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Posts Tagged ‘cars’

Braving the garage

Last time I reported on my car battery situation at the end of January, I was cautiously optimistic that I might have dealt with the drain on my battery by removing the charger from the power socket. No such luck — the last couple of times I went for groceries, I had to jumpstart it again. Luckily, I still had a few weeks left on my battery’s 18-month free replacement warranty. Still, I waited for the weather to improve a bit (both so the car would be easier to start and because I’d have to walk from and to the garage after dropping off my car). Plus I was hesitant to go to the garage because of COVID and all. Finally I noticed that Google now gives health precaution info for businesses, and it confirmed that my garage had sensible precautions. I was still a little concerned about indoor ventilation, though. People are still preoccupied with disinfecting surfaces, but the scientific consensus now is that surface infection is vanishingly unlikely and the real risk is from being indoors with other people for any length of time, particularly in a poorly ventilated space. But when I thought about it, I figured that an automotive garage would pretty much need to have good ventilation by default. Well, maybe not so much in the office, but it’s a small office and it usually has at least one door open.

As it turned out, there have been some procedural changes as well — when I called, I was told to schedule a dropoff time online, and the online form asked me to describe the issues, so I didn’t have to do it face to face. And I didn’t even have to come inside, as it turned out; I just dropped the car off and left the spare key on the front seat. Picking it up today, I was able to call the guy from outside and he brought the credit card scanner out with him. He offered to take my card info over the phone, but I figured just being outside was enough.

As it turns out, while I did get a new battery, new wiper blades, tire rotation, and other servicing, it turns out that the battery problem is what I feared. The electrical issues the car’s been having for well over a year now, which are beyond the local garage’s ability to address, are evidently causing some kind of “parasitic draw” on the battery. And I don’t see how I can get that taken care of anytime soon. The garage they referred me to is too far away to get back from except by bus, which isn’t an option I’m willing to take in a pandemic. And though my money situation has begun to improve, it’s an incremental improvement and I need to keep my spending relatively constrained until the next big paycheck comes in a few months. So as it stands, my options are either to drive the car more regularly to keep the battery charged (even though I have zero other reasons to drive anywhere besides grocery pickup), or just keep using my jumpstarter pack to start it up like I’ve been doing for the past few months. Hopefully at least the new battery will make some difference, or will drain less as the weather warms. But I have no idea what to do about the problem in the long run.

So my walks from the garage yesterday and to it today are the longest walks I’ve taken in quite a while. I’m glad I was still up to it; my fitness hasn’t deteriorated too much from the lockdown. I even managed to keep my glasses from fogging up too badly with the mask on. Still seeing a lot of people going unmasked, though among those who were masked, I didn’t notice anyone with their noses sticking out.

Oh, speaking of electrical problems, we had a power failure here yesterday afternoon, just after 5 PM. I was able to check the power company’s outage map on my phone, and it gave an estimated repair time of 9:30, which I hoped was just a placeholder and that the power would be restored before the 4-hour safe limit for food in the fridge. I passed the time reading a paperback book by the window before the sun set, and to avoid opening the fridge, I had supper consisting of a peanut butter sandwich (no jam) and potato chips, and cracked open a new, room-temperature bottle of apple juice (then forgot myself and accidentally opened the fridge door for a few seconds to put it away).

I’d just settled down to do some writing work on my laptop (which still had a full battery) when the power came back on, about 2 hours or so into the blackout, so my food was safe. So of course I blew off the work and went online again. I didn’t really feel up to doing much anyway. Although moving my laptop to the table did finally let me brush the dust off the cooling-fan platform it sits on, something I recently realized I should try to do periodically.

Still, it’s frustrating how often the power goes out around here. I wish we could really modernize the power grid — build in more redundancies, give buildings backup generators or batteries, stuff like that.

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Battery better-y?

January 26, 2021 2 comments

The latest on my car battery situation: Someone on Facebook suggested that the culprit draining the battery might be a power adapter in the lighter, if it had an LED. I have, in fact, been keeping just such a thing plugged in, so after the last time my battery ran down (this time so completely that I even had to unlock the door manually), I took out the adapter, and after I jump-started the car with my portable power pack, I went for an extra-long drive to recharge the battery as fully as I could, even going a few miles out and back on the freeway. I figured that if driving around recharges the battery, and if my short local drives weren’t enough to give it a lasting charge, maybe a longer, faster drive would do better.

A couple of days later, I was down in the parking lot to take out the trash, so I tried starting the car, and it worked. But the real test was today, when I went to pick up groceries. Luckily, for the first time in a month or more, I was able to start the car on the first try, with no jump needed. I’m not sure if that’s because of the adapter being removed, the long drive I took, or the fact that it’s only been a week since then. But it’s a relief.

Still, I’m going to need some car maintenance before long, since my wiper blades are turning into spaghetti. I suppose I could try buying new blades online and installing them myself, but I’ve never done that and I don’t know how easy it would be.

In other news, I’ve now been paid for that novel manuscript I recently finished and still can’t talk about, and I’ve finally paid off the remainder of that rather large tax debt I’d been paying in installments. The interest on that payment plan was pretty steep, so I’m glad to be free of it at last. I’m still waiting for the go-ahead for the next book, and I’ve just turned in copyedits for my next Star Trek book which also hasn’t been announced yet. So now I’m sort of taking advantage of downtime between projects, while thinking about what to do next.

Last week, due to bad weather and finally having some money to spare, I got my groceries delivered instead of picking them up, which didn’t turn out great. I had them delivered on the same day I ordered, which means I wasn’t given the chance to approve their substitutions for missing items. There was a weird substitution this time — instead of substituting my usual frozen orange juice concentrate with another variety of orange juice, they substituted some single-serve scrambled-egg cups, with ingredients that you’re supposed to mix into the cup with one egg and then microwave. I don’t have eggs; I don’t much like them. So I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the things. Luckily, it turned out that the distinct ingredients (e.g. diced ham, bacon bits, diced peppers, onions, and potatoes, and grated cheddar) were in individual pouches, so I’ve been using them in various other recipes. I had the ham with peas and grated parmesan atop fettucine, approximating something my father used to make, and it was pretty good. I didn’t expect to like the bacon bits, but I had them in a single-serve bowl of microwave macaroni and cheese along with diced tomato, and it was pretty good. I had the pepper-onion-potato mixture and more diced tomatoes with vegetarian Italian sausage and olive oil on top of rice, which didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. And I’ve had the grated cheese as part of my standard “chili” dog recipe with refried beans, cheese, chopped onions, and Dijon mustard on turkey dogs, as well as on top of a bowl of beef ramen soup with veggie crumble and mixed vegetables. So I found a use for all of the ingredients after all. Although I had to go a week without orange juice.

Ah, yes, that beef ramen. A few months back, they substituted a 6-pack of beef ramen packets in place of the chicken ramen I wanted, even though I asked them not to. I finally used up the last of it this week and tried ordering the chicken again — and once again, they substituted a 6-pack of the beef kind. Ugh. Just when I thought I was out. Well, I suppose I could just throw out the beef flavor packet and mix in some diced chicken and my own seasonings, and that would be fairly close. I keep meaning to try that, but I have kind of a mental block against throwing out food unnecessarily, even something as cheap as a ramen flavor packet.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll be glad when I feel safe to go into the grocery store again. Luckily, with the new administration and Congress in place, it finally looks like we’re getting onto the right track to get the pandemic under control. But it will still be months before things can begin getting back to normal.

Categories: My Fiction Tags: , ,

Starting anew

Well, here we are at the start of 2021, which will hopefully be the year we climb out of the hole we collectively sank into in 2020. So far the climb is definitely happening for me. I have money in the bank again, and I have more on the way. I turned in that new novel manuscript on schedule, after doing a few revision passes and incorporating some very useful notes from my consultant, and I was notified this morning that the payment is being processed and should be in my bank by next week, which is nicely prompt. And I’m making excellent progress at outlining what comes next. (Still waiting for it to be formally announced so I can say more.) I’m really feeling upbeat this past week or so, happier than I’ve felt in probably the past few years. That’s both from the financial relief I’m getting from this project and the creative satisfaction and fun of writing it.

Oh, and I got a call today from my eSpec Books editor Danielle McPhail, telling me that my author copies of Arachne’s Exile and The Arachne Omnibus are on the way, including a copy of the hardcover edition of the omnibus. That should be cool to have, a nice companion piece for the Only Superhuman hardcover on my shelf. I find it ironic that this duology that I initially wrote as a single book and then decided would work better as two books has ended up being available as a single volume after all. Anyway, Amazon has been showing the omnibus as one of the most popular books on my author page, though its sales rank listings don’t seem to agree. I wonder if popularity is calculated based on views rather than sales. (Also, for some reason Amazon isn’t showing my books on my author page at the moment.)

I got the aforementioned call while I was in the middle of trying once again to jump-start my car to go pick up groceries (which is why I was a little curt on the phone, Danielle, sorry). Yes, even though I drove around for half an hour 12 days ago to charge up the battery, it was drained once again. (The post title has a double meaning, see? See?) I didn’t think it had been that long; I’d been planning to go to the grocery store sooner this time now that I had a bit more money. But between my reluctance to drive in chilly weather (which makes my car sluggish for the first few minutes it’s running) and my preoccupation with finishing the manuscript, I let a whole two weeks go by between grocery trips and the battery ran dry again. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really just the car’s lack of use, or if there’s some glitch in the electrical system draining the battery.

The portable jump-starter power pack was acting weirdly again too; the power lights wouldn’t go on. Yet nonetheless, it successfully started the car. I don’t know what happened there, but I’m glad it worked after all. Still, I’m getting tired of having to jump the car every time I drive it. Maybe I need to take a longer drive soon, to charge the battery more fully. Or maybe I need a better battery. (What I really need is a better car, but my finances haven’t improved that much.)

One good, minor bit of car news, though, is that for once I remembered to write down my end-of-year mileage for tax purposes. Usually I forget until March and have to reconstruct my travels in the interim to estimate how much to subtract from my current mileage. This time I finally have an exact figure.

Anyway, for a moment it looked like I wasn’t getting the usual text from the grocery store asking me to approve their product substitutions, and I hoped I’d finally get everything I ordered, including the vegetarian Italian sausages I really love and haven’t been able to find since the pandemic started. But it turned out the text just came a bit late, and they did substitute a couple of items, including those. So I do have veggie Italian sausages, but a different brand, and just basic Italian instead of the really good sun-dried tomato and basil flavor. Hopefully they’ll be a reasonable substitute — or at least better than the veggie kielbasa I got as a substitute last time I tried buying those sausages (which was, wow, all the way back in May).

Oh, and I also made a second try at buying a frozen pizza, a Mediterranean veggie variety. Last time I tried ordering it, they put a spinach and mushroom pizza in with my order even though the receipt showed it was the Mediterranean one, and I don’t like mushrooms (though these were tolerable). This time, I finally got the right pizza, so that’s something. But ironically, they made the exact same mistake with my veggie burgers, substituting the wrong flavor even though the receipt shows the right one! (The online page also says that the cheese singles I ordered were out of stock and substituted with… the exact same cheese singles. Huh??)

I’ll close with a reminder — if you read either of the Arachne novels or the duology, please post reviews or at least ratings on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever. The more reviews the books get, the more awareness there will be for them.

An automotive addendum

December 23, 2020 1 comment

Since it was fairly warm this afternoon (which meant I didn’t have to worry about my car being sluggish to start due to cold lubricants or whatever), I took that drive I mentioned above, to recharge my car battery and test the GPS on my new phone. Turns out the battery ran dry again even in just the two days since my grocery trip, so said trip was nowhere near long enough to charge the battery. And for a few moments, I was worried that my jump-starter battery pack wasn’t working. The cable bit that plugs into it is supposed to go from flashing red and green to solid green to let you know it’s working, and it wouldn’t go green. It eventually did, though, when I happened to tilt it 90 degrees from the way it naturally rests, though I don’t know if that was cause and effect or coincidence, since it stayed engaged when I tilted it back. Anyway, I started the car and moved on to the next thing.

The USB adapter worked fine, letting me plug in my 6-foot charging cable, and the GPS worked smoothly too. But I’m out of practice at looking down at the screen as the phone rests in the cup holder, or else the angle was less amenable with the new phone somehow, even though it’s a bigger and brighter screen. I’ve never felt particularly safe doing that anyway. What I really need now is some kind of phone mount for my dashboard or dashtop or whatever you call that flattish surface under the windshield. The cable is easily long enough to reach even from the outlet in the back seat (the lighter in the front doesn’t work as a power outlet, I guess because the designers figured only passengers would need one, since the car predates smartphones).

Not that I expect to need it anytime soon, as I said above. I thought about maybe going to some store or other, maybe pick up some food at a drive-thru, but I decided I’d rather not deal with exchanging cash with anyone, and I only have a few bucks in my wallet anyway. I ended up just driving around the neighborhood, including some areas I haven’t been to in years if at all, just so I could experience the change of scenery. I was willing to risk getting a little lost since I had a working GPS again. But I didn’t need it. I still have a fairly good sense of the layout of the area and knew which way I needed to go.

Although the same can’t be said for everyone. As I was coming up along the one-way street leading to my home street, another car was approaching me the wrong way in the same lane! But they were on the other side of an intersection and they turned off before they and I got too close — also going the wrong way into a one-way turn lane. I hope they got back on the right side of the 2-way street they turned onto after that. At least, I didn’t hear any evidence to the contrary.

Given how effective my little pocket-sized jump-starter pack is, I wonder why car batteries need to be so big and heavy anyway. I guess a car battery is meant to hold a greater amount of charge, though, since it’s used for more than just starting the ignition. Isn’t it? Also, the pack always needs at least two tries to start the car. I guess you want a larger charge in the battery to make it more reliable — providing you use the car often enough for the darn thing to hold onto its charge.

I didn’t really think I was using the car that much less frequently than I did before the pandemic. Maybe about half as often, at a guess. But I suppose the distance I drive is much less, just to the neighborhood grocery store and back, which is only about a mile every couple of weeks. That was still my most common destination before, but it wasn’t the only place I drove to.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Today turned out better than it started

That’s the headline I thought of, but I should begin with yesterday morning, when my building maintenance people told me I needed to move my car from the rear lot to the front lot so they could resurface the rear one. (I didn’t see the notice on the front door ahead of time since I don’t go outside much these days.) When I got down there, I was the only person, resident or building staff, who was wearing a mask.

And my car wouldn’t start.

I hadn’t driven in a while, so the battery had run down. So I had to get a jump start from several people not wearing masks, not caring who they breathed on. At least they had their own cables so I didn’t have to interact too closely with them. Still, things like this that would once have been routine are scary these days, especially because so many people don’t seem to get that they aren’t routine anymore.

So anyway, that brief, sudden bout of anxiety ruined my mood for the whole day, not only because of the mask thing but because I needed to get groceries either yesterday or today and wasn’t sure my car would start when I needed it. Plus, while I finally got a new novel advance check last week, thereby easing a lot of my financial anxiety, I was waiting for a portion of it to complete the transfer to my other bank so I could put some more money on my credit card before grocery day. And though yesterday was the expected completion date of the transfer, it didn’t complete.

So this morning I was still kind of uneasy about things — especially when I went out to test my car and it again wouldn’t start. The automatic door lock worked, and the wipers worked when I tried them, so I knew the battery was still viable, just drained. The few minutes I ran it while moving my car yesterday weren’t enough. And I still needed groceries. I might need to spend the extra 10-12 bucks to get them delivered. More than that, I had a tax appointment I’d need to drive out to next week, or so I thought (see below).

Tired of my dependence on jumpstarts, I decided to look on Amazon for one of those portable charger units you can use to jump your own battery. Now that I finally have some money, it seemed worth the investment. I found what seemed like a good and inexpensive one, at a discount and the last one in stock, so I snapped it up — but the delivery date was the end of the month, so it wouldn’t help with any car trips before then.

Meanwhile, I tried watching last week’s Agents of SHIELD on the ABC website, since without a cable provider I have to wait 8 days to see an episode. But it was glitchy. The first act or so had the audio description turned on with no way to turn it off (the second week in a row it’s done that). Then it restarted from the top without it, so I had to jump forward to where it left off. But not long after that, my laptop shut down! Sometimes streaming sites work it too hard and it shuts down to protect itself from overheating. And these days I routinely keep a cool pack from the freezer on top of it when I watch videos, just in case (at least from sites that I don’t know are free of that problem). Either the pack wasn’t cold enough or the thing was just running too hot in spite of it. I rebooted and tried again, but it still seemed like my laptop was running pretty hot, so I gave up rather than risk it. So that was pretty frustrating.

Anyway, a while later, I decided to walk to the nearest mailbox to mail a check, so I could try to clear my head with some exercise. But I gave my car another try, just to see if maybe it had recovered a bit more charge. No luck. But this time, another tenant came out (masked, yay) and I asked her for a jumpstart. Neither of us was very experienced at it, but we managed to get my car started. (She had an electric car with the battery in the trunk and an engine I couldn’t even hear when it was running.) So I drove to the post office, dropped the check in the drive-through mailbox, and then just motored around the neighborhood for a while, since a Facebook friend told me last night that a half-hour drive every so often would keep the battery charged. Still, I could only hope there wasn’t some defect draining the battery and that I’d be able to go pick up groceries after all.

So things were still feeling kind of iffy. On top of all that, I needed to call my tax preparers and ask about the appointment I have scheduled for next week. (I hate to say I’ve benefited from the pandemic, but I’d never have been able to pay my taxes on time if not for the 3-month postponement.) Since the main offices were closed for the summer, I would’ve had to drive a very long way to get to the place, and that would’ve been just to drop off my documents so they could prepare things without me present. And I didn’t know if my car would even work. So I called to ask if there was an online alternative, and the guy told me how to sign up for their website. So that was one step of that problem solved.

Also, my bank transfer finally went through, so I was able to take care of the credit card and also pay some bills, as well as order groceries for later pickup. So things were starting to fall into place. When the time came to pick up groceries, my car did start — and this time, the clerk who brought them out was wearing her mask properly, unlike last time. And though my phone had trouble logging into the website you’re supposed to contact on arrival — which last time meant my order wasn’t logged in properly and I had to go back hours later and figure out how to complete it on my phone so that my card would be charged and I wouldn’t be an inadvertent grocery thief — this time they seem to have improved their process and the order went through properly after all. (However, they were out of sandwich turkey and I forgot to order cheese slices, so I’m not going to be able to have my usual turkey sandwiches for a week or two.)

So stuff was pretty much working out now, and I was feeling better. But the best news came just a little while ago. My new novel outline was approved, so now it won’t be long before I get the second part of the advance. I’m finally pulling away from the brink after all these frustrating months, and hopefully it’s for good this time, if certain other things continue to work out.

Hmm… you know, I wrote this post to celebrate how relieved I was feeling that so much stuff worked out well after the rough start to the day. But writing about how I felt before has made me tense again. Well, it will pass. Things are starting to look up for me now, and hopefully that will continue.

Incidentally, one thing I’ve been enjoying these past few days is DC Universe’s Harley Quinn. I’ve avoided the show because I heard it was really violent and crude, but I’ve seen glowing reviews of its character work and plotlines, so I finally decided to give it a try. It definitely is far more gory than I care for, and I avert my eyes a lot, but otherwise it’s a damn impressive show, with mostly effective humor and fantastic, nuanced character work. There have been some very funny moments, but also some incredibly poignant, moving, and dramatically powerful moments. It’s the first time I’ve liked Kaley Cuoco in anything; she’s surprisingly good as Harley. (But the last thing I saw her in was the original Charmed, which was 14 years ago, so long that they’ve already rebooted it.) Lake Bell is fantastic as the best version of Poison Ivy I’ve ever seen. And Diedrich Bader is easily the best Batman voice actor not named “Kevin.” Remember how rattled I felt yesterday? I spent much of the day bingeing this show, and it was very comforting. (I’m only up to episode 8 of season 2 as of this writing, so no spoilers in the comments, please.)

So that’s where I’ve been. My personal sources of anxiety are finally working out for the better, so now I just have to worry about the ongoing collapse of civilization going on outside. Still, it did seem that a somewhat higher percentage of people were wearing masks today than the last time I went out for groceries. More people may finally be catching on. I just hope my building’s staff figures it out soon.

Rough week, but some good news

Well, this has not been a great couple of weeks for me. Let’s see… I was feeling sick last week and not up to much of anything. I therefore put off getting groceries for a while, and when I finally felt well enough to drive to the store… I found my car battery had died. So I had to walk to the store instead. I think I waited another day, but I don’t quite recall — it’s a bit of a blur. Also, I somehow lost my receipt on the way home. I had to check my bank account online to find out how much I’d spent.

I’ve glimpsed three roaches or similar large bugs crawling around my bathroom and kitchen over the last week, the first time I’ve had any in quite a while. It gave me an incentive to finally put down a new set of plastic roach bait traps. On the upside, somehow I find my phobia about insects seems to have gotten a little milder, so I reacted to the bugs merely as an annoyance to be dealt with aggressively than as the catalyst of a borderline panic attack. (When I saw the second one, I happened to be carrying a heavy hardcover book. Fortunately the dust jacket proved easy to wash off afterward.)

Anyway, while moving the range and butcher block cabinet (I think that’s what it’s called) around to place the traps, I failed to notice that a glass pot lid was precariously placed. It’s the second piece of kitchen glassware I’ve accidentally shattered in the past month, and the third in the past six months or so. (The first was a Pyrex measuring cup that I’ve since replaced. The second was my last remaining tumbler of a set of four, the main one I used every day since it was the best one I had.) Now I no longer have a lid that fits my large saucepan. And I really wish the engineers would hurry up with developing shatterproof consumer glassware. Or softer kitchen floors.

There’s one more worrisome thing I’d rather not go into detail on since it’s finance-related, but it involves getting something in the mail yesterday that was very alarming to read until I figured out that it had to be a computer error or mixup of some sort, something sent to me by mistake or through a miscalculation, since it’s evidently not a scam but there’s no possible way it could genuinely apply to me. I just hope I can convince the relevant parties of that. I’ve reached out to someone that I hope can provide help or guidance, but I’m still waiting for a reply, and they might not be available right away.

Anyway, I put off dealing with the car because I was just too overwhelmed by all this stuff piling on at once, and I decided to focus on getting some work done on a thing I’m doing for Star Trek Adventures, one of the few bits of good news going on right now. Today, though, I managed both to make significant progress on that STA project and to take my car in to the garage, thanks to a helpful neighbor who gave me a jump start. Apparently the previous battery was kinda cheap and defective, but the guy had the right kind in stock and was able to replace it in a matter of minutes. I wish I hadn’t had to spend so much on it, but it could’ve been worse, and at least I got that off my list of worries, as well as returning some library videos that were due today. So I’m feeling somewhat better today than yesterday.

STA Strange New Worlds Mission CompendiumThe main bit of good news I have to report is that we finally have a firm release date for Star Trek Adventures: Strange New Worlds: Mission Compendium Vol. 2, for which I wrote one of the adventure scenarios. It’s been pushed back several times from its originally expected release date in August, but it’s now solidly on track for a November release, and it’ll be available for order on Modiphius.net as of October 24. There will be a formal press release coming soon, and I’ll post when it’s available.

In the meantime, I’ll be finishing up that other STA thing, and then finishing up a story I’m planning to submit to an open-call anthology. Then I’ll have to see about finding some other work to tide me over until my next Trek novel contract. Maybe I can get some seasonal work in a bookstore or something.

Car followup

I got the call that my car was fixed about 45 minutes before the garage closed. I had to decide whether to walk there while it was still raining and thundering — and I was still under the weather — or wait to get it back until Monday. I don’t have any plans for it on the weekend, but I figured it was better to get it back just in case, so I braved the rain, which fortunately was letting up, the thunder off in the distance. Although I did almost get run over in a crosswalk by someone who didn’t understand the rules of right of way. Well, that’s an overstatement, but it was still unnerving.

The car is fixed okay, and the new light control lever is almost indistinguishable from the old one, except it sounds a bit different. The lights seem to work okay now. But I noticed something odd. When checking the rear-view mirror, I noticed that the fabric lining the top of the car’s interior — which apparently is called the headliner, an incongruous name for such an obscure and generally overlooked component — was sagging in the rear corners, blocking a bit of the top of the rear window. I could swear it wasn’t like that before, but the garage guy couldn’t figure out how it could’ve just happened. I don’t know, maybe it was like that before and I just didn’t notice because the mirror angle was too low or something. He suggested using a staple gun, which he didn’t have and neither do I. So I’m not sure what to do about it at the moment.

But at least I have a working car again, and I managed to make the shopping trip I wanted to make this morning, and I’m just now having dinner with some corn chips I bought there. So hopefully everything’s okay now. I know, don’t jinx it…

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More car woes

Even though I was feeling a little under the weather this morning, and even though we had actual rainy weather this morning, I decided to take a quick shopping trip during the lull in the rain, to visit a local store I haven’t been to in a while and need one or two things from now that I have some money again. Imagine my surprise when my car wouldn’t start. I just got a new battery a few weeks ago!! Luckily the building maintenance guys were right there, and they gave me a jump start and determined that the battery was still holding a charge; it had just been drained by something. I realized my headlights were reflecting off their truck, and when I tried to turn them off, nothing happened. Somehow, they were stuck in high-beam mode.

So I drove straight to the garage, and the guy there told me he had a lot of jobs and couldn’t get to me until Tuesday. I was just about resigned to driving back home and getting another jump start on Tuesday, but he decided to take a quick look at the problem, and in trying to force the lever on the steering column to turn off the lights, he managed to break the lever altogether. So now I had to leave it in the shop. (Is it even street legal to drive without working lights or turn signals? I guess I could’ve stuck my hand out the window and signalled turns manually the old-fashioned way.) But to his credit, the guy tried harder to find a solution and promised me he could get a new part delivered and installed by tonight.

But I wasn’t up to walking home in my condition, and it had started to rain again, and I’d forgotten my umbrella. Not to worry, though; the guy offered to arrange a ride for me, on the garage’s dime. So I’ve now taken my first ever Uber ride. There was an Uber driver just a minute or two away at the university, so I didn’t have to wait long at all. So that was handy, although it meant I had to skip my shopping trip. Hopefully I’ll be up to walking to the garage to pick the car up whenever they’re done with it.

I think there may have been a harbinger of this problem on my recent Shore Leave trip. On the way back, I was returning to my car at a rest stop when I noticed the high beams were on. It took me a while to remember how to turn them off, and when I determined it was by pulling the lever toward me, I figured I must’ve accidentally done so at some point. But maybe it happened spontaneously and was a warning sign of the problem. But because I’d had that problem before, I was extra-careful the last time I used the car to make sure the lights were off when I was done with it. But it looks like there’s a problem with the internal switch, so that didn’t make a difference after all.

It’s always the way, isn’t it? As soon as you get money, new expenses crop up. Well, I guess it’s better than having it happen before you get money.

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Finally, my post-Shore Leave post (on Shore Leave)

Sorry it took me so long to write this — it’s been an exhausting week. As I mentioned, I had to leave a day early and drive a fair distance out of my way to pick up some belongings for a relative who recently moved to the DC area. So I spent 6 hours driving on Wednesday. I stayed with my relative’s friends, who were nice and welcoming, but I never get any sleep on my first night in an unfamiliar place (I recently read an article about this — it has to do with the brain’s instinctive alertness to danger, so it’s not just me), so not only was the big drive to DC on Thursday really long — more than 12 hours, as it turned out, including the frequent rest breaks I needed — but I was making it on no sleep and plenty of coffee. The folks I stayed with were kind enough to let me have a travel mug full of coffee to take with me on my drive, in addition to the first cup I had that morning, so that was pretty much all that kept me functional through that really long trip. Oddly, though, even with my car packed with a significant amount of extra weight, I got the best gas mileage I’ve ever had on that part of the journey, even topping 32 MPG. (I learned the habit from my father of always writing down mileage and gallons when I fill the tank to calculate MPG.) I wonder what made it so efficient. Could the extra weight have actually improved mileage somehow by giving me a bit more traction or something? That seems counterintuitive.

(Oh, and when I accidentally stretched out my laptop’s power cord too far Wednesday night and it came unplugged, I discovered the battery is dead. Something I’ll need to take care of when I can afford to.)

The drive out wasn’t entirely smooth, though. I committed to making it in one day because I didn’t want to pay for a motel and because the forecast called for heavy rain in the DC/Baltimore area on Friday — but as it turned out, Friday was quite clear, whereas I hit a fierce, intense thunderstorm at one point on Thursday. The weather radar at the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s travel plazas didn’t show its position clearly — I’m not sure it was a live feed, since it didn’t match what was on my phone’s radar app. But then, that app didn’t seem to show where the storm actually was either. (I wish there were a way to combine it with Google Maps, get both route and weather info at the same time.) Still, as scary as it was, it was mercifully brief, and was the one period of significant rainfall I experienced on the trip.

I made it to Cousin Barb’s home near DC a little before nightfall on Thursday, though I had to wait in the car for a while until she made it home. I hoped I’d be exhausted enough to get some real sleep despite being in a relatively unfamiliar place, but it was very humid, so I got almost none, though I do remember a couple of brief dreams, so there was at least a bit of REM sleep in there. Anyway, on Friday morning, I relied on my new travel mug full of coffee to keep me going as I drove my relative’s belongings to their new place, though I spilled a fair amount of coffee on an empty bookcase and my own tote bag because I overestimated how well the mug’s lid was secured. Nothing important was damaged, though.

After spending the rest of the morning with the family, I finally headed off to the Shore Leave hotel, which was another hour’s drive. I was so worn out by this point that I don’t really remember much detail, but I did the usual thing — shower, change clothes, rest up for a while, then finally venture out into the hotel and look for friends to talk to. As usual, fellow Star Trek novelist and Only Superhuman editor Greg Cox was one of the first people I ran into, and we and some others sat in the hotel Starbucks and chatted for a while about various things. I’m pretty sure Bob Greenberger (former DC Comics editor and Trek novelist) was there too, and Trek novelist Dayton Ward showed up for a time, but I’m not sure who else was there or what we talked about.

Eventually, at 7 PM, I had my first panel, which let me show off Among the Wild Cybers for the first time. Though the panel was nominally about anthologies, i.e. collections of stories by multiple authors, single-author collections like mine were included in the discussion too, so I got to talk about such things as how we chose the story order.

The big debut of the collection was supposed to be that night at Meet the Pros, but I got bad news from the book vendor: the distributor had failed to deliver the books in time for the convention. They were slated to reach his store on Monday, which was after Shore Leave ended. This was very frustrating. I’d brought a half-dozen copies with me (albeit slightly imperfect ones, from the first print run that left out the Only Superhuman preview at the back), but I’d given two to family members and I needed to keep one for my later panels, so I only had three copies to offer him to sell on consignment. As it happened, nobody bought any at Meet the Pros anyway, though all three copies sold on Saturday. Still, Meet the Pros was busier this year than it’s been in a while — perhaps because William Shatner was a guest at the con this year so there was larger attendance — and I did a good job selling the backlist Star Trek novels I brought with me.

But my favorite memory from Meet the Pros was getting to meet Michael Okuda, the longtime illustrator and technical consultant for the Trek franchise from Star Trek IV through Enterprise, as well as the co-author of the Star Trek Chronology and Encyclopedia, a member of the team that created Star Trek Remastered, and a graphic designer for NASA. He’s kind of a Trek legend (along with his wife/collaborator Denise, also in attendance), and he’s been of great help over e-mail with a number of my books, but this was his first Shore Leave. I was pleasantly surprised when he came up to me at my Meet the Pros table in order to meet me in person at last. Turns out he’s a really friendly guy. I went to one of his and Denise’s talks later on Sunday, and they’re both really nice people, who later on insisted on taking a picture with me.

In the less fun category, one of my pens started leaking in the pocket of one of my best shirts and left a stain that just got bigger the more I tried to wipe at it. I had to spend most of Friday night hiding the stain under my jacket. The next day I changed back into the shirt I’d worn previously (I didn’t have many other options, since I packed light to make room for my relative’s stuff), only to find it had a smaller ink stain in the same place. Anybody know how to get ink stains out of cotton/polyester?

I actually got a fair night’s sleep after MtP, though not a full night’s sleep, because MtP runs to midnight and I woke up sometime after 5 AM. I remembered a trick I finally figured out last year — since the hotel mattresses are a bit too firm for me, sleeping on top of the comforter makes it soft enough to be comfortable. Although using the other half of the comforter as a blanket made me too hot, which may be why I woke up early. Anyway, when I checked my e-mail on my phone that morning, I got a nice bit of good news, which I’ll share in a later post.

I had a pretty early panel on science fact in fiction, and… I can hardly remember anything we talked about. I’m starting to think I should’ve been more diligent about keeping this blog during the convention, as much as an aid for my own sleep-deprived memory as for anyone else. I remember it being a pretty good panel, moderated by Kelli Fitzpatrick, a new writer friend I met at last year’s Shore Leave and who’s already become an integral member of the gang. After the panel, I tagged along with Kelli and sat in the audience on a panel on cultural and gender representation in fiction, moderated by author/editor Mary Fan, and with my former Trek editor Marco Palmieri on the panel as well. It was pretty interesting, and when the question was raised about the difference between cultural representation and appropriation, I had a thought that I didn’t have the opportunity to express during the Q&A but mentioned to Mary afterward: That maybe the difference is akin to the difference between symbiosis and parasitism, in that it’s about whether the entity that takes something from another also gives something back to it in turn.

At noon, I had a panel on the Star Trek Adventures game, with my editor Jim Johnson and moderator Stephen Kozeniewski. I finally got to see some of the game books in hardcopy form and see the final formatted version of some of the adventures, although Jim tells me that my first couple of adventures probably won’t be published until August or so. Since I have little prior experience with gaming, it was an informative panel for me, even though I can’t clearly remember all of it. But I remember talking about the challenge of adapting my writing style to stories where I don’t know who the main characters will be, and figuring out how to create situations that are at once generic and adaptable to any characters yet designed to encourage character development and growth — for instance, a situation that forces the characters to address a moral dilemma, or to try to convince a character of something by drawing on their personal experience and values, or the like.

It turned out that I had a third Saturday panel that I failed to mention in my schedule post, because I’d forgotten applying for it and my name didn’t seem attached to it on the copy of the schedule I got. It was a panel about Sherlock Holmes and his various adaptations, and fortunately the moderator Roberta Rogow reminded me of it the night before. I was probably the one panelist least qualified to be there, since most of the others (including Keith R.A. DeCandido and Mary Fan) had written various Holmes pastiches, whereas my only bit of Holmes-related writing is that Locus Online post I did a few years ago, plus my blog reviews of the Rathbone films and whatnot last year. But I managed to hold my own, I think.

Let’s see, after that I went down to the book vendors and spent some time catching up with David Mack, who was doing his hour in the Author Chimney, the narrow space between brick columns which is where authors spend an hour at a time signing books for passersby. Dave has grown a goatee and dyed his hair bright blue, apparently in homage to or solidarity with his old boss on Deep Space Nine, Ira Steven Behr. He also had some good insights about Star Trek: Discovery through his connections to the show’s staff, and his words encouraged me about the future of the show after its recent staff upheavals. I did my own hour in the Chimney after Dave left and sold a few more of the books I brought with me. They’d already sold out of the three copies of Among the Wild Cybers I’d provided, which was good, though it’s a shame they didn’t have more copies available.

But the highlight for us authors on Shore Leave Saturdays is the annual group visit to Andy Nelson’s BBQ for dinner and conversation. Since I was so broke, I mostly just ate food I brought from home or from the folks I stayed with en route, but Andy Nelson’s is a tradition, and fortunately I’d made enough on book sales to feel comfortable paying for it.  We managed to get the indoor dining room to ourselves for only the second time since I started going along, which was good, since it was way too hot and humid outside. My usual pulled turkey sandwich was drier than usual, but a bit of BBQ sauce helped with that, and I was given extra stewed tomatoes on the side since my first helping got partly spilled. I had some nice conversation with Keith DeCandido, his wife Wrenn, Kelli Fitzpatrick, and others, and afterward Keith and Wrenn treated me to an Italian ice at a place Wrenn spotted along the way and apparently knew from the past. I got a banana-flavor one and was pleasantly surprised to find it had real banana puree and chunks in it.

It was kind of late when we got back and I was still sleepy, so after enough time to digest my big dinner and dessert, I turned in early. This time, I got more than a full night’s sleep, managing to sleep in well past 7 AM. I mostly just puttered around in my room until it was time to check out, which I did before the Okudas’ presentation at 11. After that, just the once, I splurged on a burger and orange juice at the hotel Starbuck’s — which, interestingly, cost exactly 1 cent more than my entire dinner at Andy Nelson’s the night before. So I was well-nourished for my personal Q&A panel at 1 PM. It was surprisingly well-attended for a Sunday afternoon, and though I didn’t have any specific presentation prepared, there were plenty of questions and we kept up a good conversation about Among the Wild Cybers and my other writing. Afterward, I managed to sell most of the remaining books I had with me, even including two hardcover copies of Only Superhuman.

The remainder of the con was just hanging out in the autograph section talking to other writers. I finally made a bit more progress in the discussion of a project that I’ve been talking about with someone for several Shore Leaves now but that’s been slow to get going. I now at least know the specifics of what I should aim for, and now it’s just a question of actually bringing it about, though at this point I’m not holding my breath for it to progress rapidly. I also let a certain editor know I’d be interested in pitching to their next anthology, a project I think it would be cool to be part of. So we’ll see how that goes. Oh, and this is also when I posed for that photo with Mike & Denise Okuda. (I didn’t manage to meet any of the actor guests this year.) Before I left, I made sure to find Kelli, since she was one of the lucky few who managed to buy a copy of Among the Wild Cybers and had let me know she wanted me to sign it. I’m glad I got to sign at least one copy of the book, especially for a friend.

After that was the usual deal, spending Sunday night at Barb’s again. I considered sticking around for another day or so, but I was getting eager to get home. I gathered that a bunch of the other writers had been invited to visit the Goddard Space Flight Center with the Okudas, and I would’ve liked to be part of that, but apparently they were all booked up already and couldn’t accommodate another guest, so I had to miss out. So on Monday morning I just set out on the long drive home. Having survived the even longer drive I made on Thursday, and remembering how smoothly this return trip on the fastest possible route had gone last year, I felt pretty confident I could make the trip in one day, though I still made sure to have a full travel mug of coffee before I left. Anyway, it was an uneventful trip and I got home safely and I’m still recovering 3 days later. That was a heck of a long trip.

Still, it turned out to be a good trip. I got some significant stuff accomplished both in terms of career and family, and for once I made significantly more money than I spent, partly because I economized all I could and partly because it was a busy con and my book sales were quite good (despite the lack of Wild Cybers). Plus I got a cool new coffee mug!

Not having a great week

The universe isn’t done screwing with me yet, it seems.

It looked like I was finally close to getting out of this financial pit I’ve been in all year, or at least making significant strides uphill. I’m waiting on something that should pay off soon, probably next month, and ease my burden a great deal. But in the meantime, it looks like the profits from the Kickstarter campaign for Among the Wild Cybers are lower than I’d hoped due to the costs of printing, shipping, etc., and I probably won’t see them right away. At the moment, I’m still very close to being out of money, biding my time and hoping I can make it through the next month or so with what little I have.

I thought it would help if I took advantage of my soon-to-be-improved fortune to apply for new credit at my banks, either a new card or a credit line increase or whatever. I was turned down before when my income was practically nonexistent, and the bankers advised me to try again when my situation improved, which it’s now just about to do. I tried applying at one bank last week, but it turned out my credit score was just a hair too low for them. I was literally off by 1 point. So I figured I’d go to my other bank and retry the things I tried there before. Hopefully one of them would pay off. If I could get more credit, I thought, it’d give me enough leeway to get some car maintenance done before I have to drive to Shore Leave.

So I went out to my car to drive over to that bank, the nearest branch of which is 5 miles away.

And I couldn’t start the car. My battery was dead.

I could get a jump start and drive to the garage pretty easily, but the new battery would run me up to a couple hundred dollars, and that’s a sizeable chunk of what I currently have left. If I’d already succeeded in getting new credit, that wouldn’t be such a problem, but I didn’t know if I would. This was the worst possible time for this to have happened. Especially knowing that, one way or another, I needed to get my car up and running within the next 20 days.

As it happens, though, a family member who recently moved to the DC/Baltimore area was willing to pay my expenses to pick up some belongings from their former home and bring them when I came to the area for Shore Leave. I realized that would be a way to pay for the new battery, since that would definitely count as a necessary expense. So I made those arrangements through my always-helpful cousin, and once I got the check in the mail, I was able to take the car in and get a new battery. Once that happened, I finally drove over to the other bank and applied for both a new credit card and a credit line extension, hoping I’d get at least one approved.

Guess what. They were both rejected, because my current debt load is too high. Which is frustrating, since I’m within a month or so of being able to start paying down that debt, but I may just need a little more help to make it until then. I know that I will be able to make good on my debt before much longer, that I just need to bridge the gap for another month or two at most, but I can’t convince the faceless decision-makers of that, because it’s all so rigid and by the numbers, so on paper I’m too great a risk. I mean, I understand the reason it’s all so strict these days — the rules were put in place to protect against fraud after the banking crisis a decade ago. So I can respect that. But it doesn’t do me any good in a situation where I could really use some wiggle room.

There’s still a chance that the big thing I’m waiting on will come through soon enough that I won’t need the additional credit cushion, but at the moment I have no idea how long it’ll take. I’d actually expected it to have happened already — I was told “very shortly” over 2 weeks ago. And I have several stories out at various magazines, so something else might pay off at any time, or it might not. I’m stuck just not knowing again, and afraid of what might happen if at least something doesn’t pay off in July. I really thought this would’ve all been wrapped up by now, but I got overconfident. Things are finally moving, but they’re still taking longer than anticipated. I just hate not knowing.

I’m wondering if, instead of applying for a bank credit card, I should just use one of those card applications that come in the mail. Maybe the approval standards would be different. But I just don’t know.

Well, at least I’ll have some books for sale at Shore Leave, copies of Only Superhuman and such. Between that and the convention stipend, maybe I’ll make at least a couple of hundred to help tide me over. Of course, my book sale is still on as always. And who knows? I could get good news from somebody or other any day now. I just hope I don’t have any other unanticipated expenses like the car battery.

Meanwhile, it’s not just the battery that unexpectedly failed me. The pull chain for my ceiling-fan light fixture in the living room broke off the other day, right after I turned it on. It broke off right at the base deep inside the fixture, so there was no way I could fix it myself. I had to wait a while for the maintenance guy to come fix it. At first I thought it was lucky that the light was on when the chain broke, since I could still use the wall switch to turn it on or off. But that meant that I couldn’t use the ceiling fan without the light also being on, and the fan is kind of necessary in hot weather, even when I don’t need the light. I might’ve preferred it if the ceiling light had been stuck in the off position, since I could’ve used my torchiere lamp to fill in. If the situation had gone on longer, I might’ve decided to unscrew the light bulb. But it turned out that it only took a couple of days to get it repaired, so it’s resolved now.

I also asked the maintenance guy to look at the spray nozzle on my kitchen sink’s hose attachment, which was sometimes sticking in the on position. Which was weird, since it was a replacement for the previous nozzle that also stuck in the on position. In trying to fix it, he got it stuck permanently in the on position, meaning all the water was coming through the spray hose instead of the faucet. He had to go out and buy a new nozzle, since he didn’t have any spares. Apparently, I’m the only tenant who still has a spray hose, since I’ve been living here so long that I’m the last one with an un-remodeled kitchen. Anyway, I thought he’d be gone for a while, so I channeled my inner MacGyver and used some long twist ties (from my drawer for spare electronics cords and such) to secure the spray hose to the faucet so I could use it as a makeshift faucet. But he came back less than half an hour later. I could’ve just waited and saved the effort. And the new spray nozzle has a different kind of lever to turn it on, so hopefully it won’t stick like the others.

Oh, one other way the universe messed with me, this time with my unwitting assistance: Yesterday when I drove to that bank 5 miles away, I turned out to get there shortly after the banker I’d been working with went to lunch. I guess I’d given her the impression on the phone that I’d be coming later in the day than I did (we didn’t make a formal appointment or anything). So I went over to the nearby library to wait it out. While there, I came upon several trade paperback volumes of Marvel’s hilarious The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl which I haven’t read yet. I tried to remember which ones I had already read and picked the two I knew I hadn’t, volumes 6 & 7 of the trade collections. Volume 5 was there too, but I got the impression I’d already read it and put it back on the shelf. But when I got home and started in on volume 6, it referred to a previous story I didn’t remember, so I went online to check, and it turned out I’d only read up to volume 4. So I went on the library website to request that volume 5 be shipped to my local branch.

Only to see that the list of volumes available for requesting included volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7.

This didn’t make sense, since I’d literally held volume 5 in my hands less than 2 hours previously. Apparently there was some catalog glitch or mislabeling or something. That meant there was no way to request it electronically, at least not from the local library. I could request a copy from another Ohio library through OhioLink, but that tends to take the better part of a week, at least. But, guys, it’s Squirrel Girl. It’s awesome. And the one place where I knew I could find it was the very branch I’d been in before. So, yes, I actually hopped in the car and drove the 5 miles back to the library to pick up volume 5. I knew exactly where I’d left it 2 hours before. And what were the odds that someone else had checked it out during those 2 hours?

Guess what. Someone else had checked it out during those 2 hours. I made that whole second 10-mile round trip for nothing.

Once I got home, I did the only thing I could and requested it through OhioLink. But that means I won’t see it until sometime next week at the earliest. Whereas I could’ve read all three volumes already and saved myself a pointless drive if I’d just checked more closely when I had the darn thing in my hand.

This is just not my week.

I made it home

I’m back home again now, though I’m still recovering from the trip. I had a nice visit with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry, then turned in early so I’d be rested for an early departure Tuesday morning, though I didn’t get as much sleep as I hoped (but then, I rarely do). Cousins Barb and Mark were kind enough to pick up groceries I could use to make a turkey sandwich for the road.

I set out during morning rush hour, but the westward route I chose toward I-70 enabled me to avoid heavy traffic once I got onto the highway. My plan was to take I-70 to the PA Turnpike so that I’d only have to be on it for a little while and not have to spend as much in tolls as I did on the way out. But Google Maps wanted me to go along I-68 through the Maryland panhandle and avoid the Turnpike altogether, and when I checked my weather app and saw there was rain heading north toward the Turnpike, I decided to follow its suggestion after all. I generally avoid that route because it’s so mountainous, which can be rough in bad weather, and because it’s less trafficked, so it could be harder to find help if something went wrong. But on a clear day with the car working fine, it made for a nice, quiet drive on an uncrowded highway. I did have a bit of a scare, though, when my GPS conked out, since I didn’t have any backup printed maps of the route I was using and was in danger of getting lost. Once I found a place to stop, I was able to reboot it, and also got out my folding state maps in case I had to navigate the old-fashioned way. The GPS stopped working a couple more times along the trip, but not until after I’d gotten past the tricky part, taking the US 40 state road from I-68 up to I-70. The last time I took that route was in the middle of a snowstorm, which is why I’ve avoided it ever since, but in clear July weather it was fine. I was even able to eat most of my sandwich while driving, since the road was so empty and uneventful. That saved me some time.

In fact, I got really lucky with the weather. The forecast called for rain on and off throughout the day, but either I managed to take a route around it or it just happened to go around my route. As I headed west toward Columbus on I-70, there was a big rainstorm heading northeast toward it from Cincinnati, so I figured I’d have to deal with some rough weather on the final leg of my drive — but by the time the storm and I converged, it had mostly tuckered out and I only caught a few moments of heavy drizzle along its fringes.

So thanks to all this good luck, I was able to get home via the quickest route with minimal delays and only the occasional moments of anxiety when my GPS conked out, and when I was unsure if I could find a gas station before running out. There was a moment when it seemed the gas gauge needle was dropping alarmingly fast on a steep uphill grade, but then it went up again once I was going downhill. I realized the changing angle of the fuel in the tank was lowering and raising the bob that connects to the gauge. There was also a weird moment later on where I was backing out a parking space (while turning) and the car kept going backward when I put it into drive, and the brakes were slow to stop it. That worried me, but it seemed to work fine after that. Maybe I was just on a steeper downhill grade than I realized. Or maybe the gears just didn’t catch.

I reached home around 6:30, about 10 hours after I set out, and I even stopped in at the local Kroger for some groceries, since I’d used up the last of perishable items like milk and sandwich fixings before I left. Then I spent the evening catching up on Killjoys and Dark Matter. My DVR failed to record them for some reason, but fortunately On Demand cable has nearly everything now. I still have Orphan Black to catch up on, though. (By the way, several Dark Matter cast members were at Shore Leave, and I got to have a brief chat with Jodelle Ferland, who seemed pretty nice.)

I just finished adding up all my receipts for the trip, and it turns out that the money I spent on the trip is only about 40 dollars more than the money I made, and that’s counting the gas and the car inspection I got shortly before the trip as trip-related expenses. So I didn’t quite break even, but I came close. Who knows — if the fans who said they might buy my books later actually follow through, I might come still closer to breaking even.

Shore Leave is coming up again!

Hey, everyone. Once again, I haven’t been keeping up with blogging… Other matters have been preoccupying me, including a side job I just finished for a little extra income, transcribing a book-length SF-fanzine memoir from the ’40s into a Word document for a colleague, which was rather time-consuming.

Anyway, I needed the extra funds because it’s getting close to that time of year again. The Shore Leave convention will be held in about 4 weeks, from July 7-9, 2017, at the usual venue of the Hunt Valley Inn in Hunt Valley, MD. This year’s guests include Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn! As usual, I’ll be on a few panels about various things, though the schedule isn’t finalized, and of course I’ll be at the Friday night Meet the Pros signing event and spend some time signing at the book vendor’s table. Whether I’ll have any new writing projects to talk about at the con remains to be seen; I’m hopeful something will break in the next few weeks, but there’s no way to be sure. At least my new DTI novella, Shield of the Gods, will be out by then. (Oddly, Amazon’s best-seller category trackers have it doing well under “Religion and Spirituality,” subsection “Personal Growth,” subsections “Men’s Personal Growth” and “Philosophy.” I guess they’re getting that from an overly literal interpretation of the title, and there is a reference in the blurb to the characters facing a personal challenge, so I guess this is the result of some kind of computer algorithm; but where do they get the “Men’s” part from?)

So that means there are things I need to take care of over the next few weeks. I need to get my car checked out to make sure it’s safe for the long drive. And I need to replace my laptop hard drive. See, when I got this refurbished laptop, the hard drive was making an intermittent clicking noise and sometimes wouldn’t start up, and I was told it might be damaged and unstable, so I contacted the refurbishers and they sent me a replacement. That replacement worked okay until a couple of months ago when it crashed, so I went back to the original, iffy drive until they could send me another replacement. I got that one weeks ago, but I’ve been putting off the switch because the iffy drive has been mostly working okay, and because I’ve had work I wanted to get done first. Mainly just because I hate going through the rigmarole of setting up a new hard drive, reinstalling and reauthorizing everything, etc., having to spend most of a day getting it all done. But on the other hand, the risk that the current drive might crash is a more long-term source of worry, so I should probably just get it over with. And I definitely should do it before Shore Leave, so I don’t have to worry about my hard drive crashing on me while I’m on my trip. (Assuming the second replacement actually works, which I shouldn’t take as a given considering how the first two turned out. If I could afford it, I’d just buy a whole new computer rather than gambling with this one.)

Getting back in gear

I finally got around to taking my car in to the shop yesterday morning, though I had trouble getting there. The car started up fine, but when I had to pause at traffic lights, I had trouble accelerating. That was unnerving, though fortunately it didn’t get bad enough to disrupt traffic or get me honked at, and I managed to make it to the garage under the car’s own power. This morning, I picked the car up. Apparently Uncle Clarence’s friend was right that the problem had to do with the transmission fluid — some sort of clip connecting an axle to the transmission was loose and the fluid was leaking. I’m not entirely clear on why that would only be a problem after the car had been sitting in cold weather overnight or longer, or why a loose clip that the garage guy attributed to an oversight in their previous maintenance work would explain the occasional sluggish starts I had before then. But it was a simple enough fix that he didn’t charge me anything, and the car seems to work fine again, for now.

And that’s good, because I finally got my last advance check for Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown, and now I was finally able to drive to the bank and deposit it, as well as picking up some much-needed groceries afterward. Though the car was almost out of gas when I left the garage, so I stopped to get just one gallon at the nearest station, to tide me over until I could get to Kroger and use my fuel discount to fill up the rest of the way. I probably had enough in the tank to make it there, but better safe than sorry.

Now that I’ve gotten all that dealt with, hopefully I can concentrate more on writing. I’ve just started a draft of a new Hub story, hopefully the first of several. And after that, I have a new Star Trek project to outline, but I can’t say much about it yet.

Followup on Cleveland ConCoction

Okay, the convention ended days ago, but I’m only now getting around to posting about it. Let’s see… My last panel on Saturday was about “Shaping the Short Story,” and I was hoping to pick up some tips on how to get better at coming up with short stories, but I don’t think I got the answers I was looking for. I think my problem is that my ideas tend to be big worldbuilding stuff that requires a longer format to explore. I think I’m better at coming up with ideas in universes that are already established and defined, like The Hub or Star Trek. Still, I got to hear from other authors on the panel, including another Analog author, Mary A. Turzillo. Afterward, I ran into Mary and Geoffrey A. Landis in the lobby, and we three Analog veterans hung out for a while in the con suite (a nice perk of the con, a dining area providing free food to guests).

On Sunday morning, I got checked out of my room before my 11 AM panel, “Best Worlds in SF.” I’d thought that would be a discussion of our favorite or most optimistic fictional universes, but apparently it was about “worlds” in a more literal sense, our favorite physical settings and the worldbuilding behind them. Geoffrey Landis was on this panel with me as well, and we both talked about our interest in real planetary science and how that could inform our fiction. There was also some discussion of the worldbuilding process, and I got to talk about The Hub and how pleased I am that its central concept is so simple and distinctive yet provides so many story possibilities growing out of its ramifications. Although that might actually have been in the short story panel the night before. They’ve kind of blended together in my memory.

(By the way, I’ve just discovered that the Internet Science Fiction Database lists my Hub stories under the series title “The Hub Gates.” I guess I can see why they’d think “gates” in terms of instantaneous interstellar travel, a la Gateway or Stargate, but I’m puzzled because I’ve never used that term for it myself — and there’s really only a single “gate,” the Hub itself. I’ve always thought of the series as just “The Hub.” Still, it’s neat to find out I have an ISFDb entry for my own original series. Though my main ISFDb page is in need of updating — it’s missing my non-Analog original stories, Hub Space, and my Star Trek Magazine articles.)

After the last panel, I spent an hour at the guest table in the main hall, trying to sell books, but that can be tough on the last day of a con, when people have spent most of their money already. Plus, I was kind of far from the other guests, since for some reason there was a live rabbit in a cage under the table and I had to move off to the side to avoid kicking it. So I was a little lonely. After that, I moved back to Author’s Alley for a last bout of giveaways and signings before the closing ceremony, and Larry Nemecek took that opportunity to interview me for a podcast. I think he said it was for Trekland, but there doesn’t seem to be a video up there yet.

So then I went off to the fairly brief closing ceremonies, and then I reclaimed my remaining books from the con staff — those from my own stock, at least, since we weren’t sure about the disposition of the remaining giveaway books. (That’s being worked out.) Anyway, it turned out that I didn’t need to bring both my boxes of Only Superhuman hardcovers, since I only sold 3/4 of one box worth. Still, I made a pretty decent haul, better than I’ve ever made at a single convention before.

And then the rough stuff began. First, I had trouble getting out of the parking lot. My car has been having problems accelerating after sitting overnight in cold weather; it takes up to a few minutes before I’m able to get the car moving to any useful degree, though it tends to clear up after that. I then had to endure a drive through heavy rain all the way to Detroit, and I wasn’t feeling too great after all the stress of the convention and lack of sleep, so I had to keep stopping to rest. Under other circumstances, I might’ve just found a motel for the night, but I wanted to get to Shirley and Harry’s home in time for the tail end of their “housecooling” party, as they called the gathering to commemorate their impending move out of their home of over 45 years. I got there in time to see cousins Barb, Mark, and Teddy before they left the next morning. It’s been a while since I’ve managed to see them, since I’ve had to miss the past couple of holiday gatherings at their home.

Unfortunately, their presence meant there was no room at the inn for me that night, so the plan was for me to go stay with Uncle Clarence. Which turned out to be a terrible plan, since getting there was a 40-minute drive through unfamiliar territory in the dark and the pouring rain. There were moments when I was driving on the freeway and could barely see the lane dividers, and it would’ve been so easy for me to have an accident. It was the most terrifying driving experience of my life. I should’ve just found the nearest motel to Shirley and Harry’s house, but I was too tired to think of it. I’m grateful to Clarence for letting me stay over, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the ideal choice in those conditions.

And I had car trouble again the next morning, this time with Clarence observing. He later called an automotive-minded friend, who suggested I might need the transmission fluid changed. Anyway, the car finally started moving, as it does, and I went back to Shirley & Harry’s for the rest of Monday. With things finally settled down and the weather improved, it was a good visit. There was good food and conversation, and we went to the local library and I checked out a collection of fun and zany Superman comics from 1958-9, the era when some of the most important elements from the Silver Age debuted, such as Brainiac, Kandor, and Supergirl. And I finally got a good night’s sleep on Monday night, so I was well-rested for my drive home Tuesday. The folks provided me with lunch for my trip, and also let me have a tea ball and a couple of mugs they no longer need.

The drive home was much nicer than my previous two long drives. The weather was great and I was feeling much better. I ran into a long traffic delay due to construction, but it was well-timed to let me eat lunch while traffic was completely stopped or inching forward, and it turned out to be a much shorter delay than the hour and forty-some minutes that Google Maps predicted. When I got home, I found a sticker on my door from UPS saying they’d tried to deliver a package from Simon & Schuster on the day I’d left for the convention — my copies of Live by the Code, of course, in an odd bit of timing. They’d dropped them off at the local bike shop, which I’d used once before to drop off a return to Amazon, so I guess UPS had it in their records as my preferred location. I picked them up the next day, combining it with a grocery trip. My car still seemed to be having some acceleration problems going up hills, so the transmission issue may be getting worse. I was going to take it to the garage then, but I decided I needed groceries first instead, and once I got home from that, I figured I’d wait until today. But today I had to do laundry, and was just generally too tired to do much else. So maybe tomorrow.

And hopefully soon I’ll be recovered enough to get back to that whole writing thing…

THE FACE OF THE UNKNOWN is done!

February 1, 2016 2 comments

Hey, all. I’m still here. I’ve been kind of preoccupied with a few things this month, mainly finishing up Star Trek: The Original Series: The Face of the Unknown, which I’ve just sent off to my editor. I think it’s turned out very well, especially considering that I had all those computer problems delaying me over the past few months. Fortunately the writing went smoothly for the most part; I actually finished the first draft early, but then I realized there were some additional story threads I needed to add, and it’s taken me until last night to get those sorted out.

As for my computer, it’s been working quite smoothly so far. I’ve got just about everything up and running as it should, and I haven’t had any trouble since I finished reinstalling stuff on the replacement hard drive. I’m thinking I should look into getting a backup drive that I can clone or image my drive to on a regular basis, so that it would be easier to restore if something else goes wrong. But I’ve never really figured out how to do backups beyond just copying my documents onto removable media. (Which used to mean whole boxes full of floppy disks, and now means a tiny plastic stick in my pocket. We live in the future!)

I’ve also been working my way through a rewatch of classic Doctor Who, as I mentioned before. I’m getting near the end of the William Hartnell era now, which means I’m going to be watching a lot of reconstructions of missing episodes for a while. Though I am getting the DVD of the restored “The Tenth Planet” through interlibrary loan. I’ve only just figured out how to extend my search to other Ohio libraries and request materials from them, which has let me track down some things I could never find otherwise. That also includes some of the non-Godzilla kaiju films I’ve been looking for, so you can expect the return of my Toho review series in the near future. (Sorry it didn’t occur to me to do Doctor Who reviews. I don’t think I’d have the time anyway.)

Now that I’m done with my Trek novel, I’m hoping to spend the next month or so working on original short fiction, hopefully including at least one new Hub story. Although I’ve already been delayed getting to that by my computer problems, so I hope nothing else comes up to divert me.

In the more immediate term, I should probably go for a walk today. We’re getting a spell of unseasonably warm weather hereabouts, after a bitter cold snap last week. Although in this age of climate change, we’ll probably have to throw out our past ideas of what’s unseasonable.

Speaking of which, I should probably take my car in for some maintenance soon. Over the past month, it’s had trouble getting started in cold weather — that is, the engine starts, but the car initially resists moving when I step on the gas. The first time it happened, I thought something must be obstructing the wheels, but nothing was. The resistance to acceleration gradually subsides, though it takes a couple of blocks to get back to normal. I figure some kind of lubricant must be depleted or in need of changing, though it seems to work okay in warmer weather or after a short enough interval of non-use. (I generally only drive once or twice a week.)

Shore Leave 2015 report

Um, okay, I guess I’m nearly recovered enough from Shore Leave to finally get around to posting about it… if I can remember enough.

Let’s see, I set off relatively early on Thursday morning, since it was raining in southwest Ohio and I hoped to get past the weather as soon as I could, before the really harsh stuff caught up with me. Once more, the weather radar app on my smartphone was very helpful in tracking the storm. I did get caught in one pretty heavy downpour, but it was brief.

Oh yes, but before I did anything else, I went to the nearest Kroger gas station to use my fuel discount, and then I went to the Starbucks in the same mall to get coffee for the road. It took me a moment to spot the store, because it didn’t have its name on the sign, only its logo. I suppose that reflects how ubiquitous Starbucks has become, but it’s also a worrying sign that we’re becoming a non-literate society. (Even the New York Times crossword page has redesigned its format to be mostly pictures rather than words. I mean, a crossword page. Think about that.) Anyway, I asked the clerk (barista? I don’t know this arcane terminology yet) for some advice on picking a beverage, something mild and sweet and not bitter, and ended up going for a white mocha thingummy with whipped cream, which wasn’t bad. Still, I found I needed more of a caffeine boost on the road, so over the course of the day I had both of the iced-coffee drinks I’d bought the day before just in case. I’m starting to think that caffeine doesn’t have that much of an effect on me. But the other part of the problem was that I’m out of shape. I’ve been too busy writing lately, too sedentary, so my general endurance and energy levels are down. Driving may be a sedentary activity, but it’s a draining one. I’ll have to remember that in the future, and try to get in better shape before my next long drive. As usual, I had an essentially sleepless night in the motel where I stayed, but the coffee I had the next morning did help me stay reasonably alert for the rest of the drive. I got in to the hotel at just about 3 PM on Friday, and my room was ready promptly.

So anyway, my phone rang while I was on the road Thursday afternoon, but I couldn’t answer it while driving. When I stopped for dinner a bit later and checked my messages, I learned from my cousin Cynthia that our mutual cousin Scott, whom I’d never met, would be attending Shore Leave with his son and hoped we could get together. I was expecting him to show up at Meet the Pros on Friday if he didn’t find me sooner, but he never appeared that night. I contacted him later and found he wouldn’t be in until Sunday.

My first panel on Friday was at 5 PM, so I didn’t have time to rest much in my room, though I did shower and change and transfer stuff into my trusty but worn Shore Leave tote bag that I’ve had since my first visit over a decade ago. The panel was “Keeping it Real: Using Facts in Fiction,” and I and the other panelists, including my friend David Mack, had a pretty good discussion about incorporating real scientific and historical research into our work. After that, I tagged along with Dave and his wife Kara as they checked out the vending area, and then later we got together with a bunch of the other writers and went over to a sports bar in the mall across the way for dinner. We had an interesting conversation, and I had a pretty good chicken wrap with cheese sauce, but I had to step out early because I had an 8 PM panel. I took the second half of my wrap with me to have later, and I hurried back to the hotel on foot, expecting to be late for the panel. I managed to get there just one minute late — only to find that I was the first panelist to arrive, and that the auction scheduled for the previous hour was still going on. The panel I’d rushed to reach started over 15 minutes late, and I had enough time to wolf down the rest of my wrap. Fittingly, it was a panel on SF humor. I used it as a chance to plug Hub Space, but I didn’t have much to contribute beyond that. Fortunately, Peter David was on the panel, so I didn’t have to say much.

I stuck around briefly for the start of Marco Palmieri’s annual 9 PM panel announcing upcoming Tor books, but then I decided I needed to go back to my room and rest up a bit before Meet the Pros at 10. At MtP, I was seated between Dave Mack and a relative newcomer to the Trek line, John Jackson Miller, who’s already known for his Star Wars stuff. Of the three of us, I was the one who got the least attention, because I had the least to promote. Uncertain Logic came out months ago, and I don’t have anything new coming up for a while. I did print up a sort of flyer to promote Hub Space, just a single sheet that I had on display, but nobody took much interest. Maybe I should’ve printed up multiple cards and handed them out, but it was too much of a last-minute decision. Which is not to say that Meet the Pros was a disappointment for me. In addition to meeting my fans (and putting a face to the name of one of the regular commenters over on Tor.com), I got to catch up with some of my friends and colleagues, and talked a bit of business with one of them, which hopefully will turn out well, though I shouldn’t get my hopes up yet.

The new hotel management doesn’t continue the practice of putting preorder menus for Saturday breakfast in our rooms, so instead I just went down to the former Hunt Cafe, which is now yet another Starbucks, and got breakfast there, including another white mocha thingummy (I’m a veteran now!). I don’t remember doing much before my Sherlock Holmes panel at noon. I’m not sure I contributed much there, since the moderator, Kathleen David, wanted to focus on literary Holmes continuations and pastiches, while I was expecting something more screen-oriented. But there was some talk of screen adaptations, so I was able to contribute somewhat. Still, I made a point of seeing Ian McKellen’s Mr. Holmes beforehand, and I don’t think it would’ve made much difference if I hadn’t.

I lucked into a free lunch on Saturday, since I ran into Keith R.A. DeCandido, who brought cold cuts from New York City to provide his friends and colleagues with a less expensive alternative to the hotel restaurant and cafe. I had roast beef with mustard, and it was pretty good. Thanks, Keith!

At 2 PM was the sole Star Trek literature panel, where all of us Trek authors with books coming out in the rest of 2015-16 got together and announced our stuff, as well as the upcoming titles by the authors who weren’t in attendance. You can see the list of titles at Memory Alpha’s Upcoming productions page, including a TOS 5oth-anniversary trilogy by Greg Cox, Dave Mack, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, and a TNG trilogy by John Jackson Miller. My own announcements were of two upcoming projects: a 5-year-mission-era TOS novel called The Face of the Unknown, scheduled for January 2017 (released in late December, so just barely squeezing in as part of the 50th anniversary), and a second Department of Temporal Investigations novella, Time Lock, which is not yet scheduled.

After sitting in on the last half of Keith’s Stargate fiction panel from 3-4, I went to the book vendor’s table and did my hour signing autographs in the Author Chimney, the enclosed space between brick pillars where authors sit to do signings. Actually there were one or two non-Chimney spaces for writers at the table this year, but Dave Mack was already there, so I ended up in the Chimney. I actually found the enclosed space kind of comforting. After that, I participated in the annual authors’ ritual of the Saturday night mass visit to Andy Nelson’s Barbecue. I had the same thing I had last year — a pulled turkey barbecue sandwich with cole slaw and cornbread, because Nelson’s makes the only good cole slaw and cornbread I can ever remember having — but I’m thinking that maybe next year I should try something different.

While I was in the Chimney, Kara came up and told me where I could get a new Shore Leave tote bag, since my trusty old one isn’t as trusty anymore, getting kind of worn out and frayed. The vendor was closing up by the time I got there after my signing session, but I went back the next morning and got a new bag, which is fancier than the old one, with more pockets. Hopefully it’ll be useful for years to come.

Sunday morning was the usual authors’ breakfast at the hotel restaurant, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should’ve reconsidered that tradition and taken Kevin Dilmore’s suggestion to go out someplace less expensive for breakfast with him and his group. It used to be, back when Pocket Books had an official presence at Shore Leave, that the editor (Marco) picked up the tab for the authors, but these days we’re paying for it ourselves. Still, I’d already told the convention organizers that I’d be at the author breakfast, so I felt obligated to follow through. I had a double-sized breakfast to tide me over and to justify the expense. And I got to chat with some authors I hadn’t already talked to much, including a talk about Gilligan’s Island with Peter David. (Wherein I got to share my theory that Gilligan’s island is the last surviving piece of Captain Nemo’s Mysterious Island. That’s where the 6-foot spider in “The Pigeon” came from!)

I also touched base with cousin Scott and his son before breakfast, and then Scott showed up to watch me at the Orphan Black panel, even though he’s never seen the show. Afterward I showed Scott around the con a bit, and then we joined his son for the back half of John Barrowman’s talk, which was certainly lively — and meaningful, since Barrowman talked a lot about fighting for LGBT inclusion and acceptance, and said a lot of encouraging and affirming things to people from the audience. Afterward, at my suggestion, the three Bennetts went over to the Wegman’s in the mall for lunch — they had pizza, but I was still full from my big breakfast, so I just had a cucumber-blueberry-feta salad (yes, really!) and an iced tea — and then we went back to hang around in the corridor where the actor guests were signing autographs. I’m glad Scott was there, since I usually never get up the nerve to go talk to the actor guests, but I just tagged along with him and thereby got to have conversations with folks like Roger Cross and Jaime Murray. (It was weird getting home the next day and seeing Cross in Dark Matter on the DVR when I’d been talking to him in person just the day before.)

Once Scott and his son went on their way to see other convention stuff and said their farewells, I just hung around and talked more with whatever writer acquaintances were still around — which was serendipitous, since one colleague sounded me out on a very interesting business opportunity that I really hope will prove feasible. That was a good way to end my Shore Leave experience this year, and my mind was racing with the possibilities on the first leg of the drive home. Which is getting ahead of myself, since there are a couple of things I need to find out before I even know whether this is possible; but I always get ahead of myself with these things. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard of a science fiction writer.

I left the hotel at 4:10 PM, which I know because I’ve discovered that my phone’s Google Maps stores a record of my movements — kind of creepy but useful for reference. One reason I’d stuck around was that I’d been hoping for a chance to visit my DC-area cousins Barb and Mark, and I’d texted them to find their plans; but it turned out they wouldn’t be home until late that evening, too late to make it feasible. So I just texted my regrets and headed for home. Given my late start, I was only able to make it midway through Pennsylvania by nightfall — but I had the idea that I should try to make it back to the same motel I’d stayed at on the way out, since I’d been fairly satisfied with it and I didn’t want to take chances with an unknown commodity. Plus, fortunately, I’d picked up two different motel-coupon booklets at a rest stop on Thursday, and thus I had two coupons for the same motel. It belatedly occurred to me that driving west around sunset was a bad idea, but fortunately the sky was overcast most of the time, so I never had to contend with glare in my eyes. I made it to the motel just shortly before sunset and parked in the same space I’d parked in on Thursday night. I even ended up in a room right across the hall from my previous one, and a single digit higher in number. I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t the same room, but missing it by one is almost as good.

At the motel’s complementary breakfast, I had two cups of coffee, and toward the end of the second cup, I noticed some grains that I thought were undissolved bits of sugar. It turned out they were actually coffee grounds. The coffee pot had only just been put in place when I filled my cup, so I guess maybe the grounds hadn’t settled. I just looked into whether there’s anything bad about eating coffee grounds, and it seems the only potential problem is the acidity. I didn’t swallow many before figuring out what they were, though.

I set out fairly early, hoping to get home by mid-afternoon, but as always, it took longer than I hoped, since I needed to take a number of rest breaks. I managed to cross into Ohio just before noon, though. I stopped for lunch at a Subway in a convenience store/truck stop in Cambridge, one that had a small dining area where the TV was playing a basketball game. It slowly dawned on me that it must’ve been a replay of a classic game, since I recognized the Chicago Bulls lineup from back when my father was a fan of them — names like Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, and even Michael Jordan. Checking Wikipedia, it looks like that narrows it down to 1995-98. It was against the New York Knicks, but I can’t narrow it down any more than that. I generally couldn’t care less about basketball, but it was interesting to realize that it was a game my late father might well have watched and enjoyed when it was new.

My phone told me there was some rain coming in between Columbus and Cincinnati again, so I decided to wait it out at a rest stop east of Columbus — where I had yet another cup of coffee to stave off fatigue. I thought I’d stayed there for a significant amount of time, but my Maps timeline tells me it was only 22 minutes. Which it claims to be my last stop before reaching home, but I think I stopped briefly at another rest area on I-71, so I guess it doesn’t catch everything. (And maybe it was longer than 22 minutes at that.) Anyway, my timing was pretty bad, since it was rush hour when I got into Cincinnati. I’d just about decided to get off a few exits early and make it the rest of the way home by the surface roads (why do they call them that?? It’s not like freeways are underground or hovering in midair, usually), but the traffic started to clear off and I figured, hey, it’s not likely to crowd up again within the next three miles, right? So I stayed on the freeway. Only to spot another traffic jam — just five seconds too late to make it off onto the last exit before mine. Arrgghhh! I was stuck crawling forward for most of the last mile and a half before my exit. Really, really frustrating.

And then I got home to find a note under my door from the building manager. Turns out the downstairs storage lockers had been broken into while I was out. Fortunately I don’t keep anything valuable in there, so nothing was taken. But the combination lock I’ve had since high school was destroyed. I still have two others, from my gym locker and my shop locker, but that was my main lock! Waaaah!

I’ve spent the past couple of days recuperating and catching up on recorded shows, as well as getting groceries. At the hotel, they had “coffee pods” that were basically tea bag-like filter packets that went into the coffee maker’s funnel, but it occurred to me one could just use them like tea bags, so I took a few of them home with me for later use. I also checked the grocery store shelf yesterday and found actual coffee bags. I just tried my first one of those this morning, and it’s not very good, but at least it’s convenient. The quest for a good coffee option continues. Maybe I should just buy a small coffee maker and filters and get some good grounds from the natural foods store. They have some beans that are infused with sweet flavor and thus don’t need anything added.

So anyway, that’s my combined travel/Shore Leave/family visit post, only three days late. I had a good time this year. Although the long drive is still wearying, the weekend didn’t feel as rushed as it did when I flew last year. And I got to catch up with my friends, I got to meet another cousin, I got to talk to some actors, I got a new tote bag and some interesting meals, and I got a couple of iffy but hopefully promising work opportunities, both from conversations in the same hotel corridor (though at opposite ends of it). With luck, I’ll be able to say more about one or both of those in times to come.

More travel

I just got back from a visit to Detroit for my Aunt Shirley’s birthday, and got to see her, Uncle Harry, cousin Cynthia who’s staying with them to help out after their respective hospitalizations, and cousins Barbara and Mark who came in for the birthday too. I spent a nice few days there, had some very nice meals including some baked oatmeal that provided several breakfasts, and a vegetarian chili that ended up being only black-bean chili rather than three-bean (because the other beans took longer to cook than expected) but was still pretty good. I helped make the chili, in fact, which was kind of fun. I also got to go for a couple of nice walks in the sunny (but chilly) weather with Uncle Harry, who’s 90 years old and recovering from a bike-riding accident, but still quite active.

The drive up on Monday was pretty uneventful, except that it was the occasion on which I drank my first ever full cup of coffee. I’ve found that tea wasn’t always adequate to deal with fatigue on the road, so I decided I’d better try the hard stuff. But I’ve never liked the smell or taste of coffee, so I was hesitant. Partly on the advice of my new apartment manager (who used to work at Starbucks), I decided to try a pumpkin spice cappuccino (which I was pleasantly surprised to find in an I-75 rest area vending machine), since I love pumpkin. It was actually pretty good, and it kept me comfortably alert rather than anxiously buzzed. I was concerned I might run into some rain on the way up, but it turned out to be mild flurries instead, which are easy to drive through. I never thought I’d be grateful for sub-freezing temperatures.

Also, this was my first long drive with my new bifocals. At first, I wasn’t sure they were working well at a distance; I was concerned that the variable focus was making it hard for me to home in on the right part of the lens to see something clearly. So I tried switching to my old glasses as a backup. But they didn’t make it any easier to focus at a distance, and I realized that the problem was more with my eyes than with the frames. I guess they just have trouble acclimating to focusing at a distance after being indoors for a while, or something. Also, the old lenses made it harder to see the dashboard or my phone GPS. So I switched back to the bifocals, and they turned out to work just fine in the long run (or, well, long drive) and then afterward. So I’m much more at ease with them now. (Well, mostly — see below.)

My drive home yesterday was more troubled. I had a cup of instant coffee before leaving, but I found the taste unpleasant even with a lot of sugar and milk. Just as I was about to set out, I thought I’d left something behind and went back into the house, only to find it was in my jacket pocket. I was able to get underway okay, and I fortunately timed it so that I managed to stay just behind the storm front that was passing through the area. (It was diagonal, from southwest to northeast, and as it moved eastward, it cleared up progressively from north to south.) But about 15 miles north of the Michigan-Ohio border, I reached up to adjust my glasses with my left hand, and the left side of the frame just popped open and the left lens fell out. Thank goodness that’s my bad eye, which my brain largely ignores anyway, and it didn’t really make much difference to my vision. I kept driving for a while, expecting to find a rest area soon where I could stop and assess the situation, but apparently the rest area on that part of I-75 is only on the northbound side. So eventually I just pulled off the freeway in Toledo and found a parking lot, then looked up the nearest LensCrafters on my phone to get directions. I had to go back north on 75 a couple of miles before diverting to 475 to get to the mall. So they got me fixed up; apparently a screw had just come loose, and they put in a new one and made sure the screws were good and tight. Just the latest of the troubles I’ve been having with this new pair of glasses — and just when I’d finally gotten comfortable with them.

So my glasses didn’t bother me anymore after that, but I realized I was running low on gas. At the next rest stop, I used the app on my phone to find the cheapest gas along 75, but apparently it’s not a perfect app, since when I got there, I found only a deteriorating ruin that may have once been a gas station. Since it would’ve been too much trouble to reprogram my GPS while in motion, I got a little lost trying to get back to the freeway. Fortunately there were a lot of other gas stations in the immediate vicinity, and I found one at the next exit that was only a cent or two higher per gallon than the one I’d aimed for — plus it was next to an Arby’s, so I got a sandwich to have for dinner later. So things seemed to be back on track.

Except the coffee wasn’t working this time — perhaps it wasn’t strong enough, or perhaps I was just more fatigued this time. I stopped at a rest area and looked for some iced tea to have with my sandwich, but the vending machines had none. So I got some hot tea instead, but they were out of lids, so I had to carry it very carefully. Also, I’d put on my heavy coat over the lighter jacket I wore in the car, but I realized the zipper had come undone and the slider was stuck right up at the neck, and I had trouble getting it undone. And it wouldn’t zip up again without coming unfastened. So that coat may have finally given up the ghost. Lucky that it’s starting to warm up now and I hopefully won’t need to replace it immediately.

Anyway, the tea didn’t help — I was still feeling fatigued. But I didn’t want to just load up on more caffeine, since maybe it wasn’t helping as much as I’d hoped. Instead, at the next rest area, I just lay back in my seat and closed my eyes for ten minutes and did some slow, meditative breathing while listening to music on the CD player (Batman: The Animated Series: “Shadow of the Bat, Part 1” by Shirley Walker). And I kept up the breathing and the music once I resumed driving. It actually helped clear up my fatigue quite well. (Although listening to the car player while parked made me realize how badly the speakers have deteriorated. Maybe I should’ve listened on my phone instead, but I’m not comfortable driving while wearing earbuds, in case I miss an important sound.)

All these delays meant, though, that I wasn’t successful in getting home before sunset. Still, it was only twilight by the time I finally got home. Oh, and I almost left my phone charger cord in the car, but I remembered it before I was halfway to my apartment, and I went back to get it.

So it could’ve been worse. I’ve had worse drives, in fact — much worse. A lot of little things went wrong, but I managed to cope with them all pretty quickly. So I guess I should focus on that.

Oh, yes, and one other thing: The day before I left just happened to be exactly one (February-length) month after I started writing Rise of the Federation Book 4, and exactly three months before my deadline. So my goal was to be a quarter of the way through my target by then, or 25,000 words. I’d gotten 80 percent of the way there two weeks before, but I’d needed to divert to work on Hub Space and then do a lot of planning and foundation-laying for the next part I had to write, so I wasn’t sure I’d get those last 5,000 words in before my trip. But on Sunday night, I decided that I just wanted to get the scene done and out of the way, so I sat down and worked through it and ended up with a word count of 25,003 words. Deadline met! Another instance of a narrowly averted problem. And while I didn’t get much writing done during my trip, I did get the next scene started, at least, and I know what comes next.

Oh, and I took a few copies of Uncertain Logic along and shared them with my family, a day before the official on-sale date. One of the perks of being related to me. (The other main one being having to endure a lot of bad puns.)

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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But how can I measure Odo now?

December 5, 2014 6 comments

I have an automotive habit that I learned from my father: When I fill up the gas tank, I write down the mileage on the trip odometer and divide it by the number of gallons I buy in order to keep track of the car’s fuel efficiency. When I did so yesterday, I was rather shocked to see that the odometer read only 49 miles and I bought slightly over 7 gallons, giving an apparent fuel efficiency of just under 7 MPG. My first thought was that something was seriously wrong with my engine, or something else that affects fuel efficiency. My second thought was that something was seriously wrong with my odometer. A bit more driving confirmed that the odometer was broken — I’d no doubt driven significantly more than 49 miles since the last fill-up, but they hadn’t been registering. Either way, I needed maintenance, so I made an appointment. (Ironically, the dealer is directly across the street from the gas station I used yesterday — I was in the neighborhood after a dentist appointment — but I didn’t think I could just drop in, and I wasn’t sure what the problem was until I drove home and confirmed it was the odometer. So I had to make a second trip halfway across town in as many days. Just as well my fuel efficiency wasn’t the problem.)

So I went to the dealership and told the guy there about the odometer problem. He advised me that fixing it would probably entail removing the whole speedometer assembly and sending it out to someplace that could repair it, which would be cheaper than replacing the whole schmeer, but would leave me carless for a couple of days. But he said he’d check first during the inspection to see if there was just a blown fuse or something. So I occupied myself with my phone (listening to music to drown out the TV, browsing the web, and playing backgammon) while I waited, and hoped that it would turn out to be just a blown fuse. No such luck — he would have to send the part in for repair, and I’d be without a ride for  couple of days if I agreed to do that.

But then it occurred to me… do I really need a working odometer that badly? It’s handy for tracking my fuel efficiency, but I don’t really use it for anything else. I tend to ignore it except when I’m at the gas station. I suppose it could be useful if you know that a given destination is X miles from a certain intersection, say, but that’s kind of superfluous now that I have a smartphone with GPS navigation. And if the dealership or another garage needs to know how many miles are on the car, they can get that info from its onboard computer (it’s still registering the correct mileage, it’s just not getting to the dashboard display). So I decided that, for now, I’d just make do without an odometer.

Still, it may be a minor inconvenience, but it’s a sign of the car’s age (it’s 13 years old now). And it’s my second minor breakdown this year; last winter, the trunk release button on the dashboard stopped working because a cable came loose. Maybe it’s time I started to think about trading it in. I’m just not sure I could afford the expense of buying a car. But maybe if I get one or two of the extra writing gigs I’m hoping to get in the near future, it’ll be worth further consideration.

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Mirror quest

No, this post isn’t about some new Mirror Universe story I’m writing, but about my efforts to replace the cracked side mirror on my car.  My sister suggested that I should find an auto salvage yard and get a used mirror there, then get a garage to install it, which would be cheaper than the alternative.  I found the prospect a little intimidating, but I researched it.  I found a relatively nearby yard with a “self-serve” policy — you bring your own tools, pay a small fee to get in, and detach the desired parts yourself.  Okay, but did I have the tools?  Hmm, I realized, I have that emergency kit I bought for the trunk — that probably has some tools in it.  I checked, and indeed it did — plus I realized it also included jumper cables, which would’ve been useful to know when my battery died a few months ago.  I haven’t used the kit since I bought it a couple of years ago, so I’d forgotten what was in it.

However, one thing I was hoping to get was a new wheel cover (why don’t they call them hubcaps anymore?), since the one on the front left wheel has some noticeable cosmetic damage.  And the emergency kit didn’t have a socket wrench attachment big enough for the wheel nuts.  Okay, I thought, that won’t work.  But then later I thought, Wait a minute — logically the car itself would come equipped with the necessary tools for changing a tire.  So I went back out to the car and checked the manual, and it took me a few minutes to figure out where the tire-changing tools were kept — behind a flap on the left wall of the trunk that I’d never realized was there.  I really should’ve put more effort into figuring all this out when I got the car.

So now that I knew I probably had the right tools, I checked the yard’s website this morning to make sure they had my make and model of car — plus I noted the location of another one from a year earlier as a backup.  That didn’t guarantee they had the parts I wanted, though, and the person I talked to on the phone confirmed that they didn’t keep track of that and I’d be taking my chances.  Still, I decided to go ahead and drive up there.

The cars were all laid out in rows and I had to track down my target vehicle myself; it was just at the far end of the row, wouldn’t you know it.  And it was missing both mirrors and all its wheel covers.  Darn!  I half-heartedly looked to see if it had anything else I might find useful, but no luck.  Then I remembered the other car from a year earlier, and made my way over to it.  No wheel covers, but voila, there was an intact driver’s-side mirror!  Carefully, remembering how my mirror had come loose and how I’d been able to pop it back on and pull it off again (which I shouldn’t have done because that’s what broke it), I pried loose the mirror from the mechanism that reoriented it, and that left it dangling from a pair of blue wires.  Okay, so how to disconnect the wires?  I didn’t see any way.  The connectors looked fused to the mirror.  I remembered some instructions I’d looked at online about how to dismantle a mirror, and I pulled off the panel inside the door, exposing the wire connections within.  I managed to unplug a set of five wires in a plastic thingy, but I couldn’t figure out how to disconnect the two blue wires from the thingy.  I tried detaching the entire mirror assembly (conveniently, it was the right color), but the bolts were too rusted for my toolkit pliers to work, and they must’ve been metric since none of my socket wrenches would fit them.  (Is there a non-metric size between 3/8″ and 7/16″?)  So much for the handy-dandy ready-for-anything emergency kit.  (I should look into getting another one, maybe.)

Finally another patron walked by and I asked him if he knew anything about how to disconnect a car mirror.  He took one look at it, asked for pliers, and pulled out the blue wires from the connectors in the mirror (apparently for its built-in heating element).  I had misread what I was looking at before; the parts that were fused to the back of the mirror were the bits that the wires clipped onto, not part of the wires themselves.  The connectors were of a type I’m not familiar with, so I hadn’t recognized how they worked.

So now I had the mirror, but looking at it, I wasn’t sure it was the right shape; it seemed too wide.  I told the guy who helped me that it was from a year earlier than my car’s model and wondered if it would fit, and he said it probably wouldn’t.  “Think about it,” quoth he.  “That would make it too easy.”  But it was the only option I had, so I went to the checkout place and told the clerk that I was unsure of the part’s suitability.  She let me leave my license with her while I checked it out, and it turned out to be a perfect match.  The reason it looked too wide is that I was used to looking at my mirror from an oblique angle rather than head-on, of course — and probably because the shape of the housing made it seem rounder.

Satisfied, I collected my license and paid for the mirror, then wrapped it carefully in rags for the drive home.  I would’ve liked to try installing it then and there, before I had to drive anymore, but there was a sign saying not to work on cars in the parking lot, so I had to wait.  Also, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to risk installing it myself.  What the guy at the yard had done looked simple enough, but I’d broken the other mirror trying to reattach it; maybe it took a more skilled hand to do it right?  Maybe I should stop by the local garage and ask them to do it?  But then, the “skilled hands” at the garage in Pennsylvania had cracked it even worse than it had been before.  And it did seem pretty simple, so long as I was careful.  But wait, I wondered.  How do I avoid getting the two blue wires mixed up?  But the answer quickly came to me.  There was a roll of electrical tape in the toolkit; all I needed to do was mark one of the wires with a bit of tape.  And what if it turned out that, despite having the same shape, there was some difference in the rear connection and it wouldn’t go on easily?  But no, I figured that since it was the exact same shape, and only one model year off, they probably just reused a standardized component.  So I decided that I would try to install it myself.

And it was quite easy.  It was so quick and simple to disconnect the one mirror and attach the other that I hardly even needed the tape to tell the wires apart.  (I’m not even sure it would’ve mattered if I swapped them, but better safe than sorry.)  And it did click into place properly, although I was too tentative the first time and it didn’t fully engage.  So I pushed a little more firmly, but carefully, and as far as I can tell, it’s now properly attached.  Then it was just a matter of spraying on some glass cleaner and gently wiping it off, then getting in the driver’s seat and adjusting the mirror angle.  The replacement mirror still has a couple of tiny smudges or scrapes on it, but that’s a whole lot better than the multiple cracks on the old one.  (Come to think of it, it’s hard to believe I could’ve broken the mirror just by removing and reattaching it.  It doesn’t seem they’d be that fragile.  It seems more likely that the impact caused a hairline crack or two, and my subsequent handling exacerbated them.)

So I feel relieved and kinda proud now, and grateful to my sister for the idea.  I have an intact mirror again, I can feel safer when I drive, and I was able to achieve it for just over ten bucks, a lot less than I would’ve had to spend otherwise.  And while I didn’t get a new wheel cover, I gained a better understanding of my car and its onboard tools.

Now the one lingering issue I have with the car (aside from the slight cosmetic damage here and there, most of which was already there when I got the car from my father) is that the ride seems bumpier since I left the garage in PA.  I wonder, did they somehow tighten the suspension when they did the alignment after replacing the tires?  Or is it like my bicycle, the way it transmits the shocks more when the tires are freshly filled and rigid?

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