In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…


Help Me Obi-wan! You’re My Only Hope!

From time to time, I get kind notes from readers favorably comparing my work to the classics of old. I also occasionally get messages asking how you can help promote my work and bring me one step closer to quitting the day job and doing this full time.

Well here’s something…

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If you’re tired of losing battles with yourself…

I’m no Matt Damen, but I did okay with the ladies back in the day–I guess. I was and am a nerd. I grew up in a world of books and ideas. I was that kid in the back of the class with his nose in a book to keep from having to make small talk before class, the kid in the comedy flick who never seems comfortable in his own skin, because at just over 6’1″ and adorned in whatever my mom found on the Blue-Light special, I wasn’t. I towered over the other kids, yet let myself be bullied. I avoided sports…and stayed scrawny. When I reached college with my touring bike and access to a natatorium, that all changed, but it never occurred to me I might be physically imposing until one night in a convenience store when the checkout clerk, unaware that her friend (who had come up to shout through the door and give me shit about my t-shirt) was sleeping with me, shouted her name and flashed the international standard facial semaphore for “are you fucking kidding? He’s gonna kick your ass!”

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Welcome (Back) To the Jungle

This week began our return to the daily commute, 3 days a week after 14 months fully at home. My day job is in IT, and the first thing we all noticed about working from home, everyone all the time, was the increase in productivity and reduction in stress. It took a while to sink in just how much additional time it bought us, and today, at the conclusion of my first full(ish) week back in the office, I felt the full weight of that additional time being taken away. Writing time–gone. Family time–gone. My wife comes home exhausted every day.

So today I put down the sums and added it up, for real.

I work in Houston, and my pre-pandemic commute averaged 45 minutes one way on the Park & Ride bus–plus time spent waiting on the bus–often 20 minutes or more, and the drive home from the Park & Ride lot. Since the line is still curtailing service, that’s increased to an hour–plus the wait and the drive–so I elected instead to risk my 13 year old Honda and my blood pressure and drive myself instead. I shifted to the earliest possible schedule, arriving stupid early and leaving at 3 PM in order to avoid the rush hour traffic–which lasts from about 3:40 to 6:50 each afternoon.

Research is pretty clear that there are long-term health consequences to binding night owls like me to an early-bird schedule, but my drive time (for now) is a mere 30 minutes in each direction, economical by urban American standards.

For the three-day week, that adds up to 3 hours, but that’s not the whole story. I have to walk from parking to work, and that adds 10 minutes in each direction. I have to shower and dress for work, and while it’s true I would do that anyway, when working at home, I do it after my morning bicycle ride, an essential part of my exercise routine. Driving in forces a redundant shower and change after going to the gym or after an evening ride, so an extra 10 minutes per day. Then, one way or another, I have to arrange lunch, either by walking somewhere downtown (a minimum 15 minutes to buy fast food in our basement) or bringing something from home, which would require additional planning, preparation, packaging, and cleaning. When eating at home, I can do chores while waiting on the microwave and toss the dishes in the washer. S0 we’ll add that 15 minutes to the cost-per-commute.

Then, realistically, once I’m in the office, every trip to the break room for coffee takes twice as long, every meeting, software compile, or “stepping away to think” is a lost opportunity to throw laundry in the machine, put away dishes, or weed a corner of a flower bed. It all adds up, but very conservatively, we’ll call it 5 minutes a day

60 minutes to drive (round trip)

20 minutes to parking (round trip)

10 minutes extra shower and change.

15 minutes extra for lunch.

5 minutes lost chore time.

110 minutes

So being extremely conservative and fair, that’s 110 minutes a day down the toilet. Oh, and there was water standing around the toilet this morning, but I had no time to investigate and still beat the traffic, so I just threw a towel down. Time penalty: anywhere from nothing to nightmare depending on how it turns out.

That’s 6 hours lost out of a 40-hour nominal workweek, 50 hours customary for salaried professionals so 11 percent of the workweek, which grows to over 18 percent over a full, five-day commute. That’s a fifth of the week–a fifth of life–flushed away.

Why are we doing this again?

Yeah, I get it. The company owns the building. The leased floors are not paying. Two of the restaurants in the basement have failed and are no longer paying millions a year in rent. The property taxes are stupid high. But you know what? I didn’t build a 48 story skyscraper with a 100′ facade welded on top to make it taller than Enron tower. I didn’t put my company headquarters on the most expensive land in town on a site convenient to absolutely nobody but a handful of executives so they have ready access to their lunch buddies.

When asked about switching to full-time telecommute for IT employees, our management was blunt. If the commute’s too long, you are free to move closer to downtown. Really? That’s a nice attitude coming from executives who on average make 100%-500% more than the professionals below them, and many times more than the rank and file. A townhouse in a livable development inside Houston’s 610 loop goes for easily twice what my home did, out here with the hiking trails and lakes and air you can breathe without shaving years off your life. No, thank you. When I move, it will be further away from downtown, and it will be for good.

I’m not angry and I’m not bitter. I’m not even disappointed. But I am newly fed up. With what we allowed the world to become and what we’ve let it do to us. I don’t plan to play this game much longer. Maybe you shouldn’t either.


In the jungle, welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your shun-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n, knees, knees
Mwah, I wanna watch you bleed


Until Further Notice…

The saddest thing I’ve seen in a while is a sign, hand-written with a beleaguered blue marker on a folded sheet of copy paper taped inside a glass door: “Closed until 7/13/20.” It had later been scratched through and updated to “until further notice.”

Double-masked, fully vaccinated, yet with no small trepidation, I ventured this morning out of the rain and into the labyrinth of tunnels underlying much of Houston’s downtown, just before 10 am, before any office workers are headed to lunch, when most stores are closed and restaurants are just starting preparations for lunch. Houston’s subterranean business district lives off this market, the lunchtime office worker rush. Aside from the many restaurants, convenience and gift shops, optometrists and printers all serve the needs of the itinerate workforce. 170,000 or so people who come and go every day of the workweek—a force that for the last 14 months has been largely absent.

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Translate 13,000 Application Strings in One Shot

In a browser, Modern computer applications contain thousands of text strings used within the user interface to populate help text, buttons, dialogs, and other controls. Localization is used to swap these text strings out for those appropriate to other languages so the application can readily adapt to users around the globe. This post isn’t about how that’s done but about a method for addressing the single greatest weakness of localization–getting all those strings translated into every language supported by the application. Generally, they’re stored in properties files of one form or another and sent out to language experts (or volunteers) for translation.

This quickly becomes a logistical nightmare nightmare, and unless each translator is very adept, and every translations is made in the context of the application, results can be mixed. It’s a lot of work and can be a great expense that many smaller developers simply can’t afford, meaning that many applications simply don’t support as many languages as they might, or support them as well as they should.

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2021 Appearances

I will NOT be attending Comicpalooza this year due to the pandemic, or any other appearances for the first half of the year. AmadilloCon and Fencon…we shall see.

New Stories!

New stories coming!

Galaxy’s Edge Magazine: The Snows of Maxwell Montes – A cynic finds purpose in sacrifice on the harshest of planets.
Analog Science Fiction & Fact: Sample Return – A woman bets everything on a fishing expedition — into the clouds of Jupiter!

What’s a Free Market Anyway?

Recently, I found myself in contact with online denizens arguing that Republicans want to destroy trade unions because they are against the free market.

No. Just no. Putting aside what the GOP does or does not want for another (very rainy) day…

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Christmas Lights, 2020

Some of you may not have been able to get out and enjoy the Christmas lights as you normally would, or may not have felt up to it this year, or may not have had neighbors in the mood….so we did it for you.

Two Story Sales!

Hi everybody! I know I’ve been way too quiet of late, and I thought I’d pop in to give a little update–and a lesson in perseverance.

First, I sold two more stories (you are the first to know). One, my 2020 Jim Baen contest winner, sold to Analog. The other sold to Galaxy’s Edge after being my second Jim Baen finalist way back in…I’d have to look up the year.

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