Archive for April, 2012

Portland reading, Seattle (Kirkland) reading, then Venice!!

Last night’s SFWA Pacific Northwest Reading Series reading in Portland, the first once since I took over from Mary Robinette Kowal, went off smashingly. The crowd was a bit smaller than last time, perhaps because this one was on a Monday rather than a Tuesday, but those who attended had a fabulous time.

Tonight (Tuesday) the series returns to the Seattle area with another reading at the Wild Rover Restaurant and Pub, 111 Central Way, Kirkland, WA 98033. New York Times Best-selling author Kat Richardson hosts and reads, along with Ted Kosmatka and Shanna Germain. The reading begins at 7:00 and is free and open to the public. For more information and to RSVP, please see

Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the Kirkland reading this time, because tomorrow morning we are flying off to Venice!

We’ll be spending a month in Europe on what we’re calling the “Fallen Empires Tour:” Venice, Bologna, Vienna, several towns in the Czech Republic, Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. I must confess I’m a little freaked out that this is finally happening after so many months of planning, but I expect we’ll have a blast. I hope to blog frequently, with photos, during the trip, but that will depend on the availability of time, energy, and wifi. Take good care of the US while we’re gone.

Kids Say the Darndest Things, Mars Edition

On Thursday I was one of the judges for the Design A Martian Habitat Contest for students grades K-12. My part of the process was to look over each entry and provide a few comments as well as a grade from 0.0 to 4.0 for Originality, Feasibility, Science and Engineering, Essay, and Total. My comments and grades, along with those of the other judges, will be used in the final determination of the winners. At least two judges will grade each entry.

There were a lot of entries. I got through about half of the ones from the grade 5-8 section. Most of those were from grade 5.

I was very impressed. Almost all of the entries identified the most pressing issues for human survival on Mars and provided plausible solutions to those issues. Many of the essays were very well written and most were accompanied by a vivid and enthusiastic illustration of the habitat design. My hat’s off to these kids.

Even the best essays, however, contained occasional phrases that, for all their sincerity, made me laugh out loud. (And I must emphasize that some of these came from essays I graded highly.) So here’s a “greatest hits” composite essay with all the bits that were just too much fun not to share. Every sentence below came from an actual entry, with spelling, capitalization, and punctuation exactly as shown…

by David, grade 5


Mars is the coolest place on earth. Mars is an amazing planet and we need to be prepared for Whatever its surface beholds.

Jonah is going to Mars. He brings food, water, air, metal, tools, spacesuit, more air, plants to make more air with, and his guitar. First, he goes to Phobos. Phobos is like rocks.

And off they traveled in to the unknown bounders of space only to find the planet mars …


The astronauts brought big, warm puffy coats and lots of blankets to keep them warm; they also brought materials that would make the bad air from outside turn into good air that they could breathe only in their air tight shelter.

Astronauts will gather water from the ice caps. They will collect the ice and bring it down to a vat of hot water. The ice will melt and the astronauts will have water. I would test it to see if you could drink it. I would take all the chemicals out of it.

They will get gravity by using the gravity box that NASA has lent them. They will also wear heated clothes that look kind of like a space suit but not as fat looking.

I would bring a food supply that would last years. I will need apples, water, meat and a refrigerator to store food. I would also bring beans.

Since Mars’s atmosphere is thinner than ours and since the UV rays and solar radiation would burn them bad I thought they could just wear thick hats and cloths and allot of sunscreen while their outside so they wouldn’t have a problem with that.

Because of the low pressure they have most of there things attached to the ground, they also need a (n) electric compressor.

Since low pressure can give u a headache they are going to have to bring allot of Aspirin. And since it can make your ears pop they are going to bring a lot of gum and gummy bears and gummy worms.

Jonah didn’t bring his friends. Sometimes it’s dark.


There is no breathable air on mars. So after they finish the space station they will take bottles of oxygen and spray the whole building. All doors are sealed shut unless they are opened.

The astronauts shot electricity into the atmosphere to separate fhe oxygen from the other gasses. They store it in an underground tank. There is a plug with a rope attached to it that hangs out into the science lab. To release oxygen, you pull on the rope. There are strips of rubber strapping the plug to the tank, so if you let go of the rope, the plug snaps back into place. [I gave this one high marks. Low tech = reliable!]

There is going to be a cafeteria on the middle floor, and astronauts will have mini fridges in their room. There is a connection from the cafeteria to the food cellar where the cook can pull up food.

In the bathroom you have to Deposit your waste into a bucket, then poor it in to the waste shoot. Your waste then goes down to the burning room where it is burned. This produces heat for the Base.

Since I already explained about the bathrooms, the water, and the food I will explain about the beds. They are not bunk beds but they are just regular single beds. Every astronaut gets their own bed. In the morning they have to go all the way to the dressing rooms to get dressed. [I suspect the writer of this paragraph has to share a bedroom.]

I was thinking like in the airplanes have oxygen masks you could hang them every where in your headquarters. You would be safe wherever you walked!

They would do all of their experiments and more in their lab which is part of their home and they would aloes bring all the tools they would need for the experiments, like test tubes, spoons, gloves ext.

There is a door to the janitors closet ( for spills and puke etc. )

Jonah wants to talk to people on Earth. He wants to set up Skype because of his laptop. He will hook up to his solar panels. He will need a special antenna. He will have to build it. It will have to be really big. It will take Jonah seven days to build it. He will grow food and air from plants. He will go and get rocks and make dirt for the plants. Now he is ready to talk to Earth.


For science experiments, they could study the rocks. They would go out in their astronaut suits and grab a rock. When they got back inside they could study it.

This is special iron. Every time you hit it, it blows up.

the second thing they saw was the space ranger that they have heard many stories about but never dreamed they would see it in person but now there it was all dusty,

‘We need to see if we are not alone. So we need to go back inside and get more air for are tanks. “Then we can go and see if there is anyone else here on This stinking planit named mars.”


When astronauts go to mars they need to be prepared. Mars is a far away planet. But then again, not so far away.

My conclusion is that if you go up to Mars you should be prepared. This essay will make sure of that. If you don’t have all of these things you will probably not be happy. I hope you take this into consideration.

SFWA Pacific Northwest Reading Series in Portland 4/16/12, Seattle 4/17/12

The greater Pacific Northwest is home to Ursula K. Le Guin, Kay Kenyon, Jay Lake, Nancy Kress, Brent Weeks, Ted Chiang and Ramona Quimby. Although Ramona isn’t known for her Science Fiction and Fantasy escapades, the rest are, and will be celebrated as part of the Pacific Northwest Reading Series. These free quarterly events provide the Northwest Science Fiction and Fantasy community a chance to gather, network and enjoy readings from local authors.

Each event starts with notes from the host, a leading local author, who has selected two of their favorite writers to complete the evening’s theme. In turn, each is given time to read from their latest work, interpreting and explaining their concepts and vision. In addition, space is provided for networking and conversation.

The next quarterly reading in Portland will be on Monday April 16, from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM, at McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave. Portland, OR 97211. New York Times Best-selling author Lillith Saintcrow will be hosting and reading, along with with Ted Kosmatka and Shanna Germain.

The next day the series proceeds to Seattle, on Tuesday April 17, also from 7:00 to 8:30 PM, at the Wild Rover Restaurant and Pub, 111 Central Way, Kirkland, WA 98033. New York Times Best-selling author Kat Richardson hosts and reads, along with Ted Kosmatka and Shanna Germain.

Both events are free and open to the public. For more information and to RSVP, please see

Compact Fluorescent bulbs

In my experience, compact fluorescent bulbs generally have a five to ten year guarantee and generally do not last nearly that long. I always save the package (or at least the guarantee and anything it calls for, typically the UPC) and the receipt, and write the installation date on the base of the bulb when I install it. Whenever one burns out, I check the date against the guarantee; if it’s less than the guaranteed lifetime I put the receipt and UPC in an envelope and send them to the manufacturer, who usually sends me one or more coupons for free light bulbs. They cost as much as twelve bucks a package, so it’s worth the effort for me.