A Very Bad Terrible Part of Speech

inspires strong opinions.  Most people, and even many authors, use rules of grammar and understanding of grammar as best practices that help enable clarity of communication.  Some people, like me, get a little too fixated on the rules of grammar, like avoiding dangling prepositions.  The outlier is a particular part of speech that many people, and not just those who wield the pen on a regular basis, apparently love to hate: adverbs.

Framing Stories

For our purposes in talking about framing stories, we will define the story being framed as the plotlines explored directly by the narrative. To take a well-known example, look at Harry Potter. The plotlines of the character arcs, and combatting Voldemort, are the core story. A framing story could be if there were a line at the beginning or end of the books saying "based upon the diaries of Harry Potter, Wizard." Which takes us conveniently to the next set of definitions we need to supply.

A Rational Defense of Manned Spaceflight

As computers have become more advanced, faster, and more capable, the arguments in favor of manned spaceflight have become weaker, and space travel has increasingly become the domain of machines.  Long before the invention of the microchip, Isaac Asimov proposed exactly this, describing unmanned, computer-controlled space exploration vehicles that would be able to venture into territories too extreme and too dangerous for humans.  That vision has come to pass, and it is now commonly argued that humans are indeed too soft, vulnerable, and unreliable to utilize in spaceflight, and that removing them from the paradigm removes the weakest link.  Manned spaceflight has largely been relegated to an oft-maligned holdover of Cold War international competition and patriotism.  This is a mistake.

Choosing Words

I’ve said it many times on the site: I have something of a love affair with the English language.  Where some people moan over homonyms and homophones, or grumble about synonyms and antonyms, or the fact that tenses are so erratic, to me they are features, not flaws.

Staging: Making Rockets and Stories More Effective

Other than indulging my penchant for expounding on space-related topics, and perhaps providing you with some insight into rocketry, I bring this discussion up because it informs a way I have been slowly coming to approach writing. I, probably like a lot of new writers, was approaching the writing of my stories like a single-stage-to-orbit. When I sat down to write, I had an expectation in my head that I would sit down and craft all of the components of a story in a single pass, and that revisions were mostly just for changing around wording and cleaning up typos. Which, it turns out, is really challenging to do, because stories are complicated.

Hardcore History Recommendation

Since I don't listen to very many of these, I don't have a lot of basis for comparison, but one (and by one, I mean the only) podcast that I listen to more or less consistently is Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. I've alluded to it in review posts before for some of the historical works that I've read, but I decided it would be worthwhile to provide a genuine recommendation. Even if you're not interested in sitting down and actually reading something like Herodotus's Histories, you can still gain much of the knowledge and historical context from listening to these podcasts.

TESS: Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

As a bit of a side project at work recently, I did some modeling work on TESS, which is a NASA spacecraft that was launched to help search for exoplanets using the transit method (I know, you could never have guessed that from the name's acronym breakdown). Working with satellites as much as I do, this was a really interesting project, because it was quite distinctive in its orbit and mission architecture from most spacecraft that I get to study on a regular basis. For one thing, it is a remarkably low-cost, robust, straightforward system, quite different from what you often see with NASA programs, which because of their scientific goals are often pushing the very edge of our capabilities and therefore become very complex and very expensive. For another, it utilizes a simply fascinating orbit. Since I've been trying to post occasional in-depth articles on various academic topics, it seemed appropriate to share some of what I learned from that project here.

Cyropaedia Review

Literally, the title of this piece translates to "the education of Cyrus," though in truth only about the first book or two cover Cyrus's "education," while the others describe the rest of his life. This is meant as a sort of "how to" book on how to rule well, in the form of a biographical treatment of Cyrus, but unlike in The Ten Thousand, Xenophon is not here describing contemporary events, and many historians doubt that this is in more than the most general of ways an accurate depiction of Cyrus's life. Note: by "how to," I mean a book on how to rule as a semi-benevolent authoritarian dictator who is loved and feared by his subjects.

Life on the Edge

This is probably the edgiest post I will ever write, because I want to talk today about edge cases. Like some of the concepts I described in my post on narrative physics, this is another instance of me taking an idea from a "hard" field (science, engineering, math) and applying it to a "soft" field (political science, philosophy, literature), and this time that concept is edge cases. If you're not familiar, an edge case is an engineering term used in testing to express failure modes. For a product to be deemed effective/safe/useful, it has to be rigorously tested, and not just under "normal" conditions; it has to be exposed to the most extreme and unusual conditions that the engineers can possibly imagine it might ever conceivably experience, and tested in that environment, too. Those extreme and unusual conditions are known as edge cases, and it is very common for a product to require redesign after it has met its nominal operating conditions because it fails to account for edge cases. If only that concept were applied outside of engineering.