In which I leave the house

We just got back from Doing a Thing, the annual Science Alive! event at the main branch of the St. Joseph County Public Library in downtown South Bend. This is the third year my wife has taken my son; I didn’t go the last two years because I was working every Saturday. It’s an interesting event; they basically take over the library with tons of booths and exhibits (too many, honestly; there’s stuff everywhere you turn, and tons of people, and I was stressed out from trying to keep from bumping into people or knocking little kids over) and most of them are hands-on in some way or another, which is pretty cool.

The ground floor was basically a mini-4H fair, with a lot of vaguely bemused-looking farm kids letting the terrified city folk do stuff like pet chickens, with the occasional pig or snake thrown in for good measure.

The upper floors were more … science-fair-ish, I guess? Not in the sense of people showing off experiments, but more like lots of table staffed by local college kids demonstrating some aspect of SCIENCE! to the kids. The weird thing was a lot of the time the science they were wanting to talk about was miles beyond the comprehension level of the small kids (my son is 7, and he was about average for the crowd, and there were a lot of kids way younger) who were there. I spent a couple of minutes watching some poor woman who is probably an excellent teacher when she’s surrounded by college students who want doctorates gamely struggling to relate square dancing and mathematics and fractions to each other … somehow? She literally had a whiteboard covered with equations next to her and I had to keep myself from bursting out laughing when she, entirely seriously, asked the group of elementary-age kids in front of her who wanted to square dance what the negative reciprocal of 1/2 was.

I would wager that, if you threw out the actual scientists, no more than 10% of the adults in the building could tell you what a negative reciprocal is. I mean, it’s not a difficult concept, but it’s not one of those things that most folk need to worry about, y’know? Then there was an entire room full of particle physics folks and one lonely astronomer. And, like, okay, radiation’s cool, and particle accelerators are cool, and whatever the spinny ball-balancy thing that my son was so enthralled with was neat, but I found myself wondering if anybody at all was thinking about age-appropriateness when they put this all together. Waving a hand-made Giger counter at a piece of Fiestaware is pretty neat, but I’m pretty certain that despite a valiant effort at explaining radioactivity by the two Ph.D candidates behind the table, it really didn’t get anywhere with my kid.

So. Yeah. Interesting event, but they maybe need to think a bit harder about the age group they’re pitching to and how they’re going to do that in the future.

Woo new face!

IMG_7121Finally got the new glasses today, which was exciting up until the point where I remembered that having a new prescription for my glasses is basically exactly the same as being super duper baked.  I’m spending all my time staring at my hand and the floor seems like it’s farther away than I’m used to it being and there’s this weird haze around the edges of my vision that comes from not having trained my brain to not notice the edges of the new glasses yet.  One interesting development: these lenses have some sort of new coating on them that is supposed to both screen out certain kinds of light emitted by digital screens and sharpen those images, and holy cow my iPhone has never looked so good before.  So I’m staring at my phone like I’ve never seen it in addition to anything else in the world with fine detail.  My old prescription wasn’t that out of date, but it’s been long enough since I’ve changed it that I’m way out of practice, if that makes any sense at all.

Tomorrow I get to go back to the dentist for like the third time in a month.  They’re going to numb me up again and do some sort of horrible procedure to my gums– they’re pretending it’s cleaning-related but I’m pretty sure it’s actually just punishment for having taken so long in between visits.  At any rate, the important part is that they’re going to be numbing me again, so I get to look forward to not being able to feel half of my face for most of the day.    I may actually have to run into work to close out a sale after the procedure, which is going to be awesome fun.  I’ve never tried to close a sale while unable to feel my face before. I’m really excited about it.

What’s on y’all’s agenda for the next couple of days?

In which the impossible happens, over and over again

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This thing– I’ll call it a cabinet, although I don’t think that’s quite what it is– is available for sale at my place of business.  It is made entirely of wood other than the hinges and the hardware on the drawer pulls.  It is sitting on a linoleum floor in front of a wood counter and is nowhere near any electrical outlets.

It is made– I’ll say this again, because it’s important– of wood.

This sentence is 100% true unless I am hallucinating or crazy:  I have, at least a dozen times over the last two days, touched that piece of wood furniture and gotten a static electricity shock from it.  Now, by my understanding of how static electricity works, that is entirely impossible.  I was working with two other people on my side of the store all weekend and unless they were fucking with me (which is not unlikely) neither of them experienced said shocks.  It was only me, and it was happening frequently.

Someone explain to me how this is possible, please, other than “You’re nuts, and that didn’t happen.”  Because, again, as far as I know it’s impossible, and yet it was happening anyway.

#REVIEW, sorta: ARTEMIS, by Andy Weir

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Sophomore books are a bitch and a half, man.  You’ve got literally your entire life to get that first book written and ready to go and completely 100% perfect, right?  And then if your first book is a big hit, you’ve only got at most a year or two to get that sophomore effort out the door.  Some authors end up with a second effort that is every bit as brilliant as their first: I point at April Daniels, whose Dreadnought and Sovereign I both read in 2017 and… well, wait a few weeks to see how well those turn out.  Or somebody like Kevin Hearne, whose first three Iron Druid books came out in something like six months and were somehow all of equivalent high quality.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ernest Cline, whose second book was so bad that it called my high opinion of his first into question, highlighting every single weakness of his writing and somehow diminishing both books.  We kinda want to avoid that.

Andy Weir’s The Martian was a brilliant book; my favorite book of 2014.  I talked the other day about the annoying similarities Martian and my own Skylights have, and the fact that I plan at the moment to follow up Skylights with a book involving the Moon, and, well, so did fucking Andy Weir.  So it’s kind of hard to review the book entirely independent of my own shit, right?  I know I’m not on remotely the level that Weir is, obviously, and that most of this shit’s only in my head, but I don’t want copies ideas from more well-known authors as a thing that’s hanging over my head.

Well, here’s the good thing:  other than being set on the moon, Artemis doesn’t have a damn thing in common with what I have planned for Moonlight.  Not a single damn thing.  The cover is also annoyingly similar to the cover I put together for the bookyears ago, which really pisses me off because I still love that cover and I may not be able to use it now.  But I’ll worry about that once the damn thing is written.

But anyway: is the book any damn good?  Well, there’s a reason I started this piece the way I did: while Artemis is is not as good of a book as The Martian was, and the places where it isn’t as good kind of are things that show weaknesses in The Martian, it’s still a really solid effort.  In some ways it’s a very different book; the main character is a female, at least nominally Muslim smuggler, which one would think would be a very different person from corn-fed Iowa botanist Mark Watney.(*)  And the thing is, she’s not.  She’s Mark Watney in niqab.  And since Mark Watney was basically Andy Weir, as he’s admitted in reviews… well, so is Jazz Bashara.   And while Watney’s constant science-and-chemistry talk made sense in-book, as he was trying to keep himself alive, Jazz’s kind of feels forced.  Like, I know she’s on the Moon, but so is everyone else in the book, and the constant science asides don’t work as well.

That said, I’m a huge astronomy geek, so while it bugs me on a craft level it’s fascinating on a bunch of other levels, which kept me from disliking the book.  I liked Artemis, but I absolutely didn’t love it, and after his first book owned 2014, that can’t help but be a bit of a disappointment.

(*) Okay, maybe he’s not from Iowa.  Maybe he is?  That sounds right.  I’m not looking it up.  He’s sure as hell not a Muslimah.

Three quick anecdotes

dd7065d25a40c3ebc3df5c394d80aab9.jpgNone of these are really worth posts on their own– well, one, maybe– but I wanna record them, so here you go.


Driving home from dropping the boy off at school one day last week, a bird happens to catch my eye at a traffic light.  It’s probably a blackbird, but it’s a bit too far away for me to be sure– crow-shaped, and black, but too small to be a crow unless it’s a juvenile.  So, sure.  Blackbird.  As I’m watching it, it abruptly does a tight 270° turn and heads straight down to the ground, wings out.  I think at first that either the bird has been shot and what looked like a turn was actually a tumble or I’ve literally just seen this bird die in midair— which has to happen to birds sometime, right?  Surely once in a while a bird just has a stroke or a heart attack or something?

At any rate, it pulls up right before it hits the ground and lands and then I lose track of it. If it had dove down at an angle, I’d not have said anything about it and just assumed it was going after a mouse or something, but 1) it looked way too small to be a bird of prey and 2) I have never seen a bird fly straight down before.  It was weird as hell.


I’m at work, and I notice a spider perhaps two feet above my eye level and maybe three feet off to my right.  The building I work in has very high ceilings, and my first thought is where the hell is his web attached, because if he’s coming down a string of silk it’s gotta be thirty or forty feet long by now.  Then I notice that he’s coming straight toward me, which is not something I’d expect a spider coming down a strand of silk to do.  He’s a tiny spider, and I’m not frightened of them, so this provokes fascination rather than oh god kill it fear.  As he gets closer, I realize that he’s not attached to anything and he’s not acting like he’s climbing a web– he’s got his legs curled up underneath him, in fact.  The damn thing is floating.  I even wave my hand above him to check, and the breeze from my hand stirs him a bit but I clearly don’t break any strands of web.  I try to film him but he’s too small for the resolution on my phone to handle.  I watch him drift onto a sofa and crawl away.


Yesterday, first customer of the day.  He waves me off at first, saying he’s only looking, which is just fine.  I tell him everything in the store is on sale (which is true, and is useful information, I figure) and that the way our current deal works is “spend more, save more.”

He looks dead at me and says “You mean Jew more, save more?”

It takes me a second to process yeah that’s what the fuck he said.

“No,” I reply, shifting into my Teacher Voice.  “I said spend more, save more.”  And then I walk away and let my manager know that this fucker will be receiving no help from me whatsoever while he’s in the store and that if he speaks to me again we’re all lucky if the only thing I do is refer him to another salesperson.

The man and his wife circle the sales floor and leave without speaking to or being spoken to by anyone else.  I spend the rest of my day with half of my brain proud of me for not losing my job by lighting this fucker up and the other half of my brain ashamed of me for not lighting the fucker up anyway.

I am, much later, trending toward the second option, for the record.  How the fuck are you so fucking comfortable with being a bigot that you’ll just say shit like that to random fucking strangers in public?  I shoulda thrown his ass out.