Friday, December 29, 2006

This Year's Travel

For the past few years I've been traveling a significant part of the year. I like to say I'm gone half the year, but 2006 was more like a third. I like to keep records, but it's hard. On a given day I can go several hundred miles and pass through multiple states. I've settled on recording the location where I spend the night, and be content with that. I try to record each night's location on a calendar and then count up the days at the end of the year.
Mary Ann's travel is not quite the same as mine. Occasionally I go on a research trip or to a convention, and sometimes she has a photography event that I can't make. But for the most part, we're together.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Wake

It was shaping up to be a nice family Christmas. Debra was hosting -- her first Christmas as a married lady. Thomas was home from Dallas, and took Mary Ann and I out for a good steak dinner.

But when we came home, Fluffy the dog was nowhere to be found. It was a cold and rainy night, so I pulled out the big black mace of a flashlight and started walking about, checking under the cars and in the garage -- his favorite places to wait out the rain. No luck. Mary Ann was getting seriously worried, but I was less so. Fluffy was well trained to stay on the property and in general I trust animals to behave in their own best interest. I just assumed he'd found a nice warm place to hide and didn't feel like getting out. He was old and moving slow these days.

But down by the pond, I saw him, lying in the grass, soaked in the rain watching me. I told him to get up and come up to the house, and after a moment, he tried. He moved slowly and could barely stand. Now I was worried. We got him to the house and Debra arrived, ready to help. They cleaned and dried him, and although he was warm, he still could barely move. Mary Ann called our best Animal Expert, Bettye Baldwin, and found a pointer to an Animal Emergence Center in Round Rock. It was nearly midnight on Christmas Eve, but we carried him out to the car and headed off.

Whether human or animal, waiting is a big part of any emergency center visit, but by one A.M. Fluffy had been examined. By two, all the tests were in. The best guess diagnosis was liver cancer, and the Vet didn't expect him to live another three days. It was a really hard call, but Fluffy had reached the point that when fed, it he accidentally nosed the bowl a few inches away, he couldn't move himself closer to reach it.

It came to me that he had gone down to that place by the pond to die. He'd gotten a warm bath and all cleaned up, and loved on by his people, but it hadn't changed the inevitable. I sent the rest of the family home and attended his quiet peaceful death there in the examining room.

There is a corner of the property where almost all of our dogs are buried, and I brought him home, wrapped in his shroud.

It was nearly three o'clock on Christmas morning when I got home, and every one was still there in the living room, talking about Fluffy, the other dogs we've lost, and the two puppies at Debra's house. I pulled up a chair and listened and talked. It was a wake. Fluffy's wake. Good memories, laughter, and a few wet eyes.

I finally sent Debra and Jonathan home while they were still awake enough to drive, with no one planning to get up early.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Health, or the Lack of It

Nothing makes you appreciate your meds more than suffering without them. I am diabetic (II) and have had allergies since I was a child. As a result, I have a sizable tub of pill bottles. Luckily, I can fit my daily dosages into the little day by day case. On trips, I sort out two or three weeks worth at a time, and then I don't have to deal with the tub as often.

Unfortunately, a combination of the wrong credit card number and a bad delivery left me without my allergy medicine for a few weeks. At first, nothing bad happened, so my fear of instantly falling down in a coughing fit was eased. I had been on Allegra for three or four years now, and have been very pleased. It was a wonderful change.

As a child, I had hay fever like clockwork. Anything that stirred up dust and mowing the grass were certain to start the drips. When I moved to Austin, there was a brief period when I thought leaving the dusty Texas panhandle had cured by allergies, but that was not the case. Soon enough, I started reacting to all the pollens in this area. It seemed as if I were doomed to a life of regular sneezing fits and bulk purchases of tissue boxes. What's worse is that once or twice a year, it got a lot worse and developed into an infection.

Then, I discovered Allegra and it all went away. Oh, a particularly bad exposure to dust or mold pollen might have me sneezing, but my life-long pattern of allergies had been contained. The only worry now was how to keep a reserve of the pills a ready, even when we were traveling for months at a time.

And that fear finally became reality. The credit card charge failed, and since I was on the road, the company's letter telling me the shipment had been delayed didn't reach me. By the time I realized what had happened, I was about a month without the pills and starting to feel sensitized to the pollens again. I cleared up the charges, but then we were out of town again when the shipment should have arrived, and either it was misplaced or it was lost in the mail.

And it was too late. I was down with the allergies just like in the old days. Tissue piles like snow drifts started building up around me. By brain turned fuzzy and I knew what was coming next. The drips went to my lungs and I feared an infection was just waiting around the corner. I got a fresh prescription from my doctor, and he handed me a few Zyrtec samples to hold me until the Allergra shows up.

So, I am improving. The drips have stopped, but I have yet to clear out my lungs and I'm working very much under-powered. But I have re-affirmed my appreciation of the new generation of anti-histimines and resolved to be more vigilant in keeping my supplies stocked.

It's an age thing, isn't it? I can remember back in my twenties when I wouldn't even take an aspirin tablet for a headache. Now I just want to stay as healthy as I can. I don't have time to waste on sickness I can avoid. I've got stories to write.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Traveling the Road, Writing Science Fiction

I ran across the Six Word Memoir Contest on the Smith Magazine blog. It's an interesting exercise. Go visit and look at what other people have posted.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Yellowstone 1994

While working in my office, I heard a strange chime. It was my Newton, off in the corner, gathering dust, but still gamely trying to remind me to update a configuration file. That particular file hadn't been in use in ten years, but the Newton didn't know that. I opened it up and rummaged through the notes and ran across a trip log from a family vacation trip to Yellowstone in 1994. I checked and it was one I hadn't already added to these archives, so I'm adding it now. The background -- Debra was 10. She's now married and living in Georgetown. Thomas stayed home, one of the first family vacations he opted out of, spending most of his time with friends.

So, straight out of the Newton with just a little formatting and no editing, a trip to Yellowstone:


Mon 7/25
Trip Log
* Sunday we headed north across new Mexico and spent the night in Pueblo Colorado
* Monday we traveled up through Colorado and Wyoming to spend the night at Riverton Wyoming
* Tetons Emergency Number
307 739 3300
* Tuesday Set up camp at the Gros Ventre campground at Tetons lunched in Jackson rode the tram at Teton Village special presentation on wolves observed a moose from the tram and elk from the car

Wed 7/27
Trip Log
* Hiked up Cascade Canyon
rode the Jenny Lake ferry coming and going saw pika squirrels chipmonks a mouse and a mule deer. Debra spotted a Marmot. Afterward we ate at Moose and then drove through the park. There was a forest fire in the northern part of the park. We saw an elk crossing the road, and then later, we saw a herd of elk, many with impressive antlers, in the late twilight off in a field beside the road.

Thu 7/28
Trip Log
* Took a float trip on the Snake River. Saw Merganzer ducks, ospreys bald eagles, bank swallows, white pelicans, Swansons hawk, Canadian geese, ravens, and after we came ashore a unita ground squirrel. After lunch, we took Debra to Colter Bay so she could play in the water while Mary Ann took a nap. I spent the time watching cowbirds scour the picnic area. We spent the rest of the day driving various park roads looking for animals. We saw many elk.

Fri 7/29
Trip Log
* Broke camp at the break of dawn and raced across Yellowstone, enduring heavy traffic and buffalo-jams to get to the Canyon Village camp site. Debra was anxious to see a geyser so we headed off to Old Faithful to see all the geysers. We saw eruptions of Old Faithful, Grand, Daisy, Riverside, Grotto, Castle and others. It took all day, and included a tour led by ranger Anne Deutch from New York, who was a mine of information about geysers and the 1988 forest fire.

Fri 7/29
Old Faithful 2:50
Castle 7:00
Grand 3:00
Daisy 2:30 5:50 4:10
Riverside 5:40
Great Fountain 10:00

Sat 7/30
Trip Log
* We ate breakfast in Hayden valley watching the buffalo all around us. At one point, we had to close everything up and get back in the car when one of the buffalo decided to come towards us. We then went back to Canyon village where we hit an ATM machine and bought a cane to help out with my sore ankle and ate lunch at their snack bar. For the afternoon we took a look at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and then headed up to Mt. Washburn. After that, we continued on towards the Northeast entrance of the park. At on place along the road, we could spot large elk herds across the valley. The drive up through Lewis valley gave us lots of fisherman sightings but little else in the way of animals with the exception of some antelope. We stopped at the old inactive Soda Bluff spring and then headed back with our eyes open for bear. We were rewarded just a couple of miles east of the Yellowstone river bridge. There was already the beginning of a traffic jam as everyone was trying to get pictures of a black bear. He was brown with a black muzzle and showed signs of a large scar on his left side just in front of his hind leg. When we returned to camp after a quick look at Tower Falls and some more elk beside the road, we attended a park ranger presentation on the geology of Yellowstone. It was almost rained out and we discovered some wet bedding in our tent when we settled down for the night.

Sun 7/31
Stage coach ride
original method of touring yellowstone park.
1883-1917 cars
coaches sold to farmers most burned and metal contributed to war effort. horses 3000 shipped across the atlantic to pull wagons for british army during ww1

Sun 7/31
Trip Log
* We hit the stores for groceries then headed north again, encountering a moose-jam on the road as everyone attempted to get pictures of a bull and a calf eating fireweed in one of the burned regions. After breakfast in a pull-out in a burn area we took the little stage-coach ride at Tower junction. We then toured the Mammoth Hot Springs area and then moved on towards Norris Geyser Basin and walked their trails. Returning back to camp, Mary Ann and Debra attended a ranger presentation on bison while I located a replacement fuse for the cigarette-lighter/horn/cruise-control which had popped when a penny had fallen into the lighter hole.

Mon 8/1
Trip Log
* After breakfast at Hayden Valley, we headed to West Yellowstone to view the new Imax movie about Yellowstone and stayed for lunch and a quick look at the Grizzley Discover Center. Returning towards Madison, we spotted and photographed Trumpeter Swans with young. Later we saw the Fountain Paint Pot features and were present for an eruption of the Great Fountain Geyser. We saw other thermals, ending back at Old Faithful. Debra collected her sack of trash for her Jr. Ranger project and then we headed back to camp, stopping at Fishing Bridge and Hayden Valley for a late sunset view of nature.

Mon 8/1
Old Faithful
Start 7:46 22
End 7:50 45
Length 4 minutes 23 seconds

Tue 8/2
Trip Log
* Breakfast at Hayden valley and then a stop at fishing bridge to look at all the huge fish you can't fish for, then a stop at the visitor center so that Debra could get her Jr. Ranger patch. Next stop was West Thumb Geyser Basin, which had a moose jam outside its entrance both when we arrived and when we left. We then went back to Old Faithful so that we could see Grand erupt again. We also saw Castle, Daisy, Riverside and, of course, Old Faithful. Coming back through West Thumb, the moose jam was still slowing traffic. Up the Lewis valley to see the Lewis falls and then back through West Thumb Junction where the rain finally ran off either the moose or the tourists, and up towards Canyon. Although we were slowed by five different buffalo jams, we made it to the Canyon area horse stables in time for Mary Ann and Debra to take a horse ride into the forest. Supper was sandwiches at Mt. Washburn where we watched unsuccessfully for bears.

Tue 8/2
of 1221
ca 1230 50
gr 1330
da 1251 1431
rs 1300

Wed 8/3
Trip Log
* This morning we broke camp early and packed up our sleeping bags and tent. Breakfast was on the north side of Mt. Washburn where we had been informed that a Grizzly and her two cubs were frequently seen, but no luck this morning. We did see a pair of sandhill cranes in that valley however. On the road out we spotted a ruffed grouse, a mink or ferret, an american coot and a lesser scaup. One last trip to the gift shops of Mammoth Hot Springs and we exit the park. Next stop is the Little Big Horn battlefield where Mary Ann spends a lot of time and I take a nap. Animals: cliff swallows, coyote, antelope, nighthawk. Sleep in Glendive Montana.

Thu 8/4
Trip Log
* Morning was spent at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Animals: prarie dogs, wild horses, buffalo, antelope, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk. Saw Mt. Rushmore and spent the night in Keystone SD.

Fri 8/5
Trip Log
* Started from Keystone SD, went to Wall Drug; saw white-tailed deer; passed over 2000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles heading towards Rapid City as we headed away. Travelled about 800 miles through South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri. Spent the night in Emma Missouri.

Sat 8/6
Trip Log
* Crossing Missouri, we toured the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Museum in the Jefferson Memorial. We spent the night somewhere between Springfield and Joplin.

Sun 8/7
Trip Log
* Drove home. Played tag with huge thunderstorm from mid Oklahoma down to Waco.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Quiet House

Mary Ann is off in San Antonio with some buddies for a few days, so the house is very quiet. The TV is churning away silently, transferring all the Tivo'ed TV shows and movies into my EyeTV box so that they can become portable -- but that's just something I have to check on once an hour or so. I did watch Ishtar based on Judy Crider's recommendation. That was an experience.

But for the most part,I'm organizing and filing. I have an IN BOX on my desk that I check on about once a year. Now is the time. I've entered all the receipts into Quickbooks and filed away all the medical forms. After I finish this blog, I'll file all the rejection letters I've received from editors and agents into the appropriate folders. Luckily, I can play a podcast or two while I work.

I'm at that place between stories. I've done about all I can on the last novel, and the next one is whirring away in my subconscious. I have a feeling it's going to be a time-travel something or other. I had the urge to pull out OmniOutliner and start work on the plot, but I successfully put it off for now. I'm hoping to catch up on chores until the noise in my head gets too loud to ignore and I have to put down more black marks on a white background.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Virus Checking on My Mac

Although I haven't used a virus checker on my Macs for some time, I do constantly monitor the computer security sites to see what's going on out there in the world. It really looks like there are some Bad Guys intent on messing up my playground. Usually, however, the warnings and reports come from people that don't share my agenda. If a company that sells virus checkers warns Mac users that things are going to be bad, I'm a little suspicious of their motives. Likewise, if an unknown 'security consultant' lays out a plan of attack on Macs, I tend to suspect that they're out there trying to drum up business, rather than trying to keep Macs secure.

However, given all that, there have been enough reports by reputable people that I thought it might be worthwhile to check out the state of the software for Macs. Unfortunately, it's pretty bleak. The big names have done a poor job on antivirus software for the Macs. Even when Apple tried giving away Virex some time back it was an abortive effort because the software was flawed and cost many people some data. The risk of AV software was much greater than the risk of the non-existent viruses.

But I kept hearing about Clamav. This is one of these open source programs and someone wrapped it up in a pretty gui for Mac users as ClamXav. I downloaded the free software (donationware) and gave it a spin.

It seems my mail from back in 2000 when I was at Motorola had a couple of un-caught viruses in them. Since I was one of the hold-out Mac users, they never activated on my machine, but I'm not in the research business, so I have no need for them. A little cleanup and they're gone.

ClamXav seems like a nice program. I'll give it a workout on all my Macs and at least have one tool on hand for that inevitable day when the Bad Guys get one step ahead of Apple's Security Patches.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Smoke!

Yesterday we stopped at Cooper's BBQ in Junction Texas on the way home. I really liked their sausage and brisket. So much so that I added very little sauce. We ate under a large spreading oak tree behind the building and resisted the begging eyes of the three cats that prowled around the picnic tables. We disposed of the trash and got back into the RV. I turned the key, and nothing happened.

What had been a pleasant drive on I-10 suddenly acquired stress. The batteries had to be fully charged. We'd only been stopped 30 minutes. I tried the auxiliary batteries, and still, no sound of the starter. Looking at the voltage seemed to show about 10 volts, no matter whether using the main battery or the aux. I tried the generator, and it started immediately! The batteries had to be okay. I was deeply puzzled. I moved the gear shift back and forth, in case an interlock had stuck. I tried everything I could think of.

Suddenly, there was a puff of smoke from beneath the dash. It pulled the key immediately and opened the window. I sat there, waiting, wondering if I'd have to deal with a fire, but after that one incident, there was no sign of more smoke. Other than the smell, that is.

Through all this, Mary Ann was sitting behind me at the table, offering suggestions and staying calm. When I was becalmed in an absence of ideas, she got on the internet, starting to search for auto-repair places in Junction. I checked under the slide-down front grill, but there was no sign of anything there. I was wondering what could have happened.

Taking the hypothesis that I'd done something to cause this, I tried to remember what all I'd done. The only thing I could think of was straightening the side shelf. Beside the driver's seat it a wooden shelf that holds the cup-holder and the controls for the steerable side rear view mirrors. It had come unscrewed by road vibration and I had straightened it up with a shove to the side and a couple of kicks. Could I have messed up the wiring somehow?

I reached under the dash and moved all the wires I could reach. It was impossible to see any of them. Meanwhile, Mary Ann was having trouble getting anyone to come help up. I could imagine having to call AAA and get the RV towed to Austin.

Mary Ann's thought was that it was the starter, but I had my doubts. For one thing, the smoke didn't match that theory.

Then, while Mary Ann was waiting to call a mechanic for the second time, I flipped the key again, and the starter turned over. I was so shocked, I released the key. Then I tried again, and the RV started right up. No smoke or anything.

We debated whether to drive to a repair place or to go on. I looked at the fuel gauge and decided to head on down the highway. It wasn't smoking, and if my wire wiggling had done the job, I was willing to let sleeping wiring lie.

We pulled out and made it home without any problem, although I didn't turn off the engine for any stops.

Now I've got to track down the source of that smoke without the ability to get up under there to see. I've tried taking photos with my camera, but I can't see anything charred. The engine starts just fine. I'm puzzled.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hubbard Museum

Mary Ann has been entering the annual photographic exhibit at the Hubbard Museum of the American West for several years now, and this year, she snagged the first place in the Landscape category, as well as a couple of honorable mentions. As we were leaving the Festival of the Cranes, we took the route through Ruidosa and stopped off so I could see her photos. She had been there for the awards ceremony and was anxious to show me how nice they looked on the walls.
At first, engine troubles had be leery of going into the mountains, but liberal doses of engine cleaner fuel additives have made some improvement and after we'd made it to the Valley of Fires without any serious missing on the engine, I decided to go for it. The RV really doesn't like mountain passes, but it did pretty well, and we were able to get there fine. I snapped a couple of photos of her in front of her pictures, but they really don't do her justice. She really enjoys the chance to show off her work, and to see them on display. Far too often, photos live on computer screens only, and it's an entirely different experience to see them large.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Watching the Cranes



We watched the sunset at Bosque del Apache NWR. For the soundtrack, go here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Watching the Watchers

Tonight we attended the Friends of the Bosque Dinner. The highlight for me was the photo exhibition. Mary Ann had entered the competition and won several places. The prizes were nice but what I enjoyed the most was the people.

After the banquet, they announced the winners and people filed in to the room where the photos were displayed. It was a little crowded, so after seeing where Mary Ann's photos were placed, I stepped back where I could see and hear the interaction. There were many nice photos, but Mary Ann's were clearly hits. Even the ones without ribbons were attracting people's admiring comments.

It was interesting to see what a wide range of ages liked her photos. Little kids (there were a few) would point out the bird with the feathers. An old lady just fell in love with the sleeping duck. Clusters of adults would talk about the reflection pictures. Even when everyone else left and the college students who were charged with closing up the building went by before locking the final doors. I was across the lobby by then, but I could hear the "Awesome" as they pointed out the eagle picture.

But I thing the expression I enjoyed most was Mary Ann, standing about six feet behind the viewers, just beaming as she watched people fall in love with her work.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Flash in a Pan

I went on a bus tour to visit the Trinity site today. This is the location where the first ever atomic explosion occurred. It was a plutonium bomb set off in a 100 foot tower just before dawn on July 16, 1945. The Atomic Age began and the world changed.

My father was on a train heading to the west coast early August of that year, destined for Navy duty in the Pacific theater. The war ended and instead he finished out his tour of duty in California. I was born four and a half years later. Without the quick end to the War in the Pacific, and my father's safe return to civilian life, I might not have existed.

I grew up in the aftershocks. Images of atomic explosions were common. Fear of ICMB's was a reality. When I was a teenager, the coming attack was just a matter of time.

Seeing the depression in the ground where it all started was somehow very satisfying. On an earlier trip, I bought a small chunk of Trinitite from a local rock shop and it still sits in my desk at home, the pale green glass formed by the heat of the explosion still emitting very small traces of Alpha particle radiation.

But, at the same time as I felt a historical satisfaction at being there, I was also a little disappointed by the site itself. Back in the 50's the government scraped up almost all the green glass and buried it somewhere, probably as a health and safety issue. The bowl isn't a deep crater, more the imprint of the shockwave from the explosion 100 feet up on the tower. If they took down the barbed wire fences and removed the memorial stones, it would be easy to lose the site entirely. Grass and stickers grow there. Ant hills churn the soil. Rain and wind remove the traces of human activity. What radiation still exists isn't enough to affect the native plants and animals.

Something so significant in human history has come, made its brief impression in the soil, and without a memorial to mark the spot, is almost gone.

Making Space

Mary Ann's life as a nature photographer is a constant battle for disk space. On a good day, she'll shoot several gigabytes of photos. It's a rare day when she only uses one of her 1GB flash cards. This trip is two weeks of rich photo opportunity for her.

So her laptop hard drive fills up quickly, and her two portable 100GB drives, and the 8 external firewire drives (see them up against the windshield). So ... she has to burn them to DVD's. Her work flow requires that she has two copies of the images at all times, so she spends a lot of time churning them out. Our only hope is that those 750GB hard drives drop in price soon.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Santa Sighting

As soon as Mary Ann completed her last birding expedition in Harlingen, we began a 1000 mile dash to Socorro, NM, for the Festival of the Cranes.

Shortly after sunset, I pulled into an Exxon in Kerrville to add some more go juice. It was a pleasant evening, and an old man, a little girl, and her mother had set out the lawn chairs to enjoy the air instead of standing behind the counter. I did my usual -- carefully guiding the RV as close to the pump as possible, and then hopping out to check to see if the hose would reach to the filler hole. Sometimes I have to make a second loop through the station before I can make everything reach, but tonight it was fine. I swiped the card and began the first fill. Often it takes more than one fill because the gas stations have a automatic cut-off at $50 or $75 or in one case $99. This stop took two. $75 plus and additional $20.

I walked around the gas station to get some exercise, and exchanged greetings with the people. The man asked my gas mileage. "Seven, on a good day."

But I noticed the little girl earnestly talking to her mother. After a few seconds I realized what was going on. The little girl in the blue outfit recognized me as Santa, and was trying to get her mother to ask me something. She was too timid to talk to me directly.

The mother was being purposefully obtuse, not really saying that I wasn't Santa, but not giving into her daughter's urgings either. Of course, I couldn't directly go against the mother and tell the girl that I really was Santa, but the girl and I exchanged a couple of secret smiles. We knew the truth.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Image Browsing

While I was checking to see if the canoe image had appeared out anywhere else on the web, I entered "Henry Melton" into Google Images. In addition to the football photos I expected to see of the other Henry Melton in Austin, I noticed a movie poster for one of my unsold novels, "Humanicide".

A friend of mine, who had reviewed the novel, needed to make a mock up poster for some Photoshop class and used it as the subject a few years ago. She showed it to me at the time, but I filed it away and forgot about it.

But it seems she went to work for a website construction company and the image ended up on a website as an example of work that company could do for clients. Through the magic of Google algorithms, it bubbled up to near the top of the list of Henry Melton images.

Hey, maybe one of these days the novel will indeed make it to the big screen. I can dream, can't I?

I Made the Papers

I should have expected something like this when I realized that there was a local valley version of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen coming along on the canoe trip with us. I watched them about as much as everyone else was watching the birds. Daisy Martinez rode in a three person canoe, and the whole trip, she was scratching away on her note pad, interviewing people and writing down bird sightings. When she asked to talk to me, I cleverly directed her to talk to Mary Ann instead.

Gabe Hernandez, the photographer, carried much more camera gear along in a different canoe, and I saw him taking the photo that made the paper. He was the strong quiet type you'd expect to see as a war correspondent photographer, with a tattoo on his arm. I was glad he was around when I got out of the canoe, with legs that didn't work. He was the one who got me to my feet.

ADDITION: I've just heard that the Austin paper picked up the photo too. Supposedly it's on page E-3.

ADDITION: And the Brownsville Herald.

ADDITION: And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The photo went out on the AP. I don't know how many places picked it up. Google just tells me the places that have online editions.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Canoe Didn't Fit

Most of the activities at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival are for Mary Ann. She goes off to see the birds and I stay home in the RV and work. But today, I came along. The event of the morning was a canoe trip down the Rio Grande at the Santa Ana NWR. We've taken canoe trips together before and she knew she'd have a better chance to take pictures with me doing the driving.

There were 14 of us, including the Refuge guide, the two Festival guides, two reporters and us ordinary people. We dropped off upstream for a 2 and a half hour tour. Mary Ann and I claimed a two-seater and started out. I took the back seat so I could do most of the rowing and steering.

It was a nice trip. They were identifying birds right and left ( there were about 50 species in the final talley) and Mary Ann took photos of the group, and maybe a few bird photos. She did not bring the monster lenses; just a general purpose one, inside a water-proof bag.

It worked well, except for one thing. I could never fit in the rear seat. I kept sliding out of the comfort-contour bench. I kept juggling my feet, bending my legs and hopping back up on the seat. It wasn't horrible, but after two or three hours of that, my legs were cramped and useless. When we reached the unloading dock, and I dragged myself out of the canoe, I was unable to stand up. The reporter with more cameras and lenses than even Mary Ann helped me up. Once standing, I could move, but now, eight hours later and well dosed with Aleve, my knees are still sore.

I've got to figure this out. I'm not about to give up canoeing. Was it just that one canoe, or have I grown ... incompatible? Once we get home, I'll have to do some more canoeing around the pond and see. If so, maybe I'll try kayaks.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Well Traveled Mouse

We're now down in Harlingen, attending a Birding Festival. When we loaded up and headed out, in addition to our luggage and gear, was four mouse traps, two sticky traps, and assorted poison blocks, and one Illinois mouse.

I'd gotten used to him, almost. I'd cleaned the RV more than I'd ever done before, and was almost resigned to having him as a pet. But Mary Ann ... She shrieked the first time. And she shrieked the second time, and the third. I explained that we had this mouse with us -- that I'd tried everything to get rid of it, from leaving the door open for hours, to all the assorted lethal measures. But she just wasn't quite used to it.

But, just a few minutes ago, I saw him down at my feet, dashing under the carpet. I stomped.

I half expected him to vanish in the cracks like he had so many times before. But when I looked, he was lying there, still breathing, but motionless. I couldn't bring myself to stomp again. I picked him up and walked him a few hundred yards away and left him in the grass. Probably, he was dead. But I'm not going to check.

He'd come from Illinois to far south Texas. He'd made the mistake of living with humans. Only a few species can pull that off successfully.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Smell of World Fantasy

WFC has come and gone. It was fun. Different cons have different personalities. World Fantasy is close and friendly, and very bookish. Some cons have gaming, some are into costumes, or comics. World Fantasy is totally into books.

Practically all cons have a Dealer Room. Many have books, or jewelry, or swords, anything that could be sold to the typical con-goer. WFC's dealer room... The first day I walked in, I could smell the strong odor of new ink. Other than the artwork arranged around the perimeter of the room, all the tables were little bookstores. There were new books, old books, some art, and literary historical letters.

The next day, when I was conscious of the smell of the room it was early in the day, and packed, and the air was filled with a mix of perfumes and body washes and all the coverup smells that people use to tolerate each other. Today, the last day, before the rush, I could sense a woody smell, something like wood-burning tools. It was faint, maybe the residue from some artwork.

But today was the last day, and the UPS counter set up in the hotel lobby just outside the Dealer Room was doing a booming business packing up people's books to ship home. (A much better idea than carrying huge boxes along with you on the airplane.)

Now is the time to take advantage of the network contacts I made and fill the air with another scent, the ozone from my laser printer.

Escape

As I arrived home from a day at the World Fantasy Con, I intended to check the mail, feed the dog and relax, waiting for Mary Ann to make her way home from her New Mexico excursion. What awaited me there by the mailbox was a knocked down fence, and a missing horse.

I hurriedly drove down and around the property, looking for any sign of Gamblor. Light was fading rapidly, so I decided first order of business was to check the neighboring properties. I drove down to the end of the road and back, peering into other pastures. There was one group of horses, but none of them looked like mine.

Back up to the junction, and I searched eastward.

There in the dim light was a horse that looked right, confined in a neighbors pasture. I drove up to the fence and called. This horse looked almost like Gamblor. There was the same one white foot. As far as I could tell, it was the same variety and color. And it was friendly, coming up close enough for me to shine the flashlight. But this horse was slightly larger than Gamblor and didn't have the identifying tattoo along the mane. Reluctantly, I decided that this wasn't the one and drove back toward the house. I called Mary Ann. She was still three or four hours away, but she confirmed that the horse on 138 wasn't the right one, and suggested a closer neighbor. And then my engine showed I was almost out of gas.

Taking the lead rope I walked over to the neighbor's property and there I saw that there were two horses in his barn. It was too dark to identify them. I rang the bell and he came out. "You missing a horse?"
--
Our previous horse could practically walk through a loose barbed wire fence, but Gamblor has never been inclined to escape, unless the door was left open for him. This time, a corner post came down, probably rotted through at the base and blown down by the wind. The gate swung open and invited him to go visit his neighbor up the hill.

For now, I've got the pickup parked in the gap and the gate held in place with elastic cords. But fence repair is certainly in the cards now.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Autographs

This evening at World Fantasy Con, they had the mass autographing session. It was fun to watch. Take one large ballroom. Fill with long white tables in rows. Seat the authors, each with a name tent (that folded piece of card stock board), then open the door to the long line that stretched across the hotel lobby. Each person in line had at least one book, but there were a frightening number of wheeled carts stacked with boxes of books. The line filed in and chaos ensued.

It was fun to watch, but to be honest, I don't quite understand autographs. As both a fan and a writer, I've been on both sides of the transaction, and I can certainly appreciate being asked for an autograph. It's quite pleasant, but I'd feel the same by a verbal compliment. And as the owner of books, I have some that have been autographed, but here I part company with most fans. I don't feel any boost from having an autographed version.

However, just because I don't understand doesn't mean I won't make the effort. I take my place at the autograph table on conventions where I'm a named participant. I even put together a chapbook with the primary purpose to have something permanently available for those people who want something autographed of mine. (The magazine fiction is too erratic, and the novels haven't started yet.)

It could just be that I'm simply a reader, not a collector. I have stacks of books, but nothing like the collections my friends have. David Hartwell told me just today that he has 40,000 hardbacks. Last night Bill Crider and James Reasoner were talking about their respective storage buildings where they store their collections. The closest I came to collecting anything was a brief period when I was buying comic books. I stopped when I reached 12 long boxes full, and now I don't know what to do with them.

Anyone want to buy some light reading material?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pounding Away

If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I guess that describes me. I recognize that I seriously need to network and make contacts at the World Fantasy Convention this weekend. It's part of the job. Unfortunately, I am deficient in social skills. I can't remember names very well. I'm a little better with faces, but not much. And the idea that I could remember the last time I talked with a person just makes me shake my head. I have trouble remembering what year it is right now, and when people ask my age, I need a calculator.

But I do know databases. When I worked at Motorola, a lot of my efforts went into using databases and making programs that helped others use them. I've had several SQL databases over the decades on my home computers, and all the record-keeping for my stories. I have a database entry for every time I've sent a story to a market, and every time I've sent a query to an agent. I even have a database of memorable events that happened to me at other conventions.

On the World Fantasy Convention web page is a nice long list of everyone who's signed up to attend. Perfect.

I cut and pasted that list into a word-processor, exported it to a text file, cleaned it up in vi, and then ran programs that pulled lists of editors and agents from my database -- and compared the list.

Now I have two manageable lists, one of agents that I have a chance to meet, and that might have seen my work. And another list of editors I've communicated with over the years. Over the next couple of days, I'll try to get those lists in my working memory. Hey, I know it's less than perfect, but I need all the help I can get.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Highway Just for Me

We had lots of good news today. Mary Ann called me into the house to watch her dance a jig. She'd gotten notice that she had won first place in the Hubbard Museum, Landscape photos. Of course, that changed our plans. She has to head off to New Mexico in a couple of days to attend the awards ceremony, at the same time as she's rushing to finalize another set of photos she's sending off. I'll be staying in town to attend the World Fantasy Convention.

So, I was designated to go get her tires fixed and an oil change on her vehicle. But first, we headed off for a nice lunch to celebrate. On the way, we noticed that SH 130 had just been opened. It had a temporary sign up saying no tolls for now.

This is big news for us. A major junction in this massive highway system is very near our house, and taking the new highway makes a significant difference. Heading into town goes from stop-and-go 30-45 mph roads with lots of lights and stop signs, to 70 mph and no stops. Further, we have this streamlined access in all three major directions from our house, into Austin, into Round-Rock, and over to Georgetown. It's a highway made just for me.

So, heading off to get the tires, I took SH130 down to highway 290. It was smooth and fast. After getting the tires, I took Mopac to SH 45 to Round-Rock to our oil change place, and then 45 back to home when I was done. It easily cut an hour or more off the chores.

Of course the toll-free honeymoon only lasts a couple of months, so I've heard, but I'll be ordering the TxTag as soon as I can.

Monday, October 30, 2006

RV Work


Immediately after World Fantasy Con, we're heading down south to a bird festival of some kind that Mary Ann will be attending. So I have just a couple of days to get the RV ready for another trip. I didn't think there was all that much that needed to be done -- get an oil change while we're home, and refill the gas and propane tanks.

But last night, while checking out the system, the heater failed to come on. Fueled by propane, it's a necessity when camping out in the winter months. We have a little electric heater as well, but (1) it's not as powerful as the propane and (2) it only works when the RV is plugged into an electrical system. Since we take advantage of free overnight parking at Wal-mart's and highway rest areas, we'd be out of luck if the propane system didn't work.

I took the RV to get the oil change, but the failure of the heater nagged at me. Playing with the thermostat, I could hear the faint click as the slider went past the trigger point, but there was no roar of the flame, and no blower. I got out the tools and began opening up the access hatch to the heater. Mary Ann suggested we take it into the RV repair place, but I was worried that we'd not have time to get it fixed before we had to leave.

Well, I did at least discover a tiny collection of ants under the access hatch, but they didn't have anything to do with it. My other worry was that the mouse (still at large by the way) might have chewed through a wire. I was preparing to get out the voltmeter to check the wiring when the disconnect switches caught my eye.

Up above the doorway is a little shelf that's not good for much of anything but a place to store plastic bags, trash sacks and aluminum foil. But what's bad is that it's also the location of a pair of master disconnect switches. I suppose they put them there so that you can shut down all the power as you walk out the door when stowing the RV for the season. Unfortunately, it's also a place where a sliding box can accidentally hit one of the switches.

I clicked the auxiliary power switch, and there was no noise. I hit the main power switch and there was a distinct click. Almost immediately, the heater roared to life. Zip-lock strikes again.

On other trips, we've had unexplained failures that eventually turned out to be accidental disconnects. The problem is that the symptoms were all different. I didn't suspect the switch because other 12volt electrical things were still working, like the overhead lights and the thermostat. It appears that the thermostat gets it's power from the auxiliary system and the heater gets it's electricity from the main battery. I guess. One of these days I need to trace out all the strange wiring in this place. We have Main Battery, Auxiliary Batteries, Inverter 110Volt power, Shore cable power (from the park or the generator), and ignition switched 110V power. And maybe a few other variations as well. Nothing is as simple as on or off.

At least it was a quick fix. But then I had to put the heater back together.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Agent Quest

Larger publishers seem to be getting away from reading slush. I reviewed my database of markets and was discouraged at the number. Currently most of the big names are off limits unless I manage to meet one of the editors at a convention and snag an invitation to submit.

That has pushed me into searching out small publishers. There are hundreds, but that's its own kind of swampland. I collect names and begin to visit websites. Again, it's less inviting than I'd hoped. The small publishers with a good reputation are overwhelmed with submissions. Many say 'Closed for now'. Others are smaller than I can use. I'm not out to publish one book. I have many manuscripts ready to go. I'm much better at writing the books than selling them. A publisher with one book per year in its list doesn't do me any good. I need someone anxious and able to handle many books, a whole series.

So I hit the database of Literary Agents. I found a new one and culled a list of about fifteen agents that, on the surface, handle my kind of book. Yesterday, I put together six submissions, and after church, I'll be back at it.

I've hunted for agents in the past, but for the most part, I believe I was doing it wrong. From the current guidelines, it looks like submitting to an agent is identical to submitting to a book publisher. You try to entice them with one book. Previously, I wrote up a letter to agents that attempted to sell myself, and my portfolio of manuscripts. I think that's why most of those queries vanished without a trace, and for the most part, without even a reply.

This time I took my "alien nanobots take up housekeeping in a high school girl" book and packaged it with a polished pitch. What do you think?

"It wasn't tree sap that fell on fat highschool senior Deena Brooke in the forest; her body was changing, shedding weight and giving her new, frightening abilities, but the only person who could help her understand the alien infection, Luther Jennings, had deep secrets of his own that put them both in danger.

Lightning took off the top of giant redwood, but only fat and slow Deena Brooke was caught by the falling branches. Bruised and contaminated with dripping gray goo, everything changed. She healed fast, began losing weight faster than any diet, and started feeling a craving for zinc. She had a calculator in her head, mysteriously knew the Periodic Table of Elements inside and out, and could analyze any metal at a touch, but at least she was getting the attention of puzzled Luther Jenkins, the cute new guy in her class. Only when she started overhearing people's cell phone calls in her head did she realize Luther was on the run from the mob and needed her, just as she needed him. She liked changing from fat to athletic, but new changes and strange urges kept coming, and while Luther's analytical mind helped her explore these alien nanobots, their friendship strained and broke his carefully cultivated false identity. When his 'aunt' was captured by the mobsters desperate to regain the items stolen by Luther's father, Deena felt compelled to join Luther in an 800-mile road-trip down the coast to Malibu to rescue her. Her control over her body grew rapidly, allowing her to become the ideal girl she desired to be, but was she controlling the nanobots, or were they controlling her? Was she being turned into a weapon aimed at the human race?"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Little Brown Mouse from Illinois

When we were camped by the Mississippi River, we picked up a stowaway, a little brown mouse. Mary Ann noticed him first, and I messed with the vents, attempting to locate the way he'd gotten in. A good hider, there were stretches with no sightings, so I was hopeful he was gone when we left. I saw him make a dash for the under-dash area as we drove to Oquawka .(I like that little town. It'd make a good location for a story.)

But once we were home, and I set up in the RV as my office, I started seeing him again. Not good.

Now, I have no ill will toward mice. They're cute. My daughter even had a pet rat for a while. But mice are destructive. It's their nature. It's hard enough keeping this RV in good shape without sharp little teeth gnawing on wires or tubes.

So, the mouse had to go. I made noises. That did little good, but I had to give him the choice.

I bought mousetraps. Two different kinds. He seems to ignore them. I changed the bait. Still no action. Poisons work, I know, but I do not want a dead mouse rotting away in an inaccessible spot under the dash.

I've started keeping my air-pistol at hand, just in case he presents himself.

But for over a day now, there's been no sign of him. Has he left? Is he just reading the ill feelings in the air and hiding?

We'll have to see. For now, the traps stay at ready.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Home Rules


We're back home at Hutto, and I've had two serious realizations. One, the grass is really tall! I'm going to have to do something about that here in a day or so.

Two, I've only been gone 19 days! It certainly feels like two months. I've noticed this many times before. Life is just richer on the road. It seems like decades since I worked regular hours at Motorola, but that was only 2002 (I think).

If I'm living three times the life by being on the road, that's where I ought to be.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Talimena Thrill Ride


I would have said "Roller Coaster" but that title has already been taken.

Finding our way back to home base, we've been taking little side-routes -- trying to stay scenic rather than fast. On the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma, there's the Talimena Scenic Byway. We've taken it before, so we thought it would be a pleasant alternative to an Interstate. Starting as highway 88 in Arkansas and ending as Oklahoma 1, it rides the a long mountain ridge. Fall colors were at their peak, at least on the Arkansas side as we hit the ramp in Mena.

And it was a steep ramp. The RV's engine whined and labored the whole of the Byway. Getting up those slopes required it to rev high in low gear, and then once we hit a downslope, I had to gear down or risk burning the brakes.

There were lots of other cars too, and hundreds of motorcycles. It was a clear sunny Saturday in the hight of the Autumn display, so everyone with two or three wheels from hundreds of miles around came out to enjoy the air.

We were the only RV on the road. And I know why.

But after a lovely picnic overlooking the lakes and fields below, watching hawks and vultures soar beneath us, we headed on down into Oklahoma.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

iTunes 7 Skip Count


A new feature appeared in iTunes7 that I've been wanting for a long time. Just as it tracks your play count, it now also counts the number if times you've started a song, and then skipped on to the next one. Of course, it's just started building that information, so it won't be really useful for a while, but eventually, I'll be able to build really great smart playlists.

The whole goal, for me, is to create an automated playlist that will genuinely reflect the songs I want to hear, out of the 2600+ songs in my library. Currently, I have elaborate playlists that use my rating, my playcount, and the length of time the song has been loaded into my library to calculate Best and Best Guess collections. These I rotate by least recently played and it does a good job. But I'm really looking forward to being able to calculate the ratio of play count verses skip count as an additional measure of how much I really like a song.

I guess I could also use skip count to locate those songs I really never listen to as well and just remove them from the library -- but hard disk capacity just keeps getting cheaper, so maybe I won't.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Where's Ben Affleck?

Today, I'm watching the cold rain on the Mississippi, and trying to write the blurbs for my latest novel. It brings to mind the 1999 movie "Forces of Nature" where Ben Affleck played a professional blurb writer. He had some fancy name for it, and Sandra Bullock's character called him a blurbologist.

I could sure use a blurbologist right now. I've spent most of the day on two paragraphs, and I'm about to throw one of them out. It's hard work writing a novel. But then you have to write it again in vastly condensed versions. In my idealized vision of the world, I thought the author would write the novel and some professional publisher person would make the blurbs. Maybe that's still true in the big leagues. But as I scout out newer and smaller publishers, it seems that a blurb is needed to sell the book to the editor, and with some, they expect multiple sized blurbs for the actual cover copy to sell the book.

So, time to take a break. Write a blog entry or go for a drive. I need to let my mind decompress.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Lazy Day by the Water


Cue Ol' Man River on your iTunes and listen to William Warfield as you watch that river keep on moving along.

Today was a relaxation day. Of course, Mary Ann worked on her photo stuff, and I researched publishers, but we had no events to attend, no schedules to keep, and no miles to make.

We just did our thing, and watched the river out the front window. The big events were a couple of large barges that made their way south. And of course, watching the birds on the river -- seagulls and white pelicans out in the middle, and great blue herons up close.


This guy fished right up close to us. He completely filled the binoculars. It was fun watching the fish keep on wiggling as it went down his throat. Sorry for this photo. I had to use manual focus because of the raindrops on the windshield, and it didn't quite do the job.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Beside the Big River


We're camped beside the Mississippi at the Big River State Forest in Illinois. This site is mostly deserted this time of year, but I like it that way. I have fond memories of this place. After the World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis in 2002, we stopped here and camped. In the back of my mind, I've considered that the starting point in Mary Ann's serious nature photography. She was shooting a consumer Olympus back then, but she took some wonderful photos of a Sun Pillar from this campground.

This is my photo, believe me hers was much better. It's hanging on our wall at home.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Shooting Chicago


We arrived at the waterfront of Chicago for two reasons. One was so that I could verify a few points in my latest novel, and two, so that Mary Ann could take some building pictures to sell to the stock photography agencies. Those goals combined in a riverboat cruise up the Chicago river, with elaborate commentary about the skyscrapers and the history of the city. We also took photos from the museum area and up at Montrose Harbor.

This is a common sight for me, Mary Ann viewing the photos she's taken by blocking out the daylight with her coat.

Did you know the process of looking at your photos on the little screen on the back of your camera is called 'Chimping'? I bet it's because you hear people saying "Oo! Oo!" as they do it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Windy City


The next location on this trip is Chicago. I need to scout out the waterfront downtown to verify some points in my latest novel. Mary Ann wants to get some photos of the skyline. A check of the weather showed the possibility of snow, so we pulled up roots yesterday and headed north, hoping to settle in before bad weather arrived in the Chicago area.

The drive was nice. I had a cross-wind the whole time, and in an RV that's significant, but it was manageable. Mary Ann called ahead and found a campground named 'Windy City'. Maybe that wasn't the best choice.

We arrived before dark and settled in. The plan was to stay put all of Thursday and maybe Friday, if the weather was bad, and head into town once it cooperated.

The main problem is the wind. Yes, there was a touch of snow this morning, but it's gone now. But the wind is still gusty. Normally, that isn't a problem, but we have this satellite dish for our internet service.

It's like a net that catches the wind. On a house, firmly mounted, the Direcway dish wouldn't move much, but on an RV, the whole vehicle rocks on the suspension with every gust of wind. Watching the signal strength shows it changing from mid-fifties to twenties with each shake. And thus our internet connection drops in and out several times a minute. Web pages stall out. Downloads take forever. Frequently, my laptop reports that the internet is down.

I've adjusted the dish pointing a bit, and it's better, but as long as the winds blow in Windy City, connections will be iffy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Still Circling in St. Louis

Shortly after my last post, we hopped in the Jeep and drove over to the waterfront where Mary Ann could get a good set of sunset pictures of the Arch and the skyline. In our rush, I hit a chug-hole too hard, pushing a marginal U-joint over into Imminent Failure Mode. I could tell something was wrong, seriously wrong, as we drove to supper. Come next morning, I limped at barely legal minimum speed on the highway to the nearest Jeep service center, Dave Croft in Collinsville. We got in line without an appointment and they promised to work it in.

We went ahead and rented a car, not knowing how long it would take. Mary Ann had several chores to take care of and I can work anywhere, so we were content to spend a few days next to the Arch if that's what it took.

But then, barely mid-afternoon, we got the call. They had diagnosed and fixed my Jeep and it was ready to be picked up, ahead of schedule and under their quote. Nice. We dropped Mary Ann's schedule and picked it up. Drives nicely now -- better than it has in the last couple of months.

This pushed her activities closer to deadlines. She had a large set of photos to mount and send to a Museum in New Mexico. (Yes, we're doing all this in the RV.) Also, she had magazine submissions to send off. We were almost back on schedule when she received an email from a stock photo company that needed her immediate attention.

The last stage of the process was to send off some sample photos. She needed serious bandwidth, Now! Neither the RV's satellite nor the cell phone was good enough, so we hopped in the Jeep hunting for a Starbucks. Through evening drive-time, we drove. The first was going to close too soon, but she found another. I headed back to the RV park to wait until she was done. (I don't drink coffee.)

All this is set-up. Imagine me, in the Jeep, dropped into evening drive-time in downtown St. Louis, winding through twisty roads. Overcast sky, so I lose my sense of direction. The GPS gives me a compass arrow, at best, but even with that, I find myself heading west when I need to go east.

A couple of loops later, I manage, finally, to get back to the RV camp. I just hope I can find her again when she calls.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The St. Louis Roller Coaster


Today, Archon 30 ended and it was time to move to a new location for the night. From previous trips, we knew that there was a good RV campground over on the river, just across from the arch. It was associated with a casino, but I could overlook that. I'm not a gambler. I looked up the relatively simple directions and headed back east towards the Mississippi. I should have begun the trip with more dread.

Many highways, many interstates, all converge at one bridge. You can see in the Google Map image how the roadway is braided like rope. Crossing the river is a trial. Since I come to St. Louis at least once a year, I have had many opportunities to discover how easy it is to take the wrong branch. In places, every one of the lanes are equivalent, even though they branch and re-join. In other places, you'd better be in the correct lane well in advance or you'll never make it.

This was a sunday afternoon and traffic wasn't heavy, so when I realized I needed to get all the way over into the left lane for a left exit, Mary Ann following in the jeep behind me thought I was having engine trouble as I swayed the RV across multiple lanes and dodged cars, trying to get to the right place. And then, I managed to take exit 2B instead of 2A, and was forced to head across the MLK bridge (the upper bridge in the image), into downtown St. Louis. So looping around I headed back across the bridge, looking for an exit, any exit, that would get me off of the St. Louis Roller Coaster Ride.

Finally, I pulled off on some city street in the middle of East St. Louis, a most desolate and abandoned place. A quick conference with Mary Ann, and she took the lead, as we drove up and down the old streets, looking for our destination. The buildings were abandoned, the street lights were turned off and stop signs put up to take their place. But eventually, we reached the Casino Queen.

But we weren't home yet. Following the Jeep, I drove into the casino's parking lot and looped through tight places until the security guards showed up and offered to guide me over to the RV place.

So, finally, we are parked for the night, in that triangular parking lot in the upper center of the image, just below the MLK bridge.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Con Ideas

Every science fiction convention I attend has numerous events, generally one hour in length, with several simultaneous tracks of events. This time, I appear to be stuck in the YA track. Writing YA, Tolkein and YA, Reading Harry Potter, etc. That isn't all I'm doing but it's well represented. If I wanted to be elsewhere, I certainly had my opportunity. Well before the Con, the programming schedulers sent out a questionnaire asking what I'm interested in, and what I'd consider talking about. The floor was also open for new ideas. At the time, I couldn't think of any.

This time, as I have an idea for an event, I'll just blog it and pull it back up the next time people ask.

What about a world-building show and tell? There have been many presentations about the process of world-building a fictional universe. This variation would invite convention attendees to talk about their own worlds for, say, ten minutes each.

I have talked to many potential writers over the years and some of them have spent many reams of paper and long hours building elaborate worlds for some novel or game they'll write eventually. Honestly, many of these people will never actually write the story. But what if they had the opportunity to present their world for other eyes.

I got the idea while listening during the Tolkein panel discussion. How many years did he have just Middle-Earth, with no story to go with it? Maybe out there, someone is building something just as wonderful, and all they need is a push to make it happen.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Listening on the Road

It's a thousand miles from Hutto to St.Louis, and I spent the bulk of it listening to podcasts. Most of the time I was catching up from episode 94 through 110 of Home Town Tales. I learned about ghost stories, Big Foot, Hollywood scandals, and how to choose a tattoo. It's certainly one of the most rewarding of the podcasts out there and I seriously intend to submit a few Hutto home town tales sooner or later.

The other one I listened to was Military History Podcast, and am now up to speed on the life history of Napoleon. Later on in this trip, I'll catch up on Perlcast, and FurledSails.com. Ideally, I should listen to them as they arrive, but in real life, I can't spend the time unless I'm at the wheel for hours at a time. It's perfect for road trips.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On the Road to St. Louis

Tonight I'm parking at the Worlds Largest McDonalds.

It's a turnpike service area that straddles Interstate 44, built like a bridge over the highway. I'm parked in among the big rigs. It's noisy, but I'm used to it. I'm hoping to get off on an early start, maybe after a McDonalds breakfast.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Archon 30, My Schedule

I've seen the events I've been scheduled for at the convention in a few days, Archon 30 in Collinsville, just across the river from St. Louis. It looks like I'll be busy.

Thu, 4:00pm HI - Monroe Reading
I've not done many readings lately, so I'll have to think hard about what to read. While I have no doubt my voice will last, I have to make it worth while for the listener. What would be best, I wonder? Part of a novel, or a complete short story?

Thu, 6:00pm GC - Marquette A (Young Adult) Round Robin Reading, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
And then again, will my voice hold out? One hour of rest, and more reading. At least I'll have help.

Thu, 8:30pm GC - LaSalle Lobby Autographs (1/2 hour)
Sometimes, I spend a whole autograph session watching others, and then out of nowhere, someone shows up with something for me. I'll have to remember to bring my colored pens.

Fri, 1:00pm GC - Mississippian Writing for Young Adults - How Hard can it Be?
At last, a topic I am intimately familiar with.

Fri, 1:30pm GC - LaSalle Lobby Autographs (1/2 hour)
A second autograph session? Probably a scheduling error. Make a note to discuss with programming.

Fri, 4:00pm GC - Illini (Young Adult) My Precious - Tolkien for Teens
I was likely just past my teens when I first read the Hobbit. I can remember it took me a few pages to get into the spirit of it all. However, today's teens have probably seen it all on the screen.

Fri, 7:00pm GC - Ballroom D6 Building the Perfect Beast - Your Ultimate Computer
I wonder why they included me on this one. I haven't constructed my own computer since the S100 days.

Sat, 2:00pm GC - Illini The Great American Short Story - Does It Exist Anymore?
The question is, what is a 'Great American' short story?

Sun, Noon GC - Ballroom A Theocratic Dictatorships - The new boogieman or rehash of "Dune"?
Are we talking fiction here, or world events?

It will interesting, I can tell. I haven't had this many event scheduled in one convention in some time.

And there's a bonus. When I sent in my 50-word biography, they must have notices all the nice things I said about Mary Ann, because they scheduled her as well.

Mary Ann Melton:

Thu, 8:00pm GC - Marquette A Living in the Shadow (The Spouse's Panel)
Ha! She doesn't live in anyone's shadow. I bet she has fun with it.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pool Care

Having a swimming pool right at your back door is a wonderful thing, and it made a lot of sense back when we had the money to buy it. It's about 40 feet long, so I can swim laps easily. It has a deep end and a diving board. And Mary Ann had to have that fountain.

But it takes regular care, and a lot of money to keep it up. There's the electricity for the pump, and repair calls when it fails. The chlorine tablets to keep it clean and clear come in $80 buckets. And when we hit the road, without fail, it's green and filled with leaves when we return. I'm getting quite good at bringing it back from pea soup to blue.

This year's drought added complications. The ground shifts. During the past three or four years, I've noticed hairline cracks in the plaster, but didn't worry about it too much. A pool like this is not very strong. It's not like a brick wall, or a concrete driveway. The installers dug the pit the right shape and then layered plaster over the clay. It's not very thick, the water itself holds the pool in shape.

June or July, it seemed like the pool was losing water faster than normal. One of those hairline cracks had gotten longer, twenty feet longer. It still seemed unlikely that the water was leaking that way, so I did nothing.

The leak got worse. By September, I was adding water every other day, just to keep it up to the level where the skimmer could collect the floating leaves. As our trip to St. Louis approached, I realized I had to do something. From the pool supply place I got two kinds of underwater setting plaster or putty and attempted to repair the cracks.

It was an effort. I had to hang onto a cinder block with one hand while I worked, head down in six feet of water to squeeze the putty into the crack. Six inches, and then bob to the surface to catch my breath before going down again. It was an ugly job, but I filled the crack.

The leak didn't stop.

Okay, if it wasn't the cracks, and there was no visible leak anymore around the pump (at least after the last repair job), then it had to be either in the supply pipes or the drain pipes. Horrible thought. Fixing that would take massive excavation and expensive repair crews. But I couldn't let it leak forever either.

So step by step, I had to locate the leak. First step was to turn off the fountain for one day. The water still dropped. Next, I turned off the jets, four water jets around the perimeter of the pool, just under the surface. But they could still leak, by draining water from the pool, so I bought some plugs.

After several days now, I can say with confidence, I found the leak. Somewhere in those four pipes, there's a leak.

The good news is that I stopped the leak with $12 worth of rubber plugs. The bad news is that a permanent repair will be expensive, tearing up the decking around the pool. I don't have money for that. The plugs will have to do for now.

And Mary Ann's fancy fountain proves its worth. I don't really need those jets for now. The water circulates just fine from the fountain. Some day, maybe, we'll get it all fixed, but I just happy the leak is gone for now.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Geckos That Live Here


There are a minimum of three species of lizards that live at my house. One is a bright green tree lizard. One is more stocky, and would look right at home in the desert.

But by far the most common are geckos. Every night, I see many of them. They love the windows. The light from inside attracts insects, and all the lizards have to do is wait there, clinging to the glass, until something juicy and appetizing flutters close by. (The second one from the left is eating a white moth.) During they day, they're harder to see. I suspect they find comfortable places in the stonework to hang out, but that's just a guess.

There have been a number of fatalities. Some hide in the door sill and when it closes... We humans never notice, until long after the fact, when dried out lizard skins peel off.

I really like the critters. If they would just turn their appetite to fire ants and wasps, I'd have no use for insecticide.

And, not a one of them has tried to sell me insurance. How's that for being a good neighbor!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

MySpace Friends?

I have a MySpace account. I have lots of accounts out there on the web. In many cases it's just a matter of handing out your virtual business cards, knowing that most of them will be trashed, just hoping that eventually you'll make a contact that matters.
What I find fascinating is the whole 'friend' concept. Is the idea that you collect 'friends' like baseball cards? Who wins? The person with the biggest collection, or are some more valuable than others? Do you get bragging rights if you have Pope Benedict in your list?
I can understand if this is a real social setting. If these were real friends who you interfaced with on a regular basis, then maybe it works. It's just that the whole structure of the site is designed to collect casual and superficial friends.

And some automated ones as well.

I have been rather selective about approving the friend links that have been offered. I'm up front on my page that I'm there for the contacts. If you want a blog come to this one, not myspace. If you want to talk, use regular email. I hate logging into a specialized website for email, when I have a perfectly good email client already open and waiting.

So when a friend request appears, I check it out. If it's someone in publishing, a writer or a publisher, I'll gladly approve the request. If it's a good time girl, I'll just let it pass.

But sometimes there are ambiguous cases. An enthusiastic science fiction fan appeared in the request list. Possible legitimate contact, so I approved.

Oops. Instantly, within one minute, I had eight more requests, ALL from particularly good looking women. Curious, I sampled the profiles of a couple of them. Other than the photo and the name, the profiles were identical. The same background photo, the same font, the same chatty, partly-girl description of themselves.

I can imagine some software in the background, generating templates on the fly, watching for an unwary friend acceptance to trigger a flood of new friend requests. It's a different kind of business card I guess, or maybe more like the fliers stuffed under the windshield wipers at a parking lot.

I haven't given up on MySpace, but I have the feeling it's not quite my demographic.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Endless Downloads from iTunes


This morning, for the third time, I started downloading the same free TV show. It's irritating.

Item 1. I have poor bandwidth. The house is connected with ISDN service. That's a little over 15KB/sec. In the RV I have Direcway which gives me a bandwidth-throttled service. I can get 130KB/sec on a good morning, but that doesn't last. After about 100MB of download, it drops back to a trickle, about 4 to 8 KB/sec for several hours before it decides to go back up again. The idea is that people doing ordinary web browsing would never hit the limits and feel like they have high bandwidth all the time.

Item 2. iTunes video. Prior to the latest upgrade in service, iTunes was offering TV shows at 320x240 video, with filesizes about 250 MB. I had downloaded a couple of dozen shows that way, and it worked fairly well. I had some glitches, but in general the iTunes download manager did a good job of picking up an interrupted download where it left off.

Things have changed. iTunes doubled their filesizes. TV shows are now 640x480 and weigh in at about 500MB. Movies are about 1000MB. It's put more stress on the system.

So comes ABC, which offered some free shows to get people interested in their products. Free! Ah, the magic word. I clicked away and added three 900+MB files to my download queue. What a mistake!

With this much longer download time, I am finding that those little glitches I was seeing before become much more significant. About one time in 10, the download manager can't recover cleanly, and all it can do is zero out the file and start over again. A 250 MB TV show that glitched maybe once per 100MB and recovered most of the time, wasn't really a problem. But with the same error rate, there is a better than even chance that a Gigabyte download won't make it before having to start all over.

And that's what I'm seeing. I had three of the monsters. All of them have gotten part way downloaded before zeroing out. Finally, two of them have eventually completed, but I've still got this last one, and its last fatal glitch occurred this morning when it only lacked 10 minutes until completion. Now, it's back to zero. If I had a way to tell iTunes, "Sorry, my mistake, don't send this one to me anymore." I would have done so long ago. But as it is, it is in my queue, and the only way to make it go away is to finish the download.

I've left feedback at the Apple site, and hopefully they will make their download manager more robust, but for now, I have to just burn the bandwidth and hope.

I certainly won't be buying any movies anytime soon.

Friday, September 22, 2006

From Lake Michigan to the Frigid Sea


My most recently written novel, with most of the action taking place on Lake Michigan, has been sent off to the reviewers, so it's time to fold up those brain cells and put them over there and turn to another project until the marked up review copies come back to me.

A novel I haven't touched since in five years needs some work. My craft has improved since then, and when I took another look at this one, which takes place on a terraformed Luna, I knew immediately that it needed a significant rewrite, more than just a touch-up and polish.

This one is in the far future, after an atmosphere and oceans have been put on our Moon, and after the collapse of the civilization that made that happen. The opening scene takes place in a wagon train. I've pulled out my old notes and reviewed the events. It's going to be fun. I haven't visited Luna in a long time, and it's one of my favorite vacation spots.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Making Reviewer Copies

Once I've written and polished and checked out the novel as much as I can, it's time to call in other eyes. Over the years, I've found volunteers who will read my story and mark it up with the errors and problems they find.
Originally, I gave them a copy of the manuscript in the form that I wrote it -- the 'standard manuscript format' that all editors prefer. This is single sided, double spaced, one inch margins. Anything that's supposed to be in italics is actually underlined and bold is actually underlined with a wavy line. In the past it was even more restrictive, including good bond paper, courier 10 font and other limitations. However, some of those restrictions have loosened. The main problem with manuscript format is although I've very comfortable with it, and editors demand it, ordinary readers had problems with reading a whole book one sheet at a time, unbound, out of a box.
A few years ago, I developed this new format, times font, two column, like a magazine. Real italics, real bold, and single spaced. It's a lot easier to read, and takes a whole lot less paper. This 500 page manuscript is printed on 97 sheets of paper. We bought a binding machine and I developed a macro that automatically converts standard format to this reader format in one step.
So, now comes the next step, I have to mail out all of these, including a return mailer, and hope that they all come back in a reasonable time frame.
It's been a little harder this time, with the toner running out, and having to reprint a number of pages. The easiest time was in Breckenridge when I just turned it all over to Kinkos. Of course that costs a bit more.

Some reviewers have come and gone. But the number appears to be growing over time. And each reviewer brings different strengths to the mix. One is a great proofreader. Another always seems to bring a fresh insight to the mix. And sometimes there are errors that everyone finds. It's an expense, but worth every penny.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Preparing to Listen


Now, after an inital edit, followed by spelling and grammar checks, it is time for me to listen to the novel. I've done this on all my works and it's helped out quite a bit. Other writers read the text aloud, and I've tried that. But talking constantly for hours on end is something I never do. I'm quiet. As a result, I don't have the voice for extended reading. (Does this sound like rationalization to you? Me too.)

What I have found that works for me is to run my manuscript through a program called books2burn, which splits the text into chapters and then uses the Mac's speak text function to create an audio file for each. I then listen to each, while following along in the manuscript, changing the text whenever I hear something horrible. It's surprising how often that happens, even in edited and re-checked text.

Here is a sample, a little less than three minutes from the end of chapter 1.

Fighting Word's Grammar Checker

I have quite a love-hate relationship with Word's built-in spelling and grammar checker. More hate than love, I think.

Today, I'm in one long marathon checking session, running through the whole 500 page manuscript. It's enough to turn a brain to jelly. Look at what it found, make a decision, click. Repeat. It the program was a little more capable, it would be one thing, but I find myself hitting that Ignore button more often than not. But I dare not make it a habit, because right in the middle of a run of ridiculous suggestions only software could make, up pops a legitimate typo, or an awkward sentence that must be dealt with.

It's especially bad with this novel. I have more non-standard dialect that is normal for me, and lots of chatty sentence fragments. If there's anything that Word hates, it's fragments, even when they aren't.

Oh, well. I'll survive. I just hope nothing too embarrassing survives the process.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

iTunes 7


I confess to looking forward to Apple Special Event days like a kid anticipating Christmas. I fire up my web browser and keep several new feeds running in different tabs, and when the streaming video becomes available, I watch it as well.

But this time, I'll have to wait on that replay. Forget the ipods and the iTV, I immediately downloaded iTunes 7 for the new features.

My problem, that this new version solves, was how to let my family access the hundreds of tv shows and movies I had collected on the Mac Mini. Of course, I know how to access everything, multiple ways, but then I've gone through all the startup pain of capturing and encoding them. But should I recommend firing up Front Row? iTunes? EyeTV? or just navigate using the Finder and play them in Quicktime Player?

Now, it's a no-brainer. Everyone knows iTunes, and the new browsing mode for movies is very nice. Plus, they've included a floating control bar when playing video full screen, much like the Quicktime Player. Forget Front Row, this is the way to go.

Of course, now that I think about it. I do like that new 80GB iPod. I just have to figure out how to hint to Mary Ann that I'd like one for Christmas. (the black one).

Monday, September 11, 2006

Resident Thief

The RV is parked right next to one of the four pecan trees on our property. It's one of the smaller ones, but every year, it produces quite a number of pecans, even this year, when the drought caused half of them to drop early.

I wasn't too upset when that happened, because for several years now, we haven't collected a single ripe pecan. The squirrels get them all. I've been watching it happen today. About every three or four minutes, a squirrel will make a dash from the line of trees near the pond, across the lawn, to the pecan tree. It'll harvest one of the green nuts and dash back to the treeline. I was more upset about it in previous years, but I'm reconciled to it now. What can I do, other than take pot-shots at them with a pellet gun? I'm not willing to go that far.

What gets me is that they don't wait until the nuts are ripe. It that a squirrel thing? I can't even grab one before they come calling, because it's still in it's green husk and unusable. It's sad. Pecans are my favorite nut, and I have to make do with grocery store produce.

Maybe I'll find new baby pecan trees down by the pond some year and it'll all be worth it.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Refreshing Read

Some time back I commented on the importance of letting editors be editors and avoiding rejecting your own work for them. It's one of those cases where I know what to do, but find myself doing the opposite.

I am taking a distance break from my current novel, having completed the first draft. My brain needs to get away from it for a couple of weeks before diving back in on the rewrites. So, to take advantage of this time, I'm making sure that all the unsold works are back in the pipeline. That includes reviewing some old works that I'd lost confidence in, that needed more work.

Which brought me to a novel I completed in 2001. It's an epic a thousand years or so in the future, not at all like the YA's I've been writing recently. It's been sitting in the rewrite pile (figuratively) since 2004. Why did I put it there? It's just a matter of confidence. Two publishers looked at it, but it took so long for them to process that I was off doing YA's by the time it came back, and I just didn't believe in it anymore.

Yesterday, I picked it up and began reading it again, making minor edits as I went, reflecting improvements in my craft that have happened in the past five years. But these were little things, like removing 'that' from a sentence where it was not needed. I read it all day long, and into the night. I kept at it up until 1:30 in the morning because the story grabbed me, and I couldn't wait to see how it came out! Yes, I'd written it. And I'd lost confidence in it and pre-rejected it myself. But it is a great story.

So, come Monday morning, a ream-sized cardboard box stuffed with paper is heading off to DAW. There's no reason in the world I should have sidelined it. And no reason a publisher couldn't make a bit of cash publishing it.

Let's hope I learn my own lessons.