Category Archives: Blinded by science

Hey! Look! A contest!

You can win a signed, hard cover edition of Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway


(see my review here) by helping me promote either my free ebook at Smashwords


or my Kindle book,


Here are the rules:

1. Multiple “entries” possible. Each entry will function as a lottery ticket, and I will decide the winner based on a drawing of such tickets. I have only one copy of Sara’s book, so there will be only one winner.

2. Each of the below will count as one entry:

a) Shout out this contest on twitter, facebook, or your blog. Your shout must include the URL for this blog post. If you do so on twitter, facebook, and your blog, that will count as three entries.

b) If you’ve read Gator & Shark, leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. (If you do both, that will count as two entries.)

c) If you’ve read Nothing But Light, leave a review on Smashwords or Goodreads. (Ditto.)

3. Contest will end when interest dies down — probably next Monday evening.

4. Important: to get credit, you must indicate in the comments below what you have done.

Any questions?


hey, it’s FREE!

Nothing But Light, my short story collection, available free at Smashwords:

Nothing But Light

Nothing But Light

And here’s the mini-blurb:

A reality-bending toy becomes the next Rubik’s Cube, a grandfather’s stroke pushes him way outside the time stream, and two misfits find inspiration for revenge: these and more off-kilter stories await you in Doug Hoffman’s Nothing But Light.

Did I mention that it’s free?


More adventures in Manga Studio 5: Rule 34

Today, I played with Manga Studio’s free props and rag dolls. I wish there were more — I’d have a blast goofing off with these. It’s a shame that my options are so limited; otherwise, I could run a web comic on freebies alone. Yes, yes, I know I have to use my own art. But that doesn’t stop me from having some fun.



Done! No, really.

I’ve finished the first major pass-through and I’ve sent the manuscript off to my betas. These are all folks who have expressed an interest in seeing the manuscript, so if I’ve overlooked you, let me know. It’s a bit big, 138K words. Sadly, I was not able to pare it down. I cut out at least three or four thousand words, but added back another three or four thousand.

The edit took a month less than a month. I’m pretty jazzed about that, considering I finished The Brakan Correspondent in — what? 2004 or 2005? — and have yet to finish editing past the fourth chapter.

I’m finishing just in time, too, since Terraria and Torchlight 2 are threatening to consume my life.


Voted onto the island

They like me. They really like me.

Here at California’s biggest and best HMO, physicians put in three years before they make partner. Partnership means a little more money and a lot more job security. Job security is, of course, worth far more than that little bit of extra money.

Some (like Karen) would say that there was never any doubt that I’d make partner, particularly since they keep showering me with leadership roles. I’m chief of my department, and as of June 1 looks like they’re gonna make me the Physician In Charge for our building. They jumped over a lot of docs with far more seniority than me for the latter job, which either means (A) the boss sees remarkable leadership qualities in me, or (B) I’m still naive enough to say ‘yes’ to an offer like that. It would have been odd (understatement) to make me chief and PIC, only to then dump me from the organization. But it’s the partners who vote people on or off the island, not the big boss, and it wouldn’t be inconceivable for a difference of opinion to exist.

As it was, the boss told me they had to delay the decision on me because the partners were slow to vote. But I think that has more to do with the I-never-read-my-damn-emails problem than with any reluctance to jump me in to the gang.

What can I do differently, now that I’ve made partner?

* Buy a saltwater aquarium. No one wants to buy a saltwater aquarium if he thinks he’s gonna have to find a new job and MOVE.

* Hang my partnership plaque up on the wall.

* Deduct things on my income taxes, apparently, and oh . . .

* Start paying income taxes quarterly, yay! because the organization will no longer take automatic deductions.

* Breathe a little easier. Except, this area of the country has the worst particulate smog of anywhere, so strike that last thought.

I think we’ll go to Santa Barbara next weekend to celebrate . . . it’s been about 20 years since we last went to the Palace Cafe.


That other Walnut

Lately, I’ve been using this new product in my facial recon work — pig basement membrane, which takes the place of an autogenous skin graft. The sales rep was in the OR today, and I guess he was trying to impress me, because he’d google me (I guess) and wanted to let me know how amazing I am.

“How did you do all those things?”

I wasn’t sure what “those things” were, but since I haven’t done much professionally except collect degrees, I said, “I dunno, I just stayed in school a long long time.”

“Yeah, but you must be brilliant. I mean, you graduated high school at 16, college at 19, you were an engineer –”

At which point I interrupted him. In retrospect, I should have let him go on, because now I’m curious what all else that other Walnut did. Was he an astronaut? Did he climb Kilimanjaro whilst fighting off a swarm of killer bees? Win a decathlon? Learn to bend spoons with his amazing mental powers?

I disabused him gently of his misconceptions. We hate losing our heroes.


Karen’s BD today . . . for which I made lamb tacos, homemade guacamole, and for dessert a Duomo Tiramisu. You can ignore the linked recipe and just focus on the picture, since that’s where I got the idea. I used my usual recipe, but decided to make it more kid-friendly so that Jake would eat it for a change. Instead of espresso, I soaked my pound cake in root beer. I did not use any alcohol in the zabaglione, but used some cherry juice instead. Then I split the zabaglione in half. Half of it I kept plain, and to the other half I added 4 ounces of German chocolate (melted). I then added one thingy of mascarpone cheese to each zabaglione sauce, then folded in the whipped cream.

After I had created multiple layers, I still had a fairly large volume at the center of my Duomo that was empty. (Yes, I’d used too large a bowl.) What could I do? If I left it empty, the whole thing would collapse when I inverted it. I really didn’t feel like going through the bother of making more filling and buying another pound cake. So instead, I bought a champagne cake, a small one, and stuffed that in the center. Thus achieving a dessert form of Turducken!

Good but rich. I’ll be shocked if we even manage to finish half of it. All three of us had some, and I think we only ate about 20% of the total.


Writing proceeds apace. I haven’t done a total word count lately but I suspect I’m something like 35K or 40K words into this. If so, this is feeling like a 100 to 120K story, which is just about right. So: epublish or not? I’d like to think I’d have the time to ship it out to agents, but who am I kidding.


Mee krob

Mee krob is one of those pain in the ass Thai dishes that even the Thai restaurants rarely make. Back in Crescent City, we had a lovely restaurateur/chef who would make it for us if we begged prettily. Aside from her* mee krob, most others have been overly greasy, or have used too much sauce such that the rice stick becomes soggy.

Every so often I get it into my head to try to make this stuff, and oh boy does it make a mess. Conceptually, it’s similar to Pad Thai, but the additional step of deep frying seems to raise the difficulty by an order of magnitude. Oh, well. Consider it part of the Thanksgiving feast, a few days late.

Here is, roughly, what Mee krob ought to look like:


The basic idea is that you have fried rice stick (Chinese is mai fun) dressed with a sticky, peppery sweet/sour sauce, then tossed with sauteed green onions and red peppers, scrambled eggs, and a variety of other things, including garlic, tofu, fresh cilantro, freshly chopped green onions, and meat if you like. I used some leftover chicken breast and a few shrimp. You dress the thing with the cilantro, chopped green onions, some un-sauteed red pepper slices, and bean sprouts.

Here’s the basic recipe I used, but I had to adapt it. I knew the sauce would be all wrong — way too salty for starters.

If you can find whole tamarind, you can probably find tamarind paste. It’s at most Asian markets. I used two tablespoons of paste with two of water. But here’s my sauce — you can compare to the original if you like, but trust me, this is the real deal:

4 tablespoons tamarind juice (see above)
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce
1 teaspoons lime zest
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Chinese red pepper sauce

Combine the ingredients and simmer until it begins to thicken. Set aside. Ideal consistency is a bit thicker than room temperature pancake syrup. Too thick and it won’t incorporate into your fried rice stick easily, and too thin and it might soften your rice stick.

The sauce can be made ahead. The next step is to prepare your various vegies: separate the white and green parts of the green onion; chop your cilantro and your red pepper — I used red jalapenos; wash your bean sprouts. Dice your tofu and dry it on paper towels. Dice four cloves of garlic.

Lightly fry the tofu, then place in the oven to keep warm (I used a 300 F oven).

Saute the white part of the green onion with some of the red pepper, and once the onion is nearly done, add the garlic. VERY lightly saute the garlic (you don’t want to make it bitter!) Keep the sauteed vegies warm in the oven.

Saute your shrimp if you’re using it. I added a tablespoon of the sauce while sauteing to add flavor. Put the shrimp in the oven to keep warm.

Fry up your rice stick. Here are some tips: unless you have a huge deep fryer and want to use a ton of oil, pre-cut the rice stick using kitchen shears. Rice stick will fly everywhere, so put the “bale” of rice stick into a gallon bag, then cut it with shears. You are trying to create flatter “bales” so that they will submerge in less oil.

Set your rice stick aside on paper towels.

Once you’ve made the rice stick, the clock really starts ticking, since this stuff goes stale FAST. The only thing left is the egg. The linked recipe recommends dripping egg into the hot oil. I did this in batches, and the way I did it was to put two scrambled eggs into a sandwich baggie, seal it, then snip a little hole at one corner. Swirl the egg into the hot oil.

Everyone should do this at least once just because it’s fun. BUT. This is easily the greasiest part of the dish, so in the future I will forgo the scrambled eggs in oil bit and do it the Pad Thai way (make an omelet and cut it into strips).

Toss together your sauteed vegies, sauce, and rice stick. Use a big bowl or else this will be damn near impossible. You can put your other warm ingredients on top or on the side. Finish with garnishes of bean sprouts, cilantro, green onion, and red pepper.

It’s beautiful and the flavor is decadent. It’s the closest thing that a main course ever comes to being dessert — probably because of all the greasy stuff and the sweetness of the sauce. You may note that I cut down on the brown sugar by 1 tablespoon, but it’s still fairly sweet . . . as it should be.

This isn’t something you’ll do once a week, or even once a month. But for an occasional treat, and probably for company (provided EVERYTHING else can be made in advance and kept warm), it would be a show-stopper.


*Her name is Koon and her restaurant is Sea West, a true gem. Indeed, the two best restaurants in that town are Asian. Thai House (a Vietnamese restaurant — don’t ask) is the other gem.

Noise, and the nearly nonexistent lefty survivalist

About a week ago, I finished Darin Bradley’s Noise, a novel about college students responding to — and some would say helping to precipitate — TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it, an acronym common on survivalist web sites, along with WTSHTF: when the shit hits the fan). In some ways, Noise is an infuriating novel. Bradley wrote it following the completion of his PhD in English literature and theory, and it shows. He writes in the postscript, “So I had a head full of cognitive theory and nineteenth-century American utopianism, and I had loads of free time.” The novel often reads as though Bradley had just finished Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and said, “Hmm, you know what? Not lyrical enough.”

That said, I loved Noise and recommend it without any other reservation. Alternating chapters relate the first person narrative of “Hiram” (who, with his college roommate “Levi” have adopted new names to fit their new identities in the post-WTSHTF world) and The Book, a cobbled-together guide to surviving TEOTWAWKI. The details of TEOTWAWKI — referred to in Noise as “the Collapse” — are sparse, but Bradley suggests an economic bust so profound that governments and law enforcement fragment, its individual subunits going rogue in a last-ditch effort to survive. Hiram’s chapters detail his and Levi’s efforts to “get the jump” (predict the Collapse so as to get a head start on last minute preparations), put together a Group, bug out of their college town of Slade, Texas, and make it to their Place, which they have called Amaranth. The Book chapters would make a fascinating read all by themselves, as they provide a manual for how to survive and ultimately thrive in the most ruthless of new (post-apocalyptic) worlds.

Hiram is little more than a boy. The memories he draws upon to ground himself in this new world are of his days in the Scouts and his all-nighters playing Dungeons and Dragons. Bradley masterfully orchestrates the interplay between Hiram’s memories, the dictates of the Book (theory), and the things he must now do (practice). To commit sometimes horrific acts of violence, he and the rest of his Group have adopted new names, wear face paint or masks, carry out their actions in a somewhat ritualistic manner, and afterwards reassure one another with, “What you did was right.” That last essential closer is what in my opinion makes this a truly haunting work, for it is the acceptance of the perpetrator’s new society, his Group, which makes maiming and murder not just socially acceptable but laudable to them.

This book has stayed with me. I won’t spoil the ending here, but I will say that the closing image was predictable yet still remarkably powerful.

And this book has played into some of my own fears and anxieties about the world and the shit we’re getting ourselves into. I’ve been beefing up our somewhat meager emergency kits, trying to think both of the relatively trivial emergencies like breaking down on a drive over the Grapevine in the middle of winter, and the big ones, TEOTWAWKIs. In the course of doing my internet searches, it soon became apparent that survivalist types are largely right-wing and, well, religious. And that led to what I had thought at first was an innocent question, but has turned more interesting than I’d first thought:

Are there any liberal, lefty, left-wing survivalists, or are they all rifle-toting God-loving Obama-hating rednecks?


Another reason to read Daily Kos

. . . is for the science.

Depending upon which way you lean, Daily Kos may be one of the few bastions of liberal thought on the internet, or a hotbed of Commie pinko activism. The reality is, it’s a battlefield wherein Obama cheerleaders, self-proclaimed “pragmatists,” and progressive purists regularly get into screaming fits. The only thing uniting this crowd is that we all despise the Republican agenda.

But, back to the science. Pop over to Daily Kos right this instant and you’ll find a book review of How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown, the astronomer whose work on the solar system’s outermost reaches led to Pluto-the-planet’s demise, and the author is participating in the discussion in the comments. How cool is that?

Right below that, author Mark Sumner reports on mega-meteorites striking the Earth in Death From Above, and leads with the provocative question,

Fill in the blank. The Earth suffers an impact from an asteroid or comet generating more energy than the explosion of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima every __ year(s).

You’ll have to pop over there to find out the answer. Sumner provides lots of great information about the science of impacts, the Tunguska event, the Teller Scale of Intolerably Large Disasters, and the Torino Impact Hazard Scale.

And there’s Darksyde’s regular feature, This week in science. The most recent column included a link to PZ Myers’s self-proclaimed “wet blanket” to the arsenic-based life form story . . .

It’s an extremophile bacterium that can be coaxed into substiting [sic] arsenic for phosphorus in some of its basic biochemistry. It’s perfectly reasonable and interesting work in its own right, but it’s not radical, it’s not particularly surprising, and it’s especially not extraterrestrial.

. . . and a link to a report regarding SpaceX’s efforts regarding the commercialization of space travel.

See? Not just politics!

But with regard to politics, I found the cute image below in one of the comment threads. One of my bumper stickers reads “Cthulhu 2008: Why Vote For the Lesser Evil?” This would be a good companion sticker.


Now that’s change you can die for!


Topology timeout

I haven’t ranted political lately because it would all be “head butts wall, head butts wall, head butts desk (for variety).” Count me as one of the liberals so fed up with Obama that I’d like to see a successful primary challenge in 2010. But no ranting. NO. RANTING.

Instead, we’ll turn a sphere inside out.

Hey Obama! Ever read Langston Hughes’s poem Harlem?

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?


My favorite comment from that sphere viddy: I WANNAH TRY THIS TA MAH LEFT TESTICLE

There’s a part two, you know.


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