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The Black Hole Passes September 8, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, death, hobby, movies & TV, New Mexico, nostalgia, science, sense of wonder.

No, that’s not a typo. I’m not referring to Campbell’s The Black Star Passes but to the Black Hole surplus store in Los Alamos. The Black Hole was a compendium of junk and history, useable tech equipment and stuff I’m not sure anyone knew what it did.

The owner, Ed Grothus, died some time ago and was mostly anti-nuke, pro who knows what, who bought lots of surplus equipment at the Los Alamos lab and sold them. On one trip there, Gordon Garb laughingly asked for a 50kw oil bath capacitor–they had 3 on the shelf. I had less luck hunting for keyboards with the function keys down the left side–all their IBM keyboards predated fn keys. Stacks of Beta tapes (including the entire Prisoner series!). Dual trace oscilloscopes, miles of wire and coax, gadgets nobody knew what they were good for other than asking, “What’s that thing? It looks awesome, but…”

Entropy sets in, even in such backwaters of New Mexico. Alas, Hawking was right and black holes do evaporate.

A bit of irony is the closing coincides with a mini-Maker Fair here in Abq. Gordon is maybe going to come for that, which is A Good Thing since he missed Bubonicon this year.

I have been busy tidying up a lot of writing chores. More on them later. Got a short story to do ASAP, then…lots more stuff. But some of it is actually seeing the light of day this year. (And there are still prizes for the trivia contest available…hurry hurry hurry, time’s almost up!)

I leave you with the establishing shot for The Black Hole.

The Black Hole

Quick on the Draw–2012 SASS End of Trail July 1, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in awards, Billy the Kid, conventions, history, hobby, New Mexico, outlaws, westerns.
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Turn left at the mailbox painted with Bill the Kid’s face, another left and a right and you’re at the End of Trail, the annual Single Action Shooter’s Society getogether. All this in Edgewood.

Come on over, pahdnah!

They have built up a great facility over the years, with a main street lined with permanent buildings. Newly added this year (or maybe in the past 2 since I missed last year’s) is a white church with a steeple. For those rootin’ tootin’ two-gun weddings, betcha.

I think something went wrong with their online coupon. Scott, Pat and I got out there and entry was free, no parking charge, the awards presentation was in full swing. The public is pretty much welcome whenever as long as you don’t cause a fuss, but the paid entry days have more of a rodeo/sideshow atmosphere. But all the shops were open. Scott and Pat are inveterate clothes shoppers. Me, I was wearing a shirt I got 30 years earlier. But they actually wear the stuff they buy, so it isn’t “costume” as much as daily wear for them.

By the big Red Rider

After meandering up and down in the hot sun, Scott suggested lunch in Edgewood at Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill (spellings are all accurate, btw) to partake of the Thunder Burger, a deep-fried hamburger. Deep fried anything is a tad repulsive sounding to me, but since I’d never done it, why not? I sorrowfully admit the Thunder Burger was not only good, but I would order it again (maybe with more green chile). The meat had green chile and cheese mixed into it before the deep frying, but it came out more like meatloaf. From the heat, I assume. Most tasty. Today, hamburgers, tomorrow…deep-fried Snickers? I hang my head in shame even as my arteries harden at the mere idea.

Me and Red Rider gunnin’ for the bad guys

Warning: the awards are for marksmanship

Last stage ot Albuquerque

The new Old West

All Fired Up and Launching (written) Torpedoes June 3, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, business, conventions, hobby, Texas, writing.
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That’s the way I usually feel after going to a convention. Tired, but revved up to write more. The reason is pretty simple. Listening to other writers tell of what they have being published, what they’re working on, everything about their prodigious outputs, all this makes me feel like a slacker. No matter I am hearing about a year’s output from dozens of writers. It all boils down to: I need to write more.

I am not a big proponent of writing seminars and workshops, though many swear by them. They are certainly great networking opportunities. But the cost is frightful on some for marginal advice (in my opinion). I saw one that charged $100/hr, 3 different sessions (so a total of $300) covering stuff you can figure out on your own or find online for free.

But there might be more to attending than networking or actually learning. I spoke at an East Texas writers workshop quite a few years ago. One writer told me how especially fired up she was and how much she had gotten from my talk. I asked her what she intended to write next. Answer: nothing, but she was going to another seminar in Houston in a month. Write something new? Never! Go to more seminars! Yes!

Everyone needs a hobby, I suppose, and this was hers. Going to writing seminars. A long time back Ed Bryant mentioned speaking at an annual Colorado Springs workshop where James Michener was headlining. A woman brought the same ms to the workshop every year–this was her “ticket” to meet famous authors. It gave a cachet of “being a writer, just like you” so she could meet folks like Michener (and presumably Ed, whom I consider a far better writer, but that’s just me).

Use conventions/seminars/workshops to network, maybe to learn something, but when you’re away from all the glitz and glitter, write!

Eleven Dead Armadillos, A Wood Pussy and 703 Lbs of Dead Rubber May 2, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, geocaching, hobby, New Mexico, Texas, weather, web & computers.
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I am back from the far eastern lands of Oklahoma (east of Muskogee, all the way to the capital of the Cherokee Nation). It was a tiring drive, although mostly in clear weather, and emotionally draining getting my mother squared away in assisted living.

Coming back was the spot where I got a bit antsy. I left in the rain, which cleared by the time I got out of Muskogee. This has happened a couple other times, fog or rain vanishing as if Muskogee has some evil Mordor-esque vibe to it. By the time I drove past the Firelake Casino outside OK City, the sun was shining and the clouds were breaking up.

A word about OK City. I have never liked the place but they have upped the ante on bad roads. It used to be the concrete freeways that would chip your teeth as you drove. This time it was the 6 lane freeways bottlenecked down to one lane. I hit Yukon, looked down at the stopped traffic that must have stretched 20 miles into OKC and decided it was time for breakfast at a McD’s. Ate breakfast, hunted for a geocache (had found one nearby earlier) and failed to locate it. A comment from a successful cacher said the coordinates were off 20m. Hunting around busy parking lots doesn’t thrill me. I didn’t find the cache. A handy traffic warning sign said the 45 min I’d spent already was down to 2 min. Got in the queue and inched through OK City. This is new freeway and open, for no good reason I could see since it lacked proper surfacing.

It was hardly better returning, but I hit it at 11am so the noon traffic hadn’t begun backing up yet.

Gasoline prices were less than in Abq, though one place topped $4. The week I was gone saw on road prices edge up about 10cents. (I tend to refuel at the same places since I know how far I can get on a tank of gas–31mpg this time around served me well).

While in Tahlequah, I found a couple geocaches in the Cherokee Cemetery. Tried for another one in an industrial park under the watchful eye of security cams, but I gave up when guys on riding mowers decided to cut the grass where I was wandering aimlessly. Logged another cache at the end of a road but failed to find one near a mural. OK, I’m a wimp. It was raining and the cache wasn’t immediately apparent. But I did find one hidden in (yes, *in*) a fire hydrant in Tucumcari behind the state cop shop.

Somehow I have never logged a cache in Texas. I forgot to look at a rest stop going. I stopped at one of the best rest stops I have ever seen (not too far from North America’s largest cross in Groom, complete with Golgotha nearby). Fabulous view to the north of not-quite Palo Duro Canyon scope. Great facilities, a tornado shelter. Supposedly wifi, but it was off. And my phone couldn’t connect so I was unable to hunt. Decided to boogey on through Amarillo because very black clouds were forming to the SW.

I don’t know from shield walls but I did see what wasn’t a verga. This was a solid column of black cloud coming from the pitch black layer above. I kept on trucking and the storm sorta slipped behind, only dropping a few splashes of water on me. That night I saw that a tornado had been sighted and flash flooding had occurred about an hr after I hightailed it. Hailstones the size of billiard balls were scoffed at by the weather clown–they hardly report until they reach grapefruit size now. But I was in NM. Crossing the border the sky turned blue, the clouds all vanished (all!) And the wind, hot and dry, kicked up. Home!

One Fantasy Football article showed up but getting reliable wifi/internet to return the edited version proved impossible until I got to the work computer at home. I more or less completed the Slocum Giant synopsis, started writing a short story and got a request for another.

On the way thru Deaf Smith County I saw what has to be a scary sight. A car marked “Federal Police.” We are truly going the way of post Weimar Germany. I did remember to grope myself before leaving so the TSA was robbed of that illicit pleasure. (I understand there is an app for that now)

Ah, yes, the title of this. I saw eleven dead armadillos, mostly on their backs and all 4 clawed feet pointing skyward. The 703 lbs of retread tires peeled away and littering the road is an estimate. It might even be a low estimate since there was a lot this time. And wood pussy? A skunk. (When I was in hs, the English teacher ordered the wrong movie version of The Scarlet Letter. Instead of a talkie, she got the silent Lillian Gish edition which has the memorable scene where Hester sees the skunk and the caption comes up, “Oh, a wood pussy!” This, of course, produced great mirth among 16 yr olds who didn’t want to see the movie, talkie or not).

Time to pay bills and get caught up on mundane things before settling in to work. It’s good to be back.

Eggs-zactly February 2, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in history, hobby.
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One of the things I appreciate and even marvel at are Faberge eggs. I remember seeing the first egg (a white ceramic egg that opened to a hen and hen’s nest inside–all solid gold, of course) at a museum in Ft. Worth. This was part of the Malcolm Forbes collection, which toured a lot. Later I saw another egg that was purported to be the first Faberge egg at the Matilda Geddings Gray travelling collection in New Orleans.

Aside: I also held in my hand a Faberge stone elephant (bleh) and a bell push with the original electric cord still attached. The bell push itself was machined like an egg. My hand shook as I held it–and I could have bought it for $1200. Reputable dealer along Royal Street in New Orleans, lovely artifact of the Czar, would have incited me to put in a bell system to summon my butler. Only thing was, this was 1987 and I didn’t have $1200. But I held that bell push so long the Goth clerk asked for it back, fearing I might stroke out then and there.

Over the years I have seen various eggs from the Forbes collection, but the biggest display was in San Diego in 1990. The Armory allowed eggs never seen outside Russia to tour along with the Forbes collection. The Trans Siberian Railway egg was silver and onyx outside, with odd looking steel working wind-up train inside. Only it wasn’t steel. It was platinum. The Standart egg showed the Russian Imperial yacht in a crystal egg. And and and I could go on.

The Forbes collection was sold to Viktor Vekselberg in ’04 and he is now the world’s largest owner of eggs, including 11 Imperial eggs. Another 9 are in the Kremlin Armory. Thirty more surviving Imperial eggs are scattered elsewhere.

What triggered this blog was Dennis forwarding a notice of the Virginia Museum display. I think they have 5 eggs. When I win the lottery, I might not be able to afford an egg but I would certainly go see such collections. Here is a nice shot of the Imperial Napoleonic Egg.

Sentenced to a Blogging January 8, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, hobby, science fiction, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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I’ve agreed to do a guest blog over at Write Well, Write to Sell Fancy that. The very title speaks to everything I say about writing here. Give it a look and I’ll let you know when my guest blog goes up.

Blogging in general is sort of like taking a razor blade to the arteries running into your brain. At lot of years ago I published a fanzine, Sandworm, about books and happenings in fandom. I stopped pubbing it when I got into grad school and found myself working fulltime (up to 60 hrs a week) and taking a couple courses. The semester with the differential equations class followed by nucleation (where the prof gave tests over material just covered in class) was killer. So, in a way, coming to blogging is like going home to Sandworm.

Only it’s not. I can do hyperlinks to things you ought to know about and be far more timely, though this is less about publishing news than it is publishing trends and fun stuff seen through my myopic eyeballs.

My intent has also changed from hobby to profession. I want you to enjoy this so you’ll take a chance on reading some of my fiction. But like the old Twiltone paper days, I can mention stuff I’ve read and enjoyed. Scott Phillips is running a Kindle promo on his Tales of Misery and Imagination. If you haven’t read the stories here, you’re missing out. Grab it while it’s free, give him a review. Nathan Long delivered what might be the best ever blurb: Triangulate funny, creepy and melancholy, and you’ll find Scott S. Phillips, waiting for a bus.

I want to also alert you to one of my other Kindle promotions on Amazon. January 9, in celebration of the full moon, you can get Moonlight in the Meg for free.

Moonlight in the Meg

Old Towns and Research November 2, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, education, geocaching, ghost towns, history, hobby, ideas, music, New Mexico, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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After leaving LA, I dropped down to San Diego, mastered the (easy) trolley system and zinged down to their version of Old Town. Relatively recent compared with Santa Fe or even Old Town in Albuquerque (California’s was settled some 60 years later) But this is the first European settlement in California so was fodder for the western fiction research mill.

But I am on a different time zone so got to OT a couple hours before it opened. I took the $10 plunge and had installed the android geocaching app on my cell phone. The 2 hours gave me a chance to try it out. I found 3 caches, one in Presidio Park, another on 1769 Hill and yet one more virtual cache showing how metal rusts in salt air. By the time I had wandered around, it was opening time for the museums.

Life is tough all over. I had breakfast at a restaurant that boasted that it had been established in 2010. In today’s economy that might be long-lived. From here hiked up the hill to the Mormon Battalion Museum. Very slick, very cute girls in period costumes, interesting high tech video presentations, had the chance for some hands on examination of props since I was the only one in the “group” (not peak tourist season, I’d say), got a couple teeny gold nuggets, and was surprised when I asked about music of the era and one guide disappeared and came back later with a handwritten list taken from a contemporaneous journal. Very kind of her to supply this and info will certainly be used (but I’m not likely to order a free copy of Book of Mormon or send one to a friend). The Mormon Battalion has a monument between Abq and Santa Fe (and a geocache, btw) and it was good seeing the end of the 2000 mi trail in San Diego. Not sure I buy all the achievements of the Battalion but they might be true. Will look to see if they actually started the first newspaper in Northern California (California Star–ok, looks factual since Alta California grew out of CStar–founder Samuel Brannan was the first Gold Rush millionaire, but some conflation is going on. Brannan wasn’t part of the Mormon Battalion, coming around the Horn in 1846. And, hmm, this might be the second trailing The Californian from Monterey) or were responsible for first finding gold at Sutter’s Mill (but I certainly think they worked to build it so might well be true). All a bit before the time period considered the Wild West but great background.

On to Whaley House, supposedly the “most haunted” house in California or the US or somewhere. The best that could be conjured was it was built on an Indian burial ground. NM is built on an Indian burial ground, fer Pete’s sake. Nancy Holder later said it was the site of public executions. So why didn’t the period-dressed guide say this? Mostly like restored houses elsewhere in the West, but renewed my interest in writing a western that simply has no mass market. Ah, VIPub. When I get time. Mike Resnick ought to be proud–he had a lot of copies of The Buntline Special on the museum bookstore shelf.

To the World Fantasy Convention itself soon and the VIPub vibe building like a tidal wave there.

Mormon Batallion Museum

The Sporting Life December 19, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, hobby, ideas, nostalgia, science fiction, space, westerns, writing.
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Saturday here in Albuquerque the, uh, New Mexico Bowl was held.  This is the first of the 35 college bowl games and by most rankings the least of them, as well (neither of the invited teams had a winning season, which might contribute to that appraisal).  It was created so that the UNM team could go to a bowl game since they’d never be invited anywhere else.  And UNM won the first one four years back, but was not invited this year, in spite of a 1-11 record (2-22 for the past 2 years and if they are lucky they might make it 3-33 after the next season.  Football isn’t too big in town.  Anymore.  What few fans show up wear paper bags over their heads.  Really)

I am not much of a football fan in spite of working on four annual Fantasy Football magazines.  I leave that hardcore admiration to the real fans at Footballdiehards.

But sports plays an important role in every day life.  It gives us a chance to argue over something that doesn’t matter.  In most cases, our favorite teams will be back next week and not dead in some nameless alley.  And if, like the UNM team, you lose badly there’s always next year.  Hope springs eternal.  In UNM’s case, it’s the triumph of hope over experience.

A variation of rugby was first played in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton.  The running game was introduced by Harvard around 1874  and from this grew football like we see it today.  All my reading about the West doesn’t reveal any interest in the game–this was an East Coast obsession.  Baseball is another matter (and Johnny Boggs has written of this in his award-winning Camp Ford).

But future sports will certainly be part of life.  Inventing games can be fun (I did it in Burn the Sky) and one of my guilty pleasure from childhood is the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet series where “mercury ball” is an academy game.  Played like soccer, the added twist, so to speak, is a vial of mercury inside that sends the balls gyrating in unexpected directions.  And I seem to remember a space version of football in Asimov’s Lucky Starr books.  They used hand-held jets to propel the ball through goals set up in space.  And a lesser addition but probably the best in the Tom Swift, Young Inventor series was Robot Olympics and the basketball playing robot.

This just can’t match the Tom Swift Jr and His Giant Robot with its tennis playing humanoid ‘bots.

But the fun stories are those with humans actually playing.  Weird sports?  Got to have them.  Must invent them.


The Stumpgrinder and His Friends August 3, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in death, hobby.
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Only there weren’t any friends. Just the stumpgrinder. In April I had the carpenter guy out to look at the gate he had built a few years ago since said gate scraped along when it tried to open (it got so bad the FedEx guy would just throw things over the top–I didn’t even have to nail the gate shut to keep out Jehovah’s Witnesses and their Watchtowers, either). Not his gate, he said. The sidewalk was rising up.

Come now, concrete rising? He rehung the gate with an inch of clearance. Last week the gate refused to open. Again.

Harken back 30 years to when I still tortured trees (bonsai). I had tried to get a mountain mahogany to grow. It died in its pot but another teeny little volunteer shoot came up. A Chinese elm. When I moved 7 years later, I took a fair sized sapling with me. Three years after that I moved into the current house and put the elm in a now huge pot just inside the gate. Years pass, it grows slowly. Then about 8 years ago it goes berserk, breaks the pot and takes off on its own. I figure, let it.

It *really* began growing three years ago. No idea why but the last annular rings were an inch apart–each. I had the tree trimmed last year but it obviously needed some more severe pruning since the stucco was cracking on the wall and I had worries of the root stuffing itself under the foundation.

Severe pruning = removal. The stumpgrinder came out today with his chain saw. He was supposed to have friends but they never showed up. He began chainsawing away at the tree bit by bit. Then he finally got down to the base. He brought in the most humongous machine I’ve seen this side of a backhoe. The 50,000 hp engine kicked on with a roar and burned wood smell permeated the air as it chewed its way down into the stump, going lower, possibly knocking the stalactites off the roof in Pellucidar. Then he put in root killer, covered up the scene of the crime and left after 4 hours of work. The gate still doesn’t open, the cracks in the wall and stucco remain but…the tree is gone. Along with its 30 ft height, alas, goes morning shade for my office, which is already fiercely hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter (it’s above the garage) Tomorrow will give me some idea what I have to deal with since it’s supposed to nudge up to 90 again.

Pictures show the towering before and vacant after. Goodbye volunteer elm tree that outlasted all but one of my bonsai (the ming aralia done in literati form still flourishes). You were a companion for half my life.

Fans, Can’t Live With ‘em and… June 1, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in fantasy, hobby, VIPub, writing.

…a writer certainly cannot live without them. It might be the nature of the beast but it seems the Internet nurtures an especially nasty segment of commenters. I’ve sampled a couple sites where God of War fans dumped on the book and yet admitted not reading it. One that rather amused me was a comment that if anyone could make GoW come alive, it was Matt Stover–as long as his coauthor didn’t screw things up too badly. But had any of these people actually read the book? Nope.

And why should they? Playing a nifty game like GoW is an entirely different experience than reading a book. That the book is meant to flesh out rather than find new territory, gamers aren’t likely to see anything new or (to them) even interesting. Been there, done that. In a sense, I’m not sure who the book is aimed at. Completest? Possibly. But there is no way I (or anyone) could enhance the experience of actually playing the game.

The book is materially different from my Star Trek books. Those were new stories set in the same universe. GoW is the same story written rather than played. Someone unfamiliar with the game would likely enjoy the book far more than a dedicated gamer who has completed GoW3.

But why are the game fans so nasty about not liking the book? They could never be satisfied, so why not accept this and not waste time venting? There’s got to be something inherent in the gratuitous nastiness that feeds them. I came across a surprising instance on the Tom Swift newsgroup a while back. Came out of left field and singled me out (but he needs practice in the putdown–matching Don Pfiel’s reject of me “personally destroying the short story as an art form” will be the work of years and far more imagination than most flamers have.)

Only a writer can appreciate the odd flow that it takes to get a tie-in book into print–and how many people have “final say” who aren’t the author. Deadlines are always hurry up and wait. (GoW2 is going to be fun to do–cannot start until the synopsis is approved but best on that would be the beginning of July and the deadline for the completed novel is August 1–that’ll be 100K final book in a month to keep on the publication schedule). Not all suggestions that have to be followed will fit seamlessly. And books by committee are always a revelation as to what the final product is like compared to what it was like at the start.

I don’t read reviews because I disagree with the bad ones and think the good ones aren’t good enough. But fans. Got to love ‘em. They are, after all, why I’m a writer.

One recently sent me about the greatest thing ever. Dan H. up in Fargo sent a water geode. A geode with water still inside–but he had shaved off one end and polished a “window” in the interior so the water sloshing around was visible. Utterly fabulous.

It’s a tightrope to walk. Ignoring the fans who enjoy the putdown (or flame or whatever the new phrase is) and yet finding the great folks out there is part of the fun of being a writer.