Blogging the New CD: W is for Winter

This is the final post in a series about the songs on my new CD, Distorted Vision.

The most intense winter I ever experienced was at Thule Air Base, Greenland. I was stationed there from July 2000 to July 2001, and had the privilege of commanding the largest tracking station in the Air Force Satellite Control Network and the pleasure of making friends with a lot of terrific people. Among other things, I got to stand on the Greenland ice cap, to visit Inuit hunting camps, and to swim in North Star Bay — while icebergs floated nearby!

So when my friend James Maxey asked me to write a song for a winter-themed event he was hosting, my thoughts immediately turned to what winter was like at the top of the world, only 750 miles from the North Pole.

I have been where the winter steals the sun for months on end
Where ice-laden winds blow blinding storms down to the frozen bay
And the solstice noon is midnight dark and the cold will not relent
And every soul despairs a little as the old year fades away

“Winter Simplifies the World”

Sled dogs on North Star Bay
The frozen bay, with Mount Dundas in the background. Thule Air Base is behind you as you look across the bay. (Image: “Sled dogs on North Star Bay,” by NASA ICE, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

The song moves through sadness and loss and into determination and hope, because if we can hang on through the dark, cold night that seems as if it will never end, we can find love and joy when spring returns. And so I hope you can find something to like — or even something to relate to — in “Winter Simplifies the World”.

To paraphrase George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy, winter is always coming. But spring is always coming, too.


Finally, here’s a picture of where I used to work, taken in January 2007:

View of the Thule Tracking Station’s radomes that protect the ground antennas from the elements. Taken during the long Thule winter “night.” (USAF Image.)

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New Song Debut: ‘Tauntauns to Glory’ [video]

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of appearing with several other central NC authors at the Orange County Library in Hillsborough, for a combined reading called “Winter Tales.” Here’s a YouTube video of one of my contributions:

From left to right at the table behind me were fellow authors James Maxey — who organized the gathering and recruited the rest of us — Rebecca Gomez Farrell, Alex Granados, and Mur Lafferty.

It was great fun, and I debuted two songs I wrote specifically for the event: a serious song called “Winter Simplifies the World” that alluded to the winter I spent stationed at Thule Air Base in Greenland, and, in the video above, my first-ever STAR WARS filk, “Tauntauns to Glory.” I hope you enjoy it!

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The 'Space Warfare Forum' is in a Coma — Should I Resuscitate It, or Pull the Plug?

Most people don’t know that the Space Warfare Forum exists. (Actually, most people don’t care, but even most of the ones who might care don’t know.) The fact is, the Space Warfare Forum has been inactive for 2 years — so, should I kill it?

(USAF image.)

My friends and I started the “Space Warfare Forum” about 15 years ago or so, if I recall correctly — we were stationed at Falcon Air Force Base, which is now Schriever AFB, in Colorado, and actually started the forum as a brown-bag lunch discussion group within the 4th Space Operations Squadron. The discussions continued after I transferred to Offutt AFB, Nebraska, in 1998, but we soon transitioned into an e-mail format that continued when I transferred again to Thule Air Base, Greenland, in 2000.

The e-mail discussions grew unwieldy, so I installed a bulletin board system on my web site which we used for a little while. The first version was susceptible to spam commenting, so I transitioned to the current vBulletin setup (direct linked here if you’re at all interested). We published an article — “Toward Space War” — based on some of the discussions, and at one time the forum had about 100 members, but after the spam debacle lots of folks dropped out.

Keeping the forum available is easy enough, but I’m not sure there’s any point. In the past I’ve made the platform available for other groups — my high school had its own section for alumni until the spam blowup happened, and Port Yonder Press used it for a short time for an online writing course — but those are as defunct as the space warfare section. At this point I’m pretty sure no one but me would miss it if it disappeared, and I’m not sure there’s much value in it from an archival standpoint.

I’m interested in everyone’s opinion on the question, but I’d especially like to hear from forum members (if any of them should read this): Should I terminate the Space Warfare Forum? And if not, what should I do with it?

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Last Titan-IIIB Launch … and the Latest Asimov's

Twenty-five years ago today — February 12, 1987 — a Titan-IIIB launched from Vandenberg AFB carrying a Satellite Data System (SDS) spacecraft.

(Undated Titan-IIIB [34B] launch. Image from Lee Brandon-Cremer via Wikimedia Commons. Almost certainly this was originally a USAF photograph.)

According to the National Space Science Data Cnter, SDS satellites operated in highly elliptical orbits and

served as a communications link between the Air Force Satellite Control Facility at Sunnyvale, CA, and 7 remote tracking stations located at Vandenberg AFB, Hawaii, Guam, Nahe Island, Greenland, the UK, and Boston.

This is significant to me because I know the tracking station in Greenland well. Many years later I commanded it: callsign POGO, the Thule Tracking Station.

According to this Wikipedia page, this was the last launch of the Titan-IIIB series. This particular vehicle was one of the -34B variants.

At the time of that launch, I was stationed at the AF Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards AFB, helping prepare for a static test of a full-scale solid rocket motor in support of the Titan-34D “recovery” program. But that’s another story.

And speaking of stories: yesterday my contributor’s copies of the April/May issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction arrived, and there on page 72 is my story, “Sensitive, Compartmented.”

So … space history that relates in part to my own USAF experience, and a new short story. That makes for a pretty good weekend.

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Dragon*Con 2011 Pictures, Part 2: Filk

(In case you missed them: Dragon*Con Pictures, Part 1: My Friends.)

This year I’ve discovered that I really enjoy filk (genre-related folk music) and filking (playing and singing same). Part of that is the warm reception “The Monster Hunter Ballad” has received over the last few months, and part of it is an immense sense of joy at doing something I never thought I could: writing and performing original music.

How did I get into this filking thing? It was an overly long journey:

  • Way back in the mid-90s I penned Titan-rocket-program-related lyrics to a number of different Beatles tunes.* So far as I know they’ve all been lost, and probably just as well. But I didn’t play an instrument, so I never considered the possibility of writing an original Titan tune.
  • In 2000 I got stationed overseas, where during my off hours I wrote a novel** and learned a few chords on the guitar. For my farewell dinner at Thule Air Base I wrote “Home on the Tundra” (to the tune of “Home on the Range”). As proof, you can look at the last page of the September 2001 issue of the Thule Times.
  • In 2008 I wrote the first of what has become an annual series of songs for the Industrial Extension Service: “The I-E-S Song.” It hasn’t made it onto YouTube yet, but there’s still hope … though you can watch the video montage for the 2009 song, “The Economic Recovery Blues.”
  • At MarsCon this January I got the idea for a Dungeons-&-Dragons-based song, which eventually became “Saving Throws” (sung to the tune of “Edelweiss”). And somewhere along the line I got the idea for the Monster Hunter song, which I debuted at StellarCon in March.
  • And at ConCarolinas this June I actually took part in a “Filk Circle” for the first time, and had a great time — which naturally led me to look up the filk track at Dragon*Con.

I played a few songs on Friday night, and went back on Saturday night to listen even though I had a headache. Then I was back again to play on Sunday night — where I took pictures!

First, the director of the Filk Track, Robby Hilliard:

(Dragon*Con Filk Track head honcho, Robby Hilliard.)

That guitar he’s playing looks awfully familiar. (I actually loaned my guitar out a couple of times.) Robby did a great job organizing the track, and his whole staff was very friendly.

Here’s Alex Boyd, who on Sunday night set himself the challenge of playing only original filk that he had made up that day.

(Alex Boyd.)

One of the songs he did was, “Don’t Bring Your Guitar to Dragon*Con.” Given the difficulty of maneuvering through the crowds, he had a point. I bought one of his CDs.

And here’s Tally Deushane, singing “The Dragon*Con Song”:

(Tally Deushane.)

Tally got very tired of singing “The Dragon*Con Song” by Sunday night; she probably sang it a dozen times over the course of the weekend. After Dragon*Con she posted on her Facebook fan page that she had been named one of Glamour Magazine’s “Top 10 College Women of 2011.” If I’d known we had a celebrity in our midst, I would’ve asked her to autograph her CD when I bought it.

Finally, guitars and ukuleles were not the only instruments to be found in the filk circle:

(The anonymous accordion player who wowed us all on Sunday night.)

In summary, a splendid time was had by all.

And meanwhile I keep coming up with new song ideas, which is both a little scary and (to me, at least) a little cool.

*I included some of this history in a previous blog post.
**It was okay, not great. I think my second novel is better, though neither one has been published.

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Dragon*Con 2011 Pictures, Part 1: My Friends

It’s hard to believe Dragon*Con was over a week ago already. My life is very blurry these days, so it’s good that I have pictures to look at.

The best thing about conventions, even huge ones like Dragon*Con, is spending time with friends. I wasn’t able to get pictures of all my friends, but here are a few.

Here I am with “Genre Princess” Alethea Kontis and other members of her “Traveling Sideshow.”

(L-R: Danielle Friedman, Alethea Kontis, me, Leanna Renee Hieber.)

Alethea was kind enough to bring me in off the bench to pinch hit for a sideshow member who couldn’t make it. Danielle Friedman performed a lovely New Zealand “poi” dance routine, while both Alethea and Leanna Hieber read from their work.

Note that I’m sporting my Monster Hunter International hat — it seemed appropriate, since I sang “The Monster Hunter Ballad.”

I also got my picture with Mary Robinette Kowal, who this year won the Hugo Award for best short story.

(Me with awesome author Mary Robinette Kowal.)

And who do you expect to run into when you go to Dragon*Con? Why, the person who turned over command of the Thule Tracking Station to you 11 years ago, whom you haven’t seen since! Rudy Ridolfi commanded POGO (our AF Satellite Control Network callsign) from 1999-2000, and I took over from him in July 2000. We only spent a week together, and I never realized he was a Klingon-speaking geek. It was great to see him and to meet his wife, Heather, who is a big fan of Baen Books.

(Two former commanders of Detachment 3, 22nd Space Operations Squadron, Thule Air Base, Greenland: me, and Rudy Ridolfi.)

Note that all of the above happened on the FIRST DAY of the convention! Dragon*Con, of course, is a frenzied and confusing 4-day-long hive of activity. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy breakfast one morning with some of my fellow Codex Writers:

(L-R: David M. Gill, David’s son Justin, Hel Bell, Danielle Friedman.)

My pictures from the Baen lunch didn’t turn out well enough to post, but I have pictures from the filking and random costumed folks that I will post on another day.

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Ten Years Ago Today, I Was NOT in the Pentagon …

… although I was supposed to be.

I had been in the Pentagon on September 10, 2001, after all, and was scheduled to go back the next day.

I’d spent part of September 10 in the Secretary of Defense Executive Support Center, monitoring the progress of a strategic command & control exercise. My presence there was strictly ancillary: I’d recently rotated back from my assignment at Thule Air Base, Greenland, and my training at the Defense Technology Security Administration had not started, so I was tagging along with friends and checking on what my old unit at Offutt AFB was doing.

On the morning of September 11, I reported first to DTSA — in our quiet civilian office building in Alexandria — and told them I was headed back to the Pentagon to monitor the exercise for another day. No, they said, you can’t go over this morning because you have an in-processing appointment to meet the Colonel upstairs.

So I didn’t go to the Pentagon that day. Instead, I saw the events unfold on a fuzzy TV picture (one of our engineers had jury-rigged an antenna onto a TV that was usually used only for showing videos). When I went to my appointment upstairs, I stood at the window and looked at the column of smoke rising above the hill to the north of our building.

I was several miles and seemingly several worlds away from what was happening.

Trouble was, my wife knew I was supposed to be in the Pentagon … and I didn’t call home for several hours. (In some respects, I’m still apologizing for that oversight.) Not that much would’ve changed for me, had I been in the building. I would’ve evacuated with everyone else, and from my friend’s reports they weren’t even in a good position to be of much help. So, not much of a 9/11 story from me.

Almost five years later, when time came for me to retire, we held my retirement ceremony in the 9/11 Memorial Chapel.

(Stained glass and altar in the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial Chapel.)

Knowing what that part of the building had gone through, and what that room meant, made my retirement rather poignant.

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Oh, To Be At Thule Today

I look back with fondness at the year I spent at Thule Air Base, Greenland — in fact, today I wore my “Thule Tracking Station” hat* — but it looks as if the path of this morning’s total solar eclipse went very close to Thule. I hope the weather was clear enough for the folks to get a (safe) glimpse of the event.

This Wikipedia link has a neat animation of the eclipse path. The little black spot is the area of totality; the larger grey area would see a partial eclipse.

Ultra cool for Ultima Thule. (And no, if you pronounce it correctly that doesn’t rhyme.)

*Our tracking station had an awesome logo: a polar bear coming out of a radome. I need to get a new hat and a couple new shirts, because mine are getting worn out.

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