Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Article on

My newest article on project management is now up on the website. It's called "Old Ware Stories," which is a bit of a pun on both the fact that it's something of a "war story" and the idea that in addition to software and hardware, this project involved a component of "old-ware"--people, systems and processes that had been around so long that they viewed change as "change everything except how we do our jobs." In other words, change everything--without changing anything. It's a story of late-blooming requirements, organizational and personal rigidity, and the effect of geometry and geography on a project's success.

While P@W is publishing this yarn as a "case study," I'll caution that it's not rigorous or objective in the manner of a good university-course case study. It's more a "view from the trenches," or even a view from the one particular trench I found myself in. Other people, in other trenches, might have seen things differently.

Click Here to read the article. requires a (free) registration. It's worth it; there's a lot of good project management stuff on this site.

A second installment is coming, and I'll announce it here when it comes out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tastes Great/Less Filling?

Dr. Bob Rich begins his review of The Last Protector by saying:
This is the best fantasy book I have ever edited. Or is it science fiction?
OK, debating fantasy vs. science fiction is kind of like debating tastes great vs. less filling*

But let me propose this simple test, based on the idea that in fantasy the supernatural intrudes into the natural world (gods, demons, spirits, magic and such are part of the story), while science fiction takes place entirely in the natural world:
If something gets destroyed by a lightning bolt from heaven, it's fantasy.
If the same thing gets destroyed by high explosives, it's science fiction.
Case closed. For now, at least...


*Tastes great vs. less filling: Of course, if we're talking about "light" beers, the answer is "neither"--most "light" beers are pretty devoid of flavor, and so over-carbonated that you inflate like a balloon after a couple.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More Stuff Moved, and Another Deleted Scene

I moved a bunch more stuff today, and now there's actually an organization of sorts to this site. This page,, is my actual blog. Then I've got a few one-entry blogs, danielcstarr-lastprotector, danielcstarr-tech, danielcstarr-bikes, danielcstarr-beer, which contain links to stuff about the book, my writings on project management and software, my motorcycle adventures and my favorite beverage. Then there's another pseudo-blog that's just a collection of pages containing stuff like the deleted scenes, biographies and such. With any luck, I've actually figured out how to organize this stuff.

But enough about the mechanics of maintaining a web site, on to some fun stuff. There's a new deleted scene out there, a rather silly disco song. Probably a good thing I cut it from the book, but fun to sing, especially after a few beers. You can read it (and sing along) by clicking HERE.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Movin' In...

Because Google's decided to migrate users of their Google Pages service to the new Google Sites, which doesn't seem to quite do what I want, I've been in the process of moving my stuff from there to a collection of blogs here. So, all the posts below this one were actually brought over, and so while they're all officially from September 6, the titles contain the dates they were actually added. Of course, I still have a ton of work to do, moving over stuff related to my software and project management writings, and the rest of the deleted scenes from The Last Protector, but I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Oh, wait, that's a train headlight...


I've got a simple page-hit counter on this page (it's that little number at the bottom of the page), and I've seen a strange thing the last few days: most of the hits to this page have been coming from the page in which I describe my technique for replacing the rubber engine-mount isolators on my old tube-frame Buell. I have no idea why this is happening, and I don't collect anywhere near enough information to actually figure out who's looking at the page or why, so it might be nothing more than a statistical cluster. Or, perhaps, there's some sort of plague out there, all those bad rubber donuts? If you've got a clue, drop me a line at danielcstarr (at)


I finally got off my duff and wrote up a "war story" article for the ProjectsAtWork website. Look for it to be published in September (I'll add a link at that time). It's partially about the lengths people will go to in order to preserve their comfortable way of working... even if it means falling well short of the project's goals.

Writing this piece got me thinking about the great myth that we humans spread from Africa to occupy the whole planet because we're so adaptable. We must adapt well, the thinking goes, since we live everywhere from tropical jungles to Arctic tundra, from sea level to mountaintops.

But in truth, I don't think we adapt very well at all. We can't grow fur, let alone grow and shed in a cycle matched to the weather (something many dogs can do). We burn in the sun, freeze in the cold, dry out in the desert. Drop a naked human into the Arctic, or the desert, or onto a mountaintop, and he's dead within hours. Physically, we're pretty optimized for 60-90 degrees Fahrenheit, not too dry, not too wet, and we really don't do too well outside that environment.

The real secret of our so-called "adaptability" is our trick of taking little bubbles of our native African savanna environment with us. The igloo in the Arctic, the lean-to in the jungle, the air-conditioned shopping mall in Phoenix--these are all examples of how we take little micro-environments with us. So is an astronaut's space-walk suit, of course--or the Shuttle or Soyuz capsule, and the Space Station both are visiting. Or, more prosaically, the respirator that a farmer wears when heading inside the composting silo (where there is typically too little oxygen to support life) to do a repair.

We're not above stealing from other, better-adapted creatures, of course--one of the first things we did when we headed into the colder regions was to borrow the fur from native animals. Heck, once we ate him, that polar bear didn't need his fur anymore.

The furthest extreme of our adapt-the-environment-to-our-comfort habit is the good old science fiction concept of terraforming. Tinker with the atmosphere of Mars, add a little carbon dioxide to trap heat, and in a few centuries (or so it goes in the stories) you've got an earth-like planet where people can stroll about without those uncomfortable space suits and respirators.

All of which leads me to an alternate formulation of this whole global warming issue. The "Gaia hypothesis," hopelessly oversimplified, says that all life on earth fits together to form a single organism, which adapts itself and the planet to be more conducive to life. Well, what if global warming isn't just an accident or the product of corporate greed? What if it's the human species unconsciously altering the entire planet to expand the range in which we're comfortable? Not to say it's working all that well, given the expansion of deserts and coming submergence of coastlines. Then again, if Siberia were to become a comfortable grassland like the Great Plains of North America, it might represent a significant expansion of our range. Who's to tell? I guess we'll find out if we live long enough. And it might make for an interesting SF story...


My sister-in-law came over yesterday, with a copy of The Last Protector, and asked me to sign it. Of course, I wanted to write an appropriate note above the signature, and since Marj is big into sewing, embroidery and the like I figured I'd put in a reference to a scene on page 56 where Scrornuck (for those of you who have just joined us, he's the hero of the story) gets out needle and thread to patch a rip in his kilt following a battle. But when I looked, I found the mention of sword-swinger-as-garment-worker was gone, apparently snipped out in one of the many passes I made through the manuscript to remove "unnecessary" words. Oh well...

Speaking of deletions, I've put another entry on the deleted scenes page. When I first sold The Last Protector, Scrornuck had a friend in his home land, a guy named Schaughnessy. Somewhere during the edits, Schaughnessy went away, a victim of the need to keep the book down to a reasonable length. But I liked the character, even if there wasn't any good reason to keep him in this book, so I've put his two scenes on the website. Enjoy! (Note 9/6--still haven't moved all the deleted scenes. Give me a few days, please!)


We Struggling Authors are always looking for a free, or at least cheap, way to push the product. One of the most obvious and simple is to stick a plug for the book into the signature line of your email messages. Seemed an obvious thing, several people recommended I do it. And so, a few weeks back, all my emails started sporting this line at the end:

Action! Adventure! Romance! And the World's Most Perfect Beer Container!
All this and more in Daniel C. Starr's Debut Novel, "The Last Protector"
NOW AVAILABLE from Twilight Times Books
Visit to find out more

Now, I can't say I've seen a huge increase in website traffic since putting this ad into my email. More interestingly, since adding the signature-line ad, I've had three different people reply to my messages by asking, "by the way, can you send me a link to your web site?"

So much for advertising. Or, maybe I've just learned something about the engineering mind, as all three of these people were engineers...


I was doing more research for the Beers of Grand Taupeaquaah page, trying to resolve the question of whether the "Heavy Red Lager" consumed in the book is more closely approximated by the Irish Red from Carlyle Brewing or the McCarthy Red from Emmett's Ale House (don't you wish you could drink beer and call it "research"?). And this led me to revise the entry for "Batatat's Stout," naming two different beers--one to describe Batatat's on tap, and another to describe it when served up in the World's Most Perfect Beer Container. This in turn led me to research how the "widget" cans used by Guinness and others work, and to ask myself just how the Batatat's container manages to chill and churn the beer, and then automatically dispose of itself when emptied.

This is a problem about writing "science fiction," or what I sometimes call "technological fantasy," versus "pure" fantasy--if I were writing pure fantasy, I could just explain it away as magic. But if it's SF, there has to be a mechanism, and preferably one that doesn't violate too many laws of nature too blatantly. It's OK to have a little BS, like the "hyperspace" or "warp drive" of space-travel stories, because you can always say that while we haven't discovered them yet, nobody's proven they're impossible. On the other hand, you don't want to set your story on a helium-filled balloon floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter, because what we already know about Jupiter (its atmosphere is 80 percent hydrogen and 20 percent helium) tells us the blimp would sink like a rock. Oops.

So, back to the Batatat's container. Is the thing even possible? Well, let's see... the stirring-up thing is obviously not too hard, since it's a product already. As for cooling the beer, decompressing a gas (or better yet, letting a gas that's been compressed to a liquid state flash back) generates a lot of coldness, so that might be part of the system. Cornstarch-based "biodegradable" plastics which just sort of crumble away to dust already exist, as do "smart" materials which can change their properties on command. Stir in a little nano-technology... yeah, I think I can make this work.

But first I'm gonna have another beer. Research, you know.


Movies play them over the credits. DVD's don't make it to the store without 'em. What are they? Deleted scenes! Believe it or not, I wrote a fair number of words that didn't make it into the final book. Some didn't make it because they just plain stunk, but others were pretty good (or at least I think so) but got the ol' heave-ho for such practical reasons as keeping the book from being too heavy to fit in your carry-on bag or too long to read in a lifetime.

Well, if it's good for a DVD, it's good for a book (besides, I spent a lot of time and effort writing 'em, maybe you'll enjoy reading 'em). Click HERE to go straight to my collection of deleted scenes... and don't worry if you haven't yet read The Last Protector. The deleted scenes collection is 100% spoiler-free (though they might not make a whole lot of sense if you haven't read the book yet). Enjoy!


Yep, a couple more minutes of fame for me and my book:

First, a review and interview in the May 18 edition of the St. Charles East High School student newspaper, the Xray. I was pleased that my book got more space than the review of Grand Theft Auto IV (though I admit GTA probably sold more copies in the first five minutes than The Last Protector will in the next year). Click on the image to the right, and you should be able to read the review. Many thanks to Wade Chimerofsky for reviewing the book (at a time when it was 153 loose sheets of paper inside a cover).

And the Daily Herald, one of the big Chicago/Suburban papers, published a nice little article about me and the book in its Tri-Cities/Kaneland edition on Sunday, June 8. The article also appeared in the on-line edition, and you can read it by clicking HERE. Thanks to Dave Huen of the Herald for mentioning me in his column, and thanks to Joan Arterberry-Zavitz for letting Dave know I exist and am interesting enough to justify a few hundred words.

OK, neither of these publications is exactly the New York Times, but at my place in the publishing food chain, I'll take what I can get.


If you've read The Last Protector (or the excerpt that appears on the Twilight Times Books website), you've probably noticed that Scrornuck Saughblade is something of a beer lover. Takes after his creator, he does...

So I got to thinking, just what beers from this world might have inspired the fictional Batatat's Stout, or Black Sunday Lager? There wasn't an easy answer, as there are a lot of candidates--and I haven't come close to visiting all the microbreweries in the country! But, for a first shot, pay a visit to the Beer Tent, and see what I've found so far...


(In honor of April 15)

If you've just gotten that Economic Stimulation Package check from the government, and you want it to do the absolute most it can to help the US Economy, consider spending part of it on a copy of The Last Protector. It's printed right here in the good ol' USA, and the royalty checks will come to me, right here in the Heartland of Illinois. And, as a special bonus, I promise to spend at least some of the money I make from this book on parts and supplies for my old Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

3/25/08 (updated 4/13/08): IT'S REAL. WOW...

The postman brought two packages yesterday. One contained a pair of shoes for formal bagpiping performances, but the other... one hundred fifty-eight six-by-nine-inch sheets of paper covered with words, with a very nice cover wrapped around them. In other words, a pre-publication proof copy of The Last Protector.

Wow. It's actually a book. After eight years in which I saw this story only on a computer screen or as typed pages in an envelope, I can finally hold a real live book in my hand, turn the pages, and read it.

I wonder if I'll like it...

Update (4/1/08): Proofing is done. I found twenty-some typos, which is not too bad for a book of this length. A surprising number of them were missing words, which seem to be related to a word-processor quirk: when I select a phrase to revise, if I move the mouse just so, the word processor (to avoid embarrassing a certain large software company, I'll avoid mentioning it by name) silently adds one word to the beginning of the selection. And if I don't notice this, when I type the revised phrase, I end up losing a word. Oops.

Oh yeah... I did like it.

Update (4/14/08): Proofing the proofed copy is done. Of course, I found that I'd introduced one new mistake when correcting the previous ones, because I didn't read the whole compound sentence carefully enough. Oops. It's a small error, maybe even unnoticeable, so we're going to leave it in the very first press run. The second press run will have it fixed, so those first few copies will become Valuable Collectibles. Right? Right??

THE PHILLY STEAK SANDWICH RULE (and other adventures in cover art)

The print edition of The Last Protector now has a cover! There's a back cover, too, with some nice words from another author. But most importantly, it obeys what I'm calling the "Philly Steak Sandwich Rule" of fantasy/SF cover art: a good cover is like a Philly Steak sandwich: all beef and cheese! Or, to put it another way, all a fantasy/SF cover really needs is a hero with a big sword and a heroine with big... umm... attributes. The picture is by John Kaufmann, the overall design is by Ardy M. Scott, and the endless fussing over the precise placement and shape of letters and such is by me.


Part of the fun of seeing my first novel go to press is learning about the publishing business. Last Friday's lesson concerned the "title data sheet," which is used by book distributors to help convince your local bookstore that they should carry my Magnum Opus. This would seem to be a straightforward exercise: summarize the book, make up some bullet points for marketing, and I'm done. Except... this thing's actually used to help sell books, so I can't really just blow it off, and this is a 150,000-word story that I'm trying to explain in a synopsis of 175 words or less, which only requires eliminating 99.883 percent of the words. But that's the easy part. Next comes the three bullet points, each of which must be under 25 words. I took a shot at it, and wound up with points that were not so much bullets as BB's. Sigh. Couple more drafts, couple more revisions, and I finally got three bullets... though I still think one of them's only a .22 caliber. And finally... the summary, in a whopping 50 words! This is the point where I start agonizing over whether I really need little words like the, an, and so forth.

Suffice it to say I got the job done. But I probably labored as hard on the 300 words of the "data sheet" as I did on any 300 words I've ever written.

2/3/08: I HAVE A FAN CLUB?!

Week before last, my first hour physics class informed me that there is a page up on FaceBook called "Mr. Dan Starr Appreciation Society." What, methinks, an online fan club? For little ol' me?

Some of the full-time teachers advised against having a look, on the grounds that they don't necessarily want to know what their students are saying about them. But I'm just a sub, which means I don't hand out grades, so I figured nobody'd be saying anything really bad about me. Besides, if I'm brave enough to ride a Harley while wearing a kilt (and yes, I've done this), then I'm brave enough to see what's on the "Appreciation Society" site.

Of course, I don't have a FaceBook identity, so I had to get some help from my daughter, a senior in college and an expert on social networking sites. She found the "Appreciation Society" in a few minutes, and it was all rather flattering: over 120 members, some of whom said some very nice things. Plus links to the pipe band's website and the Twilight Times Books site (a lot of the students ask when they can buy a copy of the book. I tell them that I really hope it'll be out before the end of the school year).

There was one small complaint, though: one guy recalled how I'd described Nalia, the book's heroine, as a "medieval Hooters (tm) girl." And so he was more than a little disappointed when the book cover he saw on the Twilight Times website just featured this skinny guy. No voluptuous girl in sight. What happened? Well, the answer is that the book is coming out in two versions: electronic and print. The Twilight Times site is displaying the e-book cover, by Kurt Ozinga. The print edition is getting a different cover, a wrap-around scene by John Kaufmann. It's not officially "done" yet (there are adjustments to size, title placement and other stuff that can't be done till the type is set and the total page count is known), so I can't show the whole thing yet. But... here's a little taste. That more to your liking, guys?


My first article for Projects At Work, Choosing Your Armor, was reprinted in the summer of '06 by Personal Excellence magazine. They didn't pay anything (though they did give me a couple free copies), but they did give me the chance to be published in the same glossy pages as Zig Ziglar and John McCain. Perhaps something will rub off.

The publication included a wee bit o' condensing, though. Well, more than a wee bit. The original article came in at just over 2000 words and began with what I thought was a pretty cool story. Personal Excellence condensed it to just over 600 words and having it share a page with an article about how to vary your workout (which, alas, was not written by Ziglar or McCain).

Here's what it looked like when they were done:

You can't read it, of course. Blogger does this thing (a throwback to the days of 64K dial-ups?) where it scales all pictures in posts down to something under 400 pixels wide. You'd think by now that they'd allow pictures to just display at full size... but you'd be wrong. Anyway, if you click on the image, it should appear at full size, and then you can read the 600 words of the article that "Personal Excellence" kept.

I hope.