Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Solar Panel Installation – Pt. 2

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I've just done my day's writing, and tomorrow's and the next day's, as well...

It's all done, except for the final inspections—first by the town inspector, and then by Nstar. After that, we throw the big red switch, and electricity starts flowing from the rooftop!

Update Oct. 3 -- The inspection is done, and now we're just waiting for Nstar to sign off on the paperwork. I'm told that can take anywhere from ten minutes to two months, but averages a week or two.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Audiobooks!

Audible.com works fast. My two short story collections are now on sale as audiobooks! I've only listened to the samples so far, but I like the sound of both of the narrators. If you enjoy audiobooks for your commute or your dog walks or whatever, why not give them a try? (You could also ask your library to consider ordering them.)

On my own dog walks, I'm currently listening to War and Remembrance, by Herman Wouk. Gets a little long in places, but it's an engrossing listen, continuing the story begun in The Winds of War.

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Solar Panel Installation – Pt. 1

For the past three days, a crew of two men from Solar Flair Energy has been working on our house, preparing the installation of rooftop solar panels. So far, they've got the framework up on the roof, and part of the wiring in the attic. They should finish off the job by Monday, after which the town inspector and the Nstar inspector have to sign off on the installation. And then, we go live with power from the sun!

Here's what we've got so far.

What makes this feasible is a combination of tax credits and a mind-twisting system of utility rebates (called SRECs) for renewal energy. It's a substantial upfront investment from us, with a projected payback period of 7-10 years, after which it should start earning us money as we feed electricity into the grid (whatever we generate beyond our own needs). It should lower our energy bills, while reducing our carbon footprint, dependence on fracking and foreign oil, contribution to nuclear waste, and so on.

It's all part of a program called Solarize Arlington, in which residents and business owners in town joined together with one provider to gain quantity discounts on the solar panels and other equipment. Other towns in Massachusetts are following suit. Our installer told me today that they've got jobs ahead of them as far as the eye can see.

Stay tuned!

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Monday, September 16, 2013

I Wish I Were a Painter!

Home now from the writing retreat, but I thought I'd leave a last few images from Cape Cod. After leaving my motel, I went further out on the Cape to the National Seashore  and biked part of the Rail Trail out there. At one stop, I sat on the beach for a little while, watching the surfers.

I suddenly wanted a painting of this scene, but different. I wanted a night sky, and the ocean sloping out to the horizon and merging seamlessly into a liquid ocean of stars, with perhaps the spark of a distant starship or two streaking out toward the Galactic center. That thin white hump on the righthand side of the horizon would be undersea cities, perhaps the jumping-off point for intelligent sea beings setting out for the stars. I wish I could paint it myself, but that's not my skill, alas. Just a dream...

Here are a few more parting images from the Cape:

Tomorrow, the crew comes to start installing solar electric panels on our roof!

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fusion Power from Skunk Works?

Ever since the 1950s, the promise of unlimited power from controlled nuclear fusion has been just around the corner—or, to be more precise, about fifty years in the future. It's still fifty years in the future, according to most experts.

Well, the people at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works (creators of the famed SR-71 Blackbird spy plane), say they're going to do it a lot faster. Here's a talk by Charles Chase, of the Skunk Works. You can skip the first half of it, if you know more or less what fusion research is all about.

A lot was left unsaid, obviously, such as how close they have come to break-even—i.e., more energy coming out of the system from fusion reactions than is being put in. I'm skeptical of the claim, myself, but I would love to be proven wrong. For one thing, the application to space travel could be fantastic.

I guess we'll wait and see. Usually the Skunk Works doesn't advertise what they're up to. Why is this different?

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sea Stories

Not too far from where I took the pictures of the train, I got a photo op on the seaward side. This is where the Cape Cod Canal lets out into Massachusetts Bay. The tidal current was running strong. Boats traveling north were moving appreciably faster than those inbound into the current.

I found myself wanting to attach stories to the boats I was seeing. For example, this red-edged Coast Guard patrol boat kept station near this white boat for a few minutes, then pulled closer, and finally turned and headed out to sea. Was its crew rendering assistance, or writing a traffic ticket?

What is this big red barge carrying, I wonder? It's low in the water, heavily laden. What's in its hold: Fuel oil? Flat-screen TVs? Frozen fish sticks? WD-40? I didn't see any Flammable warning signs on it, so I'm guessing not oil. But I don't know. After it left the canal, it turned westward, probably heading toward Boston. Bringing the good people of Boston a great load of... what?

This tug was following close behind it, and when the barge was out of the canal, the tug did a 180 and headed back south. It must have been following to lend assistance if needed, in the strong currents. If I were to own a tugboat, this is the one I would want! But...the fuel bill!

And then came along the Canal Patrol boat, all steely and black. If I were to have a fast-moving, seaworthy roundabout, would I want this one or that red Coast Guard boat? Hard choice. They both look tough as nails. But when that USCG boat opened up its twin Honda (I think) outboards, it took off over the waves! I think I pick that one.

And finally, this one. How can anyone afford a boat like this? And why would you? It doesn't even any open deck space, to speak of. And what's the point of going out into the ocean if you're not going to have the sea wind in your hair? To this one, I say no. Sometimes you just have to draw the line.

And sometimes you've gotta just look at the sea and the coastline, and marvel at its God-given beauty.


Writing Retreat Report

This retreat has been one of the most productive ever. I'm getting good pages written every day, and more importantly, I had a conceptual breakthrough that showed me what I was doing wrong in several chapters as we approach the end. The realization meant I had to back up and go at those chapters differently, but that's how these things go sometimes. This change will affect how I write much of what is to follow. I feel so confident of this that I'm going to give you a sneak look at a crucial scene near the end of the book. Here it is. Don't tell anyone what happens, though. This is probably about 850 manuscript pages into the book.

I'm also getting outdoors and exercising—alternating between rollerblading and biking on some of the excellent bike trails around here. I rode for the first time on the lovely Cape Cod Rail Trail, which winds through the central part of the Cape. It was on this ride that I saw my dream setting:

House by a lake (okay, a pond), with private floatplane drawn up to the shore. Does a dream house get any better than that?

Several times now, I've taken to the Cape Cod Canal bike trail, which is about the most scenic and relaxing afternoon/evening outing ever. It's also an outlook of choice for the Cape Cod Central Railroad's excursion trains. Here's where they stop to turn the trains around for their return to Hyannis. And by that, I mean that they uncouple the engine from the front and take it around and attach it to the rear, making it the new front.

Here they are, hitching it up.

And away they go. I don't know what that E-unit locomotive is doing on the back end. It looks like it's acting as a booster. But I wouldn't have thought the train long enough to need it. Anyway, it's a nice-looking engine, grumbling farewell as it moves off.

I didn't think until too late that I could have taken a nice movie of its departure. Oh well, maybe next time.

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Space Travel for Animals?

Being on retreat doesn't mean I don't still get interesting links. First, we have a frog joining the space program, probably not voluntarily:

That's from The Atlantic, which has more details. This is the recent launch of the LADEE moon probe, on a Minotaur rocket, from Wallops Island, Virginia. Pity the poor creature. But it did have a fleeting moment of glory.

And second, we have some cows who did not seem to enjoy the test launch of a SpaceX Grasshopper rocket. Looks like they didn't stick around to watch the landing. But you should.

A rocket landing on a tail of fire is how God meant us to come back to Earth! All that's missing is tail fins on the rocket to complete this Golden Age SF vision of space travel.

The retreat is going very well, by the way. Making good progress on the book. 

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Off to Do Some Writing

By the time this posts, Lord willing, I'll be on Cape Cod beginning another writing retreat. Among the things I like about the Cape, besides the chance to leave daily cares behind and focus on my book, are the great seafood, local micro-brews, and wonderful bike paths for exercise, fresh air, and positive reinforcement for making progress, whether it's getting words on the page or thinking through some stubborn plot or character problem. This time I'm taking rollerblades and my recumbent bike. I hope to have good things to report, a few days down the line.

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Saturday, September 07, 2013

New Ebooks You Should Check Out — Chris Howard

Continuing my series on new books by author friends, I want to highlight Salvage, by Chris Howard. Chris was an early participant in the Ultimate Science Fiction Writing Workshop that I've run with Craig Gardner. Chris immediately stood out as a student; the man is basically a geyser of creativity and imagination. Some students need coaching in bringing out their muses. With Chris, it was always more a matter of helping him direct the fountain. He's a highly talented visual artist as well as a writer, and he always illustrates his own work. (He's also a prodigious blogger and app-builder. He also works full time at a job doing things with software that I don't understand. But let's leave all that aside for now.)

Salvage, from Masque Books, continues the world introduced in Chris's Seaborn series, set around and in the ocean. He describes it as a techno-thriller/fantasy. You can read all about it here on his book's website.

So many books! So little time! Better get reading!

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Speaking of Biking . . .

I don't know if I mentioned this earlier, but I've added bicycling to my own exercise routine. I still love rollerblading, but it's so weather dependent (you want the path to be really dry and relatively clear of twigs and leaves, etc.) that I was losing too much outdoor exercise time to weather. Yes, I walk Captain Jack every day, but that's not the same thing.

Regular bikes hurt my back, but last winter I took advantage of a sale to buy a recumbent bike. I love it! There was a definite learning curve in riding it: the balance and steering feel very different from a regular bike, but after a while I got the hang of it, and now I get out on it at least as often as I do on skates. Here's what it looks like:

It's low slung, and I do feel a little vulnerable riding on the street with it. But practically all the riding I do is on the bike path that starts two blocks from our house, and goes for eleven miles, so mostly I'm off the street, anyway.

If you hear a ding behind you, that could be me! Passing on your left!


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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Frederik Pohl, 1919-2013

We've lost another giant—maybe the last of his generation of Golden Age science fiction. Frederik Pohl, along with Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov, occupied a central position in my formative years as a lover of science fiction. More than any of the others, he kept growing in maturity and ambition as a writer—showing a burst of enormous creativity in his late 50s, with two of his finest books, Man Plus (1976) and Gateway (1977). I consider Gateway one of the top five books in all of science fiction, and I'm not sure what the other four would be.

I first encountered his work, I believe, in The Space Merchants, which he coauthored in 1953 with C.M. Kornbluth. (I didn't read it in 1953; I was only four years old at the time. I started reading him in my teens.) I still have many old paperbacks of his earlier work on my shelf. Just scanning a list of his titles evokes all kinds of feelings of golden-age sense of wonder: Search the Sky, Gladiator-At-Law, Drunkard's Walk (which I was especially fond of as a teenager because of the tastefully drawn naked woman on the cover), Starchild, Rogue Star, Turn Left at Thursday, Starburst, The Siege of Eternity, The Case Against Tomorrow....

And yes, the title of my own work in progress, The Reefs of Time, is a knowing echo of his The Reefs of Space.

Pohl did just about everything there was to do in the SF world. He was an editor (Galaxy magazine), an agent, a solo writer, a collaborative writer, a futurist, a columnist and blogger, a president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and a SFWA Grandmaster. He was also a perfect gentleman, and a fascinating speaker. I only met him once or twice, but he treated me, a fresh upstart, with graciousness and warmth.

You can read more about his life and work at the New York Times and the Guardian.

I hope he's enjoying a perfect view of the stars from where he is right now, perhaps sitting around a table with some of the other departed greats, in the observation lounge of a heavenly starship. Godspeed, Frederik Pohl, and thank you for all of the visions.

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Monday, September 02, 2013

New Ebooks You Should Check Out — Victoria Merriman

Continuing my recent series...

My friend Victoria Merriman is an avid bicyclist. So much so that when her professional and romantic lives simultaneously imploded, a few years ago, she decided to bike across the United States, to get it out of her system -and, as they say, see the U.S.A. She blogged about it, and later decided to transform her blog recollections into a memoir. That memoir is now published, in ebook in the Kindle store, and in print in the Createspace store. It's called Finding Spoons: A Love Story on Two Wheels.

If you visit her website, you can read a sample chapter, and also about how through September, $5 from every sale is going to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

You can also get a little more back story on the blog of another friend, Erica Charis.

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Roof (Part 1) Is Done!

The roofers came as promised on Friday. The whole job, including scraping off three ancient layers of asphalt shingles, took just seven hours, maybe a little less. Here are some pictures I took as they worked.

There was a certain amount of noise inside the house while this was going on. 

There isn't enough money in a politician's slush fund to get me up on a roof like that.

This high-wire act involved installing a ridge vent.

And there it is, all done! Well, except for my spending what seemed like forever vacuuming out the attic, and walking the grounds looking for stray nails. The workers have these cool, rolling magnets that get most of the nails. Nevertheless, we found probably a dozen more that they missed. The magnets did find the great little pocket flashlight that I lost in the grass a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, by the time I thought to ask the crew boss to be on the lookout for it, it was already deep in the dumpster.

So one side of the house is done. Next step, putting up the solar panels, sometime in the next few weeks. And after that, we turn our attention to the far side of the house.

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