Proving that timing is everything . . .

. . . 240 consecutive green lights in NYC - gives real meaning to driving in the city.

The laureate speaks . . .

... actually, not really - Bob Dylan has made it very clear he's skipping today's Nobel ceremony. But that's vintage Dylan.



Godspeed, John Glenn . . .

Space hero dead at 95. A Marine, a pilot, an astronaut, a senator, a great American.

Story:

John Glenn, who captured the nation’s attention in 1962 as the first American to orbit the Earth during a tense time when the United States sought supremacy over the Soviet Union in the space race, and who rocketed back into space 36 years later, becoming the oldest astronaut in history, died Dec. 8 at a hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Glenn, who in his post-NASA career served four terms as a U.S. senator from Ohio, was 95.

Link.

Where we're at

Not one of my best pictures, but Ivan always makes me laugh as well as sweat . . .



video


We asked a book club to take a look at FIGHTING BLIND. They liked what they read.


The weaponized web


Schneier on Friday's attacks:
Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don't know who is doing this, but it feels like a large nation state. China or Russia would be my first guesses.

Full entry.

Math in the Philippines . . .


U.S. aid & major grants (2012): $197,036,510
Chinese promises: $24,000,000, half of it loans.

Clearly, despots have trouble counting.


Lasagna . . . 

. . . unlike any you've ever eaten.



What would grandma think?
Zumwalt . . .



... about to be commissioned:
WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy will commission the destroyer Zumwalt (DDG 1000), Saturday, Oct. 15, during a 5 p.m. EDT ceremony in Baltimore.
The ship is named in honor of Adm. Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt Jr., former chief of naval operations (CNO) from 1970 to 1974. A veteran of World War II and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, Zumwalt exemplified honor, courage and commitment during 32-years of dedicated naval service, earning a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He passed away in 2000 at the age of 79.
Story.
Act of war?

Item:

The U.S. government on Friday formally accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations during the campaign for the Nov. 8 presidential election.
U.S. officials have said in the past few months that they believe cyber attacks were orchestrated by hackers backed by the Russian government, possibly to disrupt the election in which Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton faces Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. Russia has dismissed allegations it was involved in cyber attacks on the organizations.
Story.

The question is, how do you retaliate - make Russia have a real election?
Books to Mars . . .

... or wherever - Amazon's rocket takes its next leap. (Actually Blue Origin, but Amazon just sounds cooler. Story.)





The Aleppo lesson


Any Sunni country, looking at the genocidal tactics being used in Syria, will conclude that they need a nuclear weapon. Why? Because Iran, which is part of the Syrian/Russian coalition, clearly has no qualms against total war, and would not hesitate to use those tactics against them. The WEst will not stop the, and Russia will encourage them.

Story on Aleppo.
What is a techno-thriller anyway?

Puppet Master is a “techno-thriller” – but what is that exactly? What is the genre that has been said to include everyone from Tom Clancy to Jim DeFelice?

Technos are most often compared to either science fiction or military-adventure. While my work almost always blurs differences – I love nothing better than genre hopping – even I observe differences.

To sci-fi: While Puppet Master is big on techno – robots, AI, that sort of thing – it’s set in the present/very near future, which is one of the things that separates techno-thrillers from science fiction. Themes for technos tend to be chosen from recognizable present-day situations; if that happens in sci-fi, they’re usually transmuted into unfamiliar settings. Technos take the present and burrow in; sci-fi takes it and goes outward.

To military: A lot of technos – Clancy is the prime example – involve combat and the military: it’s a good way to show off the tech. But there are plenty that aren’t – many of Michael Crichton’s works are technos, with nary a soldier in sight. And there’s this – in a techno, the tech is generally one of the main characters; it’s hard to imagine the book without it. It pushes along the plot, and in some ways has its own personality. That doesn’t happen in traditional military-adventure.


But really the best way to define the genre is to read. I’d start with Dale’s books – Flight of the Old Dog is a classic, but you can hop in anywhere.


Football ready . . .



Puppet Master is intended primarily for the paperback and eBook market, but there’s also a hardcover available. It’s made for the library market. I got one the other day – it’s built like a tank. You can play football with it.


I guess library patrons are more destructive than I thought.
Inspirations . . .


Around the time we started working on Puppet Master, I was doing a number of fund-raising events that brought me into contact with veterans who’d lost limbs in the Iraq war. It’s a cliché to say they’re an inspiration, even though that’s the truth.

Spending time with them you learn to look past the wounds and find the actual person. They’re all different, struggling with the new reality of who they are.

It’s very easy to pay lip service to their struggles, or to put them on an untouchable pedestal. Most don’t want that. Nor do they want to be defined by their injuries or even the battles they’ve fought, are still fighting, to recover.

I don’t pretend to know what’s it like to lose a limb, to lose might sight or hearing. I do know what it’s like to have friends who have. Like all my friends, they’ve added to my life in ways that I can’t really define.


One of the characters in Puppet master goes through some of that trauma and transitions. Hopefully the writing captures a tiny bit of what it’s really like.


Now on sale at your favorite bookstore. Here's a page with links.

Hacking an election . . .

. . . is possible. Is it probable?

Yes.

The Washington Post:

Reports this week of Russian intrusions into U.S. election systems have startled many voters, but computer experts are not surprised. They have long warned that Americans vote in a way that's so insecure that hackers could change the outcome of races at the local, state and even national level.
Multibillion-dollar investments in better election technology after the troubled 2000 presidential election count prompted widespread abandonment of flawed paper-based systems, such as punch ballots. But the rush to embrace electronic voting technology - and leave old-fashioned paper tallies behind - created new sets of vulnerabilities that have taken years to fix.
"There are computers used in all points of the election process, and they can all be hacked," said Princeton computer scientist Andrew Appel, an expert in voting technologies. "So we should work at all points in that system to see how we make them trustworthy even if they do get hacked."
Story.


War, by any means possible . . .


This is reality, not a premise for a book:


Multiple former officials and security researchers said the cyberattacks on Arizona’s and Illinois’ voter databases could be part of a suspected Russian attempt to meddle in the U.S. election, a campaign that has already included successful intrusions at major Democratic Party organizations and the selective leaking of documents embarrassing to Democrats. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has alleged that the digital attacks on her party are an effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime to sway the election to GOP nominee Donald Trump. Moscow has denied any involvement.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/08/fbi-states-voting-systems-digital-assualt-227523#ixzz4InvfNNLW 



Triumph amid tragedy



A girl is rescued from the ruins of the earthquake in Amatrice, Italy.

(Story.)
On the border . . .

Russia prepares to move again:
Ukraine’s president warned of a possible invasion by Russia, further fraying nerves that have been on edge since his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin accused his neighbor last week of engaging in “terror” tactics in Crimea.
Story.

The actual motives this time may be more in the way of intimidation than invasion, but either way it's unacceptable.


Crime at the ATM


Part of the plot in Puppet Master turns on a scam involving ATM machines. Because it’s fiction, the plot is a bit more involved and advanced than what you might encounter in real life – but that’s scary enough.

Here’s a good briefer on what to watch out for:



Krebsonsecurity.com is hands-down one the best and most accessible site on all manner of internet fraud for “regular” folk. (But make sure to take it small enough doses that your paranoia level isn’t overwhelmed.)

Covers . . .

This year's most popular motif seems to be . . . faces coming out of darkness.

It's not just us:



Here's the cover for novelist Javier Marias's new book, which is also coming out in November:




We don't pretend to have invented the idea, by the way. I count at least three books with somewhat similar ideas over the past two or three years, and more on the way. When one designer has a good idea, others follow.
Announcing . . .


. . . my new book with blind Special Forces Major Ivan Castro, to be published this November by St. Martin's Press.



Book's website (still a work in progress at this point).
The 'Equation' Group . . .

. . . one of the real-life inspirations for Puppet Master.

CANCUN, Mexico — In 2009, one or more prestigious researchers received a CD by mail that contained pictures and other materials from a recent scientific conference they attended in Houston. The scientists didn't know it then, but the disc also delivered a malicious payload developed by a highly advanced hacking operation that had been active since at least 2001. The CD, it seems, was tampered with on its way through the mail.
Story.

I suspect that the real life intrigue, in this case at least, is even more mind-blowing than fiction can ever be.

(There's not much hacking in book 1; more in book 2 and beyond. You can preorder here.)
Fact follows fiction . . .

. . .  in southeast Asia.

Item:

PERTH, Australia — On July 29, loudspeakers and screens for national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines were hijacked in two major Vietnam airports in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Offensive messages and what has been described by state media as "distorted information" about Vietnam and the Philippines’ claims to the South China Sea were displayed on flight information screens and broadcast over the public address systems.
Story.

Shades of Red Dragon Rising; (book one at Amazon.com / B&N / your local indie store.


1984 . . .

. . . but Big Brother is actually for hire.

Item:
Forget telephoto lenses and fake mustaches: The most important tools for America’s 35,000 private investigators are database subscription services. For more than a decade, professional snoops have been able to search troves of public and nonpublic records—known addresses, DMV records, photographs of a person’s car—and condense them into comprehensive reports costing as little as $10. Now they can combine that information with the kinds of things marketers know about you, such as which politicians you donate to, what you spend on groceries, and whether it’s weird that you ate in last night, to create a portrait of your life and predict your behavior.

Story.

(The underlying technology is similar to tech used in Puppet Master. There, of course, it won't be used for nefarious purposes . . . at least not yet.)


Fact or fiction?

How about both?

Sometimes fiction and fact overlap - this story details an ISIS branch that plays a key role in the next installment of Puppetmasters, due out this time next year:


Up, up, and away . . .

F-35A ready to fight:

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. (AFNS) -- The F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation fighter aircraft was declared 'combat ready' by Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, Aug 2.
Story.
Will our elections be hacked?

Or have they been hacked already?

In light of Russia's recent attacks on our electoral system, I'm surprised that this isn't getting more attention:

The State Board of Elections (SBE) fell victim to a cyberattack that was detected on July 12, 2016. Specifically, the target was the IVRS database. Once discovered, State Board of Elections closed the point of entry. On July 13th, once the severity of the attack was realized, as a precautionary measure, the entire IVRS system was shut down, including online voter registration.

Election official's Facebook post, which includes details.

The real question is whether other states would even know if they'd been compromised.


Did computers alter writing?

Sitting at a typewriter, we are always in the present moment as the carriage trundles forward character by character, line by line. Word processing, by contrast, allowed writers to grasp a manuscript as a whole, a gestalt. The entire manuscript was instantly available via search functions. Whole passages could be moved at will, and chapters or sections reordered. The textual field became fluid and malleable, a potentially infinite expanse, or at least limited only by the computer’s ever-expanding memory.

Essay.

(I would definitely agree that computers have changed the way a writer can relate to a book, and specifically, make it easier to alter individual facets of it, be they plot lines plot characters. I can't imagine writing a novel in any other way. Some writers I know, however, only write forward -- they don't go back once they've finished a page. Ever. Or at least that's what they say. It would be interesting to see a more in-depth study . . .)
The purge continues . . .

. . . in Turkey:

Istanbul (CNN)Turkish authorities have issued arrest warrants for 42 journalists, state-run news agency Anadolu reported Monday, as a purge on the country's democratic institutions following a failed military coup intensifies.
Story. (And just for the record, the Western media's version is way milder than how it feels there.)


The shame and sham in Turkey . . .

There’s nothing like a failed coup to boost the standing of a dictator, especially one who is slowly disassembling a democracy.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is certainly making the most of the inept coup aimed at his regime last week. Today the Turkish president declared a “state of emergency” for three months; this after starting to purge the military and schools, presumably of anyone who may pose a threat.


Very sad to see such a proud country with a rich heritage and great potential being slowly strangled by a regime that has struggled to help it live up to its potential. Hopefully the people won’t have to go back out on the streets to bring real democracy back.

Spy vs. spy . . .


. . . takes a bizarre turn in Russia - weirder even than the Cold War.

BRUSSELS — An executive with NBCUniversal said he had been denied entry into Russia and detained for several hours on Wednesday, raising the prospect that a growing spy and diplomatic confrontation could now be tipping into the world of business.
The executive, Jeff Shell, who oversees the motion picture unit, said he was traveling to Russia on business when he was detained briefly and ordered to leave the country. Mr. Shell said NBCUniversal had a movie operation in the country. He is also the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other government broadcasters that are not well liked in the Kremlin.
Story is here - Make sure to read at least as far as the dump - and I'm not talking about an info dump.

Speaking of home . . .



It's good to be back. Posting some outtakes of my research trip for a book on the Pony Express (due out next year) on Facebook, here.

World to China: Go back home . . .

. . . and stop building sand castles in everyone else's backyard.

Item:

A tribunal at The Hague ruled in a sweeping decision Tuesday that China has no legal basis for claiming much of the South China Sea and had aggravated the seething regional dispute with its large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands that destroyed coral reefs and the natural condition of the disputed areas.
China "does not accept or acknowledge" the tribunal or the ruling, China's state Xinhua news agency said. The nation has long maintained that the tribunal did not have jurisdiction over the dispute.
Story.

The question is what anyone's going to do about it.
Medals again (???)

I understand from a reporter’s email overnight that the Navy is contemplating issuing a new DD214 for Chris Kyle, revising his medal total downwards. I have yet to find out exactly what or why or how they made that decision.

Chris's memory of his medal totals agreed EXACTLY with the original discharge documents issued independently in 2009 by the Navy and reported by us in American Sniper. In revising the discharge documents, the Navy is now admitting to sloppy record-keeping, either in 2009 or today. I find it difficult to believe their records have become MORE complete in the years since the discharge papers were first issued.

I don't know who or what or why things got fouled up, but the bottom line is this: Chris saved countless lives on the battlefield, was awarded numerous medals for valor, and should have gotten even more.


Coming this August . . .


Dale and I are launching a new series, with bots, AI, and damsels in distress . . .
Old bones . . .

. . . for the Corps. Item:

The Marines are looking for a few good planes, and their search has taken them to an Arizona boneyard where the Corps' old F/A Hornets have been gathering dust and rust for years.
Story.
In the bizarro world . . .

. . . of North Korea, the fact that they want war justifies them wanting war.

Item:
"It's the United States that caused this issue," Han Song Ryol, director-general of the department of U.S. affairs at North Korea's Foreign Ministry, said in his first interview with an American news organization since assuming the post three years ago. "They have to stop their military threats, sanctions and economic pressure. Without doing so, it's like they are telling us to reconcile while they are putting a gun to our forehead."

Article.

The real question is when  does Japan decide to implement an offensive capability to meet the threat. Because even with the best defensive shield in place, retaliation will be seen as necessary. And especially after the recent launchings, they have to feel they're the ones in the bull's eye.

VR - don't listen to the critics . . .


Farhad Manjo, the technology writer for the NY Times, has an article today on virtual reality that is going to come off like the stories about the Wright brothers and their new-fangled, never-gonna-work contraption, the aeroplane. We’re seeing a lot of these lately because of the alleged “failure” of the first generation of VR devices to be runaway commercial hits.

You can read the article here; he’s absolutely right about the improved controllers that are coming out soon – they radically alter the experience. And additional technical improvements in the hardware, sure to be available commercially within the next few years, will improve it as well.

But  what Manjo is really reacting to – which he seems unable to fully articulate, or perhaps perceive – is the fact that the art form – yes, VR is an ART FORM – is so new that the VR artists have not yet arrived to develop the medium. The examples that we’ve seen – in the labs where Manjo played and even in the VR “experiences” his own newspaper is pioneering – don’t fully engage the user or exploit the medium. Critics are looking for Charlie Chaplain when the "Great Train Robbery" hasn’t been shot yet.

I’m writing this while out West researching a book on the Pony Express, but as I’m writing this, I’m thinking of how the VR experience – which would not only interactive but multi-participant – would be. (No, this isn't a pitch . . . but . . .)

The medium is an exciting but demanding one, one that demands collaboration as well as vision. But when the artists get a good handle on it, the world will not be the same.



Not horsing around . . .




Superb monument capturing the changing of horses during a Pony Express ride in bronze. The statue by Avard T. Fairbanks is located on the grounds of This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.


Road less traveled . . .

. . . today. In its time - the 1800s - it was a super highway (part of the Pony Express trail heading through Utah toward the desert and eventually Nevada and California).


Where I'm at . . .




. . .  for the next few weeks . . .
Nederlands spreken?

(Just out in the Netherlands...)
On D-Day and beyond

This week we remember and honor the soldiers who fought in Normandy, landing in what will forever be known as D-Day, June 6, 1944. It’s been called the Longest Day, and certainly if you were on the beach, had a relative or friend there, or were responsible for someone who was, it was all that and more.

D Day was a great victory, establishing an Allied presence in northern France. Today as we look back, it may seem as if it were a preordained victory, but in fact it was anything but. Nor, it should be pointed out, did the successful landings and securing of the beachheads make ultimate victory a sure thing. The original assault plan, with the British leading a spearhead east, failed, and until the Cobra breakout weeks after the landings, the entire enterprise surely must have seemed in doubt. Even after the breakout, the original plan for kicking the Germans out of France was drastically revised – which while it led to Patton’s charge across the country that summer, made for some other difficulties along the way.

The point is, when we look back at historical moments, they often seem to be not only triumphant but obvious. Real life is never that way.


Ready to rumble . . .


. . . where it started. RIP.



Veterans' day

 . . . . . . is today for a group of honored vets in the Poughkeepsie, NY, area.




Addendum:

To the earlier post . . .

Someone in the bowels of the bureaucracy loses some paper (not like that’s ever happened before) and someone else on an obscure website wants to get some attention…. So I end up spending the day trying to be ultra-logical, ridiculously polite, and absurdly fair in a world of shouters and cranks run amok.

Believe what you want to believe, but we printed the truth, and no amount of hate or other bs can diminish Chris’s achievements or character.




Chris Kyle’s Medals


I've long since stopped trying to correct or comment on the false stories about Chris; it's a fool's errand. I would always suggest people consider the source and the motivation of anything they read or hear instead. However, as I've gotten a number of inquiries from people whom I respect:

Short answer: Believe the book.

Long answer:

When we published American Sniper, we relied on a variety of documents and other people’s memories as well as Chris’s.

The mention in the book of Chris’s awards, specifically two silver stars and five bronze stars with valor, is based on Chris’s memory and his DD214, the official, legal, and accepted document of his military service prepared from the Navy’s own records. I have a copy of the original document; it agrees with the one the Navy has made available and is public.

At some point soon after the book was published, a reporter pointed out that there appeared to be a discrepancy between the military’s centralized awards records and Chris’s personnel records regarding the number of medals he had been awarded. This was the first I heard of it. Neither Chris nor I could determine why there was a discrepancy. At this point, I don’t recall any specifics, whether there were any classified actions, record-keeping procedures, or anything else involved as a possible explanation. So much else happened in that time period and since that quite candidly I’d forgotten all about it until the recent report.

Had the discrepancy been pointed out to me prior to publication, I certainly would have mentioned it in the book. I’m sure Chris – who honestly could have cared less about the medals, as opposed to the lives they represented – would have agreed.

I have not seen the Navy’s medal records and don’t know how they are collected, so I can’t speak to any aspect regarding them. I do know that falsifying the DD214 would be an extremely serious matter, would have involved someone other than Chris, and would have been frankly pointless – I’m not sure anyone would really care how many medals of what variety someone was awarded beyond the first. While he was proud of his military service, Chris did not consider his personal medal count historical or even particularly noteworthy, especially for a Navy SEAL involved in the volume of action he saw. He never bragged about the medals in my presence, or even brought it up.

In any event, I can honestly say that Chris certainly believed what we put in the book matched his memory as well the documents. His word would carry more weight with me than any piece of paper, whether it exists or not.


-        
Real Dialogue:

[Long, convoluted and wandering prologue, which has nothing to do with reality or anything that follows, but for reasons unknown takes us to the following non sequitur...]
Doc: You know, Lyme disease is related to syphilis.

Me: This is why I don't go out drinking with guys who are doctors.
Our friends (cough-cough) . . .

. . .  in Pakistan. Item:



“Two months after Osama bin Laden was killed, the CIA’s top operative in Pakistan was pulled out of the country in an abrupt move vaguely attributed to health concerns and his strained relationship with Islamabad. In reality, the CIA station chief was so violently ill that he was often doubled over in pain, current and former U.S. officials said. Trips out of the country for treatment proved futile. And the cause of his ailment was so mysterious, the officials said, that both he and the agency began to suspect that he had been poisoned.


Politco summary of story.
The (very) versatile F-16 . . .

Fighter, bomber - and life-saving high-speed cargo plane?

Item:
A Norwegian fighter jet saved a dying man’s life by whisking medical equipment 300 miles to the country’s remote central coast in just 25 minutes.


Story.

SBMs for North Korea?

Item:
North Korea on Saturday fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile from a submarine off its northeast coast, South Korean defense officials said, Pyongyang's latest effort to expand its military might in the face of pressure by its neighbors and Washington.


Article.

Does someone have to be burned before we take the matches away from the psychopath? I guess so.

More on baseball science


Fivethirtyeight continues its excellent analysis of the new tools to analyze baseball -

Statcast’s new metrics have enormous potential to change our understanding of baseball, telling us not only what happened, but also howit happened. On the other hand, they’re largely unfamiliar to fans used to thinking in terms of old-school metrics. So today, I’m going to dive into two of Statcast’s new statistics — launch angle and exit velocity, both of which long existed only in the dreams of sabermetricians — and explore what they can tell us about hitters.
The article.

Library shout-out


In honor of National Library Week, some applause for my local library, declared the best in the country:



Applause, too, for some military libraries that have aided me greatly in my work and supported me as an author by distributing my books and even hosting me as a speaker - West Point,  Carlisle Military College, Barr Memorial Library at Fort Knox.

Thank you, all.

Libraries


When American Sniper was chosen as the "big read" a few weeks back, the publisher asked me to write something about what I did on my summer vacation. Instead, I wrote about libraries and what they mean to me.

Here's an excerpt:

The best-selling book in America for two out of four years, translations into languages I didn’t even know existed, the basis for a mega-selling, critically acclaimed movie starring one of the country’s hottest and best actors – what has happened to American Sniper is something authors don’t even dream about. Since its publication in January 2012, Sniper has become an international phenomenon, cresting plateau after plateau. And while I for one give all the credit to Chris Kyle, whose life and voice it celebrates, I would be less than honest if I said that I didn’t relish its success.

And yet, for all the best-seller lists, the media attention, the fancy parties and celebratory bourbon, no honor can compare to what I feel when I see the book on a library shelf. There is something both flattering and deeply humbling in that moment, rivaled only by catching a glimpse of a patron in a nearby chair reading it. It says that your work is important to the larger community, something worth a person’s time, either as entertainment, education, or a bit of both.

And it comes from an institution that changed my life. As a child of a blue collar family, it was the library where I found the habit – and joy - of reading, almost by osmosis. Many of my interests today can be traced to the crowded stacks I wandered through on Saturday afternoons (ducking confession at St. Mary’s church, but that’s another story). I still remember the look on the town librarian’s face when I went to check out Operation Barbarossa, at the time a recently acquired volume detailing Germany’s invasion of Russia in World War II: She peered down at me from behind the circulation desk, frowned and said something along the lines of “Really?”

I think she was referring to my age – I must have been in sixth grade – but in the end I got the book and read it, and have been hooked on history ever since. Today, I still find ideas and sparks roaming the stacks; it’s like a vacation in an unfamiliar city, or a return to a place only vaguely remembered. Each book is potentially a new adventure, a new way of looking at the world, a new kick in the rear to get you working.

Libraries have played a role in practically every book I’ve ever written, and Sniper was no exception. When I had to understand the course of particular battles in the war and put Chris’s ground-eye view into perspective, I turned to my local library for help. The miracle of inter-library loan brought a flood of information, allowing me to reach far beyond its walls. Not only books but archives opened for me, as they did many times in the past, and since. And this was not because I was a “famous” author; rather, I wielded something far more powerful than my reputation: a library card.

Actually, in my case it is a small piece of plastic with a bar code on a keychain, but its power is overwhelming. It has taken me to some of the best libraries in the world, as well as some of the smallest and dustiest. Each time it has unlocked stashes of data and a treasure trove of surprises. As valuable as the Internet and search engines are, they retrieve the known; libraries bring the mysteries that make the known worth knowing.

Libraries have come very far since I first started wandering through their stacks. While they have always been more than just a repository of books, today they play a critical role as centers of our communities, hosting activities for everyone from toddlers to octogenarians. My own small-town library is model of this, having been recently named as the best community library in America – thanks in no small part to the energy and devotion of its director, staff, and board of trustees. Its collection is, as libraries go, may be relatively small, but it is incredibly diverse, including a wide variety of media, and backed by holdings in libraries across the regional system and beyond. Its programs for children, for adults, for teenagers, are even more expansive. It’s no mystery why the parking lot is always full – and why there’s a long list of readers waiting for one of their copies of American Sniper as well as many other books.

Given our times, I’m sure there are a variety of metrics to measure the value of individual libraries and their effectiveness in general. I’m not really a numbers guy, but for my money, the measure of a library’s worth comes in the sublime excitement of a new idea, in the recognition that someone else’s experience can inspire your own. It comes in the smiles of children at story hour, in the knitted brow of a non-English speaker trying to keep up with his literacy tutor, and in the encouraging look from the librarian when a boy or girl checks out an unexpected book. You can’t put those things into numbers, but you can feel their heat.


Thank you for putting American Sniper on your shelves; thank you for encouraging people to read it. More importantly, thank you for being such a vital part of my community, and of communities throughout the country, from New York to Texas, from Florida to Washington state. I know I speak for everyone who comes through your doors and electronic portals, when I say that we appreciate what you do for us more than you know.

Tawkin' Boston . . .


This came in handy while working on Puppetmaster, the new series out later this summer.

Speaking of sabermetrics -

Here's background on Statcast, MLB's revolutionary info gatherer.
Playing ball . . .

. . . and measuring it as well.

I'm not a stat head by any means, but there's no denying that sabermetrics has enriched baseball over the past several decades.

Fivethirtyeight published a good overview of the way the science of baseball is continuing to change; the implications go far beyond the sport.

Here's an excerpt; if you're interested in baseball, or even human performance metrics or science, check out the entire article:

What many of these new data sources have in common is an emphasis on process. Outcomes — strikes, walks, home runs and so forth — are already well-tracked and have been scrutinized by sabermetricians for decades. But the new generation of data will allow analysts to understand how those outcomes are generated, perhaps even down to the level of a player’s brain activity. Some of this process-oriented data challenges cherished analytics theories like DIPS; some of it confirms the utility of sabermetric dogma like shifting. And some of it will probably advance our understanding of baseball in ways we can’t yet predict.

Oliver takes on the moat . . .




. . . speaking truth to Trost.

Perfection

Today, the world is perfect - every baseball team is undefeated; every team is in first place.

Enjoy the moment. Reality arrives tomorrow.


Giant Sloth jerky . . .



My favorite April Fools video... or is it a joke???

VR’s moment

VR – Virtual Reality – is having its “moment” right now, thanks to the various launches of new hardware like Oculus Rift and similar systems. The attention is well-deserved – VR experiences, even at this early stage in its development, are mind-blowing.

Over the past year, I've been privileged to be given the opportunity to preview a number of the systems, and while I agree with what many critics say about the hardware not yet being perfected, the big breakthrough that will take VR mainstream (and beyond) will come in software.

By software, I’m not talking about the coding, though obviously that’s evolving. We don’t really know what the VR experience can be. It’s an art form whose artists haven’t yet arrived. Think movies around the time of Edison and the Great Train Robbery. Think Pong in the game world. The dreamers are still learning to dream.

What’s available now, and what will be available over the next year or so, will be mostly “ports” – in some cases literally – from two-dimensional media, be it games, video, or news stories (the NY Times began experimenting with the form late last year). Most of these are very cool, but they’re not really using the medium yet. Technical limitations aside, playing a first-person shooter is still basically the same as playing it on a screen.


I’m very excited about the medium; it has vast potential. But I expect that in the near term the common reaction will be one akin to a let-down as the hype wears off. The cost of gear will go down, the technology will vastly improve, and then suddenly the first great VR experience will come out of left field as some Matisse or maybe Edison manages to think about the possibilities in a way no one else saw coming.

American Sniper gets new art


We're publishing a new paperback edition in April. Here's an advance look at the cover art:



Addendum - On the attacks in Belgium:

At times like this, I think of a quote from Code Name: Johnny Walker, at the point when Johnny decided he must become an American:

I didn’t always think this way. Maybe like most people – I hope most people think this way – I thought at one time that the world was basically good. I believed, and still believe, that we can all live together in peace, and by working together make our communities and the world a better place. I believe, I know, that it is better to make and to build than to tear down and destroy.
I thought all people around me believed that too.
Little by little, I saw this wasn’t true. Destroying is so much easier than building.


Like Johnny, we must persevere.
Brussels

Beyond offering sympathy and condolences, it’s difficult to comment on the Brussels attack without seeming unduly harsh and/or inappropriate.

We’ve seen this, and we’ll see it again. This is a long-term fight that must be waged with great vigor and unceasing energy and, yes, violence.

It’s also a fight that is beyond petty politics – a statement that is both obvious and naïve at the same time.


Like all good men and women across the world, I stand today with the citizens of Brussels and Belgium.

Big Library Read . . .


I'm very honored to be part of this program.



Big Library Read Website
Fiction becomes reality

You may remember this:



Now there is this:

After an extensive inquiry, American investigators concluded that the attack in Ukraine on Dec. 23 may well have been the first power blackout triggered by a cyberattack — a circumstance many have long predicted. Working remotely, the attackers conducted “extensive reconnaissance” of the power system’s networks, stole the credentials of system operators and learned how to switch off the breakers, plunging more than 225,000 Ukrainians into darkness.

NY Times story.
A Special Breed



Item:

WASHINGTON — A Navy SEAL who helped rescue an American hostage in Afghanistan received the nation’s highest military honor Monday, hailed by President Barack Obama as “a special breed of warrior who so often serves in the shadows.”
Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers Jr. is the first living, active duty member of the Navy to receive the Medal of Honor in four decades.
Story.

Meet the new boss . . .

. . . A lot like the old boss?

The Air Force unveiled a sketch of its new B-21 bomber today, and it looked a lot like the B-2:






Kind of like those mid-model refreshes the car companies do?

Whatever it ends up looking like, the real differences will undoubtedly be under the skin.

The AF press release.
Tired of telemarketers?

Have some fun with them, like "Jolly Roger" did:
. . . I figured I’d try something. I was getting a lot of repeat calls from numbers. Obviously the same company’s predictive dialers were calling me at various times trying to find me home. I thought, what if I play a sound file that says “hello?… Hello?… Hello?…” a few times? Would it fool their predictive dialer into thinking it had reached a real person? So recorded some “hellos”, then “hang on a sec”, and then some silence. I created a “parrot” routine and sent these obvious telemarketers to this parrot.
And it worked like a champ! So then I thought “hmmmmm, how far can I take this parrot?”
Very far, it turns out. Read the rest here. "Roger" is my nominee for man of the year.


Apple and the Constitution

While the right to privacy is at the heart of the FBI vs.Apple fight, possibly the more important legal issue is the power of the government to coerce a private entity to do its bidding.

Many people have compared the FBI’s insistence that the terrorist’s iPhone be unlocked to the government coming into your home. But that’s not a correct analogy: for one thing, the government can come into your home with a search warrant, which has been issued. But can the government go to the carpenter who built the home and demand that he remove the back wall and build a doorway in?

While congress approved rather far reaching – over-reaching would be a better term – anti-privacy laws in the wake of 9/11, it did not approve legislation that would have mandated so-called backdoors in smart phones, et al. The FBI is creatively interpreting an older law to assert that it has rights congress hasn’t granted.

The problem isn’t this specific case – the information on the iPhone is undoubtedly of little value, especially given the fact that the perpetrators are dead. And it’s not even the fact that once invented, the decrypt tool could easily be used elsewhere. The real problem is the precedence – if the government has the right in this case, undoubtedly deliberately chosen because public opinion will side with it, where will its rights stop?

They won’t. They may not break your iPhone tomorrow; they may not be in your house next week. 
But legal precedents last for a long time.


I read a silly story today to the effect that tech companies have “the upper hand” because they can always create something even harder to decrypt. One need only look at China or Russia to see how naïve that is. I’m not an Apple fanboy, but I’m with them on this.

Reading the tobacco leaves . . . 

...in the presidential race.

According to Cigar Aficionado, cigar smokers prefer the Donald and Hillary as their candidate, depending on their respective party.

I don't think either smokes (unlike, say, Cruz), which I guess proves that cigar smokers are not one-issue candidates.

(Story)

Coming this Spring . . .





The paperback.
First in our hearts . . .


There are many reasons George Washington should be celebrated today, but probably the most important: he refused to be king.

From the History.com website:

On the morning of March 15, 1783, General George Washington makes a surprise appearance at an assembly of army officers at Newburgh, New York, to calm the growing frustration and distrust they had been openly expressing towards Congress in the previous few weeks. Angry with Congress for failing to honor its promise to pay them and for its failure to settle accounts for repayment of food and clothing, officers began circulating an anonymous letter condemning Congress and calling for a revolt.
When word of the letter and its call for an unsanctioned meeting of officers reached him, Washington issued a general order forbidding any unsanctioned meetings and called for a general assembly of officers for March 15. At the meeting, Washington began his speech to the officers by saying, “Gentlemen: By an anonymous summons, an attempt has been made to convene you together; how inconsistent with the rules of propriety! How unmilitary! And how subversive of all order and discipline…”
Read the rest. (It's well worth it.)

More than one politician would do well to contemplate that.

Happy Valentine's Day . . .


... to all you lovers out there, especially mine . . .




Russia's propaganda war . . .

. . . and the bizarre twists of truth that would make George Orwell blush:


The truth doesn’t matter, because it’s already mission accomplished for the Kremlin. . . .[Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov pulled off a common trick in Russia’s self-declared “information war” against its enemies: a government official picks up on a report in state media, leading to its legitimation and further dissemination. Fake news is essentially laundered and enters the public consciousness as fact.

Reuters.


The Boss's book . . .

I am truly bummed that I wasn't involved in this project:

Bruce Springsteen fans have reached the literary Promised Land. The New Jersey rocker will be releasing his autobiography later this year.
Springsteen privately started writing the book — appropriately named “Born to Run,” after his breakout song and album from the mid-1970s – seven years ago, shortly after he and the E Street Band played at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2009, according to publisher Simon & Schuster.
It will be released world-wide on Sept. 27. Simon & Schuster will publish it in hardcover, audio and ebook editions in the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and India. Additionally, rights have been sold to publishers in nine countries, the publisher said.
Story.

I've been reading Peter Ames Carlin's biography, Bruce, for a project I'm working on. It's extremely sympathetic to Springstein's point of view; it will be interesting to see how much more in-depth the memoir is - or isn't.





Japan's Stealth Fighter



The Japanese Defense Force unveiled its new 5th Generation fighter (aka 'Stealth Fighter') the other day. The implications for China are obvious, but imagine Japan competing with the U.S., Europe, and Russia for fighter contracts (and more?) in the next decade . . .

Neither snow . . .




East Coast Blizzard, Arlington Cemetery, Tomb of  Unknown Soldier.

The Saudi-Iran yin and yang

Quote:

Saudi Arabia hates Iran more than it hates ISIS. The conventional wisdom is that ISIS is a radical Sunni group that is being funded by Sunnis in the gulf and opposed by Iran. But Iran is the arsonist and the fire brigade. Iran’s support for Assad and the [Nouri al-]Maliki government in Iraq led to many Sunnis supporting ISIS. It will have to be Sunnis who put out the ISIS fire.

Karim Sadjadpour, in an interview with Slate magazine, available here. Among other things, he highlights the interplay of sectarian and geo-political conflicts in the Middle East.


Two Super Bowl victories, Hall of Fame career - thank you, Coach.