Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who Controls the Weather?

It's not who you think.

A while back, I happened to finally get around to watching the movie, An Inconvenient Truth. I took a few notes, because although the data looked intriguing, there were a lot of tenuous connections being made in the film, and I wanted to research them later on my own.

The take home message, however, was this: it's our fault.

Is it really though? I've been collecting a few interesting nuggets over the past few months in regards to this issue, that seem to paint a much more complicated story.

In fact, the more I started to study the whole climate change/carbon emissions issue, the more unusual some of the material became (ClimateGate issues aside). For example, in one talk available online, I came to find out we've been reduced to an equation. Some interesting solutions were presented in that video, but the fact that people were being viewed as part of some grand algebraic problem to be "solved" is a little unnerving. Plus, such thinking also opens the door to all sorts of nefarious uses when it comes to legislation.

A more thorough analysis could theoretically be carried out, however, if we had spacecraft orbiting all of our Solar System's planets. More specifically, if those spacecraft could be in orbit for decades and continuously collect data on the solar wind, temperature, etc. from several different locations then we might have some more interesting data. Yet despite all those hypothetical efforts, would it really account for an often-neglected factor in climate change and the weather itself?

On Wednesdays over the following weeks, I'll illustrate in detail that other "factor" and bring the question "Who Controls the Weather?" to a completely different level.

So...who do you think controls the weather?

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Decade in Waiting

It's been a long wait.

Approximately ten years ago, I read about something called a Rocket e-Book (which actually was released in 1998). I also heard about the SoftBook. The idea sounded intriguing, but as far as I could tell, the general marketplace just was not purchasing them in any meaningful volume. In some cases, the e-reader price was prohibitively expensive, thus slowing mass adoption.

I figured that eventually someone would get the technology/cost issues right and that the obvious benefits of an e-reader would catch on with the masses. To think that you could reduce a whole bookshelf full of information into a tablet sized device sounded amazing. So, I waited.

And waited. And waited some more.

Then, just about the time I had forgotten about the idea of e-books (unless you count pdf files), the Kindle and the Nook took off. I first noticed a disruption in the way agents were handling queries (not replying, or having submitted a manuscript and then getting no reply) and stories appearing all over the web about e-books. Little did I know at the time how disruptive such technology would be.

But throughout this whole time I kept writing. Whatever the medium, I knew that someday I would find a way to get it in front of a larger audience. I even handsold some paperbacks a few years back with some success, although the price was too high per unit to keep doing that. I offered them for sale at a deep discount (nearly 50% off the POD price) because that put them on a level with mass market paperback prices. Book sales went briskly, but when it came to being able to order them online or in a bookstore, inevitably there was some sticker-shock involved.

Nowadays an author can easily put works up online and the mass distribution system is in place (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, etc.). The old argument that now the market will be "flooded with junk" only works if that is all that is being put online. If the author, however, strives to make a better book each time out, then readership will be found in time. Quality books may not always find a home, but quality writing plus mass distribution/easy access is a game changer.

For those of us who have steadily kept writing over the years, never giving up because they love the art of putting words to paper, this is a moment of opportunity. Likewise, for those of us who have been quietly stockpiling manuscripts, poems, and stories, the playing field suddenly looks a bit more level now.

My late uncle once told me I should "flood the market" with my writing. At the time, it sounded like an interesting idea, but I didn't see how that was even technologically possible. So I kept stockpiling material and kept pushing my stories along, stuffing them in boxes, storing them on disks, etc. Yet when I finally met someone with a Kindle reader, I realized it was time to stop stockpiling and start sharing.

Soon, yes, very soon, there will be a flood of books on the market, but understand this "flood" did not build up overnight. It has been a decade in waiting.

It's a new era indeed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Coming Home

Note: This post is part of the monthly blog chain. Please visit the other members' posts (listed to the right).

When I was a kid, I remember going to a local school carnival with a relative. Like many carnivals, there was plenty see and do, and even winning the cheap, plastic trinkets seemed interesting (plastic frogs, anyone?). So when it came to the spin art machine, I was naturally intrigued. I was given a couple bottles of paint and told to draw something on a piece of white cardboard. I decided to draw a house, complete with walls, a roof, a window and a door.

Then the operator proceeded to turn the machine on. I watched in horror as the walls and roof flew out in all directions and the door exploded. I came home with my picture but I wasn't sure what to think of it. In minutes, it hit the trash.

Writing, I think, is like spin art sometimes. We put our creations to paper, only to watch the world take it for a "spin" and well...who knows what they think of it in the end. Or, we drop our ideas onto paper and keep tinkering with them until the end result is nothing like what we started with.

Around that same time in my life I also began writing stories. Lots of them. But they were all humor-based or science fiction in nature. In fact, I wrote three and a half "novels" and never seemed to miss an episode of Doctor Who.

Then I seemed to "grow up" (whatever that means) in my writing, but that was more a less a result of some peer pressure at the time. I started writing on different, more "serious" topics, wrote some poetry, but never really came back to science fiction or writing about outer space.

I kept reading science fiction stories, however. I also read Hemingway, Bradbury, some Mark Twain, and a bunch of James Thurber stories. I kept watching science fiction movies and have recently been catching up on a lot of old Doctor Who episodes that are now coming out on DVD, thanks to BBC.

Over the last couple of years, however, I've hit a wall in terms of the content of my stories. It took me a while to figure out why, but then it became obvious: I wasn't writing what I wanted to anymore.

Complicating matters was the fact that I read the Bible cover-to-cover (finally) and listened to a Bible study by Chuck Missler and Dr. Mark Eastman, titled "Alien Encounters". The study is quite good and the research they presented is eye-opening. It completely changed my perspective on a few topics and threw a massive wrench into my thoughts about writing science-fiction ever again.

As a result, I noticed I started viewing movies with aliens differently. I've also noticed an uptick in movies (or even some books) lately that are science fiction in nature, but somehow also seem to slip in some cheap shots at Christianity along the way. Why can't they leave the issue alone altogether, and tell a straightforward sci-fi story? At the very least, it would be nice to see more stories that somehow incorporate Biblical elements in a way that doesn't shred a person's faith in the process. Although the Bible does not talk of life on other planets, it does not exclude that possibility either.

All these issues aside, I've come to realize that I need to go back, at least in some measure, to what drew me to the process of writing stories in the first place: humor and science fiction. So, I've quietly started writing both types of stories again. I intend or writing some steampunk-themed stories, along with some tales set in outer space. Although my early attempts may look like that spin art house I made years ago, I think some type of happy compromise can be made between the world of science fiction and the truth of the Word.

Sci-fi, I'm coming home.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Over The Falls

Ever heard about people going over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Good thing no one ever tried that on this particular river, however.

Here is a picture of Devil's Kettle Falls, which has to be one of the stranger waterfalls I've seen over the years. At the top, the river splits into two streams, with the right half falling down onto the rocks below, and the left half pouring into a rock cauldron of some sort. Apparently, the local DNR has been unable to figure out where the water goes once it enters the chamber. Logs and dye have been dropped into it but no one has been able to figure out where the water goes from there. Perhaps into an underground cavern or a lake?

One thing I learned on our past road trip is this: the number of rivers pouring into Lake Superior (including this one) is amazing. By looking at various websites, I've cobbled together a good two dozen rivers or more just on the Minnesota side alone, and many of them have waterfalls. Many of the falls are impressive, although this time of year the water levels looked quite low, but I'm sure in the spring with the runoff it would be more spectacular.

P.S. Sorry for the brevity of this post, but I've been busy with book cover design and working to release a short story by this weekend. Additionally, by October 1st, I'll release an entire short story collection.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Who Shows Up

Ever run a Bible study? It's an interesting study in human psychology and at times it's unpredictable despite the best preparation beforehand. Sure you can spend a few hours gathering resources, reading articles, making handouts, studying the text ahead of time, etc. but it is difficult to sometimes judge how many people will actually show up.

Case in point: over the past few weeks about ten to fourteen people have shown up. This made it relatively easy to keep discussion going because with that many people you inevitably get a wide range of viewpoints. But when only three people showed up a couple weeks ago, I cringed. We are going through an eight-part DVD series, but those episodes only take up twenty-five to thirty minutes. The other hour and a half, well...

As usual, I prepared a substantial amount of discussion material to play off of the video segment. One of the ideas I had for that week, a brief trivia game, was meant for a group of about ten people. After some thought, I decided to go ahead with it anyway. I also went ahead with some articles I printed off. And do you know what happened? It still worked out.

Two of the guys also mentioned some reading material of their own (before I started the video). What they didn't know was that their discussion fit right in with the video segment even though they had no foreknowledge of what was in the segment. This isn't the first time this has happened, and it certainly won't be the last. Why? Because no matter how many people physically show up, if you're spending time in the Word, God always shows up.

Another example: I can't count the number of times we've sat around the room and when prayer time rolled around, we counted off into groups of three only to find the ones we were grouped with were the ideal people to pray with. It didn't matter how many people showed up, where they sat around they table, or whether we numbered off by threes, or fours.

So keep in mind if you ever lead a study, whether a crowd or a handful of people show up, God always shows up.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Whatever Happened to Spirograph?

The other day I was in a creative drawing mood and for some reason, I thought of an old product I remember from childhood: Spirograph.

For the fun of it, I did some research on Amazon. I expected the product to have long ago been discontinued, but instead found a product that did not look much like its fabled predecessor. In fact, on Amazon, the reviews are less than glowing. I looked at the regular Spirograph and at the Deluxe version.

For the regular version, there are eight five-star reviews, and twelve one-star reviews. For the deluxe version, the results look even worse. There are seven five-star reviews, and nineteen one-star reviews.

What happened to Spirograph? Or, more accurately, what happened to the version I grew up with?

Apparently, several of the reviewers had the same response. Although I have not purchased either product, looking at the available images the products seem like stripped down versions of the original (even going so far as to make the gears thinner). The spirograph I remember had gears, pins, rings, and bar-shaped pieces of plastic that the gears could rotate around. That version now sells as a collectible, ironically enough.

For such a creative and yet fundamentally simple product, I wonder why they didn't expand on the good thing they had going and add more, if slightly different shapes to the mix. Perhaps different shaped gears, for example. I guess I'll never understand why some companies choose to tinker with a good thing.