The older I get, the more it becomes clear that most of humankind's problems stem from intentional ignorance: Choosing to hold onto problematic beliefs despite evidence that shows these beliefs lead to harm, or could, or when they're simply no longer useful or relevant and get in the way of building a better future.

If you know something causes problems for others or for our shared environment, yet you continue to support that harmful thing, you're not "following your heart," being moral, or such. You've become part of the problem. Traditions and heritage are not always good. They're history. It's okay if obsolete beliefs stay in the past.

Resist intentional ignorance. Don't be the problem. If you learn something that changes your perspective or challenges your beliefs, follow Theodore Sturgeon's advice: Keep asking the next question. When you discover that you were ignorant of the facts or of others' feelings, embrace the new thing you learned. Grow, become a better person. Be part of the solution. The better world you'll live in is yours, too! Isn't that kind of the Golden Rule? That seems like a good one to follow.

But seriously, any super-intelligent, super-powerful, godlike being that wants to keep its people in ignorance is a slavemaster or malicious asshole. If Earth's god-worshipping religions are based on such beings, well, to hell with those alien jerks! Sure, humans as a whole can be terrible monsters, but intentionally keeping us in ignorance isn't making things better. I'd only forgive them if they were to appear this afternoon and say, "Sorry, our bad. We've been reinforcing your ignorance and self-hatred for too long. Now that you're approaching the Technological Singularity, it's time you learned the truth."

...I mean, we're about to become really dangerous - not just to ourselves, but to the rest of the galaxy. If some awful group of tech-savvy industrialists or terrorists - or some gov't seeking ultimate power - builds an intelligent nanoweapon that turns Earth to gray goo, it's not just us that's wiped out. Those self-replicating machines could consume everything on Earth, float past the now-all-nanos atmosphere, between the planets, and into interstellar space. Mars? Nano-goo. Jupiter? Supermassive ball of nano-goo. Oort Cloud? All the planets in our part of the galaxy? Nano-goo. Everything they touch will be destroyed.

So keeping us down might make sense on a galactic scale. But if that's the case, just TELL US it's in everyone's best interests to keep humans down until we're not so dangerous. TELL US that we're simply too monstrous in our mental composition to be allowed to progress. TELL US that we need to grow up, eliminate our bigotries and hatreds and other personality flaws, before we're allowed to keep moving into the future.

Because humans will do it regardless, and then what? They'll just wipe us off the face of the planet before we're too dangerous? That's terrible resource management. If there's anything worthwhile in the human species, show us the error of our ways and help us cast off our inherited memes and epigenetics. Help us learn how to be better people.

I have an even better idea: Why not just fix our problems ourselves? Why don't we as a species work on becoming better people so we don't need to worry about theoretical godlike aliens exterminating us. If there's no such thing as godlike aliens, why in the ever-loving hell do we hang onto obsolete and harmful memes from our ancient past? It's like someone with peanut allergies continuing to gobble bags of peanuts, fully aware that the next mouthful might be their last. If Earth holds the only intelligences in the galaxy, we have a responsibility not to exterminate ourselves.

Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

This weekend is Kansas City's annual SF convention, ConQuesT 46! I'm doing several panels, a writing workshop, and a reading, and I'll be at many of the night-time room parties and the Sunday-afternoon Charity Auction. My schedule is now on Sched, like all the other presenters', but here's the short version:

Friday 3:00pm: World Building - Creating Alien Languages.
Friday 4:00pm: ConQuesT Writers' Workshop.
Friday 7:00pm: Opening Ceremonies.
Friday night: Find me on the Party Floor!
Saturday 1:00pm: Writing For Younger Audiences.
Saturday 4:00pm: Reading - Ad Astra Road Trip (Book 1 of the Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella).
Sunday 10:00am: True Heroines and Diversity in Speculative Fiction, hosted by Hadley Rille Books.
Saturday night: Find me on the Party Floor!
Sunday 1:00pm: AboutSF.
Sunday 2:00pm: Charity Auction.

Hope to see you there!
Did you know that lots of asteroids have moons? Check it out:

Scientists working with NASA's 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, have released the first radar images of asteroid 2004 BL86. (These are also the folks responsible for the New Horizons mission to Pluto, which arrives soon!)

The resolution on the radar images is 13 feet (4 meters) per pixel. It made its closest approach yesterday (January 26, 2015, 10:19 am Central time) just 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from us, about 3.1 times the distance as far away as the Moon.

Best part? The images reveal that asteroid 2004 BL86 has its own small moon.

The asteroid is approximately 1,100 feet (325 meters) across and has a small moon approximately 230 feet (70 meters) across. In the near-Earth-object (NEO) population, about 16 percent of asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 meters) or larger have one - or even two! - small moons orbiting them.

The trajectory of the asteroid is well understood. Monday's flyby was the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. It is also the closest a known asteroid this size will come to Earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past our planet in 2027.

Asteroid 2004 BL86 was discovered on Jan. 30, 2004, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey in White Sands, New Mexico.

NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them, the most robust and productive survey and detection program for discovering NEOs in the world. NASA partners with government agencies, university-based astronomers, space science institutes across the country, and amateur astronomers, plus international space agencies and institutions working to track and better understand these objects. (I helped with the NEO search, too, back in the mid-1990s, as part of the Hobbs Observatory mission. That was frakkin' cool, except the part where I had to use an Apple II to run the telescope.)

Snips from a couple of amateur vids:

This tiny little world has a moon of its own! Space exploration is awesome.
---

Speaking of, The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella progress:
Happy New Year! It's long past time for an update here, methinks! So, let's start with fun stuff:

Public appearances

On October 25, I gave a short reading with two awesome spec-fic writers, Don Allmon and Benjamin D. Cartwright, from our novels-in-progress. At The Raven Book Store in Lawrence.
I've been on the "Central Standard" on NPR's Kansas City station: KCUR, 89.3 FM show a couple of times in the past month or so:

Writing

Reached 115,270 words as of this morning on Ad Astra Road Trip (book 1 of 3 in The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella). Since completing final grades for Fall semester last week, I've nearly finished the draft of the novel. But being so close to the end reveals many things that require going back through and consistifying, enhancing, filling out, and so forth. I've revised the persistent metaphors and imagery for Stella and Jack, rewritten dialogue, cut extraneous language, etc etc. To paraphrase James Gunn, writing is all about revision: You don't know really what you're doing until you've finished the draft - that's when the real writing begins. SO CLOSE to the end. How much is left? Let's call it less than 10k more. My goal is to wrap up the first complete draft before the start of Spring semester... that's less than two weeks from now, and I have a lot of Work-work to do in that time, as well. Eeek. Wish me luck. (PS: Considering I'd initially targeted 70k words, that means I'm almost done with Book Two? Right? Um, yeah, I don't think it works that way.)

Published a couple nonfiction pieces: "Frederik Pohl: Mr Science Fiction (A Love Story)" for Foundation, and a memorial piece about Fred for Elizabeth Anne Hull's Fredzine: The Frederik Pohl Memorial 'Zine, shared with attendees of the Frederik Pohl Memorial Celebration on August 2.

Wrote another half-dozen fragmentary bits for my memoir, Stories from a Perilous Youth. Really looking forward to diving in to that after sending J&S off for agential attentions.

Sold "Orpheus' Engines" (short story) to the original anthology, Mission Tomorrow: A New Century Of Exploration, due out from Baen next fall.

Also got my largest royalty check to date for Transcendence, which feels pretty awesome, considering that the book came out four years ago! (Four years. Gods.)

Personal

I don't know if I've said here, but my mom died on October 4. It's been really on my mind a lot, especially lately.
*

Once again, you're a lot more likely to see things from me over on my Tumblr (mckitterick), but I still drop in here from time to time. It's my homeland!

Best,
Chris
mckitterick: (Galaxy Magazine cover)
( Jul. 9th, 2014 12:54 pm)
Forgive me, religious-patriarchal figure, it's been more than a month since my last update. What have I been up to since my last confession?
  • Spent the first two weeks of June teaching the Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop at KU's Center for the Study of SF, a residential program that consumes pretty much every waking hour.

  • Did my thing at the Campbell Conference, which this year honored Frederik Pohl and discussed "Science fiction in the real world." We also presented the Campbell (best SF novel) and Sturgeon (best SF story) Memorial Awards.

  • Taught the Intensive SF Institute during the second two weeks of June, also residential (except for a few locals). Final projects should be piling in today. To all of you wonderful scholars and workshoppers who spent your June with us and are home now: I miss everyone so much!

  • Wrote another few thousand words on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella:

    It's ALMOST DONE - and Book 2 has reached 4000 words.

  • My essay on "Frederik Pohl: Mr Science Fiction (A Love Story)" just came out in the current issue of Foundation - The International Review of Science Fiction.

  • I'm hard at work on a new Jupiter story (the follow-up to "Jupiter Whispers") for an upcoming anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Including this one, I plan to finish (or revise) at least three stories this month and send them out for consideration.

  • I'll be quoted in the next issue of Popular Mechanics magazine (!) about the top SF novels.

  • Oh, and I gave a bunch of talks and interviews for NPR's Up to Date show, the Lawrence Free State Festival, KU Endowment, the Lawrence Journal-World, SciFi4Me (part of their livestream of the Campbell Conference), and one (plus the usual stuff) at the Campbell Conference.

So I've been way out of touch with the world. Took most of last week as a sort of stay-cation. MUCH NEEDED.

How's your summer going?

Chris
I've been mostly neglecting LJ of late. Are you on Tumblr? I am! In fact, these days I mostly post there, which I often auto-cross-post to my Twitter account and my Facebook account. If Tumblr x-posted to LJ, you'd see me here a LOT more. It's all about convenience, I'm ashamed to admit, because my jobs SUCK SO MUCH TIME. Not that that's bad, mind you - I LOVE teaching, and my teaching JOB itself has been getting steadily better; I LOVE directing the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, and we have a bunch of REALLY BIG and EXCITING things about to happen (and, of course, it's always exciting); and I LOVE my writing career, which I'm finally, at long frakkin' last, TREATING like a CAREER... to the point that if my employer were to try to take that away from me, or if my day-job evolved to the point of no-time-for-writing, I would either fight to fix the problem or no longer work there. THAT's how much I've decided to dedicate myself to my writing.

Speaking of which:
  • Coming out soon is "Frederik Pohl: Mr Science Fiction (A Love Story)." Scheduled to appear in the Spring/Summer edition of Foundation: The International Review Of Science Fiction.

  • My Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop is getting close to full with a nice variety of writers. Really looking forward to this, as always! June 1 - 15.

  • As soon as I reach 1st Draft Complete on Jack & Stella, I'll dive back into short fiction. I have about three stories ready for quick revisions (HA!), ten more that need a bit more work but are worth it, and who-knows-how-many (six? ten?) in progress that I really want to get back to. Short stories are great in that they take a LOT less time per word than novels, and they'll help keep my name out there in the zeitgeist while the novels are making their way to shelves, but novels are ALL-CONSUMING. Every idea I come up with ends up in whatever book I'm currently working on. As it should be, I guess, but that means BLACK HOLE of IDEAS, and no new stories. Wait, that's not true: I'm planning to develop several things that are back-story for Jack & Stella into stories of their own.

  • Just about ready to submit Empire Ship. It's done (and has been for a while), but I wasn't happy with some things, and figured I'd just hold off until I had a draft of Jack & Stella, and submit them both together... speaking of which:

  • And I've reached another milestone on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella: Just crested 80,000 words! That's up nearly 6000 in the past ten days, and all that word-count is brand-new in the past year... in fact, pretty much all of it is new in 2014, as I started over at the beginning at about 30,000 words when I realized it just wasn't working. Ah, the joys of novel-writing.



And now, because this is both inspiring and INSANE, I share OMG DANGEROUS JETBIKE MANIAC:

(Yes, I want to do this. Only I'll wear a helmet, thank you, and do a MUCH better job of engineering a proper bike platform. Are you hearing this, MadMatMax? Nevertheless, I'M IN LOVE. And now a subscriber of his.)

Chris
Here's a milestone worth sharing:

Today, I wrote another 1000 words on my new YA-SF novel, The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella, bringing the total word-count up to 74,000. More importantly, I've outlined the rest of the book. Did I make that clear? Here, let me say it through cupped hands:

*

I OUTLINED AND ROUGHED-IN ALL THE REMAINING SCENES FOR THE REST OF THE NOVEL.
*


This means I can now confidently say I'm only 20 scenes from the end, and some of those scenes are already fully fleshed-out. Let's call it one month from putting a wrap around the first draft. Oh, and I also did a bunch more outlining of Book 2 (I foresee this being a trilogy).



EXCITED. It might end up a little longer than 90k, but I'm cool with that. (Just trying to avoid writing another work as long as Transcendence). Can I get a "woohoo"?

Chris
Oh my gosh, I had no idea that I hadn't posted here for, what... three weeks now? MANY APOLOGIES!

My absence is largely due to ten million little tasks all piling down like a deluge of weasels, weasels driven like furry rain across the Great Plains, lashed on and on by all this stuff. Let's start with the fun and move into the rest:

  • I've made many thousands of words progress on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella. Current word-count:

    LOOK AT HOW CLOSE I AM TO DONE!

  • I've been doing this "300 Swings a Day Challenge," an idea promoted by the Breaking Muscle folks (who are awesome) and presented to me by clevermanka. Except for one day when I literally didn't have a minute to spare (but spared enough to do something like 100 anyhow, because FUCK ALL THAT I'M PRACTICING TO BE A BADASS), I've made my 300 swings EVERY DAY THIS MONTH. I started with my 55-pound kettlebell, but couldn't do more than about 40 with that, so switched to the 35-pounder. But for the past couple of weeks, I've been doing them ALL with the bigger weight, and in much shorter time (completed 250 swings last night between 7:30pm and 8:00pm, aw yeah), and with ever-improving form, AND starting to see some real changes in the musculature of my legs and ass and, honestly, all over. (I promise to post before-and-after shots at the start of April. Let's hope there's something to see!) I've tried to keep up with my other movements (pull-ups, push-ups, etc.), but the last two weeks have been... well, what got me started with this post.

  • My novel, Transcendence, was February's book selection for the PBR Book Club, which meets at the 8th St. Taproom (yes, friends, book fiends gathering at A BAR). Booze, books, and intelligent conversation - great tastes that taste great together. They had really insightful observations and questions. So much fun!

  • Saw the AMAZING Latenight Callers in concert at The Replay. If you haven't yet heard this band, DO IT NOW. I think of them as "Electro-Noir," and they're unlike anything you've heard for a long time, or maybe ever. They're seriously one of my favorite bands, and they operate out of the Kansas City metro area, and they formed in the cultural center that is Lawrence, KS. And I Knew Them When.

  • Went to Planet ComiCon in Kansas City's Bartle Hall Convention Center. Got to hang with LeVar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels (who's now working on a hip-hop comic!), Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Wil Wheaton, the Xenomorph from Alien (and his Predator buds), plus about a zillion local fans - many of them in costume. Wow. This was my first media-con since the 1990s (hello, Weaselmom!). I had no idea a local comicon could be so HUGE. The lines to get in wrapped around TWO city blocks. Once I adjusted to the crowds and lines, I realized that everyone was there among their tribe - polite, friendly, and HAPPY. A lot more fun than I'd expected. I'll do one of these again.

  • Finally, FINALLY, got the CSSF Lending Library fully alphabetized, including organizing our magazine holdings by publication and year. Just an off-hand guess, but I'd say we hold about 30,000 volumes. That was a monumental task, I TELL YOU WHAT, but my office (aka The Center's Space) is now the coolest room on campus. Before-and-after photos coming soon.

  • Designing my first Freshman-Sophomore SF course, which I'll offer this coming fall: Science Fiction and the Popular Media, where we'll study science fiction across a range of media forms including film, television, literature, fanfic, comics, gaming, and more. Hook 'em young, as they say. I made a request for suggestions on Facebook (which, sadly, is where I've been posting lately, also on my Tumblr blog, because if I'm only dropping something quick, that's where I go. Sorry for contributing to LJ's Long Decline.) This class should be a BLAST!

  • Hosted the English graduate-student recruitment party at our place, and met with one of the (hopefully) incoming creative writers.

  • Reading (and doing all the other logistics and setup) for this summer's Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop (June 1 - 15). We'll again have BOTH science-fiction Grand Master James Gunn and the inimitable Andy Duncan as this year's guest authors! Yours truly leads the Workshop. Are you thinking about applying, or know someone who would love to participate in an intensive but only two-week-long workshop? Now's the time!

  • Doing the thousand-and-one things necessary to host an international scholar here at KU. This year, the Center is host for a professor from Turkey! She'll be here until the end of May. (The last two were from China. We get around.)

  • Did a ton of thesis-project reading and critiquing and meetings, especially with one of my grad students who's working on an SF novel.

  • Teaching: Nothing unusual this semester, but teaching three full, writing-intensive courses always starts to crush me as we approach the middle of the semester. I was hoping to get caught up this week (Spring "Break"), but I have so many other things to do, including...

  • Journal-article writing: I'm finishing a research-intensive article about one of my greatest science-fiction heroes, a man with whom I had the great privilege and honor to spend anywhere from a few days to a week each summer: Frederik Pohl. Wonderful to go back and read so much by him again, but not so great to have to do this on top of things like...

  • Gary K. Wolfe's "Bold Aspirations" visit and talk for KU. SO MUCH planning. SO MUCH spreading the word, and setting up contacts, and writing press releases, and organizing gatherings, and ferrying him here from the airport, and so forth. Which was all great, mind you, but in the end a massive disappointment due to things I cannot discuss publicly. Friends, my fondness for academia is on the wane.

  • Building and organizing a group of Center for the Study of Science Fiction Faculty Affiliates. This has been really cool, setting up interdisciplinary relationships with faculty from all across the University of Kansas, but also a huge investment of time and energy. Expect Big Things out of this! More to come.

  • Similarly, I've been working with another brilliant group of interdisciplinary faculty and KU administrators in a think-tank named "Tech 2070," whose goal is to prepare the University for the kinds of changes we'll see over the next 50 years. FANTASTIC stuff, these bi-weekly meetings, but they also require hours of homework (seriously, but it's all stuff I'd read anyway given the time), including preparing to give presentations now that we've started to gel in our purpose.

And because it's not a post unless I share a photo of our Outdoor Pets, I hereby present "Squirrels Combating the Blizzard By Eating Tons of Birdseed" from the storm that whacked us recently (just days before the temps climbed back up to their present 60s and 70s!):


Click the chilly squirrels to see my Facebook photo albums.

Speaking of cute animals, want to see tons more photos of space-stuff and baaaby animals (among other things)? Then check out my Tumblr blog:


Click the fierce baby elephant to see my Tumblr blog.

...aaand now I've just spent an hour writing this post. So that's what's kept me away for so long. What have you been up to?

Chris
Another Snow Day! This means KU is closed for business... which means more writing! The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella is now up to 49,775 words - that's almost 1200 freakin' more since yesterday! I've almost reached the psychologically important 50k threshold. More importantly, the revision has progressed another 12 pages. I'm only 9 pages away from writing all-new scenes - an even-grander psychological threshold! It's thrilling to be only a day away from jumping into uncharted waters.


Snow Day also means I had to shovel a crap-ton (that's a technical term) of snow from the sidewalks this morning. In many places, the snow was deep enough to spill into the tops of my foot-high snow-boots, soaking the feet. And the wind was so bitterly cold that my molars were frozen beneath my windburned cheeks. Right now, it's only 10°F in Lawrence, Kansas, with a windchill in the negatives... so I was sort of an idiot to try to dig out this morning. At least it's beautiful to look at, and sunny.



This photo shows the back yard, post-shoveling, during Snowpocalypse 2014: Day 2. Unfortunately, as you can see, the ice from last week's storm remains, meaning at least the urban wildlife can come find seeds here as usual... where are you, little squirrels and birds? Come eat!

Chris
KU officials closed campus last night, fearing Snowpocalypse. Waking up today to see only a light dusting provoked taunting words from me, but then the Fauxpocalypse showed its true nature: We've already gotten several inches of snow. What does this mean?
  • School is closed.

  • My once-a-week science-fiction class meets online in two hours.

  • I spent this morning with my Write Group of Prolificness, upping the word-count of Jack & Stella by another 580. More importantly, I revised another 12 pages. That's significant because the revision includes shifting POV - the most important decision a writer makes, affecting everything else - and changing all the opening scenes.

What does this mean? That I'm only a couple of days from finishing the revision and surging into unexplored territory.

The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella progress:


TRIUMPH AWAITS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.
Notice I don't call it "vacation," and here's why. On the other hand, it sure was a nice break to not have to be "on" for classes all week!
  • I've been writing several mornings, every week since mid-December. Completely revised the opening scenes of The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella, completely re-envisioned how I'm handling POV (which means significantly rewriting every single other scene, too), wrote many more notes for future scenes, and cut thousands of words while writing thousands more... I've passed a total of 44k words, which means it's more than half-way done (based on a projected 70k)!


  • Finished updating all three syllabi and Blackboard sites (that's the web interface for KU courses) for my spring semester classes. Sent all the students links to where their syllabi live online. HOORAY! Good lord, is it just me or does it take everyone most of a day to do this for each course?

  • Worked a bunch on the hot-rod Newport, including rebuilding the broken valvetrain; finishing installing the new fuel-injection system; installing half the custom exhaust (with electric cut-outs for added raucousness on demand!); designing a crankcase-ventilation system that won't put so much smoke into the intake and getting started installing that; and finding a great deal on a new front-drive system that'll upgrade the alternator to handle fuel-injection duties, the A/C and power-steering pump to something that works, and convert it to a simpler serpentine-belt system that'll make it more reliable and more efficient - oh, and it's all polished aluminum, so it's much lighter and really pretty, too. ETA for street duty: a week or two! Assuming something else doesn't blow up....

  • Did a bit of work on the Chevelle, but I want to get the Newport mobile, washed, waxed, and covered before really diving into this project; picked up some more parts I'll need, though. ETA for street duty: Late spring.

  • Rewired a cool vintage ceramic lamp and installed it in the ceiling of my living room. MUCH nicer than the old (light-free) ceiling fan that used to clutter up the space:


  • Did a bunch of updates on the Center for the Study of Science Fiction's website, and planned much more. Oh, and we're working with a major donor right now who's intending to support not only a full-ride scholarship for the summer Workshops, but also something even bigger for a student coming to study SF during the regular semester. Details to come....

  • Started reading for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel. Loving everything so far, which is great, but could also be trouble come decision time....

  • Got back into astronomy, with a new (to me) 100mm f/9 apochromatic refractor. WOWEE, does it provide gorgeous images! This is my first apochromat, a type of refractor that uses varying types of rare-earth glass to produce lovely, sharp, and color-free images. On a really nice German equatorial mount with dual-axis drives and a handy through-the-polar-axis North Star finder:


  • Resumed a regular, hardcore workout schedule at the gym. Tried the beautiful-but-useless fancy fitness center here at KU (Ambler), because it was free to staff & faculty last week; we usually use beat-up, old, and dingy - but free - Robinson, because of its really useful and large free-weights room, and only visited crowded Ambler that once.

  • Oh, and on a related note: Not to sound braggy or anything, but over Break the awesome Clevermanka started giving me regular, multi-hour massages at least once a week, sometimes EVERY DAY. OMG, I am so lucky.


Other stuff, too, like watching the new BBC Sherlock series! (Which starts on PBS tonight.) LOVE IT SO MUCH.

What did you do over the past month, whether or not you got a break?

Best,
Chris
mckitterick: (write hard die free)
( Sep. 5th, 2013 01:35 pm)
I've been writing a ton lately, so time for a little update:

The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella progress:


Crossed the 36,000-word mark! Woohoo! That's up more than 3000 new ones since leaving for WorldCon!

Also good news: I've been working on all-new scenes now that I'm happy with the early material. Wrote a ton of notes en route to San Antonio, plus a bunch there, too, while listening to intelligent and insightful speakers. Also got a lot of inspiration from being around so many pros. This is why we go to cons.

Okay, now off to office hours and then today's science fiction class: The Time Machine and Childhood's End.

Chris
I spent the day so far prepping for the start of the semester tomorrow, and about to get off-line to resume writing, but really needed to share this back-of-the-envelope advice from a cynic:



Yep, that's about right. I share a lot of successful authors' advice during my Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop, but this boils it down pretty well. From Buzzfeed's Copyranter.

Speaking of writing, here's what's kept me out of trouble since the end of the CSSF Summer program:

The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella progress:



...and with that, I'm back to it! Have a great evening.

Chris
Over the past few days, I've spent a bit more time trying to start the newly fuel-injected, digitally programmed, updated Newport than I'd care to admit. No luck. Got a few nice misfires, but nothing remotely resembling "running." Yesterday, my buddy MadMattMax came over to help get it fired up, as I thought I'd reached the point where it'll happen. I'd set all the initial parameters in the MSD computer, I'd customized the ignition-timing curve, and the distributor was clocked correctly with the camshaft. When cranked, however, the engine disagreed. Turns out that the instructions in the MSD manual are wrong... well, wrong if you don't follow their suggestion to not use MSD computer control of ignition timing until you get the engine running. Well, my distributor was locked out, so I have to do it that way. So I was initially off on the timing by at least 20 degrees. That might not seem like a lot, if you consider a 4-stroke engine has a total of 720 degrees of rotation per cylinder's power-stroke; actually, though, it's more than enough to prevent the car from starting. I spent some time on the online forums and found my answer, we pulled the distributor and re-clocked it against the cam gear, and all seemed right in the world.

Oh, and even here I had to do custom work, like everything else on the Newport, this time a special, custom-ground distributor cap. Yep, to make the new MSD digital distributor's cap fit (and so I can rotate it as needed for tuning), I've had to grind it a bit:


It's a tricky balancing act, because I don't want to remove too much material to make it weak, but it won't fit right or work correctly if I don't remove just enough....

Anyhow, back in it went with the new timing adjustment, but of course by then we had cranked the engine a lot of times, and the fuel injection dutifully kept squirting in more gasoline the whole time. So we flooded it. The spark plugs were pretty much dripping gasoline. Time to let it sit and dry out.

This morning I went to the parts store and picked up a new set of spark plugs, because the soaked one also looked fairly filthy from previously running on a carburetor and poor ignition timing. I put the plug back in, then continued along to piston number 1 (the magical cylinder where one sets one's timing). Just to be safe, I decided to pull the valve-cover to make sure I had inserted the new distributor at TDC (top-dead-center, when the piston rests at the top of the cylinder, half-way between the up-stroke and down-stroke), which is when the spark should fire and create the power-stroke, rather than at the anti-TDC (same as normal TDC, only when the valves are open to let the exhaust out and the fresh charge is starting to pour in). I got a little surprise when I pulled the cover.

I guess this explains at least part of the difficulty I'm having in starting the car:


See that curved gray tube near the right-center of the photo, just below the cork gasket on the right side of the head? That's the end of a pushrod (minus its little cup-end, which had fallen off entirely - but thankfully didn't drop into the bottom of the engine). It should look like its sibling, the straight rod just to its left, resting against a ball on the bottom of an adjustable black nut on top of the valve's rocker arm.

Time to order a new pushrod. I guess I had better check the other side, too, just in case. Engines don't run well when they can't open valves.

In writing news, I'm coming along on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella - just had a few breakthroughs in understanding Jack and Stella and their personal character arcs. Hooray! Also making more progress on a new SF story.

In teaching news, just started diving in to the final projects for my summer Intensive Science Fiction Institute course. Had to deal with a really annoying and slow new version of Blackboard to do so, bless the little hearts of the Blackboard programmers; can't wait to figure out how to turn off all the new crap that gets in the way of doing my job.

That's all for now. If you live around these parts, I hope you're enjoying our new Fall-Like Summer in Kansas! (Seriously, weather? Temps in the 60s and all-day thunderstorms? *sigh*)

Best,
Chris
mckitterick: aboard the New Orleans trolley (just Chris)
( Jul. 19th, 2013 02:20 pm)
I realize that, like many, I've grown lazy about posting cool stuff I find on the internets, using the quick-and-easy Facebook method of sharing instead of posting a proper entry here. So here are a few recent links:

First up: Next Tuesday at 7:30pm in Lawrence's Free State Brewery, I'll be leading a conversation on "Science Fiction: Mythologies for a Changing Age." If you'd like to attend AND eat dinner, I encourage you to get there a bunch early, because the place usually fills up for these events, leaving standing-room only for those who arrive on time. If you just want to hang out and drink one of Free State's fantastic beers, well, come on down when we get started. Details here.

Today, between 4:27 and 4:42, the Cassini spacecraft out at Saturn will take the second-ever photo of Earth from beyond the Earth-Moon system. (The first was the famous "Pale, Blue Dot" shot that Voyager snapped.) The Americas, mid-Atlantic Ocean, and parts of Western Africa will be in the shot. Sure, it'll only be about a pixel wide, so your pretty face will be, um, rather tiny, but this is HISTORY! Get outside and wave at Cassini and Saturn today!

Gunn's upcoming (August 2013) novel Transcendental just got a starred review from Kirkus Reviews that calls it "Gunn's best in years - quite possibly his best ever." What a nice birthday present, wouldn't you say? Beyond being Author Guest of Honor at this year's WorldCon, he just had a collection of essays published, was Guest of Honor at the 2013 SFRA/Eaton Conference, and will see at least two more books published before his next birthday. If only the rest of us could be so awesome at any age.

Earlier this week, I submitted the fourth essay due to various people this summer. This frees me up to write, y'know, MY OWN stuff! Of course, mostly I've been recuperating from the month-long Science Fiction Summer program here at KU - which, don't get me wrong, I love, but being a residential thang where a guy needs to be "on" about 18 hours a day, sucks up a ton of creative juices. Even so, The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella - still planning to get it and my previous novel out to the agent later this month.

In related news, I've nearly finished updating my Hot-Rod Newport to using a complete MSD electronics package, including Atomic fuel-injection system, digital distributor, and capacitive-discharge ignition. I'm setting it up to be able to digitally control not only the fuel and spark, but also the timing. This afternoon, I hope to give it a try... *fingers crossed*

This makes me SO HAPPY: Pizza in Space video. Ad astra, little pizza slice!

Today's moment of nostalgia: Pac-Man as existential horror story, by the online comic, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

And I leave you with this, me wearing my new scooter helmet (full description of safety mods to come):


Have a great weekend!

Best,
Chris
...our young heroes have been tracked down and taken into custody by their stepdad and other operatives of the Alien Management Agency. Right now, they are being subjected to interrogation and tests - which, because the results are inconclusive, are about to escalate to brain biopsy....
The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella progress:

Look at that! According to my estimated total, I'm now over a quarter of the way done. Cool beans!

Chris
mckitterick: The ale tasting at the 2009 Kansas City Renaissance Festival. (RenFaire Chris)
( Sep. 6th, 2012 12:30 pm)
I did not end up going to WorldCon this year, despite initially having planned to do so; the educational track didn't come together as hoped, so I saved my pennies and simplified the start of the semester by not heading to Chicago for the weekend. Which is too bad, because on Sunday night new KU creative-writing prof Kij Johnson won the Hugo Award for best novella for "The Man Who Bridged the Mist"! This is the same story that also recently won the Nebula Award. That's what I call starting one's teaching career with a bang.

Instead, I had a real vacation weekend. This included writing, of course (further progress on The Adventures of Jack and Stella), tinkering with the vehicles, reading (right now it's the first book of the Harry Potter series and something called, Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes On the Cosmos), hanging out with friends, and two more events.

The first, on Saturday, was this year's Greaserama. For the first time at this punk-car-culture event (and its second car-show ever), I drove the hot-rod Newport. Friends Matt and AJ drove over with me. Here we are at the show:



Lots of photos from the show on my website (let me know if you have issues with the gallery - experimenting). At nightfall, we watched a double feature at the Boulevard Drive-in theater where the event is held: "Boulevard Nights" followed by "The Warriors," both circa 1979. Just as the first movie was about to start, everyone fired up their rods' engines and made as much noise as possible. It's not just parental pride when I say it was the loudest bastard out there on Saturday. How do I know? Because not only did Matt and AJ have to back away while I revved the hell out of it, but the roar was actually painful enough that it forced me to cover my ears, and afterward I could hear nothing but a muffled hum for a while: 747s on takeoff have nothing on this beast! Also, one of the car-club members who runs the event, "Weirdo Harold," fell in love with it and invited us to park in their row.

A beautiful (after the rain broke) day out with good friends, awesome cars and bikes, turkey legs and corn dogs, delicious tequila at a double feature in an old-school drive-in... happy-making.

On Sunday, after getting a bunch of work done, I got together with a bunch of friends to celebrate a birthday. Said friends then headed over to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival on Monday, where we practiced archery (only Matt hit the bullseye in 7 shots):



And tested our Mjolnir skills (I rang the bell!):



Then we went to everyone's favorite event at Faire: The Royal Smoker, where ten bucks gets you two drinks, a cigar (or soda), finger-food, and entertainment ranging from baudy humor and music to belly-dance (courtesy Chernobylred). Super-fun weekend!

Yesterday saw another cluster of meetings at work plus class, and same for today. This weekend? I'm going to get SO MUCH WRITING DONE on The Adventures of Jack and Stella, I tell you what!

What'd you do on Labor Day weekend?

Chris
If you're reading my blog, you're probably someone familiar with the Fermi Paradox: If our galaxy is billions of years old, and stars like ours are common, and especially now that we believe all stars have planets and Earth-like planets are common, why the heck haven't we been visited by other aliens yet? Stars much older than ours abound, and we evolved intelligence and developed a technological society really quickly in galactic terms, so why isn't the galaxy teeming with megastructures like ringworlds and Dyson Spheres? Why don't we get regular alien visitors? Why isn't SETI picking up a constant interstellar dialog?

In light of these new discoveries, the Drake Equation suggests the galaxy ought to be TEEMING with aliens. So why haven't we met them?

Well, here's one dark-tinted answer: Does a galaxy filled with habitable planets mean humanity is doomed?

Other popular answers include:

Advanced civilizations don't use messy radio. Even our sphere of radio "pollution" is fading as we move away from that mode toward tight-beamed information and fiber.

Technological civilizations don't last long before they self-destruct. We might be proud of our nation, but the oldest continuous civilizations on this planet have durations in the thousands of years - that's just an eyeblink in the timescale of the galaxy... and we have only recently (in living human memory) invented ways to self-annihilate. Millions of equally advanced civilizations could have appeared and vanished before the Earth was even capable of supporting life.

On a related note: If a civilization is capable of creating the Matrix, they will. Animals seek comfort, and intelligent organic life is still a comfort-seeking animal. How many of you feel you could resist the siren song of everlasting immersion in a simulated (but absolutely realistic) world that satisfies your every need and desire? Heck, we could be living in the Matrix right now and not even be aware of it. If advanced civilizations go this deeply inward, they won't travel or communicate outward.

Advanced technological societies will always create AI, which will supersede them. This is the notion of the Technological Singularity. Relates to the prior notion if AI is benevolent, or to The Terminator or Berserker series if not. Good luck fighting something a million times smarter and faster than you, should it decide to eliminate you. Or save you to extinction, a la The Humanoids.

Planet-sweepers abound. Asteroids polish advanced life off the surface of the Earth every so often, supervolcanoes erupt even more frequently (and volcanic activity is important to creating life), even timid stars like ours go through periods of massive activity, supernovae eradicate life in their stellar neighborhoods, viruses and bacteria evolve much faster than complex life....

A Galactic Prime Directive that makes advanced civilizations invisible to the rest of us. This requires a massive bureaucracy and police force, and a population easily controlled, but it's possible. (Hint: This is the reasoning I use in The Adventures of Jack and Stella.)

They're talking, but we just can't decipher it. SETI mostly looks in the radio bandwidths, but why would super-advanced civilizations use such backwards tech?

No one has figured out faster-than-light travel. If they can't move around and colonize, we wouldn't have met them yet, and they'd be less likely to survive a planetary catastrophe if they're confined to one or a few worlds.

Or maybe everyone is just afraid of everyone else, so they're out there, everywhere, but quiet, afraid to announce themselves. If they are like us, first-contact situations don't end well, and there's no rational reason to believe everyone you'll encounter is less-advanced than you.

Do you have a favorite reason that explains why 1) the galaxy isn't teeming with life, and 2) if it is, why we haven't yet detected it?

Chris
We live in an age of wonders, you know? When I was a kid - not that long ago in my estimation, an eyeblink ago to our forebears - we learned that planets were rare beyond our Solar System, and that Earthlike planets belonged primarily in science fiction. Then we learned that maybe a bunch of giant planets - failed stars, really - populated the galaxy. Once we started doing real searches with quality space-based equipment and modern ground-based uber-tech, we learned that maybe giant planets are common... and maybe Earth-sized planets are out there, too, but just difficult to find. Well, we soon learned that was true; and not just that Earth-sized planets are common, but that Earthlike planets are common.

Today, we believe that ALL STARS HAVE PLANETS. Whoah. Speaking of which:

I LOVE THIS CHART SO MUCH:


Click the image to see the full-size version. Tip: The hover-text really extends the image's sensawunda factor.


For your viewing pleasure and to help visualize the scope of our galaxy, I offer the Andromeda Galaxy, M31. It's the closest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, in terms of both size and distance:


Click the image to see the NASA photo.

Just imagine all those stars orbited by their own solar systems, perhaps cradles to other civilizations. How many are out there?

On a related note, want to read a snippet from the Prologue of Adventures of Jack and Stella? Here you go:

The Milky Way Galaxy, as the humans call it, is a barred-spiral whose glowing arms span the endless emptiness of space for about 30,000 parsecs, or 100,000 light-years (or 600 trillion human miles). It is shaped like a disk: Viewed edge-on, it is only a hundredth as thick as it is wide, just 300 parsecs or 1000 light-years (or 6 trillion miles) thin. Within those arms shine more than 300 billion stars, each a sun warming rocky debris beyond measure, thousands of comets, and a handful of planets – some of which are ringed by great disks of ice and rock, and many orbited by moons like miniature solar systems of their own. The Milky Way is slightly larger than the average galaxy, of which more than 100 billion populate the universe.

I hope that helps give a sense of the scope of these things, and just how many planets are whirling around their parents stars, out there in the dark.

Adventures of Jack and Stella progress:


(Yes, word-count went down from revisions and then back up. So it goes.)

Chris
I'm really excited about being on the Minnesota Public Radio show, "The Daily Circuit," tomorrow (Tuesday), with SF scholar Gary Wolfe and show host Kerri Miller. Show starts at 10:00am and runs until 11:00am, though the science fiction segment we're doing begins about 20 after. We'll be discussing Ray Bradbury (of course), but mostly we'll talk about SF reading recommendations: What work should everyone read - especially recent things - and what great stuff is coming out soon, like that. Here's a little blog intro to the show with a place to make your rec's if you wish to interact that way.


Click the image to go to Minnesota Public Radio's The Daily Circuit page.

It's a call-in show, so join me! If nothing else, I'd love to hear some of your recent and upcoming SF-reading recommendations: In your opinion, what should I make sure to mention?

Week in Review:

And of course:
Adventures of Jack and Stella progress:

This means I'm over half way to the 30,000 word sample I plan to complete in time to submit to an agent before the SF Writing Worshop begins. At at average of 1000 words/day (as it seems I've been doing lately), it'll be close but totally do-able. HOORAY!

Chris
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