Archive | October, 2011

A Tale of Two Geniuses

I write novels featuring “geniuses in jeopardy,” so it seems fitting to pay tribute to two geniuses who’ve hit the headlines this week.

Saul Perlmutter

Saul Perlmutter won the Nobel Prize in physics this week for his work in astrophysics. Back in the 1990s, Saul’s team showed that the universe is not merely expanding — it’s accelerating.

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, this can be explained by the existence of so-called “dark energy” which pervades the universe. It was a revolutionary discovery, and another team made essentially the same discovery at essentially the same time. Two physicists from that team shared the prize with Saul.

I single out Saul because, back in 1981, I was a second-year graduate student in physics at UC Berkeley. That year, I was the teaching assistant for the standard class in electromagnetic theory that all first-year grad students were required to take. My job was to grade the homework. I had 56 students in the class, as I recall, and I found that five of them consistently got perfect scores on their homework. One of those five was a guy named Saul Perlmutter.

If my memory is correct, Saul was the one who always wrote his assignments in blue ink with beautiful handwriting. I might be mistaken; it’s been 30 years. It might have been one of the other four. But that’s what my memory tells me.

As it turned out, Saul and I both wound up finishing our Ph.D. theses in the fall of 1986, which meant that we graduated in the same UC Berkeley physics department commencement exercises in the spring of 1987. I dug out the commencement program this morning and found that he’s listed just across from me on the opposite page.

Saul went on to do some truly elegant work automating the discovery of supernovae, which led a decade later to his remarkable discovery. I know Saul doesn’t read my blog; nevertheless, I have this to say. “Kudos, Saul! You’ve done a fantastic job and the Nobel is well deserved.”

500 years from now, the astronomical advances of the 20th century may well be summarized for third graders in one sentence like this: “Edwin Hubble showed that the universe is expanding and Saul Perlmutter showed that it’s actually accelerating.”

Steve Jobs

Tragically, Steve Jobs made the headlines yesterday. I was devastated when I read that he’d died. I’m typing this blog on a MacBook Pro while I’m listening to music on my iMac. There’s an iPhone in my pocket. In my backpack, my iPad is charging. My life is built on tools and toys that Steve created. I can hardly believe he’s gone.

Steve Jobs brought elegance and art to computer engineering. There was simply nobody like him. He not only made the world a better place, he made it a qualitatively DIFFERENT place. Let me explain that.

Years ago, I had a boss who tried to summarize in a few sentences how computer science has evolved over the decades. “The key insight that made computers possible in the 1940s was the idea that everything is a number. The key insight that made Unix the best operating system in the 1970s was the idea that everything is a string of text. The key insight that made the Mac insanely great in the 1980s was the idea that everything is a picture.”

Numbers are for geeks. Text is for geeks. Pictures are for everybody. Qualitatively different.

If Steve could see this blog, I’d want him to read this: “Kudos Steve! You put beauty and elegance back into engineering. You were insanely great.”

500 years from now, first-year engineering students may very well be studying how Steve fused art and engineering to create elegant devices. First-year business students may very well be studying how Steve brought Apple back from the brink when he returned to the company in late 1996 and executed the business comeback of the century.

Take a Deep Breath—It Could Be Your Last…

Oxygen, a Novel
A new release of my novel Oxygen is finally out in both e-book form and in paper!

My coauthor (John Olson) and I wanted to write a space adventure novel with a strong female lead character and with a fast-paced storyline packed with suspense, humor, and romance.

As I write this blog, Oxygen has the following rankings on various lists on Amazon:

  • #141 on the main list for All Kindle Books.
  • #3 on the Science Fiction Adventure list.
  • #1 in Futuristic Romance.

About OXYGEN:

Valkerie Jansen is tough, beautiful, and has an uncanny knack for survival. But that doesn’t explain why NASA picks her to be part of a two man, two woman crew to Mars — or does it?

Bob Kaganovski, the ship’s chief engineer, is paid to be paranoid — and he’s good at it. After a teeth-rattling launch, Bob realizes that his paranoia hasn’t prepared him for this trip. He can deal with a banged-up ship, but how’s he going to survive the next five months with HER just a flimsy partition away?

Halfway to the Red Planet, an explosion leaves the crew with only enough oxygen for one. All evidence points to sabotage — and Valkerie and Bob are the obvious suspects.

Oxygen is a witty, multi-award-winning roller coaster ride, with a plot that moves at the speed of light.

The authors had hoped to work in some cool controversy on science, faith, the meaning of life, the existence of God, and possibly even the Coke versus Pepsi debate, but they were having so much fun writing the story that they forgot to offend anyone.

About the Authors:

John and Randy have been collaborating on one crazy project after another for the past fifteen years.

Not only are they novelists, Ph.D. scientists, and entrepreneurs who’ve founded four different corporations between them, but rumor has it that they prowl the night wearing steampunk battle gear to rid the streets of vampires, werewolves, and ducks that poop on your front lawn after it rains.

John and Randy deny all such tales as “vicious exaggeration.”

Extra Goodies for Novelists

What’s in it for you, besides a fast-paced story? John and I worked hard to add in some extra goodies that you, my Loyal Blog Readers, will love. We created four appendices totaling more than 21,000 words:

  • How We Sold Oxygen In Only 7 Weeks — Without an Agent
  • The Proposal for Oxygen
  • Randy’s #1 Secret For Writing Fiction, those pesky Motivation-Reaction Units, applied to the entire first scene (which John wrote)
  • John Strikes Back — his analysis of the entire second scene (which Randy wrote)

Oh yeah, and there’s an Eternal Coupon in the book, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s good for selected writing products on this site. It’s reusable. It never expires. The discount is 50%. Yes really.

99 Cents? Are We Crazy?

We normally would sell what’s in those appendices for at least $15. But in an e-book, we get incredible economies of scale, so we can include them at no extra cost, right along with the novel.

The everyday cost of Oxygen is $2.99. But for this week, now through midnight on Saturday, October 8, 2011, the price of the e-book is only 99 cents.

Caveats: Amazon may charge a higher price to some customers outside the US, and they may not offer the e-book for sale in all countries. It appears that Barnes & Noble only sells e-books to customers in the US and Canada. We gave both retailers full worldwide distribution rights and we set the price as low as we could, but that’s no guarantee that they’ll sell the e-book everywhere at the same price. This problem is above our pay grade.

Where to Get Oxygen

Grab your e-book copy of Oxygen here on Amazon for 99 cents.

Grab your e-book copy of Oxygen here on Barnes & Noble for 99 cents.

If you don’t have an e-reader, you can get free apps for Macs, PCs, iPads, and most smart phones on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s web sites.

If you prefer paper and you live in the US, you can order a paper copy here at Marcher Lord Press for $16.99.

The paper edition has a different cover than the e-book, but it’s the same content with one difference. The paper edition has an Eternal Coupon worth a 60% discount.