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Karl Gallagher's Journal
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Date:2025-09-14 15:02
Subject:Favorite Posts
Mood: cheerful

This is the journal of author and engineer Karl Gallagher.

My novel Torchship is now available on Amazon, both ebook and paper. The audiobook edition will be available in March 2016.

A captain who’ll take any job if there’s enough money in it.

A pilot with an agenda of her own.

And a mechanic with an eye on the pilot.

The crew of the Fives Full are just trying to make enough money to keep themselves in the black while avoiding the attention of a government so paranoid it’s repealed Moore’s Law. They’re not looking for adventure in the stars . . . but they’re not going to back down just because something got in their way.

Cover of Torchship

If you're new here there's some posts I'd like to share.

Requirements Kill: How projects can be ruined by the sheer number of requirements on them.

Feeds, Seeds, and Gray Goo: Nanotechnological manufacturing will be driven by logistics--and that's what keeps the "gray goo" scenario from being a real danger.

Other engineering essays:
The issues with engineering as a career, the problems with engineering education, and how to become an engineer if you just can't resist it. The reasons to avoid government projects. Don't be this kind of whistleblower. Why licensing software engineers is a bad idea. Even in fiction it's hard to keep ahead of advancing technology.

Analyzing specific spacecraft: Rocketplane's tourist design, the hypothetical Blackstar RLV, and off-equator space elevators.

Medical doctrine: I have issues with the childhood vaccination schedule and the innumeracy of medical researchers. They're not all bad though.

I've written a few pieces of fanfic and a whole bunch of book reviews.

Playing MMOs has gotten me thinking about how we could use one to test changes to our real world and what would be the signs that we're actually living in a simulation.

I've written a few things specifically about World of Warcraft. A rant on the brainpower needed for tanks to taunt mobs. A missing piece of backstory on the Defias. A suggestion for monetizing add-ons within the Blizzard rules. Reflections on how much more the Horde storyline focuses on PvP. And a discussion of how the Iliad would look in WoW terms.

My opinions on war and politics have been given a blog of their own.

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Date:2019-07-27 18:24
Subject:Campbell Versus the Pulps

A handful of SF fans have been blogging about rediscovering the pulps. They're reading Burroughs and Howard with fascination and demanding, "Why didn't anyone every TELL me about this? Why is science fiction described as 'Men with Screwdrivers' instead of these amazing stories?"

In true modern fashion, they've developed a conspiracy theory to answer their question: John W. Campbell led a cabal to suppress the pulps to elevate literary effeteness above the masculine virtues of Conan, Tarzan, etc.

This is bullshit. Campbell didn't kill the pulps. They were destroyed by something else that happened at the same time Campbell took over Astounding: World War Two.

The war took millions of readers away from their pulp collections and sent them overseas to fight the war. When they came home Conan eviscerating a zealot wasn't exotic and thrilling. It was a reminder of when their buddy's belly was opened by a German shell or Japanese bayonet.

While at the war they discovered the greatest warrior didn't have as much of an impact on victory as a radar operator.

Combine that with soldiers dropping from the sky, artificial harbors at Normandy, encryption becoming "Magic," rockets flying across the North Sea, and all the other inventions that made the GI a small part of "combined arms" and readers weren't looking for hand-to-hand action. They wanted to know what the next totally unexpected superweapon would be. They were still shocked that a single A-bomb could destroy an entire city. They wanted to know if nuclear war could be avoided.

John W. Campbell's magazine offered the answers they wanted, in fiction form. Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, and many others wrote about how to avert nuclear war and what new technologies might be out there. That's what readers wanted.

21st-Century readers are leading safe lives without fear of world war or atomic destruction. They're "Too wonder-stale to wonder at each new miracle." So many prefer 1930s pulp to 1940s hard SF. Unsurprising. And not worth demonizing John W. Campbell over.

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Date:2019-06-17 20:40
Subject:An Argument for Fan Cuts

I'm a fan of Robert Heinlein. No shock to anyone who's been reading me for a while. One of the hazards of being a Heinlein fan is watching the movies made of his works. Puppet Masters could have been a lot worse. Starship Troopers I've actively avoided--the reviews make me worry I'd blow multiple blood vessels watching it. So I was hopeful but wary when I heard a movie was being made of "All You Zombies." EDIT: A movie called "Predestination." I should include titles in my movie reviews . . .

It vanished from the theaters before I made up my mind to see it, but a friend loaned me the DVD recently. This past weekend I finally watched it.

My reactions are . . . mixed.

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Date:2019-02-08 23:50
Subject:January Writing Progress

Goals for month:

1. Do sales tax forms on time. Check.
2. Write 10,000 words. Seven thousand. Plus most of another thousand in scrapped additional scenes for a short and a political post.
3. Ping my blurb writers. No. I'm terrible at marketing and publicity.
4. Not nag my editor/narrator. "Moderate" and "Better than I expected" she says.

Other things accomplished: I did the rewrite of "Silicon Valley Riot" and sent it off to a paying market. The other shorts sitting around were also submitted, so everything is in submission except the ones I wrote for the class back in 1989. I should take a look at those.

TLW/TWR are making progress. I'm just not on the critical path currently.

The space opera novel looks like it's going to come out around 60k, which is enough to sell as a stand-alone I think. This will be reevaluated depending on how TLW/TWR sell at that size.

I'll be on several panels at ConDFW. I took myself off the Dr Who panel as I'm several seasons behind on the show.

Goals for February:
1. Write 10,000 words.
2. Put space opera scenes in order to create a zero draft for the alpha reader.
3. Write a short story after SO is done.
4. Plot second SO book.
5. Ping TLW blurbers.
6. Review stories from 1989.

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Date:2018-03-28 02:20
Subject:Torchship Trilogy Nomination and Sale
Mood: cheerful

I'm delighted to announce that the Torchship Trilogy is a finalist for this year's Prometheus Award for best libertarian novel of the year. Past recipients include Neal Stephenson, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, and Vernor Vinge.

To celebrate, I've put out an omnibus edition including Torchship, Torchship Pilot, and Torchship Captain. It's on a countdown sale starting at $0.99. Yes, that's fifteen dollars worth of books for a buck.

My congratulations to the other nominees. I enjoyed Andy Weir's Artemis almost as much as The Martian. Darkship Revenge is another excellent installment in Sarah Hoyt's Darkship series. Travis Corcoran's Powers of the Earth is a great tale of lunar revolution which hits all my buttons. I'll be checking out Ken MacLeod's Emergence and Casey & Hunt's Drug Lord as soon as I can.

And if you don't want to gamble a buck on the whole Torchship Trilogy, the first Torchship novel is free this week.

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Date:2017-09-13 00:22
Subject:Torchship Captain is Out

The Torchship Trilogy is complete.

Michigan Long blackmailed her enemies into joining the war against the AIs. Now the secret she used is leaking out and the Fusion is shattering. Caught in the middle of a civil war, she will have to use any weapon that comes to hand—her wits, her ship, her mate.

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Date:2017-03-17 23:02
Subject:Images as a reference

Uploading some images as part of a guest post elsewhere. I'll edit in the link for that if/when it goes up.

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Date:2017-01-31 21:55
Subject:The Last Discworld Adventure
Mood: sad

Steve Jackson Games has released an update of GURPS Discworld for 4th Edition. It's also, alas, coming out at the same time as the Discworld series is concluding after PTerry's death.

There's a sub-sub-genre of RPG scenarios called "The Last X Adventure," intended to wrap up a campaign and/or blow up a setting. In honor of Terry Pratchett's memory, I present . . . The Last Discworld Adventure.


The well-dressed merchant snarled as the street vendor sidled up to him. "I don't want to hear your latest get-rich-quick scheme, Dibbler. I lost too much on them already."
"One word, guv'nor. Octoleum."

The dwarves of Klatchistan have delved greedily and deep. After finding gold and more gold, they found something new. A thick amber liquid, warm to the touch, which came out of the hole as if under strong pressure. They pumped it out to clear the way for more gold-digging and made a discovery. Pumps coated with the liquid would work without dwarves pumping them. When applied to elevator cables, those too would work without anyone's effort. The liquid would evaporate, but there was plenty more to apply.

A wizard brought in to analyze the substance named it "octoleum" and ran screaming. But the dwarves noticed no ill effects from using it. Experiments showed it could enable carts to move without horses and unmagical carpets to fly. Klatchians eagerly spent their gold for kegs of octoleum to do their work for them.

In game mechanics, octoleum will turn any TL3-4 machine into its TL7 equivalent. A cart performs as an automobile, a carpet as a Cessna, etc. An ounce of octoleum roughly equals a gallon of jet fuel, gasoline, diesel, or whatever fuel is needed. Steering must be supplied by a driver but the octoleum will start and stop as the driver/owner commands. A container of octoleum must be permanently fastened to the machine. When it runs empty the machine reverts to its original nature (carpet pilots should check the level often).

The players find out about the discovery through rumors or the arrival of an octoleum salesman in a horseless carriage. It is initially be used by the very rich and industrial efforts needing concentrated power. Shortly after a Klatchian dwarf with far too much gold will arrive and disrupt the local economy by buying up luxury goods. (Another impact could be additional funding for the dwarf terrorists from Raising Steam, if your players haven't had enough of that sort of thing from the news).

People all over will want to dig for octoleum themselves, as there's far more demand than Klatch can meet and transportation expenses are driving up the price. Arguments over who owns the rights to drill where can produce fights needing PCs to settle them, or inventive PCs could be hired to make a hole.

CMOT Dibber organizes an off-shore drilling effort off the coast of Ankh-Morpork, just far enough out to see to avoid legal complications. The Patrician will offer to hire the PCs as observers on the scene to ensure the city's interests are protected. In Lancre a few Ogg grandsons see a chance to make their fortune. If they do, they'll be paying for Nanny to buy an impressive mansion somewhere. Possibly in Ankh-Morpork, next door to a very old and dignified vampire family, if the GM wants to transport the Beverley Hillbillies to Discworld.

The impacts will be greater than Nanny and sixty descendants filling up a twenty-room mansion. Carts will fill the streets. Special speed-carriages will start racing each other down the avenues as the Watch try to catch them on foot. Suburbs will displace turnip farms. Pipelines will draw protests. Not to mention what happens when someone spills this stuff . . .

Actually, spills aren't dangerous if no one is watching . . . or if no one has any ideas about what should happen. Octoleum in the tank of a mill, cart, or carpet will obey the owner or driver. If it's lying loose anyone's suggestions will be obeyed. Which leads to little boys sabotaging tanks so they can watch cobblestones fling themselves about.

This should all be background as the PCs go through the regular campaign, unless they want to be part of the boom.

Unseen University is investing massive effort into understanding the stuff. All understanding of magic thinks a keg of the stuff should immediately induce an incursion from the Dungeon Dimensions. The deep reservoirs should have been swarming with the creatures. The High Energy Magic Lab sets up new buildings to tackle the problem in (because large amounts of octoleum can explode if someone wants it to). Wizard PCs will be recruited as part of the research team. Non-wizards could be lab assistants ("Wait until I'm behind the stone wall, then push this button.").

The greatest discovery is that octoleum contains living things, apparently the young of the Dungeon Dimension creatures. The fluid they swim is rotted creatures or possible worse products of the DD. And yet . . . no incursions. Ponder Stibbons concludes that the contents are actually repellent to the DD creatures, making octoleum perfectly safe to use.

With UU's admission that it's acceptable for general use even more effort goes into drilling for octoleum. Production increases, new uses are found, and an industrial revolution is spreading across the world.

Then the earthquakes start. Tiny ones at first, barely noticeable. Geological hobbyists are the only ones who see the trend. One will buttonhole the PCs to proclaim his findings. No one believes them until the quakes become large enough to shake things.

Everyone who's been displaced from their old positions of power and wealth by the octoleum boom promptly blames the quakes on the liquid. Everyone benefiting declares it a coincidence. The wizards have no idea, and request funding to investigate. PCs will be wanted to participate.

The quakes are distributed randomly, usually happening about a quarter of the way in from the Rim. If researchers can check for quakes under the oceans they'll find the distribution is quite even around the circle.

As the quakes keep worsening, someone decides to send the PCs to look at the underside of the Disc. One glance at the elephants reveals the problem. They're bleeding, as if sandpaper has been rubbed over their backs.

Octoleum was the lubricant that let the Disc spin atop the elephants. Now that its diminished, friction is building up. Each time the rock of the Disc hits an elephant the surface feels an earthquake . . . and an elephant feels pain.

The news is greeted with panic and disbelief. Some make an effort to stop all drilling, but there are octoleum wells all over the Discworld. Some are closed by mobs or armies but the fluid already pumped out has been used up.

Frantic plans are offered to solve the problem. Some hope the reservoirs would refill on their own if the drilling stops. Others try turning the Fifth Elephant deposits into synthetic lubricant to be pumped into the empty drill holes. The most desperate propose invading the Dungeon Dimensions to obtain replacement fluid for the reservoirs (and are greeted with "No Blood for Octoleum" signs).

The PCs will undoubtedly come up with an even more bizarre plan to save the Discworld. It will fail.

True terror will begin when a nasty quake breaks off a piece of the Rim and it falls into space, lost forever.

Captain Carrot then has a series of tasks for the PCs. First they need to find drillers and have them make a circle of holes around Ankh-Morpork and the nearest farms. Next they need to accumulate all the available octoleum, not just pumping more from the wells near Ankh-Morpork but importing kegs by bribery, theft, or force. If necessary he'll organize troops for the PCs to command. He also sets the Bricklayers and Glassblowers to building a glass dome over the city to just inside the drill holes. Magical PCs will be tasked to strengthen the dome so it will survive quakes.

Eventually one of the elephants can't take it any more and collapses, falling off the back of the Great A'Tuin. The rest follow in minutes. The Disc crashes down on the astroturtle's back and shatters.

Ankh-Morpork holds together. The bedrock splits along the line of the drill-holes, leaving the glass dome intact. The people inside have air to breath as they watch the rest of the world destroyed.

Captain Carrot, no longer of the Watch but Captain of the city-spaceship, sets out to find a new world for the city to land on. Perhaps another astroturtle is out there, or one of the fabled round worlds? Or Ankh-Morporkh may sail between the stars until it runs out of octoleum (cf. Blish's Cities in Space). The PCs will become Captain Carrot's away team.

RIP, PTerry

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Date:2017-01-07 00:47
Subject:Shifting Over

I've switched over to Dreamwidth. I'm "Selenite0" there because someone already grabbed this username.

I'll probably keep using LJ until it goes totally toes up, because I'm stubborn like that, but I like having a backup of all the posts I've made.

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Date:2016-09-18 22:13
Subject:Fencon Panels

I'm going to be a panelist at Fencon, this weekend (9/23-25) in DFW.

Here's my schedule:

Manufacturing the Future
Friday 3:00 PM Trinity VI

Space LEGOs: Modular Design of Space Systems
Friday 4:00 PM Trinity VI

Autographs (I'll have copies to sell)
Friday 5:00 PM Dealer's Room

We Don't Need No Stinking Rockets!
Friday 6:00 PM Chinaberry

I May Be Synthetic, But I'm Not Stupid
Saturday 10:00 AM Chinaberry

Bionic BORG on the Starboard Bow!: Merging Humans with Technology
Saturday 12:00 PM Trinity VII

Zombie Survival Tips
Saturday 1:00 PM Trinity VII

Commercial Space: A Wellness Checkup
Saturday 3:00 PM Chinaberry

Saturday 6:00 PM Pecan

Anybody Home? - SETI and the Fermi Paradox
Sunday 11:00 AM Trinity VI

You Ain't Seen Nuthin Yet: The Future of Computers and Computing
Sunday 1:00 PM Chinaberry

Risks and Rewards of Replication
Sunday 2:00 PM Chinaberry

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Date:2016-08-30 18:14
Subject:Torchship Pilot Released

Torchship Pilot, the sequel to Torchship, is available on Amazon. The audiobook edition is in production.

WAR IS BAD FOR BUSINESS: The crew of the freighter Fives Full want to enjoy the profits of their dangerous voyage, but when war breaks out they're pressed into service for missions a warship can't do. Winning the war demands pilot Michigan Long act ruthlessly . . . and may cost her her conscience and her marriage.

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Date:2016-08-30 01:00
Subject:Coming Real Soon Now

My second novel, Torchship Pilot, is about to go live on Amazon. Then I'll make a real post about it. This is a placeholder so I can link the cover image.

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Date:2016-08-01 02:05
Subject:Torchship Pilot Cover

My second book is Torchship Pilot. telophase is supplying a lovely cover as seen above. The book will be out on 8/30, God, telophase, and Amazon willing.

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Date:2016-07-01 20:46
Subject:Eternal Memory

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Date:2016-06-20 14:00
Subject:Cirsova Magazine Issue 2

If you're looking for some old-fashioned pulp adventure stories, you should check out the Cirsova Kickstarter. I liked issue one, there were a bunch of good stories in it.

But Issue Two will be my favorite . . . because it has a story of mine in it. "Squire Errant" is my first semi-pro sale. "A young squire must step up to the challenge and teach a village to defend against and hunt down the monster that terrorizes the countryside and killed his master."

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Date:2016-05-09 23:56
Subject:Captain America's Decision

We watched Captain America: Civil War this weekend. Fun movie. The central argument is a good question, and I'm not going to spoiler cut it because they put it in the trailers.

Should the Avengers be totally unsupervised or obey a government agency?
(We'll assume here that the Marvel-UN is composed of democracies and enlightened monarchies such as Wakanda, not the tyrants and kleptocrats of ours)

Tony Stark/Ironman, reeling with PTSD and guilty over collateral casualties, decides to give up on privatizing world peace and sign up for adult supervision. Steve Rogers/Captain America isn't willing to subordinate his conscience to anyone else's. As superheroes do, they settle this by punching each other.

Tony's issues are clear (and were outlined very well in DrNerdlove's "Tony Stark Needs a Hug"). Captain America is the interesting one for me. The magic potion given to him in WWII boosted his attributes. In D&D terms he has maxed out Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution (for brawling) and Charisma (for leadership and selling war bonds). He didn't get max Intelligence--he doesn't challenge Stark and Banner on facts and he accepts Fury and Romanoff's plans, so he's fine with deferring to smarter people. So the question for this movie is: What did the potion do to his Wisdom score?

He's certainly acting like he has max Wisdom. He has no doubts, he's always making the right choice, he doesn't need to ask any advice about the goal should be. So Cap won't subordinate his conscience to any government, no matter how much popular support it has. If you're on the side of the Truth, you stand still and tell the whole world, "No, you move."

Inspiring. Of course, that depends on him actually being right, and his obsession with protecting a reprogrammable assassin makes me doubt what his actual Wisdom score is. But I won't get into the spoilers.

When it comes to choosing Team Cap vs. Team Ironman I don't have to put much thought into it. I wrestled with that decision some 26 years ago. The Air Force assigned me to my chosen career field and let me go play with satellites. But one of the other duties of that specialty was launching ICBMs. So I had to face the question: Would I launch a nuke if I was ordered to?

I decided yes, I would. And conversely I wouldn't launch a nuke without orders, regardless of how much I thought the target deserved it. Because my Wisdom score isn't maxed. I make mistakes. And history has plenty of examples of why letting armies pick their orders is a bad idea.

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Date:2016-05-02 22:03
Subject:Podcasts and Awards

I'll be appearing on two upcoming podcasts.

Tuesday evening (5:30 PDT) I'll be on Krypton Radio's Event Horizon show. My lovely muse and narrator Laura will be joining me to talk about books, rockets, and working together as a couple on creative projects.

Sunday evening (7:30 EDT) the Catholic Geeks have invited me to talk rocketry. I'll discuss SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other people trying to change how we get to space.

I'm honored to announce that I won the first Planetary Award for Best Novel. I'm delighted that the voters thought Torchship was the best new book they'd read all year.

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Date:2015-12-15 00:51
Mood: happy

My novel Torchship is now available on Amazon, both ebook and paper. The audiobook edition will be available in January.

A captain who’ll take any job if there’s enough money in it.

A pilot with an agenda of her own.

And a mechanic with an eye on the pilot.

The crew of the Fives Full are just trying to make enough money to keep themselves in the black while avoiding the attention of a government so paranoid it’s repealed Moore’s Law. They’re not looking for adventure in the stars . . . but they’re not going to back down just because something got in their way.

Cover of Torchship

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Date:2015-10-03 20:45
Subject:Nerding out on the Martian

The whole family went to see The Martian Thursday night. Great show. It got the heart of the story right. Alas, my favorite line didn't make the cut. People who pick up the book after seeing the movie still have many surprises awaiting them.

It could only have been better if we'd gotten to see trailers for upcoming SF movies instead of depressing award-bait.

Being me, I'm going to nit-pick some the tech and plot stuff. But since it's opening weekend, I'll hide the spoilers. Collapse )

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Date:2015-09-29 17:12
Subject:Con Report - Panelist at Fencon

This was the first time I'd been scheduled to be on a panel. I was drafted as a panelist at LosCon in 1998 or so. I was so brutal with questions to the guy giving a talk on Rockwell's X-33 proposal that when the reusable launch vehicle panel started next he dragged me out of the audience. In fairness I was working for a competitor in the RLV business.

Which is exactly the experience that made a few folks nominate me as Fencon panelist so I could bring that to the commercial space panel. Then the commercial space panel was cancelled. So I was assigned to an eclectic collection of sci/tech panels and had a great time.

The noon Friday panel looked interesting. But I've never made it to a con by noon Friday and this year was no different. Still arrived in plenty of time to sit on the manufacturing panel, which focused more on the impacts of displacing people with new tech than what we could make with it.

Then fascinating science presentations followed by the Soonercon party. I'd been thinking I was 80% likely to go to Soonercon again. Seeing that Toni Weisskopf is doing a writing workshop made that 100%. I chatted with another writer at the room party and we wound up talking each other into buying more writing advice books.

Saturday I was on the "Future of NASA" program. I managed to not massively offend anyone. Made the point that having two Commercial Crew suppliers meant that contractors could be judged on their results instead of their promises. Then more great science presentations. Also a panel on self-publishing which . . . well, when the panelists are trading "Openings I hate seeing in the slush pile" they've lost track of what self-publishing is. The "Technology: Boon or Bane?" panel was a free for all. The family came to see the show. They were entertained.

After more science panels I joined several new players in a Firefly game. My plan was to start slow to go easy on them then do a come-from-behind victory. Actuality: Alliance arrested Zoe, one of my crew was killed on a job, which also got me a Warrant, and when the Reavers came for me I couldn't do a Crazy Ivan because the guy killed was my pilot. But it's still a fun game even when I come in last. The NSS room party had entertaining videos, but the best part of the evening was chatting with friends in the hallway.

Sunday I started off with the "Secret Lair" panel. This drew a much younger crowd than my other panels. Supervillians are starting out early. We concluded hiding in plain sight was the best strategy, and you can get away with all sorts of stuff as an amusement park. My last panel was focused on helping writers get the science right in their stories. I praised Babylon 5 as a show that got a lot of science right, and talked about ESR's "Deep Norms" concept for why we need to get it right.

Other great things at the con: telophase gave me a lovely print of the cover art she did for me. I gave away a few ARCs of my book. The kids had a good time. James camped out in the video room much of the con, and Maggie started volunteering. celticdragonfly rode a scooter dressed as Princess Peach, and I'm an idiot who didn't get a picture of it. I didn't take any pictures at all this year. Too busy, I guess.

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