All posts by BobStrawn

Technology is a Bad Master

I love technology.  It is a wonderful toy and servant  I have at various times in my life designed, built and repaired equipment that used vacuum tubes and mechanical relays for logic. Let me brag for a moment. I have been a technician through a vast time of changes. In many ways, I see technology from a standpoint that is fully immersed in the history and structure of technology.

The problem with technology is complex.  At the very heart of it is a basic compromise.  Each step in that compromise is a sacrifice we rarely recognize at the time.  To show what happens, let me predict a few things in hindsight and then show that these things hold up as true for the future.  Technology first intrudes in our life as a toy. Then technology becomes a tool.  After it has become a tool, it then becomes our master.  I wish this were not true, but history tells me it is.

Cars were toys for the wealthy before they were tools to get places.  Now not spending a large part of your resources on having, maintaining, fueling and insuring a car is in popular perception, embarrassing. The song, “No Scrubs,” has a key repeated point about how worthless someone without a car is.  This change happened within my parent’s lifetime and things are just moving faster.

My father had no plastic toys growing up.  Such toys did not exist at the time.  My father did not have a toy that operated by the push of a button.  Imagine that day.

When I was a child there were a few children that had their own phone line.  Their families were considered wasteful, doting and wealthy.

Only twenty years ago cell phones were quite rare.  People had pagers if they needed to be contacted.  Now cell phones are electronic tethers that a lot of people would never imagine willingly being without.  I am quite sure that a lot of companies would make a note of anyone applying for a job without having their own cell phone number.  Not a positive note.  This change happened within the last twenty years.

So I sit at my computer, writing this post with an array of programs and tools running.  My desk is filled with conveniences and past conveniences I am loath to dispose of.  Perhaps it is because they are still somewhat convenient but they are no longer my master

Bob

 

 

 

Dark Precinct by Robert A. Taylor

Dark Precinct

Dark Precinct follows the day to day and night to night life of Vanessa Braden, a black female detective who was just assigned to cover an abnormal beat. A very enjoyable read. The author presents a detailed and complex world in an appealing manner. The characters are well constructed and the plot line is solid. It feels like a good episode of Castle with hints of MIB, Angel, Buffy and Forever Night mixed in.

This is a book by my brother in law, Robert A. Taylor.  I have know Robbie since he was 12.  Robbie is well read, thoughtful and creative.  So I must confess a bit of bias and connection in this review. I love this guy like a little brother!

 

Bob

Errant Knight by George Wier

Errant Knight
Errant Knight is a book I just read and reviewed on Amazon Kindle.
Shelby Knight is an ex-policeman who made mistake with a gun and let everything in his life fall to ruin. Then things take a turn for the worse and he is not sure who he can trust.
George Weir builds a character that is solid. I felt his emotions and his pains.
This is a gritty tale of distress, distrust and determination set in the grim lonely streets of Austin Texas.
Would I read it again? Not just would I, I did!
This is a book by George Weir. who writes the Bill Travis Mysteries and quite a range of other books.  He is also very special to me.  He is my brother in laws best friend from way, way back.  I have know George since he was 12.  He is a thoughtful, kind and humorous fellow.  Many a time we have fought together against dreadful foes.  But that is another story entirely.

Lettuce as a Complex Environment

I have been harvesting lettuce seed recently. Usually I just put a palm below one of the dandelion like flowers and with the finger tips of the other hand, massage the ripe seeds from the flower. The ripe seeds fall right out, along with a bunch of chaff.

As a child, I used to go out in boats with my father. He was a professor of ichthyology, he studied fish. We would go out with buckets of formaldehyde, to preserve our catches. One of the most interesting tasks we persued was collecting samples of all the camouflaged life that was teeming in the seaweed. Tiny shrimp, crabs, fish, insects and sea horses blended into the seaweed that was quite thick with all the creatures. If all of them just ate the seaweed, it would have been gone quickly. Instead these creatures mostly hid in, filtered from, hunted, cleaned and on occasion, ate the seaweed. It was a balance forged over the ages.

Several years ago, I planted a bunch of lettuce from every source I could. I wanted to find the single lettuce that did best for me, and tasted the best. This way, I could raise one lettuce and have pure seed each year. My test was a failure. Too many lettuces were delightful, but did not fare well. Too many were not quite what I wanted. A lot did not germinate evenly or at all. Some varieties fell prey to insects instantly, some could not take the weather. I enjoyed a lot of them, but I resigned myself to buying seed each year and not keeping a variety. I let a bunch of them go to seed hoping to play with a hybrid, but I did not know how or when to harvest the seed, I let it dry out completely and rain spoiled most of my chances to figure it out.

So you know, keep watering the lettuce, when the parasols on the seeds open up, preparing to catch the wind, then the seed is ripe. You can pull them out by the parasol, or gently roll the still green flower base, and free the seeds.

The next year I had a bunch of volunteers come up. After sampling a few leaves, it was clear that this romaine was just what we wanted. You can take mature leaves off and it keeps producing for months, it is just sweet enough and just bitter enough to be perfect. The stem is crunchy the leaves are tender, it does great in a salad or on a sandwich, so here it was, a gift from nature, the lettuce of my dreams.

So now I grow huge amounts, remove the plants I don’t like for one reason or another, and let them go to seed, so I keep a broad genetic base, and always have extra seed. I suspect that when I got all that lettuce seed, I got something else. Something that a lot of people would never have noticed. Most people spray or pick the entire plant, and never see it go to seed.

A lettuce plant can grow tall, and live for a long time while producing seed month after month, if it is kept healthy. As you can see from this picture, it is a big mass of buds, seeds, leaves and stems. On this mass is a resin of sorts, so it is also sticky.

Lettuce gone to Seed

This time I decided to go for a huge mass of seeds. I bent the heads over a large steel bowl, and then worked each of the dandilion like flowers with my fingers. the ripe seeds fall right out and split from their ‘parasol.’ I shook the entire head and gently rubbed the slightly sticky resinous mass with my hand dropping even more seeds into the bowl.

I collected an amazing amount of seed, although it does not weigh much. I was just finishing when my wife called me to supper. After supper I went out to sift the seed from the chafe and pack it up. The seed was filled with bugs. The bugs blended in, but the surface was alive with the mass of moving bugs. I stopped counting different critters at about 9, as I was not sure if I was repeating or getting different ages mixed up. Apparently my lettuce is like the seaweed I picked through in my youth. The bugs are not as striking and wierd, they are mostly off white, pale green or barely yellow. But the same principals are here. The neat thing, is that my lettuce appears to be insect free. I get nice big leaves, and lots of seeds. So here in my yard is a Sargasso sea if you will. A complex environment.

I do not mind the bugs one bit. And while I can claim some rights as I am the one that prepares the soil, plants and waters these treasures, there is a balance here, that predates me. There is a symbiosis and an entire biological system in the lettuce I grow, that makes me a bit player. They patrol, protect, and preserve their home, my lettuce in ways I do not know. These critters do it for a living, I am just here for the lettuce.

Bob

Pirate Garden a Java Game

PirateGardens22Menu

Methinks java is dying.  Web pages no longer support it.  Google mail won’t send JAR files.  There is little love for Java now.   Interestingly enough, the media system for WordPress will not upload the JAR file.  It seems that to many problems have happened and that Oracle has not bothered to maintain a standard of security for the programming system that others can still support.

PirateGardens22Desert

So here is the thing.  I have a nice zip file with the build files and the jar inside.  PirateGarden22  I really want to convert the game to another system, but I think it will be easier to rewrite it from scratch.  I leave it here as an interesting thing.  I wish java were a trustworthy platform, but I think the game should be done in javascript.

PirateGardens22Maze

 

In any case, I learned a lot from putting it together and had a lot of fun with it.  I still go back to it for fun regularly, for me it never really gets old.

PirateGardens22Lava

Headgames III: Gossamer and Goblins

BookCover3 Mathed

The Third book of the Headgames series, “Gossamer and Goblins,” is currently being edited. At 117,100 words I found a good ending so I am stopping it at that point. I believe a book should have a good ending even if it is in a series.  It takes a bit of folding around of the plots and subplots to place a decent ending in a series. I think it is an effort worth making. Part of the “contract” between a writer and his reader is one of trust. When a reader goes through several books in a series there is an element of trust that the author will not cop out, fumble or otherwise mangle the ending. I am not generally a harsh judge of a book, but if a book ends on a weak note, the writer has to have had some pretty fine content for me to want to repeat the experience with a new book of theirs.

This book is one of the least serious examinations of free will that you can find. While it further examines the ramifications of destiny, free will and choice, I am not entirely sure that readers will notice. It seems more like a romp exploring the ramifications of having doorways into Fairy.

It also expands the examination of the battleground of church potluck meals that “Headgames II” started. Most importantly this book introduces one of my wife and my favorite characters, Dinodude.  Not the fellow you see on the cover, the cover picture is obviously Ben.

Now that I have finished the book, the editing begins.  While I crank out the words, I concern myself with plot, balance of mood and and a pathetic attempt to keep things simple. So I am done with writing the story and I think is a good story, Sadly though, that is not enough. I still have to try and make what I wrote conform to the rules of English. I also have to try and make things understandable and a bit less convoluted.

From the way it is shaping up I suspect this story will run to five or six books.  When it looks like the tale is complete I plan to move to other writing projects.  I will miss this one, I am beginning to get very fond of the characters and the world they live in.

Bob

Happy New Years! The second pass on editing is now half way done! The book is now 117,000 words.  I am enjoying reading this story now that I have finished it.

Book 3 Stone Matched 3

Headgames II: Myths and Mandolins

Headgames II: Myths and Mandolins

The Second book of the Headgames series is now available on Kindle.

Ben is a thirteen year old boy who is suffering from poisoning, a missing leg and a missing eye. He has been forbidden by his doctor from entering Fairy until he gets over the poisoning and his bowel issues.

His immortal grandmother has recently passed away and will be needing a new body soon, so arrangements have been made to get Grandmother’s ancient skull to Caroline, a girl that Ben has loved since he was five, so that Grandmother can have a new host body.

Ben is setting off to go to sea in a ship crafted in Fairy by his little brother, Bran the Blessed, an ancient Giant from British prehistory. Hopefully, Ben can survive a few weeks of gently sailing while developing a tan.

In this book, Ben meets the Dark Fairy, Giant Spiders, Death, and Loki as he continues following his ancient destiny.

I sincerely hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Bob

 

Headgames I: Fates and Fairies

Headgames I Fates and Fairies

 

The first book of the Headgames series is now available on Kindle!

This story is about Benjamin Gray, a small twelve year old boy who has lived in fear most of his life. He has managed to smile and put one foot in front of the other despite his strong suspicions that this year may be his last.

It is February, 1977 and Ben has been summoned to visit his grandmother at her Winter House.

The Winter House is where the family keeps all the insane and infirm members of the family.  Ben has stayed at the Winter House every summer since he was five and managed to make friends with his sad and broken relatives.

He fears that he will soon be joining his insane relative as one of them.  That or be buried in the family cemetery where so many of the older stones are for children who died when they were only twelve. Ben has good reason for his fears. He has more than a few relatives with rather scary plans for him.

In a dark stone chamber, deep underground, Ben is about to meet the Fates, the three creatures that the Gods of old feared.

But doom is not what the Fates have planned for Ben.  Soon he will be protecting his family from Goblins, negotiating with Fairies, dealing with Daemons and getting along with girls.

Despite the odds, Ben has a strong advantage. The Fates are on his side.

 

Headgames the Book Series

Book 1 cover in stoneI have been exploring concepts that are shared in tales that cross cultures.  Many of them have quite a bit of similarity.  There are tales that resonate in ways, we as humans cherish. These stories have become common folk lore for more than a few civilizations.  Many of these have been created almost the same despite gulfs of time, space, culture and language between them. Still others have been heard from travelers and adopted entirely into their new home.  Some are remembered from so far back that the common origins are forgotten.

While exploring these iconic legends my wife and I started to create a fairly horrific and perpetually topical common theme in several of the sets of fairy tales and mythologies.  We bantered these tales between us and misplaced or forgot as much as we remembered.  While she was quite ill, I started writing this as an entertainment for my ailing wife.

I was also inspired by Mariachi music.  Sad horrid tales of loss sung bravely and brightly.  So instead of horror, I used all of the elements of horror while making a bright tale of constructive choices and high convictions told by a young boy on a background of ancient dark secrets and plots.  By telling this story with elements taken from slacker movies with a bright mood overall, I am trying to sneak in the same essence of provocative thought that my wife and I have had discussing and arguing these tales between us.

A Fantasy book is an interesting thing. It describes a chosen metaphysics and physics and expects you to follow along with a theology that is rarely one we would choose in life.  In this way fantasy is a bit subversive.  As fantasy starts to incorporate faith and religion as many fine fantasy stories do, it is inevitable that these intriguing and often dark twists will lift the corners of beliefs that we have firmly tacked down. I delight in this. I feel that a faith should be examined. I prefer a living faith or even no faith at all to one that has been pasted in place. Religions, like politics, when accepted without understanding or compassion, have a bad history of leading towards war and hatred.

With this story that incorporates, ancient myth, fairy tales and a range of belief systems, I have set it in another seemingly mythical setting.  The year 1977.  This is the year that Apple, Commodore, and Radio Shack started selling computers to people.  This is a time when phone books and paper maps were the guides to a city.  This is a time when no one had cell phones.

This is the year that the movie “Star Wars,” changed the movie industry and experience.  Before this year, only avid readers cared about fantasy or science fiction.  Before this year, people often made the choice to stop being nerds as they grew up, since nerds were in many ways a persecuted minority. In 1977, Speed Racer, Gigantor and Astroboy were the only anime that anyone in the States knew of. Comic books where something that people gave up early. Even in Japan, Comic books were considered a fringe habit that one should give up as one matured.

For me, 1977 is even more magical. I met and married my true love that year. It is for her that these stories are written.

I give you the story of Ben, a twelve year old boy who will, I hope, become as dear to you as he is to me.

Bob