Looking back in time (literally) and forward (fictionally)

 I had a brainstorm the other day and frantically started jotting notes down so that I might scout the internet later.  Sadly, I was not the first to consider this possibility, and spent an hour surfing the many high-level nerd forums where people discussed this at length.
My idea revolved around the speed of light.  Light may seem instant, but it has a speed limit just like the speed of sound.  Where sound travels at roughly 700 miles per hour at sea level, light travels at around 186,000 miles per second.  Yes, that’s pretty fast.

We’ve all heard a jet, fast car or train pass by, noise arriving in force only after it’s gone past.  That’s the sound it makes catching up to it.

Light is the same way; it takes time to travel.  Take our sun; it’s about 8 light minutes from Earth.  Put another way, we’re seeing what the sun does 8 minutes in the past.  Go outside and look at the sun right now.  For all you know, it just blew up or was stolen by alien pirates.  You’ll find out for sure in 8 minutes when the light that was emitted at that moment finally reaches us.

Scientists talk about learning more about the creation of the universe by looking through telescopes such as the Hubble, which is seeing galaxies that are thousands or millions of light years away.  They could have fostered sentient life and collapsed into black holes last week, but we won’t know for untold ages yet.

So, how can I use this to my advantage?  🙂

What if I was to create a wormhole and travel to a point 250 light years from Earth?  I’d turn around and look at the planet and would then be seeing the light that was emitted 250 years ago.  I could view the Industrial Age, revolutions, countries being born, etc etc.  All I’d need was a powerful enough telescope.  Imagine if a computer could catch and record all the light that passed by and build for us an interactive world of the past?

This is a close parallel to an old Isaac Asimov short story I read years ago called The Dead Past.  It’s about a government funded research project that allowed them to see a limited distance into the past.  There was a catch, though, and an impatient professor finally found a way to build his own telescope.  Caution: there’s a really fun twist ending, and I’m not going to spoil it for you.  Imagine that; a twist ending in the 1950s!

I also turned my thoughts to the future, once again inspired by books and movies.  The love of apocalypse and dystopia is still alive and well in modern fiction, but rarely do you ever see the long term run-out of events.  Sure, the Walking Dead, Revolution, Falling Skies, The Last Ship,  Maze Runner, and tons more deal with the plucky survivors of whatever cataclysm torches life as we know it, but it’s always pretty much present-day.

I always wonder, though, about what comes after.  Imagine the zombies are all dead (again/for good), the planet is clean, people are ready to behave, all of that.  Now what?

Few shows or books ever centered on rebuilding.  But it begs the question: how hard would it be to reorganize a government, a ruling cadre?  We put up with it, accept it as it were, because that’s what we all know.  And I’m sure everyone complains about having our money taken via taxes, fees, surcharges, etc, and spread around in ways we probably don’t all agree with.

So what if you just spent years scraping by, toughing it out and managing to live through the apocalypse?  And then one day a guy with some police, troops, etc, comes by and says “Good job not dying out there. Now, we’re going to need thirty percent of your stuff so that we can tell you how to go about your business once again”.

Would you tell the man to shove it?  Doesn’t that sound a lot like Negan from the Walking Dead?  Give me your stuff or I’ll beat you, says the villain.  Give us thirty percent of your money or we’ll put you in jail and take it anyway, says the government.

Damn, makes me think longingly of invading aliens.  Ahh, those were simpler times…

Irony=driving to an auto museum in an econobox rental car

Today I found myself with a free day in Los Angeles due to a work switcheroo.  I was left in town for the day with instructions to be ready the next morning.

What to do? Well, among a few other things, I went to the Petersen Auto Muesum.  It is a wonderful place, and seems more like an art museum than a place where they roll out old cars for people to look at.  They take this seriously here.  The cars are on display as would be expected of a fine watercolor painting.  The place isn’t cluttered; there is a separate tour available of the basement (they call it the Vault) where all the off-display cars are located.

I saw old cars, new cars, everything in between.  The over-arching idea, though, was cars as art and inspiration.  Sure, a car can be basic transportation that gets you to work and back, but it can be so much more!  I’m going to steal the words from the inscription in the entry area on the third floor when I say that cars offer their owners a combination of freedom, utility and distinction.  Few products in our culture have more purpose or meaning and even fewer can elicit an emotional response.  Have you ever seen a car, or better yet heard one, and your day just instantly got brighter as you sported a big goofy smile?

Deep thoughts, right?  As I said, this wasn’t just a warehouse with old cars pushed bumper to bumper.  These were exhibits.  There was a whole wall detailing the build process of a Maserati.  I saw the available options, from leather to woods to metals to different carpets and all the other fittings.  I think that if I were to buy a Maserati the process would best be served if I brought along a high-priced interior decorator.  That’s not a bad thing, though.  Think of the care and attention paid to a carefully built car that goes though a short test circuit with a professional driver, and is then lovingly wrapped completely before shipping for delivery.

Now imagine the irony of me arriving there in an econobox Toyota rental car.

It was every bit the soulless, spirit-crushing experience I expected it to be.  That’s ok, in a sense, though; there is a market and need for cars like that.  Toyota can crap out these things by the tens of thousands all day for all I care.  But to me, much as there is a low (or boring) end, there is also a high end to the market.  Hyper cars like the hybrid McLaren P1 I took a picture of, custom built and a marvel of design and engineering.

For every jellybean shaped plastic commuter out there, we need also an automotive work of art like an old Ferrari, Barracuda, or Corvette.

Not everyone appreciates this, of course. To many, a car is a box with 4 wheels that takes you from one place to the other.  And that’s ok; we’re all different, and that’s what makes us humans so interesting.   But to me, a car is more.  It’s an expression, a statement.  I’ve always been passionate about cars, and have owned a couple fun ones in my day.  I plan to have another nice one again some day, an old muscle car.  Anybody can go out and buy a nice new car, but if you can bring an old car back to life and customize it so that it’s unique in the world to just you, that’s something special.

Whatever drives you, (pun intended) I hope it’s with a passion.  I’ve realized that we need something to be passionate about.  Preferably, it’s our jobs, life in general, family, that sort of thing.  But we need an outlet; there’s more to us as humans than going to work, writing TPS reports and then coming home to watch Dancing with the Stars.  We should have something uniquely ours, something we’re proud of and that gets our minds off the day to day grind that wears so many of us down.  We’ve all been there, suddenly the bearers of unexpected free time, and without any idea where to go with it.  What would you do if you could selfishly claim time to do what you’ve always wanted to?

So get a hobby!  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant.   Maybe you like knitting, drawing, working on cars, building computers, grown-up coloring books, collecting porcelain kitty figurines; who cares, other than you?  You should have something that’s just for you, that stokes your fire and gets you excited and takes your mind off your job, bills, the leaking kitchen faucet and cat barf downstairs that needs to be cleaned up.

Live a little!

As Time Marches On…

pocketwatchSometimes it seems like the years just fly by, eh?

I was thinking about this after I celebrated my 40th birthday.  I acceded to a minor midlife crisis and traded the minivan for a crewcab pickup.  Well, it was was sort of something we needed to do, but the event seemed to coincide nicely with the occasion.

I didn’t do anything really out of hand like buying a Members Only jacket and gold chains, go skydiving, try to pick up a college cheerleader, etc.  My wife would have really hated that last one, so a big no-go on that.  Overall, pretty low key as far as I can figure.

I looked at my life: wife, kids, home, job, etc, and realize things are going pretty well.

Then my 16 year old cat walked past me and I realized; he is about as far back as I can go via memory lane in my adult life.  We got him and his sister when they were kittens.  Sadly, she passed away in the summer of 2014, but he’s still kicking and demanding to go outside all the time.september-05-2016-at-0923am-1

But the cats were one of the first milestones for my wife and I.  We got them before we were married.  We’ve changed houses, cars, furniture and possessions, jobs, had kids and more, but there were always the cats.  I truly hope he has a few more good years left in him.

They say a midlife crisis is what happens when you evaluate your life (at the arbitrary but understandable age of 40) and see you’re lacking.

I can’t complain.

We’ve done things and gone places, tried to show our kids locations and people to demonstrate to them that there’s a really big world out there and that it’s not all about Pokemon Go and DS games.

I’d like to restore an old muscle car, a dream I have from back in 5th grade or so that I share with a few of my oldest friends.

I’ve recently begun the official wrap-up of the Birthright novels I wrote.  I’m working on renders of the interior of one of the ships, something that’s honestly more for myself than anybody else.  I’ll put them on the book website, but I don’t know that people much care what the bridge looks like. Book here.

I published another book before that, a novel about modern day America centered on a small town where the DHS as a tool of the government tries to assume complete control.   Spoiler: it results in conflict. Other book here.

I’m also 20,000 words into a modern day thriller about a madman who has control of the last nuclear weapon on the planet.  Small-town cop and big-city FBI agent race to stop the man and his plan to rebuild the governance of the world in his own image.  Hilarity ensues. Well, not a lot of hilarity; hijinks and a few shenanigans mostly, but there’s room for humor in everything.

So, I’m not going to buy a Miata and start wearing loafers with no socks; I’m all good here and feeling normal and content.  However, if you happened by my garage you might start to see the occasional old car part form a pile in a distant corner against the day when I have a vehicle to swap them around on.



Cleaning my insides the Arbonne way


Mmm, tasty

New post here; who would have figured?

This one is not, however, writing related.  Well, only inasmuch as it might keep me alive long enough to finish the sixth book in the Birthright series, I guess.

No, today I must speak about diets.  I think we lead a pretty good lifestyle at our house.  We work out, eat pretty decent, make the right gestures.  Last month, though, we decided to do the Arbonne cleanse diet.  I personally have a family history of cholesterol and triglyceride issues (thanks, parents!) and thought it would be worth a shot to see what a moderate change in diet would accomplish.

Short version: no dairy, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, salt, or ‘old school’ carbs.  I mean potatoes, wheats, anything processed and altered.  The grains are replaced by brown rice and quinoa (which I actually think is pretty tasty and versatile), we can eat anything green, chicken, red meat and fish, turkey in reasonable quantities.  There are also shakes, one or two a day depending on whether your goal is weight loss as well as overall diet change.  Oh, and almonds.  Lots of almonds.

I’ll be honest; I travel a lot and it was very hard to get this thing going.  Most hotels aren’t quick to offer up subs to the standard menu items.  I eventually found microwavable bags of brown rice and quinoa plus little cans of chicken chunks (rinse well; they’re packaged in salt water but overall sodium is actually pretty low).  Plus, it’s a pocket-pleasing alternative to offensive prices many hotel restaurants think they should be charging.  I wasn’t perfect with this diet; I had spanish rice instead of brown rice once or twice, a chicken nugget that made me grumble a bit, and a few bites of our kids food to taste test.

We also did the 7 day cleanse.  It was a special additive for a big jug of water.  Lots of people complained about the initial taste, but we actually weren’t bothered by it.  It tasted different, to be sure, but not bad.  Add in a package of the fizz mix you get with your shipment and it tasted just fine.

So now the month is over and we’re both very well on track to continue.   We make a lot of chili/fajita style foods, use almond butter instead of peanut butter, and are finding new recipes for meats and veggies on Pinterest all the time.  My only complaint is cooking without sugar.  I tried making bread and protein cookies, and both turned out pretty tasteless.  I’m no Bobby Flay, but I’m pretty sure there’s a sweetener needed to made this work right, and the point is to not add extra sugar and all that.

The reason I wanted to post this to a blog is because I actually have some lab-test results to share.  I see my doctor to check on my cholesterol, and my latest checkup was in the middle of the fourth week.

My HDL improved by 20 points.  My LDL improved by 16 points, and my triglycerides went down by 30 points!

Yes, I plan to add back in a beer or two during my week, but overall I don’t truly feel put out by the diet.  And let’s be honest; if your diet makes you mad and you absolutely hate it, you won’t stick with it, so what’s the point?  I personally like to consider lifetime average here; if I truly make my effort in diet and exercise, then yes, I will have that Girl Scout cookie when they get delivered soon.  Just not all thirty at a sitting.

So go ahead and try the diet.  It might do you well!  Better start buying almonds now, though!


A truly effective presidential debate format

imageAh, presidential debates.  Everybody has an opinion on them; they’re rigged, they’re useless, they’re actually helpful, they’re boring, etc.

I propose an idea.  This country is obsessed with reality tv.  From people with a litter of kids to misbehaving housewives to guys who made duck calls to men crawling over each other like crabs in a bucket to win a date with a woman, we apparently have no limit when it comes to this type of media.

I will admit to liking a single reality show in the history of the genre.  It was out probably 10 years ago, and it was called Combat Mission.   It can exactly one season on TNT or TBS or some other cable network.  They took a bunch of SEALS, SWAT guys, contractors, etc, and teamed them up and made them run missions using real military MILES gear. It was awesome, but I suspect it failed due to no juicy interpersonal drama.  These were professionals, and they always acted like it.  They ran their missions, behaved well overall, and that was that.  Halfway through the series, they started making them go to a ‘canteen’ at night: a big tent that had a bar and a cute girl to sling drinks.  Except they would have a couple beers, then go back to their barracks.  I seem to remember one guy getting a little mouthy, but his own team put him in his place.  If pressured, I may admit to watching the first season of MTV’s Real World, when it was new and interesting and every cast member didn’t show with their own agent.

Anyway, I digress.

Let’s combine presidential debate with reality formats for something the country will actually watch and enjoy.  My proposals:

1. A cook off. Everybody gets an hour to bake crab cakes, or maybe choose a regional dish from their home state.

2. Dance off.  Macarena, Paso, who cares?  Make them dance for our amusement!

3. Some sort of home improvement.  Who can decorate the best bathroom?  Who can build the best shed?

4. Lumberjack skills.  Chainsaw and a tree stump= who makes the best tree stump carving?

5. Auto repair.  Everyone has to try and rebuild a Holley carbeurator.  No Youtube  tutorials allowed.

Would showing skills in something that you cared about sway your vote?  Or are we content with their abilities to promise us the most free stuff and say whatever needs saying to get elected?

What the heck has Ryan been up to?


 So I’ve broken most of the rules about successful blogging; namely, I haven’t blogged much lately.  Well, at all, if you want to be precise about it.
We all have great sounding reasons for delaying or missing things in our daily lives.   Our kids like it when we spend time with them, my employer really appreciates it when I come to work, the lawn should be mowed (or perhaps I should just buy a few goats), and there is always that persistent commitment looming overhead like the Sword of Damocles, the To-Do list.  AAARRGGGHHH!

However, I do have some good news to report about my careful use of free time.  I recently finished and published my ninth book to Amazon.com!  I wanted to take a quick break from the sci-fi series I have been working on and write about a topic that had been banging around in my brain for a while.

Incidentally I am 25,000 words into book six of the Birthright series, which will wrap up the arc of the invasion portion of the story.  I’ve started working on the 3D model that I’ll be using for the cover art using my old standby: Sketchup and Twilight Render.  Now, however, my 11 year old has claimed a partial stake in my newly built PC so that he can toy around with Blender.  He’s making Minecraft scenes and animations and even taking requests from his friends.  Maybe I can subcontract out future book covers to my own kid!  More on that one soon!

Anyway, I wrote about a topic that seems to be percolating to the top of conversation a lot these days: the government, dystopian conspiracies, and how far they would really go if we let them.  

The good news for you is that the book is free all weekend.  If you’re looking to try out a book that might just make you a tiny bit paranoid about who’s really in charge in Washington, grab a copy and enjoy one on the house!

Here’s the blurb from my book page:
What’s the difference between a patriot and a terrorist?

Whoever is in charge of the watch list.

Jack Swift was a normal guy just living his life in small town America. That all came to an end when the Department of Homeland Security rolled into town; folks started to worry and life got tense

Jack and a few others asked a lot of questions, wanted to know what the government was doing to their city. Soon it became apparent that there was much more going on in his small town than a simple drill. But he poked his nose into the wrong person’s business; Jack was branded a terrorist.

What will he need to do to get his life back? Can the government even do this to him and his friends? Who will stand up for their city if not their own? And if they don’t do something about it, what will the government try next?

Jack didn’t know why the DHS picked his little town to occupy, but now they were in charge.

What happens when the government oversteps its authority, when the people who are supposed to be working for you decide they know better? Jack and the rest of his friends are about to find out.


Narcissism, thy mascot is the Selfie Stick

selfie stick douchesAh yes, the Selfie Stick.  Damn, where to begin?

We were on vacation recently and saw these stupid things all the time.  It was probably more to do with the touristy themes of our locations, but the troubling phenomena remained.  What the hell are these things all about?

According to Dictionary.com, narcissism is defined as “inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity”.  This can also become self destructive.  Think Tony Stark, Ron Burgundy, Stiffler, Zoolander.  There are others, of course, some more self-obsessed than others.

The thing is that I’m sure there are some legitimate, useful purposes for these things.  Unfortunately, my experiences were limited to watching what has become the primary use: taking pictures of yourself (usually making a stupid face or weird hand gesture) in front of everything you can put your eye on.

Tour bus?  Selfie!  Men’s bathroom door?  Selfie!  Monkey cage?  Selfie!  Pile of seaweed on the beach?  Selfie!

Ugh.  I had to laugh as I watched one couple try to take an actual, normal style photo.  The problem was that they were too close and needed to back up to frame the shot, but there wasn’t enough room behind them for the stick, so they couldn’t snap a photo because they couldn’t get the shot lined up in front of the cameraphone.

I hardly have any pictures of myself.  I’m usually the one snapping the photos (with a real camera, not my phone.  There’s still no substitute for a big lens and image sensor) and a stranger might look at our family photo album and wonder if my wife and kids usually vacationed without me.

Still, it’s better than holding my phone on the end of a stick and taking a photo of myself.

How to debate someone

angry-mobHello everyone.

Today, I’d like to discuss how to engage in a lively debate with someone, be it a co-worker, friend or neighbor.

There’s always a hot topic brewing if you want to instigate a confrontation… um, I mean conversation.

You see, you just can’t have a conversation on the internet via keyboard and screen.  There’s no inflection, pensive looks, and approving head-nodding.  Devoid of emotion, the words can and often are taken with different meaning based on the reader and their viewpoints.  Thence, the birth of the internet tough guy.

I have opinions, some of them very strong, based on the experience of years and reinforced by repair bills and court costs.  Well, not court costs; we all know anything that happens in Canada doesn’t count when I’m required to disclose past run-ins with the law.  I’ve debated with others, most often co-workers, over plenty of taboo, weighty topics which have caused many a bar fight that you aren’t supposed to touch.  Examples are: religion, politics, Ford vs Chevy, favorite NASCAR driver, vaccinations, aliens among us, gun control/2nd Amendment, government conspiracy, prepping/societal collapse, nontraditional lifestyles, and so much more.

The thing is, you need to realize going into a conversation with another person that what you should be after is the REASON for their point of view.  If we talk about something, I’m not expecting to change your mind about it, and I hope you aren’t expecting me to become a quick convert either.  However, there is no reason we can’t explain why we feel a certain way and try to understand those positions.  If you think to yourself, though, “He doesn’t see my point of view; I will now speak LOUDER so he realizes the error of his ways!”, then we’re not going to get very far.

Too often, I think we’re more concerned with making someone else see our point of view than understanding why we hold those views in the first place.  So often arguments quickly devolve into “Well, you don’t see it my way even after I explained it.  You, therefore, are a dumbass and I will now repeat everything AGAIN, but this time slower and with more arm movements.”

I hate to break it to you, but I may not convert to your viewpoint.  I will, however, listen to your reasons because I don’t think your point of view is more or less valid than my own.  We can chat and then figure out if either of us has changed an opinion.  We may each think ourselves totally vindicated afterwards and that the other person is on the wrong track, which is fine too.  We just need to have the good sense to keep our damn mouths shut about that last part.   That’s really important, because we are still allowed to have our own opinions, even if they piss others off.  I just prefer to keep mine to myself for the most part, because it’s a lot easier to find someone looking for an argument than someone looking for a new viewpoint on something.

However, I do have to close with the thought that if you think there’s a better NASCAR driver than Dale Earnhardt, The Intimidator, you do in fact suck.

Self published authors take note!

I was stumbling blindly around the internet the other night/early morning; I started out looking for what a 2012 Toyota Camry would cost and somehow ended up watching a video of the SR-71 Blackbird’s engines, the true history of Grumpy Cat, and finally 15 Sci-Fi movies I should see in 2015.
Well, among the movies was one very interesting entry: The Martian, by Andy Weir. It’s about an astronaut on Mars who gets abandoned by the rest of his crew when things apparently go down the low-G toilet.
The interesting thing here, the really cool thing, to be honest, is that Mr. Weir first self published that novel on Amazon. It was later picked up by a publishing house and now it’s going to be a movie.
Imagine, you wrote a book (presumably because you enjoy the medium and had a story you needed to tell) and now famous people are going to play the characters you’ve created. Damn.
Congratulations, Mr. Weir! And to all those self-pubbed indie authors out there, in the words of Tim Allen’s character from Galaxy Quest: “Never give up; never surrender!”


Two posts on the same day? Ridiculous, you say!

pursuit book cover copyI’d be completely remiss if I didn’t also mention the big achievement I’ve been working on lately.

The fifth novel in my Birthright series is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I’m still working on formatting the paperback for Createspace, but that’s much less important in the grand scheme of things.  The book was released within a couple weeks of the third anniversary of the first book in the series and my first adventures in publishing with Amazon’s Kindle program (and eventually Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press).  It’s been a great time; I’ve done what I enjoy anyway, which is writing.  Along the way, people have been buying the novels and I consider myself lucky very time I check out a sales report and see the numbers.  It’s not about competing with an arbitrary number or beating someone else’s sales; it’s about seeing that people actually seem to enjoy what I’ve written and come back for more.

So, if you’re one of those people- Thank you!  If you’re not, well, you should be!    🙂

I want to wrap up this particular story arc in the sixth novel, though I plan to continue writing these characters.  In the meantime, I’m 20,000 words into something completely different.

Looking at media these days, everybody lives dystopian fiction.  Police state, oppressive post-war Big Brother, etc.  Other than one or two novels I can think of, though, you never see any stories about how the places got to that point.  I’m working on a present-day novel about just that: what would lead to an oppressive, unified world government that decided what was right for everyone, everywhere?  It’s told from the perspective of a small Colorado town that happens to be the unfortunate test subject of the measures that would need to be taken in order to assert complete control.

It’s something very different than my normal writing, but what’s the point in calling yourself an author if you never challenge yourself and try something new?  It seems like every time I talk to a co-worker, we end up on the topic of where the country and world are going, and looking at headlines, conspiracy buffs, and what people seem to be interested in reading, I think there’s a market for an origin story on where the dystopian future got its start.  So, there’s that.

For a link to the Birthright novel, titled Pursuit, click here for the book’s page, and happy reading!