Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Comparison Trap

As the year winds down, there is the usual surge of posts and articles online about New Year's resolutions. On one online forum, some writers were posting their goals for 2013. Some of the posts included how many books they hope to publish. Some of the numbers being thrown around seemed realistic (2-4 books in a year), while others seemed over the top (in excess of twenty).

I'm sure these types of discussions occur on other artist forums in some form or another. The posts are often part ambition, part goal setting, part bravado, and part exaggeration.

As a reader, though, it's easy to fall into the trap of comparing one's own works to what others are creating. This exercise usually ends up leaving the reader encouraged or depressed, depending on where they are at in their career. If forum members start throwing around sales figures the effect is only amplified.

Does it really matter, though?

The other day I thought of Romans 14:4 which reads, "Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." Although most of Romans 14 deals with faith, weakness, and the Law, it uses the illustration of food to get the point across. Perhaps it is a stretch, but I think the concept can be applied to the arts. It's easy to focus on what other artists are dealing with (or even struggling with) and lose sight of the tasks before oneself. For Christian writers, it is even more difficult because so many times the discussion focuses on worldly goals instead of eternal ones. I have to continually remind myself to focus on the task ahead of me and keep my hand to the plow.

So, in light of my recent resolutions post and discussions elsewhere, I've come to realize it's more important to focus on the field where I work rather than what is happening across the road or down the street. It's only then when the best plans seem to come together.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Since we are nearing the end of the year, I thought I better put together a list of resolutions. Last year, my only major resolution was to write three books. I did that and two of the three books should come out early next year. For next year, here's a short list of goals:

1) Update this blog more often
2) Write three novels
3) Go on a storm chase
4) Master the art of growing green peppers

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Mini-Promo Trainwreck

This has been an interesting month in terms of writing.

I have a short story collection all ready to go, but the cover isn't quite done yet. So I thought I would try to come up with an innovative way of getting some of the content out there anyway before the holidays. Here was the plan I came up with a couple months ago:

1) Publish three of the stories on iTunes, B&N, and Amazon. Set one story free on iTunes and B&N ("Firebugs") and enroll another in KDP Select on Amazon and set it free once in a while ("The View From Under the Bridge").

2) Release a story or two in audio format on my main site. All the stories have been recorded in audio format, but some were stronger than others.

3) Build interest for the full book release which would occur sometime in January or February.

Here's what actually happened:

1) The stories made it out to Amazon and iTunes. B&N? Apparently there is some sort of logjam with their publishing process right now so the stories aren't out there yet. So only Firebugs is free on iTunes right now.

2) I enrolled the View story into KDP select and set it free for a day. For hours and hours the story showed no sales rank, even though behind the scenes several copies were going out. In the early afternoon the sales rank appeared, but by that point it put a major dent into the totals. In the end, only thirty copies were downloaded.

3) The audio stories went online several weeks ago. From what I can tell, only a couple of people have actually listened to them.

So, um, yeah, that's where things are at. I'm hoping to actually do something in the next few weeks which could help, however. In short, I'm planning on advertising. This isn't a new idea to me, but I really have done a poor job of helping people find these books up until now. So I've started to put together a marketing plan for 2013, which will have to rely on creativity and unique ad placement. Having a shoestring budget is an understatement...but we'll see how things develop.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Free View

Just a quick update today...the science fiction short story, The View From Under the Bridge will be available for free on tomorrow morning (Saturday, December 1st) for one day only. This story is part of a larger collection, Corridors, which should be available in a few weeks.

If you like this particular story, feel free to check the two other stories that are currently available, Firebugs and Image Management.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Self Replicating Lemons

In prior posts I discussed some issues around self-replication. Today I'd like to briefly cover another related issue: software bugs.

A software bug is an error or a mistake in programming code that causes a program to act in unintended ways. The resultant behavior can be annoying or bring down multiple systems. Bugs can occur at many levels, from the program code itself to the compiler used to build the software to the hardware that it runs on...but the end result is usually unpredictable.

Looking into the future, let's assume that one day we'll have self-replicating machines. Let's then assume those devices are driven by software. With most software on the market, however, there are bugs. Lots of them in some cases.

For instance, the operating system commonly known as Windows, is actually many interconnected programs working together. Windows XP is thought to contain over 45 million lines of code and subsequent versions contain many more. Despite the vast engineering staff employed to work on such products (development, testing, etc.), it's a given that with such complexity comes the potential for bugs. Those bugs are often exploited (at the expense of consumers and businesses) until Microsoft patches them. In other cases, the bugs can cause programs to crash, throw off calculations, or simply be annoying.

But does this only occur with huge programs? Hardly.

For example, the Mars Climate Orbiter mission was undone because of a mismatch in units (the onboard software used metric newtons, while the ground software used Imperial units). On a programming level, that is not a complicated bug. On a mission level, it meant demise.

With future small-scale self-replicating devices, a software bug could alter the character and behavior of the device in unforeseen ways. Perhaps makers of such devices will incorporate a switch to disable them should things spiral out of control. On the other hand, once a device is released it may not have any kind of "patching" capability, unless it is networked wirelessly. Taken down to the nanoscale, it may be impossible to rein in an errant device.

Extrapolate that to a large scale, and who knows what will happen. What if those machines are somehow networked together with one another but fail to receive patching instructions? This would take us beyond the realm of Autofac or even the grey goo scenario I mentioned in a previous post. Those bugs, or errors, could create just enough of a course alteration to create a system that no one could predict or maintain.

Research into these fields will go on, of course, but these issues should be considered well in advance of the product development stage. After all, the world of commerce is littered with products that were intriguing in the lab or even on paper, but did not pan out in the real world. With a self-replicating machine, however, even simple software bugs could unleash a new paradigm: mechanized mutation.

I'm not convinced anybody is prepared for that.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Endless Factories

Over the past few weeks, I've been covering lots of recent developments in the worlds of nanotech and 3D printing, as well as a brief overview of the concept of fractals (as it pertains to self-replicating patterns). Today, however, I'd like to briefly address an intriguing issue in the world of replication...that of "self replication".

Previously, I mentioned a little bit about the RepRap machine, which can potentially reproduce parts for yet another RepRap machine. The end goal, of course, is to create a machine that can fully replicate itself. So far, the videos I've seen only show the machines making parts, but not actually assembling them. Now, the concept of self-replication is just that...a machine reproducing copies of itself and even assembling that copy without any human intervention. The copying process would likely be driven by software code...much like DNA is used by a cell as a set of instructions.

This idea is all fine in theory, but it's doubtful there will be any error-checking in the copying process. A self-copy is only going to be as good as the original master machine itself...which means if there are any hidden "bugs" in the original, they'll be in the copy, too.

In addition to large scale attempts at self-replication, the race is also on to create self-replicating nanobots. Assembly is much more difficult at the nano scale, and although significant strides have been made to create nanoscale machines, self replication presents a new set of challenges. Despite the impressive engineering involved in such a creation, it seems that the tradeoff for size will also result in an increase in vulnerability and fragility, at least at an individual level.

How does one overcome such an obstacle? One way would be an increase in the volume of individual machines. This idea can be easily found in the world of biology, but in terms of nanotechnology, the best analogy might be bacteria. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea, but there is the potential of a "gray goo" scenario unfolding (as described by Eric Drexler). This scenario involves self-replication that gets completely out of the point that it could cause chaos on an enormous scale especially if the devices consume local resources in order to reproduce themselves.

Science fiction has a colorful history when it comes to describing possible scenarios with self-replicating machines...from Stargate SG-1 to Star Trek to books/short stories such as Philip K. Dick's Autofac. This is one topic I hope to explore in the next project I'm working on, Fractal Standard Time.

Unfortunately, I think research into this area will end up being more of an afterthought...well after the actual devices are created and released into the world. It would be one thing to deal with RepRap machines run amok, but nanomachines? Depending on the creation, the consequences of flawed design in both hardware and software would be unpredictable at best and maybe even unstoppable at worst. How can you prepare to fend off a device you can't even see?

Next time I'll discuss one of the potential hidden flaws to these theoretical machines: software bugs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Corridors Update

Progress is being made on the cover for Corridors...and hopefully I'll have it available before Christmas. In the meantime, I'm releasing three short stories from the collection. Right now they are only available in Kindle format on, here and here. They will also be available on Barnes & Noble and iTunes within the next week or so.

The three stories I've made available are Firebugs (about dueling electronic insects), Image Management (a day in the life of an employee at a company that offloads your memories for you), and The View From Under the Bridge (a story about someone who discovers a box of cartridges at a garage sale...that are full of human personalities).

The full short story collection will be coming soon, to be followed by another short story collection early next year. As always...stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In Rememberance...

One of the themes I explored with my short story collection, Corridors, is the idea of expanding upon human abilities with technology.

In one particular story, In Remembrance of Simplicity, a scientist attaches a memory-boosting chip to his brain. The outcome, however, is not quite what he expects. As told through a series of letters, here is the audio version of the story.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


In my last post I discussed some of the significant advancements being made in 3D printing. Yet there is another technology that is being developed which may not even been visible at all: nanotech.

Nanotech is everywhere...if you consider some of the amazing machinery in nature and the human body as falling under that classification. Manmade nanotech, however, is making some major strides as of late. For starters, here are some interesting videos discussing the topic here, here, here, and here. Although I have disagreements with the videos in terms of the origin of nanotech in nature, you can generally see where things are headed.

Now, one particular technique for building nano-sized devices or objects is nano dip pen lithography. This involves moving atoms into place one by one and so far, it has been used to build some very basic devices, along with creating tiny signatures made at the atomic level. Due to the cost of the equipment, this may not be a feasable long-term method of building devices, but it is a starting point.

Other work being done at the nano level involves grinding things into ultrafine powder as well as developing coatings. Some peculiar properties emerge at this level, though. For example, gold changes color when broken down into smaller and smaller particles. At a certain point, it even becomes transparent. Silicon, too, changes in color from a charcoal-colored metal to red and even to blue when the particle size is continually reduced. Strange properties also develop with carbon (research carbon nanotubes to see what I mean). There are lots of implications to size reduction as well as newfound hope for older technology such as solar cell coatings.

Beyond coatings, solar cell improvements, and dip pen lithography, however, there lurks a potential development that is both fascinating and unsettling at the same time. Work is also being done in various labs and universities on molecular assemblers. These would represent an amazing miniaturization of their larger robotic counterparts, yet the implications might be drastically different for these "nanofactories".

A future nanofactory may use nanomachines (or molecular assemblers) to assemble other nanomachines. There may also come a day when a desktop-sized device will be developed that can encapsulate such functionality. I'll cover issues with replication (and self-replication) in a future post, but you can probably imagine what types of doors this kind of technology will open up...both good and bad. Another lurking danger in any new technology is the ever-present potential for bugs...especially in devices with extensive amounts of software code. In the coming days, I'll cover the implications for that, too.

P.S.: In prior posts, I've made mention of some interesting sites that feature nano-related news, most notably this one. Recently, I found another one to add to that list: azonano.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Desktop Factory

There is a tremendous wave of innovation coming soon. By the time it fully arrives, it could alter the landscape of manufacturing forever. Once the price drops and the technology is "just right", it will empower the average household with the ability to make almost anything.

That wave is 3D printing.

The technology of 3D printers is evolving at a steady rate. Sites have also appeared that allow you to download designs and print them out on your desktop. For example, over at Thingiverse and Shapeways, you can upload your ideas to exchange with others. If you go through their gallery of items, you can find a diverse set of items available.

At first glance, this technology may seem to be somewhere between novelty and something only an engineer would use. Yet imagine a world where you could replace a broken part (on a toy, appliance, or whatever) just by downloading the design into your printer. Right now, low end printers still run around one thousand dollars, but in time the technology will improve and the prices will drop.

A while back, there was even a company that wanted to bring this tech to kids...almost like an Easy Bake oven for 3D printers. I'm not sure what happened to the site, but as of this posting, it still exists.

Other websites such as TinkerCAD are appearing that allow you to do CAD design in your browser.

Why is this significant? It's impressive because it effectively shifts design control to the end user, much like the desktop publishing revolution did years ago. In terms of art, some of the designs out on Thingiverse (and elsewhere) are quite creative.

I've also read that work is being done on creating low-cost plastic shredders that would allow a home user to recycle their plastic bottles for use in their printers. Here are a couple videos here and here that illustrate the state of the industry today and here is a printer production company in case you are interested in acquiring one of these machines.

An intriguing twist on all of this is to have 3D printers replicate themselves. Some of this work can be seen at the RepRap site. I'll cover more about self-replication in a future post, since it applies to several areas at once. In these videos here and here, they give examples of 3-D printers that can replicate their own parts. I have not seen one that can actually assemble itself, however, but progress is being made in that area.

So where will this wave take us? Will large scale manufacturing facilities suddenly disappear? It's doubtful, but this technology will be disruptive in many ways, and there will always be a need for engineers. What may change, however, is the way those needed parts are delivered.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fractal Factories

In my recent research adventures, I've been looking closer at nanotech, fractals, and, as I mentioned a while back, Mars. I'll cover more nano issues in a future post, and I covered some Mars information in a prior entry. On to fractals...

If you are as interested in this field as I am, there are quite a few tutorials and a handful of books out there. There are also some great, well-presented, basic videos here, here, here, and here. Another good starting point is the Nova presentation, "Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension" if you can find it.

The amazing thing about fractal math is that at it's most elemental level, the formulas are relatively simple and based on concept of self-similarity. Where it gets complicated quickly is when those formulas are repeatedly applied.

Fractals have applications in numerous fields and the list is growing everyday. The connections they are finding between this type of math and natural systems is even more impressive. Fractals have been discovered in organ structures (such as the lungs) and in the structure of the circulatory system. Fractals also exist widely in nature, such as in the head of a cauliflower.

One of the interesting applications of all this has been to computer gaming, where mountains, clouds, landscapes, forests, and even planets can be rendered with fractal formulas. The results are often as convincing as the real thing.

So why did I title this post "Fractal Factories"?

Well, one of the more unusual aspects of fractals is the existence of iterated functions and iterated function systems. Essentially, the output of the initial function is fed back into the function. This can go on indefinitely, and some of the results can be visually strange and often stunning. If you have the right software, you could theoretically keep zooming into on a portion of the rendered fractal and it would endlessly reproduce itself. In other words, even if you focused in on a tiny part, it would still resemble the larger whole (self similarity).

Talk about the efficient packaging of information! Like a factory, it can keep on churning out things. Yet, unlike a real world factory, with these types of functions those "things" are copies of itself.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


As promised, here is the first short story from the upcoming collection, "Corridors" in audio form.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Alpha Centauri or Bust

The other day I found an article that could have many implications in terms of spaceflight and physics in general. It talked about ongoing experiments with "space-time warps".

From the article:

"They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.

"We're trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million," White said."
Tabletop time warps...sounds like something straight out of science fiction. If they get the technology to work, I wonder if someone will apply it to board games.

Speaking of experiments, I've decided to try make some changes to my writing techniques...ones that I've stood by for over two decades now. I'm attempting to write directly on the computer, instead of writing the stories out longhand first, and then typing them in. I still plan on printing out the rough drafts and editing those with a pencil, but the goal is to write things faster than my usual pace. I initially balked at the idea, but then I thought about how I used to spend hours typing up rough drafts of stories and novels using an old manual typewriter (via the hunt and peck method). Old habits die hard I guess.

I've also started work on a project I'm calling "Fractal Standard Time". At this point, it is an interlinked collection of short stories that is potentially going to morph into a novel. I'm pretty happy with how the opening story is turning out, and hopefully it won't bend the laws of physics too much. An alternative working title to this project could be called "Mars or Bust" if that gives any hint as to where it is going. I also anticipate a sequel story to "The Mines of Mars" which can be found in my upcoming collection, Corridors.

Regarding Corridors, the cover art is being worked on. I've also created an audio version for a beta reader of mine (my wife). I'm considering posting a story from the book, but I will have to take it down once I publish via KDP Select (Amazon). Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Preview of Corridors

The heavy lifting is done on the next book. Barring last minute changes, the upcoming short story collection, titled Corridors, will contain fourteen science fiction short stories. The cover artwork has not been completed yet, but I can give you the titles of the stories and the order in which they will appear:

The Bells of Copernicus
Image Management
A Fifth of Amber
Consider the Ant
Bridges to Eden
Between the Lines
In Remembrance of Simplicity
The Mines of Mars
IM Forever
A Moveable Peace
The View From Under the Bridge
Cities of the Plain

There should be something for everyone here: electronic insect battles ("Firebugs"), robotic ants run amok ("Consider the Ant"), a washed-up interstellar musician who finds inspiration in an unlikely place ("Corridors"), to a machine that writes novels ("Between the Lines"). Then there is a story about a memory chip implant experiment ("In Remembrance of Simplicity") and another story that explores a potential darker side of transhumanism ("The View From Under the Bridge"). I'm hoping that everything will be ready to go by mid-October. I'd like to post an excerpt or two here, but I'm going to enroll the book in Amazon's KDP select, which makes things sort of complicated when it comes to excerpts.

Looking ahead, I have plans for a tightly linked set of short stories that would again fall under the realm of science fiction as well as plans for more novels. I'll also be doing a lot more posting on here again in the coming days and weeks.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

R is for Reverse Engineer

I don't often delve into craft-related posts on this blog, but I'm beginning to have second thoughts on that. The reason? A recent comment made in an article that perpetuates a common myth nowadays about the work involved in self-publishing.

I've tried my best to stay out of the arguments whirling around this particular article, and some of the comments in particular made by well-known author, Sue Grafton. One comment that seems to have many in an uproar is this:
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for young writers?

A: "Quit worrying about publication and master your craft. If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don't self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you're too lazy to do the hard work."
Then, later:
"Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started. already did."

Now, to credit the article's author, it is a great interview. Yet the comments above are perplexing. Yes, some comments talk about the perils of not working hard on your craft, but a distinction needs to be made between the artist and means of releasing that art to the public.

Later, of course, a follow-up commentary/apology was made, but I think this whole debate brings to light a sharp divide in the world of indie publishing. It is a world that is becoming increasingly populated with very hard-working entreprenueral types, who aren't out to "make a quick buck", but rather put extensive time into their craft, and are willing to put long hours into marketing. Several are in it for the love of words, and the love of expressing those visions with others...including myself.

Like many other industries that have undergone dramatic changes (especially due to technological upheavals) this type of debate often appears. But what about the work ethic question?

I can't speak for others, but I can speak for my own situation. I can't begin to count the number of writing craft related articles or books I've read over the years. I've listened to numerous interviews, read a great deal of fiction, and have written thousands and thousands of pages over the years.

A few years ago, I essentially "reverse engineered" six separate bestselling novels. I tore each book apart and organized my findings by a myriad of categories: page counts per chapter, characters that appeared in each scene, major/minor plot points, structure notes, etc. It was instructive, but I can't say I learned a great deal from the exercise because I'd already been writing short stories and novels for decades leading up to that point. It was interesting to see a few "writing rules" being broken with regularity, however.

I've also written hundreds and hundreds of poems over the past twenty-five years, and tried to pick the best ones out for Horizons. I added a few short stories and then exchanged manuscripts with another author, Paul Chernoch, whose book The Endless Hunt is now available via Amazon. He helped edit my manuscript and I helped to edit his. That was not a walk in the park due to the complexity of his book and considering it came in at over 100,000 words. It is a very in depth book and well worth the read.

Surely, I must have slacked off when I wrote Theft at the Speed of Light. No, not really. Four completely different versions of the book were written over a span of fifteen years. The final version parallels the Biblical Book of Jonah, which wasn't the easiest thing to do, but it ended up being the best approach. It added a whole new depth of meaning to the book and in some ways parallels my own struggle with the topic in general. Oh, and many of the characters in the book tend to mirror actual worldviews/perspectives on the topic. I also ran one of the versions past a well know science fiction writer/editor to get some help with it.

Does that make me lazy?

Did I tell you about the love story/technology novel I wrote years ago that paralled the story of the Tower of Babel? It's sitting in a box somewhere. Would you like to see all the boxes of other manuscripts?

Gathering the Wind took months of research, and it was not easy distilling over 1,200 verses into a few memorable ones all the while somehow trying to make the book as "timeless" as possible.

And what about the next science fiction short story collection I'm working on? Close to two dozen stories were written, but I'm only including fourteen of them. Of those fourteen, each one will likely be edited a half dozen times or more. I've been working on it for over eight months now.

Perhaps a better approach would have been to write one hundred stories and then just pick out one of them and market it into oblivion. Did I mention that I can't write full time for a living?

Now I know that authors like Sue will likely never read any of this or any books I have written, but the point still stands that many of us out here are working very hard on our craft and in some ways have to work harder because the odds are longer that we will get noticed. We have to strive, struggle, and stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones in an effort to share our visions with the world. The opportunities have never been better technologically to reach readers all around the planet. I'd rather focus my energy on that and telling great stories.

As I wrote sometime ago, some of us have been waiting a long time for this moment. But don't think for a second that some of us have let up on our skills our craft-building during that time. In fact, at least for me, I've been working harder than ever at it. Eventually, and I may be wrong on this point, I hope over time that it becomes clear that some of us are giving it everything we've got and have been doing so for a very long time.

May the reader be the beneficiary of all that hard work.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Going For Broke

From now until the end of August, I've decided to put all of my books on sale over at Amazon. All four books will be available for a limited time at 99 cents. See my author page here for a listing of all the books.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Ripple In Time

The other day I was reading about the unusual story structure of the upcoming book-turned-movie, Cloud Atlas. The description of the plotlines struck me as being very original at least in terms of their presentation across time. In fact, it reminded me of numerous ideas I have been gathering together over the years that I think would be fun to try in short fiction, and, if the structure idea is strong enough, in longer, novel-length works.

Maybe I'm bored with the norm, but I'm determined to push the limits of story structure in all sorts of weird, but purposeful directions. I don't have a lot of difficulty conceptualizing non-linear story structures, but where it gets challenging is in the execution stage. It's one thing to draw out on a piece of posterboard how a character's story plays out, how it interacts with those around them, and where it all ends up. Putting into a readable format is another issue, however.

Perhaps I should post a disclaimer in the description of the next book or even on the cover. Something like:

Warning: Crazy Structure Experiments Ahead!

Fiction reading tends to be a very linear activity, and although some books delve into flashbacks and historical sequences from time to time, in general, most fiction travels in straight line forward in time. This is not a bad thing, but it is so common that it becomes a challenge to read a book that jumps back and forth in time or even one that has too many characters.

For example, I have a meandering story sitting around titled "The Mathmatician's Lawn". The story needs some work, but it just begs to have some kind of mathmatical structure tied into the flow of the story. Something like the Fibonacci sequence, fractals, or whatnot that would play off the theme of the story.

Another thought: what about a story whose character interactions create ripples that travel forwards and backwards in time? Is that even possible? I don't know, but it would be fun to try.

Structure experiments aside, at the end of the day each story will have to pass at least pass one test: is it readable? Time will tell...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ready, Set, Answer

Is it the job of a Christian to prove to a non-believer that God exists?

It depends who you ask.

In II Timothy 2:15 [NKJV], believers are told to "be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." In I Peter 3:15 [NKJV], believers are also told to "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you." Do these verses imply that a believer is to provide extensive evidence of God's existence, though? Or does the burden of proof lie with God Himself?

In Romans 1:20, Paul talks about evidence for God being found throughout creation. In Psalm 19:1, it states "The heavens declare the glory of God." Often, though, I've heard the statement that someone refuses to believe in God until they have sufficient evidence. I've also heard that many do not want to believe on the basis of the natural world alone.

Although these are understandable positions, what, then, is the threshold for intellectual belief? If one hundred people came up to them and offered their testimonies of what God had done in their lives, would there be one hundred explanations as to why it could not have been God?

To put it another way, if a person goes to the grocery store and picks up a case of soda pop, do they first have to visit the bottling plant and speak with all the representatives of the bottling company? Do they have to visit the factories where the aluminum and cardboard are produced that is used in the final packaging? Or is it important to go one step further and visit a bauxite mine, speak with all the employees of the mining company, and tour the forests which are cut down (and eventually turned into cardboard)?

What about all the equipment used in logging and all the machinery used in mining? What if the cardboard is made up recycled materials?

At some point, it comes down to faith. In Hebrews 11:6 [NKJV] it reads, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." In the parable of the mustard seed Jesus talks about how even a tiny amount of faith can produce much in the hands of God.

To take it a step further, in John 14:21 [NKJV], Jesus states, "And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." In Jeremiah 29:13 [NKJV], God told the Israelites, "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." It is interesting to note here that God was not asking them to go halfway in their faith or to build their faith on a set of lengthy conditions. Either the Israelites were going to go "all in" and find God, or they weren't.

Perhaps underneath all of these debates it really comes down to a matter of trust.

Trust is needed in so many aspects of life in our world that without it, it would be impossible to do something as simple as going into a grocery store and picking up a case of soda pop. It would be impossible for countries to stay at peace and impossible for scientific progress to move forward. The difference between the case of soda pop and the Bible, however, is that God will provide continuing evidence of the truth of His Word and His existence long after the twelve pack is gone.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

ePubs, Procrastination, and Metallic Ants

I have a confession to make.

Until yesterday, I had been procrastinating on editing my upcoming science fiction short story collection. In fact, I was hoping to have it done this month. It's strange, considering it is the most dynamic and diverse book I've written yet. There will be fourteen tales in all, including stories about metallic insects, attempts at transhumanism, an adventure on Mars, building cathedrals on the Moon, and a computer that writes novels.

So why did I not want to work on it anymore?

For the life of me, I could not figure it out. The manuscript sat on top of a filing cabinet for weeks, and every so often I would take it down, sit down at the living room table, and flip through its contents. I jotted a couple notes here and there, but that was it. They say procrastination can sometimes be a form of anger, but in this case it was more like a form of veiled frustration.

Yesterday, however, I realized I was looking at the book all wrong. Some of the stories have minor problems, while four or five of them have major plot issues. In the plot-problem cases, there was a great setting, decent characters, but no real story line. There was no emotional investment on the part of any of the characters and the stories essentially went nowhere fast. Meanwhile, some of the other stories are done or nearly done. There's even a story about metallic ants, who by themselves do little, but as a group organize and overcome multiple obstacles in a matter of hours.

Yet whenever I looked at the book as a whole, the negative aspects stuck with me, and not the positive ones. Instead of looking at it with a "glass half full" mentality, it looked like the glass was half-empty, and the remaining contents were evaporating by the hour!

It was then I realized I needed to focus my efforts on the main plot-problem stories first. Instead of fourteen problems to solve, I needed to look at is as four or five managable obstacles to overcome. Once those problems were solved, Only then could I look at the book as a whole set of small, but easy problems to solve. Inch by inch, and all that.

In instances like these it also helps to sometimes swap out elements of a story that may or may not be working in an effort to jump start the story. In the case of a short story titled "Corridors", it started as a cargo ship passing through the solar system, only to find a barren planet Earth and a giant, cubic ship attempting to land on it. That in of itself seemed to be a workable idea, but the story went nowhere.

So I started swapping out bits of the story for other ideas. I turned the cargo ship into a passenger spaceship. I turned the cargo ship crew into a bunch of traveling musicians who are blown away by the music eminating from the giant cubic ship (which is actually the New Jerusalem as found in Revelation 21) and ultimately inspired by it. Suddenly, the story sprang to life and well, you'll see the results in a few weeks.

One problem solved, three or four big ones to go. Suddenly, the urge to procrastinate has been replaced by the urge to write. Writer's block is something that can be overcome, but sometimes it's best to break the project into workable little pieces instead.

In other news...progress is being made on ePub versions of my books An Echo Through the Trees, Gathering the Wind, and Horizons. Theft at the Speed of Light is already available on iTunes and Barnes and Noble, however. Depending on how things go, I may also release some free "singles" in the form of short stories here and there over the coming months, too. As always, stay tuned.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Kindle INDIEpendence Day Giveaway

It is time for the second annual Kindle INDIEpendence Day giveaway. This year we have even more authors and prizes. Contest begins July 1st and ends July 7th.

Grand Prize: 1 Kindle Fire
1st place: 1 Kindle with special offers
2nd place: a choice of 20 free ebooks from the 29 participating authors
3rd place: a choice of 15 free ebooks from the participating authors

There are tons of ways to enter including tweeting about the contest, following the authors on facebook or Twitter, blogging about the contest and even purchasing the participating books. Just fill out the rafflecopter form below! This is also a blog hop. Be sure to visit the other blogs on the list and learn more about Indie authors of YA and MG novels. You can add your blog and get extra entry points as well!

Note: I will be giving away a copy of my novella, An Echo Through the Trees, as a prize for the contest.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Thursday, May 24, 2012

I See Red

I've been watching lots of Mars related videos as of late. These have included Mars Rising, Mars Dead or Alive, and numerous others. Mars Rising is a six-part series narrated by William Shatner that covers the technology, research, and problems with making a journey to the red planet. The series is well done, and covers such aspects as rocket technology, human psychology over long voyages (imagine living in a small enclosed space with several other astronauts for six way), to the potential issues with landing on the planet itself.

One of the other topics cover was terraforming, or the process of "converting" a planet from an unliveable place to one more like Earth. One of the intriguing ideas mentioned in the series was the idea of building hundreds of factories on Mars that would produce greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) for decades on end in order to trigger a planetwide greenhouse effect.

There's a couple of issues with doing that, however. First, you'd have to transport all the factory material to the planet, land it all on the surface, and then set it up. Second, Mars' atmosphere is already full of carbon dioxide. Hmmm.

Whatever the case, it has been interesting to see where the research has been, where it is going, and all the throught going into the process. I'm starting to think, too, about setting some stories on the red planet, after having written a short story that will be likely be included in my next short story collection, Corridors (coming later this summer). The story is tenatively titled, "The Mines of Mars", and deals with a pirate who comes across some unusual cargo being transported via rail. What's been unusual, though, is that the story seems to want to mushroom into a full-blown novel, or at least several interlinked short stories.

It's also been instructive to now go back and look at some other Mars-related fiction I read years ago, such as Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. Ray has admitted in an interview that it wasn't so much meant to be a series of science fiction stories, but rather fantasy. This makes sense, given that Mars' daytime temperatures may never get above zero, and if the cold doesn't cause problems, there's always the dust storms or radiation from the sun.

Then there are the tornadoes. Narrow, towering, whirling columns of dust that grow to be as tall as Mt. Everest and as wide as a city block. The dust is finer than talcum powder and can build up huge electrical charges that could easily fry electronic equipment. Sometimes the storms have been beneficial, such as when they've cleaned the dust off the solar panels of the Mars rovers.

There are also signs of a great deal of water just below the surface of the planet. In addition, there are also exploratory discussions occuring about setting up settlements above and/or below the surface. Hopefully, we'll see some of these become reality in the coming years, but until then, it opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of fiction writing.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Last year we planted some Brussels sprouts in the garden. They grew slowly, and by the end of the season they still had not yielded anything usable (they came close, though). So, we pretty much wrote off growing them ever again.

This spring, however, there came a surprise. After filling the garden with composted leaves in the fall, we swept away the debris to find two of the plants had survived the snow and cold. Strangely enough, the new shoots were growing out of the old, withered plants and have a great head start on the growing season.

I did some research and found that sprouts are one of the few vegetables that can survive a winter season, along with broccoli and kale. Although I'm not a fan of either of those vegetables it would be interesting to see them staying green in the midst of a blizzard.

Like the vegetable plants that survived the winter, writing can sometimes bring its own type of surprises. For example, a while back I talked about writing a bunch of stories and then letting them rest. I'm using this process again with another group of short stories (most of which will probably end up in my upcoming collection, Corridors).

Here's the surprise: some of this last group of short stories are now growing into novels. This is not something that was planned, but instead came out the organic nature of the writing stories for the fun of it. Who knows if there will be time to turn some of these into proper full-length books, but at least it is interesting to witness.

This is a process anyone can try that is involved in the creative arts. Although it may not work for everyone, it can lead to some interesting developments later on. For instance, musicians often have "jam sessions" and I've heard of several instances where full songs came out of such sessions.

Have you ever painted, drawn, played music, or written something for the fun of it and had an entire project develop out of it?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Am I Being Too Subtle?

One of the interesting aspects about writing a book is how others perceive the end result. Sometimes as an author I like to have fun with story structure and other times I bury things in the text. I think, however, that a lot of times nobody picks up on it. 

In An Echo Through the Trees there is a reference to a painting created by a secondary character (Karen Krause) which she calls "Virtue". When she announces the name of the painting to a friend at an art fair, and then comments that nobody seems to be buying it, he replies, "The price is a bit high."

After I wrote that passage, I came to the realization that there was a double meaning to that specific part of the conversation, although the characters themselves weren't aware of it. It was sort of a comment on how many regard virtue as a great thing, but often give up on its pursuit because the cost really does get high after a certain point. In other ways, it was an indirect reference to Romans 3:23 which states, "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

In Theft at the Speed of Light, there are multiple references to songs (both Christian and secular) that occur in conjunction with the main character, Alex Poole, and the main antagonist, James Malloy. If you dig into lyrics of each of these song references, they more or less reflect where that character is at the point in their life. I guess it was my first (and maybe last) experimental attempt at adding a "soundtrack" to a book.

I didn't do it just for the sake of experimentation, however. It does tie into the fact that Malloy plays guitar. Also, in the scene where he is overlooking one of his own bank branches going up in smoke there is a subtle reference to the apocryphal story of how Nero supposedly fiddled while Rome burned. In reality, Nero may have started the fire himself, or at the very least took advantage of the situation for his own gain. What followed, of course, was more Christian persecution.

Like subtle references, however, there are also times when it is better to leave things out.

In one of my latest releases, Gathering the Wind, I purposely left out a great deal of weather related science. I was not trying to be ignorant about the subject. In fact, I actually read a great deal of science articles on a routine basis and even just finished listening to a college lecture series on nanotechnology. I left the information out in many places because the science of global climate change is still in flux.

For example, over the past several years there has been a signicant push towards developing more earth-friendly energy systems. There are some great leaps occuring right now in solar technology (due to nanotechnology no less) that may dramatically improve the efficiency of solar cells. Wind farms are also springing up all over America. Yet there was a story the other day about how wind farms themselves may be contributing to global warming.


So of course a few days later all sorts of counterarguments started appearing.

The list goes on and on, and I realized early on there was an inherent danger about putting such information in a book, especially if you want that book to have a shelf life of more than a couple of months. The goal of the book, however, was to examine what the Bible said about the subject. I was also cautious about trying to interpret various End Times passages because frankly, there are a lot of details that won't be known until that time is upon us.

Anyway, after watching several behind-the-scenes documentaries for various movies that have come out over the years, I get the impression that lots of artists do this type of thing, whether they are creating movies, composing music, painting, or writing books.

Even microchip designers have been known to get into the act by placing images onto printed circuit boards.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Kid at the Typewriter

It's been a little while since the last update here, but a few things have happened since I last posted.

First of all, over the past several months I've found myself spending more time analyzing stats, reading blogs, sifting through articles, and reading endless commentaries on the state of publishing. Although this has some value, increasingly I was spending more time comparing my situation to others and spending less time actually writing. I found lots of great information, but over time I also began to lose focus as to why I ever started writing in the first place.

So, a few weeks ago I unplugged from the internet for a couple of days and re-focused on writing new material. I rediscovered the real reason I began writing when I was a kid.

I remembered days and nights of sitting in front of my parents' old manual Royal typewriter, putting in sheet after sheet, and watching stories come to life on the page one by one. I remembered the thrill of finishing off a "novel", usually set in outer space, and then binding the book with hand heavy card stock and glue. I then handed the book out to friends or relatives.

After each book was finished I would almost immediately start in on another. Although I listened to feedback from others, I steadily improved my abilities not because I wanted to pursue some prize or adoration, but because I enjoyed the process. In short, I found writing to be fun.

I've gone back to that now and a funny thing has happened. I suddenly have an abundance of ideas again. To illustrate the point, this past weekend I watched the documentary Transcendant Man. It is an eye-opening film and although it focuses on one inventor, it highlights some of the ongoing trends in technology, genetics, artificial intelligence, and other scientific areas. These trends may indeed be converging at a particular point.

One of the side effects of my return to writing for fun and watching this film is that a day or two later, suddenly a dozen short story ideas sprang to life in my notebook. This is good news, since I was getting a little concerned that the dozen or so stories I had already written down for Corridors would leave the collection rather small in size. Although this has sidetracked me a bit from the planning of Race the Sky, it has opened up a lot of new possibilities for future short stories and novels in the science fiction realm. Fun possibilities.

In perspective, I've become that kid at the typewriter again. So I'll continue to upload stories via e-book and paperback but not because I'm looking for fantastic sales. I'll continue to plot adventures in time, space, technology, and even the wilderness not because I want to I want to tackle multiple genres at once. I'll continue to tinker with story structures and points-of-view not because I want to prove something to an editor or critic somewhere.

I'll continue because it's fun.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Random Weather Bits

Here's something I've never seen before: waist deep hail.

In the article, there is a photo that looks like a person standing next to some gray rock. That is not rock in the picture, however. It's hail.

Last year, I made a graph of some of the largest tornadoes to track through the U.S. over the past few decades. The trend was concerning: it appears that largest tornadoes are getting larger as time goes on. Yesterday, I realized I forgot to list another monster: the Yazoo City, Mississippi tornado. This one was 1.75 miles across at some points along its 149 mile (!) track. It was rated an EF-4. I plugged the data in, and it just reinforces what I previously wrote/graphed.

About tornadoes...there is also some ongoing research into launching swarms of "quad copters" into tornadoes as a means of collecting data and video footage. Years ago, there were multiple efforts to gather data using "turtles", which were ground-based devices which sat low on the ground. The hope was that a tornado would make a direct strike on the probe and gather data. The quad copters sound a lot more promising, however.

In other news, as I mentioned previously, Gathering the Wind is now available in paperback and on the Amazon. I will also be expanding distribution on my novels to the iTunes store and Barnes & Noble over the coming weeks. A novel related to Gathering the Wind is also in the works, and will hopefully be available towards the end of this summer.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Release: Gathering the Wind

Just in time for storm season...

Over the past few months, I've been quietly working on a non-fiction book about weather and the Bible. After exhaustively sorting through and researching well over a thousand Scripture verses on the topic, I can now say that the book is ready to go. It will be released on April 14, 2012. Topics covered include: who controls the weather, weather as a warning, weather as judgment, weather in times of battle, End Time climate change, and much more.

On a similar note, I have already started work on a related novel, Race The Sky, which will hopefully be ready by fall. This book will be my first full-length fiction offering since Theft at the Speed of Light, and the story will be centered around a group of stormchasers.

I will also likely run a giveaway or two over on Goodreads for the new title. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Different Marathons

Over the past couple of weeks, I've come to realize something about the publishing axiom "it's a marathon, not a sprint". I think the phrase needs a caveat added to it. I would add something like: "Compare results all you want, but in reality we're all running different marathons".

I've spent the past year or so putting books up on Amazon. I've also spent the past year analyzing stats, reading countless online articles, and looking at industry trends. I've also realized as of late that I've been spending more time studying stats than actually getting any writing done. It has also changed my outlook from hopeful to guarded to depressed and back again.

I've also realized some authors came into the world of self-publishing with a huge backlist of titles in the traditional publishing world. Others have audiences they've built up over the years and for them, e-books just represent a different, newer market. In other cases, the genres they work in have seen great success over the past couple of years.

I don't have a massive backlist to work with. I do have several manuscripts in storage, however, and am writing lots of new material. So, in comparison to some of success stories I've read over the past year, I do have some things in common (lots of material to work with) but in other ways my books are spread out across multiple genres which makes things "interesting" but more difficult.

That said, I crossed a finish line of sorts last night. I completed work on my first non-fiction offering, "Gathering the Wind: What the Bible Says About God, the Weather, and Climate Change". I've even recorded an audio version for some people to listen to (although the audio quality would have to improve if I were to release it on a large scale). This book is a first for me in terms of non-fiction, but also a first in terms of the extensive research that went into it. The Bible contains hundreds of verses that talk about the weather and trying to distill those all down into a format that is easy to read through was a little tough. Again, though, I learned a lot and the process has produced a template which I can use on future non-fiction books.

The book should be ready to go in the next 2-4 weeks depending on how the formatting process goes. It is a relatively short book at only sixty pages or so, but I'm okay with that. I'm also working on another collection of short stories and another novel which will indirectly tie-in with this non-fiction book.

After all of this, though, I've realized many of us truly are running different marathons. What I consider a success may be very different from someone else. I've also learned I'm much more productive and focused when I don't spend my time watching everyone else run their marathons. In fact, I still like to think of myself as the kid who discovered a manual typewriter in the basement all those years ago and typed up stories late into the night simply for the love of storytelling.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Long Climb Uphill

One thing I struggle with as a writer is visibility. I'm well aware of the fact that up until this point, I have not written any guest blog posts (I've read elsewhere I should), have not had any interviews, and only have three books available. Sales are slow at best, although I have given away quite a few copies via Amazon giveaways and have sent out almost twenty paperbacks via Goodreads giveaways. The problem is, though, that free books don't necessarily translate into reviews, and many times readers will pick up free books without ever getting around to actually reading many of them.

I've read that one of the solutions to the visibility conundrum is to write more books. In contrast, however, I seen multiple situations where having only one book available is enough to garner dozens of glowing reviews on Amazon, B&N, and elsewhere. It's also been enough to help these writers gain access to various advertising outlets that have a certain threshold for sponsorships (such as Pixel of Ink and other venues). This threshold usually involves having a certain number of reviews, and typically the reviews as a whole have to average of 3.5 stars or better. In other cases writing more books doesn't help the visibility issue all that much.

I've read elsewhere numerous times that it's a "marathon not a sprint" and that "at the eight or nine month mark sales should improve". Hmmm. I can't say I've seen that type of improvement yet. The other huge factor here, though, is that the digital publishing industry is continually undergoing tremendous change. What may have worked for marketing six months ago may produce diminishing returns now and in fact may never work again at some point for many books. In other words, advice can age pretty quickly in this situation.

That said, I'll continue to do giveaways. In fact, there is one going on over at Goodreads right now until the end of the month. I'm also continuing to write more books. I'm currently editing a non-fiction book (Gathering the Wind), have written several stories for a short story collection (Corridors), and am in the planning stages of a suspense novel about stormchasing (Race the Sky). Hopefully I will complete all three this year, and Gathering the Wind should be ready to go in April. I will continue to run giveaways on the new books over at Goodreads and also likely start putting the first three books up onto B&N, the iTunes store, and elsewhere. If I have enough time, I may even put up an audio version of the first few chapters of Gathering the Wind.

Part of me wonders what I could have done differently up until this point. Many have suggested that it's fair to ask readers for reviews...which is not something I have done. So, in light of that, I will say this: if you have read one or some of my books and like them or get something out of them, please write a review if you can find the time. I really appreciate it. A few people have already written some nice things over at Goodreads which has been surprising to me...and I'm very thankful for those.

Visibility issues aside, I'll keep chugging along as best I can. From my vantage point, though, it's one long climb uphill right now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Prairie Mystery

As I was doing research for my non-fiction project, Gathering the Wind, I came across a startling discovery. One of the weather related examples I use in the book is the Grasshopper plagues that affected several Midwestern states during 1873 through 1877. The grasshoppers, otherwise known as Rocky Mountain locusts, often arrived in great swirling masses that resembled storm clouds and went on to destroy countless acres of crops to the tune of over $200 million in damage.

Here's the odd part, though. By 1902, the locusts were gone. Gone, as in extinct.

So I began to read several articles as to how such a widespread population of bugs could just suddenly disappear. No one seems to know for sure, but according to a New York Times article and this article, theories range from plowing/irrigation practices to farmers bringing in "insect eating birds". How could a swarm once described as being "1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide" disappear due to increased plowing?

I have driven along long stretches of Interstate 90 over the years. I can tell you there is an awful lot of open space between the South Dakota/Minnesota border and Washington state, and it isn't all farmland or mountains. Somehow I think there is a lot more to this story than just birds and plowed land.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Chase On

One of the projects I'm working on right now involves rewriting a stormchasing novel I wrote a dozen years ago, titled Race the Sky. In preparation for the rewrite, I've spent the past several years reviewing online chaser journals, hours of documentaries, reading tons of articles, as well as chasing a storm or two. I also regularly read the technical discussions found over at the Storm Prediction Center, and today, of course, I read of a High Risk for severe weather in a portion of the country I just traveled through a couple weeks ago. Oddly enough, one of the places we passed through on our return trip was Xenia, Ohio, which was pummelled during the 1974 "Super Outbreak".

Of note in today's Day 1 Outlook wording was this line that followed a description of the atmospheric conditions in the region:
Not good.

I suspect this could be a memorable day in some parts of the region, and not in a good way. On a related note, I also came across this video streaming page with live video from various chasers in the region. It probably takes a broadband connection to watch, but it's interesting to see how many people are tracking a particular potential outbreak. It will be interesting, too, to see if I'll be able to update the essay I wrote last year about tornadoes after the day is done.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Small Leaps

This post is part of the blog chain. Please see the list of other writers' post on the right hand sidebar to read some other great entries.

This past week we went on a trip. This vacation was part car trip, part cruise, but all parts involved traveling to new parts of the country, and even to a country we've never visited before (Mexico).

In many ways, each portion of the trip involved small "leaps" of faith. Would the hotels we picked be clean, decent, and not located in bad neighborhoods? Would our car hold up on the long trip (1,900 miles each way) and more importantly, would it survive the mountain driving? Would we make it to the cruise ship in time, and would our car still be there in the parking garage once we returned? When word came that we could get caught in a snowstorm in the mountains, would we make it out of the area in time?

As it turns out, the trip went great. Every step of the way, however, we prayed. We prayed for little things (driving, safe travel in a foreign country) and big things (decent weather). Those prayers were answered, and we dodged an Appalachian snowstorm by day. Although we did end up in a rundown hotel in a bad neighborhood for a few hours (due to exhaustion from driving cross-country), the stay was uneventful in the end. Years ago, I would have never thought to pray about so many little things, but at the end of the week all those little things added up in a big way. We even tried some new foods: lamb, grouper, alligator fritters, and even calamari stir-fry.

As the old axiom goes, "look before you leap". Sometimes, however, looking is not enough. It's one thing to look at a travel brochure, or read about reviews of a hotel on a website. It's another to arrive there and find yourself in a dodgy part of town talking to a clerk who is sitting behind a window made of bulletproof glass.

In short, it's okay to look before you leap, but I'm finding it better to pray before you leap, no matter how small the leap may seem. Or, as Paul puts it in Phillipians 4:6-7 (NKJV): "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Lost Art of DXing

When I was a kid, I got caught up in the hobby of DXing, or the art of listening for distant radio staions via AM, FM, or shortwave. This hobby also extended to television (VHF/UHF) to some extent, but with the advent of digital television channels, I don't know how viable that is anymore.

DXing involves going up and down the radio dial, in search of stations that are not in your metropolitan area (for those in rural areas it would involve receiving stations from pretty much anywhere). With FM frequencies, whose waves typically travel via line-of-sight, the best reception seemed to occur during daylight hours. Unfortunately, despite using multiple different radios, I was never able to pick up anything other than the surrounding states, and usually only stations that were close to our state border.

With television, the results were similar, except on certain strange days when the weather seemed a bit out of whack. For example, only a handful of times in recent memory the remnants of a hurricane reached this far inland. When it did happen, however, several typically "empty" channels on the tv would suddenly light up with stations all around the region. Sometimes the picture quality would be on par with the local stations.

One astonishing day, however, my father and I picked up a weak television signal on channel 3. Although the call sign lettering was difficult to read at the top of each hour, we deciphered the station as being "KENW" from a town called Kortales. After some further research, we discovered "Kortales" was actually "Portales", as in New Mexico.

The signal was coming in from over 1,000 miles away!

The two more reliable DXing bands were usually AM and shortwave, however. I won't go into much detail on shortwave, but suffice to say I was able to pick up South Africa, Germany, Ecuador, Japan, China, Bulgaria, and a wide range of other countries, including American stations. All from a tube-drive Halicrafters radio set in my father's basement.

For AM frequencies, distant stations would typically peak in the winter months, and there would be a surge in reception from about sunset until just after midnight. In fact, I even went so far as to graph the results and found that the amount of stations I could pick up surged from about twenty to well over 120 one night alone. Again, the stations would come in from all over the states, including New York, Chicago, Charlotte, San Antonio, Des Moines, Cincinnati, Denver, and more. With AM signals, there is a tendency for the signals to bounce on the ionosphere, which is sometimes referred to as "skip", thus increasing the distance the signal can travel dramatically.

On rare nights, however, especially when the local powerhouse AM station was off the air for maintenance, a station would come in from Los Angeles. On ever rarer nights, a station from Honolulu, Hawaii, came in...albeit weakly.

With the age of internet and the rise of cable television (or satellite), though, I wonder how many people still listen for distant stations. It used to be amazing to hear from distant cities and in some cases hear music that was never played locally. On AM radio, you can still pick up countless stations, whose reception still peaks at night and in winter, and depending on your location, you can still pick up stations from faraway places such as Mexico. It's a bit of an arcane hobby, but one that still exists today.

By the way, this weekend the Kindle version of Theft at the Speed of Light will be free for a couple days on See here for details. Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Compost Pile

This past year we decided to build a better garden. It was pretty successful since it gave us dozens of tomatoes, a couple dozen cucumbers, some green peppers, and a variety of other vegetables. We also decided to try something different with the fall and winter seasons by throwing all the dead leaves from the yard into the garden. Who knows how this will turn out in the spring, but I've read in multiple places that decaying, organic material is good for a garden. I already experimented earlier with putting coffee grounds around the tomato plants. The results were decent and I just may throw some more in the compost pile as the winter wears on.

Ideas, too, can sometimes be like a compost pile.

Over the past several months I had been reading a great deal of fiction, watching some old science fiction serials on DVD, and recently watched a few monster movies from the 50's, 60's and 70's. Some of the movies did not age particularly well, but the ideas were good. I've also spent the past four or five years reading tons of storm chaser logs (online), reading some storm books, and watching every storm documentary I could get my hands on at the local library.

Now, however, I think it's time for a vacation. Time to put aside the movies, books, and articles and not do a whole lot of anything.

Sort of like the garden.

Ideas sometimes need time to percolate, and sometimes I've learned (usually the hard way) that when writing, if the ideas start to run out, it's time to stop pressing and trying so hard. It's time to back up, take a break, and pick things up in a few weeks. I have plans this year to publish three books: one non-fiction, one collection of short stories, and one novel. The non-fiction book has been written and needs editing, and I've been writing several short stories over the past few weeks. The novel is also in the planning stages.

So if I need a vacation, why did I agree, along with many others, to a challenge that involves 60,000 words in 29 days? Especially since I'll be out on vacation for some of those days? That's a pace of over 2,000 words a day, and maybe more in my case. I agreed because I wanted to create a big pile of compost.

No, seriously.

Sometimes it is fun to just write stories with no preconceived plan, no outlines, no character histories or anything like that. I plan on writing as many short stories as I can over the next few weeks so that when I switch back to the non-fiction project, all those short stories can sit in the "compost pile". Then, a few weeks or months later I'll dig them up and begin to work with them. At this point, some amazing things can happen. Story lines that seemed incomplete suddenly get filled in. Plots that seemed aimless suddenly have life. Characters that lacked depth come alive. And on and on.

Like the compost pile in the garden, though, it just takes time. And patience. And a whole lot of ideas.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Kind of Time Machine, Part IV

This post is part of the CW blog chain (see sidebar at right). This month's topic is "quest". Please be sure to visit the other writers' posts and leave comments if possible. This is also part IV of a series I started in 2011. Parts I, II, and III can be found here, here, and here.

Everyone it seems at times looks for ways to turn back the clock in their lives. In a sense, they are on a quest for more time. Yet we can never build our own personal time machine to go back and change a conversation, to extend our goodbyes to a friend or a relative we'll never see again, to take back words that did too much damage in their time, or to fix our parenting mistakes. Fixing such issues would probably create a host of paradoxes anyway, and who knows, if you fixed the original situation, a new problem might crop up in its place.

Why aren't more people happy with their age or with the time they have been given? Why do some people turn to the bottle, or pills, or surgery as a way of keeping the past alive?

Our lives seemed to be filled with quests. Quests for more time, money, a better life, more friends, etc. Yet the time one seems to be the most puzzling one considering that in some respects, it's the one element we have the least control over. Once it is gone, you can't get it back, and unlike the sands in an hourglass, you can't just flip things over and start again.

Maybe some of this quest has to do with this verse from Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV - 1984) which reads:
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
The first half of chapter three of Ecclesiastes deals with time, and yet there is this curious line about "setting eternity in our hearts". It's as if God has put a quest or in our hearts to seek out the immortal, the timeless, or to see things from an eternal perspective. At the same time, we do not have the capacity to see everything from beginning to end, much less comprehend it. In other words, it's a quest that never ends!

We know our lives are finite. We know there will come a day when our creations, dreams, hopes, and plans will be replaced by another generation. Yet God freely offers a free transit pass to eternity—or, to put it another way, a free ticket to the New Jerusalem. Maybe this is a big stretch, but perhaps the New Jerusalem is not only a city, but also some kind of creation capable of time ultimate time machine of sorts since it appears over the earth one day and descends from the clouds. Whatever the case, it will be 1,400 x 1,400 x 1,400 miles across, which means it's also likely either a giant cube or one very big pyramid (see Revelation 21).

Despite all this knowledge of the future, some still do not trust in its validity. Others do not want to part with the lives they've built or see any use for a ticket to eternity. Yet when the end of their individual timeline comes, then what? The quest is still there, unfufilled, and now maybe accompanied by a sense of remorse or perhaps bitterness. There is still time to change that, of course, if the person is willing.

Until then, however, as the inscription on many a clock reads...tempus fugit.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Random Movie Bits

I've been listening to lots of older books lately. The last audiobook I just finished was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, and I'll probably listen to Treasure Island next by Robert Louis Stevenson. On the video front, I've also watched a bunch of old monster/mythology movies over the past few months. The short list has included Jason and the Argonauts, Mysterious Island, It Came From Beneath the Sea, Clash of the Titans (1981 version), and Godzilla vs. Megalon. More Godzilla movies are on their way in from the library, along with The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

As you can probably tell, I like some of the old stop-motion model animation movies (Ray Harryhausen films, for example) and even some of the old Godzilla films with their odd characters, quirky plots, and weird overdubs. I miss some of these types of movies, and I haven't seen a whole lot of them being made over the past couple of decades in American cinema (unless you count made-for-tv movies or the Jurassic Park series). Some of these movies were a product of their times, and many of them played of the public's fear of war, weapons, and environmental concerns. Like 'em or hate 'em, they were imaginative.

That said, with all the advances in CGI these days, I wonder if any studios will revisit some of these old movies, like they did with Clash of the Titans in 2010 (a version of the film that I still have not seen). Oddly enough, I just noticed it looks like there will be a sequel to that particular movie, Wrath of the Titans.

Does anybody know of any current or newly released books with large-scale monsters in them? Or if there will be any more movies like this coming out this summer?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Gathering The Wind

"Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!" - Proverbs 30:4 (NIV - 1984)

One of the major projects I have been working on over several months is a new non-fiction book about weather, climate change and the Bible. As I began to research material for this book, I noticed some peculiar articles appearing in the news. Usually it was related to strange weather events at different climate change summits (like the one in Cancun in late 2010). This past year was also strange in terms of weather extremes, whether it was nasty tornado outbreaks in the Southern U.S. or hurricane-like blizzards in Alaska.

Anyway, I have now finished the rough draft of the book, and barring major changes, it should remain a nine chapter book that covers topics such as future climate change, weather events that God has used to warn people, weather events that have been (and will be) outright acts of judgment, and even a chapter on how God has used the weather to turn the tide of war. In all, I looked at hundreds and hundreds of verses on the weather as well as specific weather-related incidents in the Bible such as Paul's shipwreck. The working title of this book is currently, "Gathering the Wind: What the Bible says about God, the Weather, and Climate Change". The title is drawn from Proverbs 30:4.

As it looks right now, this book should be available sometime in late March. I will likely hold a Goodreads giveaway related to this book and may hold some more giveaways on my previous book, Horizons, in the coming weeks. Stay tuned...