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.


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.




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

Book review: Owning Our Future (by Marjorie Kelly)

Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution

Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution by Marjorie Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Marjorie Kelly since I read The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy. This book, Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, takes you on her mental journey from her thinking in Divine Right (reforming capitalism before it destroys itself) to highlighting emerging changes that could be capitalized on to stop capitalism from destroying the planet as well as society. (And no, she’s not advocating socialism, communism, or nationalization of the banks. Her ideas are all aimed at building successful, for-profit businesses.)

The bottom line is that extractive finance is dangerously unstable and unsustainable, to capitalism, to the market-based economy, and to the entire planet. Rather than solely maximizing financial profits, at which Wall Street has become destructively too efficient, businesses can become for-profit businesses that do more than simply boost short-term shareholder equity.

This is the book to read after Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, when you’re wondering, okay, what the hell do we do now? I highly recommend it.

(cross-posting my Goodreads review here. For you sci-fi fans and writers, I’ll add that she reports on real-life examples that provide great raw material for making up futuristic corporations.)

View all my reviews

Signal boosting against sexism in entertainment

I read something this week that made me think, that’s enough of this crap, I need to blog about this. As a man and a creative I feel obligated and honored to boost the signal on the recent evidence of just how sexist our entertainment industrial complex is. On top of general, unacceptable pay inequality, there is a string of abuses that need to be exposed to the searing light of the sun. So I’m following what I’ll call Stewart’s Law of Privilege for Progress.

  1. What set me off recently: the female villain in Iron Man 3 was turned into a man, according to the director. The director and screenwriters wanted a couple of women to have prominent roles, but Isaac Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment, nixed the villain idea and they had to scale back how much women were on screen. Thank the heavenly mother that Perlmutter is moving out of the picture at Marvel. (Too slowly, but maybe exposing this crap will hurry up his exit.)
  2. The lack of female characters in sci fi and superhero stories, toys, movies, etc. Black Widow is the kick-butt female Avenger, but was replaced in Avengers toys that depicted her exploits in the film. This kind of thing is not an accident or unconscious bias: it’s a deliberate corporate directive.
  3. Unequal pay for female actresses (against which Robin Wright and Jennifer Lawrence have fought back publicly)

Why am I focusing on the cultural stuff? I know there is tons more sexism going on in every single walk of life, and this year it seems to be rearing to the fore in the ugliest of ways. And I know I have only barely grazed the tip of the iceberg in entertainment (lack of women in directing and producing, treatment of female characters, treatment of female cast and crew, etc.) Because this particular angle of sexism is primarily responsible for forming/reinforcing/shaping our entire society’s attitudes toward girls and women. The cultural stuff has a much bigger multiplier effect and it is more sensitive to be smacked down by people inside and outside the industry. I think that striking a blow against it on this issue will help in every other arena.

I want to lend my voice to those saying that this crap really does happen, it should not, and to applaud those on the front lines of fighting it.

A Lego Star Destroyer with the Vader canteen scene INSIDE

I aspire to build custom Lego sets and so I am triply in awe of those who can do so. And when someone builds a mammoth Star Destroyer that is more than just a shell, I’m completely blown away. Behold the bestest Lego Star Destroyer that will probably ever be built. When I saw this, my brain turned into thousands of red 1x1x1 bricks and were blown out the back of my head.

I don’t even know how Lego figured out how to build the official Ultimate Collector’s Set. For those who have built Lego sets before, these things are really coolly engineered from the inside out. When I start building a set, I have no idea how the first page of instructions leads to the finished product. This guy, Doomhandle, goes and does it bigger and better. It has rooms, hallways, walkways, even a bacta tank. All the photos are here.

And for those of you in the know, the non-canon Death Star canteen bit by comedian Eddie Izzard is classic. For a Lego reenactment to accompany his bit, check out this video. This Star Destroyer even has that canteen, with a ton of detail. Just imagine what Vader finds on his tray.

TV Pet Peeves

In the vein of my previous ranty-rant about the stubble bubble, I have more issues to get off of my chest about some silly conventions in entertainment.

  1. The Shoulder Wiggle:

When actors deliver lines, 9 times out of 10 they do this shoulder wiggle thing. Maybe it’s because they can’t step off of their marks and it’s their only way to express body language. But it’s disconcerting. Their shoulders never – wiggle – stay – wiggle – still. Each syllable seems to come with a wiggle.

Tom Brokaw used to wiggle and lean like a broken animatronic newscaster when he was heading NBC News. Has he started an acting school for actors who can’t bend at the waist?

The worse the show, the more the wiggling. Once you notice it, the rest of the acting just disappears. All you see are the -shoulder wiggles-. I’ve found that the more still and quiet an actor is, the more drawn we are to what their mouth and their body language are saying.

2. Three Layers of Clothing Rule:

Never mind that women are chronically under-dressed on TV. Most male characters, especially the supporting characters, seem required to wear three layers of clothing on their chest. T-shirt, button down-shirt, then a jacket or coat. Even indoors. Especially in California. Comedies do this more than dramas, because dramas have figured out that the tough guy in a open-collar button down shirt with a sport jacket looks bad ass and casual.

In reality, men generally wear one layer indoors in a temperature-controlled climate. Two if they’re outside. Three if they’re outside on a mountain. You guys spend a lot of money on set design and lighting but then dress the men like they are about to go skiing.

3. Villains Who Need to Relate:

“You and I are not all that different, really,” says every bad guy these days during the first or the final confrontation with the hero. It is the lamest, laziest line a villain can say. Do villains have some compelling need to relate to their enemies, especially right before they try to kill them? Are they lonely outcasts trying to fit in? Do writers fail to realize how lame that line is? Do I need to explain it? I do?

  1.  It’s a verbal mustache twirl that makes the character cardboard thin. This does not make the villain the hero of his own story. It makes him a tool in the writers’ story.
  2. About half the time, the villain is wrong because the writers want the audience to disagree with him and root for the hero. This is the equivalent of tying the damsel to the railroad tracks or Force-choking subordinates for honest mistakes.
  3. About half the time, the villain is right because the anti-hero is really just another bad guy but his puppeteer is just pulling the strings in different directions to shove the plot forward.
  4. It makes the villain look stupid and ignorant when the hero is completely different. And any hero response that isn’t along the lines of “Do you even hear yourself?” then the hero is just as stupid. And possibly the writers too.
  5. It wrecks any kind of verbal realism. It’s not dialog any more, it’s a cliche contest.