Halloween = RESILIENCE

If you’ve been waiting for Resilience, the next book in the Chronicles of Alsea, I have good news: it’s available for pre-order!

You can order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books so far. I expect it to go up on Kobo and several others in the next day or so. The paperback edition will be available on Amazon and should go live (for pre-order) today or tomorrow.

Release day is, of course, Halloween — the perfect day to sit down and read a fast-paced tale about one alien learning to fit in with a ship’s crew, and very different aliens who aren’t trying to fit in at all.

You might want to keep the lights on.

Halloween Resilience

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Posted in writing | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Speaking as a finely tuned predator

As anyone who knows me can attest, I’ve loved using Apple computers since long before it became popular. That doesn’t mean I don’t gripe when it’s called for.

Apple prides itself on usability. Way back in the stone age, it even published a manual for developers on proper GUI (graphical user interface). It was groundbreaking at the time, and is still the standard.

Which is why I remain baffled (and griping!) that Apple abandoned parts of its own manual in 2011. That was the year it introduced OS X Lion — and what many of us not-so-fondly call the color vampire.

Lion sucked all color out of toolbars and sidebars, along with their distinctive shapes. Buttons that were formerly easy to find were now monochrome squares indistinguishable from other nearby monochrome squares, except for some tiny bit of detailing that didn’t exactly leap out.

Here’s the thing: we humans are predators. Omnivorous predators, to be specific. Our brains are finely tuned through a few gazillion years of evolution to instantly recognize a desired object (or a feared one) by color and shape.

We are not wired to examine a line of monochrome squares and quickly distinguish between them. We can do it, but there’s a time penalty, and it takes more effort.

Sidebars2

With the advent of Lion’s color vampire, many of us went searching for hacks to pour the color back in, or gave up on some Apple software and used third-party programs instead. I gave up on Finder and turned to PathFinder, which is the sidebar on the left in the above image. You can see why I’ve stuck with it for the past seven years. 

Apple’s new Mojave came out last month with a much-touted revamped Finder. I allowed myself to hope.

Well, there are many things to like in the new Finder, but customization and color are not among them. So I’ll post my gripe, a tiny note on the massive internet wall, and know that it will probably suffocate beneath the blanket of assertions that monochrome is now considered more “professional.” Pah. You can keep your professional; just give me the option to be my throwback self, the omnivorous predator wired to detect colors and shapes.

Back I go to PathFinder. Call me when Apple remembers to use its GUI manual.

Posted in tech | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A little geeky problem-solving

Sometimes, when the world news is too much to handle, I take refuge in geeky things. Science and technology are constantly delivering up good stories and/or cool things to learn. And sometimes, it’s the tiny things that make me happiest. 

Here is a story of a tiny thing I learned. But first, the problem I was trying to solve…

As an author, I am constantly copying and pasting blocks of text from my writing program (Scrivener, long may it reign) into an email to send to a beta reader. The problem is that my book text does not contain spaces between paragraphs, but in an email, the lack of spaces can get confusing. So in the bad old days, I’d copy and paste the text block, then go through paragraph by paragraph to hit Return and insert a blank line after each one. Painful.

Later, I automated this with a custom service in my menubar that searched the text and replaced one carriage return with two. It worked, but required quite a few clicks and maneuverings to get what I wanted.

Yesterday I had the bright idea of using Typinator to make this easier. This powerful little app is a text expander in which abbreviations are instantly expanded into words, pictures, snippets of text, URLs — whatever you can think up. For instance, I write my email address by simply typing “oe” (short for Oregon Expat).

Typinator also uses Regex — a type of programming that could easily accomplish what my previous service did. All I needed was the exact command string.

I’d like to say that I quickly figured it out, but the truth is that I studied Regex tutorials for about two hours, then studied the Typinator Help documentation, and then threw my hands in the air and emailed the developer.

He emailed back within hours. The solution was dead simple:

Typinator solution

This takes the contents of the clipboard, searches it for single carriage returns after text (i.e. the search excludes blank lines), replaces them with double carriage returns, and then pastes the result.

So now my workflow consists of copying the text, placing my cursor in the email, and typing “=v.” (Easy to remember since the keyboard shortcut for pasting is Command+V.)

Magic. This is why I love tech.

 

Posted in tech | Tagged | 6 Comments

Chronicles of Alsea: Book SEVEN

It’s been an awful week for my American friends and family — and for me as well, watching from afar and feeling like a refugee. Words of encouragement don’t seem to mean much in the face of such deeply entrenched, powerful indifference to the needs or beliefs of the majority of the nation.

I can offer this, though: a small thing to look forward to, a book into which you can escape for a precious few hours.

Resilience, the sequel to Outcaste, is being released on Halloween. Appropriate, since it features some decidedly non-humanoid aliens.

RESILIENCE blog size

Resilience is the story of Rahel Sayana’s first patrol on the Phoenix, and a fast-paced tale that will pull you along from start to finish.

As the first empath on the crew, Rahel has an uphill battle from the beginning, and that’s not taking into account the cultural differences. But Lhyn Rivers is there to guide her, and Captain Serrado is making sure her senior officers help where they can.

Their plans for a careful, structured training go by the wayside when the Phoenix runs into a mystery: a cargo ship with a dead crew and signs of unwanted life.

Rahel may be new to Fleet and space travel, but her instincts and skills have always been about protection. With the Phoenix under quarantine and unseen aliens on the loose, she will do what she has always done. She will stand between danger and those who need her, no matter the risk.

Take your mind out for an adventure on Halloween — you’ll find Resilience in all the usual stores.

Posted in writing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Sonic booms

An observation from a reader sent me on a search for a good photograph of a sonic boom, and inevitably, I ended up chasing facts and cool tidbits down a few rabbit holes.

First cool tidbit: Sonic booms are created by shock waves, and those shock waves were first photographed in 1888 by Ernst Mach, who was studying the pressure waves produced by bullets traveling at supersonic speeds.

Mach bullet

What he discovered was that there are two pressure waves, one at the front of the projectile and one at the back. Stanford University has a great write-up about these famous photos and the technique used to produce them.

(Mach’s research produced the equation that immortalized his name: a Mach number is the ratio of the speed of a traveling object to the speed of sound in the medium through which that object is traveling.)

The bullets create those shock waves by shoving molecules aside with the force of their passage, much the way a ship creates a wake as it moves through water. The bigger and heavier a traveling object is, the bigger the shock waves it produces.

Which brings us to the shock waves we all know about: sonic booms.

NASA has a spiffy little fact sheet on sonic booms, offering this succinct explanation:

The shock wave forms a “cone” of pressurized or built-up air molecules, which move outward and rearward in all directions and extend all the way to the ground. As this cone spreads across the landscape along the flight path, it creates a continuous sonic boom along the full width of the cone’s base. The sharp release of pressure, after the buildup by the shock wave, is heard as the sonic boom.

The change in air pressure associated with a sonic boom is only a few pounds per square foot — about the same pressure change experienced riding an elevator down two or three floors. It is the rate of change, the sudden changing of the pressure, which makes the sonic boom audible.

The closer the source of the cone, the louder the boom. As the cone travels farther down through the air, it widens and weakens, so the boom created by a high-flying supersonic aircraft won’t be perceived as loud on the ground, while a boom from the same aircraft screaming by 500 feet overhead will knock your socks off.

(Seriously, check out that fact sheet. Especially the part about overpressure.)

Back to those bullet photos up above. Remember the two pressure waves? Those form on jets, space shuttles, and rockets, too. So they all create double sonic booms, but we often hear the two booms as a single sound because they’re so close together. For instance, a supersonic fighter jet 50 feet long will generate nose and tail shock waves that are about one-tenth of a second apart. We can’t hear that difference. But the Space Shuttles, famous for their double booms, were 122 feet long. That meant their nose and tail shock waves were about a half-second apart, and that is distinguishable to our ears.

Though the Space Shuttles are retired, sonic booms have returned to Florida’s Space Coast with the advent of SpaceX and their rocket launches, with one spectacular difference: the SpaceX rockets produce triple booms as they land. That’s because of their shape. As explained in Space Flight Insider:

“[The] first boom is from the aft end (engines),” said John Taylor, SpaceX’s Communications Director. “[The] second boom is from the landing legs at the widest point going up the side of the rocket. [The] third boom is from the fins near the forward end.”

Want to hear that? Check out this video. I’ve cued it to just before the booms, but you really should watch the whole thing, with headphones on, because it is super cool.


Now for a bit of urban mythbusting. You’ve probably seen this photograph, which was taken by Ensign John Gay of the US Navy in July 1999:

Navy not boom

This is not a sonic boom, though practically every site/blog/article that has ever featured it claimed it was. It’s actually a phenomenon called flow-induced vaporization. Atlas Obscura has a wonderful article on when and how this photo was taken, how shocked Ensign Gay was to return from his tour at sea to learn that the photo had become world famous, and what he really photographed.

I did, however, find a great photo of an actual sonic boom produced by a jet. It will look very familiar to you:

Supersonic jumbo

It’s been more than a century since Ernst Mach took those images of the bullets, but the technique used for this jet photo is exactly the same. The New York Times has a write-up on how it was produced. For most people, it wouldn’t have the visual punch of the wrongly-labeled photo by Ensign Gay. But having been down the various rabbit holes, we know what this image is actually showing, and that what Mach did in 1888 with a bullet is the exact same thing a NASA scientist did in 2015 with a supersonic jet.

And that is cool.

Posted in science | 6 Comments

Brexit view from the continent

Yesterday, the papers were full of news of Teresa May’s fruitless attempt to break the negotiating stance of the EU regarding Brexit. Or at least, the UK papers were full of that news. Continental papers, not so much. It was a fascinating real-time example of the wildly divergent view that different people, cultures, and governments can have of the same event.

When the Brexit vote hit in June 2016, it was front page news everywhere in Europe. It continued to be front page news as the ramifications were explored and as the UK invoked Article 50, which activated an unstoppable two-year clock.

With the clock now counting down the final months, the UK continues to be consumed with Brexit, both in its government and its news coverage. Over here on the continent, however, interest in Brexit has declined on a daily basis. The EU has plenty of things to be concerned about: the migration issue, Italy’s financial stability, the alarming assault on democratic norms in Hungary and Poland. And of course, every country has its own internal concerns. Brexit is considered regrettable and costly, but it is not by any means the top news, and hasn’t been for a long time.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has fought a running battle in her own cabinet between hard Brexiteers who crave no deal at all (also called “crashing out”) and the moderates who are horrified at the towering economic, environmental, and social costs of that. Her solution was a proposal called Chequers, which made absolutely no one happy — not the hardliners, not the moderates, and not the EU negotiator, whose stance has been unchanged since this whole thing started. So the process has been something like this:

EU: We will not accept a deal that alters A, B, C, or D, any of which would undermine the integrity of our union. We will negotiate on the other items.

UK: We want to change A and B.

EU: No. A, B, C, and D are non-negotiable.

UK: What if we only change A and B a little bit?

EU: A, B, C, and D are non-negotiable.

UK: Okay, here’s this deal called Chequers. It changes A and B, but you really need to give us some political cover here.

EU: A, B, C, and D are non-negotiable.

That last bit occurred Thursday, when Theresa May went to an EU summit in Salzburg to present her Chequers plan. The EU negotiator had already dismissed the plan as unworkable months earlier, practically the day after it came out. Everyone has known the EU would not accept it.

The EU did not accept it.

The following day, the UK news was full of the “ambush” at Salzburg, saying Theresa May was “blindsided,” “humiliated,” and other choice descriptive phrases. It’s as if no one could have possibly predicted such an outcome. Except that over here on the continent, everyone predicted that outcome. How can that be an “ambush”?

Here, then, is an illustration of different views of the same event. First, a pro-Brexit British tabloid called The Sun:

Sun paper

The tommy guns are a nice touch, as is the subheader: “We can’t wait to shake ourselves free of the two-bit mobsters who run the European Union.”

The Times was more sober, but still apparently astonished:

Times Brexit

The Guardian has a roundup of all the UK front pages on Friday. They’re all along the same theme.

Meanwhile, here is the front page of one of Portugal’s largest newspapers:

Publico Brexit

The prime photo real estate goes to Portugal’s president, who was a professor of law before taking office. He was teaching one final class.

Over on the right is the news about Salzburg. The headline is: “EU says to May that her plan for Brexit is unacceptable.” And right below that is the headline, “Should it be legal? Debate joins ex-prostitutes in Lisbon.”

As you can see, it wasn’t big news.

Posted in Europe, politics | 2 Comments

“Portugal is not the USA”

I’m guessing this was not trumpeted all over the US news, but the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, met with Trump at the White House last week.

The meeting started off with a handshake. It’s clear from this video that Marcelo had undergone diplomatic training in how to deal with Trump’s infamous “grab and pull” handshake-disguised-as-dick-waving.

It seems the training went well.

This isn’t what made the Portuguese headlines, however. The big news here was Trump’s attempt at a joke and Marcelo’s withering reply.

It started when Marcelo commented that if Trump was going to be in Russia to meet Putin, he should attend the World Cup, where the greatest footballer in the world was playing.

Trump joked, “Could Cristiano run against you [for president]?”

“He wouldn’t win,” Marcelo replied instantly. “Portugal is not the US; it’s a little different.”

The Portuguese loved this. Because it’s true. Cristiano Ronaldo might be the most famous person in Portugal (and surely one of the wealthiest), but the Portuguese are not swayed by fame or wealth in their elections.

Not to mention that these days, most citizens of Europe are looking across the pond in utter horror. Having our president affirm that Portugal isn’t the US was a point of civic pride.

The exchange made headlines the next day:

Publico Marcelo

Here’s another Marcelo story that I’m sure no one outside Portugal has heard: on his first day as President, he walked to work. He happened to live near the Palácio Belém (the Portuguese version of the White House), so why not?

No, Portugal is not the US. It’s a little different.

Posted in politics, Portugal, USA | 13 Comments

The giant salmon was my favorite

This video is a 100% accurate depiction of my home state. More or less.

Posted in Oregon, video | 13 Comments

The right-wing megacorp controlling your local news

Once upon a time, your local news stations were a reliable bastion of independent journalism. Chance are good that isn’t the case now.

If your local station is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, then it is required to run certain news and opinion pieces produced by Sinclair, not by any local journalist. It is required to air a daily “Terrorism Alert Desk” segment — also produced by Sinclair — regardless of any actual alert or danger. It is required to read transcripts written by Sinclair. Those programs and transcripts serve a political agenda.

This brilliant video demonstrating the power of Sinclair’s propaganda machine is just 1:38 minutes long and might freeze your blood.

If the word “Orwellian” just popped into your head, you are not alone.

An excellent Guardian article delves into Sinclair and its newfound power under the Trump administration, which is busily relaxing regulations that had previously limited Sinclair’s reach. Michael Copps, a former FCC chairman appointed by George W Bush, calls Sinclair “probably the most dangerous company most people have never heard of.”

John Oliver ran an informative and darkly humorous segment on Sinclair as well — if you don’t want to dig into the Guardian article, watch it below.

Wikipedia has a list of stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group. I checked it to see which Oregon stations are under its thumb, and found that Sinclair has a strong hold on Oregon broadcasting:

  • KVAL and KMTR in Eugene, the CBS and NBC affiliates (which also air in Coos Bay and Roseburg on four satellite stations).
  • KTVL in Medford.
  • KATU and KUNP in Portland, the ABC and Univision affiliates.

Between those five stations and their four satellites, Sinclair can reach the majority of Oregon households. The only major city it doesn’t cover is Salem.

Frightening. And very likely to get worse.

Posted in politics, USA | 1 Comment

Why our oven clock is slow

Clock

File this one under “I’ll be danged, I didn’t know that.”

Over the last couple of months, the clocks on our oven and microwave have been…off. First a minute, then a couple, then five, then six. I hadn’t consciously thought about why, but simply did what we humans are so good at and adjusted, because I was too lazy to reset the clock. “Hm, the oven clock says it’s 12:45, so that means it’s 12:51.”

It turns out that this was happening all over Europe. And the reason is…Kosovo.

There are two important bits to understanding this bizarre situation:

1. Cheap electronic clocks don’t tell time via a quartz crystal or an internet connection, which are relatively expensive methods. Instead, they use the cheaper method of synchronizing to the frequency of the mains electricity supply, which should be precisely 50 Hz.

2. Europe has the world’s largest synchronous electricity grid. Regional power companies coordinate with each other to keep electricity moving smoothly across the borders of 25 countries — and to maintain the frequency at 50 Hz.

But from mid-January to March 6, a tiny bit more power was being consumed than produced, leading to an average Europe-wide grid frequency of 49.996 Hz. So for around two months, all of those cheap clocks that tell time by frequency synchronization were convinced that time was moving a tiny bit slower.

Why is it Kosovo’s fault?

Having only declared independence from Serbia ten years ago, Kosovo is not a unified nation (or even fully recognized). Many in the north still consider themselves Serbian and refuse to pay Kosovo for their electricity, even though that’s where it’s generated. Thus Kosovo is unable to bill for some of its output, which of course affects production. In January, Kosovo failed to balance this out, and for two months continued to produce less power than was used. This net loss affected the entire European grid, reducing the grid-wide frequency by 0.004 Hz.

And all of our cheap clocks ran slow.

The Powers That Be (literally, ha) tell us that Kosovo has rebalanced and that the grid is recovering, but getting back to 50 Hz might take a bit of time. And since the political situation that caused the issue is unsolved, there’s no telling when/if it might happen again.

In the meantime, my expensive and extremely accurate laptop clock tells me it’s currently 13:33. The oven says it’s 13:27. I guess it’s time to finally fix it.

Posted in Europe, tech | 2 Comments