Tuesday, 31 January 2017

08:58 – It was 40.7F (5C) when I took Colin out this morning, with a stiff wind. The little bit of snow we got is sticking around for now, but with today’s high to be in the mid-50’s (~13C) it’ll be gone by this afternoon.

Trump is the progs’ worst nightmare. Unlike just about every politician in living memory, Trump is actually doing what he said he’d do. Imagine that. Not that I agreed with many of the actions he promised to take, but it is refreshing to see an elected leader whose actions correspond with his words. And it is nice to see him striking terror in the hearts and minds, such as they are, of prog politicians and bureaucrats. Now I see that he’s going to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, and probably the 1992 agreement upon which it’s based, not to mention going full steam ahead on the new pipelines. The squeals from the progs are deafening, but they’re music to my ears. I’m hoping his next actions will be to withdraw us from NATO, bring home our overseas forces, and expel the UN from US territory.

People keep talking about progs’ heads exploding, which is a nice image but unfortunately only a figurative one. It’d be nice to see some actual prog heads exploding, literally. A million dead progs would be, as they say, a good start.

* * * * *

 09:44 – I just got email from a woman who questioned the shelf life of repackaged flour, coincidentally the day after Barbara and I just finished repackaging 50 pounds each of sugar and white flour. Some years ago, she’d opened a #10 can of white flour they’d bought at their local LDS Home Storage Center. It was a couple years past the best-by date on the can, which means it had been packed a dozen years before. She said the flour was tanning, caked, and had an “off” odor. She tried making some pancakes with it, and said it had an off taste as well. She ended up discarding all her LDS flour that was past its best-by date.

I’d heard the same thing from several other people over the years, but the solution is simple: just sift the aged flour and leave it in a container that’s open to the air for several hours. As it’s aerated, the off odor (and taste) disappears, and it’s perfectly usable.

Monday, 30 January 2017

09:36 – It was 19.6F (-7C) when I took Colin out this morning, with a stiff wind. There had been a slight blizzard overnight, with what looked like maybe an inch (2.5 cm) of accumulated snow. With the more or less constant wind we have up here on the mountain, it can be tough to tell for sure. The wind scours surfaces like driveways and roads and piles up any accumulated snow on fields and other rougher surfaces.

I’ve been seeing lots of articles recently about rich people prepping, buying homes in New Zealand, etc. Rich as in multi-billionaire hedge fund managers, Internet entrepreneurs, and so on. Here’s one representative article I read yesterday. It included this image, with the caption, “Here’s an image of shelves at a Wal-Mart in Charlotte NC taken as a relatively minor snow storm was approaching the area on January 6th 2017.”

The takeaway of this article was intended to be that even very wealthy people have started to prep, because they know what’s coming down the road.

My takeaway is quite different, summarized by one quote from the article: “The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this . . . is a logical thing to do.”

Yes, prepping is a no-brainer if you have enough money that you can drop a million bucks on prepping without having to think about it. But the thing is, it’s also a no-brainer (or should be) for people with much smaller bank accounts, like the regular readers of this site.

I can’t afford to buy an island or even a second home in New Zealand. So what? Prepping isn’t about buying guarantees, even for billionaires. It’s about maximizing the chances for you and your family by reallocating assets. You probably can’t shift a hundred million bucks out of your bank account like many of these people can do, but unless you’re living hand-to-mouth you can probably afford to shift some of your assets from the ones and zeros in your bank account to hard assets like stored food and gear. If it’s $100,000, great. You’ll be better prepared than 99.999% of the US population. If it’s $10,000, well that’s a tremendous step forward. If it’s only $1,000 or even $100, well that’s a start.

* * * * *

Sunday, 29 January 2017

10:14 – It was 30.3F (-1C) when I took Colin out this morning, but for once the winds were calm. There was a slight blizzard, with an occasional flake or two visible. We’re to get 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm) over the next 24 hours, down from yesterday’s forecast 2 to 4 inches.

Using an invite from @SteveF, I signed up yesterday evening for Gab, a non-prog alternative to twitter. I’m not sure I’ll ever use it. When I tried to log in just now the site was down. I wish them the best because they make free speech their priority, unlike Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the prog social-networking sites.

More stuff around the house today. Barbara wants me to install a new shower head we bought. Usually, she doesn’t trust me with plumbing.

* * * * *

Saturday, 28 January 2017

11:08 – It was 25F (-4C) when I took Colin out this morning, with winds gusting to probably 30 MPH (~50 KPH). There was a light dusting of snow. The real snow is to start coming in tonight and tomorrow. We’re expecting as much as 4 inches (10 cm) over the weekend.

Barbara returned home about 3:45 yesterday afternoon. We unloaded the back of her car, which was pretty packed from the Costco run. A 50-pound bag each of flour and sugar, two 10-pound boxes of Quaker Oats, two 13.5-pound bags of baking soda, two large jars of cinnamon and one of Italian seasoning, a pint of vanilla extract, two 3-liter bottles of olive oil, and a bulk pack each of toilet paper and paper towels.

The only prepping-related things I added this week were two packs of oxygen absorbers and a case of dehydrated onions from the LDS online store. The onions are actually cheaper on-line ($48.75/case of six #10 cans) than at an LDS Home Storage Center ($54.00/case). They’re also half the price per pound that Walmart charges for Augason Farms dehydrated onions. The LDS on-line store does charge shipping, but it’s only $3.00 per order if you choose the slow-boat method.

I saw a blog comment somewhere complaining about the LDS on-line store charging shipping, which they didn’t used to do. I didn’t remember paying shipping the last time I ordered from them, so I went out and did a search. The top hit was to a discussion forum that had a Mormon complaining about now having to pay shipping on underwear orders.

There’s apparently a lot of discussion among non-Mormons about Mormon underwear, which Mormons refer to as “garments”, with lots of conspiracy theories among the anti-Mormon crowd. It’s all just stupid. Mormon garments have religious symbolism for them, just as a yarmulke does to Jews or a cross necklace to Christians. Yes, practicing adult Mormons, men and women, wear underwear. So what? I do, too, as does everyone I know. Or at least I think they do. There’s nothing to see here. Move along.

We’re in reasonably good shape on science kit stuff for this time of year, so we’ll be working on regular tasks around the house this weekend. That, and repackaging more LTS food. Some of that can wait for now. For example, the Quaker Oats that Barbara picked up at Costco have a best-by date 18 months out in their original packaging. That translates to a real shelf life of at least five years without being repackaged. We’ll eventually transfer them to PET bottles with oxygen absorbers, which gives them an extremely long shelf life, at least 10 to 20 years and probably more.

* * * * *

Friday, 27 January 2017

07:22 – Barbara is due back sometime this afternoon. Colin and I will be doing our happy dance.

She was going to make a Costco run on her way down yesterday. I asked her to pick up a few items, including a couple 12- or 13-pound bags of baking soda, a 50-pound bag each of flour and sugar, two 10-pound boxes of oatmeal, some more herbs and spices, and bulk packs of toilet paper and paper towels. She made no serious objection to any of these, merely noting that we already had a lot of flour and sugar.

The more Barbara reads and hears the news and watches what’s going on in our country, the more on-board she is with prepping. I’m still the more radical prepper of the two of us, but she’s definitely more of a prepper than she was a couple of years ago. She recognizes now that very bad things can not only happen, but are happening now. She now often comes home from shopping with extra stuff for the pantry, a week or two ago she told me she really wanted to test our wood stove, which was still sitting untouched a year after we’d had it installed, and just the other day she told me that I needed to get on the ball to make sure we were prepared for a power failure.

In other words, I’m very lucky. I get email all the time from people who are serious preppers but have spouses who are actually anti-prepping. That’s probably 30% to 40% of the people I hear from. There’s another contingent, probably about the same percentage, in which one spouse is a serious prepper and the other isn’t actively involved but makes no objections to his/her spouse’s prepping activities. The smallest contingent is the one with both spouses actively pursuing prepping. I’d say we’re in the second group, tending toward the third.

I was thinking more about Dan’s email yesterday, in which he said that fears of a societal collapse are ridiculous. I don’t think such fears are even slightly unrealistic. The reason (eventual) collapse is not just possible but probable is one factor that I believe Dan may not be taking into account.

It probably wasn’t the first time I heard about the concept, but it was while I was in MBA school in 1983 that it first struck me how dangerous the then-new concept of just-in-time delivery was. We had several case studies about JIT, and what struck me even then, when few businesses had yet to jump aboard the JIT train, was that JIT provided an ideal environment for cascading failures.

The benefit was touted as reducing inventory costs by essentially eliminating inventory. If you implemented JIT, you’d no longer have to pay for warehouse space to store all those widgets, nor the cost of money needed to carry a large inventory. But the downside that none of the JIT advocates considered, or at least dismissed lightly, was the potential costs that would be incurred if JIT failed. If your widget factory, for example, required a particular bolt to build a widget and your JIT deliveries of those bolts failed, you were out of business. In the pre-JIT days, you might have kept a week’s or a month’s supply of those bolts on hand, but with JIT your actual on-site inventory might be a couple days’ or even a couple hours’ supply. When what you had on-site was consumed, your entire plant was down, but many of your variable costs continued accruing. You could no longer continue shipping product to your downstream customers, and would often be liable for non-performance penalties owed to them. In short, JIT was and is a cascading-failure catastrophe just waiting to happen.

Nowadays, the potential for disaster is much, much greater than it was when JIT started to become popular. Now, all of your upstream suppliers and downstream customers are also using JIT. There’s no buffer anywhere in the chain. And nowadays, it’s not just widget factories that are under threat of a cascading failure. It’s essentially all consumer goods, from food to medications to infrastructure elements like electric power, water supplies, sewage, and so on.

Some time ago, I exchanged email with a guy about my age, who’d graduated from pharmacy school back in the late 70’s. He spent the first ten years or so of his career working in a small family-owned pharmacy before going to work for a large pharmacy chain. And he’s watched the whole time what JIT deliveries have done to inventory levels at pharmacies.

When he started out, they kept drug inventories in paper ledgers. They re-ordered manually every week and got the bulk of their inventory in weekly deliveries, with an occasional overnight delivery when they’d run out of something critical. They managed expiration dates manually as well. Each time he opened a new bottle of something, he’d check how many unopened bottles they still had in stock and when they expired. They’d do a manual physical inventory once or twice a year, when they’d discard drugs that were nearing expiration.

Nowadays, they don’t do any manual ordering or physical inventories, other than those required by law for Scheduled drugs. They don’t need to worry about discarding old drugs, because they never HAVE any old drugs. Their inventory turns have increased so much that they worry more about running out of drugs. They get deliveries every day, often more than once a day. The deliveries are made up of items that the computer decided they needed, and the computer is not infallible.

In the old days, he told me, they threw out a lot of aging drugs, but they also kept enough of everything on hand that if a weekly delivery didn’t arrive they’d be able to continue filling prescriptions for at least a week and for many drugs for literally several months. Nowadays, if a daily delivery doesn’t arrive, they may run out of some drugs that day or the next day. And that’s assuming there hasn’t been some kind of emergency that leads people to rush out and refill their prescriptions. If that happens, they may run out of many key drugs within an hour of the announcement.

The same is true of supermarkets and grocery stores, which typically have enough stock to hold them for two to three days, assuming normal demand. In any kind of emergency, even just a snow storm, people flock to the supermarket to buy eggs, milk, and bread (presumably to make French toast). In a serious emergency, their shelves empty of anything edible in hours.

The story is the same for just about everything. Water-treatment plants, for example, used to keep large inventories of the chemicals they needed to purify municipal water. No longer. I exchanged email with a guy who runs a water-treatment plant, who told me that they keep at most a couple weeks’ worth of treatment chemicals. If deliveries fail, the water coming out of people’s taps will no longer be safe to drink. Similarly, a guy who works in the natural gas industry told me how the EPA was destroying the resilience of the natural gas delivery systems. Formerly, pipeline pumping stations all had natural gas driven backup generators to drive the pumps. If the electric power failed, they could continue pumping gas by burning the product they were pumping. But the EPA decided that was environmentally unacceptable, so now if the electric power fails, so does the natural gas.

And it goes on and on. JIT and Rube Goldberg systems now dominate industry and commerce. The failure, if (when) it comes may be epic.

 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

09:32 – It was 46.4F (8C) when I took Colin out this morning. That will probably be our high for the next five days or so. We’re to have highs around freezing and lows in the low 20’s (-5C) for the next five days, with snow starting Saturday evening and continuing through Monday.

Barbara leaves this morning for Winston, to attend the funeral of family friend Gilbert Sloan, who died Tuesday evening. She’s staying with Frances and Al tonight and heading back up to Sparta tomorrow afternoon.

Not everyone thinks like us. I got an interesting email overnight from a guy I’ll call Dan.

Hello!

I’ve been reading your blog since the “build your own PC” days. I strongly disagree with most of your political beliefs and don’t share your view that the US is nearer to a societal collapse than at any other time in recent history. I am a progressive liberal. I voted for Bernie Sanders and think the super rich should be taxed heavily to subsidize the live of those with fewer means. I think our gun laws should be much stronger and automatic weapons should be banned without exception. I’m a vegetarian.

But, I like to hear arguments from those with a different point of view because being a critical thinker means being open to changing my opinion if a convincing argument is made by someone with a different view. In that vein, I thought it was interesting that the New Yorker (a “liberal rag” if there ever was one) published an long article about super-rich preppers.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich

I still think prepping because one fears a societal breakdown is an overly dramatic and incorrect interpretation of modern human nature. I don’t think society would devolve that quickly – I don’t think the threads that hold societies together are that thin. But I have never lived in a major metropolitan area and have never been the victim of random violence from another human. Even though it may be naive, I think positive and caring members of society would rally and far outweigh and out number those looking to take advantage of the chaos. I think, by and large, we would survive because of our compassion.

Anyway, thanks for your blog. I have learned a lot and always value hearing and understanding beliefs far different from my own.

* * * * *

And my response:

Hi, Dan

I hope you’re right, but I fear you’re wrong.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t expect a societal collapse unless there’s a trigger event such as the power grid going down or a lethal pandemic or widespread terrorist attacks on our infrastructure. If something like that happens, and it’s a very real possibility, all bets are off.

As it happens, I have seen a society collapse. I was in Rhodesia briefly during its final days, and it was not pretty. Nor was the aftermath, when Mugabe’s thugs turned what had been the wealthiest country in Africa into a third-world hellhole over the space of a few months. If you read history, one of the lessons is that societies do collapse, they collapse very suddenly, and it comes as a shock to their citizens.

US society has been under attack for most of a century by the progressives, embodied by the Frankfurt School and the Alinsky-ites. They’ve pretty much destroyed our society, our schools, and everything else that matters. And the non-progressives, what I call Normals, have finally had enough. We’re a pretty easygoing group, but decades of constant attacks on our lifestyle has finally driven us over the edge.

Truth be told, I don’t fit in with either group. A lot of people would consider me to be a progressive. I support things like gay marriage, legalization of drugs, dramatic reductions in military budgets, and so on, which puts me in opposition to most Normals. I’m also an atheist, which is very unusual amongst Normals. But I’m forced to choose between two very large groups: Progressives or Normals. Given that choice, I’ll side every time with the Normals.


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

09:19 – We’re to have one nice day today–sunny, little wind, and a high around 64F (18C)–but with a cold front moving in over the next 24 hours. For several days after that, we’re to have highs around freezing, lows in the teens to 20’s (-5C to -8C), and at least some snow and ice.

Barbara got a phone call from Al around 7:30 p.m. yesterday to tell her that their family friend, Gilbert Sloan, had died at 7:04 p.m. He’d been in Hospice, so it wasn’t unexpected. Even so, it was a great loss for Barbara and her sister. They lived next door to the Sloans. When they were young, their mom had significant medical problems and spent a lot of time in the hospital. The Sloans became their surrogate parents, and Barbara and Frances spent a lot of time at the Sloan’s home while their dad was at the hospital with their mom. Cam Sloan is my age, and became like an older brother to the two girls. Barbara is headed down to Winston later this week to attend the service.

* * * * *

About three dozen readers have now requested copies of my book sample, and I’ve gotten feedback from a significant percentage of those. A couple of them said that they’d be interested to see what others thought, so I’m posting anonymous excerpts from several of the feedback emails. There are some common threads running through those.

Good start.

Notes:
1. The chapter after chapter four is labeled three, should be five
2. lots of numbers
3. the conversation seems to “stilted” and that is not the right word
4. lots of details about “stuff”
5. in chapter two, I cannot figure out if the power is up or down when it talks about the well pump, may need something like “the power was up for now but could fail at any minute”. And now I see that you covered that in the 2nd paragraph.
6. It took me a couple of minutes to note that you were switching people at the beginning of each chapter. I need a fairly brutal knock upside the head to realize that the perspective is changing.

* * * * *

Yes Robert, you can certainly write fiction.

Your dialog is off to a good start. It’s a little hard to ‘hear’ the different voices but i have no doubt that will improve.

Reading your first pass was reminiscent of reading Unintended Consequences. I personally enjoyed the deep detail in UC, however it admittedly detracted from the flow of his story. It’s interesting to read about the specific guns (or whatever) and the deeper detail, but that level of detail doesn’t generally move the story forward.

I wouldn’t worry about that much – your preselected audience generally appreciates the detail. If you want to appeal to a broader audience, you might want to lift the degree of detail.

I hope you’ll continue with your fiction efforts. This little taste is better than a lot of the schlock out there already and I am absolutely certain your final efforts will be excellent.

Congratulations on this new endeavor.

* * * * *

I see only one issue with your fiction writing attempt.

You left out the disclaimer:

“Any resemblance between any characters in this novel and any person living or dead is purely coincidental.”

In other words, you need to make up your own characters instead of using people you know.

Reading the snippet of the story, I knew the names of the people who inspired the main characters.

I’m saying you can use a character who is part Nick or a character that is part Dave Hardy, but not just insert them into the novel renamed.

For example a retired Desert Storm veteran/ex-cop might work as a character. His being an alcoholic or recovering alcoholic also might work. But leaving him as a Vietnam veteran or IT worker wouldn’t work.

You could make up a character based on me and I wouldn’t be offended. I’m just too boring to serve as the basis for a character.

[…]

If you write a book, I’ll buy it. But if you can’t master making up characters I wouldn’t write it if I were you.

If I were you, and writing this book, I’d set it in one of the towns you scoped out but didn’t move to, and use a house you looked at there. The main couple should be a little less prepared than you are.

I hope I was just blunt enough to communicate my point without being too blunt.

* * * * *

Yes, you can write fiction. I think it’s a bit heavy on technical detail, it’s fiction, not a prepper manual. I’ll read it again later and come up with more comments.

* * * * *

Great start!
A few comments:
– Ed Burns – USMC and not a prepper? of any kind? food for thought…- Lotsa PHDs…good or bad?- Page 5, Prologue: Maybe a bit too much detail in the second paragraph; one sentence to summarize the type (mac, oats, flakes, etc.) and a total poundage. Maybe turn it into a short discussion with Karen? Can tell you’re a hard-core prepper!- Page 6: continue with fake news and/or media corruption? Closing out the intro?- Page 7, last para: had to look up “dendrochronology”… Maybe drop dates/uber-details and put years/centuries ago-type descriptor? Lotsa details!- Page 9: close out with discussion of local impacts? LDS support? Food/med drives? etc.- Page 13: stray dog? from travelers escaping disaster areas? comments on how to handle stray animals in the future? Possible love interest for Colin? ;-)- Page 17, ???: para continuation – meet & greet; settle down, and brief on situation with potential new housemates.- Page 18, ???: para continuation – Matt & Karen invite Bartletts and discuss logistics to house. Vehicles, seating, gas check, etc.- Page 19, radio gear para: too detailed. Summarize until there is a need later to describe which MHz is needed for what specific situation…- Page 21, gun gear: as an amateur gun guy, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but too many details. Like radio gear, summarize until later…- Page 28, ???: standardize (-ish) everyone’s training to the Gunny’s level is a good idea; gives everyone a common level of knowledge and terminology which helps with imprinting quicker for the new shooters- Page 31, radio call from Ed: maybe reduce to keep simple; “Front watch, four inbound unknown contacts. Repeat, this is front watch with four inbound unknown contacts.” maybe sounds a little military-ish, but…The follow-up transmission is perfect. And it referenced a truck stopping earlier for food; good few paragraphs there for expansion.- Page 32, attack: high number of people in back attack. Good comment about runners being back later; glad you went there.
Can you tell I peer review technical reports and documents for IT? I’m in Federal civil service as a software program manager and retired Air Force E-7/logistics.
Overall, good start. I think you have a lot of details in this rough draft that can be diluted early, and added as needed later. I’ve read several books with waaaay too many details up front from 5.11 pants and the type of Danner boots being worn, but after 3-4 pages of gear talk the person is still standing in the middle of the road surrounded by zombies. If my brain pauses to digest that info, I lose the emotion of the moment of the zombie attack…if that makes any sense.
I really hope you are able to flesh this out into a novel. Your vision of this small piece of the story is excellent and enjoyable to read. I guarantee I’ll drop whatever I’m reading at the time to buy this the day it’s released! And I appreciate you sharing this with us!

* * * * *

I know you only wanted quick feedback so apologies in advance…

The good:

Well written, as I knew it would be, having read several of your non-fiction works and the blog posts for many years. Yes, but can he write fiction?
Absolutely! The dialog is mostly very good (with a couple of easily remedied exceptions below). Plot and character development are such that I want to keep reading even at this rough draft stage. There are issues but definitely keep going – I want more of the story!

The bad:

Some of the dialog is very clumsy. For example, Dr. Smith’s dialog is tedious to read and would have been cut after the 2nd “CE” on any of the
networks. Also Matt’s description of the Bao/Feng radios – this is common to bad PA where catalog descriptions of equipment get detailed in conversations.

Facts/figures: (Disclaimer – I have a geology and several mechanical engineering degrees and have driven over the road trucks). A New Madrid quake would not bother the upper Mississippi river valley. They worry about the New Madrid because it can cause very wide spread, significant damage to much of the Mid West. This is because much of the area is a giant sediment bowl which will shake like jello. This sediment does not extend much into Wisconsin. I live in La Crosse, WI on the east bank of the Mississippi and we sit solidly on bed rock – we would not even be aware of a New Madrid
quake. Interesting fact is that they just built a new bridge here and added traffic control gates at the on ramps. So, even if the upper river bridges were OK, the gov’t would likely be in control of access?
You can’t get 40 tons on an 18 wheeler. Well, you could but you would likely either go to jail or the morgue if you drove it very far. 18
wheelers gross at 80K lbm but the tractor trailer weights ~35K so the max payload is around 45K (call it 22 tons). Not that big a deal, but it sticks out to anyone who has been around trucks as badly as talking about forgetting to move the safety on a Glock to gun people.

It is a bad idea to have both 20 and 12 gage for defense – particularly if you have any break action guns around. And as an avid trap / sporting clays shooter, I can tell you that 90% of the active clays people (at least up here) shoot break action – not 870s. If the women can’t shoot 12 gage, give them 5.56 or something.

Teaming up with cult members: I get it that they are preppers and generally nice people, but they believe some truly wacky chit. It may be an
interesting plot twist to have them start refusing to share/work with the infidels at some point unless the non-believers start wearing magic underwear and reading the teachings of the prophets (just a suggestion). Before you reject this out of hand, consider how strange their world view is during normal times and how it may get much stranger/stronger during what many will consider “end times”.

The Ugly: the battle scene is really bad. Sorry, but I can’t mince words here. This is the type of thing that makes me drop a story toot sweet.
When the good guys all react like battle hardened Marine snipers and the bad guys like brain dead meth addicts, I call BS. No matter how much training and planning goes on, a significant number of good guys will be curled up on the ground screaming for mommy once the real deal starts. All the kills will not be clean – there will likely be people trying to hold their guts in and begging for death, there will likely be IED’s like pipe bombs, Molotov Cocktails, etc. Not only the good guys know how to mix  Styrofoam and gasoline for example.

Well – the good news is I liked it enough to write up this feedback…

* * * * *

I just finished your sample! I graded you an “A” or 95%. My evaluation as a reader rested on three criteria:

1. Does this work tell a story?
2. Is the work believable/plausible?
3. Do i care about the characters and what happens to them?

Hope this confirms what you’ve already decided to do.

Thanks for letting me read it and be a part of something new.

* * * * *

Thanks. A bit stiff early, but by halfway it was already smoothing out. Two thumbs up.

I did make a couple of notes:

Page 7: “Just then, the feed switched…” flows better as “The feed switched” (A few pages later, I just decided you were using “just” way too often.)

Page 10: When you get to the point of mentioning the solar backup for the well pump,
you immediately give all the detail. It’s unnecessary at that point. Save some for later.

Page 11: “Load all of your hand tools” I had to laugh. Got semi?
If you do a printed version, put me down for one autographed copy of the first printing.

* * * * *

OK, I’ve finished what I hope is an excerpt (in plain English, keep typing, I’d like to read it). I have a few thoughts.

The mechanics are fine, and the structure is good. However, I do find everything so far has worked out too well for the characters. We haven’t really seen any rough edges. I realize it’s early days yet, but I would not expect everyone to be coping this well, especially after the assault on the house, with multiple charlies down. Even the casualty is quite calm about the whole affair. I’d expect some panic to seep in by this point, as everyone works through the realization that it’s real and the cavalry will be delayed if they arrive at all. My opinion, but I’ve seen (and sometimes been) the one that becomes useless when reality dawns.

Again, I’d like to read this when completed; I’d be happy to offer comments between now and then if you like.

* * * * *

These are roughly half of the responses I’ve gotten, which I selected more or less at random to give everyone an idea of what other people were saying. I appreciate the time and effort that people have taken to advise me, and I’ll incorporate many of the suggestions.

At this point, I’m just getting ideas down. This sample wasn’t in any way intended to be an organized part of the eventual book structure, and was completely unedited. I may end up expanding one paragraph or even one sentence to become and entire chapter, or the converse. My word-count target for a full book is roughly 125,000, of which this sample is maybe 10%.

Yes, things are too easy so far. That will change. In fact, things may get so bad that I end up painting myself into corners, as writers often do. But ultimately, this book (and I hope eventually series) will be optimistic. Good, competent people can deal with pretty much anything.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

10:02 – It’s been chilly, windy, and wet over the last couple days. We’ve had about 3 inches (7.5 cm) of rain in the last couple of days, which takes us up to about 4.5 inches (11.5 cm) for the month to date. When I took Colin out around 0715, it was 39.3F (4C), with sustained winds of probably 40 MPH (64 KPH) and gusts to 60+ MPH. I almost literally got blown off the driveway as I attempted to retrieve our newspaper from the mailbox. I had to grab hold of the mailbox to avoid being blown off my feet.

About two dozen readers have requested copies of my book sample, which should be enough. You’re still welcome to a copy if you want one, but I’m getting enough feedback now to tell me what I needed to know.

I asked for brutal honesty, and that’s exactly what I’m getting. I haven’t gotten any replies yet that began, “Dear Zsa-Zsa”, but the responders so far are criticizing freely. No one has given me a letter grade or a number grade so far, but the general consensus is that I’m not terrible at this. Responders have compared my writing to Unintended Consequences, A. American’s Home series, and David Crawford’s Lights Out, which I take as a complement. OTOH, various responders have criticized my narrative, dialog, plotting, characterization, and even the setting. No one has told me that I actually suck at this and several people have commented that I’m as good or better at it than PA writers that they like, so on balance I’m going to keep at it, a couple hours here and a couple hours there, mixed in with everything else I have to do. I just sent copies to a couple of pro fiction writers I know, to see what they think.


Monday, 23 January 2017

09:29 – Yesterday was one of those days with a continuing series of problems. It started with the USPS Click-and-Ship website misbehaving while I was trying to print a label for a shipment to Canada. Ordinarily, I fill out the first page, which has me enter the total weight of the package. I filled in the correct weight, 5 pounds 8 ounces, and then clicked Continue. On the second page, I have to give details about the details of the shipment, including for some reason the net weight, which was 4 pounds, thirteen ounces. At the point, it told me that the net weight was more than the gross weight and refused to continue. After numerous retries, starting from scratch each time, I finally got it to accept that 4-13 was in fact less than 5-8. I then paid for the postage label and it displayed the label as a PDF, as usual.

So I put a sheet of half-page labels in the manual feed slot of my Brother HL-5250DN laser printer and told it to print. The label jammed, which made a real mess. So I cleared the jam, inserted a new label, and told it to print again. It jammed again. I cleared the jam and told it to print again, this time with plain paper from the paper tray. That time, the sheet of paper made it half-way out the printer and then jammed again. At least I had a usable label, after I forcibly pulled it out of the printer.

This obviously wasn’t working, so I disconnected the HL-5250DN and moved it out of the way. When we moved up to Sparta in December, 2015, I’d originally tried to install the newer Brother HL-3070CW laser printer, but it refused to connect with USB so I’d stuck it in storage, intending to troubleshoot it later. I never got around to that until now, so I set it up and used a new USB cable to connect it. Once again, Linux didn’t see the printer. Okay, it looked like the USB interface on the printer was dead. That printer also has an Ethernet interface, so I went downstairs, grabbed an Ethernet cable, and brought it back upstairs to try getting the printer working with a direct Ethernet connection.

The Ethernet cable wouldn’t fit into the jack on the printer. Huh? I was working in a very tight space, but we finally got the printer turned so that I could actually see the USB and Ethernet jacks on the back. Duh. I’d plugged the USB cable into the Ethernet jack. No wonder it hadn’t worked, this time or a year ago, when I must have made the same mistake. So I pulled the USB cable out of the Ethernet jack and plugged it into the correct jack. Linux recognized the printer instantly, and I was back in business.

So I proceeded to connect to the USPS site again to generate postage labels for US shipments. The postage didn’t look right for the first one I processed. Well, that’s because postage rates just went up as of yesterday. Duh, again.

I knew postage rates were going to increase, but after the huge increase a year ago, I was expecting a pretty minor jump. Not so, unfortunately. Since January a year ago, I’d been paying $17.09 to send a Regional Rate B box to the west coast. That had jumped from $17.09 to $20.41, a 19.4% increase. Fortunately, the rate for a Large Flat Rate box had increased from $18.75 to only $18.85, so I just put the RRB box inside a LFR box and paid the $18.85. Even so, that amounts to a $1.76 (10.3%) increase. Geez.

* * * * *

As I mentioned last week, doing a copy-edit pass on Franklin Horton’s latest book in his Borrowed World series got me to wondering, not for the first time, if I could write fiction myself. So I decided to sit down and give it a try.

Writing fiction turns out to be very different from writing non-fiction. The main difference is that I can just sit down and write fiction. It just flows. With non-fiction, I spend literally 50% to 95% of my “writing” time checking facts and researching stuff on the fly. I suppose that’s why Jerry Pournelle writes fiction in his Monk’s Cell, with no Internet access.

The most obvious difference is in word count. With non-fiction, I average maybe 1,000 to 1,200 words per day. My all-time record was probably 5,000 or 6,000 words, and that was working heads-down for 14 hours or so. And the days when I could write heads-down for 14 hours straight are long gone. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I can get in six solid hours of writing per day. Writing fiction, I can crank out a first-draft at about 1,000 words PER HOUR.

But no writer can judge his own writing, so I decided to let people look at my first fiction efforts. As I promised last week, I’ve converted what I’ve done so far to a PDF that I’ll send to anyone who wants to take a look at it and give me his opinion. Can I write fiction? Tell me what you think of my work on a 1 to 10 or A to F scale.

I’ll emphasize that this is very much a first, rough draft. I haven’t even read it, let alone done a first editing pass on it. It’s just a collection of chapters, and partial scenes. I’m sure there are lots of clangers in there. I probably even have characters changing names in mid-narrative. This document is at the level that I wouldn’t ordinarily let even Barbara see, let alone friends or editors.

I’m not looking for any kind of corrections, suggestions, or edits from anyone. All I want to know from anyone who takes the time to read it is whether or not I can write fiction.

If you’d like to take a look at it, send me email at thompson at ttgnet dot com with the subject line “your fiction book”. I’ll send you a PDF of the document. Please be completely honest in your feedback. You’re not going to hurt my feelings. I’m looking for brutal honesty here, not an attaboy. If the general consensus is that my fiction writing has potential, I’ll continue working on the book until it’s finished and then self-publish it on Amazon. If the general consensus is that I am to PA fiction writing what Zsa Zsa Gabor was to acting, I’ll give up on it.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

09:52 – The weather today is about the same as yesterday, as expected. By the end of the week, we’re to have lows in the mid-teens (-10C) and some kind of frozen precipitation.

I finished my NC sales tax return yesterday, but I’m still working heads-down on ordering items for science kits and creating MSDSs. I haven’t gotten to work yet on our federal and state income tax returns, which puts me in a bad mood every year.