Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

Remembering Joe Shattan — and What I Learned About Him from His Office

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (Public domain photo)

Former Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney speechwriter Joe Shattan died this past summer. I'm late in hearing about it (it happened in early June), but I would like to share some memories I have of him.

"What? John, you know a Quayle/Cheney speechwriter?" Yes, in the summer of 1990, I had an internship in the Office of the Vice President of the United States. Of America. It was thanks to the Institute for Educational Affairs (an organization that I think continues today under a different name).

Anyway, I was assigned to work with Zelda Novak (daughter of the "Prince of Darkness" conservative columnist Robert Novak), and I spent the summer doing pretty useless work in appropriate obscurity. But on the other side of my desk (stuffed in a cubby hole) was the office of Joseph Shattan, who was often traveling with the VP and who allowed me to spend my lunch hours in his office when he wasn't there. I never got to know him well or much at all, but I did get a good sense of him during those lunch hours, and you can see why.

I'm from Green Bay, Wisconsin. If you're a Green Bay person and there exists a photo of you with a Packer player, you've got it framed on your walls, and probably in a prominent place. In Washington, D.C., people are the same way about big politicians, and usually their desks and walls are covered with framed photos of them shaking hands with or at least photobombing presidents, vice presidents, senators, governors, and representatives.

But Joe Shattan? In his quiet, neat, book-filled office, he had plenty of photos, but they were of him and his family. Wife. Kids. I saw all those and didn't see the other celebrity-suck-up photos, and thought to myself, "This guy has his priorities right. Good guy."

When I stumbled across the news today that he had passed away (on June 8, 2014, at the young age of 63, felled by cancer), I found a couple things that reminded me of my fondness for this person. First, other people were writing about what a kind and genuine person he was — not something you generally associate with political people, especially conservative political functionaries who spent decades in government.

The other thing was a link to an article Shattan had written in 2009, in which he remembered how much he loved visiting the library in the Old Executive Office Building (a large old building next to the White House where the vice president has his office and staff). Shattan, a writer and clearly a book lover, really enjoyed going to the library, taking in the atmosphere of books and busy librarians and available information in that pre-internet age. Back then, I hadn't known about his joy for that library, but I had also enjoyed escaping to it when my useless tasks allowed. I can still remember that library well, with its beautiful columns and spiral staircases and awesome collections of books. I especially recall the corner where I dug through countless old copies of The New York Review of Books. It was the summer in which I had just discovered John Updike and Philip Roth, so I loved searching for old reviews of their books. The library was the one room in the Old Executive Office Building (now known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) that had the same nice vibe as Joe Shattan's office.

I never knew Joe Shattan well, but I apparently knew him well enough to know that this book-loving intellectual whose politics were quite different from what mine became was a good man. I'm very sorry to hear about his passing. R.I.P.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Airbnb Plays Ball

From the latest Marina Times:

Airbnb goes legit?
Home-sharing service begins collecting mandated hotel tax as city clarifies regulation

Short-term residential rental companies such as Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway might be the biggest disruption to hit the real estate market since public online listings took away the Realtors’ MLS exclusivity. But recent developments in San Francisco show that both regulators and the new market entrants are learning to work with each other.

David Owen, Airbnb’s regional head of public policy, announced in late September that beginning in October ...

One of My Cats Is Stupid

In the latest issue of Marina Times, I explore the social conundrum of the age: sweet but dim kitties.

Captain Skycat

Marina Times (October 2014) — There are many reasons to doubt the natural intelligence of Ashes, our little tuxedo cat.

How do I know she’s not an Einstein? For the sake of research, I found some online feline I.Q. tests (for example, see Ashes scored quite poorly, and our other cat scored very highly.

Even without a test, I knew...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Galaxis 4 ... Is not the Last One

I've decided not to end my digital science/science fiction magazine Galaxis with the current issue, #4. I'm working up plans to have a fifth issue after all, and this one should appear in digital and in limited print editions.

So while I put the finishing touches on the first Galaxis Reader book and start pulling together the fifth edition of Galaxis magazine, it's a good time to remind everyone that Galaxis #4 is still available for you to read, free, online.

Read the magazine:

Everything I Know about Cats I Learned from Krazy Kat

Whenever Charlie does something particularly wild or stupid, I tell him he’s a crazy cat. Except in my mind, I’m spelling it “Krazy Kat,” even though I know he and perhaps most of you don’t get the reference.

My late stepfather was a political cartoonist. Like most such artists, he would use characters out of the day’s news to populate his graphic editorial commentary, but he also ...

Read the entire article

From the September 2014 issue of the Marina Times

Friday, June 27, 2014

George Takei Introduces David Boies, Ted Olson, & Gavin Newsom

Last night, actor/director/activist George Takei gave the introduction to a Commonwealth Club of California program with bipartisan legal team David Boies and Ted Olson; it was moderated by the state's lt. governor, Gavin Newsom.

The sound isn't the best; my apologies, but I recorded it on my phone. And I'm afraid I wasn't quick enough turning it on to catch his opening trademark "Oh, myyyyyyy," which is what the laughter is for at the beginning of this clip.

This program took place on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions overturning DOMA and California's Prop 8.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Gregory Benford & Larry Niven's Bowl of Heaven

An hour ago, I finished reading Bowl of Heaven, a 2013 science-fiction collaboration between Larry Niven and Gregory Benford. I am left feeling refreshed — it has been a very long time since I read a hard-science, deep-space SF novel — and stunned. Stunned because the book reads at times as if it went right from the writers' computers to the printer, without going through an editor. I'm sure that isn't true, but how else to explain mistakes that had me wondering if I had missed a couple pages or was losing my mind?

It started early in the book where one character is injured; a metal shard had been embedded in his leg during an accident. He is tended to by a teammate, who removes the shard and applies medication. A few paragraphs later, however, a different teammate is removing the shard and medicating him.

It continued throughout the book. People who are described as being in a room are suddenly in a different room. An alien who is on the bridge of an airship descends a stairway and goes to ... the bridge. People who left a room are suddenly back in the room. The amount of time that has passed since the launch of the humans' spaceship is stated, but then it's given as a different amount of time later.

On and on.

I have read Benford's books before, but I'm surprised to say that I don't believe I have ever read anything by Niven, which is an admission not to my credit. Niven is a science-fiction legend with numerous big books to his credit. But, for whatever reason, I had never read his work. That was part of what made me select this book to read next after I finished reading a couple history books (Anne Applebaum's post-World War II history book Iron Curtain — a book that was stunning in a good way, though telling a very sad tale — and Robert Graves' historical novel Count Belisarius). This was my chance to read Larry Niven.

I actually enjoyed the grand-premise tale of Bowl of Heaven. The characterizations and relationships are a bit out of date (sorry guys, but having interpersonal relationships be key to the characters and their organization but not even mentioning a gay character — and then in the most oblique way — until the book is nearly finished suggests being a bit out of touch), but I'm willing to overlook that. However, I was astounded at the poor editing. It's old news that even big publishers don't do proper editing any more, but these mistakes (repeated incidences, actions described twice — just a few paragraphs apart — but differently, and more) are incredibly unprofessional. If it was a mind-bending game of fluid reality with the readers, that would be something, but of course the story would make use of that. No, that just was not the case. Bowl of Heaven was a normal hard-science SF novel, and publishers Tor did themselves, their authors, and their readers a major disservice — publishing malpractice, really — by releasing a hardcover book with this many major, obvious errors in it.

The writers should have caught some of this in the various drafts they would have proofed. But writers are often focused on making sure other aspects are correct; that is compounded by working with a collaborator. We'll give Niven and Benford a small slice of the blame, but the majority of the blame cake has to be served up to Tor.

The sequel to what apparently is the first of a series has been published. Called Shipstar, it was published by Tor in April 2014. Think they had an editor do a good line-by-line on this one?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Fangoria Announces the Return of Starlog

Five years after ending the 374-issue run of legendary science fiction media magazine Starlog, parent company Fangoria Entertainment today announced the impending return. Starlog, according to Fango, will return first as a website this summer and then later in the year as a digital magazine. There is no word yet if a print edition is being considered an eventual possibility or if the digital edition is the intended main product.

It sounds as if the mag will be reimagined for a new age — as it should be — and will try to make the most of an electronic platform. Congrats to all involved. You'll be facing high expectations from Starlog's legion of former readers, as you no doubt already expect.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Affordable Housing: "We've written it off"

Also from the current (May 2014) issue of the Marina Times, I interviewed Andre Shashaty, an expert and advocate for affordable housing and sustainable communities (and my former boss).

Andre Shashaty
‘We’ve written it off’
Affordable housing expert Andre Shashaty on the state of housing policy and sustainable communities

(May 2014)

As San Francisco residents and their political, business and social leaders try to get a handle on housing affordability in the city, they must do so at a time when governments large and small in this country have largely tried to wash their hands of involvement with the housing problem. Long gone are the days when the federal government partnered with cities to build and manage homes for middle- and low-income citizens. Today, federal monies have gone elsewhere, as has federal interest in even dealing with the challenges. The key federal tool for helping develop affordable housing is the three-decades-old tax credit set up to help private developers — for-profit and nonprofit — do what the government used to do.

This all happens at a time when there are still many people who need affordable housing — rental or ownership. To learn more about the issues involved, we spoke with affordable housing expert and advocate Andre Shashaty. The former editor and publisher of...

San Francisco's "Growing Pains"

In the latest (May 2014) issue of the Marina Times, I begin a four-part series looking at San Francisco's ongoing population growth, which is projected to take the residential count above 1 million in the future.

As San Francisco’s population continues to expand, some people are worrying about the changes that are being wrought (photo: darkwind / flickr)
Growing pains: How much San Francisco is too much San Francisco?

(May 2014)

This is the first of a four-part series exploring the growth of San Francisco.

The downtown-bound BART train was particularly full one recent morning, when yet another group of commuters boarded at a station. Among them was a man in his early 40s, who immediately began complaining loudly about all of the “[bleeping] tech workers filling up my city.” As surrounding commuters tried to look away, one office-bound commuter began arguing with the newcomer, demanding to know what his problem was. There ensued a diatribe by the 40-something, who complained about San Francisco being ruined by new residents. There were lots of bleeps, as well as a threat to fight the man who dared to question him.

Across San Francisco, conversations in much nicer tones have been taking place for months and even years, with longtime residents wondering about the changes occurring...

Read the entire article

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Artemis Eternal – The New Indie Filmmaking

Filmmaker Jessica Mae Stover started out doing celebrity genre interviews on AOL, but she has since moved from Big Media to Indie Groundbreaker. With Artemis Eternal, she is seeking to make a science fiction film outside of the studio system, and even outside of the traditional independent film system.

A challenge? That would be an understatement. Will SF fans help her crowdfunding project? Will film viewers appreciate the final story?

Check out my interview with Stover in the current issue of Galaxis. Click on the image below to read.

To 4,000 and Beyond – in a Flash

The latest (and last) issue of Galaxis, my free digital magazine of science and science fiction, was only released two weeks ago, but it has already been seen by more than 4,000 people. By way of comparison, it took many months for each of the previous three issues of Galaxis to hit those numbers.

So as an individualist, as much as it pains me to suggest you join the crowd: Join the crowd — because I think you'll find that this personal journey through the worlds of science and SF is thought-provoking, fun, and inspiring. And in a few months when I release the first book-form Galaxis Reader, I hope you'll come along for that evolutionary form of my Galaxis project.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Like the New Neil deGrasse Tyson Cosmos? Check out Page 7

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is getting good reviews for his new Cosmos TV science series, which premieres tonight (March 9) on National Geographic Channel and Fox.

You can get some good background on this show, who's putting it together, what happened three decades ago, and why it all matters — on page 7 of my latest issue of Galaxis: The Worlds of Science and Science Fiction. It's a free digital magazine, and if you like Cosmos, you might well like Galaxis.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Now Out! Galaxis March 2014 — Science and Science Fiction for You

Just published.

The fourth issue of my free digital science and science fiction magazine, Galaxis, is now available. Star Trek Into Darkness. Europa Reports. Artemis Eternal. El Cosmonauta. Episode guide to the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ray Kurzweil on the IT transformation of our lives. Space stamps. Classic science fiction movie posters. Tons of reviews, tech news, SF film news, and more.

Read it today.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Can't Wait to Make My Space Popcorn to View the Aquila Flyby

This is why I love NASA, or at least the geeks who work there. In its online listing of "Upcoming Planetary Launches and Events," NASA's calendar lists (and read the whole thing):
2014 May-November - Rosetta - ESA mission reaches Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko
2014 November - Philae - ESA Rosetta Lander touches down on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko
2015 February 1 - Dawn - Goes into orbit around asteroid 1 Ceres
2015 July 14 - New Horizons - NASA mission flies by Pluto and Charon
2015 August 15 - BepiColombo - Launch of ESA and ISAS Orbiter and Lander Missions to Mercury
2016 March - InSight - Launch of Mars Lander
2231 April 5 - Pluto - is passed by Neptune in distance from the Sun for the next 20 years
4,000,000 - Pioneer 11 - NASA flyby of star Lambda Aquila
I can't wait for 4 million; the media coverage of that is going to be awesome. As long as our alien insect overlords let us stay up late to watch it on the holovid.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Catch Me on the California Channel

WATCH US ON THE CALIFORNIA CHANNEL: Tonight at 9 p.m. (PT), catch the first program in The Commonwealth Club's weekly series on the California Channel.

Tonight: my Week to Week Political Roundtable, featuring panelists Carla Marinucci, Dr. Larry Gerston, and Debra J. Saunders. In upcoming weeks: Economic forecasts, Randi Zuckerberg, Robert Reich, and more!

You can find The California Channel on your cable system by checking these listings:

Commonwealth Club programs will also air at various times throughout the week on that channel.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Atlanta, We Have a Problem

So, apparently some people think the snowstorm over Atlanta consisted of fake snow. For reals.

I wonder how far our species could advance if we didn't have to spend so much time doing mass remedial science education and debunking crazy claims.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The State of the News Quiz

My fellow Americans, I am proud to tell you tonight that the state of the news quiz is healthy, and its best days are ahead of it.

Take the quiz

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Next Galaxis Issue Is Preparing for Launch ...

In case anyone was wondering, the fourth issue of my free digital science fiction/science magazine, Galaxis, is nearing completion and will be available within weeks. Filled with indie SF such as Europa Report, Artemis Eternal, and The Cosmonaut, as well as classics such as Star Trek (new and old), fiction, reviews, future science, and more.

Try to contain your anticipation.