Archive for November, 2010

New glasses and other shopping

November 30, 2010 1 comment

Yesterday I discovered a small crack in one lens of my glasses, so I made an appointment to see the optician attached to the eyewear dealer and get a new prescription (I’d noticed a bit of blurriness in my distance vision with the glasses on).  I settled on frames that were pretty much the closest thing I could find to my old frames, so I don’t think it’s worth taking a picture.

Anyway, when I tried to pay by credit card, it was rejected; apparently I’ve reached my limit because I waited too long to pay last month’s bill, on top of which I’ve had a lot of expenses the past couple of months what with my two trips.  So the lesson should be, pay your credit card bill promptly.  Luckily I had my debit card available.

However, because of the credit issue, I had to hold off on a couple of other errands I wanted to run while hanging around the mall waiting for the eye drops to wear off so I could see clearly enough to drive home — namely, buying a new winter coat and new shoes.  Well, I went to one store to look for a coat, just to see what the price was, but it was steeper than I could handle at the moment, and besides, the coats they had were an ugly gray-green color.  Anyway, the one additional purchase I made was one I desperately needed, since it was raining and my umbrella was falling apart.  So now I have not just new glasses but a new bumbershoot.

Oh, and I went to Gold Star Chili for lunch, because it was the closest place to the glasses store and wouldn’t require me to cross the street with blurry vision.  And I saw that they had a vegetarian chili available, so I tried that as a 3-way (i.e. on spaghetti and topped with cheese).  Not entirely a healthy choice, since the cheese evidently disqualified it from warranting the little heart-healthy icon in the menu.  But it seemed to have a lot less cheese than the usual amount, based on my limited experience with Gold Star.  Anyway, it was okay for fast-food chili, and was a rather novel interpretation of vegetable-based chili.  I wasn’t surprised by the kidney beans and tomatoes, or even the corn, but I never would’ve expected the diced carrots and baby lima beans.  Not bad, though.

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The rest of the way home

I’m back on my own home computer now.  I just got in.  My travel time today was roughly equal in length to yesterday, just under five and a half hours, for a total of nearly eleven, including stops and bad-weather slowdowns.  My outbound time was more like twelve hours total, since the first half of that trip was on state highways so it was slower going.

This morning, based on my outbound experience, I decided to wait until it warmed up a bit before I set out for the day, leaving the motel around 9 and stopping for breakfast at a nearby Denny’s, where I had some excellent seasonal cranberry-orange pancakes.  I hit the road at quarter to ten, and got in just now at 3:10-ish.  This time, I didn’t have any mountains or bad weather or confusing construction detours or night driving to worry about; it was smooth sailing, err, driving, all the way.  (Which also means I got my best gas mileage on this leg.)  The only obstacle I faced was my own fatigue, which required more stops than I wanted to make.  Around lunchtime, I was hoping to find someplace interesting to eat, but when I realized I simply had to stop for rest at the earliest opportunity, the only place in sight of the exit was a gas station, so I had to settle for a convenience-mart chicken salad sandwich.  Hopefully I’ll survive the experience.

I took I-70, which crosses West Virginia’s northward-extending panhandle (or whatever you call it). As such, I spent exactly 12 minutes in the state of West Virginia, almost to the second.  It’s weird how W. Va. and Maryland are shaped — most of their borders are following land contours or rivers or something, but then here comes Pennsylvania carving out this incongruously rectangular swath that leaves just these skinny little leftovers for the adjoining states.  There’s a part of Maryland where the whole state is hardly any thicker than I-68 passing through it.  If not for the trees, I bet you could see both the north and south borders from the road.

So anyway, it was a nice family visit, though not always a nice drive, and now I’m glad to be home.

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Halfway home

November 27, 2010 3 comments

I’m in a motel in Washington, Pennsylvania, which is ironic because I was in Washington, DC this morning (or actually in a small Maryland community within the DC Beltway).  Some highlights:

The process of reconnecting with my family continues.  I met a whole bunch of cousins, cousins-in-law, and cousins once removed over the weekend.  I’m learning a lot about how much of who I am is genetic.  And in talking with the family, I’m getting my memory refreshed on things I’d forgotten.  For instance, I had a vague recollection of having been to DC once before, but I’d forgotten it was a school trip over the summer rather than a family trip.  And when cousin Cynthia mentioned that our mutual grandfather had been an avid chess player, I remembered that he’s probably the one I learned the game from.

I ate well, thanks to my DC-area cousins Barb, Mark, and family, and a close family friend named Charles.  Thanksgiving dinner was large and diverse, and I got to try two types of almost everything: two kinds of turkey (regular and smoked), two kinds of dressing, two kinds of fruit side (including an intense cranberry relish), and two kinds of vegetable (Brussels sprouts and Aunt Shirley’s creamed onions).  I’ve never tried Brussels sprouts before, but I kinda like them.  They taste rather like broccoli leaves (the dark, flat leafy parts of the plant, not the florets).  Oh, and three kinds of pie, including pumpkin, mincemeat, and my favorite, a chocolate pecan pie.  And on Friday, Charles made home-grilled pizza of various types plus a salad.  This morning, we had brunch with turkey hash, pumpkin coffee cake, cranberry coffee cake, and assorted other stuff.  We were joined for brunch by six additional people (five more cousins and another family friend), though I had to leave right after in order to get a fair amount of driving in today.

Driving through the Appalachians in this weather is a bad idea.  Especially since my windshield wipers are lousy.  At one point today, it was snowing and the wipers just smeared it out.  I had to pull over to the side of the freeway at one point because I had no visibility.

I also ended up driving much longer than I intended to today.  I don’t like driving after dark, but I couldn’t find a suitable motel until about half an hour after sunset.  Maybe I was being too picky.  But I survived.

Oh, I forgot!  On Friday, Cynthia and I went to the National Air and Space Museum, and I got to see this:

The Enterprise and I

Awesome, huh?  I know there’s all sorts of controversy about the restoration adding all that detail, but still, it’s the Enterprise!  The actual one, right there in front of me!  I can’t remember whether I saw it on my first trip as a kid, but now I have.

Though as much as I geeked out over this, what really bordered on a religious experience for me was this:


Okay, it’s a blurry picture — not Cynthia’s fault, it’s my lousy camera phone — but that’s me by the Apollo 11 orbiter module Columbia.  This little ship has actually done what the Enterprise only did in imagination: orbited a world other than Earth and carried people who set foot on that world.  I guess you can’t tell from my expression — I guess I’ve inherited the Bennett men’s reserve more than I realized — but like the craft behind me, I’m over the moon in this picture.

I have more pictures which I’ll probably put up on Facebook once I get home.  For now, I’m worn out.  I wasn’t even expecting to write this much.

Thanksgiving and tires

The good news is, I’m going to spend Thanksgiving with family.  The bad news is, the family is gathering in the vicinity of Washington, DC.  So I’m in for another long, interstate drive.

I leave tomorrow morning, so I need to do my preparations today.  I recalled that my left rear tire had lost air pressure on my trip back from New York last month, so I thought to check the tire pressure and found the same thing had happened again.  So I took it to the nearby garage that replaced my battery last winter.  They put it up on the lift and told me that all my tires showed signs of “dry rot,” aka sidewall cracking due to age, and recommended getting new tires.  The garage guy showed me the damage, which seemed genuine, and I just looked it up online now (I wish I could’ve done so before) and it seems like he was on the up-and-up about the risk.  So I grudgingly agreed to get new tires, and I walked home while the deed was done.  It should be ready in an hour or two, reportedly.  The tires are fairly pricey, but I guess it’s worth it to be safe.

See, this is why I was reluctant to own a car for so long.  It comes with so many added expenses.

Anyway, I’m still deciding what route to take.  It seems that all the routes recommended by Google Maps require going through I-68 in West Virginia, which I gather is fairly mountainous.  I recall my father expressing dislike for the mountainous routes he’d taken through West Virginia in the past, but unfortunately I can no longer ask him whether this is what he was referring to.  Anyway, the one alternative I can see is to take the Pennsylvania Turnpike to I-70, and that’s pretty mountainous itself as well as being partly a toll route.

Well, since DC’s pretty close to Baltimore, this could be sort of a trial run for driving to the Shore Leave convention in the future.

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DTI marches on

November 17, 2010 5 comments

The Simon & Schuster Digital Catalog page for DTI:Watching the Clock has a preliminary cover image up now.  This is not the final cover, but it’s one prominent image element from that cover:

DTI Watching the Clock preliminary cover

This is a rendition of the famous Shepherd Gate Clock at the Royal Greenwich Observatory.   In the novel, the DTI’s headquarters are about half a kilometer north of this clock, and nearly precisely on the Prime Meridian.  And yes, there is a scene where this clock actually appears, although the DTI characters are not specifically described as watching it.  I’m not that literal-minded.  (Or rather, it just didn’t occur to me to insert such a gag until just now.)

Last night, the night before my deadline, I sent in the revised copyedit pages for DTI:WTC to my editor.  In addition to fixing some mistakes and streamlining some repetitive passages, I also made a couple of tweaks that I think are improvements.  I added a bit of suspense and danger to a scene that was too lacking in it.  And I got to correct an oversight.  In developing the novel, I read a whole bunch of classic SF novels and stories involving time travel, from Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity and Poul Anderson’s The Time Patrol to Stephen Baxter’s Manifold: Time and Greg Egan’s “Singleton,” among others.  But one book I wasn’t able to track down was Gregory Benford’s Timescape.  Well, that’s not quite right; I’m sure I could’ve requested a copy from the library if I’d made the effort.  But I recalled reading it back around when it first came out and having some conceptual problems with its tale of using tachyon communication to send messages back in time, so I wasn’t sure I wanted it as a reference.  I failed to consider the fact that I was around 11 years old when it first came out, so maybe my memories were too vague.  And ever since I finished the manuscript, I’ve regretted that I didn’t track down the novel and refresh my memory, at least.

Anyway, just a week after I got the copyedits, I happened across Timescape in a used-book store and figured that maybe it wasn’t too late after all.  I bought it and read it, and I’m glad I did.  It’s really kind of a pivotal work.  Benford is a physicist who incorporates ideas from his actual research into his fiction, so Timescape is one of the most scientifically rigorous time-travel novels ever written.  As far as I know, it’s one of the first books to deal with time travel from a quantum-physics perspective and to explain how the idea of alternate timelines emerges as an interpretation of quantum superposition.  I didn’t have room to make too many changes to incorporate ideas from this book into DTI, but I didn’t really need to, since the physical principles it describes are kind of foundational to the theories I was using anyway, as derived from my other research.   Which, of course, is what happens when you rely on real physics rather than making stuff up.

Still, there were some references I was able to work in, one or two things that Timescape fans would recognize as nods, and I was able to clarify some discussion of temporal theory in one chapter by borrowing from the explanations in an early chapter of the book.  So now the novel has gained its rightful place among the works I’ve homaged in DTI:WTC.

It’s appropriate to reference Timescape for another reason, by the way.  Timescape was originally published by Pocket Books in early 1980, and as I recall, it was very successful.  So when editor David G. Hartwell established a dedicated science fiction imprint at Pocket in 1981, he named it Timescape Books after the Benford novel.   Timescape Books soon began publishing original Star Trek novels, edited by Hartwell, in addition to the original SF it published.  After a while, the Timescape line tightened its focus to deal with ST fiction exclusively, and the imprint became simply “Pocket Books Star Trek” with the Timescape name being dropped.  And that line of books has continued to this day and eventually employed me.  So in a sense, Benford’s Timescape is a forerunner of DTI:WTC in more ways than one.  It would’ve been a shame not to include it in the homages.  So I’m glad that serendipity gave me a chance to correct the oversight — and to catch up on a seminal hard-SF novel I should’ve appreciated more all along.

Food experiment

November 8, 2010 1 comment

I decided on a whim that I wanted to cook a simple family recipe, the rather self-explanatory Noodles, Wieners, and Cheese, aka NWC (pronounced “nwook,” although more vowel-less).  Although in later years I insisted on a vegetable, so it became Noodles, Wieners, Corn, and Cheese, or NWCC (“nwook-uk”).  The cheese in question is good ol’ cheddar, and I choose to make it with whole grain noodles and organic turkey franks.

Now, in the past, the procedure was simply to add in the corn with the boiling noodles a few minutes before they were done, then drain, return to the pot, add margarine or oil, stir in the sliced wieners to heat, then grate on the cheddar and stir until adequately melted and distributed.   (Yes, it’s a sticky mess.  A more proper cheese sauce is beyond my knowhow, and I’m used to it this way.)  However, these days I don’t like to boil and drain veggies, because that takes away nutrients.  Normally I’d stick the corn in the steamer basket for a few minutes and then stir it in, while I thawed the franks in the microwave.

But this time I had an idea to try something different, inspired by watching my friend David Mack’s wife Kara do her cooking while I was visiting them last month.  I decided to use a small saucepan to lightly brown the wiener slices and roast sauté the corn.  That way, I could bring out some richer flavors.  And it turned out pretty well.  The wieners and corn definitely taste better.  Though it occurred to me in retrospect that I could’ve saved myself some washing if I’d just waited until the noodles were done and let them sit in the strainer while I used the already-hot bottom of the pot to do the browning/roasting.  Would’ve taken a few minutes longer, but not too much, considering how much time it took the saucepan to heat up adequately.

I could’ve planned out the portions better, too.  When I put the wieners and corn in the pot, I realized there wasn’t enough relative to the noodles I’d made (i.e. what was left in the package, which had looked like enough at the time but turned out to be too much because I always underestimate how much pasta I’m making).  Luckily, I hadn’t added the noodles yet, so I just put a serving’s worth into a storage container and added a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.  So now, instead of two leftover servings of NWCC, I have one serving of NWCC and one serving of just plain noodles that I can do something else with.  Maybe not so poorly planned after all.

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Fall back! Fall back!

November 7, 2010 3 comments

Well, I just reset my clocks back to standard time, those that didn’t reset themselves.  I only have a couple — computer and cable box — that do automatically reset, at least on the right date; I have a VCR that was built back before Daylight Saving Time was extended, so it resets on the wrong date and I have to fix it twice.

Anyway, I’ve finally reset my kitchen probe thermometer doohickey’s clock enough times that I can do it without consulting the manual — but I nonetheless forgot which of the four buttons on my watch did which thing, and I had trouble finding the right page in its teeny-tiny manual which told me the answer.  Meanwhile, I had to cope with the Bose Wave Music system (i.e. fancy clock radio/CD player) that I inherited from my father, the manual for which was never found when we cleaned out his possessions, so I had no idea how to set its clock.  It occurred to me that I could probably find a PDF of the manual on the manufacturer’s site, and indeed I did.  Which was good, because I discovered a few weeks ago that the clock was 12 hours off, showing PM when it was AM.  Not really consequential, since it’s generally not difficult to tell AM from PM without having to be told by a clock, but it does my sense of precision good to be able to put it right at last.

The other clock-setting problem I had was more low-tech.  The weight of the wall clock in my bathroom pulling down on the nail had caused the nail-hole in the wall to widen downward to the point that the nail could no longer hold the clock’s weight.  So I got a longer, sturdier nail and made a new hole a little to the left.

I’ve never really understood Daylight Saving Time.  Nothing’s really being saved, just repositioned.  And it just feels so dishonest to pretend that time itself has shifted.  All we’re really doing is shifting the timing of our activities back and forth by an hour, so that we can take advantage of the earlier sunrise in summer and go to work an hour earlier (so I guess it’s “saving” daylight in the sense of not wasting the extra daylight, but that’s an odd use of the word), and temporarily renaming the hours so we can pretend we haven’t shifted.  So why not just admit that’s what we’re doing?  Why not adjust the timing of our activities as appropriate to the season and let the hours keep their proper numbering year-round?

Okay, granted, that would be harder to remember, and people are lazy.  It just seems it would be more honest.

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Chicken Salad II: The Leftovering

Well, I thawed the remaining two servings of my homemade chunky chicken salad overnight and had one serving on a pita for dinner yesterday (with lettuce and tomato — regular this time, not grape tomatoes).  I followed the advice I found online about defrosting chicken salad — I drained the excess moisture and stirred in a bit more mayonnaise to compensate.  But it was pretty bland.  So for the final serving, which I had for lunch just now, I also stirred in some more mustard, salt, and pepper, and I added onions to the list of veggies on the pita.  Better, but still not as good as the fresh.  From now on, I won’t double the serving size — I’ll just make enough for 2-3 servings at a time.

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DTI copyedits

November 1, 2010 3 comments

Pocket Books has apparently switched to an electronic process for copyediting, so instead of getting the marked-up pages shipped to me and sending my corrections by e-mail, I’ve instead been e-mailed the edited manuscript in .doc format.  By using MS Word, something I normally don’t do, I’m able to “Track Changes” and see all the edits that have been made (with notations in the margin in red), with the option to accept or reject changes.  Also, my own changes are marked in the margin in blue.  It’s kinda neat, and I guess it’s more efficient.  I went through the marked copyedits pretty quickly, but I still need to take the time to read through the whole thing more carefully.

I also got sent the style sheet, which is a reference document that lists, among other things, the spellings of all the proper names and specialized terms in the book so they can be kept consistent.  Since DTI: Watching the Clock is such a complicated book touching on so many different characters, events, times, and concepts both established and original, the list of names for things, people, and places on DTI’s style sheet is a full ten pages long, single-spaced.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s a sample from the “places” section of the style sheet, covering the letters E through I (plus the page number of the first appearance of each name in the manuscript):

Ealing, 276

Earth, 5

Endicor system, 90

Epsilon Ceti, 156

Eris, Dwarf planet 136199, 6

Eternal Love Hospice, 295

European Alliance, 56

Feather Place, 60

Ford’s Theatre, 82

Gaia, 198

Galartha Sector, 155

Gamma Quadrant, 198

Greenwich, 8

Gum Nebula, 113

Hugora Nebula, 271

Ilia Memorial Space Center, 285

Indira City, 40

Ten of these are locations where scenes are actually set (though there’s some overlap, obviously); the other seven are only referenced.  Which are which?  That would be telling…

A note on the title: Apparently the full title to be printed on the book’s cover and title page is Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock.  However, it’s listed on the Simon & Schuster site and on as Star Trek: DTI: Watching the Clock (which is off by one colon from what I’ve been using, Star Trek DTI: Watching the Clock).  So it looks like the two forms are equivalent and interchangeable, with the abbreviated form being preferred for talking/writing about the book but the spelled-out form used on the book itself.  Although I don’t yet know which form will be printed on the spine of the book.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they used the shorter form to make it fit better.  (I know I’ve seen that done in some case, the full name on the front cover and the acronym on the spine, but I can’t remember what book that was.  Maybe it was a video or CD instead.)

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