Still More Things

Posted: 30th September 2016 by Cheap in Fiction, Firearms, History, Philosophy, Politics
  • I have rather suddenly developed an interest in local history.  Most specifically, I’ve decided I want to know all there is to know about Flamm City, a place that was probably never actually any kind of a city, but which has intrigued me for many years.  I’ve discovered a ton of historical resources at the libraries, mainly catering now to the increasingly popular study of genealogy.  When I started, I figured I would be the only one looking into such subjects, but in fact the rural suburban city I live in actually has a historical society.  I am finding the research to be fascinating, even if it is taking up a lot of my time.
  • I made it to a second meeting of the science-fiction book club.  The book this month was The Three-Body Problem, which included a rather unusual selection of science.  (I liked the book alright, but now that I know it’s the first of a trilogy, I don’t think I’m interested in reading the rest.)  There were some familiar faces, and I’m starting to form opinions about them.  The largest reason for participating in the book club is for the social experience, so the quality of the people I meet there will have a lot to do with whether I continue.
  • My foray into local history has suggested to me a possible interest in photographing cemeteries, the photos to be used by genealogists.  Photographing each individual headstone and cataloging the photographs online would make the information available to those who are not local to the area but are searching for it.  This is well within my skill-set.  Though perhaps I should make sure someone else hasn’t already done it.
  • I read The Thousand Names, which I picked up recently at the used book store for no other reason than that I liked the name.  Even though many of the characters were a tiny bit two-dimensional and the story’s obstacles were too easily and too consistently overcome, I did enjoy it overall, and I plan to read more of the series.
  • I bought a sewing machine.  My grandmother’s machine has been in my possession basically since her death.  However, it has become non-functional, and I cannot easily repair it.  Sewing is a skill I possess, but without a machine, projects have been passed over or stacked up for quite a while.  I bought a Singer Heavy Duty mechanical sewing machine with just the features I need.  It works well enough, though it’s not as nice as my grandmother’s 1960’s Kenmore.  I look forward to doing more with it.
  • I have started building my hardcover library – a library of books I intend to re-read.  I’ve started with C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series, unearthing what hardcover editions I already had and buying a gently used hardcover edition of the first book.  I have several to go just in that series, and there are several other things I would like in the collection.
  • The Missouri General Assembly voted to override the Governor’s veto of SB 656.  This makes Missouri the 11th “constitutional carry” state.  When the law goes into effect, concealed carry of firearms will be legal without a permit, with the same restrictions that apply to permit holders (but not quite the same protections).  The law also upgrades Missouri from a “Castle Doctrine” state to a “Stand Your Ground” state.
  • When I was thinking about media’s complete mischaracterization of Stand Your Ground during the Zimmerman trial, I realized that those protesting against the incident were making paradoxical demands.  They wanted Zimmerman to be found guilty of breaking the law, and they also wanted to demonize the law that made the shooting legal (which they erroneously referred to as “Stand Your Ground”).  If there’s a bad law that makes it legal, then how can he be found guilty?
  • Gearing up for cold weather camping, I have come to realize that my understanding of sleeping bag temperature ratings has been flawed.  I buy a 0° sleeping bag, and taking nothing else into consideration I assume I will be comfortable in 0° weather.  When that proves to be untrue, I chalk it up to exaggerated claims.  However, the sleeping bag can only do its part when combined with a good insulating mattress underneath.  A simple air mattress won’t cut it, and that’s what I have always slept on when camping.  I have been daunted by cold weather camping for many years, and it’s because of my early failures camping in cool weather.  Now that I am researching and understanding the whole system together, I am hopeful that I can succeed.
  • I have finished watching the original television series Twin Peaks.  The only thing I expected was that it would be weird, and it certainly was – right down to and especially including the finale.  It was also really corny and campy, mostly in a good way.  The most difficult part of watching it was the extremely slow pace.  David Lynch clearly wanted to portray moods more than a story.  I’m surprised audiences of the time had the patience for it, especially when he got side-tracked.  Ultimately, I guess they didn’t, since it ended after a season-and-a-half.  It started out great, but then devolved into uninspired stories, and the unique style of presentation wasn’t enough to make up for it.  Initially, I had assumed I wasn’t interested in watching the prequel, Fire Walk with Me nor the recent continuation of this series, but now I’m reconsidering.

Percale, Cotton Sheets, and Sleeping Bag Liners

Posted: 26th September 2016 by Cheap in Camping

Do you know the feeling of sleeping in a bed with cool sheets?  I love it, especially in warm weather, and I think I finally understand the formula.

Before I spell it out, I want to describe some of the many traps that have been set out for me.  I used to think it was a matter of thread count.  Thread count is certainly a factor.  A low thread count, like 180 threads per inch, results in bedding that feels coarse.  A higher thread count makes the fabric feel smoother and softer.  However, soft and cool are two different things.  In recent years, manufacturers have come up with numerous products that are very soft, even excessively soft, but which are not cool.  Thread counts of 500, 600, even 1000 per inch.  Sateen weave, which is shinier and lends itself to higher thread counts.  Microfiber.  T-shirt fabric.  All of these things are softer (actually, I have my doubts about t-shirt fabric, which seems simultaneously soft and course), but they are warmer.  While they may be appropriate for cold weather, they are not what I want in warm weather.

The formula is 100% cotton, in a percale weave, with a thread count close to 350 threads per inch.  The ideal cotton is probably extra-long staple pima or Egyptian cotton.

Wamsutta makes a product called Cool Touch for Bed Bath & Beyond, which in my opinion is just perfect.

An additional difficulty when looking for good bed linens is that many products are not labeled with these properties.  Percale is evidently a fairly common weave – so common that it is frequently not mentioned.  Fabric with low thread count frequently doesn’t even list the thread count.

If this is important in my bed, in my air-conditioned house, then how much more important is it when camping?  In a sleeping bag in hot, humid weather?  The lining of sleeping bags come in a variety of fabrics: flannel, soft polyester, slick polyester.  However, none of them feel nice against your skin when it his hot and sweaty.  For years, I have brought along a cotton sheet.  However, they usually end up wadded up to one side.  What I really need is a sleeping bag liner.

Unfortunately, most sleeping bag liners are intended to provide additional warmth.  They are made of soft polyester, or even polyester fleece.  Welcome in the cold, but unwelcome in the heat.  (Sea to Summit makes a liner made of Cool Max material: I’ve bought one, and I have yet to try it, but it is soft polyester.)  A few companies make cotton sleeping bag liners, but not one of them indicates the thread count, let alone the type of weave.  I bought one for camping this summer, and it was very coarse (not to mention that it had velcro tabs, which are very irritating against bare skin).

I finally gave up.  In the end, I bought one of the Wamsutta twin-size flat sheets.  Folding it in half, I stitched up the bottom and most of the side.  With the excess fabric from the bottom, I made a little draw-string bag for it.  I also bought matching pillowcases.  It’s very comfortable.


Bonneville Salt Flats and Silver Island Mountains

Posted: 25th September 2016 by Cheap in Camping, Travel

The Bonneville Salt Flats are located on the western edge of Utah along I-80.  They are world renowned as the place where land speed records are set, chosen for their natural flatness.  I was looking for a place to camp overnight on my camping road trip during June of this year, and this was a better choice than I expected.  There is no camping allowed on the salt flats, but camping is allowed around the adjacent Silver Island Mountains, which were an unexpected gem.  Of the five places I camped that week, this was the quietest and most peaceful.

My stopping place before sunset

My stopping place before sunset

The road that loops around the mountains is 54 miles.  That didn’t seem like much during my planning, but it is rough gravel and dirt, with numerous wash-outs and rocks, so it was slow going.  I chose a place on the west side of the range, so that the sun wouldn’t wake me too early in the morning.  I set up camp quickly, and then I enjoyed the sunset.


The view from my tent at sunset

It was another night of nearly full moon, of which I took full advantage.  However, unlike the previous night, there was no wind.  No breeze of any kind, except for occasional and brief moments of the slightest movement of air.  I heard no animals and no insects (though I did discover and subsequently avoid a nest of fire ants).  As it grew dark, I could see but not hear lights from a road and an industrial facility miles away.  Looking at the map now, I realize I was seeing I-80 as it turned northwest in Nevada, and Graymont Pilot Peak Plant, approximately seventeen miles away.  These lights were so distant, they did not spoil my sense of solitude at all.  Yet when I was in a high position, I had a cell and internet signal.


A view of my camp site from a higher point

I had had great plans of photographing the salt flats.  Perhaps even photographing myself on the salt flats.  However, I discovered that there was an inch of water on the flats.  I’ve learned subsequently that this is a seasonal phenomenon.  Had I come through a couple months later, I’m sure the flats would have been dry as a bone.


The Bonneville Salt Flats in June

It was still pretty, of course.  However, I wasn’t in the mood to walk through this.  So I got on the road and continued on my trip.

In hindsight, I think a weekend spent here would be just perfect, especially a little later in the season when there isn’t water on the flats.  As a photographer, I would thoroughly enjoy photographing a model out here on the salt flats.

More Things

Posted: 30th August 2016 by Cheap in Fiction, Videography, Writing
  • My reading progress this month has been rather poor.  I was stuck on The Raven Boys for three weeks because it took that long to catch my interest.  Every time I tried to read a little, it made me sleepy, which is never a good sign.  The characters developed slowly, and I guess I don’t identify with them much.  In fact, I had trouble even liking most of them, though I suspect I’m intended to.  Emotionally tormented rich kids might seem romantic to some people, but to me they’re just shitty people.  There seem to be two, perhaps three, main characters.  I reached a point where I could say what each character’s story goal is, but none of them are particularly urgent.  This is the start of a series, and I’m undecided about whether to read the rest.  By the end of the novel, there are several characters I could enjoy seeing in subsequent novels, but if the stories aren’t going to be any more compelling than this, maybe I’ll pass.
  • I managed to meet up with the science-fiction book club, and it was a pleasant discussion.  This was due as much to meeting some new people as it was to the conversation.  The book under discussion was Uprooted, which was quite good.  (It was nominated for the Hugo award this year.)  I look forward to the next meeting, discussing a Hugo award winner I had skipped, The Three-Body Problem.
  • I did not make the latest meeting of the writer’s group.  I had a prior commitment, and after it got rescheduled, I had forgotten about the meeting.  I’m a little disappointed about that.
  • I am also disappointed that I couldn’t make it to WorldCon this year.  It was hosted in Kansas City this year, an easy drive from here.  However, the timing of other things and my finances conspired against me.  Who knows when I’ll get to go.  The next one is in Helsinki.  I’m sorry to see that the naughty puppies were up to their old tricks again this year, but mollified to know that they were even less successful than last year.  If the Sad/Rabid Puppies don’t like the way the Hugo awards have been going, instead of trying to game the nomination/voting process, why don’t they just create their own award?
  • I shot some video with Ami Amore, which will become a belly dance boot camp training video.  I think it went well.  I have some editing ahead of me.
  • Speaking of video, I got some new toys, the most interesting is a Manfrotto MVM450A video monopod.  It doesn’t really look like a monopod, since it has sort of a three-toed foot.  It is a monopod equipped with a fluid tilt head and a fluid pan foot.  It is a run-and-gun solution, most commonly used for weddings.  I acquired it thinking I would be using it for interviews at conventions (but now it turns out finding such gigs will be more difficult than I thought).  I also picked up a Sennheiser MD 46 for the same purpose.

Screenplay Refinement

Posted: 1st August 2016 by Cheap in Uncategorized

I just read what is essentially a scene-by-scene analysis of Star Trek VI.  It was quite interesting to read, because it examines the film in a way that I never have.  This is my favorite Star Trek film, I have watched it many times, and I have long admired it for its economy of story telling.  Every scene has a purpose and keeps the story moving, and that means there is never a dull moment.  However, when I read that analysis, it shows how much painstaking effort went into making each scene as effective as possible.

This makes me think about how to refine a screenplay the same way.  Each scene should be studied, improved, and perfected.  Intensified.  Extraneous stuff should be removed.



Posted: 31st July 2016 by Cheap in Fiction, Me, Writing
  • A couple weeks ago, I went to a meet-up of writers in Jefferson County.  It was a small group, and I enjoyed it.  A couple of published authors, and a fairly loose discussion of things we’re working on.  I discussed the space station murder mystery I am planning, and while I didn’t receive a lot of input or advice, I feel a lot more confident about a specific direction I want to take the story.  I may read one or both of the published authors.  I’m looking forward to meeting up with them again.
  • I read Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.  I like the author’s writing style.  This is the second book of his that I’ve read, and I frequently read his blog.  His use of language is very readable, but with a frequent flourish of expression.  He also has intelligent things to say and observations to make about people.  However, he is a little weak on plot and suspense.  Old Man’s War is particularly weak on that regard.  It is much like Starship Troopers in that it depicts the fighting force of the future by charting one man’s progression through it.  Creative with the science and technology, but only barely what you could call a story for its lack of a goal.  Still, at least this one wasn’t preachy about political ideology.
  • There is also a science-fiction book club I want to participate in, this one being run by the Kirkwood library.  I just finished reading Uprooted by Naomi Novik, the book to be discussed next month.  I definitely enjoyed it.  I’m not sure what to expect from a book club discussion, having never been to one (although I do have some idea after reading Among Others by Jo Walton).
  • Another meet-up group I considered but rejected was a camping group.  The idea of camping with a bunch of strangers just doesn’t appeal to me.  I am simply not that social.  After my camping trip last month, where I camped in solitude some of the time and in noisy campgrounds at other times, I realized that I much preferred the quiet isolation.  I am a loner.  An introvert.  Camping, I realize, is a chance to get away from other people.  I’m sure I would enjoy camping with friends, but I don’t think I want to meet new people that way.
  • Half of the bradford pear tree in my front yard fell during a storm and landed on my mom’s SUV.  And by half, I mean the southwestern half.  It split down the middle, and one side came down.  No rot, nothing unhealthy or dead.  Just weak wood.  This species of tree is notorious for it.  It grows so tall it cannot support its own weight.  If you have a bradford pear tree, plan to have it topped every two or three years, or consider removing it.  Also, in Missouri it has become invasive, cross-pollinating with dogwoods.  Anyway, my mom’s SUV was totaled, but she is having it partially repaired anyway.  It has taken two weekends to get the rest of the tree removed and the whole thing cleared.  Also, there is now zero shade in the front yard, and I am thinking about what kind of tree to have planted to replace it.


Posted: 13th July 2016 by Cheap in Me

I am forty-five years old, and until now I have had only an approximate idea of where I was born.

When I was younger, I was told I was born “in St. Louis.”  However, I grew up in unincorporated St. Louis County, and in our mailing address, the city was always given as “St. Louis,” yet we definitely didn’t live in the City of St. Louis.  Later, either because I was told or because I read it on my birth certificate, I learned the name of the hospital.  However, it was a hospital I wasn’t familiar with, so that didn’t fix the location for me.  Somehow, I got it unto my head that it was in Kirkwood.  I have even given Kirkwood as my place of birth on various official documents.  I’m not even sure there is a hospital in Kirkwood.

I just dug out my birth certificate.  I was born at Lutheran Hospital.  I had to do a little searching on Google to find out where that was, because it hasn’t been called Lutheran Hospital since 1999.  It is now one of several medical centers called St. Alexius.  It’s address is 2639 Miami Street.  It turns out I have driven past that place hundreds of times without noticing it.  It is a small psychiatric medical complex surrounded by parking and screened by trees and an iron fence.  It is just a couple blocks away from the heart of the Cherokee district I frequent in the south city.  I passed a block and a half away just five days ago.

I really was born in St. Louis.

You Voted for It

Posted: 6th July 2016 by Cheap in Philosophy, Politics

The voting skills of the American electorate have frustrated me for some time.  Our Presidential candidates this year are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton of all possibilities, and now the UK has had Brexit.  I have long wondered what to do about it.  Restore journalism ethics?  The driving motivator isn’t there.  Educate voters about the issues?  It’s the same as propaganda.

Perhaps, rather than educating voters on specific issues, we should start pointing out the cause-and-effect relationship between our voting choices and the outcomes.  When we complain about high taxes and government spending, it should be pointed out that we voted for it.

In fact, all of this complaining and distrust of “the government” is an attempt to vilify and blame no one.  It’s an evil entity over which we can pretend we have no control, and most certainly we did not create.

Pawnee National Grassland

Posted: 28th June 2016 by Cheap in Camping, Travel

The Pawnee National Grassland is located in northeast Colorado.  As the name would imply, it is a large expanse of grassland, relatively flat, set aside for public use much like the National Forest system.  It is a very beautiful place, and very peaceful.  Except, perhaps, for the cows.

There are three small developed campgrounds at the Grassland.  My original plan was to camp at one of these.  However, at the time I was making reservations, the campgrounds were closed due to recent flooding.  I decided to do what is known as “dispersed” camping, which is basically to camp in undeveloped land.  This is allowed in both National Forest and National Grassland, and it opens many possibilities, so long as you are fully prepared to “rough it”.  Also, it’s free!


When using either a National Forest or National Grassland, one has to be careful to know where the public land is.  Most maps, including Google Maps, will show the area as one big block.  However, inside this block is still quite a big of privately owned land.  To avoid trespassing, you need a detailed map from the Forest Service, which you can order from their Map Store.  The white areas in the map indicate privately owned land, so as you can see, most of it is not public land.

The grassland is evidently available for use by cattle ranchers, who are allowed to let their cattle graze there.  This means I was sharing the pasture with cows.  There were none nearby when I arrived, but there were cow patties.  The cows in the distance are always making some noise, but at about 1am, I was awoken by a cow that was behaving strangely.  It would moo loudly and repeatedly, and between each moo it would suck in a wheezing breath.  It would do this for several seconds, and then walk for a while, and then repeat the whole procedure.  Knowing nothing about cow behavior, it seemed sick to me.  I woke up because it was getting loud, and as I listened, it was getting louder.  I realized it was coming toward me.  I imagined a territorial bull not liking my scent and protecting its herd.  I wondered what a bull would do to a tent, and me in it, if it was sufficiently disturbed.  As it continued to get closer, I decided I would be better off outside of the tent and near the truck.  I threw on some clothes and took cover near the truck.  With binoculars, all I could see was a silhouette, and I couldn’t tell if it was a bull or a cow.  In any case, its proximity turned out to be just coincidence.  It slowly followed a line of travel which brought it past my campsite, but no closer than fifty yards.  I eventually got back into my tent and resumed my sleep, losing about an hour to the mad cow.

When I arrived, and for a few hours into the night, it was quite windy.  I would estimate 25-30 mph winds.  My new tent had reviewed well for standing up to high winds, and this put it to the test.  It was a clear night with lots of stars and a nearly full moon.  Aside from the cow, it was a beautiful night.

Minor Updates

Posted: 27th June 2016 by Cheap in Fiction, Firearms, Technology
Tags: , , ,
  • At work, we use monitoring systems to alert us to problems with the system, so that we can react to them quickly.  We take the monitoring systems quite seriously.  Today, on one of my personal servers, I discovered that a service had crashed, and I hadn’t noticed for fifteen hours.  It was quite a shock to think about something going down without my notice for so long.  I have been wanting (for years) to learn and build out a monitoring system for my personal systems, but I haven’t gotten around to it.  I assumed it would be Nagios.  However, we’ve started to use Sensu at work, and I am supposed to be learning it, so maybe I will start with that.
  • I have a lot of other technologies to learn.  And I mean a lot.  I have actually been very stagnant with computer technology for the last several years.  Until recently, such things didn’t matter to my position on an operations team.  However, two things have changed: our team taking on more responsibilities and becoming more of a DevOps team, and I am exploring the possibility of doing freelance work for extra income.  So that’s several technologies at work for which I need to gain expertise, and several current technologies that have become popular fields for freelance work.  I have a stack of new computer books to read.
  • A sign of a good thriller is that it hooks you from the beginning and you can’t put it down.  It is rare that I read a whole book in a single sitting, but I did that last night with James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor.
  • Velocity is a new company that makes a pretty good drop-in trigger for the AR-15.  Not only is it pretty good, but it is very competitively priced.  I just installed one in my R-15, and I took it to the range over the weekend.  There is no detectable creep, and it was pleasant to shoot.  It’s not as nice as the Geissele trigger in my other AR-15, but this one is a single-stage trigger.  I can no longer blame the trigger for accuracy problems.
  • I think I am going to move Dean Koontz off of my active authors list.  I just read Ashley Bell, and I found myself turned off by Koontz’s reliance on one-dimensional bad guys who embody pure evil and who also happen to have limitless resources and be well organized and well connected.  Midway through, there is a plot twist that somewhat justifies this, but by then my distaste was already well seated, and the new situation left the story feeling disjointed and poorly planned.  I was already feeling annoyed with Koontz’s unrealistic characters by the time I finished his Odd Thomas series, and this sort of clinched it.  I guess I’m not really a fan of supernatural thrillers.  I stumbled backwards into his work by reading Sole Survivor, which had me until the end expecting a rational, scientific explanation.  Dean Koontz is a master of suspense, which for me is an important component of storytelling.  However, I think I will prioritize my future reading time for other things.
  • I think I am sold on “dispersed” camping.  This is the term that applies to camping in the middle of nowhere, which you can do in most National Forest and National Grassland property.  No table, no fire ring, no grill, no electricity … nothing.  Just back from a camping road trip in which I camped in two developed campsites and three dispersed campsites, I much prefer the latter.  You can have total privacy and quiet.  And it’s free!  The main disadvantage is that there is no bathroom or shower, so you have to deal with those things yourself.
  • Back in 2005, George W. Bush signed into law his energy plan that wasn’t an energy plan.  As an oil crony, the idea of actually reducing America’s dependence on oil was anathema to Bush and those to whom he was beholden.  However, a President has to have an energy plan, so he pushed through this ridiculous Act.  Basically, his plan called for banning incandescent light bulbs and screwing with daylight savings time.  The latter probably cost more in IT salaries to implement than it will ever save.  However, more than a decade later, I am much more satisfied about the light bulb thing than I was at the beginning.  CFL technology is junk.  However, LED technology has fairly well matured and become rather affordable.  Almost all of my lighting is LED, and it is pleasant, reliable, and energy efficient.
  • These days, I live in a county that does not regulate the sale or use of fireworks.  Neighbors are already setting off fireworks a week before the 4th of July.  On the 4th, it will look and sound like a war zone, a thick smoke filling the air.  However, I now live in the pretentious part of the county.  A couple years ago, I lived in a place where fireworks go off all summer, with the 4th being merely the crescendo in the middle.
  • I actually called my father on Father’s Day.  He and I have relaxed into a very casual attitude about remembering dates: birthdays and Father’s Day.  A.D.D. is hereditary, and we both have it.  We’ve both missed each others’ birthdays often enough that we no longer take even the slightest offense when the other misses ours.  Actually remembering on the day is remarkable by itself, and this year I remembered to call on Father’s Day.