I’ve been a fan of Randy Wayne White and his Doc Ford series of mysteries for a pretty long time.  There are nearly a score of them now, and the last few have felt just a little strained.  Not so far that I’m giving up, but like maybe White and Ford need a break from each other.

The other day I found his new book, Gone, the first of a new series.  The protagonist is Hannah Smith, a fishing guide and private investigator working in the Sanibel/Captiva/Fort Meyers area.

Four chapters in, I am pretty happy with the book.  It is always a good sign when the shamus in a mystery treats wounded characters with respect and care.

Sure, there is a place for the noir tradition of the Knight in Stained Armor, but noir mysteries focus much more on rough justice, and any mercy tends to be nearly as rough.  The detective shrugs off connections, afraid his (almost always his) own damage will aggravate the wounds of the victims he encounters.

Hannah Smith seems to be the sort of character who can hardly help herself from making the world just a little brighter, a little better than she found it.  She is not a hippy-dippy touchy-feely guidance counselor, just a tough woman who cares about people, finding her way in a world filled with darkness and cruelty.

When I finish up, I will say a few more words about this one.

Continue reading “Gone”

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

This book, by Eleanor Cameron, was my first exposure to what might be called Science Fiction, and one of only a few books I remember from before about the sixth grade.  I think I was in third when I got hold of it.

It is hard to emphasize how influential this book was on my thinking.  Really, ever since I read it, I identified with Science Fiction, even before I probably had heard the term.  It had the right amount of adventure to appeal to me, it struck me at the right level of emotional engagement, and it clearly was the first of a series.

Let me take a moment to explain why that was important to me, even at that age.

I had been reading, by then, for half my life, and my level of decoding and comprehension skills were far beyond what was expected of my age.  For the first couple of years, the school library limited students to a double shelf of picture books, and I was deeply frustrated.  I remember one day, I found a book on that shelf that seemed enormous to me.  It was probably fifty pages, and it seemed even larger because it had been re-bound in that plastic-coated canvas that school libraries use.  I did not even read the title, just took it to the desk and checked it out.  I had visions of a book that might take me most of the afternoon to read.  Bliss!

When we got back to the classroom, I opened the book, and got a nasty shock.  It was just another stinking picture book.  I don’t remember the pictures, the topic, or anything, except this:  It had one word per page.  Literally.  I felt like I’d been deceived.

So, back to the Mushroom Planet, a book that was clearly the beginning of a series was like that “big book”, before I opened it up:  a promise of a long reading experience.

The basic plot, for those of you who haven’t encountered it:  An odd little man advertises for two boys to build a rocket.  The protagonists do it, the odd little man adds a motor, and sends them up to to solve a crisis on The Mushroom Planet, which invisibly orbits Earth considerably closer than the Moon.

Although this book clearly triggered my interest in Science Fiction, I was already interested in what I thought of as Science.  It’s a safe bet that I would have come to science fiction by some other path if I hadn’t encountered The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.

In any case, I picked up a copy a few years back and re-read it.  With older eyes, I would now classify this book as Science Fantasy rather than Science Fiction.  Although it uses sciencey props (rocket, planet, polarization, spores, sulphur), the science is all window dressing.

  • The mechanics of the flight and orbit are worse than wrong
  • The use of the concept of escape velocity is misleading,
  • The boys’ ability to communicate with the Mushroom People is unexplained.
  • The inability of Mr. Bass (the Odd Little Man) to repeat his inventions or explain how they work is the opposite of science and engineering.

The other thing I noticed is that the rocket-building experience was not just glossed-over, it was explicitly described as a mystical experience.  The parts were magically available.  The scrap aluminum sheets the boys found fit perfectly on the boat-rib frame with no cutting.  The ship was completed in record time, with no squabbling between the boys.

I would prefer to see a version of the story that included false starts, the necessity to learn skills and undo mistakes, and a sense of accomplishment, rather than the boys just being pawns in a story on rails.  In other words, a story that provides a view of the world as a set of puzzles one can and should solve.

Still, as I say, it was an influential book of my childhood, and I retain a certain fondness for it.

AnomalyCon 2013

Barbie and I went to AnomalyCon over the weekend.  Some quick thoughts, in no particular order:

  • I had no idea when I first saw the dates for this event that it was over the Easter weekend.  My best guess is that all the other Spring weekends were booked.
  • I went to a number of writing-related sessions.  I picked up some interesting ideas and contacts, but the most value was just getting me excited about writing again.
  • Some of the sessions we attended were about costuming, persona, and the intersections between them.  Some of the ways of thinking about your costume persona are quite close to ways of thinking about characters in writing fiction.
  • We really enjoyed the a capella band “Pandora Celtica”
  • There were two bands that were really, really loud.  We tried one of them, and the lead introduced himself to me in the audience.  He seemed like a really nice chap, until he started screaming “Gouge out those eyes.”  I can hardly imagine what his music would have been like.
  • I have a few ideas for sessions I might propose for next year.

My ShapeOko Project Ideas

Not an exhaustive list:

  • Milling circuit boards for prototyping devices
  • Printing plates made from plastic, metal, wood, linoleum, or rubber
  • Badges and emblems made from laminated sheets (plastic, metal, wood)
  • Direct carving of molds for resin casting (physical copies of virtual objects)
  • Doll-house furniture
  • Engraved boxes
  • Engraved knife blades
  • Lithophanes

Activity in the ShapeOko Forum

Just a few of the kinds of things being discussed on the ShapeOko forum:

  • At least three different motor driver boards
  • At least two different ways to send G-Code to the interpreter
  • At least two different G-Code interpreters
  • Two distinct pick-and-place systems based on the ShapeOko 3-axis framework
  • At least two different 3-D printers based on ShapeOko
  • Several different drive belt modifications
  • Two additional alternatives for driving the Y axis
  • Longer X or Y axis modifications
  • Reinforcing the Z stage to handle a beefier tool
  • Spoil board and clamping options
  • Geographic sub-groups based in Asia, New Zealand, and Europe, driven largely by shipping costs from the U.S.A.  They are discussing making linear bearings by other means, or contracting with a local extruder, or making bulk orders.  No one, including Inventables, is discouraging these activities.
  • At least two alternatives to the MakerSlide material being used to construct ShapeOko

Why is all this significant?

It indicates a very active community of people who have already encountered every problem I am likely to see when I get my machine and start setting it up.

When I have successfully cut projects for a while, and I want to consider extending the capabilities, lots of people will have already blazed a lot of interesting trails.

If I decide none of the extensions fit my fancy, no one will freak out at me for going in a new and different direction.

You Have Heard It All Before, and What’s Happening Now

You Have Heard It All Before

Like many of us, I have fiddled with a blog off and on for many moons, now, and this is the latest reboot.

What’s Happening Now

The most interesting thing going on right now is waiting for shipment of my ShapeOko kit from Inventables.  The current expected shipping date is August 9.

What is a ShapeOko?  It’s an open-source, community-supported desktop CNC router.

There are a number of small CNC systems available right now, and even many open-source/community-based systems.  What makes this one special?

I could natter on about the excitement of watching the ShapeOko forum discussions, the friendliness of the community, the ease of modification, the quick technical advice and support from the forum and the primary developer of the machine (Edward R. Ford) … but a lot of that might not be very different from other, similar machines.

Let’s just say that this one seemed to catch my fancy in a way that the others didn’t.