Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Favorite Science Fiction/Fantasy book list

Recently I promised to list my favorite science fiction / fantasy books for a friend.
I thought I'd share my list of recommended books just in case anyone's looking for a good read. Of course there are are plenty of lists of "best sf books", this is just my personal list. But there are some obscure gems in here that you won't find on the most-popular lists...

First, somewhat recent science fiction: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson: Stephenson is really prolific and brilliant. Another great one by him is Diamond Age.

Classic Science fiction: Dune by Frank Herbert: from Amazon: "Dune is one of the most famous science fiction novels ever written, and deservedly so. The setting is elaborate and ornate, the plot labyrinthine, the adventures exciting"

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury: incredibly beautiful writing, fantastic surreal descriptions. Also: R is for Rocket.

More unique: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams: I think this is way better than the Hitchiker's guide. Funnier, and better plot - not so loose. There's a second Dirk Gently book too. Too bad we don't have more Adams books...

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut: Wow, just ask your dad. Kind of subversive adventure with lots of humor. Reminds me a bit of Douglas Adams. Also, my personal fave, The Sirens of Titan.

Even More unique: A Confederate General from Big Sur, by Richard Brautigan. This is pretty surreal, and funny too. Some pretty adult and not-politically-correct content tho. Hmmm.

In Watermelon Sugar, by Richard Brautigan. This is really surreal. A world where the sky is a different color every day, and is black and soundless on sundays. My kids like this one. It might be hard to find separately, but can be found in a library I suppose. Brautigan was the poet-in-residence of UC Berkeley.

Fantasy: A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K LeGuin: a really memorable book about a young wizard, considered a classic of the genre. There are several more in this series.

The Fionavar Tapestry, by Guy G Kay, three books: the Summer Tree, the Wandering Fire, and the Darkest Road. Wow, this is really good writing. Exciting, dramatic. Really good guys and really really bad guys. Compared to the Lord of the Rings a lot, it's also a quest. I think I need to re-read it again... And of course, the Lord of the Rings is a must-read...

And finally - something from a different genre - historical fiction ?! Master and Commander, by Patrick O'Brian: A fictional adventure based on the detailed logs required of Royal Navy captains during the Napoleonic wars. So the backdrops and much of the plot is totally accurate to the period, early 1800s, complete with naval battles. The real thing is much better than what an author can make up. Like going back in a time machine. This is the first of a series but stands well on its own. The movie of this name, with Russel Crowe, was based on book 6 of the series. Was nominated for 10 academy awards and won 2. Those ship captains left a rich trove of content - there are 20 novels, each pretty short and able to stand alone, but as a set they are great. My dad got me hooked on these and I actually read the whole series twice! Takes you all over the world of early 1800.

There you go! I love each of these, hope you do too.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Steve's rocket story 1969/70

Here's a story from Steve Dempsey about the second rocket trip sponsored by Mr. Karge. I think this was early 1970. We almost bought the farm on this one...
Old memories are dangerous, but here's what I recall:

I was only at the final trip (what Charlie calls the "second" trip). I don't think it was intended to be the final launch, but that's how things turned out. I'm pretty sure this was in our senior year (69-70), probably in the late fall, as I don't recall it being very hot. The previous launches had been with relatively small steel tubes, 1 - 1.5 inches diameter, but Dan and Jim wanted to try something larger.

Charlie's right about the general design, but I think it was 4 inch seamless steel tube and was approx. 8 feet long. Powdered zinc and sulfur was the fuel, with a small clump of black powder and an electric igniter at the base. There were three stabilizer fins welded to the bottom of the tube. The payload held a parachute and consisted of a piece of 5 or 6 inch pvc pipe, sawn in half and then taped together. A pendulum switch was supposed to make contact as the rocket tipped over at the top of the flight, detonating a small pipe bomb (gulp!) that would separate the payload housing and release the parachute. There was an external plug to arm this circuit. The whole thing weighed about 250 pounds and took 5 people to lift.

The launch tower was a tripod made of heavy angle iron. One leg extended above the others and served as a launch rail. This thing weighed as much as the rocket.

So, the rocket was fueled, mounted on the launcher, and the payload circuit was armed. I and a few others (Dan Hogan's sister Hilary Hogan was among the group) drove to a point about a mile away. Our job was to track the rocket from a distance and try to get an estimate of the height as well the landing point. We had walkie-talkies to communicate.

The countdown commenced, and at zero there was a small puff of black smoke, then nothing. I was told it wasn't unusual for this to happen and then a few seconds later have the fuel ignite, so we waited. A hour later we decided it was probably safe enough to go back.

The igniter and black powder had to be replaced. So we lifted the rocket off the launcher and tipped it over to examine the bottom. That's when someone noticed that the payload circuit had not been disarmed! So five people stood there holding a 250 pound rocket loaded with fuel and wondering if the pipe bomb in the nose was going to go off. We didn't want to move for fear of triggering it. It seemed like an eternity, but Jim Blair decided to just pull the arming plug. No boom. We lived.

This also told us the payload circuit was faulty, but we decided to try and launch again anyway. The igniter was replaced with new black powder, and we retook our position a mile away. 3...2...1...FIre....

This time there was an instantaneous detonation. All we could see at the launch site was a massive cloud of dark smoke. Then someone spotted the rocket. It was spinning furiously around it's long axis as it arced over, then a shrill whine could be heard as it descended and impacted. A nice parabola, but no parachute.

The folks back at the launch site told us over the walkie-talkies that they were OK. So we headed back there. At this point a huge mushroom cloud of smoke had risen, then spread out to nearly fill the sky above the entire valley that Clark Dry Lake sits in. We wondered what people in Borrego Springs thought of this.

When we got back to the launch site we realized the magnitude of the explosion. The launch tower had been folded into a pretzel shape. There were small pieces of parachute material scattered around.

We found the rocket. It had buried itself nose first, about 3-4 feet deep. No crater, it looked like the rocket had just been injected into the earth. The nozzle was gone, and one of the fins had been severely bent. It took about an hour to dig it out.

The results:
1. We estimated a peak height of about 4000 feet.
2. The bent fin caused the rocket to spin.
3. 8mm movies taken from the launch site showed a flash of fire, a lot of smoke, and then a few small pieces of parachute material floating down. The rocket itself appeared in just the first few frames, but from that it was estimated that it took off with a force of 22Gs.
4. We surmised that the rocket essentially blew out its nozzle at launch and travelled right through the payload. The nozzle was never found to my knowledge.
5. We presumed the fin was bent as it hit the launch tower on its way up, but we never understood how the tower was so heavily damaged.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Post-fire wildflowers in San Diego

These photos were taken in early March 2008 follwing the disasterous fires in Oct 2007.

Scotland 07

Photos from May 2007 trip to Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye, using slideshow widget from

Charlie's PicasaWeb Albums

Another way to use Sproutbuilder to look at pictures. Scroll down to see photos from the San Diego Wild Animal Park in March 08. Click the little Next button to see another set of pictures including a rainbow over the Self Realization Fellowship in Encinitas, CA.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

waves - pismo beach

Once this finishes loading, click as fast as you can on the "NEXT" button to make the waves come in. These photos were taken from the Shore Cliffs Lodge, which sits atop cliffs north of Pismo Beach. Note the pelicans at upper right.

Created using the new widget maker at!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Leucadia Beach hike in the rain

Rain's such a rarity here in north San Diego that it becomes an occasion to celebrate! Also, I've hacked the blog template to allow bigger pictures - but had to stretch this to be bigger. Please click the image for a clearer version.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Sunset 10/04/06

Once again, I'm on the way home from work, and this is what I see. Same vantage point as the sunset pix from September, Nancy Ridge drive in the Sorrento Valley area.

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Sunset light on San Diego

Sunset light falls on the San Diego skyline. Taken from outside the Bali Hai restaurant on Harbor Island, on 9/30/06 Posted by Picasa

Another sunset view from 9/28/06

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Sunset on the way home from work - 9/28/07

Now that I'm carrying a camera in my pocket all the time, I'm catching more sunsets... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Cool Topiary in San Diego

This hillside of bush-trimming sculpture is located at Union and Vine in San Diego, not far from Old Town. There are hundreds of figures depicted, from a surfer to all kinds of animals. It's called Harper's Topiary Hill.

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Backyard Rose

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Train zooms past E-street crossing in Encinitas, CA

Click the triangle to start the video. Taken from my car while stopped at the E-street railroad crossing in Encinitas, CA on the evening of 7/28/2006.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Perseid Meteor Shower - NOT

The Perseid Meteor shower wasn't very active this year, we only saw 3 or 4 meteors. THis is the view from Stu's Hill above Lake Hodges, Escondido CA, on Aug 14, 2006. There weren't many meteors, but with a view like this, who cares?
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East San Elijo Reserve, Encinitas, CA Aug06

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Amtrac train roars thru Encinitas CA

Amtrac train roars thru Encinitas CA. Uploaded from Picasa to Google Video.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Koi in a fish pond in a local shopping center in Encinitas, Aug 06

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Koi in a fish pond in a local shopping center in Encinitas, Aug 06 Posted by Picasa
A fish pond in a local shopping center in Encinitas, Aug 06 Posted by Picasa
Koi with water lilies. A fish pond in a local shopping center in Encinitas, Aug 06 Posted by Picasa
Koi with water lilies. A fish pond in a local shopping center in Encinitas, Aug 06 Posted by Picasa

Unusual cloud ovew Encinitas

We've been having this unusual tropical weather... creates that misty effect, accentuating the rays coming out of the cloud Posted by Picasa

Backlit flower

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Beach Map from Pipes, restaurant in Cardiff, CA

Signed photos of world-famous surfers line the walls, people like Rob Machado (a local). A sign by the door says "No shirt, no shoes, no problem." And if you look up you'll see this mural, with the local names of all the best surfing spots in the area. Panorama assembled using AutoStitch ( Posted by Picasa

Disneyland, July 2006

Cinderella's Castle during the day Posted by Picasa
Sign in Frontierland, Disneyland, July 2006 Posted by Picasa
Cinderella's Castle, Disneyland, July 2006 Posted by Picasa
Entrance to the California Adventure part of Disneyland. Handheld at ISO 3200 with my new Fuji F30, July 2006.  Posted by Picasa