Thoughts on the Ongoing Israeli Military Action

Since its very inception, Israel has been up against attackers from all directions.  In more recent memory, it has had to fend off missile attacks from the terrorist group Hamas, a group which controls the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory in the south-west of the country.  I’m all for Israel defending itself; my question has always been, “how?” I absolutely believe Israel shouldn’t have to live with lunatics lobbing rockets into their cities, but the devil is in the details.  Just what is Israel supposed to do?  Ideally, it should be seeking a lasting peace with its Palestinian neighbors, but let’s examine the tactics it has employed, instead:

The current Israeli administration has hardly taken its peace talks with its Palestinian counterparts seriously.  Their Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has all but overtly refused to endorse a two-state solution to this ongoing conflict.  Israel has gone so far as to tap U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s phone, a reprehensible act (that we do to other leaders) and a clear show of bad faith.  The Gaza Blockade, designed to choke Hamas, hasn’t helped; just like our embargo against Cuba doesn’t actually hurt the Castros, it has starved and strangled civilians for years. Israel settlers have continued to invade occupied Palestinian territory. Multiple invasions of Gaza have led only to massive civilian deaths; in many cases, they were easily avoidable. Is it any wonder Hamas still has power there? Maybe it’s because the local population only sees Israel as the people starving them, as the people blowing up shelters it claims are safe, and the people refusing to negotiate in good faith!

Now, Netanyahu is talking about Hamas paying an “intolerable price” for attacking Israel. Cool! How will he make sure Hamas is the one paying it?  Depending on who you ask, the answer might horrify you.  Yochanan Gordon, a writer who had an Op-Ed in the Times of Israel, literally stated:  “If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?” Once the (if I may be forgiven for violating Godwin’s Law) Nazi-esque propaganda Mr. Gordon published drew the international condemnation it deserved, it was removed from the Times of Israel’s page, and he has since apologized.  Nevertheless, we are still left with the question: What, then, are Netanyahu’s ideas of an ‘intolerable price?’

The Gaza blockade, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Gaza blockade, courtesy of Wikipedia

At least 1,500 Palestinians have died in this current round of fighting, most of whom are civilians.  Gazans are starving, and their only power plant was destroyed (Fortunately, the United States insured it, so we U.S. taxpayers get to pay to rebuild it!).  Will Netanyahu get a safe Israel out of this behavior?  Ask yourself:  Does anyone in their right mind believe that the children who are watching their friends and family suffer and die will grow up without a hatred for Israel buried in their hearts?  Would you so readily forgive a nation if it invaded your city and killed those around you?  Put a third way:  Do you believe those who lost family members and friends in the September 11th attacks would have been happy to live side-by-side with Al Qaeda?

This isn’t a defense of Hamas.  Hamas is an evil organization, and it is sickening that Gazans haven’t already thrown them out of power.  These are the assholes who hide rockets in schools, prompting Israel’s attacks upon them.  That doesn’t make Israel right – it just makes Hamas’ evil instincts clear.  On the other hand, from the average citizen’s perspective, Hamas are the ones who build tunnels to smuggle material goods (as well as guns) into Gaza.  They provide the police.  They can be seen shooting at the Israelis who invade Gaza, and they have Israel playing exactly the game they want them to:  “Come get us if you can find us, and don’t kill too many children on the way there!”  I find it pitiful that Gazans haven’t thrown Hamas out on its ass, yet, but at the same time I can understand their rationale.  Why would you part ways with the only group that seems to maybe have an interest in helping you?

Therein lies the problem.  So long as Israel makes it a habit of invading and destroying huge chunks of the Gaza Strip, so long as it refuses to negotiate a lasting peace with Palestine, and so long as it allows illegal settlement of Palestinian territory, groups like Hamas will appeal to the Palestinians who don’t believe there is any hope of peace.  When a Palestinian parent reads an article like Yochanan Gordon’s, he believes his children’s lives are under an existential threat.  If you recognize that term, it’s because Israel has so often claimed that Hamas, or Iran, or someone is the Existential Threat to them.  And how does Israel respond to these Existential Threats?

Just look at Gaza.  Now you see the shit’s depth.  And, yet, today another UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip was bombed, despite that organization’s boss, Robert Turner, saying that the Israeli Defense Force receives daily updates on what sites are being used as shelters.  3,000 people may have been taking shelter there, some of whom are now dead or wounded.  Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, when asked why Israel is eschewing peace talks on this issue, responded by asking “What’s the point?

The point, ambassador, is that Israel has a right to self-defense.  It does not, however, exclude Palestine from having one.  Unfortunately, Israel’s military invasion of the Gaza Strip has left Hamas looking, to Gazans, like the only people fighting to protect them.  Increasingly, as school after school housing civilians gets bombed by Israel, it stops being about Israel’s right to defend itself – and starts being about the unacceptability of its attacking a civilian population.

I hold my friends to a high standard, and as I’ve always viewed myself to be a friend of Israel, I’ve always believed they can do better.  If they continue to prove to me that they can’t – if they keep killing civilians and refusing to even try to negotiate a truce – then I, one lone voice in the crowd, will stop supporting them.  Fortunately, as The Economist points out, I’m far from alone in this opinion.

Dystopian Review: Persepolis and the Iranian Revolution

Hello, everyone!

I just created another Dystopian Review video to examine Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, a graphic novel and autobiography about her experiences growing up around the Iranian Revolution.  It’s a long video, indeed, but it’s worth the effort as I cover the Iranian Revolution, as well!  If you’re a history, politics, or just-general-information buff, this one’s for you!

If you’d like, you can pop the video out of this tab and scroll down to read the original Dystopian Review article from my days as a writer for Suite101.  Enjoy!

 

Dystopian Review: Persepolis

 

http://barclayagency.com/satrapi.html

In today’s world, we hardly think of revolutions as something happening right next door.  Oh, sure, there’s some third-world country undergoing one some time or another, and there was that big “Arab Spring” we heard about a couple years ago, but it’s not like there’s actively any chance of our country radically changing its political ideology any time soon, right?  Considering I couldn’t possibly know what country you’re reading from, well, there’s a good chance I’m just coming up with a clever opening line!

The reason for this line is Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, a graphic novel which is really more of an autobigraphy.  Written in 2002, and it’s a rather good reason.  Persepolis is a rather unusual bit, as some of the details of Satrapi’s tale are most certainly skewed in order to protect those of her family who still live in the nation now known as Iran.  As Satrapi illustrates, they have already suffered quite enough.

 

The Price of Revolution

As I sit here with my copy of “The Complete Persepolis,” the first thing which greets me is the introduction.  It discusses some ancient history, up to and including how the nation of Iran gained its current name.  It is a story most Americans are likely unfamiliar with, as Satrapi explains:  “This old and great civilization hs been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.”  It’s hard to argue that the political narrative has been to generalize Iran’s goals; here’s just one example of an Israeli minister stating that Iran wants Israel, well, dead.  Considering some of the riddiculous things its leaders have said, this isn’t an entirely unreasonable perspective save for one critically important point:  Iran is not a nation consisting solely of a bunch of priests and a whack-a-mole president, but rather a country made up of millions of people who do not want war.

Satrapi’s story begins with her youth, and in particular her days as a child living under the pre-revolutionary government.  Back then, the Shah ruled over the country; and, as Satrapi’s parents duly elucidate, there is much more to the background of the Iranian revolution than the simple rise of Islamic extremism.  That fanatic viewpoint just happened to be the victor of a much larger cultural struggle which took place, overthrowing the Western-backed Shah.  Did I say Western-backed?  Well, the Shah only came to power after the deposition of Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953; the Iranian Prime Minister who just happened to want to nationalize Iran’s oil resources.  It’s rather well established fact that America and Britain helped to perpetrate this coup, and Satrapi reasonably argues that it was the Shah’s poor, even cruel governance which sparked the revolution in the first place.

Still, while this may be the first lesson Persepolis puts forth, it’s far from the last.  It doesn’t even try to argue that the ultimate victors were somehow better than the previous rulers.  Far from it, the very first page of artwork condemns the fanatic viewpoint.  In fact, Marjane even make clear that the views her parents held about social classes and rulership were, themselves, occasionally hypocritical.  What’s more, things always seemed to get worse; the second Shah was worse than the first, and the Islamic government was worse than the Shah!

Ultimately, the story has a happy-ish ending.  Marjane eventually leaves Iran, sent to a foreign school due to her refusal to conform.  She experiences Western culture, freedoms, and weed!  Wait, you thought that’s the ending?  Nonsense!  Eventually, she returns to Iran after some time in the West; the revolution’s passionate fires had died down somewhat, but oppression was still rampant.  She does eventually return to the West again, of her own volition, but she never fully assimilates to the Western style of life, either.

And therein lies the message.

 

Persepolis shines a light into darkness

While Satrapi certainly lived in a rather Dystopian situation, there is one underlying fact which need to be remembered:  The entire world is not so bad.  Persepolis was written to stand in defiance of the generalization of Iran as a nation composed mostly of lunatics.  Yes, there are bad people; yes, there is a police state; yes, good people die for infinitisimal crimes like satire!  But her message is that most Iranians are not in step with this system, at least not completely, and that there is truly more to her homeland than meets the Western eye.

On one hand, it is easy to compare this story to  Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  Both feature oppressed female protagonists who live in defiance of the regieme controlling them, and both tales include characters sympathetic towards her.  These are not the raging hordes of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  If one critical difference between the two novels is that between autobiography and fiction, than the second must surely be the devilish details of the message.

Satrapi’s story humanizes an often-dehumanized society, while revealing that it is still incredibly flawed.  It’s a must read for anyone who wants to even begin to understand the insidious nature of religious fundimentalism, while simultaneously demonstrating how – when the time is right, one day – there could indeed be a revolution in the streets of Tehran once more, one that a cruel police state will once more fail to prevent.  Or, perhaps, any city, if needed!  But, until then, Persia’s legacy will live on only as a footnote – forgotten and replaced by a dark conjuration of extremism.

My Dream Fixes For Createspace and Kindle Publishing!

Let me begin with an opening disclaimer:  Amazon does an excellent job with its platforms for independent authors.  I’ve chosen to use Amazon as a platform for distributing my own novels, so far be it from me to say they do a bad job.  I love how I get to keep the rights to my work, and my creations are distributed, promoted, and expanded upon at my own discretion.  Everything is on my timetable, and while there are certain disadvantages – most notably, a lack of extra eyes to examine and edit a manuscript to eliminate easily overlooked errors – I’ve found that I genuinely love controlling my own destiny.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Amazon and Hatchette Publishing – among others, it seems, as reported by Laura Hazard Owen, of Gigaom – are fighting a major war over contracts.  Brooke Warner of the Huffington Post gives an especially detailed explanation as to how this fight is playing out.  Amazon is stretching the limits of responsible warfare tactics as it disables pre-orders for companies its in a contract dispute with.  On the other hand, Bloomberg News points out that Amazon claims to be simply asking for Hatchette to pitch in half of an author-payment pool to make up for the difference between E-Bookand paperback royalties.

That said, having been through a couple of tech-support e-mails and publication snafus in my time, I’ve concocted a few ways they can improve their product.  But, first, a little exposition!

 

How Amazon Kindle and Createspace Publishing Work

Createspace was once a self-publishing start-up called “Booksurge,” and its goal was to provide print-on-demand services to authors who had, for whatever reason, opted to jump head-first into the still-shallow independent author pool.  Booksurge and another company were acquired by Amazon in 2005, and were eventually re-branded as Createspace in 2007.  Createspace does what Booksurge did, only it does it at Amazon’s beck-and-call.  This marriage ultimately yielded two blessings in tandem:  Createspace-published books are easily implanted into Amazon’s marketplace; and, with the invention of the Kindle in 2007, it made for relatively easy access to the budding distribution network for the world’s most infamous e-reader.

The premise is simple:  An author uploads a Word Document to Create-space in an appropriate format for a novel.  They choose a cover and a distribution scheme, purchasing such things as ISBNs if they wish.  Then, with a few clicks, they can publish their own novel in both print and, if they so choose, on the Amazon Kindle.  Software – and not the author – takes care of the vast majority of this process.  Amazon’s Kindle Direct Select program even gives authors extra perks to exclusively distribute the electronic version of their novel on the Kindle.  It’s all-in-all a sweet deal!

But, there’s room for improvement.  The first idea I have is a simple enough one:

 

Standardizing the price structure for physical products.

One of the biggest reasons I chose to go with Amazon instead of its competitor and my first publishing home, Lulu Press, was that Lulu added an exorbitant charge in order to place my novel on Amazon’s marketplace.  Lulu and Createspace both stick to a simple formula in that authors set the price of their novels, while the printer charges for the raw materials (paper, ink, etc) and takes a cut of the sale price.  A $10 novel might cost $2 to produce; the printer might then charge an additional 20% ($2) per sale, leaving the author with a whole $6.  That is, of course, unless the author is selling the book on another company’s site.  Barnes and Noble would want its own share of the profits, perhaps another 20% for the sake of this explanation.  That leaves the author getting $6 if a person buys the novel from their little-known printing press, but only $4 if the book is bought at a larger retailer.

Back in 2005, when I first released Pillars Of The Kingdom, I faced an insane problem:  If I had wanted to sell my first books on Amazon at the prices I wanted to sell them at, I would have owed Amazon money for any possible sales I made.  Yes, that speaks ill of Amazon, itself, since it was Amazon’s choice to charge Lulu a pretty penny for access.  On the other hand, it helped hit home that Lulu wasn’t a powerful enough platform to launch a career as an author from.  I needed something greater, and Createspace’s tag-team with the Kindle distribution network made it a clear winner.

Therefore, since Amazon owns Createspace, one might imagine that the author’s end-royalty would be the same, regardless as to if the book is sold on Createspace’s store or Amazon’s.  Alas, that’s not true:  This handy little calculator makes clear that a 200 page, black-and-white, 6×9 format novel sold for $9.99 will yield the author $4.74 on the Createspace store, $2.74 on Amazon’s marketplace, or a paltry $0.74 if it is sold through expanded distribution!  Even though Amazon owns Createspace, and therefore banks all of its profit, anyway, it still charges an extra premium for access to Amazon’s network.  It’s true that Amazon will sometimes knock the list price of a book down, using this price gap as a cushion, but it could be reduced a slight bit in the selfish pursuit of giving authors more money per sale.

Basically put, this is an anachronism that needs to end.

 

Improving Kindle-To-Createspace Communication

Oh, dear.  This was one of the biggest issues I had with publishing Physics Reincarnate.  It’s a difficult problem to explain, but think of it like a chicken-and-the-egg scenario.  If you set out to publish on Kindle first, and then decide you’d like to also publish on Createspace, linking the two titles can be a nightmare.  Even when handled by customer service representatives, you can end up with two slightly different entries for your book’s listing as a series.  It’s problematic to say the least, though it’s shown no actual evidence of hampering sales, so far.  Coming at it from the other end is easier; Createspace has some Kindle-production capabilities built in, but it doesn’t fix every problem.  Essentially it serves as a portal to the Kindle creation service.

I have to add a sort of disclaimer, here:  With Amazon’s “Matchbook” program, an author may choose to give away a free or discounted Kindle version of a given novel as a courtesy to those who buy the physical product.  It’s your basic Paperback + E-Book deal, but it expands an author’s options on providing deals to their customers.

 

Better Sales Feedback

If I want to check how many books I have sold, on Kindle, in the last two years, the process is fairly straight forward.  I start by downloading a .PDF chart…For May, 2014.  Then, I download one for April, 2014.  Rinse-and-repeat.  Createspace’s author-gateway is similar in its incredible disorganization.  Essentially, you have to download twenty-four folders just to get the raw data for the past two years of your own sales; then, of course, you have to collate them!

We live in the age of cloud computing.  Hell!  Amazon offers website hosting services!  There is no reason they could not keep a compressed sort of glorified excel sheet keeping track of sales records.  What books were sold in what region each month?  That should be a piece of cake.

 

In summation…

Those are the three big issues I wanted to address.  There are probably plenty of other petty concerns, especially having to do with formatting book covers (ugh), but those are issues that are more just matters of confusion than sorely-lacking smoothness.  I’m also not going to try to talk about their music publishing options – I don’t do that, I’m afraid!  Be it Kindle, Createspace, or both, Amazon is still an excellent place to self-publish.  I just want to make it better, if my little voice in the writing wilderness can be heard!

 

Jesse Pohlman is an independent author from Long Island, New York.  He’s self-published five novels, including the popular Physics Incarnate and Protostar serieses.  Check them out!

An Open Letter To The FCC: Save Net Neutrality!

You might not be aware of this, but you’re reading this article on the internet.  Okay, you probably knew that; what you didn’t know is that the very nature of the internet is under attack.  The reason you can load my webpage as fast as you can load Amazon or Google is because of a legal and regulatory concept called “Net Neutrality.”  The idea is that the Federal Communications Commission, which governs telecommunications devices such as radio, TV broadcasts, and phone networks, required all internet service providers to treat data flowing through their cables equally, regardless of the source.  Verizon, among other companies (especially Comcast), has led the charge on eliminating this rule; Comcast and Verizon have already used shady pretexts of “peering” to coerce Netflix into paying them what amounts to a tithe so that their data can reach consumers at reasonable speeds.

Now, creative and digital types have talked about this for a while, but the truth is that there’s a lot of abstract terminology and regulation involved.  The media has generally failed to get a hold on it until, well, until now:  John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight (and one of the best-ever The Daily Show correspondents and substitute-hosts, never forget), did an amazing job describing this issue.  It’s thirteen minutes long, but Oliver is a hilarious gentleman who will make it both educational and fun!  And, no, I’m not lying to trick you into watching.

I did exactly as Mr.  Oliver asked.  Well, first I went to the FCC’s website, got the phone number for their boss, and called them!  Then, I visited the FCC’s commentary system, which by the way is archaic (ancient (really fucking outdated)) and posted a comment.  This could easily qualify as a topic for a Dystopian Review video, which I might give a shot at making.  I dunno.  However, if that doesn’t get done, since my comment is already in the public domain, well,  here it is!  Feel free to basically cut/and/paste it when you comment, though I’d like to be credited if you do so.  Just cuz it’s a just cause!

 

 My Open Letter To The FCC

 

To: Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC; the larger body of FCC employees; the rest of the country and the rest of the world!

I know you’re overwhelmed, so I’ll make this very simple, ladies and gentlemen. I’m a 29 year old writer from Long Island, in New York. I’m an independent author. Most of my sales come from electronic books distributed via Kindle. I am, with some caveats, the definition of a “start-up” enterprise. What I do would not be possible without an open internet; Amazon’s rise would not have been possible without an open internet; our whole modern economy would not be possible without, well, you get the idea – an open internet!

There’s more: The government, which is by/of/for the people, paid for the research that ultimately led to such services as ARPANET. In one ethical viewpoint, the internet is already ours – we paid for it! But, that’s unrealistic, so let’s instead turn to the inscrutable source which is Wikipedia: It claims that in 1993, the internet carried 1% of all telecommunicated information. In 2000, it carried 51%, and by 2007 it carried 97% of all telecommunicated information. Since that wikipedia article cites a study by Martin Hilbert and Priscilla Lopez, “The world’s technological capability to store, communicate, and compute information,” published in Science Magazine in April of 2011, I’d wager it’s a legitimate argument.

Therefore, it’s safe to conclude: At least 90% of all that telecommunications companies do is part of the internet. It follows that, for lack of a better term, the internet is telecommunications. Guess what? That makes administering it your job. Perhaps “Commissioning” is a better word? I’ll leave to the side the numerous studies showing that, under your stewardship, our quality-of-internet has plummeted, and that most of our telecommunications companies have carved out little fiefdoms which clearly violate whatever anti-trust statues are on the books. I’m sure you’ve been linked to enough clips of John Oliver citing them to get the point.

But, here’s mine: We paid for it, we paid for it again when we bought a subscription to our cable company, and we pay you to keep it working in a fair manner. The concepts of “net neutrality” and “open internet” are vague and easy for people, even myself, to not quite “get.” However, since you’re the experts here, you know what your job is: Get it right. That’s all the majority of us ask: Get it right.

Regulate telecommunication companies like you would regulate any other public utility, because I can guarantee you that it is easier to disconnect from your local water utility by setting up rain collection buckets than it is to disconnect from your local internet service provider and get any kind of service. I mean, that’s the whole point of utility regulation, right? People need things like electricity, water, and telephones (which are telecommunication devices, themselves).

Regulate them the right way because it’s the right thing to do.

 

My warmest regards,

–Jesse Pohlman

A Cosmic Tale of Convenient Timing: B612 Foundation, Manley, and more!

As you may recall from some previous articles I’ve written about gaming, I’m a big fan of video games.  As you might know from reading my novel Protostar:  Memoirs Of The Messenger, I’m also invested heavily in dreaming about the stars.  To complete this repetitive trend, as you might remember from an article I wrote about Kerbal Space Program (and it’s reigning demi-god, Scott Manley), I happen to appreciate our reality when it comes to space exploration, especially when it’s explained through the context of little green men flying very human-designed rocket-ships.

Stay with me, here, there’s a point coming that’s connected to this article’s title!

In my ode to Scott Manley, I linked you, dear reader, to a video where Manley plays Kerbal with a gentleman named Ed Lu.  Ed Lu is an actual astronaut, the kind that fly around in the real rockets that are mimicked in Kerbal Space Program.  His days as a Space Shuttle pilot go so far beyond anything I’ve experienced outside of a dream, but his current efforts – promoted during his previous video with Manley – are focused on something called the B612 Foundation.  And this, dear reader, is where a subheading swoops in to make this article more search-able, as well as to create the obvious segue…

 

What Is The B612 Foundation?

I’m glad you asked!

The B612 Foundation is a not-for-profit organization co-founded by Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart, of Apollo 9 fame.  Following a fortuitous meeting in which Ed Lu was met with the stunning proposal of, “why don’t you do it?,” the two started an organization dedicated to a rather noble goal:  Preventing, or at least mitigating the possibility of an asteroid or meteorite hitting a certain planet we all live on, called Earth.  I spoke via Twitter with B612 earlier today about something I’ll get into briefly, but they recommended I watch a video they produced.  I hope I’m not doing them an injustice by reposting it here (assuming Vimeo’s embed features work), but I think they explain it better than I could.

B612 Impact Video 4-20-14 H264 from Spine Films on Vimeo.

 

 

b612chebmeteor

I think the point is obvious.  I find myself amazed that I don’t have any articles, on any of the sites I’ve written for, about the Chelyabinsk Meteor mentioned in the B612 Impact Video, but I know I’ve talked about it with high school students and they were rather stunned at the video of the event.  It’s reminiscent of another (presumed) meteor impact, the Tunguska Event, which occurred in 1908 and had the estimated force of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs.  I guess Russia is both lucky and unlucky; they’re unfortunate enough to get all of the really big meteors in their airspace, but their two close calls both appear to have ended with air-bursts and minimal damage.  Still, what about the smaller ones?

Well, part of the title of this article implied a strange connection of events between Scott Manley’s Kerbal Space Program videos, meteors, and the B612 Foundation.  Let’s go to the goodies!

 

 

“Interstellar Quest” Rocks The Earth?

Scott Manley’s latest KSP video series is called “Interstellar Quest,” and it is something I look forward to on a daily basis.  Let’s be real for a second; my father isn’t in great health and my grandmother is 90, and I am already prone to bouts of depression.  My girlfriend and friends in general have been great to me, as has my day job, but one of the most satisfying forms of entertainment has been the twenty-minute-long videos put together by this true storytelling and gaming genius.  While I can call him out on continuing to drag the Sean Kerman Secrets story-line along, I genuinely look forward to every Interstellar release I see.

A month or so ago, Kerbal Space Program updated to Version .23.5.  KSP did this to introduce a NASA-sponsored feature into the game; asteroids.  Players can detect asteroids floating around the Kerbal homeworld of Kerbin, and can of course send rockets to interact with, move, and even design ridiculous toys out of these space-rocks!  From an educational standpoint (and my Masters’ degree in education agrees!), this is the definition of “immersion,” or bathing students in a subject.  Build a rocket-ship, fly out to an asteroid, and manipulate it?  These are projects NASA – and some billionaires – really believe will be profit-generating prospects!

But as to its relevance to “Interstellar Quest,” in his latest (and 60th!) episode, Manley deploys a version of the very tool that the B612 Foundation wants to develop in real life:  The Sentinel, a highly complicated project that breaks down to being a crowd-funded, orbiting camera in space dedicated solely to finding asteroids that might hit Earth.  Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s Episode 60 of my Scottish Science Idol’s incredible series, wherein he further explains how the B612 Foundation’s Sentinel will work (both in-game and in-reality).

By the end of his video, Manley has discovered that an asteroid is about ten days out from striking the planet Kerbin!  Oh no!  That’s, like, the stand in for planet Earth!  Well, it was released on May 3rd, so in the game world they have 10 in-game days, but even if they were real days we’d still have, what, eight?  And, anyway, it’s a game, right?  There’s no way that a stellar body could somehow hit us because of Scott’s video, right?  Surely he was just promoting the B612 Foundation because it had just released it’s Impact Video on April 20th…Which, in retrospect, is kind of cruel; talking about city-killer asteroids on 420 is just mean, man, and might have harshed one’s mellow, had one indulged in such things…

What was I saying?  Right.  Manley was talking about B612 because B612 was back in the news, and surely he planned for his Kerbals to deal with this threat from space in his next episode of Interstellar Quest…

 

…And Then A Real Meteor Hit Canada!

Yesterday, as I ate dinner with my girlfriend and her mother (my first dinner-with-the-mom, and it went well!), this news came across my eyes, courtesy of CTV News:  “Meteor Strike In Ontario?  Flash Of Blue Light, Loud Boom Reported On Social Media.”  Immediately, the fiction writer in me began to churn out story-lines:  Manley had used digital magic to summon this thing to strike Canada because, well, why not!?

Alright, so this is a complete-and-total coincidence.  The incident, which was later confirmed as a real event by Astronomy Professor Peter Brown, of the University of Western Ontario, arrived a day before Earth passed into the tail of Halley’s Comet, causing an easily-predicted-in-advance meteor shower called Eta Aquarid.  It was a minor impact, and while I’m sure it scared people witless, no serious damage seems to have been done.  It was solely a matter of convenient timing:  We fans of Scott Manley and the B612 Foundation were looking forward to meteor stories and we got one in real life!  Our eyes were on a game’s representation of a asteroid-discovery situation, eliciting laughter at the face of Edlu Kerman falling victim to a paralysis bug, all as the real source for our fear emerged and reminded us just how real it is.

We knew that the Eta Aquarid meteor shower was happening, and knew it would be relatively mild; we did not know it was going to produce a direct hit, with fragments found in some person’s back yard!  It reminds us that we did not know Chelyabinsk was on its way to get us.  Other news was even more upsetting:  As reported by Liz Kilmas of The Blaze, a 25-foot, bus-sized asteroid called 2014 HL129 came within 186,000 of hitting Earth – closer to us than our moon is!  But the scariest part?  It was only discovered three days before it was due to pass so close.  If the asteroid was on just a slightly different trajectory, it could have crashed right into us, doing who-knows-how-much damage.  Probably not terribly much, depending on its speed, impact site, and density.  However, we would much rather it not break down to a stereotypical “wake-up call” moment for us to start actively defending our cities.

 

Contributing to the B612 Foundation Sentinel

I literally just donated $25 bucks to the Sentinel Project.  It isn’t much, but I don’t have much right now.  (If you buy my books, perhaps I’ll have more!)  Everyone should step up and invest in this.  Assuming it all works, it may well give us enough warning so that Scott Manley, Billy Bob Thorton, Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis, and others can mount up and prevent an asteroid from hitting us.  They can be led by Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart, who have some real space-travel experience.  Okay, so maybe SpaceX would end up picking the crew and handling the mission, and not the writers of a very bad space thriller!  However, by the time it’s all said and done, I put my money where my mouth is.

You can follow my lead and pitch in at this link.  Don’t forget, while you’re at it, to use our social networking buttons to “Share” and “Like” and “Tweet” this article.

Until then, if there’s news out of B612, Kerbal Space Program, Scott Manley, or just anything else cool in space, odds are you’ll see me write a (much shorter) article about it!  Until then, friends, remember:  We face dangerous times; no more dangerous than at any point in human history, perhaps, but certainly dangerous in that we lack the tools to glean knowledge of a world-ending asteroid headed our way, to say nothing of having a contingency plan ready to act.

That needs to change, and it’s our job to build the world we want!

 

Jesse Pohlman is an author from Freeport, New York.  He writes science-fiction novels where asteroids are definitely discussed, especially in Protostar:  Memoirs Of The Messenger, when Lahira Ocean, the chief navigator on the star-ship The George Washington helps her Captain make first contact with a new, dangerous species of alien.  Jesse has produced other sci-fi novels that deal with real physical phenomenon in the hands of reluctant superheroes and villains in the novels Physics Incarnate and Physics Reincarnate, starring the Master of Physics Itself, Emmett Eisenberg.

 Feel free to check this site out for more information and other interesting topics, like the educational value of Saturday-Morning Cartoons, a video-review of Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece Oryx and Crake, or how the Uintah School District in Utah took lunches from kids who “hadn’t paid for them” and threw the food out, instead.

Thank you for visiting!

The Educational Value of Saturday Morning Cartoons

Growing up in the late eighties/early nineties, there was one thing I loved:  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Okay, so I loved other things, too, but Saturday Mornings were special.  I was just a sucker for the shows that broadcasters just knew would keep our little imaginations running.  It wasn’t just my childhood that was shaped by this type of programming block, however – Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the history and strategy behind the Saturday Morning Cartoon!  What’s more, as explained by John Cheese of Cracked.com, this kind of TV-By-Theme, like Cartoon Network’s “Toonami” and Nickelodeon’s “Nicktoons,” are being phased out as on-demand programming, DVR’s, and hundred-channel-TV-Services allow consumers to more exactingly choose their shows.

That’s right!  Soon, if not already, the Saturday Morning Cartoon will disappear into a world where it takes a parental supervision code to turn on anything besides The Disney Chan…Wait.  No, Disney might not be the best choice-of-channel, given how many of their actors go over to the dark side.

 

Miley Cyrus, everyone. Courtesy of Hypedentertainment.com

 

I’m not just here to wax poetic about the old days, however.  Nostalgia has its place in the world (And, of course, its critics), but I’m here to ask a bigger question:  Did the Saturday Morning Cartoon teach children an actually valuable lesson in life?

No, I’m not talking about those goddamned, miserable goat fucks called “The More You Know,” or maybe “Some-Character-Maybe-Named-Sonic Says,” or whatever the poorly-named attempt to inform us was.  I certainly don’t mean those horrible anti-drug PSAs that tried to terrify us into not doing what most of us ended up at least trying.  I mean something more simple in life:  The concept of the opportunity cost.

 

What it costs to do what we want.  With TV’s.

As John Cheese pointed out in his article (cited above), we kids had to make choices about how we watched our cartoons.  At the very least, as he pointed out, we had to choose to get up.  Maybe we wanted to sleep in that Saturday, because the week had been tough!  Already we’d made a trade-off:  Sleep for TV.  Sometimes, if two cartoons we liked were on at the same time, we’d have to decide which one we cared more about!  Unless, of course, we were rich enough to have another TV with a VCR attached, and could record the other one; more likely, we could have a friend record it, if such a friend was reliable!

Speaking of friends, here’s another question:  If we were having a sleep-over, who decided what got watched, when?  What about when we were at that really cool friend’s house, and by cool I mean that friend who had a Nintendo with lots of games?  Did we watch still our TV show, or did we play some NES?  What if we’d rented a video game, but it really sucked?  Did you keep playing, hoping to get your money’s worth, or did you give up?

Oh, and speaking of not being able to actually watch our favorite shows, how about the worst situation of all?  How about when it was up to our parents what we did?  How the hell, looking back on it, did we cope with having to get up and go to sports practice/the zoo/some parental function we didn’t want anything to do with?  “But I want to watch…” was about as far as that debate got, right?

 

The Value of Time Management.

Well, therein lies the real value of the Saturday Morning Cartoon.  Sure, they made convenient TV fodder for when Grandpa and Grandma got stuck watching the brat so that Mommy and Daddy could have their “time alone.”  Sure, this type of programming probably didn’t set out teach us very much about anything real in our lives.  However, as adults, we all too often find ourselves facing similar issues of time management.  They are vital, and they keep us up at night wondering what the right choices are.  These are the issues that being addicted to Saturday morning cartoons prepared us for.

Issues like, “What should I do first?  Watch Breaking Bad, or play my X-Box 360?”

More food while your brain rots in front of that box? Image courtesy of Scarydad.com

Jesse Pohlman Writing Update, March 12, 2014!

Hello, friends!

I wanted to send out a general update on how my writing has been faring in the past few weeks.  This isn’t a comprehensive, all-exhausting diatribe, but rather a short little update just to clue everyone in.

First things first, health-wise I am doing better.  I’ve received a pair of botox shots (no joke), one into each of my trapezius muscles, near my neck.  This has reduced the pain of my muscle spasms by a not-insignificant degree, though I imagine I’m going to need further treatment at some point down the line.

Updates on Protostar!

Protostar by Jesse Pohlman

Protostar by Jesse Pohlman

 

Perhaps my best-selling novel is Protostar:  Memoirs Of The Messenger.  It’s a Kindle-exclusive, at least for the time being, and I am working on a sequel!  The word count has just crossed the 15,000 mark; not many, but not too few, indeed.  For those of you who remember Captain Lahira Ocean, let’s just say that right now she’s very intoxicated as she tries to remember what happened in a recent battle, seeing as she has a case of retrograde amnesia.  As for the first book, I’d like to announce that, thanks to the help of the lovely and talented Katherine Anguera, I’m going to be updating the cover art for it!  Allow me to give you a sneak peek!

 

Pillars of the Kingdom – The Editing Kingdom

I independently released my very first novel, Pillars Of The Kingdom:  The Forming, through Lulu Press in 2005.  I’ve written two full-length novels and a short story collection set in the world of Emor, and I have probably 90% of the finale written and ready to release.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the original novel is ten years old, and contains dozens of errors that require rectification.  Lulu doesn’t permit me to simply upload a new .PDF file and make the appropriate changes, I’d need to completely and totally overhaul it, and that would cost me money I frankly don’t have.

Additionally on the negative spectrum, we have the weakness of Lulu as a sales platform – Amazon is far superior, far less expensive for the end-user (that’s you, the reader!), and ultimately has better distribution options.  Whereas a digital copy of the currently-standing first novel costs over four dollars, I can knock that price down to ninety-nine cents on Kindle.  I can release a “Second Edition” of Volume One, then an updated version of Volume Two, and finish it off by completing the trilogy and releasing that digitally, as well.  I could even compress all three novels into one physical book.  It would be a large, expensive tome (Volume One is over 100,000 words), but it would be a much better value to you, my dear readers.

 

In other Jesse Pohlman news…

The Weekly Freeporter remains an active enterprise, but I haven’t been focusing much on it.  Mainly there’s just nothing relevant to say.  People seem to like when I write about gaming, so maybe I’ll write another article about that?  Physics Trincarnate is a work in progress, with 3,655 words.  I had the pleasure of completely re-writing a few paragraphs of that novel, just for the sake of effectiveness, but I work on it in my free time.  Finally, there’s a pet project I’ve vacillated on here and there, a political-activism sort of book that requires heavy research and lots of footnotes.  Unfortunately, time is a relevant factor in getting things done.

Alas, that’s all there is to say about that.

 

Jesse Pohlman is a writer from Long Island, New York.  You’re presently at his website, and reading an update about his writing.  Since you’re interested in that, why don’t you check out some of the novels he’s written?  Thank you!

Price reduction on Physics Reincarnate by Jesse Pohlman!

Hello, everyone!

I’d like to make a quick announcement:  Physics Reincarnate, the sequel to Physics Incarnate, has enjoyed a steep price reduction for the kindle version!  Instead of two dollars and ninety-nine cents, it’s now available for $0.99!  The reason for this is pretty simple:  Much of the feedback I’ve received on the original book is that Emmett Eisenberg is indeed an interesting character, but that people wish he’d used his powers more often.  Physics Reincarnate by Jesse Pohlman serves that exact function.  We get to see Emmett, James Lowery, Jethro Marx, and many others put their powers to the ultimate test, against enemies truly capable of great evil – all in the name of the greatest good!

Purchase Physics Reincarnate now, on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.  List price:  Now only ninety-nine cents!  For good!

Or, go all out and buy Physics Reincarnate in paperback!  List price:  Nine dollars, ninety-nine cents!

For Love Of Kerbal Space Program and Scott Manley

A year ago, I wasn’t in the greatest shape.  Many things changed me over the last year, especially the arrival of a new, more genuine love as well as an addiction I’ve developed.  It’s an addiction to some little green men who fly around in rocket ships, and they exist in my computer’s hard drive.  I’m talking, of course, about Kerbal Space Program!  And KSP, well, KSP deserves all the attention it’s gotten in the media.  It is the brain-child of a company called Squad, and it is a master-piece.  As a game, it is both simple to learn and literally impossible to master – players make their own challenges, after all!  As an educational tool, it is incredible in how it captures the nauseatingly complicated nature of orbital physics and transforms it into an accessible adventure.  Most of all, however, KSP has a community behind it that wholly completes the game – and, while there are many names in its hallowed halls, today we’re going to talk about just one of them.

 

What is Kerbal Space Program?

You, the player, are the somewhat-omnipotent ruler of the ‘mighty’ people of the planet Kerbin!

Kerbal Space Program!  Image courtesy of Squad.

Kerbal Space Program! Image courtesy of Squad.

 

In particular, you control a bunch of these guys.  Never fear, though; for all of their crazy grins and scared expressions, to say nothing of their green (arguably photosynthetic) skin, you are the greatest threat they have ever faced.  You see, you serve three distinct roles:  You are the designer of their rockets, you are the planner of their missions, and – ultimately – you are the controlling force behind their actions.  In all three phases of the game, your decisions are the ones that matter.

Let’s start with rocket design.  There are some pre-made rockets, but in 99/100 cases you will be designing your own.  You will, as a beginner, make mistakes with staging them; you will forget to install solar panels; you will forget a strut that causes the entire thing to tip over and explode.  It will make you laugh, mainly because you will be able to hit the “revert flight” button and try again.  Well, most of the time.

Then there’s planning a mission:  You don’t want to just send your Kerbals up into space with no real agenda, do you?  Maybe you want to visit a moon?  For starters, there’s…Mun!  Yes, many of Kerbal Space Program’s many planets and moons are analogues to Earth and it’s sisters.  Duna, for example, is roughly equivalent to our Mars.  The Mun is our Moon, but on the other hand Kerbin has a second moon called Minmus.  What if you want to build a space-station?  How will you design it?  Will you try to launch it up in one piece?  (Tip:  This ain’t gonna work, well).  If not, you have to design both launchers, maneuver them into place, and make them work.  If you think this is easy, you’re going to be surprised.

Kerbal Space Program

My attempt at Kerbal Space Program!

This is a rocket I built.  It’s designed to perform basic scientific reconnaissance.  I took the collection of parts I was given and slapped it together, I launched it and steered it into Kerbin orbit, and I believe this mission made a successful return to the planet.  In the bottom-right hand corner you can see my little alien pilot.  He looks happy and safe, doesn’t he?  Well, I’m good enough to make a satellite network and to launch a rocket ship out to the Mun and back.  I cannot land on the moon, yet; I cannot reach Minmus.  I cannot even begin to seriously consider a jaunt to another planet.  For anyone who believes NASA is playing small-ball by launching rovers to Mars, and for everyone laughing at the failure of China’s latest mission to the Moon, I invite you to create a similar mission in Kerbal Space Program and pull it off.  You’ll find dozens of players duplicate the Apollo project’s method as one of their first milestones:  You don’t want to know how many launches end up failing and being written off a “simulations.”

The Kerbals themselves are fun.  While random name generators give you an endless supply of astronauts, the game’s development initially gave players three to command.  Bill and Bob are often viewed as navigators or technies, mainly because their names both start with B, but there is no mistaking who Jebediah Kerman is.  Jeb is the legendary ace pilot, and whenever a miraculous landing is accomplished (without, of course, a fatal dose of lithobraking), rest assured that it is Jeb’s spirit being channeled.

But, let’s skip ahead a bit.  Let’s think “end-game.”  What happens when you are good enough to build space stations in orbit around other planets?  Well…You add modifications to your game.  Some, like the Flight Engineer in the picture I posted, just give you more data and help you make better decisions.  They’re not “easy-mode,” they’re just better displays.  There are “easy-mode” mods, but there are also additions like Ferram Aerospace Research and the Interstellar Mod that add more realistic physics engines, or stitch on entirely new story arcs to the development of Kerbal-Kind.  From new parts to play with down to entire re-arrangements of the Kerbol star system (and the addition of other stars), KSP is almost infinitely expandable.  What’s more, sometimes the best mod-makers are hired by Squad as game developers, giving enthusiastic Kerbal fans a chance to really change their game’s development.

Ahhh, but where would I be if I discussed “enthusiasm,” but didn’t mention the Youtube, Let’s Play, and Twitch communities – and, in particular, one man stands out in my mind as the best – as the Jebediah Kerman of Kerbal Space Program Players.

 

Scott Manley Takes It To The House.

…The house he built.

…In space.

I originally found out about the game by watching a Scottish man, aptly named Scott Manley, play Kerbal Space Program on his Youtube Channel.  Bear in mind, I don’t usually sit back and watch other people play video games, but I was intrigued by two things having to do with KSP.  The first was that it was so damn realistic looking (green men aside), and second that Manley wasn’t just some talking head – he’s an actual scientist.  He studied astronomy, and he works in the field of computer programming.  He doesn’t just play a game, but he explains actual physics as he puts them into play.  He also plays on “hard mode,” using many of the mods I mentioned above and more to create a game which is incredibly difficult.  And, well, he sticks with the results – I watched him play live, for an hour and a half, as a single bug in the game destroyed a mission he’d spent hours developing.  But, you can chase the link to that video.  I’d rather embed something different!

Instead, here’s Scott Manley playing Kerbal Space Program with NASA veteran Ed Lu, a man who has been into outer space, himself, and who now heads the B612 Foundation, which is dedicated to no less a goal than protecting Planet Earth from, you guessed it, little green men!  asteroids!  Why this one?  Because it’s an important goal, investigating and preventing potential asteroid strikes.  In case you’ve forgotten, I’ve conveniently linked you to Humanity’s latest “holy shit this is a problem” wake-up call, Chelyabinsk.

The bottom line with Kerbal Space Program is this:  It is amazingly fun if you don’t take it too seriously, and if you are willing to accept failure.  To watch it played by a steady player, an expert, is incredible.  Overall, it’s a great time.  Give it a try, or at the very least watch a few videos by Scott and some others and you’ll get a much greater idea of just what our place in the universe is!

Writing Dice To Help Writers Focus

Writers are addicted to writing, and that isn’t a bad thing. However, as any soap opera will tell you, one way or another, addictions inevitably spiral out of control. I can attest to this. My addiction to the written word is expressed by having far more ideas than I do time to focus on them! Whether it’s a novel series, a video series, article generation, or simply reading (damn you, Reddit) and discussing random nonsense on social networks (damn you, Facebook!) , I have a history of failing to focus on one goal at a time. All too often, I focus on no goals at a time! Intellectual paralysis by way of overwhelming abundance.

There are other symptoms of a writing addiction: Failing to edit one’s work or editing obsessively; refusing to practice basic techniques; failing to study the advice or art of others; or, what-have-you! All writers have flaws, and sometimes they have been ingrained into our creative rituals because they reflect the strengths we possess!

Last night, an idea hit me: Twelve-Step programs, as part of their overtly-religious guise, suggest giving yourself over to a “higher power” in order to combat your weakness before your drug-of-choice. If I can’t be trusted to control my creative impulses, maybe I can ensnare probability to help me be a more effective writer?

 

Writing Dice Can Be Nice!

Image courtesy of www.dungeonmasters.com

Image courtesy of www.dungeonmasters.com

First, select an implement of chaos, such as a coin, or a six-sided die; or four-sided, or ten-sided, or even the infamous D20!

Second, come up with a quick worksheet that tells you what you will do, based on whatever your result is. Perhaps, if you have a four-sided die on hand, you select #1 to be reading a book, #2 to be editing a finished story, #3 to be writing a new one, and #4 to be distributing query letters?

Third, you just roll the dice, flip the coin, or even click a button on a random number generating, dice simulating program! Away we go!

 

 Some Suggestions!

This is far from an alien idea, and presenting that alone would be almost pointless. Let’s up the ante!

You can maintain multiple sheets so that you can simply reach for one (perhaps at random, further handing your future over to a “higher power”), then roll your little heart out! You could use a four-sided die to select from four envelopes, each containing a further set of four options for a total of sixteen possible outcomes. This system lets you effectively select a project at random, followed by a particular aspect of it.  For a writing prompt, it can’t get much better!

You can express some control over your writing dice, adjusting the probability of landing any given assignment.  If you use a twenty-sided die, you may dedicate #1-#4 to promoting your latest novel, and may assign #5-#10 to editing. This gives you a 20% chance to spam social media (four possible results), but a 30% chance to spend the day editing something (six possible results), with the remaining 50% to be distributed. Divy them up however you’d like, and let fate be your guide!

Another option, if you’re looking for good practice at exploring different genres, is to assign a different writing prompt to each number.  Maybe your task will be to write a flash fiction of 1,000 words or less, and depending on the number you land, you’ll write a different style of story; #1 is science fiction, #2 is horror, and so-on!

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that, as it’s meant to combat our baser intellectual impulses, this technique works best when attempting to combat a bad habit. Maybe you just write new content, and never edit. Maybe you’re like me, and you get trapped in indecision about what to work on each day! As long as you’re actively combating a negative habit, leaving things up to your “higher power” is a wise choice. If, on the other hand, you’re already mixing things up a healthy amount? Do what you know is right!  Write!

Writing Dice

My prized six-sided die!

 

Jesse Pohlman is an author from Freeport, New York.  He’s written a number of books, all of which you can get information about here!