RavenCon 2011: My Schedule

This weekend I’ll be in Richmond, Virginia, for the RavenCon science fiction and fantasy convention. I’ve been to Raven a few times before, and it’s always been a good time.

My schedule for the weekend is pretty light:

  • Friday, 04/08, 7 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies
  • Friday, 04/08, 10 p.m. — I’ll help out with the Baen Traveling Road Show
  • Saturday, 04/09, 8 p.m. — “A Workshop Was Held” — I’ll try to help folks recognize and correct passive writing
  • Sunday, 04/10, 9 a.m. — “Praise and Prayer Service” — some singing, some Scripture, and a time of prayer and Christian fellowship
  • Sunday, 04/10, 11 a.m. — “Why Can’t I Find What I Want?” — asking readers what they want but can’t find

While I’m there, I hope to get some work done on a short story. I’ll certainly have enough time for that … as long as I don’t go to too many of my friends’ panels!

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How Big is the Universe?

Over at the redesigned Baen Books* web site, they’re running features by Baen authors — a short story one time, a short article the next — and the recent article “The Size of It All” by Les Johnson is fantastic. Here’s the opening (with emphasis added):

For ten days in 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope pointed its mirror to a small patch of seemingly empty sky near the Big Dipper and started collecting light. (“Seemingly empty” means that no stars or galaxies were at that time known to be in that particular piece of the sky.) The part of the sky being imaged was no larger than the apparent size of a tennis ball viewed from across a football field. It was a very small portion of the sky. What they found was awe-inspiring. Within that small patch of nothingness was far more than nothing. The image revealed about three thousand previously unseen galaxies, creating one of the most famous of Hubble’s images and my personal favorite. The sky is not only full of stars but also of galaxies and they are very, very far away.

Here’s the mosaic image the telescope produced:

(Hubble Deep Field. NASA image.)

Since that image was taken, the Hubble Space Telescope has produced the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which revealed ten thousand previously unseen galaxies, even farther away and further back in time, in another “seemingly empty” part of the sky.

It’s apparent that we are nearly insignificant specks in the grand scheme of the universe, and if you read “The Size of It All” you’ll get an idea of just how small our world — indeed, our entire little part of the celestial sphere — is. The question of how big the universe really is always puts me in mind of one of my favorite Chris Rice songs, “Big Enough”**:

When I imagine the size of the universe
And I wonder what’s out past the edges
And I discover inside me a space as big
And believe that I’m meant to be filled up with more than just questions …

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it all. It’s on those days that I rely most on faith to keep me going.

* FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m affiliated with Baen as their “Slushmaster General.”
** Copyright Clumsy Fly Music. Used without permission, but in good faith so hopefully they won’t send their lawyers after me.

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The Monster Hunter Ballad, and a Story Sale

This past weekend at StellarCon, I debuted my first official attempt at true “filk,” in the form of “The Monster Hunter Ballad.”

The song is based on the Monster Hunter books by Larry Correia and published by Baen Books.* Larry was at StellarCon, and I enjoyed several conversations with him over the weekend, but he unfortunately was not present at the DeepSouthCon 50 party to see the debut. However, thanks to the cinematography and web-posting acumen of Tedd Roberts, Larry and everyone else can see my silliness on YouTube.

In other news, I returned home from StellarCon to find a story acceptance in the e-mail: my short story “The Tower” will appear in an upcoming installment of Crossed Genres.

*Full Disclosure: I am a “Contributing Editor” for Baen — not an employee, just a slimy contractor, but affiliated with Baen nonetheless.

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Economic Recovery Blues

Introducing my second foray into songwriting: “The Economic Recovery Blues,” the 2009 Industrial Extension Service (IES) Song, now available on YouTube.

And now, the story behind the song …

Friends from the Titan System Program Office at Vandenberg AFB may remember that I penned quite a few Titan-related lyrics to Beatles tunes, but “The Economic Recovery Blues” was only the second time I’ve tried to write lyrics and something of an original tune. Back in late 2008, my first attempt was “The I-E-S Song” — I wrote the lyrics and had the basic tune in mind, and Mark Minervino (my Pastor at North Cary Baptist Church) fleshed out the music. He also did all the instruments and the background vocals — his versatility is boundless — and I just sang the main lyrics. Then I put together a video montage and showed it off at our annual Christmas luncheon.

The original “I-E-S Song” was a big hit with the folks at work. Several of us wanted it to go on YouTube, but the humor was a little too sharp — mostly self-deprecating, but it got in digs at some other North Carolina institutions of higher learning. Maybe the powers-that-be will change their minds one of these days.

I had so much fun doing the first “I-E-S Song” that I figured, why not do another one? So in December 2009 the process repeated. I had the lyrics and the beginning of a tune, and Mark figured out (and performed!) the rest. Because I didn’t get started as early as the first one, we didn’t get this song done in time for the IES Christmas luncheon, so at that I sang another song — this one a work-related lyric sung to “Oh, How I Love Jesus” — and then finished up “The Economic Recovery Blues” over the holiday break. The video montage is rougher than the first one,* but the office folks decided to post it “as is.” So this is the first song I’ve done to be posted online. Hope you enjoy it, if you go in for that sort of office-related-silliness thing.

Meanwhile, if you know of anyone who needs some business consulting in lean manufacturing, “Six Sigma” statistical process control, ISO quality management standards, safety and health, or growth services, point them at the Industrial Extension Service — and at “The Economic Recovery Blues.”

Ah-one, and ah-two ….

*A note on the video montage. For the first one, we purchased some nifty graphics off the web; for the new song, I used Creative Commons images and put attributions in the credits at the end of the song.

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Living Up to My Own Essay

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay entitled, “Ignore the Tour Guides, If You Can,” in which I decried the tendency among some worship leaders, praise bands, etc., to distract the congregation’s attention from God instead of helping them focus their attention on God.

Then, in a supreme bit of irony, in January of this year I took over as the worship leader in our church (North Cary Baptist Church, if you’re interested). Which means now I have to remind myself of my own words:

How does a praise band, formed to lead the congregation in worship, become the center of attention? How do singers become vocalists vying for the congregation’s attention instead of leaders helping the congregation to sing the songs? It is, I believe, a natural human tendency to want to be recognized and appreciated for whatever form of expertise we have. And we may convince ourselves, if we believe our talents to be gifts of God, that the applause after a song is somehow directed at God rather than at us. But the human ego still appreciates it, and so the temptation to grandstand is very strong . . . .

For the worship leader, and especially the very talented worship leader, there is a distinction between relaxing into their own worship experience . . . and remaining conscious of the duty they accepted to lead the worshippers in the group setting. Too far in one direction and the other suffers, but the proper choice would seem to be always in favor of the congregation rather than the worship leader or worship team.

The only thing in my favor at this point is that my under-developed musical talent — I rarely even pick up a guitar any more, and my callouses are almost gone — means that I feel singularly unqualified to be in this position. As a result, I try to make myself invisible even in front of the congregation.

And maybe that’s as it should be.


P.S. That essay is still available, if you know of a venue that might be interested. (Although I’m thinking about just posting it on my web site and being done with it.)

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Space History, 11.21: The Time Dilation Song

This isn’t the usual “multiple of 5”-year space anniversary I usually post, but it’s too good not to include. On this date in 1975 — according to Wikipedia, the official source for everything that might be true — Queen released the album A NIGHT AT THE OPERA.

What does that have to do with space history, you ask? Because, in the fine tradition of such songs as “Rocketman” and “Major Tom,” this album included a song about space travel: “’39.” Written and sung by Brian May — the astrophysics student who stopped working on his doctorate to pursue music but eventually earned his PhD in in 2007 — the song involves the time dilation effect of traveling at near-relativistic speeds. A science fiction song by someone who knows science.

And that’s today’s space history, kids. Now, back to your regularly-scheduled browsing.

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Great Video: The Barbeque Song

This was posted on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, but I just found it today — and as one who appreciates barbeque in most all its forms, I found the rundown of different styles to be a delightful tribute to one of my favorite foods.

I particularly liked the bit about whether or not Florida is a Southern state* — down to using the outline of California.


*To most of us who consider ourselves Southern, it isn’t.

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Proud Papa

Father’s Day weekend, so I’ll get right to the point: I’m really proud of my young-uns.

Today we picked up our daughter after four weeks as a production assistant on an independent film. That’s four weeks in the farm country of northeast North Carolina, in the middle of which she went to the emergency room for heat exhaustion. And they liked her work so much they changed her unpaid internship to a paid position.

And as I type this, our son is performing at his first paying musical gig: he’s playing violin at a wedding with some other members of the high school chamber group. He’s done some charity gigs before with the band he formed at church (Clantannin), but this is his first time driving to an out-of-town gig and coming home with money.

My kids are cool. Pity I can’t take the credit for their coolness.

But I’m proud of ’em.

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Following as the Spirit Leads

For the last four days I puzzled over what song to sing in church today.* By this morning I’d narrowed it down to four choices:

– “Big Enough” by Chris Rice — “I hope you don’t mind me asking the questions”
– “Trinity” by Jennifer Knapp — “Where do I stand, on the rock or in the sand?”
– “Pray Where You Are” by the Lost Dogs — “In our hopes and fears and struggles, great or small”
– “Beautiful Scandalous Night” by the Lost Dogs — “At the wonderful, tragic, mysterious tree”

I like each one for different reasons; they all speak to me, but I wasn’t sure which one to do. I was leaning away from “Big Enough” because it’s the hardest to play; I need to practice a lot more to get the chord changes. And I wasn’t sure how many people would appreciate the whole of “Pray Where You Are.”

Then, stopped at a traffic light on my way to church this morning, I thought, “I’m a little hungry” … whereupon the song “Hungry” popped into my head: “Hungry I come to you for I know you satisfy.”

I thought, No way. (I didn’t even remember what chords it had in it.)

But when I got to church I figured I had to at least try it, so back in the music room I found it in my notebook and gave it a go. It was rough, and awkward, and I still thought hard about doing “Beautiful Scandalous Night,” but in the end I went through with it and nobody threw anything at me. It helped a lot that Pastor Mark played along on the piano (without any music, of course, the show-off 😉 ).

And all the time I think God was chuckling, pointing at me and saying to the angels, “Look what I made him do.”

* I wasn’t asked to sing until Tuesday evening, after choir practice.

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