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It's a Trappist! ... In Twelve Parsecs

The headline stopped me cold: "Seven Objects Found Circling Dwarf".

My first thought, as you might imagine, was: "Wait--I thought 'dwarf' was now an insulting, politically incorrect term, like 'midget', or 'calm political discussion'. Sure, you have dwarfs in online gaming, but that's a whole other thing. Have you ever tried to get an Orc to clean up his language?

"Excuse me, Mr. Orc, but the proper term is 'little people'. Wait--what are you doing with that double bladed ax? Help!"

Anyway, my second thought was, "Someone needs to help protect that poor dwarf from those seven--seven? I mean, not me--I have an appointment. My sciatica is acting up. Danger makes my ears bleed."

Turns out it was a red dwarf, which seemed even more insulting until I discovered that's a type of sun. This particular sun should be very familiar to Han Solo, who could reach it in twelve parsecs (that's how far away it is), but for the rest of us a parsec is a unit of distance: It would take several million years, even if we took an empty jug along instead of stopping for bathroom breaks. At 39 light years it's close, but that's in astronomical terms: It's like saying a government project is "only" a few million dollars.

For those of you who are Star Wars fans, I should add that this is a red sun we're talking about, named by the movie series' Admiral Ackbar: "It's a Trappist-1!" It's only a little star, slightly bigger than Jupiter and twelve times smaller than our own Sun. The truth is, red dwarfs are the most common types of stars in the galaxy, so in all ways it's unremarkable except one: We've discovered planets circling it.

Lots of planets.

Not only that, but most of the planets are around the size of our Earth. Not only that, but three of those planets are in the star's Goldilocks zone. And so, in the most stunning astronomical discovery ever, we can definitively announce that we've discovered planets inhabited by bears and little blonde girls. The worlds are thriving, and covered by porridge, making them just right.

Or maybe that's just a term astronomers use for a planet that's the perfect distance from its sun for life to exist: Not too hot, not too cold. Liquid water could exist there, which means you could, indeed, make porridge, although I prefer oatmeal. It's sweeter. At least, it is when I'm done with it.

Since Trappist-1 is so small it's very dim, like a 15 watt bulb, or a politician. (I never get tired of that ... even when everyone else does.) So to be in the Goldilocks zone, three of the planets whirl around very close to the sun, and to each other. The years are very short, the sun dim and red, and you could stand on one planet and see the others as plainly as we see our Moon. As a result there are probably a lot of tidal forces there, so you'd have no problem keeping your clothes clean. Really, it's like a paradise, except for the violent earthquakes and volcanoes that would come from the tidal forces, and I just realized they aren't talking about laundry detergent.

We don't know a lot about these planets, yet. What kind of atmosphere do they have? Is it like Montana, or Beijing? Is there water there? Considering how much water we've discovered across our own solar system, it's likely. And the best part is there are no gas giants, leading us to believe the entire system is devoid of both lawyers and Congressmen. (What? It's still funny.)

But regardless of that, this is still the largest number of planets we've yet seen around an exoplanet, which is to say a planet not circling our own Sun. It's like they're an outtie and we're an innie. And all of them close enough to Earth-size to make us sit up and consider the possibilities.

So, is there life? Bacteria? An ape civilization? Starbucks? Most important of all, do they have chocolate?

Or ... dare I say it ... something better than chocolate? Granted, seems unlikely.

Maybe we could send Han Solo to check.

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Do newsletters work for you?

I'm at odds over what to do with my newsletter: I promised subscribers early notice of writing related stuff, and exclusive content (and a dog photo with every e-mail), but I just can't seem to attract many new subscribers. When you add that to the fact that some subscribers don't open all the e-mails, I have to question whether I can justify putting so much effort there. On the other hand ... I promised.

Now, the newsletter has a button that allows me to put notifications up on Twitter and Facebook when a new one comes out. Alternately, I could take the newsletter and also post it on my blog, where I have more followers, and presumably some of those followers actually read my blog. I could announce on my other social media sites when it comes up on the blog, which I do for just about everything anyway, but that would take away from the whole special aspect of it that I had in mind.

Or I could do some combination thereof.

Many authors swear by newsletters over blogs or social media, saying there you have people who actually opted in to hear what you have to say. But if you're not already well known, you have the problem of getting people to opt in to begin with. What do you authors do, and how does it work for you? And as a reader, where would you prefer to hear from your favorite writer? Also, as a reader, am I stressing out way too much about this exclusivity thing? I mean, I'm not giving away the formula for KFC's special coating.

"You haz chicken?" My very first blogged dog photo, from way back when.

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A taxing job

I'm working on my taxes ... by which I mean I'll get all the paperwork together, then pay someone else to work on my taxes. Something tells me I'm not the only one who procrastinates until the year is gone, then rushes to find all the paperwork.

This is when I put together my writing costs and income, and I've got to say 2016 wasn't a good year for author-stuff. As a business goes, it's a pretty darned expensive hobby. In the electronic age there's less cost in paper, ink and postage, but more cost in everything "e": electronics, electricity, enternet ... *ahem*.

Last year wasn't as red inky as I'd thought, though: I ordered fifty copies of Radio Red, but it was after the first of the year. That means I have to go all Harold Hill to keep 2017 from being red inky, too. (Not to worry, dear reader--as soon as they arrive I'll do my best to recover my cost, which is to say I'll push them like a desperate drug dealer.)

Harold Hill? Come on, the fast-talking salesman in "The Music Man"! Look it up.

So it's not looking good for the whole "retire into the life of a full-time writer" plan. Still, as long as I have a pencil stub and a piece of scrap paper you'll find me writing something, somewhere. That's just what we do--for most writers, it's an addiction. Maybe the desperate drug dealer comparison isn't that far off.

Much as a writer needs to write, a working writer needs to sell, so I'm cutting into my writing time to get manuscripts into the mail again. No agent or editor is safe from me! For you authors out there (all writers are "working", whether they're trying to sell or not), how much time do you put into selling and promoting?

Good times.

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Pay For a Pumper at Naughty Bingo

So here's the scenario: You want to support your local volunteer fire department, so you go to their fund-raising bingo night. And it's your lucky day! You get the B-12, and the I-C, and the IN-diana, and G-whiz, and even the O-boy! (I don't actually play Bingo, but I assume that's how it goes.)

"Bingo!" You've won! This is so much more fun than when you and your buddies got drunk and had that nose hair plucking contest!

And here's your prize. Powered by D-cell batteries, it's three speed, in brilliant white plastic--real plastic, not that fake stuff. You look at it, puzzled. Is this some kind of back massager? And then the realization hits you:

You've won a sex toy.

Well done, sir (um, or ma'am)! Your Valentine's Day gift-giving dilemma is over.

That's how they roll at the Hometown Volunteer Fire Company in Schuykill County, Pennsylvania. Their idea of "hometown" appears to be at odds with what I would imagine. But like any volunteer fire department, the Hometown Fire Company has the ongoing challenge of finding enough money to stay in operation. The good news is, they appear to have hit the jackpot, or rather the bingo: Naughty Bingo.

Naughty Bingo night is March 11, and I know you're interested. I assume it'll be held at the fire station, which is already chock full of talk about nozzles, hose, pumpers, and squirting of various sorts. And you thought a hose bed was just for hose.

Hometown tried it for the first time last year, reasoning that their supporters were getting tired of all the old fundraising tropes. I mean, you can only have so many fish fries, pancake breakfasts, porkburger sales, chicken ... mmm, I'm hungry. Where were we?

Oh, yes. They decided to try something new, and it brought in a standing-room only crowd from several counties in two states. (New Jersey. Go figure.) Just 160 tickets were sold, and they were snapped up faster than a leopard-skin whip at a San Francisco clearance sale. Do they make leopard-skin whips? Wait, don't tell me.

The firefighters, already well known for finding 'em hot and leaving 'em wet, were understandably concerned about community reaction. But everyone seems to love the idea--maybe because it beat raising taxes. Really, with fund raisers it's already a small step from sex toys to bratwurst. "Now remember, this is silicone: Don't try to put it in a bun. Wait, let me rephrase that ..."

The real question people should be asking themselves is: Why should emergency responders have to spend enormous amounts of their time begging for it? Money, I mean? If there's one area that should be fully funded, this is it.

Maybe every government department should have to do fund raisers:

The parks department could set up a lingerie football league.

The water department can host wet t-shirt contests.

And, of course, the street department would have ... street walkers.

Until that time comes, it seems to be mostly small fire departments that need to get a stiff shot of cash by raising funds. If they have to do that, then I say let them do whatever gets their finances up--we've already had racy firefighter calendars of both sexes, so maybe this was the next logical step.

And if Naughty Bingo is here, then strip poker can't be far behind. I'd better start working out.

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