Archive for January, 2015

You’d think an odometer would be easy to fix…

January 27, 2015 1 comment

Last month, I posted about my discovery that my car’s odometer had broken down, and my decision to leave it unrepaired for the nonce rather than go through the hassle of leaving my car in the shop for a few days. In the interim, though, I realized that accurate odometer readings are important for things like insurance and resale value, so I decided to go ahead and see about getting the repair done. The dealer told me they’d have to send the part out to a specialist, meaning I’d have to leave my car with them for at least a couple of days, meaning I’d have to take a long bus ride home. So I checked with my local garage to find out if they could do it, then called the dealer to compare price estimates. Turns out the local place would’ve charged considerably more — but in the process of talking to both places, I learned they had both consulted with the same speedometer specialty shop, the one the dealer would’ve sent the part to. So I decided to talk to the specialists directly and see what they could tell me. It sounded like they had the best handle on the problem, and they offered me the lowest estimate, but the problem was transportation. The shop is about a mile from the nearest bus stop, mostly without sidewalks, and then I’d have to ride the entire length of the bus route just to get downtown and transfer to a bus back home — and then reverse it when the car was ready.

So I’d just about decided to go to the dealer, which is much closer to several bus routes, and let them send the part out to the specialty shop. But they suggested that if I got the shop to order in the part, then I could bring my car in when it was ready and save a few days. Which gave me time to rethink my plan, because it turned out the dealer would’ve charged an extra 90 bucks in labor for the part removal, and I realized that it wasn’t worth 90 bucks just to avoid a mile of walking either way. So I decided I’d take the car directly to the specialists and hopefully get it back within a few days. Once I learned they had the part in, I dropped the car off in the morning, got to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare, and actually rather enjoyed the bus ride because it went places I’ve never been before, including a fair stretch right alongside the Ohio River. I returned home with the hope that I’d be making the reverse trip a day or two later.

But it turned out the bus only went out there a few times a day, so if I got the call later than about 2:45 in the afternoon, I’d have to wait until the next day. And then I discovered it didn’t go out there at all on weekends, so I was disappointed when they were still working on the problem come Friday afternoon. It ended up taking until Monday, five days in all. It turns out that the part they needed to replace was the body control module, the actual computer “brain” of the car. Yup, that’s modern technology — one little function breaks down and the entire computer needs to be replaced. And apparently the car wasn’t designed to permit that kind of replacement, so they had to do some kind of workarounds to get the car and the new brain to recognize each other. They actually had to e-mail the part’s manufacturer over in Europe somewhere to get instructions. (They told me that cars are designed that way since the dealers want you to rely on them for repairs and replacements — but it was the dealer who sent me to these guys!)

Now, as I said in the earlier post, the dealer told me that the car’s onboard computer would still be registering the actual mileage even if it didn’t show on the display — but that was a misdiagnosis, since the problem was with the central module rather than just a sensor. With a whole new control module, the mileage would have to be programmed in from scratch. Fortunately, I don’t drive that often, and I keep pretty good records. So I was able to reconstruct all my driving since the odometer broke down. As I said last time, I knew that had occurred exactly 49 miles after the last time I filled the tank, and I knew the date of that fill-up. So I went through my financial records and receipts to remind myself where I’d spent money since that date, checked my calendar to fill in anywhere else I’d gone, used Google Maps to calculate travel distances, then subtracted 49 miles. That gave me my approximate mileage since the breakdown, to within a few miles’ margin of error. But as it turned out, the reprogramming could only get it within 30 or 40 miles anyway. But that’s like a twentieth of a percent of the car’s total mileage, so I guess it doesn’t matter much, statistically.

So anyway, I finally got the call on Monday afternoon, in time for me to catch the last available bus of the day. I’d told them not to rush it, since I wouldn’t want to come out there and find that it still didn’t work. But the repairman assured me it was ready. What’s more, he even volunteered to pick me up at the bus stop and drive me back to the shop, which I really appreciated given the frigid weather. I wasn’t quite sure what to watch for when I got off the bus, but he soon showed up in my own car; the pickup served two functions, since it was proof that the car was working and the odometer registering again.

So I drove us back to the shop and paid my bill, which was exactly equal to his estimate (well, plus tax). It seemed we were all done — but then I found that the car wouldn’t respond to my key-fob remote anymore. So the repairman had me follow his car over to a nearby GM dealership whose repair guy had helped him with some of the programming, and got the guy to do some sort of handshake or reset to fix the problem in a couple of minutes, for no extra charge. Then I went and got some much-needed groceries (I’d picked up a few essentials on foot over the weekend, but I needed more), filled the tank again, and drove home, with the car performing fine. I wanted to fill up right after so I could reset the trip odometer and resume my gas-mileage calculations fresh.

I had been wondering why the shop had such a remote, pedestrian-unfriendly location, given that people would occasionally need to drop their cars off and find alternate transport home. But now that I’ve gotten a sense of the collaboration among different mechanics, the way they consult with each other and help each other out, I guess it makes sense that you’d want to locate an auto-repair business close to other auto specialists and dealers.

All in all, I spent a fair amount of money on this, but I’m confident that I chose both the least expensive and the best option available (two things that don’t often go together). If I’d taken it anywhere else, I would’ve spent more and might’ve been without my car even longer, given the evident trickiness of the repair. And really, if the problem was with the central computer, maybe it’s a good thing I went ahead and did this. If that function of the control chip had broken down, who knows what else might’ve failed soon?

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Announcing HUB SPACE: The Hub meets the Crossroad

January 16, 2015 1 comment

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve just signed with Crossroad Press to release an e-book compilation of my three “Hub” stories to date, “The Hub of the Matter,” “Home is Where the Hub Is,” and “Make Hub, Not War.” Things are still preliminary, but unless I come up with something better, the title of the collection will be Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy.

It’s always been my hope to do enough Hub stories to collect into a novel-length fixup. But the rise of e-publishing gives me another option that doesn’t require waiting so long, since it’s opened a market for novella-length publications, a market that didn’t really exist in print. The first three stories form a loose arc of their own, so it makes sense to collect them and get them back into print, so that if I sell more stories in the future, it’ll be easier for new readers to track down the first three.

Also, this gives me a chance to revise the stories. The first two were published with errors — somehow the final corrections for the first story got lost in the mail, and somehow I got the name of a major character’s species wrong in the second. So this is my chance to finally get the corrected versions of the stories into print — another reason I decided to act now rather than waiting years more to accumulate a novel’s worth of stories. Not only that, but I’m expanding the stories a bit, adding new material here and there to flesh out the characters and their environment. I went for brevity in the original novelettes, but here I have room to breathe a little more. So readers who own the original Analog issues will still get something extra if they buy the collection.

I don’t yet have information on the publication date or the price, but I’ll report that as it becomes available. No cover art yet either, but here’s the illustration from the Russian reprint of “The Hub of the Matter” again, just because it’s cool:

Russian "Hub of the Matter" title page

Art by Vladimir Bondar

UNCERTAIN LOGIC cover revealed!

January 7, 2015 1 comment has just released the cover art for Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic, the third volume in my ongoing series about the early years of the United Federation of Planets. I’m thrilled to get to show it off at last:

ROTF Uncertain Logic cover

And here’s the blurb again:

Years ago, Jonathan Archer and T’Pol helped unearth the true writings of Vulcan’s great philosopher Surak, bringing forth a new era of peaceful reform on Vulcan. But when their discov­ery is seemingly proven to be a fraud, the scandal threatens to undo a decade of progress and return power to the old, warlike regime. Admiral Archer, Captain T’Pol, and the crew of the U.S.S. Endeavour investigate with help from their Vulcan allies, but none of them suspect the identity of the real master­mind behind the conspiracy to reconquer Vulcan—or the price they will have to pay to discover the truth.

Meanwhile, when a long-forgotten technological threat reemerges beyond the Federation’s borders, Captain Malcolm Reed of the U.S.S. Pioneer attempts to track down its origins with help from his old friend “Trip” Tucker. But they discover that other civilizations are eager to exploit this dangerous power for their own benefit, even if the Federation must pay the price!

I’m really pleased with how well the cover turned out, because the basic idea was my own. It’s unusual for authors to have a say in cover design, but one day it just occurred to me out of the blue that if you superimposed the Kir’Shara (the ark holding Surak’s writings) onto the planet Vulcan, it would look like an IDIC emblem, which I thought would be a very fitting symbol for the plot and themes of the book. I knew it wasn’t my place to butt into the cover design process, but I was so struck by the idea that I suggested it to my editor anyway, and even did a quick-and-dirty mockup image to get the idea across. I’m pleasantly surprised that they thought my suggestion was worth using, and of course Alan Dingman’s art looks a ton better than my version. A nice touch is that the “IDIC” image is reproduced smaller on the spine of the book, much like the cover image of Emerald Blair on Only Superhuman. That should help make it stand out on shelves, I think.

Follow the link for release date and ordering info!

Just saw THE HOBBIT Part 3… (Spoilers)

January 2, 2015 1 comment

I wasn’t sure how eager I was to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, given the lukewarm reviews. But I was moderately interested in it as a technical achievement; I actually like the high frame rate and the realistic feel it creates, reminding me of watching a videotaped BBC drama. And I was interested in it for some of the actors, particularly Martin Freeman. I figured I should see it in the theater, even if I didn’t expect much.

And it was okay. It really didn’t feel like it lasted two and a half hours, because, let’s face it, not that many things happened. I was actually surprised when I realized the story was wrapping up, because it didn’t seem I’d been in the theater that long. There weren’t even that many parts that felt to me like they were going on too long or too slowly, even though I have felt that way about other Peter Jackson movies. The one part that did seem to drag for me was the aftermath of the battle of Laketown. After Smaug was killed, and before the conflict over the mountain started, it all felt like denouement. And in retrospect, I have to question whether there was really a point in giving so much screen time to Alfrid, the sleazy assistant to the late Master. Sure, he provided some comic relief in a film that was generally devoid of it, but he got more screen time than a lot of the dwarves, than Galadriel or Radagast or Saruman… it almost feels like his screen time rivalled Bilbo’s. And he had no arc. He didn’t change or evolve in any way, didn’t get any comeuppance or resolution — he was just there until he left. I think they could’ve cut his role down considerably.

And while it was a reasonably entertaining experience, it’s very much a fragment of an experience. It isn’t really a story of its own, it’s a bridge between The Desolation of Smaug and The Fellowship of the Ring. Basically, to borrow a term from comic books, Peter Jackson is writing for the trade — telling a decompressed, serial story with an eye toward how it will work when collected and experienced straight through, rather than making each individual installment a complete experience on its own. The film even opens without any preliminaries, just assuming the viewer knows what happened in TDoS and picking right up as if it had just come back from a commercial break. And while the final scenes do serve to wrap up Bilbo’s journey to an extent, they feel like they have more of an eye toward setting up Fellowship.

But the film was worthwhile for the performances. Martin Freeman is an amazingly talented actor — and an amazingly gifted reactor, which is one of his greatest assets. He can convey volumes just by the way he listens and silently reacts to other people’s words or actions. Which is great, because it adds a lot to the film’s rather thin storytelling and Bilbo’s fairly sidelined role in it. The rest of the cast is impressive too, but Freeman’s the real standout for me.

Technically, it was pretty impressive as long as you can accept that much of it is essentially a photorealistic animated cartoon. I did feel there was too much CGI and too many swooping camera moves, although it wasn’t as bad as some of the scenes in the first Hobbit film that felt like video-game cutscenes. The 3D generally worked pretty well, but sometimes (especially in the CGI scenes) the characters seemed toy-sized; and there were a few overly self-conscious 3D gimmicks, like the bit where Thorin was advancing on Azog with the point of his sword sticking right out toward the camera. But then, self-indulgence is Jackson’s stock in trade these days.

Speaking of indulgence, the theater I was in has been refitted with cushy, reclining seats and wider aisles. I’ve seen that other theaters are doing that lately; I guess that, in this age of huge widescreen TVs and surround sound systems, theaters have to try harder to compete with people’s living rooms, and comfy recliners are a way to do that. But I actually didn’t benefit much from the experience, due to my health issues; the soft seat back wasn’t good for my lower back, and my feet cramp if they’re elevated and unsupported for too long. Plus, the whirring of motors as other moviegoers adjusted their recliners during the film was distracting.  Also, I was nonplussed by the need to preselect a seat at the ticket counter, like ordering an airline ticket, rather than just taking whatever seat I wanted. Since I didn’t know how big the theater would be, I couldn’t adequately estimate where a good place to sit would be, and I ended up maybe a row further back than I would’ve liked.

So anyway, I guess that’s it for Jackson’s Tolkien film series — for now. Maybe someday I’ll rent the expanded editions and go through the whole experience, but I don’t really feel strongly motivated to do so. If anything, I should probably reread the books first.

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