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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.

SciFi Story and a few other updates

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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!

Book reviews of my first novel

Hoffnungslose Ziele book cover

I talk a fair amount about my first published novel, and its sequel which is making the worldwide distribution rounds starting tomorrow!  As an author, perhaps in particular as an independent author, I struggle with my own self-assessment of my work.  Is it good enough for people to actually read?  Will they like it?  Am I wasting my time by putting my works out there?

I’m no stranger to writing.  As an attorney of 11 years, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading and writing–but technical, legal reading, mostly of case law, and writing court motions or the occasional appellate brief (which trust me, every attorney despises–well, most every attorney).  That’s a very different kind of writing from creative writing, and regardless of how good I thought my legal writing was, or how many cases I won, I will probably always be insecure about my creative writing.

I published Hoffnungslose Ziele:  A Dark Journey of Lost Causes, my first novel ever to grace store shelves (both physical and virtual, as it is available in both print and eBook formats), on 19 September 2017.  Since then, I’ve been extremely encouraged by the feedback I’ve received, both privately, and less frequently, in publicly posted book reviews (which no author can ever get enough of!)

Because of a strange hiccup with Amazon reviews disappearing, sometimes before I could even read them, I’ve started to be more diligent about checking for (and taking screenshots of) new reviews, and I have also made several public statements encouraging readers to leave reviews at Goodreads rather than Amazon, since it seems to have less issues in terms of disappearing reviews.

I’ve consolidated those reviews I managed to screenshot (6 so far, including an Amazon review that vanished after I took a screen shot–maybe the reviewer changed his or her mind) on my book’s main page, but this morning I woke up to a review that floored me so much I just can’t help but share it:


This book was unexpected. A friend of mine recommended it to me and I was skeptical. I’m not a fan typically of anything vampire related but this book was different. From the beginning, you feel like you can relate to the characters and it’s like you’re there. It’s been a long time since a book has taken me to an entirely different world. I read it in one sitting and had to live on a couple hours of sleep the following day but it was well worth it as I seriously couldn’t put it down.

I’ve been in a very bad relationship and Anna’s disappearance (I won’t reveal too much of the story) was actually therapeutic for me as it was tough to dig in the past but also, reminded me that even when something awful happens to you, if you can get out then you can become an even better, stronger person from the experience. I started reading this book thinking it wouldn’t be my cup of tea and ended up reading it twice, which is a first for me. I wanted to be sure I understood it all.

The references to heaven and hell really made me start thinking about so many “what ifs” about when we die. You can tell by this book that the author has studied a variety of different topics that have been beautifully woven into this storyline. When Christine became a werewolf, I felt that I could smell what she smelled, and hear what she heard. I’m not a writer and the way the book was written made me actually think in my head, I feel like I understand what it’d be like to be a dog (lol) and again, being able to put yourself not only into different scenarios but being able to imagine how it’d be if you were an entirely different species, is something that I’d classify as true talent. Like I said, I find myself rooting for the characters and taking qualities and feelings that each character felt and applying them to my own life – feelings that have been buried for so many years came back with this book.

What really helps here is this novel is written as journal entries of the characters so you understand the character’s feelings as you’re gaining insight into their experiences that shaped who they are. The sorcery is written in such a real way that you feel like it could really happen, it’s that book that you know is fiction but you forget that while becoming so engrossed in the storyline. It’s a journey that delves deep into struggles with morality/ what we perceive as right and wrong based on our upbringing/ experiences and really makes you feel like you can triumph even after truly horrendous things happen. You will fall in love with the writing style, the storyline, the characters, and will be able to relate to so many deep and dark feelings that aren’t talked about much in society but should be.

This book is such an incredible read and one that will have you ordering the next one before you even finish it, I promise you! Be sure to pay attention, there are a lot of metaphors, it’s not some cheesy book about werewolves and vampires, it’s a deep book about human nature and the struggles we all face.


Wow! And after that write-up, of course she gave me 5 stars out of 5!

As I mentioned on my page about living with a chronic illness, I wrote and published both as an escape, and because I was genuinely afraid (and still am) that my days of being capable of writing a novel are numbered due to the cognitive difficulties that come with my disease.  Since writing had always been my childhood dream, I felt compelled to indulge that dream to matter the cost.  And that’s just what I did.

Reading the above review, which was posted yesterday on Goodreads and Amazon, I can now say “it was worth it.”  To leave that kind of impression on even one person absolutely floors me, and I was blown away by her comments on my book.  If I receive no other positive feedback on my first novel, or even if a bunch of people now tell me they hated it (no one has yet), it won’t matter because one person thought it was amazing and took the time to tell the world. Thank you so much!!

Hoffnungslose Ziele II:  Anna’s Crusade comes out tomorrow.  I would have liked to have made it available in print as well as eBook, but sales from my first novel just didn’t indicate there was demand for a print version.  Hopefully someday that will change, and I can add print distribution.  I personally have a strong preference for reading books in print, although I have a sizeable collection of eBooks on both iBooks and Kindle.

The sequel also tries to tackle some “big issues” in the midst of the characters’ adventures, so hopefully it’ll get a similar reception to its predecessor!

Podcast interview about my first published novel

Recently, I was interviewed for the podcast “Tales From Tef’s Tavern” about my first published novel, “Hoffnungslose Ziele: A Dark Journey of Lost Causes.” You can find the podcast episode/interview here:

https://player.fm/series/tales-from-tefs-tavern

Episode 5: Hoffnungslose Ziele

The podcast is also available on both iOS and Android. (I tested with both the bundled Podcasts app included with my iPhone and iPad, and the Podcast Go app for Android). Just do a search for “Tef’s Tavern” from within your podcast app and it should come right up. My interview is on Episode 5, but check out other episodes of the podcast/consider subscribing while you’re there.

The podcast also has a website at:

https://tefstavern.wordpress.com

I hope you enjoy the interview, and before I forget, for the rest of July and all of August, the first 100 people to use my eBook coupon code can pick up a free electronic copy of my book, “Hoffnungslose Ziele: A Dark Journey of Lost Causes.” (There are less than 100 coupons still unclaimed, but that was the starting number). Also, “Hoffnungslose Ziele II: Anna’s Crusade” hits stores on the 31st! More details on the eBook coupons in my previous blog post!

eBook coupons!

With my second novel available just about everywhere on the 31st of July, I thought I’d give away a little present to those who haven’t read the first yet but would like to.

From now through 31 August, the first 99 people to use the following coupon code will get a FREE eBook copy of Hoffungslose Ziele:  A Dark Journey of Lost Causes3WNAA2

All you have to do is purchase through this bookstore:  https://store.bookbaby.com//bookshop/book/index.aspx?bookURL=Hoffnungslose-Ziele&b=p_fr-ve-bl

Select the “eBook” option, proceed to checkout, and enter that coupon code 3WNAA2. Don’t forget to leave a review if you like it!

Hoffnungslose Ziele book cover

Hoffnungslose Ziele Coupons!

Happy New Year! As a gift to bring in 2018 right, I found a way to give out coupons for my book!

Coupon Code XBCAW9 will get you 75% off the eBook

Coupon Code TNZMCX will get you 50% off the paperback!!

Only catch is you have to purchase through this storefront:

Happy New Year and enjoy the book!