Thursday, October 28, 2010

Improvements in Body, Mind, Outlook and...Pick-up Truck

When I wrote here last, on Sunday, I was in the midst of a difficult weekend. Pick-up truck—in the shop, uncertain problem. Wife—in Oklahoma City on the way back from Santa Fe. Arthritis—flared up to the worst it has been ever, I think. Writing—not doing well, as it was too painful to type, almost to write.

On Sunday the rheumatoid arthritis fare-up was on the mend, but not yet gone. By Monday evening, it was gone completely. I couldn't get into work on Monday, due to having no vehicle. So I completed installing the top rail on the deck, and cleaning up from the project. The joints between boards aren't professional, but they look acceptable to me. With all the work with my hands on Monday, you'd think I would be hurting by evening. Yet I felt better than I had for months. Go figure. Saturday I should complete the second coat of deck stain and be done with it until spring, when the top rail will have seasoned enough to add the stain. Oh, I have a few more screws to drive in the top rail.

Tuesday through today I've been working almost exclusively on the flood study for the City of Bentonville, related to our street improvements for SW "I" Street, and adding two adjacent road projects done by the highway department (for which they should have done a flood map revision but never did). This has been a particularly frustrating job. I finished the computer modeling some days ago, and have been working on the mapping. Of course, as I did the detailed mapping, I discovered that some further tweaking of the computer model was justified. Almost all of that is done now. I might be able to finish the map-model-map iterations tomorrow, leaving the engineering report and actually making a submittal for next week. The tunnel end is getting closer. Of course, at the opening of that tunnel is the Perry Road flood study for Rogers, Arkansas.

Today, in a mere hour, I was able to write my next article for Later I proofed and tweaked it, and sent it to my source for review. Tomorrow is the deadline, and it's good to not be writing it at the last minute. Tonight, after posting this and reviewing one other blog, I'll work on writing for another hour. I might do some typing on passage notes for my harmony of the gospels, or write an article for I have four or five in various stages of development for them.

And last, on Monday I got my wife back and on Tuesday I got my pick-up back. That's the right priority, don't you think? The pick-up problem was the battery cable terminals, which were shot and wouldn't hold contact. While the darn thing was in the shop, I had them fix the driver side door, putting a new handle on it. Now I don't have to crank down the manual window and reach outside to open it. This makes it less of a redneck truck, but should do my left shoulder a world of good.

Well, I must be about other business now. I had a more serious post planned for tonight, but will save it for tomorrow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Weekend of (Mild) Adversity

So I worked late Thursday and Friday nights, and by the close of business Friday had completed all the analyses on this stubborn floodplain. The mapping and engineering report await the coming work week, but just having the analyses done is huge. I stayed later still to complete an article for Buildipedia that was due that day. Then went to Lowes, picked up a couple of things for the weekend projects, and priced a new project. Went to the truck and it wouldn't start. Called AAA. They got there quite promptly. Started me with difficulty.

By this time it was almost 8:00 PM. Drove by the house and picked up some tools, (leaving the truck running), and drove to Wal-Mart. The auto operation was closed. Parked. Turned the truck off and it wouldn't re-start. Went inside for a battery. They were out of the one I needed, and the young man who came to help me said no other battery they carried would work. He grabbed the starter pack and accompanied me to the parking lot. We drained the starter pack but couldn't start the truck. Called my neighbor (Lynda still being out of town) who came to jump start me. When he did so, smoke started rising from the battery. He drove me home; exhausted, I tried to read some but couldn't. Slept well.

Saturday morning, my neighbor drove me into Bentonville where I bought a battery. We went to my truck up in Jane, MO, but couldn't get the old battery out with the limited tools I had. He had to leave. I went to the auto operation, but they wouldn't come out to the parking lot to help me. Bought some more tools. I was able to get the old batter out and the new one in, but it still wouldn't start. It seems the batter cable terminals have deteriorated to the point that they won't connect any more. Called AAA. They came promptly, towed me to the Ford garage I take the truck to, then drove me to within a mile of the house. Walked home, and it began raining lightly within three minutes, and hard ten minutes after that.

By evening my rheumatoid arthritis was killing me. The worst day I've had with it ever, I think. Read and slept. Did some simple chores in the house. I slept fairly well. The arthritis was better by morning, but I had no ride to church, and so had a restful day home. About 1:00 PM I came to The Dungeon, hoping to write, but my computer had started a security suite download and virus scan. So I did a lot of chores in the basement, typed some things when the scan ended, then went upstairs and decided to go for a walk. Watched some football, and came downstairs to do the Facebook and blog things.

All of which should be interesting to no one but myself. But it's reasons why I didn't get much writing done this weekend. Without a vehicle it doesn't look like I'll get to work tomorrow, unless they fix my truck early and I walk the four miles to get it. Lynda will be home sometime tomorrow, maybe in time to drive me to pick up the pick-up and allow me to salvage a half day of work. Oh, well, I can always work on the last few items needed on the deck and make the day profitable that way.

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Thoughts on Children of Dune and the Dune Trilogy

I haven't read much science fiction. Twenty years ago I read Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of five books, the original trilogy and the next two. From time to time I would pick up a sci fi book and get through it, but never with enough interest to cause me to seek more by the author. Of course, a number of sci fi movies have caught my fancy.

As a writer, a sci fi series has been occupying a few gray cells. But as a non-reader of sci fi, I can't really hope to write effective sci fi. That's okay, because I've plenty of other novels and non-fiction books and ideas consuming other gray cells. Still, if this near future series keeps coming to the surface, maybe I should pay more attention to sci fi and develop more of an eye and ear for it.

So what did I find right with Children of Dune and with the Dune Trilogy I've now finished? One thing was the obvious borrowing from the Arabic language and the desert culture of the Middle East and Africa. Frank Herbert uses a few words straight from the Arabic in their actual meaning, such as hajj and jihad. Otherwise much of the language is similar to Arabic.

The development of a desert ecosystem on the planet Arrakis, a.k.a. Dune, was impressive. The importance of water and how the Fremen, the desert dwellers of Dune, use and preserve it was well done. For a Fremen to spit in welcome of a guest is a sign of respect. When 14-year old Paul Atreides killed his first man in hand-to-hand combat, he cried. The Fremen were impressed that he "gave water for the dead." When a person dies, the body is rendered for the water because "His water belongs to the tribe." All Fremen wear a stil suit, which prevents their water from escaping into the desert atmosphere. And they always take a fremkit into the desert with them.

But the most interesting part of the desert ecosystem is the sand worm, worshiped by Fremen as Shai H'lud. Water poisons the worms, but somehow they thrive in the arid lands and grow to enormous size, some the length of a football field with a mouth 10 yards wide. They are deadly, and are attracted to any rhythmic noise. The Fremen know this, and from childhood learn to walk in the desert in a non-rhythmic way and thus do not attract the worms.

Unless they want to. The worms live mostly underground and bore through the sand, but move at good speed. The Fremen have learned that, when the worm breeches the ground, you can crawl up on the worm and insert hooks under the worm's segmental rings. The worm cannot "submerge" in the sand when their rings are separated. So they move on the surface, and a skilled Fremen can ride the worm for hours, directing it in any direction.

The worms make a spice called melange. I don't know if this is a type of worm excrement, or if they make it in the way bees make honey. Indigo in color, it is some kind of narcotic. The Fremen mine it and consume so much of it their eyes turn light blue on dark blue. Somehow it is essential for space navigation, but the three books never explain exactly how. Is it also a fuel? Or is the money from the spice trade what finances space travel? I would have liked to have that explained. The spice is the reason Arrakis is a desired planet, and becomes the place of legends and smuggling.

In Children of Dune, much effort has been put into transforming the desert planet into a well-watered land, filled with flora and fauna. The effort has the effect of limiting the worms' territory. Their population is shrinking, and they will be extinct within two centuries. No worms, no spice. No spice, no space travel. No spice, no value to Arrakis. Only Leto, the seven year old son of Paul Atreides seems to understand this. His quest to reverse this is an underlying theme of the book.

All of this takes significant development and creativity by the author. As I spend time on writers sites, it seems everyone is writing sci fi and its close cousin, fantasy. I think the idea is that no research is required, whereas it is in most other genres of fiction. But this seems wrong. The author of sci fi probably has more development time than does the writer of other genres. All the back story, all the unwritten centuries or millenia, must be in the author's mind. Knowing how much to share in a book or a series is a difficult decision for the author.

And Herbert is certainly a master of all of this. I've been critical of him for not giving quite enough back story for my liking. And I've criticized his writing style, especially in the last of the trilogy. But I cannot fault his development of the fantasy world of times in the future. Very well done.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Review – Children of Dune

In an earlier post I mentioned I was not enjoying Children of Dune, the third in Frank Herbert's Dune trilogy. Only 40 percent into it at that time, I was determined to finish it and hope either it got better or I came to like the style. I finished it today, and here's the report: it didn't, and I didn't.

Dune, the original of the series, was a challenge due to its length and the large number of terms to learn. Dune Messiah was difficult due to introduction of situation that were never fully explained, as well as for some back story left out that would have been helpful. Children of Dune was difficult because of the seemingly unending internal thoughts/monologue and the under-explained "Golden Path" that is the obsession of Leto Atreides, child heir apparent to rule the empire.

I've no doubt that Frank Herbert knew exactly what he meant with all of the strange statements made by the various characters, but none of them did to me. Characters frequently interrupted the others during dialog, and the partial statements made no sense. Here's a couple of examples.

But a coward, even a coward, might die bravely with nothing but a gesture. Where was that gesture which could make him whole once more? How could he awaken from trance and vision into the universe which Gurney demanded? Without that turning, without an awakening from aimless visions, he knew he could die in a prison of his own choosing.
His vision-shrouded eyes saw her as a creature out of humankind's Terranic past: dark hair and pale skin, deep sockets which gave her blue-in-blue eyes a greenish cast. She possessed a small nose and a wide mouth above a sharp chin. And she was a living signal to him that the Bene Gessirit plan was known—or suspected—here in Jacurutu. So they hoped to revive Pharaonic Imperialism through him, did they?

The lack of context will make it difficult to appreciate these passages. They are representative of so much of the book. Lots of terms to understand. Lots of thoughts to process. Incomplete inferences to things you will never fully understand because they are never fully explained.

I could go on, but I think you will understand: I didn't like the book. I won't get rid of it. I'll keep it so that I have the complete trilogy in hand. But I can't recommend it. I'm sure Dune trilogy fans will regard this as sacrilege. But that's my honest opinion.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Flesh is Weaker Still

Last night the last of the work was completed in The Dungeon. Well, the last required of outside workers, that is. It and the family room are still mostly empty. The heaviest pieces, such as the roll top desk, the couch, and the love seat are in place. Still to be moved are the 13 bookcases, all the books, end tables and lamps, second computer desk, two work tables, and non-functioning treadmill. Maybe I'll leave that one in the storeroom.

While the last of the work was being done last night, I spent the time with paperwork clean-up upstairs. Much older correspondence and miscellaneous writings brought home from the office when the office moved last November were in a box, waiting for my action. Last night I got most of them sorted and ready for filing and maybe back side copying. I noted some duplication, so guess I'll go through them page by page after sorting to cull. I estimate 500 pages.

While I have recovered from the weekend labors, my right arm and wrist hasn't recovered, and my left wrist is getting worse. I don't know if this is rheumatoid or something else. The left wrist feels like it could be either rheumatoid or osteo. The right is much worse and feels like it could be pinched nerves or even more serious. I've already had the carpal tunnel operation on that hand. And that's the hand that was damaged while I played softball in Saudi Arabia back in 1982, requiring surgery at the Abdullah Fouad Hospital in Dammam. Although I'm left handed, I learned to use the mouse right handed. Maybe it's a combination of those.

Typing is so painful I must close quickly. Spent a lot of time on the computer yesterday, trying to fix a floodplain model that I thought others had correct. Today is a day of meetings, little computer. Maybe that will help. Writing is a dream right now.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Mind is Willing, but the Flesh is Weak

I have been mostly off-line since I posted to this blog last Wednesday. On Thursday, after an off-site meeting in mid-afternoon, I rushed to a rental place to see if they had a pressure washer. I'd already called and learned they didn't have one for the weekend, which was my preferred time to do it. I hadn't asked about one for that evening, since I didn't think I could get to their place before their 5:00 PM closing time.

My meeting ended a little early, so I rushed to the shop and arrived at 4:58 PM. Yes, they did have a pressure washer, but it was scheduled to go out at 7:30 AM the next morning. I decided to take it. It turned out to be one of the big ones, requiring two men to lift it into my truck bed. Traffic was awful, and I didn't get home till 5:55 PM, leaving me an hour of daylight, plus a half-hour of dim twilight, to get the thing unloaded, figure out how to use it, move hoses, hook it all up, and wash the stupid deck.

Somehow I got it all done, despite pulling the hose off the quick coupling and separating the 0-ring from the hose. I got the o-ring back on, miraculously, and finished the deck new the end of twilight. I then dropped the wand over the deck, went below and washed the lower decks—in the dark, with only the lights from The Dungeon windows letting me see what I was doing. I was pretty sure daylight would show this late washing marginally effective.

But washing a deck on Thursday means painting/staining it soon thereafter. On the way home Friday I stopped at Lowes and bought semi-opaque stain and a roller. Got home at mid-twilight. Saturday was the big day. I pounded down loose nails, scraped a couple of areas, and, while the workers were working on the insurance-funded repairs in The Dungeon, I stained the deck. At least, I did the bulk of the flooring. Since this was two or three years overdue, and since rain was forecast for Monday (today), I decided to leave the trim for later and get the lion's share of the flooring done. It needed it badly.

Last time I stained the deck, probably four years ago, I used a 3-inch brush. Took two days and about killed my back and knees. This time I decided to roll it, using the long-handled roller Lynda bought. I'd never have spent that kind of money on a tool, but this one is a good one. It even had an extension on it. I barely had to bend, although standing erect and rolling I felt that I didn't have enough control over the roller. Took two hours, and left me tired enough. The trim and rails were left for another day.

It would have been nice for that to have been the only maintenance needed on the property that day. Alas, clean-up and dishes (I'm batching it again, for two or three weeks) and clearing deadfall also needed attention. Then there was the neighborhood block party Saturday evening to cook for and attend. By Saturday evening I was in no shape for anything, except watching a little college football and reading less than my weekend day quota in Children of Dune.

Sunday was better. Good rest. Good worship. Good Bible study. Good lunch fellowship with a good friend who was also a temporary bachelor. Good afternoon reading. No access to computer until about 7 PM, however, as the workers were still at it in The Dungeon. I finally got in there about 8 PM, but the fumes were so strong I didn't want to stay there and breathe in all those solvents and all that dust. Back upstairs, where I divided my time between pro football and catching up on Children of Dune.

So it was a weekend of little writing accomplishment. I researched my next Bible study, read some in Poets and Writers, read in CoD, which is sort of research for sci fi writing, and filed some writing business type stuff. Would have liked to do more, but that was all. Hopefully this week will be more profitable.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Some Thoughts on "Children of Dune"

I may be off-line at home, but not at work. That time AWOC (away without computer) last evening gave me time to work on my novel in progress, something I haven't done in several months. It also gave me time to read twenty more pages in Children of Dune, the third in the Dune Trilogy, written by Frank Herbert. This was next in my reading pile, reshuffled to bring up fiction after reading several non-fiction works.

I had never heard of Dune or the Dune Trilogy or Frank Herbert until a couple of years ago, when my son gave me Dune as a birthday or Christmas gift. The size was daunting, and I didn't start it for several months. It's not as if I lack reading material. Plus, I don't read much science fiction. When I finally did begin reading it, the many strange terms and the even stranger writing were a hindrance. I read Dune too long ago to review for this blog, but you can see my review of Dune Messiah here. In the meantime I had picked up the book Heroes of Dune, an interquel between the first two of the trilogy, written by Herbert's son, and covering the twelve year gap in the Dune history. I elected to read Children of Dune ahead of Heroes of Dune, to stay in the order they were written, rather than chronological order of the saga.

I may be sorry I did. I'm finding Children of Dune very difficult reading. By now the strange terms are second nature to me. I understand Mu'ah Dib, Benne Gessert, Arrakis, Arrikeem, Shai Halud, mentat, melange, steich, and Kwisach Haderach on sight. I finally came to understand CHOAM a little better in this volume.

But the writing style! My goodness, it goes against everything you hear in writing classes nowadays. Endless pages of thoughts of Leto and Ghanima as they stand with their grandmother waiting for some event. Endless conversations of a feared conspiracy that will end the House of Atreides. Long descriptions of back story, worked in chapter by chapter. It's downright boring!

Yet, this is a successful sci fi series. Who am I to question Herbert's writing? He did the same thing in Dune, though I thought a little less in Dune Messiah. Now in Children of Dune he seems to have caricatured what he did in the first book. It's been a couple of years since I've read it, but I don't remember the internal monologues going on for this long, or being repeated chapter after chapter, with no break for real action.

In an early chapter, where Princess Jessica returns to the planet Dune after a long, self-imposed exile, her protective force fans out into the crowd ahead of her and somehow apprehend the dozen or so conspirators intending to take her life. But this action is under-written. One barely gets the sense that it is action by the words. Herbert did that in Dune as well, the constant downplaying of action in favor of thoughts, descriptions, and conversations.

As I say, the original book and the series were successful, and more books have been added by Herbert's son than he himself wrote. But I have to say reading this is a struggle. I don't know if I'm going to finish it or not. And that's saying something. I always take the approach that if I've paid for it I finish it, to get my money's worth. Even if it was thrift store money as this one was. I'm at page 153 out of 410. At 10 pages per weeknight and 30 per weekend night, I would finish it somewhere around October 18th. Do I really want to dedicate two more weeks of my reading life to this?

Yes, if I don't finish it, and go on and read a couple more in the series, how will my growth as a writer be stunted? The series is successful. Perhaps it has something to teach me in terms of alternate writing styles, and widen my views of science fiction, of which I've read so little. I'll probably muddle through it. But if something else comes to my attention, either on the reading pile or elsewhere among the books I'll soon be putting back on shelves in the basement, I may just lay Children of Dune aside for a more opportune time.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Dungeon is Unavailable

The carpet is coming! We thought it would be installed Thursday or Saturday coming. Yesterday we learned it would be installed today. This is the carpet in the walk-out basement that was ruined when the hot water heater leaked. Insurance is covering it, less deductible, or course. The insurance check arrived today.

Part of the deal Lynda worked out with the carpet company was that we would move all the furniture from the two rooms except two pieces. Otherwise they have go charge for furniture. The rooms included are the family room and the computer room (a.k.a The Dungeon). These rooms have no wall between them, being defined by wall corners. The area has been torn up since July 22 when we returned home from vacation and discovered the leak.

For the last week to ten days we knew this day was approaching, so every day I've been doing something to prepare for it: move out an end table and lamp, remove two empty bookcase, remove the last loaded bookcase and the books on it, clean up all tools and supplies from painting the room, etc. But the move up of the installation day resulted in one evening to finish everything else. That's what we did last night. Love seat, recliner, treadmill, office chairs, television and stand, and two computer desks had to go, moved into the store room or the downstairs bedroom.

We got it all done, leaving only the roll top desk and the couch for the carpet dudes to move. That also means I have no computer at home until we get the desk moved back in and the computer re-installed. Will that be tonight? I don't know, but I doubt it. We still have some inventorying to do of bookcases and books damaged by the water, and probably should do that tonight and get it turned in to the computer folks ASAP.

So, I expect to be off-line at home until tomorrow night at the earliest, and I think more likely until Thursday. Our modem and router are still connected, so we'll still have wireless access via Lynda's laptop, but not for my desktop dinosaur. Whenever I turn that critter off I always wonder if it will wake up again. Of course, I still have the office and office hours, and so will read, even if I don't post much. And, for writing I still have lots of pencils and reused backsides of papers to make drafts, as well as reading research in what is almost other dinosaurs—hard copy books.

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's October 1st – I Should Blog

Fall is in the air, as the saying goes, and this is my favorite time of year. There's something about the transition in Autumn that appeals to me more than the transition in Spring. Since I tend to like colder temperatures more than hotter temperatures, perhaps it's the anticipation of those cooler temperatures and actually feeling a little bit of it.

Why, you ask, if I like colder temperatures, did I sojourn in the Arabian deserts for five years, and now lived twenty-four years in the South? In truth I've found I can be happy in all temperatures, though I have my favorites.

Today has been a good day. Over the last several days at home I drafted an article for, on construction dispute mediation. In mediation on Monday; article written by Friday. Art imitates life, I guess you could say.

On The Writers' View 2, a Yahoo e-mail loop I'm on, the current discussion is on excuses to doing what needs to be done in order to succeed as a writer. The answers are fear (both of failure and success), busyness, lack of skill, lack of industry contacts, etc., etc. Lots of excuses, none of them that should be made. The discussion leader had some poignant words for us, the great unpublished masses of writers: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. And, on occasion, eyes in book.
So I have no excuses. I just need to get at it harder and get it done. Write articles. Work on my novel. Capture ideas in a retrievable way. Update my submissions log. Research the market. Submit some poems and short stories to literary magazines. Work on my Bible studies, especially the new one in research. Read to improve craft. Read to be inspired. Hobnob with writers (probably less than I've been doing on-line, more IRL). Get my weight down and my body better in tone. Finish the downstairs bathroom. Finish preparations for the new downstairs carpet. Trade some stocks.

The first of the month is always an occasion to begin anew, not quite as much as the first of the year, but still a time to focus on doing things better, smarter. One thing I've done better and smarter, at least I think so, is to finally come up with a writers diary of sorts.

I've tried journaling, and usually do that in fits and starts. I've tried weekly log sheets, with a little success, but usually set it aside after a while. In July I developed a monthly writing log. It's just a table, 32 columns across and about 20 rows down, with lots of white space at the bottom. I use a row to identify a writing task (which will include whatever reading I'm doing), and check the day I worked on that task. I use footnotes when necessary to explain exactly what it was I did concerning that task. I've used this log for three months now, and like it. Here's to many more months of documenting my progress.

And here's to a good October, enjoyable in season, fruitful in tasks completed, abundant in words assembled into sentences, paragraphs, lines, chapters, and sections. May computers work, the Internet remain stable, modems and routers not fail, the electricity not hiccup, and all things writing-related work in harmony.