Total shock: the new Star Wars is fun for all

This is me eating crow and being delighted to do so.

My wife and and I took our kid to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night, and I went fully armed with my skepticism because, ya know, JJ Abrams and ruined Star Trek franchise and lens flare and women losing their clothes while playing bit parts as men do everything heroic. I predicted, possibly at length, that we were about to witness Abrams ruining a second epic franchise, but at least this wouldn’t be so awful since there wasn’t much left to ruin after George Lucas destroyed it with the Prequels That Must Not Be Named.

BUT! Either someone really reined JJ Abrams in, or he had some far better writers/advisors, or someone gave him some good drugs. Because this Star Wars is great fun for boys and girls. It has two separate hero arcs for two separate heroes: one is a young man finding both his courage and the right side to fight for, while the other takes the more traditional hero journey of a lonely young scrapper discovering her hidden powers, leaving her narrow, circumscribed life, and joining a fight far larger than she ever imagined.

We really enjoyed it. It was great fun, with (intentional!) humor and fantastic action sequences, gorgeous settings, and real honest-to-goddess acting. Also: nothing even close to Jar Jar Binks or Ewoks. You will of course be required to check all scientific awareness at the door, which I mostly did happily, though I still choked at the idea of draining the entirety of a star’s energy into a sphere the size of a planet (with a living forest and snow on top, no less). I also had to consciously suppress any mental calculations about how long it would take to slow a ship to below the speed of sound after entering a planet’s atmosphere at the speed of light while somehow avoiding being turned into a paste dripping down the inside front windshield. (Never mind the calculations on how a ship could hit a planetary atmosphere at the speed of light and not become an instant and spectacular ball of ionized gas.)

But those moments aside…this was fun. Just fun. I want to see it again if only to admire the amazing sets and action pieces. And can I just say how utterly, wonderfully fabulous it is that after six damn movies, Star Wars finally gave us a heroine?*

This film erases the painful, slow motion disaster that was the prequels, or Episodes I, II and III if you’ve never quite grasped that the prequels came after the originals (I never have). For the first time since The Phantom Menace made us all throw our popcorn at the screen in 1999, I am looking forward to a Star Wars sequel.

* (Yes, yes, I know: Queen Amidala. She had such promise early on, but then turned into a two-dimensional plot device whose only purpose was to provide a reason for Anakin to go to the Dark Side, pop out two kids, and die. Daisy Ridley’s character of Rey does more in the first half of The Force Awakens than Amidala did in three movies.)

Posted in entertainment | 8 Comments

The Caphenon on sale today

The Caphenon 500x800

Looking for holiday gift ideas? How about The Caphenon ON SALE for today only at Ylva’s Super Sunday sales. A different book is featured every Sunday this month, today it’s The Caphenon, and the price is just $2.99. That is two-thirds off the normal $8.99 price.

Let me repeat: The Caphenon is on sale for $2.99 right now, and only today.

Go get some for your family and friends!

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Not-quite-wallpaper Monday

While looking around for wallpapers today, I came across this video, which is essentially 5:30 minutes of non-stop wallpapers that track a trail runner on his run up Suilven Mountain in the Scottish Highlands:

Suilven: The Trail Runner” is a short film following Tom as he runs out of the sleepy town of Lochinver, leaving civilisation behind and into the desolate and remote countryside, up onto one of the most distinctive mountains in Scotland. We follow him across the moorland, through the bogs and lochan before journeying with him onto the ridge, looking out to the Atlantic Ocean before descending to the south and visiting the Falls of Kirkaig as he leaves the mountain behind.

The filming is artistic and beautiful — one of my favorite moments is when the runner is seen from inside an old shack, as he flashes past the open doorway — and in combination with the gorgeous scenery, it makes for a visual poem.

Enjoy. (And if you can, watch it in HD, because holy moly. You can practically feel the rough texture of the heather.)

Posted in video | 2 Comments

That other rocket company

Though Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been getting most of the press regarding the technological race to create reusable rockets, they’re not the only game in town. Some other guy named Jeff Bezos, better known as the founder of, has also set up an aerospace development and manufacturing company. It’s called Blue Origin.

While SpaceX is focusing on the science, exploration, and supply side of things, Blue Origin is focusing on space tourism. They want to take you where no one has gone before — no one, that is, other than government-funded astronauts and private tourists wealthy enough to buy tickets.

I will easily admit to a bias regarding which team I’m rooting for, but as a good friend pointed out, profit has ever been the driving force behind many of humanity’s great advances. With that in mind, let’s admire and celebrate Blue Origin’s recent accomplishment of flying a rocket 100 kilometers into space and then landing it again, right on the pad. Fantastic technology and a true win for everyone.

(Hat tip to Walt.)

Posted in tech, video | 4 Comments

Wallpaper Monday

Bisti badlands

Filed under “Looks Like A Painting” — the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico, with a bit of gorgeous Milky Way thrown in for good measure.

This photo is a sci-fi story waiting to happen…

(Click the image to embiggen. Photo by Wayne Pinkston.)

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The Warrior’s Challenge is in the wild

Warriors Challenge cover

Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge has entered its pre-release phase, meaning that for the next two weeks, it is being sold in e-book format exclusively in the Ylva store. After that, it will be available everywhere, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. (If you are looking for the paperback edition, it has been sent to the printers and we’re hoping it will be on Amazon by this time next week.)

We worked hard to get this book out in time for Thanksgiving, and that work paid off when I realized how much happiness we have brought into some readers’ lives. With permission, I’m reprinting a Facebook post that made my morning today:

Fb post

I would say I’m sorry for the fact that her family will be ignored, but…I’m not sorry at all.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in writing | 21 Comments

Wallpaper Monday


While the headlines and social media are saturated with news of the terrorists attacks in Paris, I’ve seen almost no coverage of the terrorist attacks in Beirut, which occurred one day earlier. The latest report from CNN lists 43 dead and 239 injured from a pair of suicide bombings. ISIS is causing misery in so many places and to so many people.

I looked around for Beirut wallpapers, but found only cityscapes. Looking a bit further afield, I discovered Baalbek, more properly written as Ba’albek. The site holds the best-preserved Roman ruins in the country, and the Temple of Bacchus (seen through the pillars here) was one of the largest of the Roman empire. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew the town as Heliopolis, a name I remember from my classical studies. I never realized the temple was still there.

(Click the image to embiggen.)

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Getting a mountain fix 1: Four-in-One Cone

One thing that I really, really miss in Portugal is the presence of real mountains. Year-round streams and tall trees, too, but at least I can find those within a reasonable drive from the Algarve. Real mountains, the kind with no visible human footprint nearby, are much harder to get to.

So when we went to Oregon this summer, one thing I simply had to do was hike in the Cascade Mountains. Fortunately, my best friend and veteran hiking buddy was happy to oblige, so on my last weekend before returning home, we packed up and headed to the Cascades. Our first stop was Four-in-One Cone.

The trail starts out in dry forest, winding through pines and beargrass for several miles before reaching a wall of basalt lava.

(Click on any photo to embiggen.)

lava ridge

All central Oregon hikers know that this stuff is hell on hiking shoes — and ankles, too. Basalt is sharp and abrasive, and even worn trails like this are full of small pieces that turn and roll under your foot when you step on them. But the payback is awesome. Hiking on lava, seeing it all around you…there’s nothing like it.

lava's end

The trail crosses to a forested island, surrounded on all sides by the lava flow. It turns southeast and meanders along the base of the flow, giving the hiker a fabulous view of the wall of basalt looming on one side…and North Sister dominating the view in front.

After crossing another wall of lava, the trail enters a cinder barrens, the result of the many eruptions that built Four-in-One Cone.

cinder moonscape

Even lava flows have more life than this. Cinder barrens are the most sterile landscapes I know of, and have an austere beauty all their own.

They’re also really great at turning ankles.

The trail climbs to the top of Four-in-One Cone and then runs along the ridge line, giving views into all four cones. But if you’re expecting perfect geometry and rounded cones, you’ll be disappointed. All four of these eruptions blew out the northwest side of the original cinder cone, resulting in an unbroken wall on east side (see above photo) and a series of gouges and ridges on the west.

Best of all, of course, is the magnificent view: Mt. Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, and Mt. Jefferson on one side…

Four-in-One Cone

…and North and Middle Sister on the other.

North Sister

I think my favorite landscape shot might be this one, though. The bleached bones of dead pines shine brilliantly all through this landscape, in sharp contrast to the dark lava and the bright green of the living trees.

Bleached bones

Central Oregon is a place of extremes. Edges are sharp, colors are vivid, and the whole landscape tells a tale of titanic births and deaths. It’s a part of my home that is deeply embedded in my heart, and there are no words for how it felt to stand here and breath this dry, piney air.

Posted in Oregon | 9 Comments

Rain after drought = flood

After more than four months of summer drought, the Algarve has finally been getting its autumn rains. But less than two weeks of occasional squalls plus a day or two of light rain hasn’t been enough for the water to fully penetrate soil that was baked into concrete. So when it rained hard all day yesterday, some municipalities had no way to control the runoff. Quarteira, Albufeira, and Boliqueime were all hit by flash floods up to two meters (six feet) high. One man died in Boliqueime when the rising waters swept him away, and in Albufeira the floodwaters reached halfway up the first floor in the city center.

Loulé had no issues other than a temporary road closure. In fact, we were so insulated from any problems that when a friend told me about the floods, I thought she was exaggerating.

She was not, as this video shows.

(Albufeira is located about 20 km from where we live.)

Posted in Portugal, video, weather | 3 Comments

Wallpaper Monday

Our long summer drought has broken, and it has been raining off and on for two weeks now. Sometimes the rain falls in showers, other times in gully washers so ferocious that most of the town is obscured behind the wall of water.

After one recent squall, I ventured outside to photograph a handful of trapped raindrops on my succulents. In a slight departure from my usual wallpapers, I’m uploading this one just for the macro fun of it.

Raindrops on succulent 001

Click the image (and then the download icon at bottom right) to embiggen.

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