Checking a Steak’s Doneness

With summer approaching and many of us dusting off the backyard grills, I figured I’d share what seems to be common knowledge amongst a few of us grill aficionados.

How to tell that your steak is done the way you want it without slicing it open to “check” it.

For the many who aren’t “experts” in the grilling arts, you use all manner of voodoo-like methods which always makes me laugh. It’s kind of like when you watch people “testing” fruit by sniffing it when it should be tapped, or tapping it when it should be sniffed. [That’s a subject for another day.]

First, let me explain why what many of you do to test “doneness” is so wrong as in committing the cardinal sin of grillery.

  • Do not ever, EVER, cut a steak while on the grill to see if it’s done. I know lots of you have, and it’s just wrong. It’s wrong in how peanut butter and hot dogs on a bun is wrong. Wrong in that some of you probably eat spaghetti with ketchup on it. Or <shudder> pour ketchup on perfectly medium rare prime rib. [My mother-in-law once asked for ketchup twenty years ago when I served her a prime rib and of course she didn’t get it, but I still bring that up on a regular basis.]

Why is it wrong?

First of all, with the steak hot, the juices are flowing and looking for a way out of the steak. A nice sear on a steak tends to keep things in, but as soon as you put that harpoon of a knife into the steak, you give the juices a place to exit and ultimately losing what makes the steak oh so delicious. It’s juiciness. You ever eat a steak that looks like it was done alright, but dry as heck?

Some unthinking person likely sliced it and let all of the beef nectar out. 😉

Normally, the proper procedure is to take a steak off the grill and let it rest for at least 5-10 minutes. This gives the juices time to redistribute in the meat and ultimately gives you that succulent morsel you were looking for.

So, how does one tell how a steak is cooked without peeking inside?

Meat thermometer? Nope! [No stabby!]

Touch it. Yes, Virginia – you touch the steak.

By feeling how firm it is, you can get a pretty good estimate on how done the steak is. Simply touch your [clean] finger to the center portion of the steak and compare it to the simple illustration I’ve provided below. For each doneness, you compare the firmness of the steak to the firmness of the meaty portion of your thumb [as illustrated].

It’s just that simple.

Happy grilling!

Fantasy is unexplained Science Fiction: Blasphemy or Not?

I’m about to swim upstream for many people in the literary world by positing that there is practically no difference between most Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Before I go into more of that hypothesis, let me note a few things about myself.

I have a very deep background in the sciences. They span the disciplines of physics, chemistry and oddly enough, computers. So much so, that some of the material I’ve written on these technologies is used in university courses both internationally and domestically.

Before I’d ventured seriously into writing, I’d envisioned that I’d probably focus mostly on fantasy. After all, that’s what I enjoyed reading the most as a youth, starting with novels like The Hobbit/LOTR and into adulthood, moving through tales like Sword of Shannara and The RuneLords series.


Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Science Fiction as well (e.g. Asimov, Clarke, etc.,) but being very close to technology, I didn’t always relate to the science portion of the Science Fiction I was reading.

I remember having a discussion with a cousin of mine who is a physician and asked him if he watched some of the medical shows on TV (back then, E.R. was popular). He immediately shook his head with a look of disdain and explained that he couldn’t get into it, because there’d be things that weren’t right or it was too close to home and was unpleasant for him to watch. It was a sentiment that I could totally relate to.

For me, reading was an escape. So I enjoyed not knowing how stuff happened and allowed myself to go on the adventure that the author had intended without muddying the waters with laws of physics and other inconvenient realities.

That was until I began writing stories.


When I first sat down to write, my mind immediately turned to the material I enjoyed reading the most, Epic Fantasy.

It didn’t take me long before the engineer/scientist part of my brain began arguing with the would-be fantasy writer.


If I was about to put something into my story that was magical, the engineering side of me couldn’t help but wonder, “How could I make that actually work?”

Fantasy writers have always been taught that when you construct a magic system, you must be descriptive, consistent, and hopefully interesting.

For most authors without a strong science background, that simply means make up the reality, explain it and stick to it. Simple. However, I couldn’t see myself doing that. The scientist part of me kept nagging about, “How could I make a magic ring actually work in real life?”


It then dawned on me that I could borrow from one of Arthur C. Clarke’s laws, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

What if I took that capability that I wanted, applied known science to it, and then extrapolated a bit, kind of like the science fiction folks do.

For example, I have a story that I’ve written called, DISPOCALYPSE:

In this story, I introduced the concept of a gold ring with some very unique properties. At its simplest, two people can wear a matched set of rings, and when one person taps or squeezes their ring, the person carrying the matching ring would feel the tap or squeeze in their ring. It serves as a very typical fantasy element and acts as a means of communication across great distances between two parties. Neat stuff. You can imagine in a fantasy setting, such magic rings being employed with various interesting outcomes. That’s in fact exactly what I do.

Although a fantastic little trick, the concept for such an item originated from within a deep dark cave in the world of particle physics called quantum entanglement.

Briefly explained, quantum entanglement is the concept that through a variety of methods a single item can be split into two parts where each of the parts end up sharing an unseen link even though they may have a relatively great distance between them.

This is most easily imagined as a photon of light being split (via a special type of beam splitter) such that each corresponding half can be affected in ways that ultimately affect the other. However, I’ll note that quantum entanglement has already been experimentally verified both at the subatomic level as well as macroscopic level between two small diamonds.

This is a very active area of research in academic circles today. I would greatly appreciate it if any of my readers (who happen to have the proper background and wherewithal) advances the concept and research further.

I want one of these rings.

Nonetheless, I’ve suddenly turned my “magic” ring into a ring of science fiction. Odd how that works.

I wouldn’t make a big point of that single instance of co-opting a fantasy item and morphing it into a science fiction element had I not found myself doing this kind of thing over and over again.

My “fantasy” novels were becoming Science Fiction – or at least the lines between the two were certainly blurring.

How about another example?

Let’s try mind reading.


The concept of reading minds has always been in the realm of hocus pocus. People wiggling their fingers and voila! Karnak the magician can now guess your name, etc.

But what if there was something more to it than that? In the novel I have under submission called THE CODE BREAKER, one of the characters has the ability to read minds. It’s something he simply is able to do, but if we take a step back, (which I did) and think, “How could such a thing actually work?” You too might come up with some of these revelations.

Today we have the technology to map the electrical currents in the brain via special wired harnesses.


The fact is, these wires aren’t actually touching the brain, they’re measuring fields that the brain generates and using triangulation, they can determine where in the brain certain activities are occurring.

You can almost think of these fields as a type of sound if you will. Something that can be “heard” and even transmitted through the skull, blood, skin.

Using today’s technology, the brain can not only be “heard” it can be “talked to” in a similar manner. When certain frequencies and fields stimulate the brain, it reacts. Depending on the section of the brain being stimulated, the patient will get a variety of sensations, possibly a taste or visual effect or it may actually bring forth an emotion or memory of an event. These are all things that today are actively being researched with the hope of mapping out the different parts of the human brain and all of that serves as fodder for the imagination.

Going back to the novel and my mind reader, what if we imagined that someone had the ability to both “listen” to the brain at that level but also “talk” to it. Given special hearing, it is conceivable that the brain could be programmed, much in the way a computer is programmed.

So if the mind reader could subconsciously send out a signal (e.g. sub-sonic sound carrying a pattern) and the recipient’s brain reacted in a fashion that the mind reader could detect, you might have a means for someone to probe another person’s thoughts.

Heck, in THE CODE BREAKER, I even included a sample illustration of an audio spectroscopy analysis illustrating how such a thing might work. (TBD as to whether publisher will let me put that in.)


mindreadingSo I covered magic rings and mind reading as two simple scenarios where “Fantasy” elements could actually be part and parcel of a Science Fiction story without really anyone blinking an eye.

I have much more, but I think the point is made.

It’s really up to the author to decide whether he wants to explain how it might work relative to technology that really exists in our world or not. If it’s a derivative of something that’s conceivable with known science, then it isn’t fantasy anymore, it really is science fiction.

I could just as easily formulate my story with the same magic ring and telepaths and make it a fantasy story. It just requires the author to base the “what makes it work” pretense less on science and more on “because I said so.”

I go back to my initial thesis which was, “Fantasy is really unexplained science fiction.”

While I think there’s plenty of room for both genres as being distinct from each other, I really believe that the lines blur severely and in some cases there’s an obvious reason why people lump “SF/Fantasy” together.

Supposedly, Fantasy sells better than Science Fiction. In truth, I wonder about that. As a writer and a reader, I’m torn.

I know I’ve always been partial to reading Fantasy, but as an author, I find myself drawn to writing stories that let people imagine, “What if.”

I never imagined myself growing up as a hobbit, nor did I hope to find the Sword of Shannara or become a Rune Lord. Nonetheless, I personally think it’s cool to leave a reader with that “what if” impression, because you can almost imagine yourself going to school and seeing technology evolve in a direction that makes some of the Science Fiction possible.

I suppose time will tell regarding whether the preponderance of my writing gets the Fantasy or Science Fiction label.

In the meantime, get back to reading – it’s a great way to escape, and maybe learn something if you’re lucky.


There’s a Tremor In the Force – It’s Called, “The Sad Puppies”

I’d always (always being since the late 70’s) been a reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.

I’d also always considered myself a fan of the genre and enjoyed reading as much as watching movies steeped in the nostrum of SF/Fantasy.

I’d never considered the word “Fan” that much of a controversial thing, but evidently it is.

If I consult the dictionary, it says the following:



Definition of FAN

:  an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator
:  an ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or a pursuit) <science-fiction fans>


Let me set that definition aside for a moment and talk about WorldCon (borrowed from their web site below, emphasis is mine.)

The World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon”) is an international gathering of the science fiction and fantasy communities. The Worldcon attracts members each year from North and South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia. In the last decade, the convention has been held on four different continents.

Worldcons are organized and run by fans, volunteers all.

Members/Attendees of the Worldcon are all eligible to vote for something called the Hugo awards.

The Hugo Awards are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy.


So by definition, the fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy are the ones who are eligible to vote, the only requirement is that you become a member ($40 fee) of the Worldcon.

This all seems harmless and simple, right?

What if people who had been longtime readers of genre material and even casually knew of the Hugo awards had noticed that the awards weren’t necessarily being given to the books that they enjoyed the most. Or weren’t the most popular. By all rights, you’d think that Harry Potter would have swept the awards or you’d see Terry Brooks’ Shannara in the list of winners. Maybe Dave Farland’s Runelords? No?

Oh well, that’s not that big of a deal. Sometimes popular things don’t always win and these things are highly subjective.

However, some folks had noticed a trend that books were being chosen as candidates weren’t even good stories. I won’t cause a ruckus and name names, because what’s the point – the issue was mostly that people had noticed a trend for nominating works that had certain political (some termed them progressive) themes over telling a good story.

These same people assert that as the preeminent award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Hugos should belong to what the fans believed are the best stories.

It was also further asserted that people who were painfully deserving of awards (again, remaining nameless), were being overlooked because of their associations with certain publishers or because they held certain political beliefs that weren’t congruent with the voters.

This is when the Sad Puppies was formed (initially by Larry Correia, but the current banner is held by Brad Torgersen.)


These “Sad Puppies” were sad, because they felt that not enough emphasis was being given to works because they were just “damn fine stories” and the Hugos had lost their way. After all, you too would be sad if you were lost and didn’t have a good story to read. 😉

Let’s go back to the voters and that definition of what a fan is.

The dictionary says that a fan is an enthusiastic devotee of something (e.g. SF/Fantasy). I tend to agree.

However, the people who have long been the organizers and members of the Worldcon (and thus voting for the Hugos) do not see it that way. Many of their most vocal members say that a fan is not simply a reader. You must have been a participant or actively contributing in some manner to fandom overall by some measure of Fanac (Fan activity).

When I learned that, I wondered, “Am I  not a fan?” I always thought I was. I began feeling a little sad, kind of like those puppies.

Let’s just say that I wholeheartedly disagree with this unofficial definition of what a fan is. And in fact, the Worldcon rules state very simply that if you pay for membership, you are entitled to vote. You are entitled as much as any of the “old guard” fandom that seems to have influenced the votes in the Hugos in recent years/decades.

The Sad Puppies campaign has been going on for a while and in its third iteration, the Sad Puppies campaign resulted in a rather fantastic influence on getting more quality work on the ballot.

This has resulted in a lot of very immature reactions by the “establishment” and more to the point, the vitriol spewed by the old guard is sufficient to have people who’ve known each other for decades at each other’s throats.

Who’d have thought that the idea of reclaiming the Hugos to be an award for GOOD STORIES was such a controversial thing?

I can say one thing in parting: if you’re a reader of SF/Fantasy and have an opinion on to whom and which works the preeminent award is bestowed, you could check to sign up for a membership. Otherwise, if you want to scan facebook or the internet for the maelstrom that is ensuing – now you know that “Sad Puppies” and “Hugo” are good search patterns.


ComicCon Debrief

My boys and I attended the ComicCon in Seattle and I can say it was a great event.

My boys thoroughly enjoyed the gaming and cosplay watching. I enjoyed watching them have fun and finally met (face-to-face) a few of the authors that I’d otherwise talked to a lot over the years.

Tip o’ the hat to Dan Wells, Peter V. Brett, Myke Cole, KJA (Kevin J. Anderson), and Peter Orullian. Great authors and people.

If I had one particular gripe – it was being given the stink eye when I brought my SLR camera and was taking photos of the event. I was told in no uncertain terms that for every picture I take, I must ask permission. How one does that with panoramic shots wasn’t something the volunteers were prepared to answer, and I wasn’t going to push. I just found it a shame that this year I couldn’t share any photos to speak of, but I still have the memories.

This obligatory grumpy cat picture exemplifies what I think of the photo restrictions.11081276_10204066472918173_3340420892069694058_n

And yes, I’ll most certainly be going next year – my kids might disown me if I denied them this. 😉

Under Construction

The site will be under some construction. If you see weird things, ignore them for now.


Updated 03/13/2015: Almost done with the fixes on the web site. Just a few touchups remaining, but if there are any issues, let me know.

A new year….

I hope that everyone had a good 2014.

I’ve been rather silent lately, but that doesn’t meant I haven’t been busy. In fact, I hope to be able to announce something fairly exciting in the next couple months.

In the meantime I hope everyone has a productive 2015 and realize that there will be a variety of things for me to share that I’m pretty jazzed about, and it should translate to something others can enjoy as well.