Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Nominations for the 2016 Hugo Awards

I just got an email from the administrators of the Hugo Award.  It turns out that all nominations are due tomorrow.  So I finally sat down and figured them out.  As always, my reading of new stuff is a little bit sparse, so even though I can nominate up to 5 in each category, I don't have 5 works in most categories.  But,  I do have some great ones even if the slate isn't full.  Here they are.  I linked to where you could get these works where possible.  I also put a link to my review on the ones where such exists.

Best Novel
The Dark Forest is the sequel to last year's Hugo winner.  I am loving the series and looking forward to the third.  It's one of the most unique science fiction stories I've read in a long time.  Of course, the other two I nominated are excellent as well.
The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin (My review)
Chimera by Mira Grant (My review)
Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs (My review)

Best Novella:
The New Mother was fascinating and a little bit frightening.  An excellent story.  Of course, Rolling the Deep is about scary mermaids.   Both are excellent.

The New Mother by Eugene Fischer -  Asimov's April/May 2015
Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant (My review)

Best Novelette:
Pareidolia by Kathleen Bartholomew and Kage Barker  - Asimov's March 2015

Best Short Story:
When Your Child Strays From God by Sam J. Miller -  Clarkesworld July 2015
Tuesdays by Suzanne Palmer  - Asimov's March 2015
Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer - Clarkesworld January 2015
Holding The Ghosts by Gwendolyn Clare - Asimov's March 2015

Best Graphic Story:
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3: Crushed  by G. Willow Wilson

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 
The Martian 
Jurassic World  
Terminator: Genisys
Avengers: Age of Ultron 

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form):
Doctor Who - The Zygon Inversion 
Doctor Who - The Zygon Invasion 
Agents of Shield - Melinda 
Grimm - Wesenrein 
Agents of Shield - Afterlife 

Best Professional Editor (Short Form):
Ellen Datlow 
Hank Davis 
Sheila Williams 
John Joseph Adams 

Best Professional Editor (Long Form):
Toni Weisskopf

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Happy Birthday Padre!

You guys.  My dad turned 60 today.  Sixty!  He's older than iPhones.  He remembers when you could go to the gate at the airport to greet your friends when their plane landed.  He remembers when there wasn't an internet!

Oh wait.  All of those things are true of me.  Blast!  I guess I'm pretty old.  But my dad remembers when there wasn't a me.  Now that's old.  I'm pretty sure he cried when the dinosaurs died.  I would have.

I was going to post a throwback Thursday pic on Facebook to commemorate this day.  But when I started looking through my pictures of me and my dad, it turned out I couldn't just pick one.  So I figured this was a better venue.

Here are a few pictures and memories of my dad with me and my family.

My dad had a beard once.  True story.  Even more surprising is that there was a time when I was cuter than I am now.
Look at all that loot.  I bet you never had matching pajamas with your dad.
I spent most of my childhood trying to look unhappy about stuff. Little known fact:  I think giant shark jaws are super cool.  Thanks for taking me to Sea World mom and dad!  Sorry I looked like I hated it.
Sometimes I even looked like I was having fun.
At least in Yellowstone, Zack is the one that looks like he hates it.

People put cups on their face.  It's a thing.

We've had many adventures at Bear Lake
Weren't the Padre and I the cutest hikers in Hawaii?

Mom and dad even flew to South Dakota to see me.
Thanks for all the memories Padre!  Happy sixtieth birthday!  I look forward to at least 60 more years of memories.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

2015 Stats

I'm a numbers guy.  I like to see stats.  Every year I like to publish the highlights of the previous year, mostly reflecting on numbers.  I'm pretty sure no one else cares that much.  But I like it so I do it.  I usually post this in January.  But I noticed this was sitting in my drafts and hadn't yet been posted.  I think I was trying to come up with some more numbers and think of more highlights, but now it's just embarrassing that I haven't posted it and it's March.  So here are some of the highlights and stats from last year.

1. Read 57 individual works totalling 10,376 pages
2. Went inside 4 new temples
3. Walked 659 miles and biked 326 miles for a total of 985 miles.  (I know it's totally embarrassing that I was that close to 1000 and didn't go over.)
4. Wrote on this blog 43 times.  (My worst year ever.  I'll totally do better this year.)
5. Attended Worldcon for the first time, and even got to attend the Hugo Awards.
6. Set foot in 5 states
  • Utah
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Oregon
  • Washington
7. Travelled 15,471 miles.  (That's total distance travelled according to my foursquare data.)

I'm sure there are more numbers I could have shared.  I feel like I'm missing something.  I'll try to get you better numbers next year.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Escaping the Room

Have you heard of escape rooms?  It's a new trend that I only heard of 5 or 6 months ago.  My sister suggested that we should try one as a family.  We selected one in American Fork, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.
I made Robyn stand next to the sign before we went in.

So here's how it works.  They lock you in a room.  (In this particular one, the room happened to actually be a trailer in the parking lot of the One Man Band restaurant.)  They set a timer, and you have a limited amount of time to get out.  In this case, the timer was 45 minutes.  I imagine that's fairly standard, but I'm sure it could vary.  When the time runs out, if you haven't gotten out, they let you out and you lose.  But, I preferred to pretend that if you don't make it out, you die.  I felt like that was a little bit more motivating.  Spoiler: We survived.

As we initially looked around the room, there were lots of things to explore.  There were a number of boxes with combination locks, there was an exercise bike, there were locked cupboards and various other mysterious objects.

As you explore, you discover that there are different puzzles that, when solved, reveal clues to solving other puzzles.  Many of the puzzles, when solved, reveal a combination for a lock, then you have to find the lock that it goes with.

 It was super fun to work as a family and solve the puzzles together.  Here are a few pictures from our adventure as a family.
Mom solved a maze puzzle to acquire this key.

It took us a while to figure out what the books were trying to reveal.

Robyn is having things revealed to her in the box.

Those pesky books.

Padre may have broken off a piece of the cupboard while he was trying to figure out a clue.  Don't tell anyone.

This particular box had a locked box inside of it, so it was extra tricky.
 We cut it a little close.  We got out of the room with 3:22 left.  When you open the door, the time stops, so naturally Robyn and I had to take a selfie with the clock.

And here's the whole team.  We totally got out alive.
I totally recommend it.  The puzzles are challenging enough that you get to feel smart when you solve them, but it's all very doable for a group to achieve together.  It also allows you to work as a team and have fun together.

You totally need to give it a try.  And let me know how you do.

Next time we need to try one where a bomb explodes and you die if you don't solve it.  I bet we could do it even faster with proper motivation.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pi Day Observed

As you know, today is Pi Day.  If you don't know that, you can begin by feeling ashamed.  You should probably do that for at least ten minute.  Please proceed to feel shame.

Now that you're done feeling shame, you can read my post from a year ago where I explain a little bit about Pi Day.

Now that you're all caught up, you can avoid that shame in the future.  You're welcome.

After seeing last year's extremely successful celebration on a Saturday, we decided that it would be better to have a Pi Day observed, so that we could celebrate on Saturday.  So while today is the real deal, we celebrated on Saturday, and it went very well.

As we always do, we offered prizes for the most delicious pies brought by our guests.  We had 10 homemade pies, and all of them were delicious.

Look at all that goodness.
I've been celebrating Pi Day for longer than I have been married.  But, Pi Day has become much more fancy since Robyn became involved.  Look at these fancy decorations.

I think we had about 25 people in attendance.  I didn't actually count, but we definitely had our little house filled to the brim.

The kitchen and main room were full of people.

We had another room with toys for kids and more room for enjoying pie.

Our panel of judges consisted of my friend Dave and my friend Jason.  They were both highly qualified due to their math knowledge.  They know all about pi, which naturally means they know all about pie.

The winner was my friend Deanna with an apple pie.  It was quite delish.
It's important to get a picture with the winner.  If you can't tell, we're signing 3.14.
All in all, it was a successful evening.  Did you celebrate?  If you did, tell me about your experience.  If you didn't, feel free to be ashamed.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Let's Talk About Donald Trump

Hello, Fellow Republican.  Thank you for sitting down to chat with me.  In the past, we've agreed on so many things.  We both feel strongly about free markets and free trade.  We both love liberty, and have fought to protect it in our great nation.  We both believe strongly in the original intent of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  We've both been outspoken about the rights of the unborn, and the need for more government protections of those rights.  We both believe that private citizens should love and serve their fellow men through kindness and personal service as well as through churches and charities.

That's why I'm a little bit perplexed by your recent decision to support Donald Trump.  It seems to me that perhaps we don't have the shared beliefs that I thought we did.  I've been watching Donald Trump on the debate stage as well as news outlets and other sources.  He just doesn't seem to embody any of the conservative Christian principles that I believe in.  I've been watching his supporters debate about him, mainly on Facebook, and it seems like there are only a few arguments that people give.  These arguments don't seem to hold water for me, especially when viewed through the lens of the principles I thought we shared.  I thought I'd go over each of these arguments and explain why they don't work for me.

Below you will find 100% of the arguments that I have observed.  The good news is this won't take long because there aren't very many.

He Will Make America Great Again
I've also heard this argument summed up in other equally ambiguous ways such as: "He's the only one with the guts to get it done."  What it means is never defined, just as what a great America looks like is never defined.

In Donald Trump's book, The Art of the Deal, he wrote this about the way he promotes himself or his business enterprises:
The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.
Is it possible that the reason you don't say anything specific about him is that he hasn't made any specific policy proposals?  Is it possible that you are promoting a fantasy version of him that he is purposefully trying to get you to create in your mind?  What does a great America look like to you?  Has he suggested specific elements of your great America?

Every time he is asked about specific plans, he dodges the question by insulting the person asking.  It's very frustrating for those of us who want to hear specific ideas come from him.  But for those willing to believe his bravado, it's very effective.  I'm honestly terrified, because I don't know what he will do as President.  But when you consider that through most of his business career he has donated to liberal politicians including supporting Hillary Clinton's previous attempts at the Presidency, it doesn't make me believe that he will do conservative things in that office.

I can't tell you what a great America should look like for you.  I can tell you what it looks like for me.  I'd like to see a President who will respect the original intent of the Constitution and who will appoint Supreme Court Justices accordingly.  I'd like someone who will decrease the tax burden on individuals and on businesses so that companies can create jobs.  I'd like to see more protections for the unborn.  I'd like to see religious liberties strengthened.

Do those things describe Donald Trump?  They definitely don't describe the Donald Trump of a few short years ago when he supported Hillary.  The Donald Trump of today says nothing specific, so who knows?  But I do know that all of those things describe Ted Cruz.

Ask yourself, why you are voting for Donald Trump?  Is there a specific policy he has espoused that you like?  Has he painted a specific picture that describes the America you'd like to see?  If not, and if your great America looks anything like mine.  I suggest a vote for Ted Cruz.  The guy memorized the Constitution when he was a teenager.  I can't think of any other candidate more qualified to appoint justices to the Supreme Court.  He is conservative on taxes and has pledged to defend religious liberty.  He is truly the candidate who understands how to make America great.

He's Not Afraid to Speak His Mind
I've also heard people say, "He just says what we're all thinking."  Really?  Are these things really what we're all thinking?  Donald Trump definitely isn't afraid to speak his mind.  But shouldn't we also look at what's on his mind and decide whether those things are things we want in a President?  When he says that most Mexican immigrants are rapists, that his daughter has a nice enough figure for him to be dating her, that we shouldn't vote for Carly Fiorina because she's too ugly or any of his many other nasty, creepy, and generally terrible quotes, do we not stop and think that we don't want someone this vile as our President?

Everyone has nasty, terrible thoughts at times.  Most people suppress those thoughts and replace them with something else.  The act of choosing to cast away those thoughts helps us to grow beyond them, so that our nature changes and those types of thoughts happen much less frequently.  Donald Trump chooses to spout them off as they come to him.  He gives in to his basest nature and in so doing, that part of his character grows rather than shrinks.  It has helped him become a more nasty person.  It has turned him into someone that is not a person that I want representing the United States to the rest of the world.

When I watch him on the debate stage, it honestly seems like the others are debating with a toddler.  In the most recent debate, he bragged about the size of his genitals and then referred to Senator Rubio as Little Marco.  This was during a Presidential Debate!!  It baffles me that people could see that, and think that is Presidential.

The thing that most people are looking for when they say, "He's not afraid to speak his mind" is not necessarily someone who voices every vile thought that comes to them.  What they are looking for is someone who is willing to stand up for what they believe in.  They are looking for someone who will be genuine, and be willing to have the difficult conversations.

Ted Cruz has gotten a reputation for being unpopular in the Senate.  Let me tell you a little story to illustrate why.  Back when the debt ceiling was being debated, all of the Senate Republicans met in a room to discuss strategy.  As you probably know, in the Senate you need 60 votes to get anything passed.  Democrats controlled 55 seats which meant that they would need 5 Republican votes in order to raise the debt ceiling.  Republican leadership wanted to pass a resolution to allow Democrats to pass the bill with only 50 votes.  That way, they could raise the debt ceiling without voting for it.  All of the Republicans could go back to their constituents and say that they had voted against it, even though they had voted for giving the Democrats the ability to do it.

Ted Cruz felt like that was dishonest.  He felt like he was there to represent the interests of Texas and they wanted him to control the size and scope of government.  This is what he said about it in his own words:
None of us should oppose this, we were told, and for two reasons. First, if we lowered the threshold, then the "clean" debt ceiling would pass, and that was very much the outcome the leadership assumed each of us really desired.
 And second, if we consented to lowering the threshold, Democrats would then have the votes to raise the debt ceiling on their own. We could all vote no. This way, we could return home and tell the voters that we had opposed raising the debt ceiling, right after consenting to let it happen.
 This time I was stunned by the chicanery, expressed openly, if not proudly, to the rest of us. Looking around the Lyndon Johnson Room, named for one of the biggest-spending presidents in American history, I had a new appreciation for why we were gathered here, beneath his smiling portrait. Most senators seemed perfectly fine with the leadership’s proposal. There were nods and murmurs of assent.
 It was too much. I raised my hand and said, "There’s no universe in which I can consent to that."
Whether you agree or disagree with his position on the debt ceiling, that's the kind of "speaking your mind" that requires courage.  Simply calling people names is not courage, it is cowardice.  If you're looking for someone who is willing to speak their mind, even when it requires courage, I suggest a vote for Ted Cruz.

He Will Create Jobs
I totally get that he has made a lot of money in the private sector.  A year ago, I knew nothing about Donald Trump, and I would have assumed that he would be a great job creator because his private sector experience gives him economic knowledge that will help him reduce regulatory burden.  But when you listen to him in the debates, is that what he talks about?  I have heard him talk a little bit about lowering taxes, and that's something I can get behind.  But much more often, I've heard him talk about how we need to protect American businesses.  We need to stop China from exporting goods to the United States.

Look, if you want to personally stop buying anything that was manufactured outside of the United States, more power to you.  That's what freedom is all about.  But I thought we were the party that believed in free trade.  Donald Trump wants to put tariffs on imported goods.  The net result is that if you want to buy something that was manufactured elsewhere, Donald Trump wants to make it more expensive for you.  He wants to hit American families right where it hurts, in our pocket books.

After that, do you think other countries will be happy about that?  Do you think they won't retaliate with tariffs of their own?  Once the trade war begins, it will be more difficult for American companies to sell goods overseas.  Do you think that will create more jobs?

This is one of the very few things that Trump has been specific about, and it would be a disaster.

However, Ted Cruz has outlined a plan that would reduce regulatory burden on businesses and reduce their tax burden so that they can create more jobs.  His plan would also decrease taxes on ordinary individuals and simplify the tax code so that you can do your taxes on a post card.

The Ted Cruz plan helps Americans create jobs by increasing freedom and decreasing the tax burden.  Donald Trump would do the opposite.  If you'd like to see more American jobs.  I suggest a vote for Ted Cruz.

He Will Save the White Race
I'm ashamed that this one is on this list.  If this is not why you are voting for Trump, I'm very glad.  Please understand, I'm not accusing you of racism.  But you also need to understand that there is a very vocal group of Trump supporters that are loudly making this argument.  I've seen them on Facebook.  That's why I had to put this on the list.

In the past, if you are a solid conservative, you have definitely been accused of racism.  The left automatically assumes that the only reason you could have chosen to not vote for a black man for President is because of the color of his skin.  They already assume we are all racist.  Why in the world would we want to elect someone who gives them real reason to believe it?

I'm sorry.  When he says that the majority of Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals, even if he concedes that some are good people, that is terribly racist.  When he says that Muslims should not be allowed to enter our country, that's definitely bigoted, even if it's not exactly racist.  (And terrifying for a person like me who is a member of a religion that has been persecuted in this country.)  Do we really want him to be the representation of our party?  Donald Trump is definitely a very racist individual.  Whether he wants to use the Presidency as a way to promote white supremacy, as some of his followers have suggested, I have no idea.  But in my mind, the fact that he is racist enough that white supremacists can see their agenda in him is reason enough not to vote for him.  If this is your reason for voting for him, I don't have another candidate suggestion for you.  But I would like to suggest that you should not vote at all.  Also, I would rather lose an election than win it with your help.  I don't want to be part of a party that would ever have your belief system as a tenet.

If that is not your reason for voting for Trump, please understand that many intelligent people are looking at the other reasons and realizing that they are false.  They are assuming that this is your reason since there really isn't another reason for a conservative to vote for him.  Please don't vote for racism and put it on a pedestal in my party.

He Can Beat Hillary Clinton
The simple answer to this claim is, "No, he can't."  But I'd like to dive into this a little bit more.  I'd like to divide this up into two questions.  Can he beat her?  and Do we want him beat her?  I'll do the latter first.

Do I want Donald Trump to beat Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton is dishonest.  She will say anything to get elected.  She has openly tried to destroy the lives of her husband's sexual assault victims.  She will say that she stands for women's rights until the women whose rights need protecting stand in the way of her power.  She loves abortion and would love to expand it in our country.  In short, she lacks any morals whatsoever.

She's also a bought and paid for politician.  She has accepted donations from Wall Street and plenty of other big business types.  She is the very personification of crony capitalism.

A Clinton presidency would be terrible for our country and it would be terrible for the cause of liberty.  No one wants a morally bankrupt crony capitalist who thinks that Planned Parenthood is super awesome.

And that's why I don't want Donald Trump to beat her.

I can hear you now.  "Wait a minute. Jeff.  You just said you don't want those things in a President.  Shouldn't Donald beat her to avoid those things?"

Exactly.  All those things I said about Hillary are true.  But guess what.  They are also true of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump conned people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars through Trump University.  When people had their credit cards maxed out, they had people available there to help them call the credit card company and lie to them about their income.  They told the people that it wasn't a lie because they were going to be making that higher income in the future.

Trump University has a D- through the Better Business Bureau but he has repeatedly lied saying it has an A.  I can't even count the number of lies Donald Trump has told on the debate stage over the past few months.  He will say anything and he doesn't care what's true.  You'd be hard pressed to convince me the man has any morals.

As for crony capitalism, one of those business people who has donated to Hillary in exchange for political favors is Donald Trump.  Why do we look down on the politicians who accept the donations but we give the business people on the other end a pass?  Are they not both participating in crony capitalism?  Especially when we consider that Donald has used eminent domain to harness government power and take property from private individuals for his developments.  This is a man who has bragged about using government power to help himself and other elites.

He has openly praised Planned Parenthood from the debate stage.  His views on abortion are unclear.  He has stated that he is pro-life as well as pro-choice, so I leave it to you to decide what that means.

But in the end, he is a morally bankrupt crony capitalist who loves planned parenthood.  While a vote for Hillary would be bad for the country, a vote for Donald would be equally bad, but with the added bonus of being terrible for the Republican party.

We get all of the big government policies of Hillary, but we also get a super racist, sexist bully for a President, who has an R next to his name, so that decent people will be frightened a way from the Republican party for decades.  Is that what you want?

In the end, politics isn't about sports.  Do we want our team to win even if they don't believe in the principles we espouse?  What is the value in that? Personally, if it's between Hillary and Donald,  I'd rather Republicans lose and try to put a principled conservative in the White House in 4 years.

Which brings me to my last point

Can Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the general election?
No, he can't.  I've outlined above why a staunch conservative like myself would not vote for him.  There are plenty like me.  Do you really think a Republican can win without the solid conservative part of our base?

Maybe you think I'm an idiot.  Maybe you think I'm the only one who thinks this way.  Well, take a look at CNN's latest poll.  That poll says that Donald Trump loses to Hillary Clinton.  In fact, 18 of the last 20 polls say that Donald will lose to Hillary.

But guess what?  That poll, as well as 7 of the last 9 polls, say that Ted Cruz beats Hillary Clinton in a general election.

So let's pick a principled conservative as our nominee.  Let's put a principled conservative in the White House.  Let's vote for Ted Cruz.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My Nominations for the 1941 Retro Hugo Awards

For the past few years, I've been an active participant in the voting and nominating process for the Hugo Awards.  As you may or may not know, part of the rules that govern the Hugo Awards say that if there was a year where there was a World Con but there were no Hugo Awards given, there can be Retro Hugo Awards 75 years later.  That means that in 2016, we get to retroactively give awards for 1941.

The 1941 awards are given for works published in 1940.  I haven't read a ton from 1940, but there are a few gems I need to nominate.

So here are all of my nominations for the 1941 Retro Hugo Award.

Best Novel

1. Slan by A.E. Van Vogt

I only have one nominee in this category, because, well, that's all that I have read from 1940.  But I really did enjoy Slan.  It kind of reminded me of the X-Men.  It's about super powered people that are at war with regular people.  It's a bit dated.  It's supposed to be in the far future, and yet people don't even have personal communication devices of any sort.  Nevertheless, it's a really fun read, and I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I read it in 1940.

Best Novelette
1.  Half-Breeds on Venus by Isaac Asimov, Astonishing Stories, December 1940
2. Half-Breed by Isaac Asimov, Astonishing Stories, February 1940

Both of Asimov's Half-Breed stories are excellent.  These are some of the few Asimov stories that deal with aliens.  Later in his career, he settled on a galaxy populated only by humans from earth.  It's fun to see some of his earlier dabbling in the pulp style alien stories.  Interestingly, the first story, Half-Breed does have aliens, but at it's core it's a story about racism, which was probably a big deal to Asimov, as a Jewish person in the 1940s.  It's probably the deeper of the 2 stories, but Half-Breeds on Venus has telepathic amphibians and Venusian dinosaurs, so it's hard to beat that.

Best Short Story

1. Robbie / Strange Playfellow by Isaac Asimov, Super Science Stories, September 1940
2. The Callistan Menace by Isaac Asimov, Future Fiction, July 1940
3. The Magnificent Possession by Isaac Asimov, Astonishing Stories, April 1940
4. Homo Sol by Isaac Asimov, Astounding Science Fiction, September 1940
5. Ring Around the Sun by Isaac Asimov, Future Fiction, March 1940

Strange Playfellow (later published as Robbie) is Asimov's first robot story.  That alone deserves some kind of recognition.  And, it's a cute little story that Asimov wrote to combat the sentiment within science fiction that our technology would destroy us.  Eventually, he expanded that idea into the Three Laws of Robotics, but none of these stories feature the Three Laws.   Another of my favorites from this list is The Callistan Menace.  It's another fun alien story that takes place in our solar system.

As you can see, I didn't nominate in every category.  It turns out my reading from 1940 is somewhat limited.  Do you have a favorite science fiction work that I need to read and nominate?  Feel free to share it.

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