Archive for February, 2011

Last Doughboy Dies

Monday, February 28th, 2011

I read to day that the last veteran of World War I died at the age of 110. The war ended in 1918, 92 years ago. I might be possible that there is still a European veteran left who signed up at a very young age, but it isn’t likely. They are all gone.

I find this a little shocking because I can remember seeing one or two civil war veterans in parades along with Spanish American war veterans back in the 1950s. The Civil War vets were usually drummer boys who went off to war to play the drums for units with their brother’s or father’s. So in 1955 it was reasonable that a man in his late 90s might have been a drummer boy in the Civil War.

Soon, all the WWII vets will be gone. My Dad, my Uncles, and all of my Dad’s cousins that served in the war are gone. I dream about my Dad, and have conversations with him in the dreams, from time to time. I dreamed about him last night. It seems hard to believe that the greatest generation has almost ended.

Because I saw actual vets from some of America’s earlier wars, I feel more closely connected with history. Since I have been doing a little genealogy and discovered that at least two dozen ancestors fought in the Revolution, and at least a hundred came to this country before 1700 including a few Mayflower immigrants, I tend to see the United States as a process rather than a static thing.

The conquest of the new world and the birth of our nation must seem impossibly remote to young people. Many don’t know anyone who fought in the second World War, and might not even have heard of the First World War or the Spanish American War. The Civil War would be the stuff of old movies and not seem real to them.

Character Sheet Generator – Hits

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Yesterday was the biggest day, as far as the number of readers goes, that I’ve ever had on this site.

My character sheet has gone viral with hundreds of hits. had me on their home page for a while. has listed three pages on the sites with hundreds of more hits. This has resulted in thousands of people dropping by and interacting with the main site and even the blog is getting hits.

I am experiencing my 2 minutes of fame. I hope someone clicks on amazon link and buys the book.

Character Sheet Generator | Resources for Science Fiction Writers.

I saw Return of the King last night

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

I saw Peter Jackson’s strange interpretation of Tolkien’s Return of the King on TCM. They were showing Oscar winning movies and this was one of them. I avoided the movies after being disgusted with Fellowship in the way it hacked up the book.

Rather than split hairs about why someone would take one of the best books in the English language and rewrite key scenes, I will just say that the large scale action sequences were very well done, the acting, was indifferent, and the editing was spotty.

I understand that certain things had to be cut. There are parts of the book that are a great read, but nothing much in the way of dramatic action takes place for a while. These have to be cut or condensed. Jackson’s solution was to add dramatic elements to key sections where no dramatic elements existed. For instance, he invents a scene where Gollum throws away food, forcing Sam to go and retrieve it. This leaves Frodo to fight Shelob on his own for a while. Why this should be better than just having Sam and Frodo confront Shelob together, I can’t be sure. I think that Jackson was trying to make the Frodo character more heroic. Frodo, in the book is a tragic figure, and Sam is the more heroic, but Jackson seemed to see Sam as a buffoon, and not the deep complex character as Tolkien painted him.

Gollum was well done, although the Slinker and Stinker dialogs were mumbled and difficult to follow. They went by quickly and you did not feel the sympathy for Gollum that a true villain requires.

I will never understand why Eldond shows up at Dunharrow and what the stuff about Arwen being sick was about. It was all made up out of whole cloth, and may have been part of a sub-plot that Jackson created to keep Arwen in the plot, when, in the book, she was never more than a minor character. Whatever it was, I found this jarring, and Jackson must have cut something out from the final version that had made it justifiable. The Dunadain showing up with Arwen’s banner seemed easier to shoot and fit better into later events.

The book was written in long narratives following the main characters. This, of course, was not really good for an action movie, especially since we spend several weeks with one group of characters and then go back and spend the same several weeks with another group of characters. In a book, it is easy enough to connect the action, but in the movie, it is better if there are no flashbacks, of cross references. Jackson sticks with the time line, showing things as they happen, whether or not they are in Gondor or Mordor. This actually created problems because for a while there were five plot lines running at once. There was 1) Pippen and Eowyn with the men of Rohan, 2) Aragorn traveling the paths of the dead, 3) Gandalf and the battle, 4) Merry with Faramir and Denethor, and, of course, 5) Frodo and Sam on the path to the crack of doom. Jackson cuts back and forth between these five plots, and often it’s darn hard to tell where you are. I know what was supposed to be happening because I have read the book at least 100 times. It would make the person who didn’t know what was going on very dizzy.

The thing that I disliked the most was the eye beacon over Barad Dur. The eye of Mordor was something that was imagined or felt and did not have a physical presence. It was the dark influence of Sauron that sensitive people could feel watching them. It was not a big holograph hanging over the dark tower. At the end when Frodo puts on the ring, the eye does a flip, and a looney toons kind of eyeball bug out. It reminded me of Wile. E. Coyote’s eyes when he sees a bomb that’s about to explode in his face.

The volcano special effects were all great at the end, except for the cartoon eyeball thing.

No way the movie should have won an Oscar except for special effects, but I guess there was nothing much running against it.

Dashiell Hammett Short Stories Discovered

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Dashiell Hammett mostly invented the hard boiled detective story. I like Hammett because he had this thing where every story had one perfect sentence. If you search through you can usually find it. It is a sentence that blows you away. In his novels, you can find them scattered about. I read fast, sometimes skimming entire pages, but with Hammett, I am forced to slow down, because I don’t want to miss these little jewels.

I am interested in reading these stories and might even subscribe to “The Strand” where they will appear, just to get to read them.

Dashiell Hammett Short Stories Discovered and Published in The Strand – The Daily Beast.Article - Jones Hammett

Programming Lies

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

I got blamed for the Westchester County Website being down for about 5 hours last night. This happened after I left for the bus, and by the time I came to work this morning the true culprit had been caught and crucified. I had nothing to do with it, although I am changing configuration options for the main website.

The person who crashed the site claimed that he had not changed anything, and the bug was an old one. It was not. It had to have been something new that he did (he ran a script that made the temp directory write-protected). The script could not have been run recently, even though he claimed that had been running every night for months.

Everyone knows that I like to make large changes to things, so I was initially blamed. Luckily, I have made many mistakes over the years and I have learned to be very careful when it comes to things that have the big boss’ picture on them. I would let someone else push the button if I had to make changes to a very important and public site.

The programmer big lie is “It worked yesterday and I didn’t change anything”.

We were down for a while.

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

1and1 lost my web sites for about two hours this morning.

St. James Infirmary Blues

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Science Fiction Outreach Project – USA

Monday, February 14th, 2011

A good part of the people who come to SF cons are not readers, but kids who watch TV and Movies and who read comic books. (Sorry – graphic novels).

The theory posited by SFOP is that if they give books to people who read comics or watch movies, they might take them home and read them, returning to the con addicted to the hard stuff.

I will go out and see if I can find a small box of books to contribute.

Science Fiction Outreach Project – USA.

KEPLER-11 on Google Sky

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

I tweaked my star finder program so it could see where in the Sky KEPLER-11 is located. This is the planet that is so much like Earth that it might be able to support life.

This is very exciting that the Kepler Space Telescope can actually find earth type planets – not just one but many.

The brighter star in the exact center of the field is not Kepler 11, but the dimmer star immediately to the right is probably the one. It looks like a pimple on the bigger star.

Kepler 11 on Google Sky.

So far Kepler has found dozens of planets. It uses the transit method to find planets. This means that when a planet passes it front of a star, the light from the star dims, slightly. Kepler can detect that dimming. In order for this to work the ecliptic, or plane of the planets, must be in line with earth. Most planets don’t line up with earth, and even though they are there, we can’t detect them using the transit method.

I did some simple math and found that for an earth-like planet and a sun-like star, we would miss 99.7% of all planets because they would not be aligned well enough to see.

In other words for each planet that Kepler finds, it misses at least 338 planets. Kepler found something like 54 new planets in the last news release. That means it probably missed more than 18,000 planets. You can probably triple that because many planets will just catch the edge of the sun as they orbit, but would not make enough of a change in the brightness of a star to be detected. I did the calculation for a planet at 93 million miles from the star. Planets like Mars would have half the probability of being detected because they are further away and need to be closer to the ecliptic, and the shadow from their passing would be smaller due to the distance.

Catching a few planets is huge news, just because the math shows that there must be many many more that the Kepler Space Telescope can’t detect.

The Last Space Shuttle

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

My friend Jim wants to retire to Florida. I totally disagree, but some people like Florida and I can’t really argue with what he wants. He went down a few months ago, found a house he likes, and wants to buy, but before he buys, he wants to see Florida in the summer time.

I have expressed the wish to see a space launch, and the last space shuttle launch is in June. He has proposed that we get one of those $75 flights, rent a car, and check out the launch. He can then go on to look at his house in the high heat and humidity, and see if it is something he wants to do.

It doesn’t sound too expensive – Jim will pay for the car. I have to take a week off in June, so I think I am going to go.

The space shuttle launches are always delayed, but we might be able to pull it all together and watch it take off. Jim is going to Venice where he wants to buy a house, and then drive to St. Augustine. I may fly back earlier, as this sounds like several days of living out of motels and it might get pricey.

The houses that Jim was looking at cost $200,000, are huge, have swimming pools, low taxes, and are a short walk to the water. It sounds like he would be crazy not to buy one.

SmashWords Update

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

I sold a story through SmashWords today, but it was a sale on the Barnes and Noble site. This was the first time this has happened. I made 61¢ from a 99¢ sale. If I sell directly through Smashwords I get 81¢. I hope that I sell hundreds more.

If you list a book or story on Smashwords and you get their approval, you can then list your Smashwords titles on Apple, B&N, Sony, Amazon and other sites. It is the only way to get on to Apple iBooks without going through difficult hoops. It is a good deal, but Amazon is still outselling Smashwords.

Getting approved for the premium program on Smashwords is not trivial. I have my first eBooks formatting customer and she has a long book. I have submitted it twice to Smashwords and I have yet to get rid of all the problems with it.

‘The Hobbit’: filming begins March 21

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

I Like Lord of the Rings (I have read the book literally hundreds of times), and I enjoy The Hobbit, although it is not a great book. The Hobbit, however should make a much better movie. There are large parts that can be cut out, compressing the story so that it will fit well on the silver screen.

I was very angry when I saw how the first LOTR movie butchered the book, so I never watched the other movies. I might like to see The Hobbit.

‘The Hobbit’: filming begins March 21.

eBooks Shelf Space

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Today I received my first sale from SmashWords. I had given up on this site. They have a huge inventory, but do not have the traffic that Amazon or Barnes & Noble have. I have 7 books for sale there, but this is not much “shelf space” on a site that has millions of books. I tried to find out how many books are listed at Amazon, SmashWords, ePub, B&N and the other sites, but this information isn’t anywhere where I googled.

The story that I sold was “A Familiar Christmas” which is a Christmas story. I have a feeling that SmashWords may have reported this 45 days after the fact. If this is the case, I might see more sales from SmashWords, now.

This weekend I sold a short story through SmashWords, a couple of paperback books through Amazon/CreateSpace, and two of my Kindle books on how to play harmonica through Amazon. This is pretty good, I guess. I don’t do any advertising. I don’t have any channels that I can use to push my books, so these sales are to random people who find me by accident.

I hoped to make some significant sales, at least $100 a month, but that is not going to happen. I priced my books high, thinking that I would get fewer sales, but make more money than I would a bargain price at higher volume. I still think this is right. I will, however, make beer money, and it looks like my stories will make more money as eBooks than they ever did when I submitted them to magazines. It looks like $20-$30 a month is what I’ll get for at least a few years.

I can improve on this by publishing more collections and short stories. I need to increase my “shelf space” on the virtual eBook stores.

Larry Losing his Job

Friday, February 4th, 2011

My brother is losing his job at Xerox. They are closing the distribution center in Suffern on May 3. Larry has worked for Xerox for 35 years, fixing copy machines, riding a fork lift, and supervising stock handlers. He will have 45 weeks severance and a small pension when the plant closes, followed by 26 weeks of unemployment.

Larry has decided to wander around all day like a homeless person and pick garbage, collecting bottles to redeem the deposit. (Like he does on his days off.) He seems remarkably jolly about it. He has always hated his job, but it was never bad enough to quit. Now that the decision is made for him and he can collect Social Security in a few years, he has decided to retire.

I told him to be on the lookout for some part time work that is satisfying. It should not be too hard to make up his lost pay. He could find a low pressure job where his talent for being able to fix things would be an advantage.

Larry repairs guitars, so I think he should open a luthier shop somewhere to buy sell and repair vintage guitars and amps. I would go in as a partner repairing and selling some of my amps, and watching the shop a couple of days a week.