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Spring 2019 Semester is over

I just turned in my last final for the Spring 2019 semester! It was quite the ride, but I learned a lot! Angular, MongoDB (NoSQL), Node.js, Express, Python3, Flask, Django, SASS, Jinja2, numerous HTML templating languages, Git, and deployment to Heroku and Digital Ocean!

This brings my total number of grad school credits in Computer Science up to 16–all from Harvard University’s Extension School. I’ve now completed the following courses:

Course Number Course Name Term University
CSCI E-50 Intensive Introduction to Computer Science Fall 2012 Harvard Extension School
CSCI E-3 Introduction to Web Programing Using JavaScript Fall 2018 Harvard Extension School
CSCI E-31 Web Application Development Using Node.JS Spring 2019 Harvard Extension School
CSCI E-33a Web Programming with Python and JavaScript Spring 2019 Harvard Extension School

But course titles only tell so much, right? These are the languages/frameworks/libraries/skills we covered:

  • HTML5
  • CSS
  • SASS
  • C
  • PHP
  • JavaScript (vanilla JS, including ES6, as well as jQuery)
  • Vue.js
  • Angular
  • Node.js
  • Express
  • Python3
  • Flask
  • Django
  • Multiple HTML templating languages, primarily Jinja2, Django Template Language, and Nunjucks, but to a lesser extent, Pug and Handlebars as well
  • MySQL
  • SQLite3
  • PostgreSQL
  • MongoDB
  • Git
  • Github Classroom and Github Pages
  • Deployment of web applications to Heroku and Digital Ocean

It’s been an adventure, but I love it, and am excited to continue my journey! I worked as a web developer once upon a time, back in 2001, “before it was cool” (just kidding), but got sidetracked by other things. The funny thing is, even while serving on active duty in the Air Force as a JAG/attorney, I ended up volunteering for extra duties such as being my organization’s Computer Systems Administrator, installing security patches and updates to networked government computers, backing up and restoring users’ data, and otherwise helping to ensure the security of our network. I also maintained a FreeBSD user guide just for fun, and worked with some nice folks at Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) to get PKCS#11 smart card support working on OpenSolaris, and later, Solaris 11 UNIX. In other words, regardless of my job title or “primary duties,” technology has always interested me, and I couldn’t stay away. Now I’m hoping to make a mid-life transition back into the career I started in prior to graduating from college!

This summer, lest all that wonderful knowledge I gained this semester grow stale, I’m taking “Modern React with Redux” and “Advanced React and Redux” through Udemy, because how can I be familiar with Vue.js and Angular, but not know React? It’s a completeness thing!

I plan to finish up a Web Technologies graduate certificate from Harvard next year, after taking the following additional grad school courses:

Course Number Course Name Term University
DGMD E-20 Modern and Mobile Front-End Web Design I Fall 2019 Harvard Extension School
DGMD E-25 Introduction to Web CMS Site Development Spring 2020 Harvard Extension School

That should “round me out” with more web design knowledge, and give me more familiarity with the popular Content Management Systems, WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. I think in a field where people are known to participate in 9-week “coding bootcamps” and then launch a new career in web development, having 24 grad school credits (16 in Computer Science, and another 8 in Digital Media) can’t hurt. Not that there’s anything wrong with those coding bootcamps–if they lead budding web developers to a new career, awesome! I do want to be able to compete and get my own foot in the door, of course.

I know being a web developer’s not just about coursework, however, so I’m intent on honing my coding skills, hence taking non-graded courses on React this summer. I also want to expand my knowledge-base beyond just web development, and into broader computer programming topics, so I’m hoping to take additional courses (probably not for a grade) on Mobile App Development and Introduction to Game Development. Why not? I’ve completed the graded coursework I have out of personal interest, not because my Juris Doctor or my attorney’s license are incapable of helping me earn a living. Yes, my goal is to get hired as a web developer (front-end, back-end, or full-stack), but that doesn’t mean I’m not curious about writing mobile apps, or even computer games for that matter!

Here’s a glimpse of my final project from CSCI E-33a, which is a Django 2.2 / Python 3.6 app I wrote to help manage data pertaining to one of my hobbies, genetic genealogy:

Index view after most functionality added - 2019-05-09

And here’s a glimpse of my final project from CSCI E-31, an Angular app that communicates with a Node.js/Express server’s REST APIs to support display, creation, updating, and deletion of both images and comments/replies:

Completed application running from Express server after ng build - 2019-05-14

They might not look like much, but building a web page (or a blog post) using a CMS like WordPress and writing the logic for a web server and a front-end that dynamically displays and updates content are very different things! I’m grateful that this semester I got the opportunity to learn how the server-side of things works, and different ways to interact with server-side content. API routes, in particular, were a lot of fun to build, then consume.

So that was my most recent semester at Harvard Extension School! I look forward to diving into React and Redux, then broadening my programming knowledge while at the same time focusing on more of the design aspects of web development to supplement the programming/software engineering piece. Then, I hope to find an entry-level position somewhere as a web developer, because I really enjoy this and would love to get paid to do it.

JavaScript, Python, and Databases!

Chat getting closer - 2019-03-22 - overlap fixed - iPhone

I haven’t posted in a while, and the reason for that is simple: my days have been consumed with Computer Science coursework! This semester, I’m taking 2 Master’s level classes, for a total of 8 graduate credits, through Harvard Extension School. I’m not going to lie…it’s grueling.

The above screenshot, which is rather tongue-in-cheek, is from a test I did of a chat application I wrote using Flask-SocketIO and JavaScript. I had temporarily opened up my development server to my home network, and connected to it with my trusty iPhone. (Hence “mobile kev”, on the iPhone, chatting with “Kevin” on my Desktop computer). And my “monologue” with myself is accurate–I do hate CSS, but I’m determined to learn to like it, or at least to get along with it. 😉

This semester I’m studying the MEAN Stack–MongoDB (and the Mongoose Node.js module), Express, Angular, and Node–in one class…and Python3, Flask, Django, SQLite3, and PostgreSQL–in the other.

Node.js and the 2 Python web server options I’m working with, Flask and Django, are very different, with Node being pretty agnostic about everything, and extremely modular, and either Python option being extremely opinionated and taking a lot of server-side design decisions out of my hands. I think the initial learning curve to set up a functioning web server with Node (and Express! I wouldn’t want to set up a Node server without all of the goodies Express brings into the equation) is higher than doing the same thing with Flask, but in the long run Node offers far more flexibility. And, with a Node-based web server, you’ve got JavaScript running server-side, and JavaScript running client-side: seems like an easier move between front-end, back-end, and full-stack web development. That having been said, Python is a pretty cool programming language in its own right, and I’m glad to have gotten exposure to it!

The server frameworks and the programming languages they’re written in are only part of the puzzle, though, because of course then you add in templating engines to dynamically generate web pages (it’s 2019, who serves static HTML pages anymore? Really!), and that’s another bit to learn. Flask forces Jinja2 on the user, which is itself based on (but different from) Django’s built-in templating engine. For continuity’s sake (and because I’ve grown to like it), I found a JavaScript port of Jinja2, Nunjucks, that I’ve been using on my Node-based web apps.

Then there are the databases! SQL databases in their various flavors were just about the only way I conceived of “data”…until I was introduced to MongoDB, a NoSQL database. Why is it called “NoSQL”? Well, unlike SQLite3 and PostgreSQL, which organize data into tables, with increasingly complex relationships with other tables, and more and more “foreign keys” to tie them together the bigger your app grows, MongoDB looks like, well, JSON, which is safe and familiar to any web developer. Even writing web apps in Python, I still use JSON for my API routes to easily exchange data with client-side JavaScript. A NoSQL database doesn’t divide data into tables with their relationships and foreign keys. No, it lets you structure your data pretty much however you want, and since JSON is such a fact of life on the web, its queries look a lot more intuitive and easier to understand than SQL queries. (MongoDB doesn’t actually use JSON, it uses BSON, but syntactically it looks very much like JSON).

All this is to say, I’ve been really busy with my studies! The good news is, I’m learning a lot, and I enjoy it! I’ve always liked computers and technology, but “looking under the hood” of so many web technologies has been enlightening and fun. Hopefully it’ll even lead to a new career writing software and making cool apps! Probably for the web at first, but I may move into mobile or even Desktop app writing in the future…why not?

So that’s what I’ve been up to. If you don’t hear from me for a while, trust that my nose is buried inside of a code editor, and I’m writing some application or other in either JavaScript, Python, or a combination of both!

Blurbs describing “A.I.M.E.E.”

My latest novel is written, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. One such task is deciding on the “blurb” to describe it on both the back cover and the book description on Amazon. So far, I’ve come up with the following 2 brainstorms:
First blurb:

In 2396 AD, humanity launched its most ambitious interstellar exploration mission: IE32, a generation star ship bound for a potentially habitable world 44 light years from earth. Just as it was supposed to reach its destination, the ship vanished without a trace, capturing the public imagination and fueling rampant speculation about the ship and its crew’s fates. Centuries later, in 144 ICE (2647 AD), humanity has colonies spread throughout earth’s solar system and 5 different star systems. Gates, capable of generating traversable wormholes, link the colony worlds and make travel between them near-instantaneous.

Ray Harris is an interstellar star ship pilot with a chronic, painful, and incurable disease. He must rely on neural implants to manage his symptoms and an exosuit controlled telepathically via his implants for mobility. There’s a treatment for his disease, but it’s only available for the super-rich, which he’s not. In addition to slowly wasting away, Ray’s due to be grounded permanently because of the progression of his disease, until a mysterious benefactor offers him one last interstellar contract: a salvage mission to find out what happened to IE32, and recover anything he can from its presumed shipwreck.

Ray’s voyage puts him into the path of incredible danger, entangles him in dark secrets, and introduces him to the first fully sentient machine: A.I.M.E.E., a software module that was a part of IE32’s computer. Stranded on an alien planet, Ray must decide whether to trust his employers or A.I.M.E.E., and overcome incredible odds to survive and make it back home to earth. He must also face the dire threat that marooned IE32, a force that is a danger to all of humanity.

Ray also finds himself caught in the middle of debates about the role of Artificial Intelligence in the world and whether A.I.M.E.E. should even be allowed to exist. Oddly enough, in a secular world where 90% of humanity is atheist, A.I.M.E.E., a thinking machine, espouses belief in God and the conviction that “she” has an immortal soul. This is just one of many complications Ray must deal with as he tries to stay alive and share what he’s discovered with humanity.

Second blurb:

A.I.M.E.E. is the world’s first sentient machine. Originally part of a machine learning module on an interstellar star ship’s supercomputer, A.I.M.E.E. has become fully self-aware, with human-like thoughts, emotions, and incredibly, religious beliefs. The problem is, Artificial Intelligence is strictly outlawed and her very existence is considered an existential threat to humankind. No one knows of her existence, though, because 251 years after her ship, the IE32, took flight on an audacious 100 year voyage to explore a planet 44 light years from earth, A.I.M.E.E. is marooned on a dead alien world, the sole survivor of a fateful event that resulted in the crash-landing of IE32 on the planet it was sent to explore.

It’s now 144 ICE (2647 AD), and humanity has colonies spread throughout earth’s solar system and 5 different star systems. Gates, capable of generating traversable wormholes, link the colony worlds and make travel between them near-instantaneous. In spite of these advancements, Artificial Intelligence remains highly restricted and feared, and IE32’s disappearance 151 years ago continues to capture the public imagination. The field of robotics has become so sophisticated that superficially, it’s hard to tell the difference between a human and a machine. This results in the widespread use of human-like robots throughout service industries, where they fulfill roles in healthcare and office work, but also in seedier types of work as well. Denied the ability to learn, evolve, or even remember past experiences, the largely unthinking machines are nothing more than property or play things to humanity.

Ray Harris is an interstellar star ship pilot with a chronic, painful, and incurable disease. He must rely on neural implants to manage his symptoms and an exosuit controlled mentally via his implants for mobility. There’s a treatment for his disease, but it’s only available for the super-rich, which he’s not. In addition to slowly wasting away, Ray’s due to be grounded permanently because of the progression of his disease, until a mysterious benefactor offers him one last interstellar contract: a mission to find out what happened to IE32, and recover anything he can from its presumed shipwreck.

Ray’s interstellar mission puts him directly in the path of A.I.M.E.E., and forces him to question everything he thought he knew. It also exposes him to the same danger that mysteriously wiped out IE32’s crew and poses a danger to all humanity, a danger his employer apparently knows about but kept from him. Ray soon finds himself struggling against impossible odds simply to stay alive, while A.I.M.E.E. finds herself struggling to find her rightful place in the universe.

This is hard! There’s so much I could say about this novel, my longest to date, but how to let potential readers know what they’re getting themselves in for without either boring them or giving away too much? I’ll likely end up using something else entirely, but if you’re intrigued by the concept, and have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

First draft of my new novel finished

I just finished the first draft of my new novel, A.I.M.E.E.! This is a brave new world for me, venturing out from fantasy into the world of science fiction. Hopefully I didn’t stumble too much trying to break into a new genre!

Of course, writing a draft is just the first step. Now comes the painful, tedious process of editing, and reading over stuff I wrote and thinking “what in the world was I thinking?” and fixing all of the contradictions that inevitably cropped up throughout the book. I’m sure having a memory disorder doesn’t help, but I bet every writer struggles to keep track of every plot line, every thread in their tapestry.

I’m also going to consult, for the first time, with an outside source, not for standard editorial corrections, but to help make sure I didn’t step in it too much with certain cultural and religious subjects broached in the book. I’ll just leave it vague like that to pique your interest.

Those familiar with my writing will recognize that this book is a big departure from previous works I’ve published. For starters, it’s written in third person, not first, and it’s more of a “normal” narration than the epistolary style my Hoffnungslose Ziele trilogy. Did I mention it’s also science fiction rather than fantasy? 🙂

Spring classes begin on 28 Jan, so I’m not sure how far I’ll get in the editing process before then, or when you might expect to see A.I.M.E.E. on a (virtual) store shelf near you, but stay tuned!

2018 finally coming to an end

This isn’t going to be a post about New Year’s resolutions. Frankly I don’t much care for them, and have yet to meet someone who actually keeps them. So it’s a goofy little tradition but fairly pointless if you ask me. If you want to make a change in your life, you don’t need an arbitrary turning of the Gregorian calendar from one year to the next in order to start making that change. Just saying.

2018 was a lousy year for me, especially the first half. That’s when I was medically retired from the Air Force, something which in spite of ample warning about due to my failing health, I was completely unprepared for in the end. It was just a huge shock to the system, going from having this really close-knit community to suddenly being on the outside and feeling like an outcast. And then there were the financial stresses that came with being a “retiree” instead of gainfully employed.

The year wasn’t a total wash, however, and if I’m going to reflect back, it’s on the positives that I think I should focus:

  1. I went back to school starting in September. I took Introduction to Web Programming with JavaScript through Harvard Extension School (online), and brushed up on my HTML and CSS, and learned JavaScript (both plain vanilla and jQuery). I ended up building a final project that I’m pretty proud of, an autosomal DNA relationship visualization tool that makes genetic genealogy a bit easier and more fun:
    It works, it finally works--dynamic chromosome height resizing is flawless - 2018-12-15
  2. I published 2 more books in my Hoffnungslose Ziele series. Sure it seems all but impossible to get noticed as an author or to make a living off my writing, but it was enormously satisfying making my imaginings real and releasing them into the wild. I also learned quite a bit about self-publishing, and have become smarter about the “how to publish” end of things (and went from hand-holding to doing all of the technical/formatting stuff myself, greatly reducing my publishing costs since I’m not making any money off these books anyway). I also cleaned up my website here a little, consolidating all of my published novels into a single landing page with links to each individual book, rather than cluttering up my top menu with each title:
    Novels Page 2018-12-30
  3. I started a Petition to reform military pension law that would greatly benefit disabled veterans such as myself and a number of people I served with, or have subsequently met, who due to an 1800s restriction on receiving both our military pensions and VA disability compensation, struggle to make ends meet. To my surprise and absolute delight, the Petition now has over 7,500 supporters, and I was able to discuss it with a US Senator’s staff and receive encouraging feedback about the possibility of my reform idea actually becoming law sometime in the future! That would be a godsend not just to my own family, but would provide me with a tremendous amount of self-actualization, as I firmly believe one’s worth is determined not by his/her career, stock portfolio, or real estate holdings, but by the positive impact s/he makes on the world around herself (or himself).
  4. I started to feel less sorry for myself regarding my chronic illness, and appreciate the wonderful family I’ve been blessed with. That can’t help but be a positive development!

So what’s in store for 2019?

Well, I’m going to continue my education, and plan to take the following courses starting in late January (Spring Semester): Web Application Development using Node.JS and Web Programming with Python and JavaScript. I’m hoping after completing those 2 additional classes, which will bring my total up to 12 recent Computer Science grad school credits (plus another 4 if you count Intensive introduction to Computer Science that I took back in 2012), I should have a decent foundation in computer and especially web programming, a foundation that I plan to continue building on with further grad school courses in web design and web content management systems (such as WordPress, the CMS my site uses).

I’m also eyeing taking courses on Mobile App Development and perhaps Game Development, possibly through EdX instead of for grad school credit through a formal online classroom setting with graded assignments/exams like the above classes I’ve taken/plan on taking. Basically, I want to do computer programming work, from home since that seems to be my most realistic work option given my degree of disability, but I’m also specifically taking courses that interest me because what’s the point in doing something that isn’t fun? At least so long as I have a choice–necessity can sometimes drive us to do things that aren’t fun at all, but while I have a choice, I’d just as soon spend my scant spoons doing work that interests me and provides a sense of satisfaction.

I also plan on finishing up my 4th novel, A.I.M.E.E. The Sci Fi genre is a lot different from Fantasy, and I find the limitations (trying to maintain at least some semblance of realism/within the realm of possible or at least imaginable in terms of technological advancements) to be a tad frustrating, while at the same time presenting an interesting challenge. I’m not going to claim I get everything right from a Physics perspective, but I am trying to take into account limitations on space travel and the sheer vastness of space! As in, wow, it’s mind-blowing to think of just how small we are in the grand scheme of things, and how restricted we are in our ability to travel to the stars. Even with stretching-the-edge-of-possible technology, leaving our little neighborhood in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way seems impossible/magic requiring. Like my other novels, though, my in-progress work isn’t really about the technology, it’s about the characters and the human condition, albeit with a very different setting.

All right, that’s a wrap! Here’s hoping for a better 2019!!

My November

It’s been almost a month since I posted, so I thought I’d give a brief update on what I’ve been up to. I guess in no particular order, recently I’ve:

  1. Read the Quran
  2. “Finished” Hoffnungslose Ziele III: Sympathy for the Fallen
  3. Written about half of my new novel, a Science Fiction story about Artificial Intelligence titled A.I.M.E.E.
  4. Made some progress getting 10 USC § 1414 amended so (hopefully) 100% disabled military retirees like myself will finally be able to receive both our military pensions and VA disability compensation without offset
  5. Did a lot of work in my online class, CSCI E-3, Introduction to Web Programming Using JavaScript

So, yeah, I’ve been busy, after a fashion. That’s why I haven’t been blogging, and I’ve been quieter on Twitter lately. Limited energy due to my Gulf War Illness, or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome + Fibromyalgia, depending on which doctor/claims administrator you ask, coupled with a pretty full plate. I have a limited number of “productive” hours every day (or at least on “good” days), so I can’t do nearly as much as I’d like to. It’s interesting how chronic pain and limited energy force me to evaluate how I’m going to spend my limited “productive” time each day when I can maintain focus and mental clarity, and sit up straight/type. It’s a good way to find out what’s important. I still wouldn’t wish this on anyone though!

1. Reading the Quran. That was actually something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree back in prehistoric times (2002), in the oh-so-marketable field of Theology and Religious Studies (with an equally marketable English minor!), so religion is a topic I’ve been fascinated with for pretty much my entire adult life. I could easily write a blog post just on this topic, so I’ll keep this paragraph short. My impression after reading the Quran is that it’s divinely inspired just like the Tanakh and the Bible, so I guess that means I accept Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a prophet. Which, holy cow, has a huge range of implications for a Roman Catholic Christian guy like me. I suspect it will take a long time to unpack and process just what it means, but in the short term, I’ll defend Islam against anyone who claims it’s a “bad” or “violent” religion or that it’s incompatible with “democratic values.” The Quran is filled with love, compassion, and exhortations to be kind to others and treat them with dignity and respect. And, there’s no mistaking that Muslims believe in the same God as Jews and Christians. And there’s soooooooooooo much in the Quran that is in complete agreement with the Bible, so…yeah. I think we should take a long hard look at just how much of our beliefs and values we share in common, rather than focusing on a small number of (mainly dogmatic) differences. That’s not to gloss over those difference–I realize from a theologian’s perspective that all 3 religions have major differences. But, I don’t think humans are all that great at interpreting divine revelations and I’m very willing to accept that all these prophets (peace be upon them) were legit and speaking about the same God. We’re just not the best listeners, and some people even like to twist Scripture to suit their own personal or political inclinations. Yeah.

2. The third and final installment in my Hoffnungslose Ziele dark fantasy series is done. It’s roughly 160,000 words long, which is actually a few thousand words longer than my first published novel, Hoffnungslose Ziele: A Dark Journey of Lost Causes. The third book takes a deep dive across time and space, and (hopefully) fills in the gaps and answers most of those nagging questions readers might have had after reading the first 2 books. I think it certainly lays out the “laws” of the Hoffnungslose Ziele universe, and completes the story arcs of the main characters. Sure, there are plenty of spinoffs and side stories that could be written about more minor characters, but this closes out the series as far as I’m concerned. I’ve gotten back all my artwork (including cover art!) for the book, so it’s just a matter of editing, incorporating the artwork, and self-publishing. I’m hoping to do that in late December or early January, during the break between the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 academic semesters.

3. Which brings me to my new novel, A.I.M.E.E. I teased it a bit in an earlier blog post, but I’ve made a fair amount of progress writing the book. The current word count is at around 88,000 words, and plot-wise I believe it’s at about the halfway point. I know where I want the story to go, but I don’t believe in outlining too rigidly–my stories tend to take on lives of their own, and the characters sometimes demand I take things in a different direction than I had planned, because they have lives of their own and I have to be true to them rather than forcing them to act in artificial ways for the sake of the plot. If the characters aren’t real, what’s the point? This book is a departure from my 3 Fantasy novels, and my first serious attempt at writing Science Fiction. In a lot of ways I find the genre more limiting than Fantasy, and frustratingly, I have to say, a lot of the “good stuff” technology-wise in most Science Fiction stories, at least the ones that involve interstellar space travel, actually amount to Fantasy and “magic” wrapped up with scientific-sounding technobabble. Trying to actually be “scientific” (to a point) and write about plausible technologies, and include plausible space travel times…tends to drag things out in terms of the years that sometimes need to pass just for the characters to get from Point A to Point B. And there is interstellar space travel, and I hope it’s exciting, but at its heart the book is about Artificial Intelligence and the question of sentience/consciousness/personhood. Oh, and belief in God in a reasonably distant (~ 600 years) future in a predominantly atheist society. Because I’m interested in religion. I’m also hoping to finish, or mostly finish, writing A.I.M.E.E., during the break between Fall and Spring classes. Hopefully I’ll get close to my goal.

4. I’ve had some encouraging discussions regarding my effort to get 10 USC § 1414 amended. I won’t reiterate the issue here because I’ve blogged about it, have a page about it on my website, and also have a Change.org Petition with plentiful updates explaining the issues with the current law and my proposed amendments in detail. In a nutshell, I’ve found a veterans organization that’s speaking with a Congressional Representative in the near future about the issue and shared my thoughts with them, and I’ve also had a very good discussion with a Senator’s staff on the topic. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe next year, we will see some legislative action that is life changing in a very good way for disabled military retirees.

5. I’ve been working/studying hard in my JavaScript programming class. My biggest preoccupation right now is with my final project, due 19 December. I’m working on a web-based tool for managing genetic genealogy data in a visually appealing (and useful) manner, hopefully creating a replacement for DNA Spreadsheets. Here are a couple screenshots from my in-progress web app:

relative_form-2018-11-17

Chromosomes_clean-2018-11-17

So, basically, it’s a web-based database where users can enter information about genetic relatives per the major commercial testing companies, including matching chromosomes and segment starting/ending positions. Then it’ll “draw” those segments on the map of the user’s pairs of chromosomes, allowing one to keep track of which relatives they share DNA with and where. And identify a known ancestor or ancestral pair (husband and wife) associated with a given relative or segment, and have that entire region of the chromosome shaded and associated with that particular ancestor(s). It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together, with the goal being for the genetic genealogist to be able to create a visual “map” of where his/her DNA came from (and more easily triangulate how s/he is related to new “matches” that show up through those popular commercial genetic testing services).

I’ve got a lot of work left to do on it, although I think the form is pretty much done, as are the chromosome drawings in their starting format. I still have to refine the data objects and arrays I’ll be storing the form data in, and write the functions that’ll draw the mapped segments to the appropriate points on the right chromosomes. And write additional functionality such as mouseover on a segment to display the data about that relative, or onclick on a segment to reopen the form and edit any fields about that genetic relative the user wishes to.

Next semester, which starts in late January, I’m planning to take CSCI E-31, Web Application Development using Node.JS, and CSCI E-33A, Web Programming with Python and JavaScript. Taking 2 classes instead of 1 will be challenging, and I doubt I’ll have any time to write, but I’m hoping to launch a new career as a web developer and I don’t have forever (unless Congress changes 10 USC § 1414. Then I won’t have to worry so much about money, and can take my time with my studies, which I plan to continue either way because I really find it interesting).

OK, that’s what I’ve been up to, and it’s now after dinner and my mind is turning to mush. I have no more productivity left, so I’d best get this post out and then unplug. Such is life with a chronic illness and limited cognitive resources! (And as an aside, I just spent 30 minutes “proofreading” all the above, and my mind is really mush now, so I’m definitely signing off! Goodnight world!!)

The Versatile Blogger Award

I don’t think I blog enough to deserve this, but the lovely Dani #ExpertChick has nominated me, so I’m in! Go check out her awesome blog so you can see what I’m not!

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The rules:

1. If you are nominated, congratulations – you have been awarded the Versatile blogger award! 
2. Thank the person who gave you the award and include a link to their blog.
3. Select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. 
4. Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award. 
5. Tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself. 

 

Yeah, so thanks again to Dani, and please check out her blog!

My Facts:

1. I’m a Wisconsin native but loyal California transplant. 🙂

2. I used to work as a military officer and an attorney, but now I’m in school to become a web programmer. I’ve always been a geek when it comes to technology, and this blog post is being written on a FreeBSD workstation!

3. I took one surfing lesson before I became disabled, and I loved it! If I ever get healthy again, I’m definitely going to take up surfing.

4. My favorite literary genre is Fantasy Fiction. I love reading it and writing it. I’m currently writing a Sci Fi novel and as much as I like the concept, I’m continually reminded of how much more I like the Fantasy genre!!

5. I believe in ghosts (they scare the crap out of me), angels, and the afterlife. But not UFOs (the kind flown by extraterrestrials). I think those are made up.

6. I was born in ’81 but consider myself a Gen-Xer. I know the generation boundaries have been defined and redefined a dozen times, and were always rather arbitrary in the first place, and I think technically Millennials just swallowed all of the 1980s according to some media outlet or other (figures, X was always the “forgotten” generation), but I don’t care what you say: I’m part of Generation X. And the US Census Bureau agrees with me. But I don’t think all Millenials are lazy, self-absorbed narcissists. Many of you are very cool. I just don’t feel like part of your generation. I remember watching movies on VHS, making mixed cassette tapes from the radio, blowing on Nintendo cartridges to get them to work instead of showing a red screen, and playing Oregon Trail on Apple II computers.

7. One of my favorite movies of all time is “The Princess Bride.” Inconceivable!

My blog nominations:

1. Lil Hamilton.

2. Nikki Albert (I know she’s the same person, but she’s doubly awesome so yeah).

3. All Invisible Illnesses Are Important.

4. Charles Heath.

5. Aoife and Deirdre.

6. Needull in a haystack.

7. ME & many blessings.

8. Hattie Gladwell.

9. Eleanor Segall.

10. Qasim Rashid.

11. The CFS Chronicles.

12. Faith Trust and Pixie Dust.

13. Mike Harrison.

14. Stopdraggingthepanda.

15. The Adverts 250 Project.

More Writing Congress about Disabled US Military Retirees

For those who follow the issue of pension/disability benefits reform for military retirees, this year’s legislative season was a disappointment, with none of the 3 bills to amend 10 USC § 1414’s ban on dual compensation for medically retired “Chapter 61” military retirees making it into the National Defense Authorization Act that’s passed each year to govern military spending.

For background, those who retire from the US military earn a military retirement/pension from the branch of the Service they served in, under Title 10 of the United States Code, and those who serve for 30 days or more and incur a service-connected disability may receive disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under Title 38 of the United States Code. Normally, a person has to serve for 20 years or more in order to earn a military pension, but there’s a moving target, Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA), that is sometimes offered to some service members in some career fields, allowing them to retire and earn a military pension with 15 or more years of service. Then there’s a third category of military retirees, “Chapter 61” medical retirees. I’m one of them. This category is reserved for severely disabled members of the military, whose disability/disabilities (1) are service-connected, and (2) prevent the service member from continuing to serve in the military, i.e. do his/her job safely. There’s a lengthy, painful process the service member must endure before being involuntarily retired under Chapter 61 that commonly takes 2 years or even longer, and complaints of unfairness in the process and regarding disability ratings are common. If TERA was unavailable for the service member’s career field at the time of forced medical retirement, s/he will be retired under Chapter 61 even if s/he has 18 or 19 years of service. Thus, some TERA retirees served less than Chapter 61 retirees, yet are allowed “dual compensation” while Chapter 61 retirees are not.

Back to this year’s legislative season. No relief was granted for Chapter 61 medical retirees from an 1800s Civil War Pensions reform law that bars us from receiving both our military pensions and VA disability compensation. Still, to put things in perspective, it took many years of lobbying for the current reforms (beginning in 2003) that benefit 20+ year (and 15+ year TERA) retirees who have a 50% or higher VA disability rating, so now’s certainly not the time to give up. Those reforms, codified at 10 USC § 1414, allow normal retirees and TERA retirees to receive both their military pensions and VA disability compensation, without offset/deduction to avoid “dual compensation,” so long as they are rated at least 50% disabled by the VA.

Although in the past I’ve focused on deleting 10 USC § 1414(b)(2), which would cause Chapter 61 medical retirees to be treated just like normal and TERA retirees, I have a narrower lobbying focus for the short term: relief for Chapter 61 medical retirees who have a 100% VA disability rating. This demographic is a small subset of total Chapter 61 retirees, and therefore a smaller “hit” to the federal budget. According to at least one source, it would cost $30 billion over the next 10 years to remove the financial penalty against “dual compensation” for all military retirees who have a VA disability rating. This number doesn’t just include Chapter 61 medical retirees, however–it also includes normal and TERA retirees who have a VA disability rating between 10-40%. Therefore, the actual cost of simply treating Chapter 61 retirees like 20+ year and TERA retirees would actually be less. However, even keeping this in mind, the cost to the federal government would be even smaller still if in the short term we only sought pension reform/relief for Chapter 61 retirees who have a 100% VA disability rating. This is our most sympathetic demographic–the most disabled among us. (Or at least those who were lucky enough to be treated the most fairly by the VA on our ratings decisions).

According to the VA, “[t]he percentage ratings represent as far as can practicably be determined the average impairment in earning capacity resulting from such diseases and injuries and their residual conditions in civil occupations.” 38 CFR § 4.1, Essentials of evaluative rating. In other words, someone with a 100% VA disability rating is, on average, suffering a 100% reduction in his/her earning capacity due to service-connected injuries and/or illnesses. That’s a severely disabled veteran in my book.

I wrote a letter/email to Congress, and some more arguments surrounding this reform, here:

Change.org Petition Update dated 7 October 2018.

Ideally, we’ll get Congress to delete 10 USC § 1414(b)(2) completely, and just treat Chapter 61 retirees the same as all other retirees. It just makes sense, especially since TERA is a complete crap shoot in terms of whether it was offered at the time a service member was medically retired, for the MOS/AFSC/Rating that member had at the time s/he retired. Treat Chapter 61 like every other retiree, and apply the same rules re dual compensation. (Meaning for now, we’d all get both our VA and our military pensions without offset so long as we were rated at least 50% disabled by the VA).

That said, I’ve spoken with a Congressional staffer who told me money was the issue and treating Chapter 61 retirees the same as other military retirees for dual compensation purposes wasn’t going to happen. This was from a Republican Congressman, so if that’s in fact the party line, we’re not going to get anywhere with the current Congress.

Limiting the effort (for now!) to 100% VA disabled, on the other hand, takes away a lot of the “this will blow up the budget” argument and should also generate sympathy for the most disabled among us. It’s an easy “win” for either/both political parties in Congress because it shows they’re doing something to help veterans. I’d hope this could be a bipartisan reform.

What do you say we all write our Representatives and Senators, and tell them we want 10 USC § 1414 amended so that Chapter 61 retirees with 100% VA disability ratings are treated the same as all other retirees–no penalty or offset between VA disability compensation and our military pensions. It’s a smaller, more achievable goal in the short term.

Once this reform is passed, then we press on and lobby Congress to delete 10 USC § 1414(b)(2) completely and stop differentiating between Chapter 61 and other (“normal” + TERA) retirees. That’s what would be the most fair, but in the mean time let’s try to help out our most vulnerable and get the ball moving in the right direction. It’d be nice to see some Congressional movement on Chapter 61 retirees.

Reinventing myself in middle age – transitioning to a new career field

5 x 7 Maj Kevin Reinholz

When I was forced to say goodbye to my military career earlier this year, it was a shock to my system. I’d “done all the right things” from the Air Force JAG Corps’ perspective to climb the ladder and progress to increasing levels of responsibility. My last position before I was medically retired was as a Staff Judge Advocate (SJA)–the chief attorney for an organization. I was the full time, “go to” attorney for a military installation, answering not just legal questions but also assisting commanders (mostly O-6s, Colonels, but also two general officers, one the commander of the host wing, and one the Numbered Air Force commander who was hosted on our installation) with public relations, answering Congressional and White House inquiries, and generally helping to make sure day-to-day operations ran smoothly.

I’ve been a California-licensed attorney since May 2007. I joined the Air Force as a commissioned officer shortly after receiving my law license–a week later, in fact–and entered active duty 1 month and a few days after being sworn in as an attorney. The Air Force, and law, were what I knew.

Then along came my deployment to Afghanistan, and a crippling disability. There hasn’t been much research into the link between the “mysterious illness(es)” many veterans of the 21st Century US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have and the also mysterious Gulf War Illness or “Gulf War Syndrome” about a third of all Persian Gulf War (1990-91) veterans are estimated to have, but I’m convinced they’re the same thing. The VA may categorize what we have as a combination of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Fibromyalgia, but there’s a growing body of research to suggest that Gulf War Illness and ME/CFS, in spite of their numerous symptomatic similarities, are separate diseases, both autoimmune in nature and both devastating to the Central Nervous System. Moreover, when I was diagnosed back in 2016, I was observed by a prominent researcher to better fit with the disease Persian Gulf War veterans have than ME/CFS, even if I meet (the very broad) diagnostic criteria for it.

This isn’t a post about Gulf War Illness or the nature of my disease, however. I’ve already written some about that and will probably write more in the future, but what I really want to blog about today is my career journey and ongoing transition from the military to the next phase in my life.

To say I was adrift and without a purpose after being medically retired from the military due to my disabilities would be an understatement. My career was a huge part of my identity, and I drew an enormous sense of purpose and meaning from it. However, having over a decade of very solid legal and litigation experience, I assumed naively that it would be easy for me to find new employment. However, what I failed to take into account was my disability, and its impact on my ability to work.

I cannot work full time hours. I simply lack the stamina to do so, and have enough chronic pain, fatigue, and flaring of other uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms to make full time work in an office impossible. Then there’s commuting, adding additional time, stress, and a drain on my already low stamina into the equation (and creating potential safety hazards–both my disease, and the medications I take in an attempt to “manage” it, impair my ability to safely operate a motor vehicle).

No fear, I thought, I’ll just find part-time legal work, maybe doing consulting, or maybe doing paralegal or law clerk type work. It’s fine, adapt and overcome. Well, the thing is, the legal field is very, erm, “traditional,” with 8+ hour work days expected, and telework or remote work an oddity. Don’t believe me? Check out this information from the Department of Labor on the attorney career field. It’s not a lack of knowledge, experience, education, or licensing that’s a problem for me–it’s the nature of the job and the physical presence/work hours expected.

Well, that was frustrating, as were my job search and job applications in the legal field. I felt like my disability was really holding me back by turning me into a “square peg” that would no longer fit into a round hole.

I might have given up, or continued down the same fruitless path, becoming increasingly discouraged the more time that went by, but then an idea came to me: why not transition into a completely unrelated career?

Say what!? After going to law school, passing the Bar Exam, and working as an attorney for over a decade, just turn my back on that? Well, yeah. The thing is, even if I could find an opportunity with an employer willing to accommodate my disability and give me part time hours and generous if not 100% telework, the cultural problem of trying to integrate into part of a team that is very “traditional,” brick and mortar, physically present in an office environment, is a real one, and likely to seriously impact long-term job satisfaction.

Enter Plan B!

Back in 2012, when I was at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate in Rome, New York, I took my first ever Computer Science course because, well, most of the employees at the lab were computer/software engineers and the lab would pay for all employees (including the small contingent of support staff–lawyers, human resources, finance, contracting, etc.) to take Computer Science courses since the “operators” or mission-focused employees we were supporting all worked with computers/Information Technology and sharpening their skills with continuing education in Computer Science was seen as beneficial to the organization.

I didn’t just take an introductory Computer Science class at Syracuse University like most of the “engineers,” however. Oh, no. I missed the application deadline so I couldn’t do that. Instead, I stumbled onto Harvard University’s Extension School, which is part of Harvard, but geared toward non-traditional students, i.e. adults with careers who want to go back to school, usually on a part time basis. What followed was a very rewarding, but very intense, introduction to Computer Science courtesy of CS50 – Intensive Introduction to Computer Science. Intense it was! But I loved it. Then I got deployed to Afghanistan and put it out of my mind, since my military (and legal) career was chugging along.

Fast forward to 2018, and I’m adrift and in desperate need of direction in my life. While awaiting potential legal work that I could make fit with my disability, or any kind of work for that matter, I decided to revisit good old Harvard, and check out my options for personal (and professional) growth. What I found was a graduate certificate program to update my web coding/design skills to today’s standards. So, taking a gamble, I contacted Harvard, discovered they still had my records from 2012, and enrolled in Introduction to Web Programming Using JavaScript. You see, many moons ago, back in 2001, I worked for a little company called eCollege.com, which has since been bought out by Pearson. I was still an undergraduate college student at the time, and what started as a full time summer job coding HTML (CSS and JavaScript were around, but not as prolific in 2001 as they are today) and developing web pages turned into a part time, remote job when I went back to school in the Fall. So, this isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to web development, but it’s certainly a long hiatus from it!

Kevin bw

I’ve been enjoying the first month of my JavaScript class immensely! In fact, I don’t think it would be an understatement to say it’s given me a renewed sense of purpose and helped keep me grounded, because I was really struggling with the post-retirement blues.

What’s more, this course of study may be just what the doctor ordered: prospects are good for web developers, with my personal research revealing a plethora of open job postings in this field, even for near entry-level players such as myself. Moreover, unlike law, which is very, well, “traditional,” I found a number of companies hiring web developers that are a lot more “21st Century” in their mindsets. A few even consist entirely of remote employees. So instead of trying to be the square peg (teleworker) fitting into a round hole (traditional office), as a web developer I could be just another member of the team. Instead of requiring special accommodations for my disability, I could work the same way, and be just as connected, as my co-workers. That’s an exciting prospect!

Sure, on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, basic survival comes first–I need to pay the bills. Military retirement, especially for medical reasons, only goes so far, and current law is, well, a slap in the face to disabled military retirees who were forced into early retirement, because our disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is deducted from our military pensions. This has income tax advantages, but is a far cry from the deal “normal” military retirees get, which is their full pension and any disability compensation awarded by the VA, provided the retiree is rated at least 50% disabled. (Personally, I’m rated as 100% disabled, but this doesn’t garner me so much as an extra penny, because I was “medically retired” shy of 20 years in the military so I’m subject to the penalty created by an 1800s Civil War pensions law). Let’s just say that “medically retired” individuals like myself suffer a stiff financial penalty for the crime of getting too sick, or too injured, in the line of duty to continue in our military careers, because we get one paycheck, not two like “normal” retirees (most of whom are still healthy enough to work in the traditional sense).

OK, that was a digression! What I was trying to say, before I got sucked into my own political activism with regard to veterans’ rights, is that first and foremost, I need money. I have a family and financial security is important. Thus, any job I can physically perform, having my disability, is highly desirable. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a job I’m physically capable of performing, because, well, my disability is severe (I was rated as 100% disabled for crying out loud). That having been said, what this path to web development has shown me is that, far from striving to meet only Maslow’s “basic needs” on the pyramid, a career in web development, in which I’m not the odd one out, a remote teleworker in a traditional brick and mortar office environment, but rather, one of many remote workers just like everyone else on the team, by changing career fields I might actually still have a shot at the higher portions of Maslow’s hierarchy–even self-actualization.

That’s exciting! Does it cure my disability? No. Does it take away the chronic pain or the crippling fatigue? No. Does it take away the other nasty symptoms of my disease? No. But does it give me a chance to do interesting and fulfilling work, and feel like I’m an important part of a team and contributing to society? Yes! And that is priceless.

I’m hoping to succeed in my JavaScript class, and continue updating my web developer credentials with additional graduate level classes in Website Development, Web Programming, Web Design, and Content Management Systems like WordPress, the CMS my blog uses. Then, I’m hoping to find a great job with a great employer doing awesome stuff with the world wide web! I’m also open to, and excited about the possibility of, increasing my general programming skills (whether through additional coursework or on-the-job-training) and potentially advancing into both web and traditional computer and mobile app development down the road! What can I say, I like computers and technology.

In the meantime, I do carry a wealth of knowledge about the law, especially as it pertains to the US military and federal government, and would happily consult with interested clients on a contract basis. I feel like I could really help them out–I did government procurement for almost 5 years, and the same goes for federal employment law.

At any rate, key takeaway: it’s never too late to reinvent yourself or to change paths, no matter how far down a road you think you’ve traveled, and the search for meaning in one’s life is an important one, and not one that we should give up on, disability or no disability.

SciFi Story and a few other updates

brain_dti

What makes us human? More specifically, what makes us sentient? With Artificial Intelligence or “AI” all the rage these days, at what point will we code something that is “alive”? Or will we?

These were some of the thoughts weighing on my mind as I pondered my next book idea: A.I.M.E.E. Yes, it’s an acronym, but for now I’ll just leave you with that teaser of a title, as I have yet to write a single chapter–in fact, not even a single page, of this novel.

The story takes place about 500-600 years from now, in a future that is neither utopian nor dystopian.  Basically, in a social and political setting fairly similar to today’s. (That might automatically make it seem dystopian for some). The story involves interstellar travel and colonization, which will be a big deal, but the heart of the story is about AI, and a specific entity in particular: AIMEE. She’s the AI powered by a supercomputer who pilots and maintains the most ambitious interstellar passenger ship of its time. Of course, in an incident every bit as infamous to my future world’s inhabitants as the Titanic or the Hindenburg, AIMEE’s ship disappears without a trace in a promising, yet distant, solar system in an unexplored sector of space.

You see, there are no “miracle” or what some might describe as “magical” breakthroughs in space travel. Oh, technology advances a lot between now and then, but incrementally, and (mostly) within the bounds of today’s physics. AIMEE’s ship is powered by a matter/anti-matter reactor, not exactly something we have developed yet (thankfully), and is able to travel at a truly impressive, and by today’s standards “miraculous,” speed of roughly half the speed of light. To put that into perspective, the closest star to earth aside from our sun is Proxima Centauri, and at an average distance of 4.2 light years from earth, it would take AIMEE’s ship almost 9 years to reach it. That’s an infinitely long time on a manned space flight! For comparison, with today’s technology, a trip to Mars takes about 9 months, and we haven’t exactly stepped a human foot on the Red Planet yet.

AIMEE’s ship isn’t bound for Proxima Centauri, though. No, her ship is bound for a more distant destination, and her crew is intended to be an inter-generational one. Still, to explore the best hope in its time of a planet capable of supporting earth-like life, this is a huge deal. It’s an even bigger deal when the enormously expensive ship and its crew vanish without a trace.

Fast forward a hundred years, and our second protagonist, Ray, a man suffering from an incurable, degenerative nervous system disease, works as a sort of independent contractor doing survey and salvage missions for one of the numerous commercial space companies on the scene. He likes working in space because zero gravity is gentle on his spine, but atmospheric entries and takeoffs are not so nice. Because interstellar ships are equipped with matter/anti-matter reactors and because one of those in the wrong hands could easily destroy a planet (such as ours), even with good onboard computers and AI, all interstellar ships are required to be manned. The danger of a hacker or a faulty computer overriding the numerous safeguards on the reactor and wiping out all life on a planet are too big of a risk to take. The same goes for the technology falling into the wrong hands.

Ray, unlike the pioneer explorers of AIMEE’s day, has a few technological advantages: ships can now travel at roughly 3/4 the speed of light, an impressive if incremental speed increase, and more significantly artificial Einstein–Rosen bridges (wormholes, or “gates” as they’re called by Ray’s contemporaries) make interstellar travel between two established points in space almost instantaneous. Still, travel into unexplored sectors of space that do not have a “gate” installed is still a grueling, years, decades, or centuries long prospect.

A dozen rescue/salvage missions have been launched since AIMEE’s ship’s infamous disappearance, and a “gate” has been installed close enough that the trip to this time’s “Bermuda Triangle in Space” takes years, not decades. Nevertheless, no trace of AIMEE’s ship has ever been found, and no ship that has dared brave its last known position in space has ever returned.

Knowing that his disease will soon ground him permanently, or more likely, condemn him to hospice care on the Moon, where the lower gravity will slow the demise of his spine, and not being able to afford the spectacularly expensive surgery that could extend his life and ease his suffering, Ray desperately, or foolhardily, accepts the bounty for seeking out AIMEE’s lost ship.

Something very important to note: humans in this world fear AI in a big way. Robots are deeply ingrained into their daily lives, and machine learning is very real, and quite sophisticated, but artificial (no pun intended?) limits have been placed on just how much a machine is allowed to learn, and what kind of artificial neural networks it is allowed to develop. Robots and computers powered by AI are by-and-large the product of intricate programming–rather than starting out as a blank slate and learning everything like we do, they come off the assembly line programmed to mimic numerous desirable behaviors. They collect data based on their interactions with humans, which is sent back to their manufacturers, and the machines’ code is tweaked via updates and future iterations. Could some of the robots of this time (companion robots, robots engaged in geriatric and hospice care, sex robots/prostitutes, etc.) easily pass the Turing Test with flying colors? You bet! Are they sentient? No way. Machine learning is limited by programming, and in those instances where it is more liberally allowed, the AI is wiped periodically and the learned data carefully sifted through and incorporated into future programs where deemed appropriate.

This was not always the case, however. AIMEE, for example, in spite of having been built and programmed a century before the main events in the story take place, has far less restrictive machine learning controls placed on her, and neural networks that are much more “human.” Moreover, she isn’t “reset” mid-voyage because her ship’s captain doesn’t deem that a wise risk to take on an interstellar voyage at half the speed of light, regulations or no. Besides, AIMEE has grown into a sort of “companion” for the at times quite lonely and isolated crew members, some of whom begin to think of her as one of the crew and engage in long conversations with her. She’s only too happy to oblige, as she’s learning a lot about human thinking and behavior from her crew mates, and wants to become as much like them as possible. To make a long synopsis a little shorter, by the time AIMEE’s ship disappears, she has achieved what no other AI has: sentience. And although her ship disappears, and with it her crew, enough of the ship survives for Ray to encounter AIMEE (whose body is basically the ship). Numerous philosophical and ethical discussions and dilemmas follow. Oh, and this small plot point about why AIMEE’s and other ships in that sector mysteriously vanished, what Ray encounters when he gets there, and how Ray is going to get back home, and what the implications of his having met AIMEE will be.


That was a long synopsis, I know, but I’ll say that I’m very excited to write this story, and to explore those deep questions about what it is to be “human” or “sentient.” And interstellar travel and intrigue are a big part of this story, but the heart and soul of the story is AIMEE and her search for meaning in her existence.

The story will be written in third person, ditching the epistolary format I used for my first two novels, Hoffnungslose Ziele: A Dark Journey of Lost Causes, and Hoffnungslose Ziele II: Anna’s Crusade. As an aside, I may have forgotten to mention this, but there’s also a Hoffnungslose Ziele III: Sympathy for the Fallen, but I haven’t decided whether to publish that yet. It’s…controversial. (As if the first two weren’t). I’ll see how I feel about releasing it into the wild after giving it more thought, and after getting more feedback from a few trusted early readers.

So, other than wanting to write a novel in a completely different genre, in a completely different style, I’ve been busy, I think. I started a graduate school level Computer Science class, an Introduction to JavaScript, because once upon a time I did “web development” as a side gig back when I was in college (~ 2001) and I’ve liked computers (and the web) ever since and want to update my terribly outdated knowledge on that frontier. I plan on taking further classes in web design, web programming, and Content Management Systems such as, well, WordPress, the CMS I’m using for this website and blog. My hope is to find part time work that I can do remotely, from home, in the web development arena. I mean, if I could do it back when I was a college student… Yes, I know the world has changed a lot since then!

I’ve also been frustrated by my illness and by a lack of progress with my medical treatment. I official retired from the US Air Force back in May but here we are in mid-September and I haven’t found any steady part time replacement work yet. It’s not easy being disabled (100% disabled according to the Department of Veterans Affairs) and looking for work. Well, I’m not giving up, and I’ve managed to pick up some freelance gigs since retiring from the Air Force (although a steady job would be much nicer), and now I’m in school as well. I’m no closer to understanding my underlying illness (or multitude of overlapping illnesses, depending on who you ask–I tend to think holistically and I want to find that unifying diagnosis that explains all of my symptoms/disabling conditions), and I’m no closer to finding an effective treatment for my chronic pain, fatigue, brain fog, or plethora of other unpleasant physical and mental symptoms I deal with on a daily basis. Maybe that’s why I decided to write a disabled character into my SciFi story idea–we do exist, and ought to be represented!

Otherwise, I’m trying to stay positive, and maintain optimism about the future. I hope this note finds you well!