My DIY Generator

I never know whether to blog about my DIY projects, but this one got a big reaction when I mentioned it online, so here goes.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have a lot of power outages in Texas which, between ice, heat, hurricanes, and the buried utilities in my neighborhood, are inconveniently long and frequent. So….more and more folks ’round these parts are getting backup generators, but I don’t want to pay the cost of a new car for a whole-house natural gas backup system I don’t really need, hope never to use, and will need a maintenance contract to keep ready in case I do. I really only need enough juice to keep one room habitable, the food cold, and the wifi running. A simple portable generator can do that, and for a WHOLE lot less money, I just need it set up and standing by when I need it–no dragging it out to the yard, erecting a rain shield, and trying to feed heavy gauge power cords in through the windows.

Whole house generators are usually connected to a home’s mains wiring through an automatic cutoff switch. I didn’t do that because it’s expensive, requires a licensed professional, and is not very practical for a generator barely powerful enough to power one of the twenty circuits in the house. Instead, I wired up a completely separate emergency power system with outlets behind the frig, in the living room, in the office, and in the bedroom where the wifi lives. It’s much easier for the family to understand that the generator can run one portable AC or heater, the frig, and a few lights and computers, when plugged into the emergency outlets.

I documented the electrical work here. This post is about the generator.

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Florida Girl Causes Global Ice Cream Crisis

I was asked by to moderate “The ArmadilloCon Story Game” as part of ArmadilloCon 2023, a spec-fic literary convention in which at least two panels were concerned with AI, so I decided to employ AI to facilitate the Mad Lib style brainstorming of this classic con game:

First, I asked ChatGPT for a selection of Mad Lib-style prompts suitable for the game and a science fictional story. Then I asked the audience for an Adjective, a superpower, a weakness, and the name of a planet.

Patrice Sarath and Michelle Muenzler brainstormed with input from the audience, while I moderated, transcribed, and interacted with the AI “Sudowrite” which works by accepting starting text, then suggesting two prose alternatives, one of which was chosen before inserting more prose and requesting more generates ideas and so on until the story is done. Here is what we came up with AI inspiration and human brainstorming and editorial clean up in the span of about 40 minutes…

Beginning prompt: Stupid aliens from the planet Garbanzo have invaded Earth. They possess incredible invisibility abilities that challenge humanity’s dog allergies. Jennifer and her dog, Nefertiti discover the evidence of the alien’s interference when Jennifer starts sneezing and some unseen someone says “bless you.”

1982, January 5th:

Jennifer rubbed her nose, trying to stifle another sneeze. “Nefertiti, did you hear that?” she whispered to her dog. “Someone said bless you, but I don’t see anyone here.”

Nefertiti’s ears perked up, and she began to sniff the air. Jennifer watched as her dog’s nose twitched, trying to pick up any scent of the invisible interloper.

Suddenly, Jennifer felt a tickle in her throat, and she let out a series of violent sneezes. “Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!”

As she wiped her nose with a tissue, Jennifer noticed a small, shimmering object floating in the air. The object seemed to be reflecting the light in the room, making it slightly visible to the naked eye.

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Real Stories of the United States Space Force

For months, I’ve been fairly quite. I lot has been going on. Cheifly, I’ve been working on an anthology for Baen Books. It’s been a LOT of work, far more than I’d anticipated, not just writing and reading slush and editing, but tracking down information and conducting interviews and looking up quotes for epigraphs, and simple logistics–keeping track of invited authors, contracts, bios, and a thousand little details. But I’m pretty proud of the results. It’s in Baen’s capable hands. I think you’ll like it.

Baen Book’s new anthology, Real Stories of the United States Space Force, is a collection of science fiction stories and fact articles illustrating the real-world need for space defense and dispelling misconceptions about the nation’s newest military service branch.

  • 13 Award-winning authors!

  • 16 Original stories!

  • 5 Fascinating articles!

  • Foreword by “Star Wars” (SDI) Chief Engineer of Space Based Laser, William F. Otto.

  • Contributions by nationally syndicated editorial cartoonists, Dave Granlund and Phil Hands.

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Zeroing in

Science is like an archer getting closer to the target with practice—and an ever-improving view of the remaining discrepancy. That the aim varies as it zeroes in does not make it wrong along the way—and only a fool would think so.

Estimates for the age of the Earth have evolved over time as new scientific methods have been developed and as new data has been collected.

  • From the 1770s to the 1890s, Earth’s age could only be guessed at (scientifically speaking) based on a crude understanding of natural processes such as geolologic change, planetary cooling, and ocean salinity balance, so estimates ranged wildly from a few million to a few billion years.
  • 1905: The physicist Ernest Rutherford suggested that the age of the Earth could be estimated by measuring the amount of lead in uranium minerals. His estimate was around 500 million years, but was only a swag intended to prod geologists into the atomic age.
  • 1920s: The geologist Arthur Holmes used the radioactive decay of lead and uranium to estimate that the Earth was around 4.6 billion years old. This estimate is still widely accepted today, although the margin of error has been refined over time.
  • 1990s: The development of new radiometric dating techniques, such as uranium-lead dating and samarium-neodymium dating, allowed scientists to estimate the age of the Earth with greater precision. These methods have estimated the age of the Earth to be around 4.54 billion years old, with a margin of error of around 1%.

 

  • 1917-1922: The first estimate of the age of the universe came from astronomer Georges Lemaître, who used Einstein’s theory of general relativity to suggest that the universe was around 10 billion years old. This estimate was based on assumptions about the expansion rate of the universe and the amount of matter it contained, but it did not have a margin of error.
  • 1920s-1930s: Other astronomers, such as Arthur Eddington and Edwin Hubble, proposed different estimates of the age of the universe, ranging from a few hundred million years to several billion years. These estimates were based on observations of the Hubble constant, the rate of expansion of the universe, and the ages of the oldest stars in our galaxy.
  • 1940s-1950s: With the discovery of nuclear reactions and the ability to measure isotopes, physicists were able to estimate the age of the universe more precisely. In the late 1940s, physicist George Gamow and his colleagues suggested an age of around 2 billion years based on calculations of the age of the oldest rocks on Earth. By the early 1950s, improved measurements of the Hubble constant led to estimates of 10-20 billion years with a margin of error of about 25%.
  • 1960s-1970s: The discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1965 provided strong evidence for the Big Bang theory and allowed scientists to refine their estimates of the age of the universe. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, estimates ranged from 10-20 billion years with a margin of error of about 10%.
  • 1980s-1990s: With more precise measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation, estimates of the age of the universe improved further. By the 1990s, estimates were in the range of 13-15 billion years with a margin of error of about 1-2%.
  • 2000s-present: Advances in technology and new observations, such as measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and the Planck satellite, have allowed scientists to refine their estimates even further. Current estimates are in the range of 13.7-13.8 billion years with a margin of error of about 0.1-0.2%.

A Changing of the Guard

Today I spent the day with my new boss, a woman I first met near the start of my IT career when she, then a newly-hired contractor, was appointed business liaison for what turned out to be a highly successful software application I was designing. At lunchtime, we got to chatting and our conversation turned to my boss way back then, Frank, among the most brilliant, capable, and just plain decent human beings I have ever had the pleasure to know.

I will not waste your time detailing all the kind things Frank did for me or taught me over my years under his wing, except that a lot of it was not strictly work-related, the sort of thing my father might have impressed on me had my parents not divorced and my father had not been away most of the time on Air Force duty and, frankly, had been a better man.

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The Double Edged Blade of Capitalism

Today, for the first time in a long time, I tried out a new product I was genuinely excited to get hold of.

Capitalism is not, as many millennials think, the root of all evil. Neither, as many boomers seem to think, is it the garden of all virtue. There is a balance to be found between public and private interests, and between innovation and foolish obfuscation. The shaving business is a case in point.

If you’re under 40 and don’t have an MBA, you may not be aware that the shaving razor business is a scam so well known it’s part of the Harvard curriculum. It works like this. Give away an attractive razor for cheap or for free, then make a profit selling the owner proprietary replacement cartridge blades that you somehow convince them are better in some way than the crazy cheap standard blades they were using before. Bonus dollars if you hook them young enough they never used the cheaper alternative, or still think of it as grampa’s old school. Why buy 50 blades for $9 when you can buy two for $10 and get half the performance? Ah, but the packaging is so manly and sleek, like what Captain Kirk would get his condoms in.

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Speed Dating for Creatives

While prepping for a recent “Pay it Forward Day” presentation, I stumbled on a useful analogy: submitting creative work for sale is a bit like dating.

It’s tempting when a submission doesn’t work out, to think something like a teenager who just got ghosted by the hottest kid in the “in crowd”, to think “I wish I knew why they didn’t like me, then I could change.” You might even be tempted to respond to a purchasing editor asking exactly that. Don’t. Don’t, because you are selling yourself short. Don’t because you’ll look like a pestering kid asking “but why don’t you like me? Why? Why?”

The reality is, rejection of your story is like rejection after a date. It just means that story isn’t the right fit for that editor at that moment.

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Open Libreoffice Writer to the Last Edited Document

More people should be using LibreOffice. Why? Because word processing is a mature technology, as mature as the doorknob, and there is no reason to keep paying tech companies like Microsoft increasingly exorbitant protection money as if we needed or wanted them to “improve” it–all the while making it easier for them to spy on us and sell us crap we don’t want. Capitalism is a powerful driver of progress, but sometimes that progress is, as C.S. Lewis put it, called “going bad.”

This isn’t 1988. Word processing doesn’t need anything but bug fixes and refinement between now and whenever the next revolution in AI or human biology renders the whole idea moot, and well-supported open-source software is safer than commercial software specifically because it’s open. More eyes are looking at the code with more detachment. It’s also a bit like a good Credit Union, driven by the needs of the community rather than the profits of a few oligarchs. So stop paying that monthly subscription and download LibreOffice for free. Go. We’ll wait.

But when you do, you’ll naturally find there’s a learning curve. That’s where I can help. I’m starting a series to share what I’ve learned as I’ve made the transition over the last decade or so.

In this post, the Libreoffice Macro facility and how to easily use it to do something super useful with no difficulty at all: Make Libreoffice Write open the last document you edited to the last spot you were at when you closed it.

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Benjamin Franklin Was Right

Years ago, when we first moved to Houston, I mentioned to a co-worker that we were taking the kids down to Kemah Boardwalk, a mini-amusement park run near the coast by a prominent restaurant chain, and he, being a resident of the area, spent 15 minutes telling me how hard it is to find parking and how to find the garage he usually uses. We got up early, hit the road at 9, pulled right in and up to the VIP parking rope 10 minutes before open, and parked practically underneath the Ferris wheel. People are lazy. The early bird gets the worm.
Recently, we’ve been looking for a new dog, partly to keep our little rescue terrier company when his dog sister passes away, as she’s getting a bit long in the tooth.
We’re fans of terrier mixes for obvious reasons and rescue dogs for several reasons, but anything that looks remotely Yorkieish gets snatched up by the local Yorkie rescue groups faster than you can say “Parson Russell,” and efforts to get a dog through them have proven consistently frustrating.
So I’ve been watching PetHarbor.com, waiting for a suitable dog to appear, checking the site a few times a day for months.
 
Last night before bed, the pickings were poor as usual. Nothing but labs and pit bulls and the odd “other kind of bull” or “other kind of hunting dog in a city that never hunts” the cross between a spaniel and a demon goat or the elder cripple wonky dog in genuine need of a loving foster hospice home, but not the family pet we are looking for, a young terrier mix of any of several varieties without two feet already the the grave and the others on banana peels.
This Saturday morning I went for a ride, mowed the grass, and came in to work on the computer,  coincidentally just as the county pound was opening for the day. As I sat down with my coffee, I checked PetHarbor, and low and behold, a new little dog appeared, days since intake:0. Someone had just logged on in the last half hour and listed a little terrier mix, female, looking just like Mr. Lucky–just what we’ve been looking for. I called to confirm they were open on Saturday and hopped in the car with Kristina, who’s a tad on the high strung side and reminded me approximately 14,000 times en route that we had to hurry, that someone would snatch that little dog before we could get there.
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