Update to the Update: Moving Plans, etc.

A. Thanks for all the kind thoughts about our upcoming move. We’re not planning on being out of the house before March, 2022 – our youngest needs to get his Eagle Scout stuff done, and I agreed to teach another year of history/literature. The meeting with the realtor was just to help me establish priorities and a to do list. First order of business: get the house tented for termites (minimal damage, but they’re here) – and that’s not until mid-October. Then, exterior paint, some tree trimming, lots of relatively minor repairs, etc. By end of March, we hope to be out of here. Probably rent a house near Sacramento, to get to know the area. Or, if the insanity escalates, go check out Iowa/Midwest.

We’ve got +/- 6 months to pack up the house. Sigh.

B. Have tons to do to prep for classes starting Tuesday, so of course I did a quick but utterly unnecessary woodworking project instead. Behold! A charcuterie board!

I readily admit I had no idea what charcuterie was maybe 2 years ago. But – it’s good!
Made from walnut form the tree we cut down in our front yard maybe 8 years ago. Chose heavily figured pieces. The wood is too warped to make big things out of, but one can wrestle it into small projects like this.

Walnut is not usually used for food tools – cutting boards, rolling pins, that sort of thing – because the grain is too open. But I figure, one, we’ll call it a board, not a cutting board, to reduce the usage and wear, and, two, I don’t care. Still needs last coat of butcher block oil and good buffing. Looks pretty good now.

C. The writing projects ground to a halt this past month and a half. Sigh. BUT! Hope springs eternal! I again find myself thinking about them – the SciFi work and the Science Essentials book – when doing other things. So:

Rather than just being me venting on our rampant scientific illiteracy, I think I’ll rework the science book into something more like Essentials of Science, and aim it at high school and college age people. Tone it down, introduce a bunch of history, focus on the basics that apply to all sciences worthy of our respect. Then maybe pitch it to the homeschooling/ catholic schooling crowd.

The other book just needs work. Have to ram it through.

But, hey, my life is shaping up to be: teach class, pack up the house, get items off the punchlist, read every day, and – write. I’ll need the change of pace. We’ll see how it goes.

D. Weirdly, out of nowhere, I started writing an a capella mass in Latin about 6 weeks ago. When I was in my 20s, I wanted to be a composer. What I liked to compose was a capella pieces, the market for which is small, to say the least. By my late 20s, I also wanted to get married and raise a family, so I consciously set the music aside. Now, after a nearly 40 year gap, I find myself, sitting at the piano pencil in hand, writing out 6-part vocal works in a dead language.

About 2/3rds of the way through the Agnus, maybe half way through the Gloria. My style (I laugh to myself) is basically a poor man’s John Williams meets a homeless man’s Faure, and has an ugly child. This is a pretty intensely inside joke: Williams loves mediant and sub-mediant modulations and horn-call like melodies, and Faure loves odd modes and half-step changes, and intense dissonances within his voice leading. I love all those things, too! I just don’t have anything near the training and talent of either of those guys. To put it very mildly.

Trying to live well, stay sane, and enjoy life. It’s the only way out.

Movin’ On Out – Update

More Classic SciFi Book Reviews to follow soon, as I am retreating into comfort reading as I deal poorly with the stress of living in insane times. But for now:

Met with a realtor today. Walking around the property, it finally became real that we’ll be moving out. Going through rooms and talking over features and issues, I relived some of the 25 years we’ve lived here, and the childhoods of the 5 children we’ve raised here.

Not as bad as it looks – the roof is the only thing really sad, but that’s enough to condemn it.

I found myself getting quieter and more introspective as the tour went on. I’m going to tear down the three story playhouse above that my two younger sons and I built – it’s not in too good a shape, and it would be simpler to destroy than to repair. The trampoline stays, I guess, since the realtor thinks the dedicated trampoline spot would look funny without it. The pizza oven is a feature, I hope. Need to make the front garden look less unfinished, but I don’t think I can bring myself to finish it as originally planned.

Had this for about 20 years. Kids used to sleep on it with their friends. Is it the same trampoline if I’ve replaced the springs once, the bed twice and the netting three times?

We’ll take cuttings from the little fig tree that has become such a delight to us – delicious figs, and the tree is so peaceful. We must see if we can take grafts from the citrus tree grown from a seed by out late son Andrew, that now sits planted in the front orchard. Have to research how to do this. The dead-looking tree below is actually very alive – another Andrew project, he found a buckeye out walking and asked what it was and what would happen if he planted it. It’s been in pots and now a half wine barrel ever since. We must figure out how to take it with us, and then plant it wherever we end up. It loses its leaves very early every year – it wants to be in the ground!

The native chestnut tree, grown from a buckeye Andrew found. This thing is like 20+ years old!
This Mineola tree is likewise 20+ years old, Started in a plastic cup, IIRC, then moved to a succession of larger pots, until we finally stuck it in the ground 5 years ago. Just trimmed it severely yesterday – it has long aspired to be 30′ tall; I insist on about 8′.
My beloved bought this dwarf fig from a neighbor, it lived in a half wine barrel for many years, likewise planted it 5 years ago. It’s been yielding 20-30 nice figs a day for weeks now.

25 years. A lot of water under this bridge. We never planned to live here this long, it was supposed to be our starter home. But that’s how it worked out.

Thursday Updates, Including Interaction with the Medical Community

A. Another first for me: replaced two dishwashers. No, I’m not hiring manager for a restaurant. Going on 16 years ago now, we went with two dishwashers in our remodeled kitchen – a good choice, very handy, especially with 5 kids at home at the time. But 16 years is like 90 appliance years – these things were failing in their final cause.

Old units awaiting their fate.

On Monday, I made the drive down to the former Sears Outlet in San Leandro to pick up 2 out of box display models of a couple cheapish but well-rated Whirlpool dishwashers, thus saving about $250 over the best retail prices I could find. Bonus: Worked in a side trip to a TLM in Oakland on the way back. Of course, this means I, at 63 years old, am hauling dishwashers in and out of my minivan. Fortunately, these modern units are very light.

Next up: watch a bunch of YouTube videos on how to install dishwashers. Then, spend a couple hours on my knees and back turning water off, unscrewing, unhooking, unwiring, and sliding old units out, then screwing in, hooking up, plugging in, turning water on, and shoving new units in. Only needed 1 (one) trip to Ace for parts! Ickiest part: a lot of gross stuff, including stuff mysteriously glued to the floor, had accumulated under the old dishwashers over the years. Cleaned it all up, so that, in a decade or so, when the next guy replaces the dishwashers, he’ll have a cleaner floor to look at.

Much better. Need to clean those smudges off the front. The important thing: it cleans dishes real good, and doesn’t leak!

Only difficult part: the drain hose hook up for the unit next to the main sink (the 2nd unit is connected to the rinse sink on the kitchen island) is to an air vent located way to the back behind our oversized sink. No way you can even see it; had to lie on my back and disconnect and reconnect the hoses by feel. Let us pray I did a good job – it will be a pain in the back most literally to fix it if it leaks.

Now to load the old units in the minivan and take them to the appliance disposal center, where, last time, it was about $25 a pop for them to take the junkers off my hands. My dad fu is strong. 😉

B. School starts again in a couple weeks. I will be teaching a combined History/Lit class to nine 8th and 9th graders this year. From Greece through the Middle Ages. Should be fun, especially since I will not be creating the class plans and assignments from scratch this year, and also since it’s a combined class, not two classes like last year. Maybe 3 total hours of classroom time per week.

C. Pizza! This Saturday, when it is predicted to be 100F outside, we will be holding a pizza party for the third consecutive weekend – younger daughter’s birthday, little brother’s family visit, and now kickoff for the new school year. I invited the Board, students, and their families – at least 25-30 people, could be much higher.

From the top: Margarita, some Frankenstein abomination, and the house special: smoked salmon, goat cheese, and capers on an Alfredo sauce. These were the last 3 coming out of the oven last Friday.

Should be fun. A pizza party ends up taking about 3-4 hours of prep, then 3-4 hours of standing in front of a blazing hot oven. I enjoy it, but it leaves me pretty worn out by the end.

D. Had to go see my doctor, where we eventually got around to discussing my non-vaccinated status. The discussion went nowhere. He was getting pissed by the end. I kept asking for numbers, he’d show me gross numbers, I’d try to explain what they meant, round and round. He’s convinced 600K+ people have died of the Coof; I point out that 2/3rds of that number don’t show up in the total deaths; I’d say his chance of dying if he caught it is about 1 in 50,000 (young healthy male) while he thinks it’s 1.7% – the gross number you get from the John Hopkins report, which includes all the sick, old people – of which he is not.

It was too rushed. That a doctor would confuse the risk of a population for his personal risk is not inspiring. Let’s say 50,000 Americans die of breast cancer each year (making it up) – his chance of dying of breast cancer remains zero (almost) – because he’s not a woman. I assume he understands that. But then to turn around and accept a ridiculous 1.7% fatality rate as applicable to him, when by far the major risk is to elderly, sickly people? I also asked him if 5 to 10 years of children hospitalization data was available, so that we can rationally judge if COVID has in fact measurably increased juvenile hospitalization rates. He ignored it.

Really nice guy, good doctor and all – but, like 99.9% of everybody, doesn’t understand numbers nor science. Facts do not speak for themselves – they require understanding of the factors that fed into them before they can be understood.

42.

ADDENDUM: Another family ‘tradition’: losing the can opener. Sure, we’ve had plenty of standard manual can openers over the years, but is seems we inevitably lose them until we have only one – and then lose that one, until ut turns up someplace we all swear we already looked for it. Most common use: to open cans of evaporated milk, which several of us prefer in our tea.

So, years ago, when one of our can openers broke, we fixed it. Broke again, fixed it again. Finally, the handle was unsalvageable, but the business end was still good, if unuseable. So we threw it in a drawer, because the next time I had the woodworking tools out, I would just make it another handle, and then we’d have *2* openers to lose.

That was years ago. This morning, I noticed the forlorn opener fragment, and said to myself, I did: why not now? So, I found a suitable scrap of walnut, grabbed a saw, a rasp, drills, sander, clamps, and got to work.

At first, it was going to be strictly functional – just get a handle on it that won’t give anybody splinters, through some tung oil on it, call it a day. Buuuuut…

It started looking good. Walnut is beautiful. So, by the time I had got it all fitted up, it was looking pretty cool. So, last step before oiling: glue in the metal part.

After 15 seconds of looking around, I opted for Super Glue – because, you know, there was a tube in the junk drawer. Checked the fit and alignment one more time, then shot some glue into the cavity, applied a little to the plastic sleeve, and started twisting it in…

And the glue instantly set up about halfway in, with the business end at an odd angle. The amount of force it would take to move it would have broken the wood:

Oh, well. We’ll just lose it anyway.

Lawncare and Leprosy

Just looking for a catchy title for more exasperation.

As a distraction from the steady rain of naked emperors and their fawning sycophants and courtiers and the sheep they intimidate into line, I’m putting in some serious lawn care time, and writing. Only partially effective. What’s sticking in my brain is the awareness that about 90% of my relatives are firmly on the Corona Train of Doom. These are for the most part well educated and intelligent people, who seem to firmly believe they are ‘following the science’ that they’ve never looked at and wouldn’t understand if they did. They just so *certain* they’ve got a bead on things.

This item is something you can buy, in bulk if necessary, from actual trophy retailers. And it seems to be assumed that getting this trophy would not only not increase the juvenile suicide rate but rather actually make a child feel *good*. These people 1) are not from this planet, and 2) have never won anything worth winning in their lives.

A seriously cultivated lack of self-awareness. I’m thinking masks are the ironic completion of the participation trophy culture. You want to be an outsider? Someone who doesn’t even get a participation trophy, that proves that the authority figures love you as long as you, well, participate?

(Aside: I am in some ways a very competitive person, mostly manifested in sports. What seems missing from the equation: Running the real risk, sometimes even near-certainty, of losing is a huge part of what made it fun and satisfying. If you win, it’s worth winning; if you lose, you went up against good competition and got to prove yourself, even if just to yourself. The worst thing: playing in games you’re supposed to win easily. Winning is thus nothing to be proud of, while losing is embarrassing. Didn’t these people ever see “A Nice Place to Visit”?)

Several times now, I’ve drafted letters to the family explaining why me and mine are not panicking, why we don’t wear masks or social distance unless we will get innocent people in trouble for it (like a church or a store – it’s not their fault, but they will be made to pay). But – I always, so far, stop before sending it. I just don’t know if it will do anything other than increase the already significant distance between me and mine and these particular relatives. Maybe it’s an act of mercy? I just don’t know.

Writing suffered greatly this week, as I was busy and distracted after a very productive weekend. Picked it up again this morning, and added another maybe 2,000 words to It Will Work. Started in on the ending, just barely scratched the surface. At 12K words at the moment. I am paying the price for not having done enough thought-smithing up front – the end, which I thought I had worked out, is a little bit gappy, holey like an old rag. Thus, I’m setting myself up for fairly monumental rewrites just getting it to flow and not leaving massive holes. Oh well – first novel, the important thing is to get stuff down. On, Teb! On!

The Saga of the Back Lawn doesn’t get much ink around here, and not only because I can practically hear your eyes glazing over through the interwebs. It’s neither as much fun nor as picturesque as the Endless Brick Project of Doom. Here goes, if you’re feeling penitential: when we bought this house lo these 25 years ago, it had a pretty decent back lawn, certainly adequate for anything you’d want a back lawn for, such as running and rolling around on it with children.

Then, back in 2005, made the large, perfectly clear with 20/20 hindsight, poor decision to put on an addition. At the time, home prices were ridiculous and rising – no matter how well I did financially, a home better enough than what we had to make it worth moving was just too big a stretch. But those same factors made it easy to borrow a ton and add on, so we did – and got it done just in time for the housing market to collapse. So, our starter home is our home, at least until we move out of state.

So, second major error: hired a long time friend of my sister’s as the general contractor. He’d done a bunch of work for her, she seemed happy with him. He lied about his licensing, was always sharing fantasies about timing, and was just a slapdash horror. Part of his style was to simply use the back lawn as his staging area, and just destroy it. Not talking just about killing the grass – the soil here is quite clay, and, when they were done, it was packed down as hard as rock, and covered with crap. I couldn’t bring myself to pay any more money at that point, and so, for several years, the backyard sat, a useless disaster. Finally, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, I was up to tackling it. It’s only maybe 40′ X 30′, so it’s not like a major project. Cleaned it off, amended the soil some – but didn’t, alas, rototill the living heck out of it.

So, every year since, I try to do something to improve the lawn. As of last spring, it looked pretty good – right up until the end of May, when the warm, dry weather kicks in and the 1/4″ root depth before it hits solid clay means it mostly dies off. By the end of the summer, it’s pretty pathetic. It looks great in April!

This year, after surveying yet another dreary looking lawn, decided what the heck, let’s get serious. It had rained enough that I could dig in the clay, so I picked the ugliest patch, about 6′ X 20′, and just dug it up by hand, turned the soil, added manure and gypsum, let it sit for a few days, then seeded and watered it. Total time invested might be 5? 6? hours. So far.

If this works, I’ll do another similar patch next year, and it 2-3 years, should attain lawn Nirvana. Right?

As I type, I can see a bird on the lawn eating seed. This, I can stand – anything short of a significant flock is unlikely to eat enough to make any difference. BUT: if I had the appropriate verminator, I’d be shooting some squirrels. Damn things have to dig anywhere I’ve loosened the soil – garden, planters, pots, and now, lawn. I hate squirrels. At this rate, my new patch of lawn will be pock-marked with squirrel holes. Furry little bastards.

Next week, I’ll see if I have anything less trivial to write about.

Minutia and Writing Updates

No excuse for boring you, my loyal readers, with this, but here goes:

A. Trying to keep up the momentum, I’m switching back and forth between 3-4 writing projects. When I get stuck on one, just switch. Don’t even think about, just keep writing, with the goal still being 2 novels and 2 collections of short stories ready to go (to an editor, most likely) by end of June. And that science book. Anyway, what’s in the hopper:

Layman’s Guide to Understanding Science: Right around 10,000 words, on temporary hold. The comments, especially from Dr. Kurland and some of the commentators here, made me think – always dangerous. The question is not so much what science IS – which can be approached, I think, from several valid angles – but rather, in what sense should a layman care what science is. It will do little good to be technical accurate if my imagined reader doesn’t see any point to it. Ya know? So, I’m letting that one stew for now.

Working title “It Will Work” the first 6,000 or so words of which appeared on this blog as a series of flash fiction posts. (CH 1   CH 2   CH 3   CH 4   CH 5   CH 6 CH 7) I couldn’t seem to stop writing this, right up until I could, and it got the second most positive comments of anything I’ve written here, (1) so it seemed primed to become a short novel. It was one of the three novels-in-development in the Novels folder I set up back in January. At about 8,000 words at the moment.

Always told myself I needed to settle on an ending, so I knew where I was going with this – even though the 7 fragments were each tossed off totally seat-of-the-pants. Well, just today I started outlining what the kids these days might call the Boss Battle, the final test of Our Hero – and, it rocks so hard. Want to talk stupid? I was getting choked up telling my wife about it. I wrote it long before the current insanity, but, given the current insanity, it all makes so much more sense. As far as a “things done got blowed up good” by bombardment from space and aliens in power armor scene set on a distant moon of a far-away planet can be said to relate to current events. (answer: quite a bit, really.) Anyway: got the finale & denouement outlined, and am in the middle of the middle section. My only fear, if you can call it that – if I keep the pacing such as it has been so far, I’ll wrap it up in +/-30K words. Don’t want to stretch it simply for the sake of stretching it, but do want at least 40K words – Pulp Era novel length. Not a real problem until it is….

The White-Handled Blade – the Arthurian YA novel set in modern day Wales, the first 25% of which is the novella several generous readers here beta read for me a couple years ago. Currently sits at about 13K words. This one is exciting, but I want to do more reading in Arthurian legends and outline a longer path, as in, a potential series, before maybe writing myself into a corner. The story as it stands now is little more than a free retelling of the Lynette & Lyonesse story as told by Malory, ending right before Gareth makes his untoward advances toward Lyonesse. So, obviously, I would continue along those line BUT I want to introduce more stuff that will let me go in any number of Arthurian directions. I already have several of the important knight (reimagined as middle-aged academics, because I find that amusing), so, in future works, it will be easy to take some side-trips to Scotland or the Orkneys or Cornwall or France. I want to keep Lynnette as the heroine, because I like her, and she was designed from the ground up as someone the reader could relate to: she’s fiercely devoted to her older sister, loves but has trouble communicating with her dad, gets snubbed and bullied at school, can hold a grudge, but never gives up and is as brave as needed to rise to the occasion. And is otherwise a blank slate, so there’s nothing in the way to seeing yourself in her shoes.

So I’m rereading Malory and reading the Mabinogion for ideas. The farther back in time one goes, the crazier the legends become, such that getting a glimpse into Malory’s world – 15th century retelling of much older stories -is a lot easier than getting into the world of the Mabinogion, which are thought to be older still. Even Malory requires a bit of gymnastics to get into the moral mindset of people who seem to kill each other rather gleefully at the drop of a biggin, but not like the Welsh tales. And then there’s the French version…

Speaking of writing something I didn’t set out to write and would have never imagined writing, it seems YA fiction is mostly characterized as follows:

  • no sex
  • no swearing
  • not too much gore

Which, frankly is a pretty fair description of anything I’m likely to write. On the other hand, Hunger Games is about children killing each other for the amusement of the powerful – I’d take a lot of sex and swearing before I’d consider that entertainment…

Anyway, it seems to be common industry knowledge that YA readership includes large numbers of adults who are just sick and tired of all the gratuitous sex and swearing and violence in mainstream stuff. So, from that point of view, pretty much anything (well, except this) I write would qualify, but I have never consciously tried to write YA. I’m putting in plenty of what I hope to be interesting non-childish philosophical and political and moral stuff. So – huh? Anyway, I’ll have to be careful of how I market this stuff. Studying up on that in parallel. Hope to get back to it soon, but it’s It Will Work is on the front burner at the moment.

Longship, the working title of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (wait! doh!), some sections of which I’ve thrown up here on the blog, is the one that has both been percolating in my mind for a decade or two AND the one I’m having the least success in hammering into a actual novel or 4. On the back burner.

Finally, Black Friday is another bit of flash fiction fluff (well, 1400 words, so not exactly flash fiction…) that seemed ripe to expand, so I’ve been outlining that one, too. Have put in some work on it, but not in the form of adding to the wordcount.

B. This brings me to another consideration: The science and education stuff (remember that education stuff? I seem to have forgotten) I will publish under my own name. However, if I’m hoping to actually make a little money off the SF&F stuff, it would seem prudent to market under a nom de plum. I’m under no illusions that I’m anybody important, but underestimating the pettiness of our self-appoint betters is a fool’s game.

On a related note, I’ve taken a few baby steps towards hardening my superversive presence online, including a Brave/Duckduckgo browsing combo, a protonmail account and staying off Google as much as I can. I want to go :

  • secure VPN
  • secure website hosting

Just want off, as much as possible, the Bidenriech’s surveillance network. A know I guy…

C. The 16 year old Caboose just mentioned that his favorite books include a book on spiritual teachings from the perspective of a demon, a book on politics from the perspective of rabbits, and a post apocalyptical novel about a monastery.

Kids these days. I asked him what about that book about the short dude with hairy feet trying to return some stolen jewelry? He laughed.

D. Slept 8+ hours straight last night, the first time that’s happened in months. Felt very good. Been getting 4 -6 hours most nights since the Crazy Years became manifest – wake up, can’t go back to sleep, get us and try to do something. I could get used to that.

E. Got a few hundred more bricks. The neighbors who I, being a solid California suburbanite, hardly know, have twice now over the last few years of the Great Front Yard Brick Insanity and Orchard Hoedown, have, unbidden, offered me bricks, because I’m the guy with the brickwork. So, dude around the corner had this pile of bricks he wanted gone – 6 1/2 wheelbarrows full. Maybe a short block away.

One Load 3, I think it was, I came off the curb a little too hard and bent the metal wheel supports (it’s a cheap and old wheelbarrow) such that the wheel now rubbed against the underbelly of the tub section. I was able to brut-force them straight enough so that I could limp that load home.

So, had to repair the wheelbarrow. Two bolts that hold the handle arms to the tub section, which I had replaced a few years back with a couple far too long bolts I had lying around, had worked themselves very loose then rusted into their new loose positions. This made the load likely to shift from side to side as you rolled – no biggie with a load of dirt, dangerous and tiring with a load of bricks. But the bolts were carriage bolts, so there was no easy way to grip the head from the top. After a applying a bit of WD-40, tried to grip the excess bolt with plyers while using a crescent wrench to tighten them up. The first nut moved a little before the plyers had shredded the threads on the bolt and would no longer prevent it from turning; the second budged not a whit. Jury-rigged the ugliest solution: took some heavy wire, bent it unto a U shape, then crimped it onto the bolts between the nut and the tub – one on the side I’d gotten a little tighter, and two one the side I’d been unable to move.

And – it kinda works. Reality often fails to suitably rebuke me for my stupid ideas, thereby encouraging me to keep coming up with more of them. It’s going to get me killed someday…

Next, for the bent arms: Cut a scrap of walnut into two maybe 8″ pieces, placed them behind the bent arms, clamped them until the arms were more or less straight and in contack with the wood, then drilled some wholes and put in some tiny screws to hold it all together.

And – that worked, too. Now have a much more stiff structure and a couple inches of clearance between the tub and wheel. See what I mean? If these slapdash ideas keep working, I’m going to keep doing them.

Next step: replace the 16+ year old cheap and falling apart wheelbarrow. Once some stupid repair idea fails to work, that is.

Picturesque old wheelbarrow, with lots of freshly stacked bricks in the background. Those with sharp eyes can perhaps spot the much too long bolts where the handles first encounter the tub, and even the thick wire crimped on them; the gratifyingly straight struts connecting the wheel to the tub. Yes, I took a picture of my wheelbarrow. At night. Just to throw up on the blog. Yep. Really did that.

F. Got the front yard orchard cleaned up, pruned, fertilized, mulched, copper-sprayed, and watered, not in that order. So, that’s done for now. Next, finish the brickwork, paint the house, get it fumigated for termites, replace the dying major appliances, put in this year’s vegetable garden, marry off a son on the East Coast in May, and goodness knows what else. And teach a couple history classes. Shaping up to be a busy Year 63 for me. And write two novels, put together two books of short stories, and write a book on science – in my spare time.

Yes, I am freaking INSANE.

  1. Most positive comments: One Day. Heck, even Mike Flynn liked it enough to comment – I’m still blushing.

Writing Update, etc.

A. Now am working on the “What Science IS” chapter for the Understanding Science book. The first three preliminary chapters are or soon will be posted here for your review, dear readers. Probably combine them into one chapter, edit them down a little to remove repetition.

The What Science IS chapter is challenging. What I want is to engage my laymen target audience, and give them an understanding of science that will allow them filter out the high-level nonsense. I doubt the utility of going the Popper route of falsifiable propositions for my purposes – you gotta think too hard, and have more philosophy than your average bloke to really get your head around the basic concepts – at least, I think you do. If I start right in laying on the philosophy, years of government training – schooling – will kick in and their minds will perform an auto-shutdown. I think. (Math triggers the same routines in the properly schooled.)

Along a similar vein, I wrote a little ‘three kinds of knowledge’ section, then set it aside – as basic and, indeed, essential as this distinction is, I fear I will loose my imagined target audience one sentence in. Can I frame up a discussion of necessary truth, conditional truth, and art (techne) that doesn’t trigger a flight response? The necessary truth part I’d limit to math and logic – no need to go any deeper for my purposes. The important part is the recognition of CONDITIONS on all scientific knowledge, and, more subtle, how those conditions (mostly) need to be expressed in order for science to have any weight.

Then comes the point that art/techne/technology is really, really good and, for most of us, much more true – more BELIEVABLE – than science claims. Our computers and cell phones WORK – that’s their primary characteristic of interest. That working is far more convincing and interesting, for most of us, than any scientific syllogisms based on conditional observations of more abstract, less immediate phenomena.

I can say that observation of the orbit of Mercury or of starlight bending around the sun during an eclipse proves relativity – OR I can say: without relativistic adjustments, the GPS in your phone wouldn’t be near as accurate. Which is more convincing? I could say: some thermodynamic laws govern how much a given gas will cool down when it expands, and show some math – or I can point out that refrigerators work. Which is more convincing?

I gather from a lifetime of interactions with people that few wondered, as children, how that refrigerator worked, or how those huge generators in dams worked. The fridge was totally baffling to me; I figured dynamos must make sparks or something. That all these man-made things work is probably as much a driver of my curiosity as the wonders of nature. But is that pertinent here?

So, in the current draft, I went with: Science is the study of the metrical properties of physical bodies – a sound, if subtly complex, definition that seemed better to address my goals. What this definition does is put the focus on the observation of physical things, specifically, things that can be measured. Not our opinions or feelings about what we observe, not things such as other people’s feelings, which can be (maybe) observed but not measured.

I planned to use this approach to hammer home the (obvious?) point that science simply cannot dictate policy. There is no “this is what we came up with when we measured some properties of physical objects, therefore you must do X.” There are a whole lot of steps being left out in such an assertion, chief of which is a clear statement of the value judgements and moral assumptions that always underlie claims we must do something. The laws of physics say we must fall if we jump off that cliff, but they don’t and can’t say if we should or should not jump off that cliff. Falling once you jump is science and outside any subsequent act of your will; deciding to jump is not.

The subtilty lies in cases where sciences have developed by studying the metrical properties of physical objects without overtly measuring those properties. Geology is an example suggested by a reader. Early theories were developed without too much explicit measurement. Example: for plate tectonics to be true, the Atlantic Ocean must be expanding. And so it is – at exactly some number of millimeters per year, within some plus or minus. Once that measurement has been obtained, we now can back into how old the Atlantic Ocean is, within limits. Similarly, biology started by simply observing the difference between various plants and animals and describing the different characteristics, but soon moved on to measuring those characteristics, such that we know African and Indian elephants differ in size: height, weight, ears, tusks, etc.

Even the historical sciences are looking at measurable properties, even if they don’t start of measuring them, they eventually do.

The above is the sort of thing I might throw in an appendix or end note.

Anyway, I need a bit of a break from this science stuff, so:

B. Turned to the Novels in Process folder. On each of the three items in the stack, I need more planning done. An honest (as honest as I can be) assessment: one I could conceivably finish in a few months – it just needs some outlining to get it from where it is at to where it needs to go, so I don’t meander too much getting there; the other two are going to need a daunting amount of planning and research. On the one that’s been percolating for a couple decades now, I work as I try to fall asleep at night – I try to wrestle it into a series, chop it into 3-4 pieces, deal with the already large cast of characters, and try to make the ‘science’ less ridiculous. Mostly, it’s a matter of organizing the various climaxes, or inventing some, to get it into manageable stories. I add to my notes when I think of it.

So, I thought: I need another short novel to put into the hopper from the ‘ideas’ pile, one that I can get done in less time with less anxiety. (hahaha.) So – picked a flash fiction (1400 word) story that reads like the first chapter in a “world’s going to hell, unlikely heroes rise to the occasion” adventure. Our Heroes hunker down from an evil government takeover, jury-rig some awesome tech, outwit the government lackies, and overcome impossible odds, culminating in a glorious showdown – that sets up a sequel.

My model, from a structure POV, is just good ol’ Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel, which is a pretty solid Dent style story I’ve always loved and admired: every chapter, Our Heroes are put into deadly danger, each worse than the last, with the stakes getting higher with each turn of the page, until THE ENTIRE PLANET is threatened!

I’ve long wanted to try my had at something like that. Once, many years ago, I wrote a fairly long outline (long hand, in a notebook) for a crazy story along these lines, with bad guys pretending to fund deep-sea research out of the goodness of their hearts, using Our Gullible Hero to find some valuable mineral deposits around some deep sea vents, then abandoning the submersible with him and the girl he’s long had a crush on at the bottom of the ocean, once they got what they wanted. A wacky escape, with proper heroics and comeuppances ensued. Boy gets girl. It was stoopid fun – at least, writing the outline was. Wonder what happened to that? I think we started having kid right around that time, so I set it aside…

Anyway, along those lines. So now I’m reading a Homeland Security document on shopping mall vulnerabilities. Because of course I am. For essential background! I swear!

C. The front yard orchard & garden needs pre-spring prep: cleanup, fertilize, copper spray, lay down some more mulch, repair/improve some raised beds. Get a few more flowering plants for the boarders. Last year, lost all my front yard viny vegetables to an insane aphid/white fly infestation followed by that nasty mold that seems to love squash. So, no front yard squash, cucumbers, etc. this year, as that stuff tends to linger in the soil for years.

Back yard needs work. Lawn needs aerating and reseeding; garden needs weeding/prep; need a few flowers for some planters. The usual.

D. Meanwhile, deferred maintenance keeps piling up: the sun beats on the house’s south-facing walls, which are now peeling and cracking. I got paint, but now I need to clear away obstructions, get some scaffolding (2-story), do a ton of prep, and then get on it while I still can. Sure, you can hire a painter, but I figure this is the follow-up to the Great Brick Insanity: something I can do for a few hours at a time, finish a wall, clear and prep the next, so that, over a summer, with my son’s help, I can get it done. A lot less hands and knees work than bricks. (Still have some brickwork to finish too, but I’m not thinking about that now. I. Am. Not.)

I’m insane.

E. I need to write two history test, one each for the 8th and 9th graders, for tomorrow. What I’m I doing writing here? Later!

Home Improvement Project: Music Desk

Youngest son, who plays the fiddle, sings, and enjoys goofing around on the guitar, drums, and whatever else is lying about, got a little Akai mpk keyboard for his birthday a while back. He wanted to create And record music.

So do I.

Way back when hair bands ruled the earth, I was in some bands, and I, too, wanted to record some music. It was a little more complicated and expensive back then. Garage Band on your phone wasn’t a thing. So I have some seriously outdated experience, and, perhaps more important, some somewhat outdated equipment.

I had converted part of the garage into a recording studio 20+ years ago. Long story.

Anyway, space being an issue, cleared out a corner by my piano to set ups more modern, and much cheaper, DAW work area for the Caboose and me. Threw together a desk to maximize the available space. Like this:

The KRK V-8s I knew where they were, so I grabbed them (they’re sweet. Followed the advice I’d read somewhere: only spend real money on mikes, monitors, and instruments, because they don’t go obsolete every year. After the long obsolete Mac tower, the only real investment I made). Need to track down my little Mackie board and a bunch of cables and mics, download some software, hook it up, and we should be good to go.

The desk itself is oak veneer 1 1/4” particle board pieces I’d rescued from some old cubicles getting thrown out many years ago.

Anyway, could be fun. Let’s see if it gets used.

Home “Improvement” Micro-update

Remember my recent follies with garden hose repair? Which resulted in this?

Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson are appalled….

…which failed within seconds of trying it? Good times.

So I did eventually run down to Ace and pick up hose repair items. There was another hose to repair that I didn’t show the first time around, where I assessed the problem, got the right size/wrong direction (needed the female, got the male), BUT! after that small diversion & an exchange, patched it up in 2 minutes, back in use, no problem since. So, I can, in fact, do this, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

No, really.

So: the abomination up above had no such easy solution. Ace didn’t carry the exact kit I needed – this funky spiral hose is smaller than the standard sizes, so I had to get one just a *tiny* bit too large. This meant I couldn’t get the hose to slide cleanly on, so had to try a number of things…

Eventually, maybe 3rd? fourth? try, I used a lighter to heat up the hose, softening and expanding it, and was thus able to wrestle it onto the little nub, and, well:

There you go. What I should have done the first time. Except for that whole “is this cheap old hose even worth repairing?” question, with the implied “it will only break somewhere else if I fix it here” niggling concern….

It seems like it was only yesterday – because it was only yesterday – that I got the initial problem solved satisfactorily, after giving the tangled hose a pull and popping the hose off the repair shown above. Heated it more, wrestled it farther on, clamped it down good, looked/worked good.

Watering the plant on and around the patio this morning, the hose started leaking audibly from the connection to the faucet. In keeping with this comedy of errors, the picture I took of the problem also failed somehow – a first for this phone camera.

Sooooo – I’d need probably a little tiny pipe clamp to fix this. Or I could, you know, get another hose.

But that would be too easy….

Home ‘Improvement’ Update: Hosed

When we last checked in, like, yesterday, I had tried to MacGyver (for values of ‘MacGyver’ where he’s suffered debilitating brain aneurysms) a leaky hose. For reasons lost to the mists of History – yes, capital ‘H’ – (and shall remain so enmisted). I deployed a plastic sleeve, about a gallon of Shoe Goo, a few feet of nylon cord, thus:

After allowing the Shoe Goo to cure overnight, I applied some electrical tapea. A LOT of electrical tape:

I’m sure you all are dying to hear how it worked.

Time to failure: about 10 seconds. Slow drip. Then, over the next few minutes as I watered the patio plants, we reached this appalling state:

That would be a fail. A big fat dramatic fail mocking my insane yet evidently pathetic repair efforts. Geysers and puddles level fail. When I start getting cocky, y’all can remind me of this.

It isn’t stupid if it works. This is stupid. I sense a trip to Ace in my immediate future.

Rube Goldberg & Home ‘Improvement’

And now for something completely different….

From my farm boy entrepreneur father, I inherited the can-do attitude of simply thinking an awful lot of problems can be solved if you just go at it. In general, this has served me well. For example, I am generally willing to pay people to work on our cars or plumbing – I can do, sure, but lacking the expertise (and all those nice tools!) it’s better to have the pros do it. *How* I came to realize this involves, not some abstract considerations, but rather, flooding a bathroom and lying on my back outside on the asphalt in the dead of winter under a VW bug pulling on an accelerator cable. Among other equally, um, memorable, experiences. So, unless it’s pretty straight-forward, I’ll call the plumber or electrician (don’t ask) and take my cars in for service.

Plus I’m cheap. I don’t like throwing broken things out, and do like jury-rigging solutions out of stuff lying around. This leads to thing like the compost box that took several *days* to build out of an old oak futon frame, leftover wainscoting boards, and wire mesh scraps, among other things. On the plus side, works OK and it’s still there 3 years later; on the down side, I’m never getting that time back and could have made something at least as functional out of a couple sheets of plywood and some 2 x 4s in about 2 hours – which I will need to do in the near future anyway, as the needlessly complicated present one is falling predictably apart. .

So, got up early today, and was watering plants on the patio. The hose for the patio is one of those spiral stretchy ones that’s quite a few years old. A while back, it sprung a leak near the middle.

Do I say: old cheap hose, we’ve got our money’s worth, toss it, as the first leak is generally a sign of more leaks to come? Or: I’ll see if they have the appropriate hose patch kit at Ace?

OR: do I grab some electrical tape and have at it?

So the tape held for a short while, then started leaking, then spraying. Next, I tried slathering on some Shoe Goo and covering with duct tape. That was – not good. So, this morning, I decide to give it one more go. Because I’m kinda stupid that way.

I’m thinking the Shoe Goo wasn’t a bad idea, I just needed more and a longer cure time. And that the rapid failure of the duct tape effort might have something to do with goopy, lumpy terrain due to the previous attempts…

So, I cut out the bad section entirely, find a plastic sleeve thing that fits over the hose, slather on the Shoe Goo in a manner intended to cause the sleeve to spread it out when I shove it over the ends. And I stick it together…

Then I start worrying that there’s not enough strength along the length of the hose, that this patch will pull out when I drag the hose around. Soooo – looking around for something handy, I spy some nylon cord. Hmmm. Cut a few lengths longer than the patch job, and Shoe Goo them on. That doesn’t look right…

So I wrap the length of the repair in the cord, and Shoe Goo *that* on. Then decide that, after it dries, I’ll wrap the whole thing in electical tsape, extending a good 6″ on either side of the repair…

Did I mention that, while fiddling around with all this, I pulled the hose out of the sleeve at least 3 times, and, ramming back in means I’m also putting Shoe Goo on the *inside* of the hose, where it will not help and may very well clog the hose.

So, instead of throwing an old hose away, instead of looking for a repair kit next time I’m at Ace, I wasted spent a half hour doing this:

I wish I were confident that this is the most ridiculous repair job I’ve ever attempted, but I can’t actually be sure. Which is a little scary…

And then I’m going to waste a hundred feet of electrical tape to cover this monstrosity up. Any bets on how fast it springs a leak somewhere else, in the unlikely event this doesn’t just fail out of the chute or that I ended up clogging it up with Shoe Goo, or both?

Sheesh.