Write What You Know

How can you write about inventors without trying to invent something? I’m not talking about slapping something together on a lark. I’m talking about dedicating part of your life to making something that’s never existed before. That last sentence sounds a lot like novel writing.

To often the story has the inventor grab things off the shelf and make a gadget that saves the day. Deus ex machina. And the thrown together invention always works, never fails and does the job completely.

Inventing is a struggle. Day after day and long into the night the determined inventor battles to overcome what others just excepted. overlooked, or ignored.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but they never mention that bastard cost, the dead beat father of creation. The Wright brothers sought out every book they could get on heavier than air flight. Then they did experiments and found that the “Book” on flight by a famous German scientist was wrong, based on experiments with equipment they constructed.

Tesla used higher mathematics to build his inventions. It takes work to invent, not tinkering.

Go read the Popular Mechanics article on Van Halen and his inventions concerning guitars and music. Don’t touch that big blue thing.

Sometimes progress is measured in explosions and the learning is if you survive the blast and don’t do it again.

Stay strong, write on, and invent.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Sometimes you have to set aside what you want to do, to do what you want to do

Authors often brag about hiding in their writing cave scribbling away, not seeing sunlight for days, not socializing, just cranking out words.

I must be a lousy writer. I run six to seven zoom meetings a month. One set of meeting for a screenwriting group and another for an amateur radio club I belong to. I’m president of the club and it’s hard work trying to keep the club from falling apart when you can’t hold face to face meeting or even see other club members. Some of the club members are older and have health problems, and they’re lonely.

I’m also on the hook to deliver a talk on How Antennas Work on Friday. Let’s see you try to describe a complex physical phenomena (electromagnetic propagation) to a group of people without using mathematics. To paraphrase Horace Greeley; describe a spiral staircase, without using your hands … in sign language. I’ve got three days to get this talk ready.

What could be more important than writing. A life long dream. Since high school, I wanted to bounce radio signals off the moon. Not many people can do it or have done it. It takes skill, learning, and work. My family, school, job and things in general got in the way. In the last four years I have lost family and friends. I’ve come to realize that my time here could come to an end any second now.

So I have plunged head first into this thing called Earth Moon Earth communications. I have built and purchased antennas only to discard them for better ones. I have purchased new wireless equipment. Upgraded almost everything in the system. I’m getting close, but so much more needs to be done. I’m running on a lack of sleep. I go to bed sore and exhausted every night.

My life is out of balance, but I will bounce signals off the moon.

Hey I wrote a book, EME can’t be any harder.

Live your life to the fullest. It’s the only one you got.

Stay strong, write on, and reach for the sky, even if it’s only the moon.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Saying goodbye to the Funnies

Saturday was sad. Two newspaper comic creators/spearheads announced they were retiring.

That’s not bad. If you plan and live below your means, and save a little money then retiring is great.

But during these times I need all the humor I can get. And the comics won’t be the same without those creative genius I have lived with for decades.

Sure someone else will carry on, but it’s not the same. They won’t have the same quirks and humor.

From what I can figure out it was one guy, partnered with others doing two comics, who retired. So enjoy your retirement Gary and thanks for the laughs from Shoe and Pluggers.

Also thanks to, too Howard Taylor of Schlock Mercenary. He’s not retired but the 20 year long strip has come to an end and he’s taking a break till he starts another strip.

In a way I feel like I’m losing friends. Long time friends.

There are others; Johnny Hart, Tom K Ryan,and Bill Walterson.

We need other to step in and make this a happier world. Instead the new comic creators are into making it edgier, real. That’s all the rage and all I see.

Come on Chris Fox I need another The Dark Lord Bert novel. I know you need to feed your family, but reading about people and things that can snap their finger and destroy a world is not going to lift by spirits.

Stay strong, write on.

Bacon, coffee, and a good book. Life is good.

Professor Hyram Voltage

You are good, You are real, It’s OK to have an option

A friend submitted a piece to a newsletter, and he’s ashamed of it. In the piece he expressed his opinion. Those opinions are not the the groups opinions.

His opinions are not immoral or criminal. They’re his opinions. Why have the politically correct police made having an opinion a horrendous slight against humanity?

I find stories that are politically correct boring. If everything is perfect there is no conflict.

Look at the best sellers. They’re stories about serial killers brought to justice, even if the hero has to break the law to bring the murders to justice. They’re stories about magic. You can’t have magic because religions forbid it and you have to respect all religions. You can’t have romance stories because it’s shows improper actions to under aged children.

Are we doomed to have the history books rewritten to say that WWII was fought over slavery?

Are your stories going to be banned, outlawed, by a self appointed overseer, when you include a scene out of a real life incidence, when the scene does not meet the overseer’s idea of moral correctness?

Are we on the edge of becoming the Fahrenheit 451 world?

It’s not against the law to have a opinion. It’s not against the law to say something that someone can twist to mean you promote a horrible act.

Are we going to be slaves of the Politically Correct? Are we going to be slaves to the protestor that threaten you with revenge, if you talk to the police about a murder that happened in a police free zone? Are we going to be slaves to trolls that hound people till they commit suicide?

We are fiction writers. We are the last free people.

Stay strong, write on.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Comets, Immortality, and Salads

Sometime you read a story and it’s not great, maybe forgettable. But the book has an idea and that idea has legs.

Gallagher’s Glacier has a standard plot of asteroid miners treated like slaves rebelling. One of the heroes of the story builds a space ship out of a comet.

Using the fuel or a comet for the body of the space ship has been used in stories again and again. Even today they talk of mining water on Earth’s moon for life support and fuel.

After having a space craft land on a comet it is now a plausible idea to make a space ship out of a comet. Until the landing we didn’t know if the dirty snowball of a comet was solid enough to support anything. The comet lander could have sunk into the surface of the comet.

I can also remember the description of an asteroid made into a spaceship as being made out of one of the more craggier asteroids. Who would of thought, back in the 1950s or even 1980s, that asteroids have craters and lose boulders laying around on the surface.

With modern insulating materials, a comet would make a good interplanetary space ship. With a fusion generator it would make for a interstellar spaceship. Have fuel will travel.

In his Instrumentality series Cordwainer Smith’s has a society that has developed immortality, but limits it to certain people. The age is coming where any device can be duplicate and any medicine can be cloned, I don’t see how the immortality drug could be kept secret.

I always wanted to see stories about secret laboratories on back water planets that were trying to break the mystery of the immortality drug. Or stories attemps to steal the drug. The planet it was made on would be heavily guarded and being the only place where the drug was would be a target of vengeance. Also an example of not putting all your eggs in one basket.

How much would someone pay to live 400 years? How sneaky could you be to get the drug?

The stories would not sell today since the animal derived people in the stories had no rights and were almost slaves.

Still the series investigates what a society would do if immortality was developed. Some books had you earn credit to buy time to live. The Instrumentality stories had a set time limit for that immortals could live. Somewhat Logan’s Run.

The usual add;

Recipe

Salad with bacon bits.

No salad with bacon strip.

Ingredients;

1 bag of salad greens

1 bottle of salad dressing

1 slice of bacon

Directions;

Place handful of greens on plate.

Top greens with two tablespoons of dressing.

Place strip of bacon along side salad.

Writing is Hard. So Why is being Forced to Stay Home Making it Harder?

I am not getting much done on my books. I have health problems and ‘m forced to stay home and away from people. So why can’t I get more writing done?

You would think that forced isolation would be great for a writer. But even introverts need social contact. Two weeks ago I ran two zoom meetings and participated in two other zoom meetings. Last week it was three zoom meetings. To show you how I feel about zoom meetings, like the one I’m running tonight, here’s a quote from a play you won’t recognize; “It’s not the same, captain. It’s not the same.” or “Last Thanksgiving was awful, just a food supplement pill with turkey written on it.” Zoom meetings are great but they’re not the same as being there.

The above line is important. A recent NPR broadcast said most millennials have not watched or seen “Gone With the Wind”. Young people do not care, or resist, or hate anything older than they are. This is good for writers. Young people want new stories. (and yes I know of one writer that takes old stories form the thirties and forties, doctors them a little and sells them).

With all these people looking for new stories it is the greatest time to be a writer. All those old writers aren’t selling and are not competition for today’s writers. Who’s going to read a book from the seventies, even a classic, that story is so last millennium.

So what’s keeping me from my writing. Is it the old problem in psychology, where you have to heal yourself. Like how do you stop acting a certain way or stop thinking a certain way. It doesn’t work that way. People are not a light switch. Maybe my friends and family are more important than my writing. Maybe I am more important than my writing. Maybe I have a lot of things to do that are not writing.

I haven’t eaten out in three months. No take out or delivery. I have made two trip of 13 miles in the last three months, and one of those was to a doctor’s office. Other than that, I go to the grocery store once every two weeks, and I worry that I will mess up and get the virus every time I step out the door.

And you know what, I am lucky. I have a friend who is over 80 years old. He can’t leave his house. He has people that make sure he doesn’t step out the front door, and it’s starting to get to him. (80 percent of virus fatalities are people over 80).

You think being stuck at home is bad. In college I got a letter. It said the deferment for the draft for college students was cancelled and I was 141 on the draft list. Not only was I not going to graduate, but I was going to be sent off to where there was a good chance I would be killed, like so many of my friends and family. So if you’re a writer, then write. If you’re a reader, then read. And yes, it can be worst.

Recipe

Fudge in 5 minute

Ingredients:
1 cup 12 ounces evaporated milk
3 1/3 sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup nuts
3 cups small marshmallows
12 ounces package chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions:
Line 9 by 9 inch high sided pan with wax paper or butter bottom and sides of Pyrex dish.
Butter sides and bottom of large skillet. Add milk, sugar and salt to skillet. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for for five minutes.
Remove from heat and add marshmallows and chocolate chips. Caution the mixture is hot. Stir until marshmallows and chips are melted.
Stir in vanilla and nuts. Pour into buttered or wax paper lined disk.
Let cool over night. You can refrigerate for several hours to speed up cooling.
Cut into small squares.

Stay strong and write on, and hang in there.

Professor Hyram Voltage

A Talking to People Contest and Cinnamon Rolls

Last week I attended four zoom meetings. Three of the meeting I hosted. Of those three meetings, two of them I generated an agenda and after the meeting I generated minutes.

So what did I do this weekend. I competed in a contest to talk to as many people, one on one, as I could, using radios. In this contest I get to use the highest frequency radios I have. Up to five gigahertz. My 10.7 gigahertz radios need repair. That’s not cell phones either.

This was a nation wide contest, although I would have gladly talked to anyone around the world. The atmospheric conditions only allowed me to contact stations in Canada and Mexico. Still that a thousand kilometers away.

Why would I sit for a day and a half working with a computer controlled (no internet was used) radios talking to people. Because it’s fun. I also get bragging rights, about how many people I talked to, how good my equipment worked.

I now have plans for the next contest in August. I have to get the 10.7 gigahertz radios fixed. I gotta figure out the fine details of using SDR radios. I need to get the 55 foot tower up, but city hall is closed and I need a building permit. There are bugs in the system to work out. And I have to try out everything before August. You don’t go into a contest without a dry run or the contest will be a lot less fun, with easily avoidable headaches.

The standard old add; Buy my book;

Recipe;

The bread making is getting under control. The last loaf was not as light as I would have liked. But it’s good enough to get eaten. The dough is very sticky after being mixed. The loaf did fall a little when I put it in the oven. Next time I taking some of the dough and making cinnamon rolls.

Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

1 cup milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
3 1/3 cups bread flour plus flour to flour working surface and hands
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Filling:
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 dash of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped and lightly toasted nuts

Preparation:

Gently warm milk (place cup of milk in microwave for 30 seconds (at 1000 watts, you want warm milk, not icy cold or boiling hot.). Add milk to bucket in bread machine. Add sugar to milk. Add yeast to to mixture. Lightly beat egg and add to mixture. Let mixture set for three minutes.

Add flour to mixture. Add salt to top of flour. Do not let salt get into liquid.

Set bread machine to dough cycle.

When cycle is finished, scoop dough out onto floured table top or other working surface. Knead dough about 1 minute, then let rest 15 minutes.

Roll dough into a rectangle, about 15 x 10 inches.

Spread 1/4 cup melted butter over dough to within 1 inch of edges (use brush if you have one). Mix sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar, the cinnamon, nutmeg, and sprinkle (I use an old aluminum shaker) over buttered surface. Now distribute chopped nuts evenly over dough.

Roll dough up tightly on long side. Press edges to seal and form into a 10 to 15 inch long, evenly shaped roll. With a knife or 8 inch long piece of dental floss, cut roll into 1 inch pieces. Place rolls cut side down into a greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Cover with towel and let rise in warm, draft free place until double in size, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Preheated oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on rack for 10 to 15 minutes.

To make icing. Combine 1 cup powdered sugar with 1 to 2 tablespoons milk and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Stir until smooth. If too thin or too thick, add more powdered sugar or milk, respectively, until desired consistency is reached. Drizzle icing over rolls. Let icing firm up.

Cut rolls apart and remove from pan.

Stay strong, write on, and in this time of isolation, reach out and talk to someone. Even if you’re an introvert and need a contest to get you to talk to a stranger.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Tired of Reading Bang-bang Shoot Em Up Spaceopera?

May I recommend a literary science fiction book written by a philosopher.

Olaf Stapledon was a British philosopher that wrote science fiction books in the 1930s. These are not fast paced, light-reading, but his books influenced many later science fiction authors. He introduced many ideas to science fiction.

His book Odd John started the whole mutant super human trope that also appear as heroes in comic book. The trope got very over done in the 1970s.

His writing is in the style of the 1930s. It’s flowery, at times even purple prose. Strunk and White railed against overly flowery writing in their book the The Elements of Style. If you don’t have a copy of the Elements of Style, get one and read it, very couple of months. My English teachers told me that over and over.

His book The Star Maker has been called a history of the universe. A big statement. When he wrote the book, Black Holes were a mathematical concept. It was not until 1958 that a book came out that made Black Holes a popular concept. In the 1930s liquid fueled rockets were just being experimented with and some people argued that they could not work. The V2 would come crashing down on that idea a few years later. Galaxies had just been determined to be object like the Milky Way, not part of the Milky Way. There were no Cell Phones back then, it was primitive.

So plow through one or more of his books. You will find that ideas we think of as modern go back a long ways.

Someone has to thinks the books are good. They are out of copyright, but Amazon still charges top dollar for them.

Recipe.

I’m baking another loaf of bread. I’ll let you know how it came out next week.

Bacon recipe

Sugar Crisp Bacon

Ingredients
1 pound thick-cut bacon
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup brown sugar
Optional thin, very thin sliced apple pieces
Direction

Stay strong, write on, and make it with bacon.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Lunch with Ray Bradbury and Peanut Brittle

I had lunch with Ray Bradbury back in the 1970s. I know, that was before you were born. Still he was one of the classic science fiction writers. He sold his first story in 1938 so he had been writing for a long time before I first met him.

He considered himself a fantasy writer rather than a science fiction writer. But with a book titled The Martian Chronicles I still think of him as a science fiction writer. (Someone once said that Mr. Bradbury admitted that he knew when he wrote the book that Mars was nothing like he was writing about).

What did he have for lunch. I don’t remember. I do remember that I asked all the usual dumb questions people ask famous writers. I was young, but I had never been to a science fiction convention. I had read every science fiction book in the town’s public library, and had asked the ladies that ran the library to get more science fiction books. I had read all of my friends Analog magazines because I couldn’t afford my own subscriptions. Not bad for someone that grew up in a small town in the middle of the desert.

I didn’t know anything about writing or writers. I still don’t, but I have come to believe that nobody knows nothing about writing.

Example; have you every stopped reading a story because it was written using the snowflake method of plotting instead of the three act structure method? Would you care. Of course not, you, the reader, want a good story.

Mr. Bradbury once said, “Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.”

Can you tell if Harry Potter was written with a three act plot structure? Do you care? Does it matter?

If you’re anything like me you just want another good story to read. But most people have and hard time telling someone what a good story is. “I know it when I see it,” just doesn’t cut it.

Me, I’m going to follow the foot steps in the snow. I don’t want to see what’s coming. I don’t want formula.

Was it a waste to have lunch with great writer. No, it made for good memories and a learning experience.

Recipes;

I have cut back on my bread eating this week. All this stay at home stuff is hard on the old waist line. I didn’t make a loaf of bread this week.

I’ve got a sweet tooth. Not a good thing to have while locked in a house.

Peanut Brittle
Microwave directions. The cooking times vary based on the wattage of your microwave.

Cook Time: 9 Minutes
Prep Time: 7 Minutes


Ingredients
⦁ 1 cup sugar
⦁ 1/2 cup light corn syrup
⦁ 1/8 teaspoon salt
⦁ 1 1/2 cups shelled raw peanuts
⦁ 1 tablespoon butter
⦁ 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⦁ 1 teaspoon baking soda

Preparation
Lightly grease baking sheet.
Microwave first 3 ingredients in a 2-quart glass bowl on HIGH 5 minutes, using an 1100-watt microwave oven. (Microwave 1 more minute if using a 700-watt microwave.)
Stir in peanuts. Microwave 3 more minutes in an 1100-watt oven (add 1 more minute in 700-watt oven). Stir in butter and vanilla.
Microwave 45 seconds in an 1100-watt oven (add 1 more minute in 700-watt oven) or until candy is the color of peanut butter.
Stir in baking soda (mixture will bubble). Working quickly, spread hot candy in a thin layer onto a lightly greased baking sheet using two metal forks.
Cool completely. Break candy into pieces.

Stay strong, write on.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Isaac Asimov, D-rings, Fusion, and Predictions

You’ve heard of the old axiom of write what you know. Don’t buy into it. Issac Asimov was a teacher at a college and wrote Science Fiction. If you have not read his books you should try some. He wrote over 200 books, but many were hard science books.

He wrote about space ships traveling between star systems before a man was put into orbit. Yet he did not drive a car nor would he fly in an air plane. He past away in 1992 so there were airplanes and car around during his life.

He wrote about artificial intelligence, except his AIs had arms and legs and we called them robots or androids. Yet he was a chemistry teacher. I have yet to see anyone propose forcing developers to incorporate the three laws of robotics into AIs.

He wrote about young people on Mars. See the Lucky Star books. These books were written back in the nineteen fifties and are said to base the main character on the Lone Ranger. The story is set 7000 years after 1944. That is a lack of imagination. I don’t know if it was the author thought that the public would not believe that Mars could be settled in reasonable time frame. It only took 200 years to establish a permanent settlement in America. And, back then, open ocean ship travel was as risky and dangerous as space travel is today.

In his Caves of Steel series of books he wrote about man made covered cities. He knew big cities from living in New York. But the New York he grew up in was not as crowded as it is today. You have to assume that they had conquered disease in those futuristic stories.

Back in the fifties using fusion (putting atoms together), the opposite of fission (splitting atoms apart), for generating cheap power was just twenty years away. It’s now thirty years away.

What about D-rings? In the foundation series of books he has a futuristic civilization that has cheap power. These were written in the nineteen fifties so the power was atomic based, but in place of reactor piles he used D-rings. In the 1930s the first man made radioactive particles were generated by cyclotrons. Inside a cyclotron are two container shaped like a half a pancake. The insides of the containers are drawn down to a high vacuum. At the time it seemed possible to make a power generator out of them. Instead we are still using reactor based on the 1950s style reactor pile design.

In the Asimov books the D-ring power generators last for thousands of years. In real life reactors last twenty to thirty years, but are granted extensions. The still wear out and we haven’t figured out what to do with them when we junk them out.

Predicting the future is hard. There are always black swans. And people, even science fiction writers, can have narrow vision. Two years ago they were selling a rifle that was guaranteed not to miss the target under a set of conditions. How’s that going to mess up your space opera if the guy that shoots first always hit his target? Just point your gun and the computer will do the work.

Complimentary add;

The great bread experiment goes on.
This month I used a recipe that called for one cup plus three tablespoons of water to three cups plus one quarter cup of flour. Not quite there but close.

recipe
Pork Fried Rice

1 tablespoon cooking oil or butter
1 (6 ounce) boneless pork loin or pork chop (whatever is on sale), cut into small pieces (about 1/2 to 1/4 inch square)

2 or 3 green onions, chopped (about the same size as the pork)
1 or 2 eggs, beaten

2 cups cooked rice (we had a big family and 1 cup of rice cooks up to 2 cups cooked rice) 

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Cook rice and set aside.
  2. Beat eggs in small bowl, set aside.
  3. Add oil or melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Mother always used the big 12 inch cast iron skillet.
  4. Add pork, green onions and cook until pork is cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add eggs and scramble until eggs are set.
  6. Stir in rice, chop up omelet and stir until rice is heated through, 7 to 10 minutes.

Write on, stay strong and try an old classic science fiction book.
Professor Hyram Voltage