Friday, August 30, 2019

Still only 99 cents

Just a brief reminder that, as I push the second Dragon Speech book, Dragon Scales, through formatting and publication, The Language of the Dragon is still available for just 99 cents - or free, if you've got Kindle Unlimited. I think both books are fun, but you'll have more fun if you read them in sequence. So why not pick up The Language of the Dragon for light reading over the Labor Day weekend, and look forward to reading the sequel next week? Here's one more snippet from the first book to whet your appetite:


This language was definitely not Indo-European.
Nor was it Pashto, Uyghur, Kazakh, or any of the other languages common in Central Asia. I didn’t actually know those languages, but I could recognize them.
And it was barely even pronounceable.
“Q!z – girl,” I muttered. The string of phonetic symbols identified with “!” suggested something like a glottal stop followed by a hacking cough.
“Vlaad – becomes, is becoming.” Okay, at least that sounded like a real word.
“Bakhsh# - contented.” The hash mark meant… huh, he’d written it out, evidently despairing of phonetic symbolism. “Rocks clashing.” How the hell were you supposed to use soft human organs to make a sound like rocks clashing? I
gave it the old college try anyway, and felt idiotically pleased with my results. Heck, there was enough here for a complete sentence! I tried it out: “Q!x vlaad bakhsh#.”
A cloud must have passed over the sun just then; for a moment there seemed to be less light than before, and I felt as though gravity was swooping around wildly and pulling my bones in different directions. But despite that moment of disorientation, my stab at pronouncing the mystery language didn’t sound so bad – and apart from a sudden shooting pain above my right eyebrow, I didn’t feel so bad either. In fact, I felt quite gloriously contented with my lot on this earth, right down to my place on this shady deck overlooking the lake. I looked up into a deep blue cloudless sky, feeling as though I could float right up into it – if the sound of an arriving car hadn’t distracted me. Here, just to make my cup overflow, were the Stevensons at last. I dry-crunched some aspirin and headed down the curving stone steps from the deck to meet them at their car.
I began to feel somewhat less contented as I walked them through the house. Part of the problem was that small but persistent headache, which made it hard to concentrate on exactly where we were. I’m pretty sure we cycled through one suite of rooms and halls and outer decks two and a half times before I caught on and concentrated on going up the spiral staircase to the next level.
A larger problem, though, was that my loyal ex-student was looking less and less happy. Angie squealed (piercingly) with delight at each wacky architectural feature, and exclaimed at intervals that nobody they knew had anything like this house (doubtless true: I don’t think anybody else had given the architect-developer any money to play with after they saw this place). She even, engagingly, found parallels with Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture in the strangest bits of the house.
Trouble was, Bruce was the one with the family money. And the ambition. He’d achieved tenure in record time, and now he wanted a house that would position him as the obvious successor to the current chairman of the mining engineering department. As we made our way from porthole windows to spiral stairs to cantilevered decks I could practically see him thinking that a listed historical building in West Austin would fit his desired image better than this display of modern architecture running amok.
Which it probably would, but I didn’t have a listed historical mansion to show him. What I had was this house, and a growing hunger for the commission on this sale and its effect on my bank account.
I can’t think why I even tried it. I blame the headache, which aspirin had barely blunted, and the extreme effort of concentration required to keep in mind where we were in the sprawling house. I just didn’t have any mental energy left to tamp down my wild fantasies about how to make Bruce happy with the Harris house.
When he pulled Angie out onto a deck with a murmured apology, I didn’t have to eavesdrop to guess at the substance of the conversation. This was the place where Sensible Hubby reads the riot act to Exhilarated Wife, and I could almost hear that nice, fat commission taking wings and fluttering off to land in somebody else’s wallet. I would probably never again have clients who could afford a place like this.
That was when I pulled the notebook out of my tote bag, flipped it open and skimmed down the page I’d been reading.
Bummer – there were no words meaning “disgustingly rich clients” that I could shoehorn into that little sentence.
Oh, well, what difference did it make? I was trying to use magic, and since there’s no such thing as magic, I could make up my own rules. There was a word for “and”.
“Bruce dva Angie vlaad bakhsh#.”
The room darkened as though the lights were failing. I had the momentary illusion of being on a roller coaster or inside a gyroscope, with gravity pulling at me from crazy angles. The little needle of pain over my right eyebrow turned into a huge lance aimed right at the back of my eyeball. I groaned involuntarily and bent over for a moment, cupping a hand over my eye.
“Sienna, are you all right?” They were back inside already.
Eins, zwei, drei…“Never better,” I lied, forcing a smile. The headache had obviously settled in to torture me for the rest of the day, and now I was going to have to act happy with their decision to do something sensible instead of buying Whitney Harris’s white elephant. The girl was definitely no longer contented.
They were smiling too. Both of them.
“Bruce had his doubts, but I’ve convinced him that this is too good an opportunity to miss,” Angie announced buoyantly.
“Yes, well, I certainly understand…” I actually started the little speech I’d been working on, in which I pretended to be a good sport who didn’t want them to buy anything they might be unhappy with, before it dawned on me that Angie wasn’t saying what I’d been braced for. “I’m sorry, what?” Maybe the pain of this sudden migraine attack was making me hallucinate.
“We’d like you to convey our offer to the seller,” Bruce said.
He and Angie looked completely, gloriously contented with their decision.
I wasn’t.
The girl was scared stiff.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Of oysters, pearls, and woke mathematics

(Image from Pixabay)

The humanities departments of most universities appear to be hopelessly dominated by the Wisdom of Woke. Well, at least English and History and the social “sciences” seem to have gone that way. I haven’t yet heard about intersectional German or Russian in a feminist perspective; maybe the objective requirement to understand what your professor says in a foreign language, and to answer him comprehensibly in that language, has somewhat insulated those departments.

I’ve heard about some remarkably creepy stuff coming out of Classics departments, but I think they shot themselves in the foot years ago when, in a desperate effort to get more students, they started piling on more and more courses that didn’t require people to learn or read Latin or Greek; reading the great authors in translation, or worse, reading discussions of those authors, was enough to get course credit. I don’t know if they’ve reached the level of desperation of my high school Latin teacher, who offered extra credit to anybody who went to see Ben Hur, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that you can graduate with a B.A. in Classics even if you’ve never conjugated “Amo, amas, amat” and the works of Aeschylus are, well, Greek to you.

Until recently I thought the STEM subjects were insulated from wokeness and social justice by the expectation that students not only solve difficult problems but also get the answers right. I mean provably right by unchanging, rigorous standards that were stated up front, not “right” because you yammered nonsensical interpretations until the professor went home with a headache. Then I started seeing “silly season” stories coming out of STEM departments. Non-physics courses in Stanford’s physics department, so-called educators developing “mathematics” courses focusing on social justice, other so-called educators complaining that algebra and geometry perpetuate white privilege. (I am not making this up; references linked below.)

Initially I thought this sort of thing was so silly it couldn’t be anything but a passing fad. Then I started to worry that the final downfall of the academic world was upon us; if STEM departments substitute essays on inclusivity and diversity for actual work in the subject, will any department of a university teach anything at all?

Last night, though, for some reason I was thinking about the humble oyster, and a more cheerful interpretation came to mind. We all know what an oyster does when a bit of useless grit gets inside its shell. It wraps the grit in layer after layer of nacreous matter produced from its own body, effectively insulating the oyster from the unwelcome foreign substance.

Well, here are these beleaguered STEM departments, being beaten up daily because their student bodies do not exactly match the ethnic/sexual/racial makeup of the population as a whole, and under intense pressure to Make Diversity Happen regardless of the talents, preparation, and interests of the students they’re supposed to acquire.

I’ve known more than a few department chairs in math and physics departments, and in general they are extremely intelligent and very tough people with a special talent for shielding their departments from whatever nonsense the Dean is promulgating this year. (My father was one of those chairmen, and he told me that he considered his first task was to get the Dean under his thumb; then he could get on with turning an okay math department into a great one.)

Now, what might such a man do when the grit of Diversity and Social Justice infiltrates his department? One possible response might be to start creating layers that would insulate incompetent students and those who aren’t really interested in the subject matter from the real work of the department. Classes like “Diverse Perspectives in Physics” would naturally attract people who want to hang around the department and get course credit without doing any, you know, actual physics.
Please note that I’m not suggesting the departments push students into taking these non-classes based on their ethnic/sexual/racial identity. The last thing they want to do is to discourage any talented and hard-working student of any background. They don’t need to push the Diversity Admission Students into these classes. The good ones won’t be interested; only the stupid and lazy will be attracted. Offer the empty course, and they will come.

I fear the Diversity Police will be with us for a long time, and that in remarkably short order – less than five years, is my guess – it will be possible for students at some previously respected institutions to get degrees in physics or mathematics or electrical engineering without ever having encountered a laboratory or a theorem or an electron. The non-class classes will have insulated them from any real contact with their supposed subject.

Why do I think this is going to happen? Because approximately ten seconds after you give in to one demand from the Diversity Police, they have a new demand. Offer “remedial” and “social” classes until the required number of minority students sign up for classes in your department? The next thing you know, there’ll be loud complaints that the students who try to progress from Social Justice Engineering to actual engineering courses are flunking out in unacceptably large numbers… so you add another imitation engineering class that these folks cannot possibly flunk. And then the scandal will be that you’ve admitted all these minority students but very few of them stick with the subject all the way to graduation, so you must be playing some nasty racist trick to force them out.

And the only way to get the Diversity Police off your back will be to design a complete parallel track within your department, allowing students who are either unable or unwilling to do rigorous work to pass from one non-class to another until they have accumulated enough non-credits to graduate with that coveted STEM degree.

Let’s call those students pearls, shall we?

The promised links:

Physics and Diversity at Stanford
Teaching Social Justice through Secondary Mathematics
The Unbearable Whiteness of Algebra

Sunday, August 25, 2019

If only it were that easy!

DILBERT © Scott Adams. Used By permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved.

I like to say that I gained my first experience writing science fiction by writing bids and final reports for DOD and DOE, and that's not entirely false.

But you know what? Those papers required substantially less research than I did for Salt Magic and Tangled Magic, my Regency fantasy series. Even the Applied Topology series required research into the CIA, Central Asia, Greek folklore, and where to play poker in Barcelona - to name but a few subjects.

Then again, I like research, not to mention it generates plot ideas, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Space Opera in Real Life

( Image credit: PHL@UPR Arecibo (, ESA/Hubble, NASA.)

This morning I came across a science news story suggesting that some extrasolar planets could not only support life, but might do so even better than our own lively, teeming Earth.


Not surprised? After all, distant planets that support not only life, but human life, have been a staple of science fiction ever since astronomers ruined Martian canals and Venusian tropical rain forests for science fiction writers. But the notion has now progressed from wishful thinking to, well, possible-if-not-settled science. In my lifetime.

In 1989 astronomers said the the observed changes in velocity of Gamma Cephei were "consistent" with the existence of an orbiting planet. But "consistent with" is a long way from "definitely exists," and other events of 1989 overshadowed this weak evidence for most of us. (For the infants among us: we were busy watching the Soviet Union crumbling and the Berlin Wall coming down.)

Indirect detection methods strongly suggested (some people say, confirmed) the existence of a handful of other planets, but I think it was ten years before anyone saw one (transiting its parent star) and longer still before one was directly imaged. And that was a gas giant -- not a friendly neighborhood for life, or at least for any kind of life that we would recognize.

Many more extrasolar planets have been discovered since then. We've been able to make spectral analyses of some planets' atmospheres, and at least one was believed to contain an organic molecule. That would have been, oh, ten years ago? Around the same time, optical telescopes were able to image a few planets directly. As I recall, none of them were places you'd want to live, but they fueled speculation that such places might exist outside the solar system.

Many more planets have been discovered since then, some believed to fall within the habitable zone of their stars, some believed to have water.

So this paper isn't exactly a scientific breakthrough; at most, it represents the culmination of a lengthy process of deduction and discovery that has taken place over the last 30 years. But I'm excited. Space Opera lives! The Evil Space Princess and the Genocidal Warlord have somewhere to set their feet!

Now all we have to do is conquer that pesky little problem of traveling faster than the speed of light.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How to get on my personal blacklist

I spend too much time browsing the Internet.
Oh, wait, maybe it's not 'too much time.' How else would I run across videos of historical costume, or D-day imagined as in the Bayeux Tapestry, or the truly wonderful Regency dance site that I plan to feature in an upcoming post? Anyway, what else was I going to do with that time? Another set of knee exercises, whispers Conscience. Another inept swipe at marketing your books. Half an hour agonizing over a blurb for the next book...

Oh, go away, Conscience.

Anyway, as a consequence of all this browsing, naturally I've bookmarked sites. Lots and lots of sites. Lots and lots and lots of... oh, all right, Conscience. I promise to spend half an hour organizing my Regency research bookmarks. Soon.

A lot of these sites are other people's blogs, bookmarked for reasons like:

"Blogger A usually has some amusing snarky comment on the day's news."
"Blogger B has well-thought-out essays on topics that interest me, and what's more, she keeps her commenters civil."
"I like Blogger C's books so much that I'll read every word she writes, even when she chooses to write about her cats again."
"Blogger D's fiber art is so glorious that it makes me drool over the keyboard."

I don't officially "follow" many blogs because I don't like the notifications cluttering up my email, so mostly I check out Bloggers A, B, C and D by running through my bookmarks on a particular topic. And on periodic sweeps through the tangled mess of bookmarks, I delete or remove to Subfolder Purgatory sites that I realize I no longer visit with anticipation - in fact, I don't need the bookmarks any longer, because the only time I visit these blogs is when somebody else I'm reading posts a link to them. And half the time what has turned me off looking at a blog is not a Great Big Problem, just a minor irritant. These are some of the most frequent ones:

It's too hard to read. And I don't mean that the writing style goes beyond sixth grade English, I mean the format hurts my eyes. The blogger has chosen to put white words on a black background, or to use a pale gray font on a white background, and those words would have to be glorious indeed to persuade me to get a headache by squinting at them.

The unchanging header picture is so big that I have to scroll way down just to find out if the latest topic is something I'm interested in. No matter how beautiful your header picture is, try to bear in mind that I get to see it every time I visit your blog and I'm really more interested in what you've written lately.

Only posts every six months, if that. If the content is interesting enough, I don't need daily postings to make me keep taking a look; I don't check out many sites on a daily basis anyway. But there's a limit.

Those three little things cause more bookmark deletions than any content-based issues. Although I will add these things:

The eternal blog war. "Soandso said I said X, but he's a dirty rotten liar because I really said Y, and here's my clever response pointing out what an idiot he is, and look what a stupid thing he said after that..." Sigh. How about you and soandso go over to the infants' corner and work it out without dragging me in? If I've found your posts on other topics sufficiently interesting, I may check back in a few months to see if you've come back up out of that rabbit hole yet. Or I may not.

Anti-Semitism. One instance - just ONE - of cleverly referring to somebody with {{{ }}} around his name, and the bookmark to your blog is forever expunged from my list. Wiped with a cloth, if necessary. Or with BleachBit. Whatever works.

Shooting mosquitos with cannonballs. It's easy to write snarky reviews of beginning writers' books. Sometimes it's the only way to discharge the irritation built up by trying to read something so laced with technical problems that you were tempted to throw that expensive Kindle at the wall. But it's not nice to indulge in long screeds, however witty, at the expense of a newbie whom you call out by name and book title. Either discuss the general problem without pointing at the particular book, or keep your review to a short comment along the lines of "didn't appeal to me because..."

There are, doubtless, other irritants that drive me away from a blog, but that's probably enough kvetching for one day. All I really started out to say was:

Don't make me read white text on black.
Don't make me read tiny little gray letters on white.
Don't make me scroll past a massive unchanging header image.

Three modest requests, folks.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Regency version, from the skin out

I must have been half asleep or had my brain turned off for the last post, because when I did wake up it took approximately 30 seconds to find a Regency-era equivalent of that last video I posted, the one about getting dressed in the 1830's:

You'll notice there are fewer layers here. This walking dress with a redingote buttoned over it still seems like a lot to wear from my perspective (i.e., gently baking in a Texas August) but if I cast my mind back to chilly spring days in England without central heating, I don't think it would be too much. As for the diaphanous ball gowns like the one pictured at the top of this post, I sometimes wonder why Regency beauties didn't all die of pneumonia! Consider that drawers had yet to be introduced; ladies tended to reduce the petticoats under the ball dress to a minimum; and that some very "fast" ladies were reputed to dampen those petticoats the better to show off their figures... Yeah. Pneumonia. I'd never have made it in that society.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Getting dressed in the 1830's

I just happened across this wonderful video:

Getting Dressed in the 1830's

It's a bit later than the period I'm writing just now -- Regency ladies didn't wear so many underclothes, in fact their lack of petticoats was sometimes quite shocking -- but still interesting, particularly for the demonstration of the part played by the lady's maid.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Tiny snippets

Once again, I've selected bits of text and dialogue to highlight on Pinterest. Here are a few of them:

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