Want a free copy of Crashpoint?

First book in the Kagent Trilogy. Just tap: InstaFreebie.

Tell your friends. Unless they are Stabilizers or bounty hunters.

Deal ends next Friday, February 10th.

My Public Service Announcement about Politics

People on both sides of a number of aisles and sides believe that now is the time to speak out, to express what’s on your mind, to stand up for what you believe in, to tell it like it is. The implied criticism is that if you don’t that you are a moral coward, somehow less than fully patriotic, a bystander to the great outrages of our age.

I’m not going to. For a bunch of reasons.

  1. I shouldn’t. I am a nonpartisan number cruncher in the federal government working with people from both political parties. Technically, I have the right to spew my beliefs, but doing so would undermine my role in our political system. I can’t undermine any trust or credibility I’ve built with people in both parties and independents by tossing my opinions in the mix. I have seen other civil servants do that and it’s incredibly wrong and counterproductive. (You probably think I’m talking about James Comey, the election-flipper poster-boy for what a civil servant should never do, but no, I’m not.) Part of the job is to inform people (again, from either party) that some of their beliefs about the state of the world are self-destructive misperceptions. You need to be considered trustworthy.
  2. I really shouldn’t. I am also a manager and have staff who report to me. A boss or other authority-figure who spouts unsolicited political, religious, or sexual opinions that have little to do with their job are abusing that authority. This is trickier when some of those staff knew me as a mouthy coworker from pre-management days and know exactly where I stand. It’s also trickier because I do have some responsibility to look after the mental health and morale of these folks (which is a bigger part of the job than I ever imagined). Sometimes that means tamping down their enthusiasm/depression when their team/issue/sports team doesn’t perform as expected (even if I agree with their feelings). Like with the political people,  I need to be seen as a trustworthy voice on certain issues and there’s just not a lot of room there to take sides and still be effective in that role.
  3. I just won’t. There is an overwhelming surplus of guys, especially nerdy white guys like me, who feel compelled to spew forth their opinions in public. The world has too many of them and my small contribution will be to not be another one.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a highly political person. My undergraduate degree is in political science, my master’s is in public policy, and I work for political appointees in Washington, DC. I am chock full of opinions, both odd and conventional, highly-informed and knee-jerk. For that reason, here comes the however’s:

However, I do have to stay engaged with politics and policy for my fed job. (It’s why I read the Washington Post, which I really dislike doing.) About 75% of my office’s success is anticipating the needs of elected officials and their staffers. To do that requires staying on top of various policy discussions, knowing the players, and predicting where things will go next. And that requires a certain amount of political analysis and prediction. But not advocacy.

However, I will offer information on various political science and political history to people when I deem it necessary. Especially because those who don’t know history are doomed to think everything happening now is unprecedented. Nine times out of ten it’s not unprecedented. And it is shocking to me how many people who work in or opine on politics or public policy have the scantest knowledge of civics, history, or philosophy.

However, I will call people on their blindspots when they are about to step in a squishy pile that could splatter on me. Especially when their ill-informed opinions are causing them substantial and misplaced distress or shiny-eyed glee. This is ingrained in my personality and there is a certain joy I get in doing so.

However, I will opinionate on other public policy issues unrelated to my job when the need or urge arises. (I just published a book on the obesity epidemic that doesn’t exactly paint the food industry in an entirely positive light, for instance.)

However, as a writer, I will hold forth with opinions on non-political subjects, when they are warranted. I have already expressed a bevy of them. These subjects are going to be relatively apolitical in nature, as much as anything can be apolitical in such an age. But I will try to remember my third point, that in general, adding another unsolicited guy’s opinion isn’t necessary these days.

However, I may accidentally violate my own rules. Writing this post is as much a reminder to myself as it is a public service announcement to those wondering why I haven’t chimed in.

Sugar, the root of all obesity evil?

For those of you who have heard of my latest book, The Obesity Conspiracy, or are just mildly interested in your own health, check out this article on Vox where Julia Belluz interviews nutrition journalist Gary Taubes, author of the recently published The Case Against Sugar, about, well, take a guess.

His basic proposition is that research on the causes of the obesity and diabetes epidemics should first try to rule out sugar as the primary or biggest cause, and until it does, sugar should be considered as unhealthy or worse than tobacco or alcohol. Which is a problem since Western eaters are wolfing down sugar at most meals in grotesque amounts that they probably don’t realize.

Let’s not forget the horrendous explosion of American obesity in the last half century. Note that the proportion of overweight men and women hasn’t decreased as the ranks of the obese have skyrocketed. That means those who would have been overweight in earlier years became obese, and those who were normal weight became overweight.

Taubes is not just a controversial nutrition journalist, he’s tried to organize and fund sound nutrition science. Nutrition research is a whole other difficult issue, complicated by self-interest, poor methodology, sneaky corporate financing, excessive shoulder-shrugging, and research findings that often fall prey to hyperactive-press coverage-disorder.

I think Elaine Cassano and Gary would probably be colleagues if Elaine wasn’t just a character in my book. I have to give Taubes credit that he allows for his theory to be wrong, which seems to be a rare things these days in heated debates.

For what it’s worth, I have been conducting my own crusade against consuming sugar. I have fought it back into a corner where it sneaks in via baked beans, breads, and the very occasional soda (that night at Time Market in Tucson, for example).

This is partly to make up for some truly ridiculous overconsumption as a kid. I could make a bowl of Rice Krispies look like Mount Everest with the help of two or so tablespoons of sugar, every morning. Not to mention the Hostess cupcakes, root beer, chocolate, and high-test (double the powder) Country Time lemonade. Sugar is bad, m’kay?

 

The Obesity Conspiracy revealed on Barnes & Noble

The e-book and paperback are now available on the Barnes & Noble site for all you Nook owners and paperback readers.

 

Earth Temperature Timeline = Genius

Randall Munroe is a national treasure for many reasons, but his latest XKCD comic is a brilliant example of why (as well as an example of stupendously awesome graphing). Bad Astronomy blog at Slate explains in more detail, but to keep it short, I’ll say that this is an infographic of Tuftian perfection. Read it in detail for the full effect.

earth_temperature_timeline

If you want to see the new book’s cover…

For newsletter subscribers, reading it in the comfort of your inbox, you’re probably wondering where is the cover of The Obesity Conspiracy. Open the email in your browser to see it. Sorry, I didn’t know that when I sent the newsletter. I made sure the picture showed up in the preview but I realize now that was in a browser.

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Oh. What’s that? I’m sorry, you’re not a newsletter subscriber, but you want to see the book cover? You probably expected me to splash it all over this site. Well, I will at some point, but not yet. Subscribers get a first peek. And there may be further tweaks to the cover. Subscribing won’t cost you anything but it will gain you everything.* Here’s what you’ll get as a subscriber:

  1. That damn book cover picture. For a book called The Obesity Conspiracy. Aren’t you curious what the heck that cover will look like?
  2. A monthly newsletter about my writing, my reading, as well as what I have been reading and thinking about.
  3. Discounts and freebies on my writing. Subscribers get the lowest prices, including free stuff.
  4. The absolute earliest news about my publishing, appearances, and general portfolio of writerly activities. Launches, marketing ploys, appearances, etc.

*Everything, for values of everything related to my writing.

On the topic of starship hull design

I know you were all waiting for this post. There’s just not enough distractions in the world to take away from this gnawing question you have about starship hulls and how they should look.

The 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the new Star Trek movie, the return of the original Enterprise’s model at the Smithsonian, the announcement of a new Star Trek TV show, and the resurgence of Star Wars has brought starship hulls front and center to my brain.

All of the Starfleet, Imperial, Rebel, Firefly, and Babylon 5 ship hulls have one in common. They are composed of gray metal plates. Starship hulls across many science fiction properties have become very similar. Almost indistinguishable.

Odd, because real-life spaceship hulls tend to be mostly white, with a little black, or orange because white paint adds extra weight. (Our old space shuttle resembled a space panda and its successor even has orange in it.) Even our airplanes have continuous metal skins that are sleeker than the nu-Trek Enterprise. And they are painted multiple colors, too!

So, gray metal plates riveted or otherwise fit together. In the 2009 Star Trek movie, the CGI hull of the USS Enterprise was actually purposefully made to look slightly uneven to resemble separate hull plates.

Why do our visionary creators think these futuristic FTL starships will be wrapped up in square/rectangular metal sheets? Because, I submit, of the origins of the starship Enterprise. Gene Roddenberry based the ship on the USS Enterprise and other World War II aircraft carriers (such as the Yorktown). He was a WWII vet (Army Air Force). Those famous, iconic, beloved ships had thick slabs of gray, metal armor. Starship = aircraft carrier, in case you didn’t catch on.

Star Wars has the same design element. Star Destroyers are covered in gray metal. The Millennium Falcon and the X-wings had some racing stripes or splotches of color here and there, but otherwise, guess what? Gray metal plates. Beat-up ships have rusted, damaged plates and new ships have gleaming, shiny gray metal plates. (Some of this may have to do with kit-bashing to make spaceship models and then coating them in gray paint.)

I think that the gray metal plate approach to starship hulls doesn’t make sense any more. Starships won’t be assembled from stitching together squares like some kind of metallic quilt. (If iconic starships were designed in H.G. Wells’ time, they would probably have brick hulls and wouldn’t that look weird.) Here’s what I think would be less archaic starship hulls for future science fiction properties:

  • Colored patterns (imagine if Vera Bradley designed starship hulls)
  • Different substances like rock, fiber, fungus, cement, ceramic, plastic, bark, wire mesh, or even diamond
  • Illumination, not just running lights, but hull panels or sections that glow.
  • Formed or poured hull segments (with 3D printing, composite materials, materials science this is not far-fetched)

To get your head churning, think of a starship hull that is made of:

  • Irregular 3D printed sections rather than square plates
  • Pastel stone, like a Gothic, Caribbean cathedral flying among the stars
  • Small iridescent hexagons on a black composite hull
  • A giant video display
  • Patterns of translucent gems
  • Simple non-gray colors: gold, copper, brass, green, red, blue