2013 in Review

January – Knitting hats to donate to the children’s hospital
Knitting hats

February – Farpoint, a lovely gathering with fellow geeks (Phantom of the Mariachi)
Phantom of the mariachi

March – Spring in DC
Blossoms on a tree

April – The most beautiful tree, a weeping cherry tree
Weeping cherry tree

May – Balticon – another fun gathering with fellow geeks
Princess Leia

June – Dad’s a U.S. citizen!
Dad with a flag and sparklers

July – Independence Day

August – A parade in Utah
Highland Fling parade

September – I used to work across the street from this building, and I always thought it was the coolest looking building
NOAA building

October – Halloween at a house in the neighborhood
Halloween decorations

November – Autumn at the National Arboretum
Autumn by the Capitol Columns

December – Temple at Christmas
Temple at Christmas

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Is it Friday?

I ask because the days all flow together now that I’m unemployed, and Friday has become one more meaningless blip. But I am trying to enjoy my unemployment time off. I finally took the time to check out the Postal Museum and found it to be surprisingly interesting. Yesterday I planned to visit the Museum of Art, but the bus was so packed I couldn’t get off, so I wandered around Georgetown for a while instead. I bought a candle (pomegranate/spruce), which is burning right now and smells divine. Also, since Georgetown is about 30% cupcakes now, I got a cupcake. I’d never tried Sprinkles, so I picked them. Wasn’t impressed. Won’t be back. The cake and frosting were both mediocre. I still like Baked and Wired best. And I don’t even like cupcakes. I’m just a lemming.

But in the world of happiness and light, the Athena’s Daughters kickstarter is going wonderfully! There are a ton of add-ons beyond just the one book. For $5 you get the ebook, but you also get other books, short stories, music, and art. We’ve had some great publicity, and it just passed the $24K mark, which means a companion volume, Apollo’s Daughters, will now be added as an additional option to purchase!

Postal Museum

Postal Museum

Temple at Christmas

Temple at Christmas

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Here is a preview of my story that will be in Athena’s Daughters. (Click to go to the Kickstarter!)

Moon Fall
by Tanya Spackman

Amaia was relieved to finally find a bit of peace as she dressed her mother’s body at the funeral home. She’d been dreading this moment, but as she, and two women from her mother’s church, moved the body back and forth to maneuver the fabric of the clothes in place, the heavy ache crushing her chest lifted. For the first time in several days, she didn’t wish she too was dead. The only words spoken were absolutely necessary.

“Pull towards you and I’ll move it down.”

“Can you help me lift?”

Otherwise, it was quiet, and the three women moved silently to complete the task. Once her mother was dressed, the other two women gave Amaia a hug and left the room. She’d already said goodbye, but couldn’t help one more kiss on her mother’s cold cheek. The kiss felt empty and she regretted it. She said a quiet thank you to the funeral director waiting outside the door and left.


7 April 2015
From: Omar Gray, JPL/NASA
To: Megan Keelan, JPL/NASA

Megan, check out the attached files. Hiromi was spot on with those gravity measurements. This thing is huge. Alex’s calculations say 2700 km in diameter. It has got to be a D-type. Course is a little iffy right now, but it’s going to be close fly-by. Give us a couple more days for an accurate course. Likely close enough for tidal effects, at least.

Megan, this is a scary one. Might want to pass it up the chain ASAP.


Omar Gray, PhD
Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex
(760) 555-4774


The funeral home building, white but in desperate need of a new paint job, was two stories tall, plus a basement, but had a small footprint. Her mother’s body was prepared on the lowest level, and she never saw the second floor, but the main floor had a cramped chapel, a couple small rooms for family to meet before the service, and restrooms. The chapel had little decoration besides some dusty lace curtains with fake plants on each window sill. Wood benches, with little leg room between them, lined both sides of a single middle aisle. They creaked as people sat and stood and sat again. The dark-wood casket, closed, laid in the front.

Amaia sat on the front row, accepting people’s condolences as they entered the room. She’d grown up in the house her mother died in, so some of the people were neighbors she’d known as a child and dimly remembered, aged ghosts from another life. Others she didn’t know, strangers offering condolences to a stranger.

A man approached her.

“Amaia, I’m so sorry. I would have come to see you sooner, but my flight barely landed in time to get here.”

“Thanks for coming,” she said flatly, as she had many times for the past half hour.

“Do you mind if I come to the house afterwards? It’s been so long. I’d love to catch up with you.”

With that she looked at him instead of through him, trying to place him. He was familiar.

“I’ve got some things to take care of afterwards,” she lied, “but thank you for thinking of me.” How did she know him?

“Sure. Maybe tomorrow?”

A jolt went through her as she placed him.


“What are you doing here?”

“Look, I know it’s kind of awkward. I’ve always cared about you, and I know this must be difficult.”

Amaia, saw the line forming behind her father, strangers and acquaintances she needed to greet, needed to accept their verbal offerings, needed to give a part of herself in return. She stretched her hand out to the man behind her father. “Thanks for coming.” Her father stood waiting, but as the man left and the man and woman yet behind him stepped forward and Amaia gave them her attention, pointedly focusing on them more than she had any of the others who’d come before. Her father moved away, and Amaia’s shoulders relaxed perceptibly. People continued to cross by her offering their condolences, and she returned to the half attention state, but the anger at seeing her father swirled with the pain and sadness of losing her mother and she wanted to leave, quickly. Only a few more people would pass, and the service could begin.

She spoke of her mother and cried. Others spoke, some crying, some not, people who loved her mother but were nothing to her. It ended, and people filed out for the drive to the cemetery. A few words were spoken at the gravesite, and then it was over. Some people offered more condolences as they left, but most walked away, in groups, some alone, visiting. Some laughed, and she hated them.
And there was Dad. Waiting for some privacy. Amaia seethed.

“Hey, I know I kind of came out of nowhere. I’m really sorry for surprising you. I just really knew I needed to be here, you know?”

“I haven’t seen you since I was, like, six. That’s over 20 years. What are you doing here?”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.”

Amaia looked at him exasperated. “You’re sorry? Look, thanks for coming, but you don’t exist for me anymore, and I want nothing to do with you. You left and Mom moved on. You’re not real to me, and you never will be. Please leave. If I die before you, you’re welcome to come to my funeral, but otherwise, you are nothing to me.”

“Right. Okay. Look Here’s my business card. If, you know, you want to call sometime, that would be okay.”

“I wanted to call you years ago. You were gone. Why now? Just because Mom died?”

“I know. I screwed up. I heard about what happened, and I just, I don’t know….”

“No, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to do that.”

“Okay. Well, keep the card, just in case.”

She thought of tearing up the card, but didn’t. She just turned and walked away, shoving the card into her purse after she got into the funeral limo.


9 April 2015
From: Alex Peigne, JPL/NASA
To: Megan Keelan, JPL/NASA


Here’s what we know. Spectral D-type. This thing is dark. It’s 2700 km in diameter, and that’s pretty uniform across it. Because of its size, it has to be a long period asteroid, or someone would have seen it in previous passes. A very eccentric orbit. I’d love to know aphelion, but no way to calculate it yet, not without the semimajor axis and orbital eccentricity. It is currently going 45 km/s, and will increase to 52 km/s by the time it reaches Earth’s orbit. It is currently at 8.298e8 km (5.55 AU), so it’s just about to pass Jupiter’s orbit. It will cross our orbit in 28 weeks.

It will be a very, very near miss. Tidal forces might be an issue. Because of its size, it doesn’t even have to be a direct impact to hurt us.

Alex Peigne, PhD
Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex
(760) 555-4991


10 April 2015
From: Omar Gray, JPL/NASA
To: Alex Peigne, JPL/NASA

Alex, it’ll hit the moon. Check out the angle at impact.



Want to know what happens? Of course you do! The Kickstarter had an awesome day yesterday. I’m so excited for this book to come out!

We also have a Facebook page. There are links to some other excerpts there: https://www.facebook.com/AthenaDaughter

And we also have a Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/246058958893070/


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Buy my book!

Click to go to Kickstarter and buy!

Today is an exciting day. Today I take an important step to becoming a published writer! The Kickstarter is live! This is really happening! The title of this post isn’t entirely accurate – it’s not “my book.” I am but one author in the anthology. But an anthology means there’s something there for everyone! And, okay, as a long-time technical writer, I have technically already become a published writer, but that previous work is stuff that no one actually reads, which sits on dusty shelves (literal and electronic) of government offices, just waiting to be burned in whatever apocalypse awaits us. Which brings us back to this book! I don’t know how many stories will fall into the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic realm, but mine will!

My story is a beautiful tale of family. And the complete and total destruction of the planet. Turns out it’s a terrible and fiery end for a us all, but at least it should be quick.

But no one will read my awesome story if we don’t reach the $11,000 goal since the inclusion of my story is one of the stretch goals. Luckily, this publisher has far exceeded that goal in previous anthology Kickstarters, so the odds are in my favor. But it relies upon you – friends, family, acquaintances, random strangers I’ve collected along the way – to go forth to the Kickstarter and buy.

So, what exactly is this anthology? Who else is in this anthology?

I’ve partnered with Silence in the Library Publishing, and a host of renowned authors including names like Mary Robinette Kowal, Gail Z. Martin, Jean Rabe, Sherwood Smith, and many others. Athena’s Daughters is a collection of short fiction from some of the best female science fiction and fantasy authors in the industry. This anthology features stories written by women about women. It will also have an introduction by retired astronaut and Space Shuttle Commander Pam Melroy.

The publisher, Silence in the Library, believes strongly in the concept of bringing the artistry back to publishing. To that end, every anthology they produce features illustrations for each and every story.

Additionally, my fellow authors and I and the staff at Silence in the Library Publishing, believe that any good project should contribute something to improve the human community. In keeping with that goal, a portion of every book sold will go to RAINN. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with more than 1,100 local rape crisis centers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.

And there is more info on the Kickstarter page!

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And so it begins

I am unemployed. The company I worked for lost the contract, and I have not yet been able to secure a new position. There have been some “almosts” and there are a couple “maybes” still in play, but the quest for a new job continues. Things are pretty slow out there in my area of work. There are a lot fewer jobs than previous job hunting rounds.

So Friday I went in to finish clearing off my desk, sign and initial the paperwork, and turn in my badges and parking pass. I walked out to my car, connected my iPod filled with Christmas music, and burst into tears. It was a moist and pathetic drive home.

When I finished college, it took six months after graduation to convince someone to hire me. Since that time – just a smidge over 15 years – I have not been unemployed. I’ve changed jobs, companies I’ve worked for have lost the contract I was working on, and I was even laid off once before but I had a new job ready to go before the old one ended, but this is the first time I’ve actually been unemployed. It is odd and slightly disorienting. Here it is a Monday, a normal work day, and I’m not on vacation or sick or waiting out a hurricane, but I’m home. Updating my blog. Trying to apply for unemployment.

Ugh. Unemployment. Because I’ve worked in two different states over the past 18 months, I have to apply by phone rather than online. The last thing I want to do is talk to someone on the phone. (I mean, that applies at all times, but especially for this.) But alas, I must. It turns out that Monday morning is a terrible time to apply for unemployment. I know, I should have seen it coming. People get laid off at the end of a week and apply for unemployment on a Monday. Duh. It took a couple tries just to actually get in the queue (“I’m sorry, all circuits are busy. Please hang up and try your call later.”), but I finally connected and weaved my way through the “press one for…” maze and was on hold in the right queue. And I waited and waited and waited. Do you know what the Maryland unemployment office has for it’s hold music? A very basic MIDI file (a MIDI file!) that plays the same 12 or so measures of Für Elise over and over and over again. It’s an interesting choice. It chases away the weak while letting the waiting masses know what to expect once their call is finally answered. I still don’t know what awaits. I gave up. I’ll try again this afternoon, and if that fails again, tomorrow. Hopefully the herds of the unemployed with have thinned by then.

So now I find myself with time. Job hunting itself takes between 5 and 30 minutes a day (unless I get lucky and score an interview). Aside from that, I am free. Stressed out and depressed, but free. Luckily, I live in Washington, DC, land of free things to do. Monuments! Memorials! Museums! I’ve never been to any of them on a weekday. I’m actually looking forward to hitting up some of the Smithsonian museums during normal business hours when hopefully there will be few people. I think I’ll go check out arguments before the the Supreme Court, too. And I know this is kind of scandalous, but I have yet to actually visit the Library of Congress. (I know! What sort of DC resident am I?!)

A friend called her period of unemployment “funemployment”. I found it humorous and delightful when she used it, even though she used it a bit sarcastically. Now, however, I cringe in horror and distress and cannot use the word in application to my life, even with snark or irony. And yet I do want to take advantage of this time where my awesome technical writing skills are unloved and unappreciated to enjoy some of the touristy stuff that I never get around to seeing – to have fun. I really do enjoy a good museum.

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A Doctor Who Weekend


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The Most Pointless Data Ever

I like data. It makes me happy. Long ago the friend I carpool to work with introduced me to a new route to/from work and claimed it was faster. I was skeptical. And so I began to record our travel times. I wanted 10 samples per route in each direction, and it took months due to schedule changes invalidating measurements and plain forgetting to start or stop timing. But I finally had a complete set! And there is a winner! Well, on the drive from work, anyway.

We have two primary routes to work which I label Penn and Southern.

Time to Work

As you can see, there’s not much difference. Penn is slightly faster from T’s house (average: 17:50 vs. 18:12). Southern is ever so slightly faster from C’s house (average: 15:48 vs. 15:49). At only one second difference, that is meaningless once you take into account maybe a 5-second variability in measurement error. The following charts show all measurements, and though Southern had one spike (if removed, average Southern time becomes even closer to the Penn route), there’s clearly a lot of overlap.

To Work From T

To Work From C

For both of us, both routes are so close it really doesn’t matter. Now, Southern is a route of misery and woe because it is filled with The Worst Drivers Ever. It’s just not worth the aggravation and risk of life and limb, especially when it provides no significant time savings. Pennsylvania wins!

For the drive from work we add another route. Why don’t we have the third route to work? No real reason. Just because. So for the drive from work we have Penn, Southern and Fort Dupont.

Time From Work

Here we have a clear winner for both: Fort Dupont! When you look at the graph showing all times, you can see the green Fort Dupont line trends below the Penn and Southern lines, most especially to C’s house.

From Work to T

From Work to C

Now, why have I labeled this The Most Pointless Data Ever? Because I’m about to be laid off, at the end of the month. So knowing the fastest route after spending all those months collecting data will provide me no benefit. It’s pointless. But it was fun to collect and analyze, so there’s that.

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