A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Section 8 Used to Mean Crazy. Sometimes It Still Does.

Guns found in home hit by gunfireIn yet another incident, five shots were fired at 1410 Ferry St., one of them hitting a neighboring residence another hitting a parked car. The shooting took place about 3:56 p.m. on 20 Sept. 2016, about ten minutes after the school bus had dropped off a load of kids at that corner, including three sisters aged 7, 8, and 9 who lived at the targeted house.
This is only one block north and three blocks east of where spree killers passed through town a while back. Fortunately, the TOFian granddaughter no longer lives in the neighborhood.
The shooter was in a black or dark blue sedan, apparently driven by a woman and carrying three males. There were four people on the front porch at the time, including the 8-year old girl, who was doing her homework.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

TOF and the Lightning

TOF meant to comment a couple weeks ago, but God was stalking him.

On the way home from the surgeon -- last follow-up, hooray! -- driving along the south face of South Mountain (or whatever they call it out in the wilds by Allentown) lightning struck the hillside.

Just as we passed by, too. Missed us by maybe a couple hundred yards. It struck about halfway up the mountainside, the only time TOF ever had a close-up view of a lightning bolt, and about as close as he ever wants to have such a view.

It was a broad, white streak straight from sky to ground, no zig-zag, and the thunder was not the rolling thunder of a distant bolt but a sharp snap with clean edges, like sheet metal. There was of course no lag between the sight and the sound and, man, it was loud. It set no fire that TOF could see, but we tarried not.

The physical therapist commented when TOF saw her later that week that she had once treated a man who had survived a lightning bolt -- twice. This was a man from whom TOF would ask for a lottery number or a stock tip. Or not: there are different kinds of luck.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Just got word today that my 25 kiloword story "Nexus" has been accepted at ANALOG and will appear in the April issue. April of which year is unspecified. Woo, as they say, hoo.

It is a bit of an unusual yarn. Not, said Trevor, your typical ANALOG story. Naturally, I am thinking of ways I could have done better. 
This was the story that was prefigured here and in a few other spots. These drafts may have been altered since the posts.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Keeping Perspective

Hot Times in the Old Town

Speaking of forest fires:
The 1930s were the banner years for forest fires. In 1937, there was one forest fire every three minutes per the NY Times.

But in 1910, a few years after the Forest Service was formed and not on the above graph, "a devastating series of forest fires swept over Idaho, Montana, and Washington, culminating on August 20–21 in what is known as the "Big Blowup." Coming only five years after the U.S. Forest Service’s establishment, this seminal event made a deep and lasting impact on the agency. ... [T]he young agency was undermanned, underfunded, and underprepared for what was to come. ...  On August 20 hurricane-force winds swept through the region and fanned embers and low flames back to life all across the Northern Rockies. There was no stopping or containing the fire; one could only hope to avoid it. Trains raced to evacuate towns just ahead of the flames." 

Thus began the Forest Service's Smokey the Bear campaign to prevent forest fires. Unlike most federal programs, it seems to have been successful and involved among other things a program of "controlled burns" in Forest Service lands to clear out inflammable underbrush. About 30 years ago, TOF read an article about the end of the controlled burn program because it was non-environmental: Nature should be allowed to take its course, even if that meant occasional wildfires. Hey, it's Nature!

Lo and Behold! As the underbrush and deadwood once more accumulated, the number of burned acres began to increase slightly, starting roughly ten years ago. 

Flood and Mud

Fires were not the only thing going on.


Terrible Duststorm Rages In West


NEW YORK. Thursday.
A quarter of the area of the United States was
under flood waters today. It is a disaster ranking
with the worst calamities from natural causes that
have occurred in the history of the nation. Property
damage is so great that it is almost incalculable. Loss
of life may exceed 1000 for already 160 fatalities are
known and 40 people are missing.
As Eastern American States became almost
covered with water, terrible dust-storms raged across
the central and western States, tearing the crops out
by the roots and laying waste thousands of square
miles of country. Where the dust struck snow
storms, it rained mud.
So reported the Perth (Western Australia) Daily News on Friday, March 20, 1936
An extraordinarily dramatic
touch was given to the Presi-
dent's appeal to the nation for
Red Cross fund for, even as he
signed the proclamation, thous-
ands of Works Progress Admin-
istration workers were strug-
gling desperately to erect bul-
warks against the waters of the
Potomac River which rapidly
are approaching within a few
squares of White House itself.
Just in case you've been getting a-skeered by weather coverage lately.

Hurricane Season Off to a Whimper

Fascinatingly, the weatherfolk watching the tropical Atlantic have been reduced to reporting on a "scary," nameless "disturbance" (Invest 99-L) that might grow up to be a tropical depression that could deepen into a tropical storm that might be intensify into a hurricane that could reach Cat. One. This is because there has been, contrary to theory, a decided dearth of actual hurricanes to speak of for the past 11 years; although since we started naming tropical storms it does not actually seem so when one reviews the named storms. There is now a move to name tropical depressions in order to keep the count up. For now, the headlines will have to read:
An amazing stretch of almost 11 years without a major hurricane
may or may not be coming to an end.

Hot Enough Yet?

Speaking of heat waves, in 1936 a heat wave caused 12,183 deaths in the US, the NY Times reported (July 7, 1936)
The Chicago Tribune reported a week later (July 14, 1936) that hundreds had died in Detroit from the heat wave and that Chicago itself was also baking.Meanwhile, over in Ohio, the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune in Ohio (July 25, 1936) tells us:
with a sub-head that
Ach, du Lieber! TOF hears you ask, How many days went over 105°F?

Hard to say, but here is the graph of the percentage of US HCN temperature stations that hit that level sometime during the year:
So the 1930s peaked pretty dang hot compared to today's less extreme climate. Of course, Alert Reader will note that there will always be a few weather stations hitting the 105 point, roughly 15% of them.

The 1930s also featured worries about global warming

Warming Arctic Climate Melting Glaciers Faster, Raising Ocean Level, Scientist Says 
“A mysterious warming of the climate is slowly manifesting itself in the Arctic, engendering a "serious international problem," Dr. Hans Ahlmann, noted Swedish geophysicist, said today.

New York Times, May 30, 1937

A ship was reported to have made the Northwest Passage across open waters, but TOF has not located the report.

So, the world rallied and did nothing and before you could say Jack Robinson, the Times was reporting:

“After a week of discussions on the causes of climate change, an assembly of specialists from several continents seems to have reached unanimous agreement on only one point: it is getting colder.
New York Times, Jan. 30, 1961

 And just to emphasize the everything old is new again theme, 1938 was also the year Hilaire Belloc wrote his warming that Islam, though then quiescent could easily revive and threaten once more the cities of the West

The common root to all this is short term memory.
"[M]en are always powerfully affected by the immediate past:
one might say that they are blinded by it." -- Hilaire Belloc

Monday, August 15, 2016

TOF and the Fibers

Today when visited by a technician seeking the cause of the snap-crackle-pop on the house phones, TOF learned why there is no FiOS service in town. Unlike NJ, where if a provider wants to change from cable to fiber they simply do it, the Commonwealth in its wisdom requires that the provider get permission from the municipality before acting.

The municipalities know an opportunity when they see it and the City of Easton made it a requirement for installing fiber that the provider fund a new wing for the high school. Pay to play, indeed. Unfortunately, the value of the market being served is less than the cost of funding a wing for the high school and so the provider declined.There will be no FiOS locally until the extortion regulation is dropped. Thus, proving you don't have to be a Federal government to get in people's way.

You can see where the city is coming from. They want to point to the goodies they provided without the ugly necessity of taxing voters to pay for them.That would run the risk of the voters saying No in order to complain a few years later about crowding in the high school. (Sure, governments are stoopid; but so are voters.)

TOF recollects another example a few years ago in which a municipality demanded a bike path as the price for allowing a building expansion. And folks wonder why recoveries are sluggish. 

And just to complete the circle, when the technician called into the office to activate the fix he had already set up, the office had no record of the work order. So he had to unplug it and set up another appointment for a time when we won't be in the house.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Sobering Look

"The boys don’t just have better records, the women’s records wouldn’t likely qualify for the boys state championships." -- Joseph Moore

Why does this matter? Sports discriminates: women only compete against other women.

But US law now says that if someone "believes" he is a really-truly woman on the inside, he is entitled to enter women's locker rooms, rest rooms,... and engage in women's sports. How long before some young men catch on to this easy way to achieve Olympic greatness?