Cooking with gas

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There’s an old saying around here that means you’ve really accomplished something- people say “now you’re cooking with gas.” Well, after the successful launch of Falcon Heavy, Elon Musk’s Space X is cooking with gas for sure.

I can’t even describe how exciting this is for me, and a lot of other people. For the first time since 1973 (!) we have an interplanetary capable launch system that frickin’ works. And the heck of it is that Falcon Heavy is merely a test bed, Space X is now concentrating on the BFR interplanetary travel system, the subject of an earlier post of mine on this website.

Wow. Mr. Musk is not just a guy who talks, he does things. Really cool things. He stakes his reputation and fortune on the results. This is the guy who promised to bring solar power to a portion of Australia, and it’s happening as we speak. He is cranking up electric car production here in the ‘States. He sells flamethrowers and makes tunneling machines. Lord, what doesn’t he try his hand at.

There are caveats, of course. It’s been a rocky road for Mr. Musk, especially with car production. But darn it, he is doing things as opposed to buying yachts that look like battleships, as some billionaires do. The measure of a person is not in what they say, but what comes out of their hands. And Elon Musk’s “hands” have produced quite a lot, as opposed to verbal flatulence.

This guy is amazing. If he stopped all of his activities tomorrow he would still go down in the history books as one of the key visionaries of this generation. But he isn’t done, not by a long shot.

A couple of years ago I had resigned myself to never seeing interplanetary travel within my lifetime. Especially with the ever shifting delays (interstellar probe by 2069. Give me a break.) and mush-mouthed predictions of our politicians and NASA. But Mr. Musk and Space X have changed all of that. He has yanked real space exploitation and exploration from the limp hands of the government, and he’s taken the reins himself. Scads of people are watching as he makes money and DOES stuff. The image of Spaceman sitting in the Tesla roadster was a publicity stunt, but a damnably inspiring one.

Will there be delays, disasters, and disappointments? Yes, of course. But Space X obviously has their eye on the long game.

And the long game is to get people headed into the stars.

Hostiles, a review

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So what’s with the old family photo in a movie review?

And why are we talking about a Western on a sci-fi site?

I can answer those questions.

I am the direct product of the Indian Wars. The photo above is my great-grandfather and his bride, a Dakota woman. At the end of the war out West, he was a soldier, and his final duty station was guarding a reservation in Minnesota. He met my great-grandma, got out of the Army, and they started a family. As the story goes, she didn’t want her kids on the Indian Census, so they moved back to Ohio. Back then it wasn’t cool to be a “redskin.” My grandfather, their son, told people he was anything but half-Native American. Greek, French, Italian, the story always changed. I don’t think anyone believed him. Eventually he ran away to join a Wild-West show. He led a colorful life, lost a son in Korea, and eventually died in a truck accident in 1966. I never knew him.

So when I saw a movie which was based in the dying days of the Indian Wars, my interest was peaked. In 1892, the year the movie is based in, my great-grandfather was close to donning the blue uniform, and who knows what conditions my great-grandma was living in on the reservation. Probably nothing too good- back then the reservations were like prison camps.

I’m writing about “Hostiles” on this site because hey, it’s my site, and I can. It was a very good movie.

One thing I am interested in is the effect of combat on both the combatants and society. The lead actor did a very good job of showing what someone looks like after twenty years of vicious, no-holds barred conflict. The protagonist, a cavalry captain on the brink of retirement, is edgy, weary. The female lead has her family slaughtered by Comanches, she does a very good job of showing what someone who is unhinged looks like. Every character has their flaws, and “hostiles” aren’t always who you would think they would be.

No one comes out of this movie clean, and neither does their society.

I’m not going to launch into spoilers here because some of you may want to see this movie. There is one scene that didn’t square with me, and it was clear at the end. I’ll be vague- it involved civilians who threatened a US Army captain who was completing official business. This would be most unwise- and it turned out poorly for them. But I question whether the incident in that form would have occurred in the first place. If you see the movie, and you should, ask yourself that question.

The action was realistic and non-stop. The scenery, acting and filming was beautiful, and reminded me strongly of another non-typical Western, “The Revenant,” another movie worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.

By all means, buy a ticket, grab some popcorn, and go see it.

The best movies make you think. This one puts you in the shoes of a hard man in a hard time.

The Bronze Star

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Some things that you learn in life, you don’t soon forget. Some are things you carry with you for decades, memories that are like an accumulating set of weights, stuff you’d rather forget but can’t. Some stuff is a blessing, some stuff is a curse. Some of it is both.

To name an obvious example, combat is one of those things. I have my own combat recollections, and I’ll never forget them.

But combat, and war, spread beyond the combatants themselves and leave lasting impressions upon friends, relatives, society at large, and curious boys in the woods.

Yes, curious boys at play, forty years after the last shots were fired.

It was a pretty summer day, and one of my best friends came over to hang out in the late eighties. We talked about girls, listened to music, and generally enjoyed our summer break. We really didn’t have anything better to do, so we decided to go back in the forest behind my house and walk around some. A great deal of the forest had once been a massive open-pit coal mine, so there were a number of places to swim and rusty junk to explore. Dangerous? Probably. But you couldn’t keep us away from the woods.

My parents were pretty old-school in the regard that kids should be allowed to play- as long as we did our chores and were home by dinner time. “Helicopter parents” hadn’t been invented yet, and roughhousing, fights, and the occasional dangerous pastime, such as swimming in the old strip-pits were seen as part of growing up.

So into the woods we went, my friend and I. We walked for a while, smoked illicit cigarettes, and eventually came upon an abandoned house whose occupant had died a while back. We knew of the house, of course. It had been the run-down home of a hermit, he had died and no-one had claimed the house, the property, or its contents. We could see from a distance that few windows remained intact, and thieves and vandals had obviously been to work.

For the hell of it, we decided to take a look around. Yeah, it was technically trespassing, but we were on the coal company’s land anyway, so what would it hurt? Egging each other on, we approached the spooky old house. There was trash strewn about, and lots of broken glass as we got closer to the house. The doors had been kicked in long before we got there, we took care not to fall through the rotten boards on the porch as we went through the side, into the kitchen.

It’s hard to describe what a mess the place was. It was bad, stuff was scattered all about in a rotting layer a few feet thick. Doubtless the first thieves had been looking for the hermit’s “stash,” and who knows, maybe they had found it. As we walked through the place we noticed the inordinate amount of old liquor bottles, the hermit had been fond of his cups.

I had seen the guy around a few times before he died, all I knew of him was his nickname and reputation. And now I knew he had drank enough to kill a normal man. And who knew, maybe it had killed him, too. The place was dark, stinky, and spooky. Neither my friend or I talked. We were about to leave when we spotted an old Army trunk in the corner.

That drew my attention. I knew what an Army trunk looked like, of course. There were more veterans in my family then you could shake a stick at, and I was an avid collector of military stuff at the time. I made a beeline towards the trunk, with visions of Lugers and potato-mashers in my head.

(As an aside, such things could still be found at garage sales when I was a boy- they hadn’t really became valuable collectibles yet. Of course, you couldn’t get the grenades legally, but they were out there. When my Grandpa died, he had a whole case. My uncle gave them to the Sheriff for disposal.)

So I was pretty disappointed when I got to the trunk and I saw that it had been ransacked, too. Of course. An estate thief would want those Lugers.

There was paperwork, the remains of an Ike jacket, and some other junk. And then I saw a flash of color amongst all the junk. I reached down in the filth and picked it up.

It was a genuine Bronze Star.

A curious feeling came over me as I looked at the medal, then at my friend. I felt ashamed, and I felt bad for a no-bullshit hero who had died alone amongst the squalor and liquor bottles. No one cared enough about him to have claimed his stuff, or even to show up to sell the property. I left the medal on the trunk and we turned and got out of there.

It felt great to be back in the sunlight, and I never went back to that place again.

I didn’t forget his name, though. Later on, when the internet became a thing, I Google’d him and his story popped right up. Turns out that almost all awards for valor can be found on the internet, there are tons of people who track those things.

With interest, I read his story.

He had led a combat patrol on D-Day, and he bagged a German machine-gun nest. Talking with people who knew him later, I learned that he had fought on until the end of the war, and he was deep in Germany when the war ended. His unit liberated a small concentration camp. He had drank the bitter cup to its dregs. Returning home, he worked in the mine until the bottle got the better of him, and eventually he died, unmourned.

I may be the only person who thinks of him from time to time.

I can’t say for a hundred percent that his combat experiences led to his decline, but I can say from experience that they probably didn’t help.

Decades later, I had medals of my own. And yeah, I had some problems. Drinking seemed to be a pretty good option. It started to get out of control. After awhile, I thought of him and that sunny day in that dreadful house.

And I put away the bottle.

Well, it was a good idea…

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Hey all. Remember last week when I said I would like to produce an omnibus of my trilogy? Well, I started moving in that direction and I began a new project file with my publisher.

Today I received an email from them, they will be closing their doors effective 31JAN18.

Oh no. This is bad. I have used those guys for four years now for everything Indie publishing. Were they expensive? Yes. Did they deliver a solid product? Absolutely. I would send them a rough manuscript, they would give me a solid edit with feedback (after the first book I even had a favorite editor), lay out the interior, handle the ISBN stuff, give me a couple of covers to choose from, etc. The whole process with them was user friendly and well-suited to an ex-GI with zero experience with creating and publishing books. My editor was cool, the design team was awesome to work with. All I had to do was pay them, sit back, and wait.

At the end I always had something that I felt proud to put my name on.

Alas, it is no more.

Whoa, back to square one in regard to getting books out there. At least I’ve done it three times, or I’d be seriously discouraged at this point.

Going to have to figure this one out.

 

A question for my readers

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So I’ve been pondering what to do for 2018. For the past four years I’ve been busy with the Valley trilogy, but I’m mostly done with that. There are some pretty cool projects floating around out there, but the time is not yet ripe to publicly discuss them.

One of the things I will probably do, however, is bundle the Valley series into an omnibus  and release it through my publishing company, CreateSpace. A print and e-book version will be out there. I’m thinking the e-book will be 8.99 USD or something.

I don’t know about you all, but I like to buy omnibuses- you get the whole series in one handy package. If it’s any good, a nice thick multi-book will keep you entertained for a while, and the Valley series is some 270,000 words long.

I think an omnibus is a good idea, but there are some problems. I don’t know what to name the omnibus, and I will have to pay to get it organized and released. That’s one of the major drawbacks of being an independent author- you assume all the risks, and everything is on your own dime. Of course, the upside is that you own your work, and you are your own boss. I like being an Indie author, but funds are a bit of an issue right now. Plus there’s the problem of the name.

“The Valley” is the name of my trilogy, but I think it’s an awful name for a sci-fi omnibus. “The Valley” summons up visions of Western novels, and I wish I would have had more marketing experience when I originally named my first book and later the series. Of course, you only get experience by doing things, and it’s too late to go back and rename the series or my first book.

As an aside, I named the series after an Afghan valley that my team, Advisor Team 1.6, fought in. Of course, no-one got the reference but me, and it led to an awful series name. When I wrote “In the Valley,” I figured I’d never sell more than a hundred copies if I was lucky, so I didn’t care.

However, the first book took on a life of its own, and it metastasized into a full blown trilogy with time. So here I sit, pondering the creation of an omnibus with a terrible name, “The Valley.”

I need your help. If you guys can think of a decent name for my omnibus, shoot it to me.

I’m all ears.

Two things

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First thing.

So I was cruising around the internet today, and I came across an article about the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Joint Chiefs. It seems he gave quite a public speech- he talked about smashing entrenching tools into the skulls of recalcitrant ISIS fighters. You need to look at this- I’m not making it up. Here’s the link to his FB page with the quote.

And I thought I was the only guy with a thing about E-tools- a simple folding shovel can be very bad news, trust me. For a graphic primer in how one is used, you need read no further than “All’s Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen Nichts Neues).” The entrenching shovel can be used like a knife, a club, or an axe. Versatile.

Besides smashing skulls, they are also quite handy for any number of mundane field chores. Really, they are an indispensable, time-honored implement.

Nice to see that one of the Army’s senior enlisted soldiers gives recognition to the humble  mini-shovel. I don’t know if I would have mentioned it like that in a public speech, though. I think he even gave it a Twitter handle.

Second thing.

It seems that researchers have found thick sheets of ice on Mars. Check out the article here. Super cool- as we all know, water is as essential to life as entrenching tools, uh, I mean oxygen. For any future missions to Mars, it’s a no-brainer that water will be one of the key resources needed there.

This discovery is pretty exciting- ice sheets 100 meters thick. Plenty of water, all it needs is heated and distilled.

The pieces keep falling together to make this Mars thing a go. I do wonder if the explorers will have entrenching tools along.

They better. Those things can be used for everything.

The BFR

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UPDATE: Musk and crew just successfully punched another rocket up there (8PM 7JAN18 US EST) and recovered the stage.

I don’t know if you all have followed this, but Elon Musk and his merry gang are at it again. Space X is blazing hot right now, they have launched over a dozen payloads into orbit with their Falcon 9 re-usable rocket this past year and they are upping the ante sometime this month with the first-ever launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket with a demonstration payload of a Tesla roadster.

It is Mr. Musk’s stated intent to resume lunar flights and go to Mars. And it’s not happening with pie-in-the-sky distant launch dates (like NASA’s 2069 date to launch an interstellar probe. Really?). No, he wants to head to Mars by 2024- this is a goal to get excited about, real exploration before I reach Social Security age.

And how does he plan on doing it? With a vehicle called the BFR, Big Falcon Rocket, or Big Fucking Rocket, depending on which source you read. For an in-depth exploration of the concept, click here.

For my Australian readers, you may be interested to know that Mr. Musk revealed the concept in September of 2017 at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide. Pretty cool.

Apparently, the production capacity for the BFR is already in development (this is what separates BS from stuff that will probably happen), and funding is coming from the successful payload launches over the past year.

I’m rooting big time for Mr. Musk and his crew. They are making the stuff that other people only talk about happen, and they are doing it with their own money and reputations on the line. This takes real chutzpah.

We get to see the first part of this ambitious process this month (January 2018), with the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. If successful, Mr. Musk’s Tesla roadster will be flung on a heliocentric Mars orbit- you can’t make this stuff up.

I’ll be watching. This is too cool.

Dreaming of Australia

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Well, the winter is off to quite a start. This morning I looked at the thermometer on the porch and it read a positively balmy four degrees F, or -15.5 C. Excellent. I went around and made sure all the the animals had unfrozen water, always a struggle at this time of the year. This is by far the hardest cold I can recall this early in the season, and it’s rough.

Have I mentioned that I hate the winter? Snow and cold makes everything tougher to do, and some things impossible. Not to mention the expense of heating the house, and the dread that the power may go out during a snowstorm. In that regard, we are more fortunate than many in that we can burn wood if the need arises. We keep a healthy stock of firewood just for such an eventuality, in fact.

The sunny sky in the picture above is misleading. It actually heralds frigid cold in that there are few clouds to keep a layer of insulation on the ground, and at night the stars are cold, hard and distant points of light. The snow crunches under your feet, and it never melts. It also makes it so that you have to really bundle up just to walk the dog. And Dixie the family mutt seems to love to go outside, especially when it’s cold.

I don’t know what stuff dog paws are made of, but I wish my feet were that tough. Doesn’t seem to bother her at all.

Traditionally, this is the season where I do all of my heavy lifting in regards to writing. This winter will be no different. Have already worked on some pretty cool projects, and I anticipate more work along those lines.

I also keep up on my reading this time of the year, right now I’m finishing up a book called Absolute War, a study of the fighting on the Eastern Front in WW2. It’s pretty good, even though I liked Merridale’s Ivan’s War better.

Yeah, I’m sitting here whining about the cruddy snow and cold, and then I read those books. Fighting in minus 20. Single operations where the Russians took more way more “irreplaceable losses” than the entire list of US dead from the Vietnam War. Hell, some operations cost them more dead then all combined US forces fatalities during WW2 in its entirety. Single operations. 450,000 dead or “irrecoverable.” Bad stuff. You should read about it. Sobering.

Really makes me enjoy my warm house and more-or-less peace.

Also makes me glad I was not born a Soviet citizen in 1923. 68% did not live to see 1946. I have seen higher figures from other sources.

However, by some fluke it is colder here right now than in Moscow. Strange but true.

I am positively jealous of my Australian friends who are soaking up the sun and going on Christmas forays to the beach. Well, enjoy it y’all. And crack a cold beer and a smile when you think of us in the North, half a world away.

One of these winters I’m coming to Australia. Take it to the bank.

The Last Jedi, review

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One of my earliest memories was a big night at the drive-in theater with my dad- we were going to see the new blockbuster movie, Star Wars. It was the original movie, the only thing I remember from that night was the trash-compactor scene. Still, though, not bad that I remember something that happened forty years ago.

Like my memories, Star Wars lives on. Of course I had to see its latest iteration, “The Last Jedi.” Can’t say I looked forward to it as much as I did “Blade Runner 2049,” but I figured it’d at least be fun.

It was. I watched it in the company of my daughter and a friend of hers. My daughter has never seen the older movies, and her friend had never seen any Star Wars movies at all. So I was curious about their reactions to the movie- I’ll get to that in due time.

Not really going to put out any spoilers here, besides, the internet is full of those and it seems as if the whole world has seen this movie already. However, I will give you all my take on the film.

It was a typical Star Wars production- massive space battles, personal twists and turns, evil bad guys who never seem bad-ass enough to really kill the good guys, etc. For the devoted fan, it was fulfilling, for the casual viewer it was entertaining. I liked the CGI and world building. It was pretty awesome- and the light saber play was cool as usual. I’d really like to own one of those, even though I don’t know what I’d do with it.

My daughter liked some of the female leads, and her friend was hooked into the story without difficulty, this despite the fact she had never (!) seen any of the other stories. This  is a real display of craft on the part of the film makers- a saga who-knows-how-many chapters on and you can bring someone into the story without effort, very good.

We all had fun, it was an enjoyable evening. Well worth the money we spent on tickets and food. After all, isn’t that the point of a good movie? To get away from stuff for a while, to immerse yourself in another universe?

The latest installment on “Star Wars” has been a massive commercial success, and I can see why. If you haven’t seen this movie, by all means, check it out with your family. It’s pretty good stuff, and Jarjar Binks was nowhere to be found.

Maybe there is a last Jedi, but the Force doesn’t die with this film.

Merry Christmas, all.

Oumuamua

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This is a story I’ve been following for a while, and probably a lot of you have, as well. It seems that an “interstellar object” named Oumuamua has been moving through our solar system. There has been a lot of speculation involving this rock or whatever, and most of them are WAGs. Only a few things about this object are facts: It comes from interstellar space, it has an odd shape (cylindrical), it turns three times a day, and it’s moving fast back out of our solar system. It passed Earth a couple of months ago and it is currently decelerating from its top speed of 87.7 km/s.

What brings this subject up today is a cool article I came across. It seems a team of scientists are going to actively look at whether this object is emitting any sort of radio signal- if detected, this would certainly change the nature of this object from a rock to an artifact of some sort.

We currently have no way of reaching this thing to put a set of eyeballs on it. It’s a real shame, as this is definitely odd. Pretty cool, though, one way or another. For all we know it’s an ancient hulk of a ship and we just lost our one chance to study it. There is a plan to shoot tiny probes towards it propelled by lasers and solar sails, but it isn’t ready yet, and may not be ready in time to stand any chance of catching a thing that is moving around 85,000 mph.

The more we know about the heavens, the less we know, really.