mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Default)
( Aug. 7th, 2014 04:51 pm)
Dropping in to let all four of you still here know what I've been up to! First, writing:

I'm now up to 4890 words on my story for Mission Tomorrow: A New Century Of Exploration, a Baen (I think) anthology. Max of 6000 words, so I'll have to cut a bunch of what I have right now, because a lot more words are a-comin'! This is the follow-up to my story, "Jupiter Whispers," from the anthology Visual Journeys: A Tribute to Space Art; it'll eventually accrue into a novel when I'm done with all the tales, in good ol' Gunn's Law ("sell it twice!") fashion. Might take a few more years, but I'll get there. The story is due by next Friday, but I'm hoping to complete the first draft over the weekend. Wish me luck!

I've reached nearly 100k words (99,280 to be exact) on Ad Astra Road Trip: The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella (this is book 1 of 3). SO CLOSE to both that magic odometer reading AND the end. How much is left? Let's call it less than 10k more. My goal is to wrap up the first-ish draft before the start of the semester... less than three weeks. Much more luck needed for that one.

Class-related progress:
Finished grading the summer SF Institute final projects, which were interesting as usual and, in a couple of cases, outstanding.

I've read, watched, and listened to a metric crap-ton (that's the technical term) of media-related SF while researching for my upcoming (new) "Science Fiction and the Popular Media" course. I've just about completed the syllabus, and have put together most of the web pages for the site: Each week has its own page hosting not only links but also displaying graphics and other embedded media. Looking forward to this, but it's been a hella lotta work.

Plus all the usual work-stuff (about to dive back into that right now).

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?

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.)

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:


  • 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?

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?

...and just like that, with the stroke of midnight, the trillionth mouse-click, and the saving of the final grades for the last class, my Fall 2013 semester is complete! Time for a happy dance:

Oh, hey, it's now New Year's Eve! How appropriate....

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.

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*)

We all have the time, suggests Cory Doctorow.

(By the way, we now have the hard drive containing the videos of his talk from last week, and I'll be editing and posting it soon.)

While he was here, we talked about how he finds time to write while whirling around the world more days than he's at home. Yet he gets more written than most people (besides Asimov, but who could?).

This is a big issue for me. At the start of this semester, with one of my courses now an online course, I thought I would make Mondays and possibly part of Tuesdays my "Writing-Only Days" (I even put those into my Google Calendar). I have a novel well under way and outlined, and I'm enthusiastic about writing it. Wow, I was going to get this sucker done before finals were in!

Not so fast.

I discovered that a new course requires a lot of focus. Not only is it a new course, but it's an online course, which requires TONS of regular interaction. Plus spring is when I do most of the reading for the Campbell Award; I was responsible for planning, promoting, organizing, and participating in the Doctorow talk; I've had to write a couple short pieces that have actual due dates; I'm planning talks at WorldCon, the Eaton Conference, and ConQuest; we're working on the upcoming Sturgeon Award Anthology; I have a million duties as CSSF Director; I have two other courses that require regular attention and classtime; and even I occasionally need a break from the keyboard. Heck, I'd even like to have a personal life - when the snow blanketed town, I really wanted to work on the Chevelle! But those days required EXTRA teaching time to make up online for missing in-class time.

Goodbye, "Writing-Only Days." I deleted those from my calendar a couple of weeks ago. That was discouraging and a little depressing.

I've just been unable to find the big blocks of time that I feel I need to get writing done. Momentum, focus, all that. I've always written that way, sometimes planning so well in advance that I can write entire short stories, novel chapters, and even the occasional novella in one sitting! Not so anymore.

Well, Doctorow says that we can train ourselves otherwise. He always tries to write at least a couple hundred words a day; other days he writes more, some days less. The point is that he writes whenever he finds the time, and gets done as much as he can. A few hundred words a day equals a novel a year. When I asked how he maintains momentum with such short, separated bursts, he answered, "With practice."

Later, as if to demonstrate, I witnessed this in action: While he was sitting in my office at work between events, he pulled out his laptop and wrote part of an article that was due soon. Just like that, during a 15-minute lull. What a role-model!

Fellow Lawrence spec-fic author Kij Johnson has been forced to use this same writing process since starting her career in academia, and now she writes first thing every morning before anything else. She has a novel due soon, and must continue to publish or order to make tenure, so she had just enough outside pressure to help her create a new habit.

These are two very different authors, each with very different writing, but it works for them both, with practice.

Time to start practicing.

I know that the hardest part for me is going to be letting go of checking in with my students first thing each morning, because there will always be emergencies to deal with, and there goes my focus. I need to start putting my writing career first: I have yet to encounter an emergency that was more important for an hour or two than my writing career as a whole. I can check in later.

(This is a challenge; it's hard just to write that publicly. But it's not as difficult as seeing another week go by during which my writing adds up to only some more notes.)

Tomorrow I start this! I'll report back from time to time to keep myself honest and to let y'all know how it's going. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks he needs big blocks of time to write... and then ends up not writing nearly as much as he needs or wants to. I hope to serve as yet another good example of creating good writing (or whatever your art is) habits!

Egad, my fingers and wrists and neck and shoulders are in knots after a pretty-much solid two weeks of sitting at my desk almost every waking hour. Why I felt the need to write demanding blog posts this week, too, I do not understand. But I'm DONE! Sure hope the students appreciate my efforts and find my comments useful. I really enjoyed a bunch of the final projects, though many were the typical undergrad papers. The grad students' work was universally pleasing to read, of course. I felt uncomfortable giving as many C or lower grades as I did this semester, but I'm done giving incompletes unless a student asks and really needs it - too much of a pain for everyone later on.

This weekend shall be nothing but goofing off. Some stretching, too, and maybe some working out. My poor, neglected body.... Sadly, I will not be going to my usual Saturday-morning breakfast with James Gunn, on account of that's usually at 8:30am (6-1/2 hours from now). MUST SLEEP.

Next week, I get back onto writing. I intend to reach about 30,000 words on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella, write up a formal book outline and cover letter, and get this thing OUT. Also finish revising Empire Ship and submit it as well as a distinctly odd couple.

Mostly, though, I'll spend the winter "break" finishing development of my upcoming, brand-spanking-new interactive-online version of my "Foundations of Technical Writing" course.

Now, to sleep, perchance NOT to dream about student papers.

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (Default)
( Oct. 29th, 2012 01:23 pm)
Y'know, checking my posting frequency really reveals how much time grading and teaching-related work consumes a teacher's life from mid-terms through the end of the semester. Sorry! Dropping in for a quick update before, yes, getting back to grading.

But first, I'm going to VOTE EARLY at the Burge Union at the University of Kansas! You can probably vote early where you live, too. But whether you do or you wait for the Big Day, VOTE.

Over the last week, I've:

* Tinkered with the Chevelle. Wanted to do a lot more, but... life.

*Finally bought myself a proper solar telescope, which I've been coveting since the Venus transit observing event in the spring. I got a super deal for it barely used on eBay; it's a double-stacked Coronado SolarMax 40mm Hydrogen-alpha with the SM40 and T-Max tuner. Here it is:

As soon as it arrives (just got it from eBay - half price!), you KNOW I'll drop it onto my antique German equatorial mount with slow-motion handles to track the Sun across the sky, take some photos, and post 'em here.

* Reorganized the sheds to make room to move the (wrecked, soon-to-be Land Speed Record) Aprilia RS50 and put the BMW R100S away for winter. This means the covered front-porch parking spot is available for my winter transportation: My Vespa S150! (With windshield, of course.)

* Wrote another 2500 words on the novel, which means I finally broke the 20k barrier! I'll be using the NaNoWriMo excuse to work lots more on it this coming month.

The Galactic Adventures of Jack and Stella progress:

In case you haven't seen it yet, John Scalzi wrote a smart (and disturbing) response to some politicians about rape and politics. Check it out, but be warned it's just plain creepy. Some of the responses are disturbing in other ways. But it's an important thing to read right now as we head into politics season, as The Handmaid's Tale becomes less SFnal and more mimetic.

Speaking of politics,
xkcd does it again with a fascinating infographic on changing political demographics in the US.

To those who live out East, please be safe as the big storm blasts your way.

Getting to teach science fiction EVERY SEMESTER as the primary focus of my job. LOVE. Here's one of the courses I look forward to teaching all year, offered in the Spring at KU:

English 507: "Science, Technology, and Society: Examining the Future Through a Science Fiction Lens." Science and technology offer countless benefits to individuals and to societies, yet they also present many challenges. This course explores the past, present, and possible future effects of science and technology on society through readings and discussions of nonfiction articles in conjunction with science-fiction stories and novels. Each week, students write a short respone to that week's readings. Other projects include a mid-term research paper, a live presentation, and a research paper or creative work as a final project.

Speaking of classes I love to teach, back to grading interesting and insightful papers for English 506/690: "Literature of Science Fiction: The Short Story." Of the five grad students I have in this course, three are creative-writing MFA students, one is English lit, and another from a different department altogether. Makes for good discussions!

Right now, a dragon half the radius of the Sun is creeping across its surface:

Click the image to see the NASA site.

Okay, it's not REALLY a dragon; rather, a cloud of plasma. But this "cloud" above the Sun is way different than a cloud in the Earth's skies. The long feature on the left of this photo is actually a solar filament made of charged hydrogen gas held aloft by the Sun's magnetic field. This filament was photographed on the Sun about two weeks ago near the active region on the right - see the sunspots. Filaments typically last for a few days to a week, but a long filament like this might hover over the Sun's surface for a month or more. Some filaments can trigger large Hyder flares when they collapse back onto the Sun. Boy oh boy do I wish that I had already gotten myself a proper Hydrogen-alpha solar telescope....

Bonus photo: After turning in final grades for summer, I took a short camping trip with some friends out to Clinton Lake. Here we are:

Dan, Alex, Anthony, Matt, and me.

On Friday night, the Perseids were pre-peak, but we still saw a few. Sadly, Saturday night (the peak), clouds rolled in, so we only caught a streak through the occasional break. Others had better luck:

Click the image to see the photographer's site (in German).

Fall semester has begun, so I'm off to meetings and my second class session!

Oh, John Scalzi, I love you!

See, a few days ago, some self-appointed arbiter of geekdom wrote a piece for CNN about how "fake geek chicks" are ruining his fandom. See below:

Click the cosplayers to see Peacock's icky piece.

This misogynistic fella hates on models hired for Comic-Con, cosplayers, and women in general, because they do not meet his geek standards. Well, thank you for playing, Mr. Peacock, but you're missing the core point of what fandom is. Scalzi says it best thus:

Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think - and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking - that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”

Any jerk can love a thing. It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome.

This statement has that kind of intuitive rightness that speaks directly to one's soul. I'm not only an SF geek, but because of my love for a multitude of things and powerful desire to share that love, I'm a geek in pretty much every aspect of life:

For example, I love building machines - and then sharing photos of said machines, taking people for rides, going to car and motorcycle shows, and so on. It's pleasurable to work on them myself, and I get great satisfaction from making an engine work better, but it's sharing the results with others is where I get my real pleasure.

Click the image to see a page about the most beautiful engine of all time - that of the Vincent Black Shadow.

I love astronomy - my favorite thing to do with a telescope is to show other people things through it; one of my favorite jobs in college was running the public-viewing nights at Hobbs Observatory. Heck, I started the science club in my high school because my greatest pleasure in doing science is sharing it with others.

Click the image to see the NASA page about lightning on Saturn.

When I get student feedback on my classes, a common comment is that my enthusiasm for the topics I teach helps them get more involved in the material, even if they didn't care for it to begin with. I'm a teaching geek!

I'm a thousand kinds of geek... like most geeks. I would argue that most likable people are geeks of some kind. Though I don't like sports (and actively dislike much of the culture), one of my best friends is a huge sports-geek, so it's always fun to watch a game with him. He's also a Marvel Comics geek, so going to superhero movies with him is fantastic, because he knows the backstory that makes the movie meaningful.

And this is the core of what it means to be a geek: Loving something (often weird, but sometimes mainstream) and sharing one's love. In his mistargeted article, Peacock forgets that. If a person's geekiness is dressing up (or taking off clothes) to get attention, well, what makes that not valid geekery? The point is to share that love of *insert fandom here* with others in a way that lets them in on what you love. If you go to a convention and see a gorgeous costume, do you look away or do you watch the costumer for a while? How about if you see a person clad only in a chainmail bikini - or even just body-paint? If you find someone attractive, does that somehow invalidate the person's geekiness? If that person's greatest pleasure comes from feeling the attention of other people, can't that also be sharing one's love? So can't even Peacock's greatest villains - models - also be geeks? I have trouble imagining none of them love doing what they do and sharing it with others, but cosplayers are some of the biggest geeks out there!

Geez. Mr. Peacock: YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

Wanna save the world? Wanna make it a better, more accepting place? Here's how you do it: Love things deeply and share your love for those things, one person at a time. If someone wants to share their love, give them a chance. Don't exclude people, don't dismiss their love... until they've spent an hour detailing their latest D&D adventure. There are limits ;-) However, that doesn't mean that only your geekdom is a valid geekdom.





Guess who just turned in final grades for Spring 2012? THAT'S RIGHT, A DAY EARLY!

After tomorrow, when grades are official, I go offline for a week, during which I write the first chapter or three of my next novel - that'd be Jack and Stella's True-Life Space Adventures - so I can read from it at the upcoming ConQuesT SF convention in Kansas City.

Speaking of SFnal stuff in Kansas City, this weekend is the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! show at Bartle Hall. If the writing is well underway and I feel I can afford to get away for a day, I shall be there on Saturday.

(Now begins the countdown for the lamentations of those who are shocked, SHOCKED, that they didn't get an A. And those who feel that completing missing projects on the last day will result in a positive outcome.)

Just dipping out of grading finals for a few updates:

First up, interested in being part of this year's Science Fiction Writing Workshop with special guest author Andy Duncan? Well, we still have a few slots left, so apply ASAP to ensure consideration!

Last weekend, Hastings Bookstore in Lawrence held a big event for local SFnal types. Here we are:

Here's the whole gang (left to right): Lane Robins, James Gunn, K.d. McEntire, Mary Chambers, Robin Wayne Bailey, Chris McKitterick, and Kij Johnson who dropped in on her way out of town. Check out the photos on The Gathering Facebook photo page.

Speaking of finals, grades are complete for my "Science, Technology, and Society: Examining the Future Through a Science-Fiction Lens" course (ENGL507). As usual, those who participated most in class, turned in all the projects, and did extra-credit got the best grades on their finals, as well. Surprise! Hoping to wrap up my vast assortment of technical-writing courses tomorrow. Yes, early. Because:

I'm going to be mostly offline starting later this week, WRITING MY OWN STUFF. You heard that right: I'm going to be selfish with my time and try to get down the first three chapters of my next novel (The True-Life Space Adventures of Jack and Stella) in time to read from it at the upcoming ConQuest SF convention in Kansas City over Memorial Day weekend.

The Sinus Infection of Enduring Suffering has sidelined my CrossFit shenanigans, but I've kept up the movements at home, anyway, getting up from my desk every hour or two to do push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and so forth. Helps not only keep me from feeling like I'm losing ground but also helps keep up the energy.

Speaking of which, I'm back to it!

mckitterick: Yes, this is one of my actual scooter helmets. RESPECT THE EMPIRE. (beware-monkeyboy)
( May. 3rd, 2012 06:46 pm)
Yesterday I was bragging about how I made it an entire winter flu season without getting sick. Had to sleep 10 hours a couple of nights, but woke up feeling fine the next day. When I said that, I did not knock wood, people. I DID NOT KNOCK WOOD. You know what's coming next:

This morning, I woke tired and groggy and sore, but attributed it to last night's Crossfit, even though I felt my best ever post-workout. By noon, I felt like pierced bicycle tires. Took my temp, and it said just shy of 100°. Haven't eaten more than a breakfast smoothie all day, just not hungry. Except for brains.

Crap. Couldn't miss today's "Science, Technology, & Society" class, as it was the last of the semester, and because it was all student presentations, all the time, I figured I could just sit back and enjoy.

(Yes, I was diligent about washing my hands, didn't shake any hands that were offered after class, and am not sneezing or coughing. Couldn't miss this one! I just hope what infects me isn't one of the horrible diseases a couple of the presentation teams discussed and/or dramatized....)

GEEBUS, but three hours is a long time to sit still. I was FREEZING in that classroom which, apparently, was warm and pleasant. Going home now to drink a lot of water and maybe watch some distracting movies. No class for me tomorrow, thank goodness! Sadly, I was going to test for my "white bandana" at Crossfit tomorrow, which would allow me to attend regular group WoDs.

Question: What can I take to reduce my fever that isn't an NSAID? I take Meloxicam every day, and don't want to make my stomach lining bleed. Help!

EDIT:When I got home, discovered it's now a fever of 101°. *sigh* Trying some green tea now. EDIT 2: Scratch that, it's almost 102° now. Wow, this is exciting!

The rush of paper-critiquing before Finals Week has meant I haven't been online much (well, I've been online ALL THE TIME with grading software), so I'm behind on Crossfit reports. On the plus side, I'm fully caught up on grading BEFORE finals start pouring in. *ROCK*

Here's Monday's workout:
  • Warmup: Lunges, then jumping lunges. This means take the biggest step you can (3-4 feet for my height), keeping your back-leg knee off the mat, then jump forward, switching which leg is front and which is at the back. Cross the gym, then back again.
  • Rowing machine. Just "a quick 500 meters," sez the coach.
  • Shrug-kettlebell-lifts. Pick up the kettlebell between your feet and, as fast as you can, pull it up to your chin. Your glutes and thighs should do most of the work ("Squeeze those glutes!"), and shrug your traps to pull up the kettlebell.
  • Barbell thrusts. Start with your wrists as flat back as they can go with the barbell just resting on your collar-bone and shoulders, elbows forward, and then THRUST the bar up until your elbows lock, as fast as you can.
  • Now add a drop-thrust; that is, as you push up, pretend the weight is really heavy and drop by bending your knees as you launch the bar upward, then stand after it's all the way up. This one sucked for my shoulder; I'm going to substitute something that works those muscles without causing so much rub between clavicle and acromian.
  • Box-jumps. The coach gave me a 22-inch wooden box to jump onto; swinging your arms and using your glutes and thighs, LAUNCH up onto the box, brining your knees as high as possible to avoid hitting your shins on the box. Immediately jump backwards, down. Repeat a whole lotta times.
  • Fully warmed up and form is good? Now do the WoD:
    • Box-jumps and shrug-kettlebell-lifts.
    • Just three sets: 21 of each, 15 of each, 9 of each, as fast as possible.
    • GO!
    • I can't remember my time, but OMG I was dying during the second set. Interestingly, the third set was easiest.
  • Oh, and of course a bunch of warm-down roll-outs using various equipment to stretch the muscle fascia.
  • For the first time since I started this insane program, I went home NOT SORE. Whoah, it really does get easier!

So that was Monday. Today's (Wednesday) workout was pretty much the same as Friday's, only with the added complication - after doing tripod-headstands (hands and head support you as you lift your legs) - of trying to do handstands (free-standing with locked elbows holding up your body, toes pointed toward ceiling).


Despite my frakked-up shoulder.

Last time I did handstands was DURING THE 1980s. NO, REALLY.

Oh, and I finished the WoD (burpees and situps) at least one, maybe two, minutes faster than on Friday.

Oh, and when I came home, I totally banged out a couple sets of pullups using a different grip than I normally use, because the bars at the Lawrence Crossfit gym are straight, and I don't want to embarrass myself with something I can actually do *g*

OH! And we took the Newport, because the guys who run the place are total gearheads. It was much appreciated! They all came pouring out of the gym to see it when we pulled up, and of course the first thing the coach wanted to see was the engine compartment :-D

Now I'm going to have a mimosa and watch a bit of the Dean & Sam Show™ (that would be Supernatural to the uninitiated).

mckitterick: aboard the New Orleans trolley (just Chris)
( Apr. 14th, 2012 07:15 pm)
Whether you're an inventor, writer, teacher, or any other kind of human being, you will find great enlightenment and hope in this talk by Jeremy Rifkin at the Ross Institute:

I first wrote about the core of Rifkin's talk months ago after having watched an abbreviated, illustrated version. But after watching his entire talk today, it's changed my life in a few ways:
  • I'm going to redesign all my courses to enable students to share in the teaching to help them learn better. This is part of Rifkin's urging, that teachers join the "distributed and collaborative communication and energy/mind revolution" that's happening right now. I already do a lot of this in my literature and advanced courses, but I'm also going to use this framework in my 300-level technical-writing course.

  • I'm going to re-roof the house with solar collectors to tranform my habitation from energy-consumer to energy-producer. Heck, I expect to sell power back to the utility most days!

  • I want to create a course centered around the concepts in Rifkin's talks and book, The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, or at the very minimum include the book in my spring "Science, Technology, and Society" course.

  • On a larger scale, I want to create a school - could be for young people, could simply be part of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction's mission - that is centered around this approach, is cross-curricular, and empowers students to be active participants in their education and the education of their fellow students. This is an idea I've been kicking around for years, outlining details, but Rifkin's talk finally crystallized the structures in my mind. SO EXCITED and movitvated!

Anyhow, go listen to the talk. It's about 1-1/2 hours long, so it might take a while. I'd love to hear what you think.

Today I've been dealing with a guy who feels I used his idea for a recently published story of mine. (Just to be clear: I didn't.) Anyhow, it seems that this guy has a similar setup for a novel he's been working on, and someone who read his novel and heard about my story wrote to him to say it looked suspicious, and the third-party guy thought I had this similar-story-guy in my summer SF Writing Workshop (I didn't - he was in Kij's Novel Writing Workshop, so I never saw the book, outline, or any of that).

So I wrote to the similar-story-guy to clear things up, and now it appears that he thinks I'm a liar and a thief.

Egad, Charlie Brown.

He went from accusatory and "shocked" at my taking his idea to passive-aggressive a-hole during the course of the conversation. I feel I could have handled this better, but at least I did delete such phrases as, "your Machiavellian little mind" before sending the messages. Ahem.

As I publish more and teach more writers, I expect this kind of situation will come up more frequently. I imagine that John Scalzi hears from half a dozen writers every day with similar accusations.

Writers: Have you had to deal with such situations? If so, how did you handle it? I'd like to be the paragon of gentlemanly and instructive without telling the accusor to piss off.



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