Archive for category Rantings

Is a manned trip to Mars actually all that dangerous?

I look back to the history I know coming from a western perspective. Columbus faced immense danger when he set sail for India across the Atlantic. Edmund Hillary faced a strong possibility of death for himself and his entire team when they scaled Mt. Everest. What of Magellan when he sailed around the world, or Franklin as he lead an expedition into the Arctic. Not to mention the people who explored the Amazon, or the Nile, or the Antarctic, or even those who risked everything on those first trips to India around Africa.

Image taken by Mars Curiosity rover courtesy of NASA

Image taken by Mars Curiosity rover courtesy of NASA

All these people faced enormous risks to achieve their goals while many others succumbed to those same risks.

As alluded to above, this short list of risk takers come from my western perspective. I can guarantee that people familiar with cultures I know too little about can produce a similar list.

I will go so far as to state that there are many lay-persons who follow space exploration who know more about the risks astronauts will face on a Mars journey than most of those early explorers did regarding their own travels.

Relatively speaking, and in my opinion, a manned trip to Mars isn’t any more dangerous than any previous voyage of discovery we now celebrate as heroic.

Someone is sure to question the cost. What did it cost ancient mariners to outfit a ship? How much did it cost Marco Polo to reach China? How much did Edmond Hillary pay to scale Everest? As for NASA itself, I believe I adequately addressed that question here.

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Mars Has Not Taken The Best And The Brightest Of Us All

By NOAA [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A co-worker said some things the other day that have been bouncing around in the back of my head since then. To paraphrase, he asked why so much time, talent, and money was going to a manned Mars mission when there were so many problems here on Earth to solve.

As a supporter of manned Mars missions I didn’t do well in addressing the concerns broached. This post is my attempt to do a better job.

Though many people refused to read it because my title caused them to assume I was anti-NASA, I have already addressed the larger money issue with This Post. With regard to today’s topic I would like to add that Mars is only a small portion of NASA’s overall budget. Far more money goes toward projects that have a direct effect on problems we do face right here on Earth.

As for the assertion that too much time and talent is being directed toward Mars missions, I now wish I had countered with: Prove it. Prove that the best and brightest minds human kind has to offer are all dedicated to Mars.

In reality, the number of people dedicating their lives to Mars is a tiny subset of the intellect at work on this planet right now.

My co-worker went on to talk about the so called giant plastic island in the North Pacific. I agreed that this is a big problem. Were I differ is in his assumption that no one is working on the problem in any reasonable way. He’d seen one of those documentaries where to give you the worst case scenarios (or as I am likely to say, mockumentaries) and taken them at there word without doing any followup research. He even suggested we use giant nets to scoop up all the plastic even though the first website I visited on the subject had a big section on why this wasn’t a viable solution. A website supported by great talent dedicating their lives to solving this kind of environmental problem. Talent that had even turned to NASA and their global network of satellites monitoring environmental changes for support.

All of the above said, I guess my real rant is against the all too common practice of arguing that A must negate B in order to deflect from having to address what B means without regard to the larger context in which both should be interpreted.

The fact that a group of people are working on sending men to Mars does not mean an equally talented group of people can’t be working on the problem of a how to deal with a plastic in the North Pacific. And that’s before we address the idea that developments in one arena might actually help solve problems in the other.


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More Thoughts On Podcast Mania

A while back I wrote a post discussing my plunge into the world of listening to podcasts.

Some of the podcasts I list there are no longer on my to-hear list while others have been added.

Along the way, though, I have begun to wonder if it isn’t time to cull the size of my list. Hard to do when I have little to fill that time with during my commutes.

My main complaint falls into two general categories:

  1. Multiple podcasts all carrying the same guest in a short period of time. One guest may appear in my rotation discussing the same subject 4, 5, or more times within a given month.
  2. Hyper-driven guests that can’t not get things done.

The second category of guest is the one that’s getting to me the most. There are times I wonder if I’m exaggerating by describing them as:

  1. Waking up with the thought, it’s time to write a book.
  2. Having that book written by 9am.
  3. Published by noon.
  4. Number 1 on Amazon by 6.

How can a person who faces his own personal entropy every day hope to ever have anything in common with such dynamos? Much less get anywhere in my writing life when such people dominate the charts?

I want to hear more about people who struggled to get started. Struggled to get traction. Struggle to keep going.

I want to hear more about how those people are making it in the hopes of gleaming ideas that will help me to continue forward.

Until then I am finding this constant exposure to the Hyper-driven exhausting. Thinking that cutting them out of my listening schedule may help me to maintain the progress I am capable of making based upon where I am now.

I’m sure the Hyper-driven would have long since made their decision and moved on. I just don’t work that fast.


The Spectre of Self-censorship

Intro comments in a recent episode of the Wordslinger Podcast struck a cord with me. I know there are a variety of subjects about which we must tread carefully, especially when it comes to the very public mediums available to us over the internet. Politics, religion, and barbecue spring to mind as potential land mines in any exchange . The question raised by what I heard is this:

Have we crossed the line when it comes to the need to practice self-censorship?

Back to that Wordslinger Podcast episode I opened with. If you’ve ever had a chance to hear the host, Kevin Tumlinson, on this and other podcasts he co-hosts, I’m sure you would agree with me that he presents himself in an open and reasoned manner that should earn him the benefit of the doubt when he touches on a potential land mine subject. You’d take what you know about him, factor on the immediate context, and realise he’s not singling out any specific individuals unless that is exactly what he’s done.

To be fair, I am not privy to the actual material in question, but only Kevin’s apology as presented on the podcast episode. It’s episode 107 near the beginning if you care to have a listen yourself. Of course, now that you’ve listened that far I encourage you to take in the entire show while you’re at it.

The gist of what set me off centres around a Facebook post he has since removed. As he describes it, he made a statement about some members of a certain political leaning. Apparently a few of his followers who adhere to that leaning read this as meaning they were among the accused. This is who Kevin has now apologised to.

Now, I will admit it’s hard not to take a general statement about some members of a group I associate with personally. But does that mean we should never make a statement that some people might have a problem with, or jump straight to an immediate recant when it does? Are we now bound to practice self-censorship to a level where there is no chance someone might personalise, misinterpret, or otherwise have a problem with what you say regardless of the context in which it was said?

This gets into what I like to call Broomstick Theology. Why go to the trouble of using all those fiddly little paint brushes and associated techniques when one swipe of a broom will cover the entire canvas. Why go to the effort to take a reasoned position when you know someone in your audience will latch onto a specific word or phrase and interpret everything else accordingly? How can we dialogue about anything the least bit off the straight and narrow when we know it will produce some level of a firestorm somewhere?

Has the call to Self-censorship reached the point where it is no longer possible to have real conversations between people who have divergent views on a subject?

I will end with one final thought that may be the flip side of this post: Freedom of Speech is not a guarantee of a receptive audience. We must all expect push back from things we say. No level of Self-censorship is going to stop that.

In closing, I won’t be the least bit surprised if this very post draws heat because it suggests we should be allowed to make statements that may upset some people.

photo credit: hey skinny X and scott, camping via photopin (license)

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Scheduling Conundrum

img_6351Creative Ink Festival is upon us in a month. As usual I have not purchased my membership until I can confirm I have time off to attend. This year is different.

For some background, the place where I work has a 7 day schedule. My co-worker does 10 hours days Monday to Wednesday and I do 10 hours each Thursday and Friday plus 9 hours each Saturday and Sunday. We are the only people qualified to handle the day shift, which means if one of us can’t make it the other has to fill in. Over the course of the average year this in not generally a problem as time off for each of us tends to balance out.

This year is different. I took extra time off over Christmas for what would likely be the last time I would see my dad, then more time in January to attend his funeral.

Now I feel as if I’d be pushing it too far to ask for yet another Friday to Sunday so soon after all that.

This will be the third year they have run Creative Ink Festival and I have been looking forward to attending since last April. It has become the 2nd biggest fan con of my year, not some auxiliary I’d like to attend if I can event. Letting it go would be a big let down. It just feels so unfair to my co-worker.

All I can do now is have a talk with him to see what he thinks.

It stinks to find myself caught in such a position.


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Your Definition Of Success As A Writer

This post by Derek Haines has me once again thinking about my definition of success when it comes to being a writer.

Let’s face it, everyone has their own measure of success. Some want the numbers. Other’s want the validation of an award or list position. A few want nothing more than to know their work is out there. My goal is to one day generate sufficient income to replace what I earn from by bread and butter job. Though I do reserve the right to re-evaluate that goal as circumstances change.

If this weren’t enough, reports like the one Derek refers to give us only a part of the story. Who’s to say those .99c books aren’t loss leaders? The author could be hoping readers will go on to purchase other full price books. The whole phenomenon of perma-free books suggests this is a valid marketing technique once the author has sufficient works available.

On the flip side, Derek suggests the pricier books on the list could only have gotten there by way of a corporate publishers deep pocket marketting machine. This is an equally short-sighted position to take. There are authors out there I to whom would willingly pay 12.99ish for their next ebook. In fact, the single greatest obstacle I face when looking for an ebook is availability in the format of my choice. While not a deal breaker, having to maintain multiple libraries is a bit of a pain.

I guess my real point is that we have insufficient information to define success within the context provided.

One the other hand, as a reader who has never bought a .99c book (or downloaded a free book I hadn’t already decided I was ready to buy for that matter), I might not be the best person to tackle this question.

Enough of me rambling off on a subject I’m not yet qualified enough about to have more than an opinion. Look at what you want to achieve. Set your own goals. Then measure your success by how well you do in achieving them.

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Where Do I Go Now

Krista Ball wrote a fascinating reflection of her journey from fear to confidence as a writer. I first heard of her when she asked a pregnancy question about one of the characters in Blaze back in the beginning if her career. She has since gone on to write a bookshelf worth of works you should go and read. I am still wavering over releasing the same book I was working on when she asked her question. I do have a second book drafted and copious notes for a third book, but still I remain unpublished..


I can give you any number of reasons why this has happened, but when I boil it all down to its essence, the problem is a lack of confidence. Have I done my best in crafting this story? Will any one want to read it? Will I become a pariah for doing it wrong? Not keeping pure to the Science Fiction genre I write in? I’ve already been warned about including too many elements of my Christian faith in my stories.

It could even be argued that taking the time to compose this post is keeping me from finishing edits on the last few pages of my latest draft. The fact we are in the middle of selling our present home and buying a new one better suited to our future needs is only incidental to the bigger picture.

Maintaining this blog doesn’t really help. Though I freely admit to making little effort to market my presence, the general lack of traffic is not what I’d call confidence inspiring to someone aspiring to a craft where discoverability is probably the single biggest obstacle we all face.

This is the year this will change. I have already pushed myself forward through moments that would have stopped me in the past. A few more steps, each capable of shutting me down as Krista described in her development as a writer, and I’ll have my first work out there and be deep into getting number two ready to follow.

One final thought. The average reader can finish a story faster than most writers can produce them. Writing isn’t a competition so much as a collaboration. Just take a look at how many different authors you have on your own bookshelf. If you find yourself in the same place I’ve been and still feel you have a story you want to tell, it’s not to late. Take a close look at what’s holding you back, set your priorities, and act upon them.

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Billions To NASA When So Many People Are Starving?

Warning. This post contains references to math.

imageImage courtesy of NASA Flickr archives

It’s a question all of us have heard in one form or another. Most of us have heard many variations of it over the years. The other day I heard it once again, sparking a little number checking and this post.

A quick check of official NASA budget numbers reveals they received over 17.7 billion last year. Keep that number in mind.

It is estimated there are over 164 million smart phone in use in the USA today.

Now to some guestimates.

Let us assume that number is overstated by 25%. That leaves 123m SPs.

Let us further assume another 25% are dedicated strictly for business. That leaves 92.25m SPs. Most of which are used primarily for entertainment.

Let us further assume 25% of those only connect to the internet via available WiFi hotspots. That leaves 69.2m SPs.

If the average monthly cost of a data plan is $50 a month or $600 a year, these users are collectively spending $41.5 billion annually.

If only 1/2 of those users acted on the question, Why am I spending so much money on instant gratification when there are people going hungry, it would produce a bigger impact than the total diversion of NASA funds to food programs.

As an aside, let me point out that it is easier for the individual to send money to a trusted charity that for that same individual to sway how a government spends the money they have skimmed off their paycheque.

In addition, of that 17.7b allocated to NASA, only a small fraction is actually shot into space. Most of it stays right here on Earth to cover the salaries of the many fine people employed either directly or within the supply chain NASA sources its material from. Those are real jobs helping to feed real families at a level that makes it possible for them to donate from their excess to the poor and hungry.

All that’s before accounting for the long list of scientific advancements and inventions that have gone on to help society at large.

I would call that something to think about before complaining that some program represents money being wasted.


An Introvert’s Thoughts On The Con Scene

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I make a point of talking up Vancouver’s premier Science Fiction, Fantasy and big dalekGames Convention VCON. It’s an event I’ve made a special point of attending for a number of years now. Not just me, but the entire family as my wife runs her Cat’s Knitting table in the Vender Hall each year with the help of our daughter.

There are many different kinds of Cons out there. Some aimed at Fans, others at Creators, and many that do their best to bridge the two in some dynamic way. To me the one thing that separates a Con from a Show is the level of interaction invited between the showees and the attendees. I’m fine with people who have a different definition.

One of my goals as a writer is to earn enough money from my craft to fund my attendance to Cons outside the local area. Another milestone would be to become big enough to attract invites to sit as a panelist at such Cons.

Only thing is, Cons can have so much going on it’s hard to find time to take a breather. All that interaction can wear a person down. I know people who thrive is such situations, who go home raring to go, their batteries charged. That’s not me. I need a vacation to recover from my ‘vacation’.

True, I’ve met a lot of fine people at past VCONs. Just as true are all the times I failed to say hello to people I wanted to meet because I couldn’t get past the inner voices telling me the time and place weren’t right. That last bit can leave me exhausted to the point of wondering if the whole thing is worth it and asking myself what else can I hope to achieve by attending the next con?

The answer as of this moment is: I don’t know. What I do know is I will be attending VCON 40 on the Dead Dog Membership purchased at the end of VCON 39. Perhaps I’ll see you there and get past those voices in my head long enough to say hello.

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Isolation and the Writer

This post by Cyrus Keith has got me thinking. A common meme in the world of writers and other creative types is that of the starving artist spending long periods of time in their favourite coffee shop or bar. Almost by definition, creative acts are solidary endeavours where isolation is a fact of life, and yet here we have a theme that requires these same isolationists to interact with other people on some level.


Having said that, I will be the first to admit crowds make for a great place to be alone. They can also be a painfully lonely place to be if no one notices or cares about you.

But back to the coffee shop meme. As a regular you will develop connections with other patrons. Even hidden in the corner behind the screen of your laptop someone is bound to draw you out with a familiar hello. At other times you must either interact with a waiter or join the lineup to refill your beverage of choice. All little things that force us out of our shells to engage in some level of interpersonnal interaction. None of which would be necessary if we stayed in creative caves to do our work.

Even those who take regular get-away-from-it-all retreats return to places where they must interact with other people on a semi-regular basis.

For that matter, I don’t know of any creative types who don’t eventually want some level of exposure for their creations, and, even if by proxy, themselves. While I’m sure there are exceptions, the very existance of the meme I’m working from suggests that they are just that, the exceptions.

We may or may not be social butterflies, but social is part of all of us on some level.

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