December 1, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015: win number five


Wrote over 53,000 words in November on a new story that I hope to finish in December. While the book will clearly need revision (a lot of the writing is loose), the story itself is pretty well set. I think it may end up being the first in a five-book YA adventure series.

August 16, 2015

2006 revisited on the eve of going to college

On Wednesday, our firstborn goes to college for the first time. Huge moment in any parent's life, right? Tonight, our neighbor who is also off to his first year of college came over to catch up for a few minutes.

The boys grew up together, with cowboy Star Wars battles and races around the cul-de-sac and matchbox cars and video nights. But they haven't hung out together in years; in middle school they found separate friends. You know how it is.

But as our neighbor arrived, I remembered that back in 2006 the four boys--this neighbor, another neighbor boy who moved away, and my two kids--put together a time capsule. We didn't bury it, but we did hide it, Indiana Jones-style, in our garage among the tools and boxes of Christmas decorations and other unused things.

Of course I had to have them open it.

Ethan opens the protective plastic bag.
On the front were the names of the boys. The oldest was 11 at the time, and I think Ethan was just nine. Sam was only six, and apparently--according to the note included in the time capsule--he didn't contribute anything to the box because he was "selfish and evil." Later, though (as you can see from the inscription on the box itself), he added a marble.

Sam added the marble later. He wanted credit.
The note details what each boy put in and why. These were their "most treasured possessions," which might be a slight overstatement.

The note, and all the items. Pokemon, pennies, tamigachi, a Sierra Nevada bottlecap (?!?), plastic army men and soldiers... everything dear to a 9 year old boy, I suppose.
I've sealed it back up and put it back in the garage. Some day someone will find it or remember it, and wonder why we bothered to keep it all those years.

It's amazing how kids grow up so quickly. Young men off to college.

My favorite picture of the boys, EVER.

July 23, 2015

My entire YA sci-fi post apocalyptic trilogy is free on Kindle July 23-25

Pretty straightforward post today. Semper, Forsada, and Freda are all free to download from the Amazon Kindle store July 23-25. My hope is that you will

  • tell a bunch of friends!
  • download them
  • read them!
  • rate them on Goodreads and/or Amazon
I also deeply, sincerely hope that you enjoy them.

That's it.

Why would I offer them free? I'd like to say that, like Bread & Puppet, I am a proponent of free art, but really I just want more people to read my stories. I like writing, and I like it when people like what I've written. I plan on writing more, and I hope people who read these books will look forward to the new stories I write. That's really it.

The free book deal is featured on Free Kindle Books & Tips July 23. Specifically here.

July 7, 2015

Please stop calling it a gender pay gap. Because it's not.

I just read yet ANOTHER article about the "gender pay gap" in soccer. The following comma splice in particular caught my attention:

Women’s teams play just as hard on the pitch as men’s teams, they should be receiving equal reward for their hard earned victory.
That is fallacious logic. A job's pay is not set by the effort a person puts in; it is set by the market value of what that job produces. This is why actors who perform in local theater don't get paid the same as actors who perform on Broadway, even though they may produce similar quality and work equally hard. Also, this is why male soccer players in MLS do not get paid the same as male soccer players in most European leagues, even though they play just as hard on the pitch.

Fairness and gender equity are noble causes. I support equal pay for equal work. But come on. The outrage flying around the internet this week is misplaced.

The outrage should be that a jersey that sells for $80 is sewn by someone who gets paid pennies a day. The outrage should be that billions are spent on stadiums that crumble into decay after the tournament is over, built by laborers who can't afford to buy a ticket to a game played there.

Can we stop talking about this as gender inequity, please? Because it's not, and calling it so undermines the real issue of gender pay gaps.

If you showed me a woman creating ads for the World Cup who makes 70% of what a man making ads for the same World Cup makes, then I'd feel the outrage.

THAT would be a gender pay inequity. Equal pay for equal work is not the same as equal pay for equal effort. Is the discrepancy in payment from the men's and women's World Cups unfair? Possibly. Should it be "corrected" by a new rule to ensure a "fair" or "equitable" situation?


Well, I could imagine a scenario where you reduce payments to men's teams so they are equal to payments made to women's teams. Spend the savings on community improvement, education, and health care in the places where the laborers live.

If you want to talk about equity and injustice, let's start from there.

(The photos are just ones I took of soccer related stuff. They don't actually relate to the text except that they are soccer, and I took them.)

June 25, 2015

Free YA sci-fi books for Kindle

The third book in my YA post apocalyptic sci-fi trilogy, Freda, is free for Kindle at Amazon June 25 through 29. If you didn't know what to do for my birthday on Friday the 26th, then downloading the book, telling everyone you know, and reviewing it on Amazon would be fab.

Get it here:

More Free Books
The first two volumes in the trilogy, Semper and Forsada, will be free July 23-25.

June 24, 2015

Haiku Wednesday

This week's words
 are lump, nervous, puzzled
I haven't played Three Word Wednesday in... a very long time. Far too long.

nervous cat, puzzled
butt waggles, tail bristles, pounce!
carpet lump conquered

doctor prods the lump
nervous teen, puzzled parents
baby on the way

puzzled soldiers watch
roadside lump seen through binocs
nervous wives back home

April 9, 2015

Backpacking Joshua Tree National Park, with photos

We planned a short trip for Ethan's last spring break as a high school student. Just the two of us, in the desert somewhere. Never been to Joshua Tree, so a few google searches and we had our plan.

The Original Plan
We started in Vegas, visiting my mom over Easter. So we planned to drive the four hours from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree and hike in that same day. We could do 7.5 miles the first day to Upper Covington Flats, right? Then another 10 miles on Day Two to Ryan Campground, then 10 miles back to Covington, finishing with the 7.5 miles out on Day Four with the eight hour drive home to Walnut Creek the same day.

Then I read that the trail has no water and, in the desert, you should plan to carry a gallon per person per day, just for hydration. More if you want to cook, brush your teeth, or anything else.

You know how much a gallon of water weighs? A little over eight pounds. I thought about what it might be like adding 30 pounds of water to our packs.

The Revised Plan
I cut a day off the trip. We would hike in the 7.5 miles to Covington Flats, then hike to Quail Peak and back to the same campsite, then out the third day. Less water to carry, especially if we left Day Three's water in the car to drink when we get out. And only 25 or so miles over three days. We'd done 30 miles in three days last summer, so seemed achievable, if a little ambitious.

Unfortunately, we left Vegas two hours late so we arrived at Black Rock Campground at 4 p.m. instead of 2 p.m. Still, we had done a 3 mph pace before, so we geared up and headed out with 40+ pound packs.

Ethan with his pack, at the trailhead.
(Note to self: A 40 pound pack feels WAY heavier than a 28 pound pack. WAY heavier.)

The Actual Event
I should back up. We planned on hiking the California Riding and Hiking Trail, but we couldn't through-hike because we had only one car and just the two of us. We acquired our topo map at REI in Vegas, but we knew very little beyond the couple of web sites I'd seen and this map.
Covington Flats was our original destination for Day One.

What I didn't realize was that the first 6 miles of this trail is uphill and also like walking on a very soft beach... deep, soft sand apparently groomed for horseback riding tours. So keeping a pace of three miles per hour with 40+ pound packs uphill in the sand is kind of tough. If you didn't know it.

We got about this far
We got a little farther than this on Day One.

and started feeling pretty exhausted. Additionally, the wind was whipping around and it was getting toward twilight. So we decided not to try to get all the way to 7.5 miles, and we started looking for a place to spend the night. We tried a ravine off to the right of the trail about 4.5 miles in, and it turned out to give us a perfect site, slightly sheltered from the wind and not in a wash, just over 500 feet from the trail (i.e. a legal site). So we set up there. Short of our destination, but early enough to feel confident and prep for bed while it was still light.
Our tents, with our Nepali peace flags strung between.
Yes, they really are from Nepal.

Chilly morning selfie before breaking down camp.
Turns out that was a good thing because even though the forecasts called for the temperature to drop into the mid 40s (which we were prepared for), we actually enjoyed biblical winds and temperatures below freezing. This last part we calculated by observing the frost on our tents and the ice in our water bottles the next morning.

Before getting on the trail, we bushwhacked to the top of a peak next to our ravine to check out the views and see if we could get a cell signal (we couldn't). But the views were worth it.
This really was a view from our little peak

And we could see some random snowcapped mountain in the distance.

I really was there. These aren't just stock photos.

Hey, there's the trail, way down there, heading uphill. Wait. More uphill? Damn.
Our Revised Plan (see above) was to try to make it to the peak of Quail Mountain and back to a campsite in one day. After consulting the map and doing a quick calculation, we realized there was no way in hell we'd make it that far. So we revised the plan again, deciding to get to Covington Flats and see how we felt.

The trail kept going uphill for like a bajillion miles. And I swear the rangers put the mile markers at like 8,000 feet apart instead of the standard 5,280. But we enjoyed more desert scenery, including lots of wildflowers, over the next three miles to Covington Flats. There, we decided we'd go on to mile marker 9 and turn around, coming back for lunch. So instead of going 18 miles into the park and up to the peak, we were going 9 miles in. Fine. Discretion is the better part of valor, right?

A log on which we snacked, about 7 miles in.

Ethan hiking. Typical of the trail from mile 6 to mile 8.

A different random snow-capped mountain in the distance, framed by Joshua trees.

We made it to the Covington Flats trailhead! Someone was parked here, and someone left some water jugs free for the taking. We did not need it because we had plenty, but it was nice to see the generosity of strangers here.


Hard to see, but the trail is framed by wildflowers here.

Typical of the trail in the Covington Flats area.
Turns out we chose our route well because mile marker 9 is just at the beginning of a long, steep descent into a valley. We assessed the hill and our enthusiasm level, and we found ourselves very enthusiastic about not coming back up that hill, so we decided not to go down it. Instead, we turned around and headed back to Covington Flats trailhead where we paused for a half hour for lunch. It was warm when the wind stopped, which happened for a few seconds. Otherwise, it was kind of chilly. But still nice to sit on the rocks and rest.

Around mile 7 you cross an access road,
so there's a trail marker.
We began walking back toward our ravine where we had camped the night before, assuming we'd set up camp there again. When we got there, though, it was still only 2:30 p.m. and we were feeling very good after a hearty lunch and some preventative Advil. We'd made good time (nearly 3 mph) back from Covington Flats to the 4.5 mile mark, so I suggested we consider hiking all the way out and camping at Black Rock car camp instead of suffering through another freezing night in the wilderness. (I'd stop short of calling it "miserable," but it wasn't exactly enjoyable.)

So we double-timed it down to the car.

Interesting thing, hiking. The downhill seemed much less steep than the uphill had seemed the night before. And the sand was no less difficult to walk through downhill than uphill. So keeping a 2.5 mph pace was still a challenge. But we did it, after already doing 9 miles earlier.

We made it to Black Rock Campground about 4:30 p.m, only to find that all the campsites were reserved for the night. Maria, back at the mother ship, did some Trip Advisor searching to find a cheap rate at the Country Inn. A phone call and a short drive later, we were enjoying hot showers and comfy beds and indoor heating and no wind. Which I really appreciate tonight as I type this post since the drive home the next day was nine hours long. Maybe I'm a wimp, but I'd rather do that drive after a night in a comfy motel than after a freezing night on the ground and a five mile hike.

Plus, the motel had complimentary breakfast.
I've had better, but the coffee was pretty good.
Overall, I'd say it was a terrific trip. It would be a beautiful through-hike if you cache water at the trailheads. We didn't see a single other person after the first mile, and the land was really very pretty. If you plan on doing this hike, you'll be tempted to skimp on the water. You'll say to yourself, "A gallon per person per day? That's over-planning. I bet I can get away with three liters. Probably even two!" Don't do it. By lunch on the second day (less than 24 hours into our trip), I'd already drunk four liters, and I don't tend to drink a lot when I'm hiking. AND the temperature never got over the mid 60s. So don't skimp on the water. Seriously.

I also wish we'd arrived a few hours earlier and were able to hike farther in on the first day, and that we'd been prepared for colder nights. I am a little disappointed we didn't camp both nights, but I do think we pushed ourselves. A 14 mile day with full packs is nothing to sneeze at for people who do one trip a year, right?

Finally: No backcountry travelogue is complete without a Blair Witch selfie:

March 14, 2015

Musings about Pi and Pi Day

Not so much about Pi Day but about Pi itself. I just watched the online World Clock turn over to 3/14/15 9:26:53, and it was... less moving than I expected. But I did take a screen capture to commemorate the occasion.

But all day I've been thinking, on and off, about Pi. Because I've been thinking a lot about life, and about spirituality, and about infinity. About religion and Religion, about God and god, about the connectedness of all things.

I have a theory that religious people and atheists differ only in semantics. Both are trying, in our finite and flawed human way, to get a grip on infinity.

Pi is an especially interesting representation of something that we mostly believe to be both infinity and perfection. Take a perfect circle and bisect it perfectly. Then divide the length of the bisecting segment into the circumference of the circle. You'll get this magical number that never repeats yet goes on indefinitely. It really is a beautiful number.

Now, of circles and bisecting them:

Circles figure prominently in our legends and lore, in our metaphors and our rituals. We use rings to symbolize union in marriage, we have family circles and circles of friends, we discuss the circle of life.

Division and union also figure prominently in our lives. Two hands that oppose and complement each other. Two sexes, required to unite for procreation. Yin and Yang, black and white, attract and repel. Marriage and divorce.

Pi has this sort of magical place in, around, and through all of this. Pi is sort of the God number. It is perfect and infinite, yet patternless.

I know Pi can be calculated in other number bases, but I'm too lazy to look up whether anyone has really studied those to see if they have the same mystical properties as Pi. I assume they do, since conversion from one base to another is pretty straightforward.

So it's not the number itself that intrigues me. It's the perfection of the ratio of the circle to the straight line that bisects it, in a perfectly mathematical world. But we do not live in a perfectly mathematical world. Our world is imperfect. Our perception is finite. We live in more than two dimensions. In our world, the perfect circle does not actually exist; it exists only in the theoretical, as described by mathematics. I suppose I would say that the same is surely true for the perfect being: a perfect being can only exist in the theoretical, as described by theology.

Pi exists where the theoretical touches the physical. We can't ever know the full extent of Pi because it is perfect and infinite, and therefore in its full and true form it can't exist in our finite and flawed world. But we take comfort in its existence and wonder at its majesty. We know in our hearts that it is there, that it is bigger than we can comprehend.

February 19, 2015

Adventures in formalwear

This weekend I'm attending my first black tie event in... many, many years. So of course I have to rent a tuxedo. Ever since I moved to California back in 1985, the place to rent your tux was Selix Formalwear. I remember for my fraternity formal, a bunch of us went to the one in Oakland and laughed about the Miami Vice pastels, ultimately settling (of course) on basic black.

So I sought out Selix and found one just a few miles away in Pleasant Hill, three weeks ago. Went in, got fitted, left a deposit, arranged to pick up the tux on Wednesday, February 18. Since we're flying to Los Angeles on Friday the 20th, this would cleverly give us one day for adjustments if necessary.

Wednesday the 18th comes. It's been a busy week. We rush over to Selix after work, arriving at 6:30 a full half hour before their closing time of 7 p.m. But they're closed. With a sign saying they'd be back at 10 a.m.


So of course I did what any rational, angry person would: I tweeted about it.

It says 7 p.m. closing time RIGHT THERE.
I googled them and called the number that came up in the search results, but of course it was a fax machine. What the Fax, google. Seriously.

Then I went to the Selix web site and found this lovely note:



We have less than 48 hours before our flight to Los Angeles, and the place that has my deposit and measurements is now in receivership. Lovely.

Long story short, Orlando at Men's Wearhouse in Walnut Creek set me up in under an hour. I ended up buying a tux for not that much more than a rental. Now all I have to do is either find more formal events to attend, or join the British Secret Service.

Walther PPK not included in base model.

February 1, 2015

Scientology, clearly you know nothing about science or religion.

Of all the Superbowl ads I saw today, one just keeps coming back to me and making me shake my head in wonder.

At about 13 seconds in, the narrator says, "Imagine an age in which the predictability of science and the wisdom of religion combine."

This is like saying, "Imagine an energy source in which the efficiency of gerbils on treadmills, and the cleanliness of burning coal, combine." W. T. F. Seriously.

Scientology, you just proved in one sentence that you actually know nothing about either science or religion.

The best scientists know that science is not predictable. If it were predictable, it would be called engineering because you'd already know the outcome of the calculations. Science is the work of trying things to see what will happen. We make guesses at what might happen, but we actually try it to see if we're right. And at the most interesting of times, we aren't.

As to religion: Religion is faith. Faith is the absolute conviction that something is true, without needing evidence to prove it. This is not wisdom; wisdom relies on knowledge and discernment, based on experience and thoughtful analysis. Faith relies only on conviction, frequently discarding both knowledge and discernment.

If you are paying attention, you will notice that science is the source of wisdom while religion enjoys complete predictability.

I don't know anything about Scientology, and I don't intend to find out. But seriously. If you are trying to attract smart people into your cult, you should at least try not to destroy your own arguments in your own ads with one single sentence.