Enough winter!

How long before pitchers and catchers?
NASA's sorry state (??)


Obama Plan Privatizes Astronaut Launchings

Times story here.
I'm of two minds.

On the one hand, it's hard to disagree with critics who see this as the potential beginning of the end for the U.S manned space program, a move that will diminish the country's technological prowess as well as NASA. (How long before the rockets are built and launched in China, you ask, not unreasonably.)

On the other hand, while researching Helios* over the past year or so, I've spoken to a number of NASA scientists and others in the space community. The picture they gave me of the agency and our space program is not pretty. As a group, there are some pretty dispirited and depressed people working at the Space Agency right now.

The details of this new plan will be interesting.

*Helios is my next 'stand alone' novel. Check the website for details.

Russia's new stealth fighter

Actually, it's India's too. Projected ETA: 2020?

Doesn't look quite as radar evading as the F-22 or the F-35, but what do I know?
Stranger than real life, department . . .

That one was fiction; this one is real:

The Jihadist Next Door

On-line drinking

Finlandia wouldn't let me on its web site today, claiming I wasn't old enough.

Obviously they go by mental age.
IPad means IVideo

There's been a lot of talk that the iPad is going to mean big things for publishers of newspapers and magazines - and oh yeah, books.

But the real impact will be in personal video. Streaming to a personal screen is going to be as much of a killer ap for the slate as music was for the original iPod.

Not convinced? Try watching a movie on your laptop in bed tonight. Tell me it wouldn't be a lot easier if you were holding a tablet computer instead.

And yes, tablets have been around for a while, and there are a lot of good ones already available. But Apple just made it sexy.
Note to Tom:

Michelle's cigarettes are still out on the deck.

Seemed some how sacrilegious to move them. Kind of a bummer with the weather, though.
It's Monday . . .

Do you know where your helicopter is?

(That's the Battlehawk - latest version of the Blackhawk . . . look for a Russian/Indian version in the next Rogue Warrior.)

I was talking about Dreamland: Whiplash, the new series I'm doing with Dale Brown, and some people were wondering - why Whiplash, why not more 'straight' Dreamland?

Long story short - we were looking to refresh the series without totally walking away from it. Whiplash still stars many of the same characters, but now it's fifteen years later.

The first book came out in November and the reception has, thankfully, been pretty good. But inevitably we hear the question: Will you do more 'straight' Dreamlands?

I guess the answer is, it depends. We certainly have more plots. Whether we have time is another question.

One thing that the new series allowed us to do is move the time period where the story takes place up to the present/near future. That was always a problem with Dreamland, at least after the success of the first few books. Not realizing how successful it would become, we set it into a very small timeline - and most critically, in the past. The fact that it was taking place in the 1990s confused a lot of people.

Actually, most people just ignored it. Which is what you should do when authors make bad decisions . . .
Old New Jersey* . . .

BB-16, in full war paint. . .

*What, I gotta have a reason for posting a picture of a battleship?

Well actually I do have a reason . . . in a way . . .

Ages ago - last week?? - in one of the Dreamland books, I erroneously referred to the Pennsylvania when I meant the New Jersey. Or was it the other way around. Anyway, this isn't either ship.

Sometimes, it's better not to know the thought process.

(And for information on how the image was manipulated, go here.)
And speaking of Chinese hacking parties . . .

The top 10 Chinese cyber attacks (that we know of)
Bank heists: the next wave

From the AP:

Officials from the Duanesburg Central School District in Schenectady County on Jan. 5 announced computer hackers had drained about $3 million from a district bank account over several days in December.

According to the district's Web site, bank officials contacted the district Dec. 22 to question a request for an electronic transfer of $759,000 to multiple overseas accounts. The bank canceled the pending transaction, but officials dug deeper and discovered an additional $3 million in unauthorized transfers were executed before Dec. 22.

The FBI and state police were called in, and district officials said they were able to recover $2.5 million of the stolen funds with the help of several overseas financial institutions. To prevent further problems, district officials closed all the school system's bank accounts and established new ones with restricted online access.

There are literally thousands and thousands of vulnerable accounts.

At some point, the world is going to have to get very serious about electronic security. And that's going to have to include going after the perpetrators of thefts like these in a very aggressive way.
Speaking of Chisinau, and Whiplash . . .

Chisinau was the site of a massacre during World War II, one of many, unfortunately. That bit of history wasn't relevant to the new Whiplash story, so it's not in the book. Even an oblique link was lost when I cut some of the irrelevant parts of a scene down.

That happens a lot: Bits and pieces that mean a lot to the writer in the early stages or even pre-stages of a book get totally lost in the process. They may not make it onto the writer's screen, let alone the reader's.

But they do add something - or at least I think they do - to the texture of the book. They haunt it like ghosts in the walls, things you can sense but can't quite touch.
The Gates of Chisinau . . .

So after all that, I ended up cutting this part out of the book*.


But I'll think of this scene every time I think of the book. Promise.

* Whiplash 2: Black Wolf. Due out this November. Some of it takes place in Moldova, though not as much as originally planned.
More copy editing

Me: Slime bag - one word or two?
Her: It depends. Are you using it as a noun or a verb?

File under: Miracles are still possible in Haiti...
The real cure

You know you've been playing Borderlands too much when someone tries to talk to you about the new health bill and you say, "What's the big deal? Just give everyone a reinforced health shield and there'll be no problem."
What it's coming to . . .

Best use of polar bears and F-16s

. . . in a video spot ever.

Even if you're not into hockey, this bear's a keeper.
Speaking of copy editors

Today I used my book version of Webster's (rather than the program or on-line editions). It felt so . . . old-fashioned.

But in a good way.

Tomorrow: one of the bound atlases instead of Google Earth.

So if Webster says it's often not capped, should you or shouldn't you?

Where's the copy editor when you need her?
Espionage more than censorship

The news stories about Chinese hacking into Google and other American companies are mostly missing the point. While email accounts are being broken into - and have been for quite a while - the real goal is industrial espionage and theft of technology.

I realize a full list of the companies that have been attacked is hard to find, but even a simple search will show it includes Dow Chemical and Adobe. Those companies have little to do with dissent in China.

The media loves to write stories about hackers who break into computer systems for giggles or spread viruses as malicious pranks, they're the tip of the iceberg. There are any number of espionage programs underway on the internet every day. Some are being conducted by "private" criminal groups; a lot of others are government run or sponsored. Some are targeted; a lot are just generic let's see what we come up with probes. More than likely your computer - or rather its internet "address" - has been probed at least once in the past month.

And the probers weren't asking for sex.
Just numbers

JP Morgan 2009 bonuses = $26.9 billion

Subprime chargeoffs at the bank (in other words, foreclosed mortgages - i.e., people kicked out of their homes) = $568 million in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Put another way, paying ten percent less bonuses could have stopped all sub-prime foreclosures in 2009. Without doing the math, it's easy to guess that shaving another, oh, five percent off the bonuses would have stopped ALL foreclosures.*

Wealth transfer, indeed.

* Even if you're still employed and paying off your mortgage, the rash of foreclosures affect all homeowners, further depressing housing prices. I suppose if you don't own a house but want one, that is a good thing - assuming, of course, that you can convince a bank to lend you money.
And no, I don't suggest that JPMorgan just give those houses away, nor do I think it's a good idea to buy something you can't afford. But if you think the banks are doing any of us a favor, you're nuts.
You knew this, right?

Wondering why foreclosures are increasing when there's supposedly a government program to stop them?

Click here for one reason. (The short answer: contrary to popular belief, in some circumstances banks can make more money on the foreclosure than they can reworking the lone. It has to do with government guarantees and reimbursements.)

The link:

China? Really?

VeriSign's iDefense security lab has published a report with technical details about the recent cyberattack that hit Google and over 30 other companies. The iDefense researchers traced the attack back to its origin and also identified the command-and-control servers that were used to manage the malware.
. . .

Citing sources in the defense contracting and intelligence consulting community, the iDefense report unambiguously declares that the Chinese government was, in fact, behind the effort. The report also says that the malicious code was deployed in PDF files that were crafted to exploit a vulnerability in Adobe's software.

. . .

If the report's findings are correct, it suggest that the government of China has been engaged for months in a massive campaign of industrial espionage against US companies.

Shocking . . . not.

Full storty and links here.
The perils of grenades

All I seem to be doing these days is talking about grenades and explosions.

Today (well, almost - time blurs together when you're blowing things up) I had a long seminar with Larry about the fine points of shaped charges and large metal objects. Which ultimately led us to a change in a scene at the end of our next book.

Only when I was rewriting it did I realize that the changes meant we'd lose the thing I most enjoyed about that little bit - blowing up a hundred-year-old smokestack* that has haunted me since I was a kid.

Unfortunately, there's no way to do that now. It has more to do with the story than the shaped charge, but at this point I'd have to bend reality to get it in. And we can't quite get a way with it there.

Ah, well. Maybe next time.

*If you ever use the 59th St. Bridge in NYC, you've seen it. Yes, part of the next Red Dragon Rising will take place in NYC.
The banks

There's this:


and this:


They still don't get it.

But we have. In the usual place.
Truth as strange as fiction

Literally ripped from the headlines:

Allegations fly over Iranian scientist's assassination

Even for a country deep in political ­turmoil, the killing of Massoud Ali ­Mohammadi in Tehran today came as a shock. There have been arrests, disappearances and occasional shootings, but the manner of his death was as meticulous as it was disturbing.

Mohammadi was blown up outside his home in an smart northern suburb of Tehran by a remote-control bomb that had been attached to a motorcycle parked on the street. As his stunned neighbours cleared up the rubble they struggled to understand why a little-known ­academic would have fallen victim to such a highly professional assassination.

Mossad? Or the Iranians afraid he was going to Mossad (or the CIA)?

Either way, reminds me of a Deep Black plot . . . in fact, I think it was . . .

(If you're looking for background, this story's pretty good, at least as of now.)

Why should Americans have all the fun?

The Brits can blow stuff up, too.

(The missile is the Brimstone*. The small size and ability to volleyfire is truly impressive.)

Here's a url with action in Afghanistan:


* Typo in the video head. Man, I hate when that happens.
More on that Ebook thing*

Someone commented to me that my $11.41 royalty on sales of nearly 40,000 "units" was really an example of a terrible contract.

They're right, but the truth is that the ebook clause in that contract is probably the best most authors can negotiate - I (and my coauthor) get fully fifty percent of the $$ the publisher gets. The current standard, at least in many boilerplate contracts, is 25 percent, and there are some publishers that that push 15. (We're talking about net. Yeah, this stuff is a lot more complicated up close.)

The problem is that the publisher negotiated a bad deal. (There are reasons for that I won't go into here.) Suffice to say, $11.41 isn't going to pay my mortgage - or theirs either. The ebook sales on this book over its lifetime won't pay for coffee service there for a day.

But hey, there's always foreign sales. Like in Japan . . .

Seventy-three "units" sold in Japan during that period. (Hard cover, I believe, though no one seems able to get me a copy.) My cut?


Love that exchange rate.

* Go back a day or two for the original post. And an update or clarification - the figure only covered a 3-month period. The next 3 months saw another 39,903 "units" sold, for $16.42. Keep this up, and I may be able to buy a box of cigars . . .
These guys are sick . . .

. . . but you gotta love them anyway.
The downside of Ebooks

The good news: the book sold 39,813 ebook copies in a six month period this year.

The bad news: my share came to $11.41.

True story.
We were deabting this . . .

Thing is, an airbag works, too.

And then there was the guy who had one impale him in the leg, but not explode. (Presumably, he was too close for it to arm, or maybe it was just defective. Not a serious defense strategy, that.)

New Doug Preston book out today. Check it out.

Sorry to miss the party, guys...

So I'm working on the latest Dreamland/Whiplash, and just as I get to the part where things fall apart in Czech Republic, the coffeemaker dies.

The coffeemaker that was made in the Czech Republic.

Coincidence? I think not.
Even hangovers cost more in 2010

Bad news for our Russian friends . . .

Russia sets minimum price for vodka

The Russian government has set a minimum price for vodka that more than doubles the cost of the cheapest vodka on the market.
The minimum price of 89 rubles ($3) for a half liter of vodka (17 ounces) went into effect Friday, the start of the 12-day New Year's and Orthodox Christmas holiday, when alcohol consumption is at its highest.
Sorry, Ivan, Dimitri, Little Dog . . . But you guys should have been drinking the expensive stuff anyway.

Item: Khost Province suicide bomber kills self, eight Americans

The fight will continue . . .