I love what I do.  And I love my life all the time and have almost no regrets.  But sometimes I think back on how little attention I paid in science and math classes, and wonder whether, if I could have foreseen how much I would love that stuff, how amazing it is, and I realize I might well have become a scientist if I'd done that.

For a while I seriously considered it, senior year in college.  I took an astronomy class and loved it so much I thought about changing my major and getting a degree in what would now be astrophysics.  But I was four years into a political science degree and already 26 and applying to law schools, so I didn't follow up on that.

I'm a pretty awesome lawyer.  But I think I would've been a pretty awesome scientist or engineer, too.

Here's a shot of inside the house.

There are a lot more pictures of it if you're interested; click here. Also, go buy my book. It's the only Xmas book ever to feature a sexy cop, Godzilla, homicidal elves, handsome angels, and the Secret Army Under The Bed.  You could have Xmas in July!


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Friday Five: Five Bands I Loved When I Was Younger (That I Still Sorta Like I Think?)

I suppose YOU'VE never worn Darth Vader socks
as gloves? LA DI DA Mr High and Mighty.
Last week, Laws Of Gravity Liz threat-promised (it's a thing) not to inundate me with the bands she liked as a kid, apparently in retaliation for my talking about superheroes. Joke's on her: I have NO PROBLEM stealing people's ideas, hence this week's post, which is also inspired by my hearing the song Day By Day on the radio last week.  Or hearing about 15 seconds of the song before Mr Bunches turned the radio off.

"Why'd you do that?" I asked him.

"We don't sing along with songs," he said. "Only people on the radio sing." That is one of his many rules about singing, whistling, dancing, rhythmically tapping your thumbs on the steering wheel to the beat of Radar Love, etc etc.: These things are only done by professionals, on the radio or on stage. They ARE NOT DONE by Daddy.  It will dishonor him, something he learned by watching Mulan: when you do something he doesn't like, he says you have dishonored him, pronouncing the h in the word. Dis HAHN erd.

"Pronouncing The H" I think would make a good name for a band.  Anyway, here's the five:

1. The Hooters.  I have two distinct, and distinctly different, memories related to The Hooters.

One is listening to the song Satellite as I stood and waited for the bus outside my dorm room in November, 1987, my first semester in college.  It was very early, and I had to get to work at JCPenney, a job I wouldn't hold much longer after I dropped out the next semester.  But I remember that morning because the air was crisp and nobody was around and it seemed like Madison was entirely empty except for me. That semester was a tough one for me to adjust to, and the feeling of being entirely alone left me feeling peaceful.

The other memory is going to a Hooters concert a few years later, in the years during which I was a wastrel working nights at a gas station and generally hanging out doing almost nothing with my life.  We had gotten some tickets to the Hooters concert for free, I don't remember how, and I had gone with two of my friends, Mark and Rob, and also two girls.  One of the girls I really liked and had wanted to ask out.

When we were at the concert, we noted that the security seemed a little bit lax.  Rob said it would be 'totally easy' for someone to get on stage -- and we were in like the fifth row.  Then the girl said it would be totally cool if someone got on stage.

So I did it.  I edged my way up to the front row, and then to the side of the stage, and then got up on stage and walked towards the lead singer, who looked surprised but shook my hand before bouncers came out and led me off and then out the side door of the theater, leaving me to wait about a half-hour before my friends came out at the end of the concert.

I was feeling pretty cool, and I didn't (and don't) like concerts anyway, and I figured maybe I'd made some inroads with the girl.  She sat in back with me and Rob on the way home while Mark and the other girl were up front.  And about halfway home she started making out with Rob.

That's The Hooters for you.

2. Supertramp.  This was one of the first rock groups I ever liked, and I was only 10 when their album Breakfast In America came out.  I had that album on vinyl, and listened to it over and over as a kid, before moving on to their live double album Paris, which featured one of my all-time favorite songs, the Fool's Overture.

Nowadays I think they're only okay.  I don't know what the fascination was for me as a 10-year-old, but I listened to their music for hours.

I looked on Wikipedia and apparently most of the band is still together and touring. They don't seem to really have a pop culture presence, though.  I only ever had the two albums, but I remember liking It's Raining Again a lot, too.  Now that song's used (again per Wikipedia) during NASCAR rain delays.

3. The Cure. Another band that would almost be  an obsession, music-wise, and then almost entirely fade away was The Cure.  When I first heard In Between Days it was almost revelatory; there was something in the music's somehow wistful-yet-driving sound combined with the somewhat inscrutable lyrics that seemed to just grab me.  The Cure was music for kids who felt like they should be disconnected and surly but who couldn't really, because they were too comfortable and everyone around them was pretty nice.  What good is being a teen if you can't rebel against something? Teens need to rebel and if your life is a pretty okay one, your rebellions feel a little forced.

I was never a hardcore Cure fan; I got their greatest hits album , plus The Head On The Door, but that was about it. Still, I listened the beejeebers out of those songs.

My alltime favorite song by them: Close To Me:

4. Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark (OMD):  Sure, everyone (of my age or so) knows them because they sang If You Leave for the movie Pretty In Pink but I liked them before that: Junk Culture was the first album I'd gotten by them, and I bought the next two before drifting away from their music.  Last year out of the blue I suddenly thought of them again and began listening to a bunch of their older stuff on Youtube. I thought about maybe getting the album Junk Culture again but then I thought eh maybe not now and then I browsed around on Amazon for other stuff and then I went to bed so that was that.

I think my reluctance to buy the music is a combination of factors.  First, I'm cheap.  Second, I've been going through a nostalgic period lately, and I figure it's because the last 2+ years have been so challenging, getting extremely tough and stressful at times.  I probably have been feeling nostalgic not just for my teen years (which, while not terrible were not all that great either) but for any earlier times because the good times are fun to remember and the bad times help me remember that I've gone through rough patches before.  So while I like to listen to some of the music from earlier times (and re-read books, and re-watch movies with Sweetie) during times like this, I don't want to make the music a permanent part of my life now -- if only because it can serve as a relief valve now and in the future, by remaining linked to earlier times rather than soaking into tough times.

5. Men Without Hats This one sort of isn't quite the same as the others because really I don't care about the group at all, and know almost nothing about them, other than they made The Safety Dance which of course I loved because: the 80s, and also and more importantly I know about them that they made the album Pop Goes The World! which is one of the greatest albums ever made, hands down, an album so great as to make me listen to it enough that now, almost three decades after it came out, and a good 20 years since I owned the album (I have it on a cassette tape somewhere in the box in my garage), I can still remember nearly all the lyrics to all the songs in order.  And this is me! I'm the guy who can't remember if he ate breakfast this morning. (I checked: I did.)

So really I didn't care about the group and I still like the song, and it doesn't fit in with the title of this post at all but who cares? The rules is there ain't no rules. *snarls, gets into car ready to race for pinks*.

I first heard the song Pop Goes The World sitting in a hotel room in Fort Knox, Kentucky, in 1987.  My friend Fred, from high school, had enlisted in the Army right after graduation, and had gone into basic training.  The weekend we went to visit him was his first break from basic, so me and two other friends (Bob and Flan, short for Flanagan, his last name) got into Bob's Camaro-- Bob owned a Camaro! -- and drove to Kentucky to visit him.  I don't remember much about that weekend other than how tired I was.  At the end of the trip, it was my turn to drive and we were going through Illinois in the middle of the night and I began to hallucinate, as I'd been awake for about 48 hours.  I thought there was a giant rock in the road and swerved to avoid it, steering us onto the shoulder before coming to my senses.  I woke up Bob and had him drive while I slept in the car the rest of the way.

But I do remember being in the hotel room and eating pizza and watching TV; I don't remember if we could drink in Kentucky or why we hadn't gone out on the town (or maybe we did and I've forgotten?). We were watching MTV and the song Pop Goes The World came on and the next day, after I was back home and rested, I went out and bought it. It's probably my second favorite album of all time. The only reason I haven't gone to buy/download it now is I can listen to it for free anytime I want online.

I know you probably won't listen to it but here's the whole album anyway:

You should listen to it, though. It's awesome.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

This guy has really thought a lot about BTO and Ace Frehley

I usually steer clear of reading comments on most websites because I hate people and they're stupid, but every now and then one catches my eye, like this one that I read when I listened to New York Groove on Youtube last night.

This is the comment:

Sky Marshall 1 week agoGood album. Even some of the lesser songs still had potential. Call me crazy, but with a bit of song writing tinkering, Speedin Back to My Baby sounds like it could've been a halfway decent BTO song. Never mind the fact that BTO hadn't made a decent record since Four Wheel Drive, back in 1975 and by 1978, they were already a Greatest Hits act, after only 4 albums. But, maybe if Ace had sold that song to BTO in 1978, they could have used it as a B-side and it would've inspired them to write a few more, classic BTO style hits, before they slid completely off the record charts. Anything would have been better than the crap they were putting out after 1975. But that's history. We will never know what MIGHT have been.

That is 100% the first ever BTO/Ace Frehley fanfiction I've ever read.

Also New York Groove is an awesome song that I used to roller-skate to and you should listen to it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

10 (More) Minutes About "Footfall," by Larry Niven

I think one of the things I like best about Footfall is the sheer scope of the story.  It's fitting, I think, for an end-of-the-world story to have a giant cast and a universal reach -- in this case, outside of the galaxy and spanning 15+ years between when the story starts and when the invasion of Earth begins.

I like big sprawling books that you can really sink into.  People talk about "world building" and I vaguely understand/care about what they say, but world building like Larry Niven does in Footfall is rare.  There are characters and interrelationships and sidebars and dead-ends and all of it, somehow, serves the novel.

That's really a testament to the writing.  Take two side characters, John Fox and Marty something-or-other.  Originally, John is introduced when one of the characters, Roger, a reporter, is looking for someone to interview at the time the spaceship that ultimately invades Earth has been discovered.  Fox talks to the reporter about his concerns over a dam or something that threatens the Death Valley area, and the reporter listens more out of politeness than interest; he even says as much, given that the big story is An Alien Ship Is Headed To Earth.

That's kind of a throwaway moment, almost, except that later on John Fox shows with Marty. Marty  is first introduced as a dog-show breeder who is on the fringes of a survivalist group that ends up making their shelter right outside of the town located [SPOILER ALERT!] in the same place the US decides to pick to build its spaceship to fight back against the invaders. Marty drifts back into the story later on, leaving some friends in Los Angeles to go hide in the desert with John Fox.  This all leads to a scene where [SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT] Fox and Marty drive up to a ridge right after the invaders drop a 'dinosaur killer' asteroid that causes a salt water downpour in Death Valley. They watch the rain fill in what used to a be a sea bed and Fox makes a brief speech about how he fought nuclear power and was a fool, because had he allowed science to progress then the humans might have been able to fight back against the invaders, and he wouldn't be watching all the fragile, perfectly-adapted creatures of Death Valley drowning.

It's the kind of moment that could be preachy or overdone; it's essentially Larry Niven and his co-author Jerry Pournelle being almost didactic: they're hard-science guys who want people to be pro-scientific advances.  But it doesn't come across that way.  Instead, the message Fox and Marty convey is buried within a story, because it was chapters and chapters ago that Fox was even introduced, and Marty's just there as a sort of avatar of the reader, watching Fox.

That kind of large-scale writing is tough to do.  What Niven and Pournelle do so well here doesn't work as well in other books -- I gave up on Niven's Building Harlequin's Moon, as it was more science lecture than story -- but when it does work it's incredible to read.  The story keeps threading through these new characters and overlapping subplots and winding back, and even for a guy like me who has a hard time keeping track of characters, it's easy to follow.

That's 10 minutes.