Monday, January 7, 2019

Eliminate foosil fuel use by 2035?

So, Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez wants to totally ban fossil fuels by 2035 to save the planet. Is it possible? Let's start looking at why we use fossil fuels to begin with and what our alternatives are. Why do we use fossil fuels? Because they contain a lot of energy in a relatively small volume. Getting a 4000 lb car (the average weight of a car in 2010) moving at sixty-five miles per hour takes a lot of energy. Try pushing a car for a bit to see exactly how much energy it takes. Heating homes and businesses takes a lot of energy as anyone who's ever cut firewood for heat can attest. Generating electricity on a large scale takes a lot of energy. Fossil fuels are a good, cheap, efficient source of that energy.

What are our alternatives? I've been following the alternative energy field since the first energy crisis back in the seventies, so I have a fairly good grasp on the various pros and cons of the alternatives. The "ban all fossil fuels" crowd seems to feel that solar photovoltaic and wind power can replace the use of fossil fuels. At present solar photovoltaic and wind power do very, very little to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Why is that? It's not because we aren't trying to exploit those technologies. It's because the sun doesn't shine at peak brightness and the wind doesn't blow at optimal speeds twenty-four hours a day every day of the year. Solar photovoltaic panels peak their energy output for just a few hours in the afternoon on fully sunny days. For most of the day they are generating far less than peak output, and in fact deliver virtually no output from sundown to sunrise. Peak energy consumption in the US occurs when solar photovoltaics are at their least efficient. Wind power is generally unpredictable in much of the country as the winds either don't blow enough, or blow too hard.. To say the supply from those sources is sporadic is an understatement. If you eliminate all fossil fuel energy generation, you end up leaving people in the dark and cold for very, very long periods.

"We can store that energy from the peak generation time and release it when we need it!" Not really. There's talk of building massive lithium ion battery warehouses to store excess solar and wind power. There are multiple problems with this idea however. To begin with, lithium ion battery design is one of those areas where science/engineering and technology aren't perfect as nearly every manufacturer who's ever made anything with a lithium ion battery will be only too happy to tell you. Lithium ion battery design is one of those areas where its maybe 95% science/engineering and 5% voodoo. Get on the wrong side of the voodoo and you've got big problems. "We'll get on the the right side and design safe batteries." Maybe they can, but they're talking about housing millions, if not billions of cells in each warehouse and all it takes is one bad cell and the whole facility can go up in flames. The expense of such a lithium ion battery warehouse would be enormous also. Add in the fact that you then need lots and lots more solar panels and windmills to generate excess power to store and the costs become absurd. There's talk of other means of storing the energy, but the technology just isn't there at this time. Storing massive amounts of energy until needed just isn't practical at this time.

"Well then, we'll keep using other means when needed but mostly use photovoltaics and wind power when it's available." This ignores that fact that you don't just flip a switch and turn on a power plant. It would be nice if you could, but that's not how power is generated. To make electricity today, vast amounts of water are flashed to superheated steam that's then vented through a turbine that then turns a generator and that's how power is generated. That steam is then cooled, condensed back into water vapor and recirculated through the system again and again. You can't just flip a switch and instantly have vast quantities of super-heated steam. It takes time to create the volume of steam required.

To get a power plant whether it's oil-fired, coal-fired, natural gas-fired, or a nuclear plant, from cold to fully operational is a multi-hour process. To avoid blackouts lasting hours at a time, power companies keep their standby power plants up and running, just as though they were generating power, so when they need the power, it's there. This is often called "spinning reserve." So, even with solar and wind generating power, somewhere behind them, hidden away in the distance, is a conventional power plant chugging along, burning the same fuel (or nearly so) as it would be if it was the one generating the power. Essentially it's like driving around in an electric car, but being followed everywhere by a gas-powered car just in case you need it. You look impressive using the electric car, but the net effect on your CO2 emissions is nearly zero since the fossil fuel powered car is right behind you the whole time. If you're serious about lowering CO2 emissions without living in the cold and dark, then nuclear power is the only real alternative at this time. No one's building new nuclear plants at this time however. If you truly want to end the use of fossil fuels by 2035, it'll require the building of a massive number of nuclear power plants. Generally speaking, the far left is opposed to nuclear power.

So, why do they want to end the use of fossil fuels? They say it's because of the CO2 released by the burning of fossil fuels. So, here's an interesting question, what if human generated CO2 isn't the cause of global warming/climate change? "What else could be the cause of the rise in temperatures?"  The fact that we're consuming more BTU's every year could play a rather large role in it. One government web site states that we're now consuming three times the BTU's we did back in the fifties. Let's say that back in 1950 you entered a building, found they had a 50,000 BTU heater running flat out, 24/7. You took a temperature reading and left. You come back in 2019 and notice there are now three 50,000 BTU heaters running flat out 24/7 and discover the temperature is higher. (Not surprising to most of us. Three heaters would generate three times the heat of one.) Most people will look at those extra heaters as the problem. The CO2 fretters would instead look to the ceiling and wonder what changes had happened to the ceiling to trap in and reflect back the heat. "Yes, yes, I know lots more heat is being generated, but that's not the issue. Something's trapping it and reflecting it back." To most of us that extra heat being generated is kind of the issue. More heat generated tends to lead to higher temperatures whether anything's reflecting that heat back to Earth or not.

"We know CO2 levels are higher now than they've ever been!" How do you know that? "Ice core samples prove it beyond a doubt! There are tiny air bubbles trapped in Arctic ice that when tested show lower levels of CO2 dating back 800,000 years." There is a slight issue there. There are sea ice algae that live in the ice. Algae breathes in CO2 and exhales oxygen. Unless you know those samples have been algae free since they were formed thousands of years ago, you can draw no conclusion from those samples. Algae is not an easy thing to contain. It will grow and thrive as long as it's demands are met. It needs food, typically a nitrate of some sort, CO2, and light. All of which were readily available in the sea ice the experts are relying on to determine the amount of historic CO2. If any sea ice algae ever came into contact with those "pristine" air bubbles trapped in the ice (and it's almost certain some did) then the algae would have extracted CO2 from the bubble and replaced it with oxygen. It's what algae does, it breathes in CO2 and exhales oxygen. Ironically enough, one of the methods our climate change alarmists want to use to scrub CO2 emissions is algae farming, since algae is so efficient at consuming CO2. The fact that those "pristine" air bubbles trapped in sea ice were likely altered by sea ice algae at some point is largely ignored by the climate change alarmists.

"We know temperatures are higher now than they've ever been!" How do you know that?
"We can measure the ratio of water isotopes to determine what temperatures were previously." They kind of forget to mention that we've been mass producing the water isotopes they're measuring for decades now for scientific and industrial use and since they're water, they're just dumped down the drains and out into the water treatment plants and ultimately the oceans when the users are done with the water. Some isotopes are so inexpensive to mass produce that they're sold for as little as a dollar per gallon when bought in thousand gallon or larger volumes. We've been altering the natural balance of those isotopes for decades now, so their effectiveness at determining past temperatures may be less accurate than they'd like us to believe. 

So, what can we do? A better question is, do we need to do anything? Humans live everywhere on this planet from the hottest desert to the Arctic Circle. We're kind of an adaptable species. "But the sea level will rise!" Yeah, but it really hasn't risen a lot has it? I've lived across the street from a meadow/swamp for sixty years and the water level is just about where its always been. (It may even be a tick lower than it was in the past.) Nature finds a way to balance things out. For example, I live near (some maps show me atop) the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer in Southern New Jersey. This aquifer reportedly has 1,000 wells tapping it, pumping out 400 gallons per minute per well. That's 400,000 gallons per minute total or about 576 million gallons of water per day. Those big water tanks you see in nearly every town in South Jersey are fed from that aquifer, and yes, the pumps run pretty much full speed 24/7 to keep those tanks full. Much of that water finds its way to waste water treatment plants where it's treated and then dumped into rivers, streams, the bays and eventually back to the ocean. This is from one aquifer under just the southern half of New Jersey. We're reportedly taking 576 million gallons of fresh water from it each day (enough so that the ground above it is depressing) and dumping much/most of that into the ocean, via the rivers, bays and streams, and have been doing so for decades. For those keeping track at home that's 210,240,000,000 gallons of water per year, from one aquifer in about half of one state. When you look at all of the water we pump from aquifers each year nationally (and internationally) and look at how much of that reaches the oceans, or should anyway, we should all probably be knee deep in water.

And it's not just water from aquifers. I use rain barrels to collect the water that runs off my roof for watering my garden. It's pretty impressive how much water you can catch very easily. Now look at storm sewers. Nearly all of the rain water that falls in cities or on paved roads ends up in storm sewers instead of the ground. Where does it go once it hits those storm sewers? Into the rivers and streams, then to the bays and then to the ocean. Instead of those billions, if not trillions of gallons of water from each storm soaking into the land, we're rerouting it to the oceans. 

So, why aren't we all knee deep in water? Nature adjusts. As the sea level rises soil that was dry becomes saturated and good old gravity pulls on that moisture in the soil that wasn't there before and drags it down to help refill the aquifers we're draining. You're not just dumping water on top of the soil, but saturating the soil when sea levels rise. Unless that soil is impenetrable, that fresh water atop the soil works it's way down through the soil, saturating it, going deeper and deeper until it can go no further, typically ending in an aquifer. Gravity is kind of relentless in that manner. The Earth isn't a lined swimming pool where every drop of water added raises the water level, but much more sponge-like than the alarmists would like you to believe. It can, and does, absorb a whole lot of water. Nature finds a way to compensate.

How else could nature compensate for the climate change? A longer growing season from a warmer planet means plants will grow longer and plants breathe in CO2 reducing the impact of any increase in CO2. Melting glaciers and the dumping of vast amounts of rainwater/water from aquifers will lower the salinity of the oceans, but when you lower the salinity you also lower the freezing point of seawater making it more likely to freeze creating new glaciers. Ocean water has a lower freezing point (28 degrees Fahrenheit currently for sea water) than fresh water (32 degrees). Since the climate change alarmists are talking about a temperature swing of just a few degrees, any reduction in the salinity of the oceans (which varies already depending on location) would make the ocean water more likely to freeze despite the rise in temperature. 

"The lowering of the ocean's pH from acid rain will affect sea life!" When the oceans get more acidic more of the old coral structures are dissolved which raises the pH of the water to counteract the increasing acidity. Aquarium keepers use this principle to raise the pH of their fish tanks. Add a bit of coral sand/fragments to an acidic aquarium and the Ph rises. Nature likes things to stay in balance and has ways to compensate. Volcanic eruptions release tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, but nature compensates.

"But the coral reefs will die!" And new ones will form. Coral spawns release billions of baby corals, the vast majority of which never find a suitable place to live. As ocean waters warm, it creates new suitable places for them to live as it's killing off the old places where they lived. Water that was too cold previously may no longer be too cold now.

Let's assume that we do everything the most extreme climate changers want done. We ban all fossil fuel use. We deal with the cold, heat and dark in other, new, creative ways that currently don't exist. We all ride bicycles, walk, or find other ways to travel. Will it end human's impact on the climate? No. We're all 98.6 degree (or so) radiators radiating our body heat out into the atmosphere. We're all exhaling CO2. Unless or until the median air temperature is exactly the same as our body temp and we figure out a way to breathe without releasing CO2, humans will always have an impact on the climate.  But, nature adjusts.

"Animals will go extinct!" Just as they always have throughout history and long, long before humans ever appeared. New species will evolve and arise to fill the void, just as they have throughout history. The climate of Earth has changed many times throughout history and life always survives in some form. Some species go extinct and new species rise to take their place. It's the way the world works. The newish myth that the climate has been stable until now, is just that, a myth. The climate has never been stable. In all likelihood it never will be. 

"But we've got to do something!" If you live in a colder part of the country and you want to do something to limit CO2 emissions, then passive solar is your friend. That free heat from the sun can dramatically lower your CO2 emissions by creating heat needed for your home at no cost in terms of CO2 emissions. You'll still need alternate heating methods for the less sunny times, but you can conserve a whole lot of BTUs with passive solar and excess heat can be stored in barrels of water or thermal mass/masonry that will then slowly radiate that heat out during cooler periods. You may notice that passive solar isn't mentioned much these days. That's because there's no giant passive solar lobby throwing around buckets of cash. The solar photovoltaic industry and wind industry have huge lobbies however so they get the attention and cash. The fact that they achieve nothing, or next to nothing to reduce CO2 emissions is largely ignored while passive solar actually works to reduce CO2 emissions. Gee, it's almost like those touting solar photovoltaic and wind power are being bought and manipulated by the solar photovoltaic and wind industry. But no, that can't be right. They're the good guys! The fossil fuel industry are the bad guys! Yeah. Believe that if you want to.

We've reached a point where everything that happens is blamed on climate change. Hurricanes are only occurring because of climate change. Flooding is due to climate change. Drought is due to climate change. A colder than normal winter is due to climate change. A warmer than normal winter is due to climate change. An increase in allergies or asthma is due to climate change, and much, much more. "It's just a disaster and no one wants to do anything! What is wrong with you people?" Well, it turns out some of us truly understand the issues involved and know there's no easy solution while others buy into whatever certain alarmists are saying.

There's a percentage of the population that always sees disaster coming and think that they and only they can see it and can't understand why the rest of us are so blind. Some of us aren't blind. Some of us live in reality and not a state induced by panic.  In the real world, climate change is occurring and has occurred since the dawn of the planet. Climate is not, has never been, and in all likelihood never will be stable. Do we impact the climate? Of course. Can we eliminate that impact? No. Can we lessen that impact? Yes, but at this time, only by using more nuclear and passive solar, two options that are largely ignored these days. Everything else still relies on fossil fuels, or is just a fantasy. And for the record, I'm not bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry, I'm just a person with common sense. Sadly, there aren't a lot of people out there these days with common sense.

In my sixty years, I've seen us warned that we're entering a new ice age. "Glaciers are growing and will consume our northernmost cities if we don't act soon!" There were plans circulating for a while to build massive manmade mountains to the north of our major cities. These manmade mountains would have steel ridges designed to shatter the advancing glaciers and the valleys between the mountains would have smaller peaks with steel ridges to break the glaciers into still smaller pieces until finally small enough pieces would be pushed to the cities that could then be melted to provide drinking water for the cities. Those advocating the plans insisted we had to act now or it would be too late. Yeah, not so much. For a while the scientific community was convinced the Gulf Stream was moving northwards at a rapid pace and New Jersey would have Miami-like weather by the year 2000 (or so.) The temperature is in the twenties as I write this, so yeah, that didn't happen. Way, way back there were plans to build a giant rocket engine in the desert Southwest that would be fueled by the Texas oil fields to fly the planet into a warmer/colder orbit as needed, or to steer the planet around an asteroid, or even move the planet away from the sun and to a new solar system should the need arise. Unless I've missed it on the news, that's never happened. In more recent times switching light bulbs was going to save the planet. Yeah. Right.

Humans have an inherent need to believe in things. It used to be a God or Gods. Nowadays it's often a political belief or cause. Changing a belief is nearly impossible among the true believers, but sometimes you just have to try. The true believers in humans causing climate change and the end of the planet unless we act now will denounce me as a science denying troglodyte. They'll say I'm bought by the oil industry. I'm not. Many wish to believe that climate change is all our fault and we can fix it. Climate change has gone on forever and while we play a role in it currently, we can't stop it, change it materially, or influence it. Those who believe we can, well, they're going to be seriously disappointed. "But I know we can do it! It just takes a small change! Those LED lights on your appliances are energy vampires! If we just unplugged everything it would fix it all!" Uh, no. There is no magic answer. The things that could truly work to reduce CO2 emissions are nuclear power (no CO2 emissions) and passive solar. Nothing else has the reliability necessary, or the capability necessary. And that's assuming human generated CO2 is the only reason we have climate change. It's not. 

The climate has been in constant flux since the creation of the planet, long before the first human ever stood upright. The true believers in eliminating fossil fuel use will say I'm wrong. The reality is there's no other option to the use of fossil fuels right now. Only nuclear and passive solar truly work to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and they're not popular options for the end fossil fuel crowd. They live in a fantasy world where something should work because they want it to work. I live in the real world. Solar photovoltaic and wind power just don't work to reduce CO2 emissions. Every watt of electricity produced by such methods is currently being backed up by, you've got it, fossil fuel powered plants that are churning away just as though they were generating the power. It is truly like driving an electric car, but being followed everywhere by a gas powered car. You look impressive, but you're not achieving anything. 

The talk of eliminating the use of fossil fuels by 2035 is insane. It's impossible. It's absurd and you truly have to question the sanity of anyone who thinks it's possible. It's not. If we started building new nuclear plants to replace all of the fossil fuel powered plants we'd reduce the use of fossil fuels by the year 2035, assuming we could get them permitted and built by then, but that's the only real option. The reality is though that no one wants to build nuclear power plants these days. We're just sixteen years from 2035 and expecting to be able to eliminate all use of fossil fuels by then isn't just a pipe dream, it's insanity. "We'll invent a way to do it!" Uh, no. you can't just wish things into being because you wan it. The world doesn't work that way.

Monday, May 28, 2018

It's time to dust off the old blog. There's some crazy stuff going on out there these days and I might as well try to add my voice to the madness. Let's start off with the latest hot topic.


“That evil wretched Trump! How dare he rip children from the arms of their parents!”
If you’ve visited a social media site recently you’ve no doubt found this sentiment expressed repeatedly. It’s the latest cause of the moment. Let’s assume for a moment that these parents and children were Americans accused of breaking the law. How would they be treated? Would they be separated from their children? Oh, yeah. It happens every day here in the good old USA. Talk to the police, social service workers, foster care folks, etc. It’s a routine event here in America. If you’re accused of breaking the law and sent to prison awaiting trial, your children aren’t just turned loose on the street. If there was no relative available to care for the child, the child ends up in foster care. We don’t send the kids of parents accused of a crime to prison with their parents. That silly old Constitution limits the government’s ability to imprison American citizens and American children are citizens. Our prisons aren’t exactly ideal places to raise children. If you think they are, then you haven’t been in a prison lately.
So, if you’re an American citizen accused of committing a crime, the evil old government will rip your children away from your arms. Why should it be different for illegal immigrants? Why should they have more rights than Americans?
“But this is different! All they did was come here illegally to better provide for their family!” Hey, maybe the only reason a bank robber robbed a bank was to better provide for his/her family. That burglar the police caught making off with your jewelry? He was just doing it to make money, so he could provide for his family. It’s cruel to rip his children from his arms. Why’s it different?
“But they have a bus fitted with child seats just for transporting those children!” You’d rather they threw them into the back of a pickup truck? They’re children and you must transport them safely. ICE arrests tend to be made in clusters, so you end up with a lot of people detained at one time, including a lot of children. Ferrying each child individually would be more burdensome. We don’t transport each adult separately, nor do we transport each child separately. They are however transported safely.
“They’ve lost track of fifteen hundred kids! They don’t even know where they are!” Welcome to the reality of foster care. Kids have this annoying habit of running away from foster care homes. When they run away they tend not to leave forwarding addresses. That kind of defeats the whole purpose of running away. The kids are trying to get away and escape the system. They don’t tell the system where they’re going. That’s typically how you lose track of kids in the system.
“Some of those poor children have ended up in the hands of pedophiles!” True. As do some of the American kids put in foster care. Very few pedophiles advertise that they are pedophiles, so children can be placed in homes that are unsuitable. It happens. Unless you can develop a pedophile detector that’s a hundred percent reliable it will continue to happen.
People seem to have lost their minds lately. Hyperbole is the new norm and it’s getting more than a bit crazy. Nothing is really happening with the children of illegal immigrants that doesn’t happen everyday with American children. Having a child isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. We rip kids from the arms of American parents hundreds of times a day.
“Well, it’s wrong!” I’m not saying it’s the greatest thing, but if the parents break the law you can’t just ignore their lawbreaking. They’ve got to be held accountable and sadly, it’s the kids who often suffer. If all of those screaming about this situation opened their homes to foster kids and gave them warm loving homes to shelter them until they could be reunited with their parents, it would make the situation much better. Sadly, that won’t happen. This is now a political issue and common sense and logic don’t apply to political issues. 
“Those poor kids!” They don’t care about the kids. They care about the issue. They want to use it as a political bludgeon. If they cared about the children, they’d become foster parents and work to help the children. They could give them a safe home, a warm bed, a comfortable living, a good education. Most of the celebrities jumping on this issue could easily afford to take in five, ten or more foster children and take nothing from the states. They could give these children a life the kids could only dream of. But, they won’t. They don’t truly care about the kids. They care about using this as a divisive political issue. Welcome to America kids. You’re the latest pawns in a political battle. Have fun being in the middle of this insane tug of war.
As for the rest of us, we'll continue to get bombarded with the latest spin on this. No doubt the authorities will be accused of torturing children soon. "They're sticking them with needles!" Yeah, it's called a vaccination. Our foster care system is far from perfect, but the current hyperbole related to illegal immigrant children is really getting out of hand. I try to keep things in perspective and when you realize that what's happening with immigrant children is exactly what happens with American children whose parents are accused of committing a crime, it tends to balance things out a bit.

If you like this blog and want more of my common sense view on things, feel free to subscribe. If you think I'm an apologist for Trump, feel free to ignore it. Things are getting interesting with lots of investigations ongoing and some wrapping up, so I'll be posting a bit more frequently over the next few weeks/months. I try to keep things relatively spin free and in perspective and that's not something that's easy to find these days. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Super Bowl!!!

Super Bowl Sunday is almost here! Rumor has it that the Super Bowl commercials will be interrupted by occasional football plays and then a concert by Lady Gaga. Of course, most of us will be tuning in for the commercials. Sad to say there won't be any commercials nearly as entertaining as the ad created by my fictional WNLT AD Agency in my novel "The Campaign."

I've now taken "The Campaign" wide and made it available on nearly every platform. You can now buy it at Amazon, Google, Kobo, iBooks, and soon B&N. (Oddly enough I'd set it up through B&N almost a month ago and it was on their site, then it disappeared, so I'm redoing it there again. With any luck it'll stick around this time.)

For those who haven't read "The Campaign," shame on you! It was a semi-finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and won a Publisher's Weekly review of the draft that called it a "fun romp," a "charming tale" and a "winner." Unfortunately it wasn't 'the winner', but a winner.

In "The Campaign" we get a behind the scenes peek at what happens when a small ad agency creates a successful Super Bowl ad that lets them expand and grow their business. As they try to adjust to being successful, the folks at Sassi Sausage come to them wanting them to create a new Super Bowl ad campaign. Well, the influx of new work and the challenge of training their new workers has the creative side of the firm already vastly overworked and Sara Hackman, the somewhat ditzy but lovable lead ad writer, absolutely insists they can't take the contract. The business side insists they have to take the ad. Sara finally loses patience and exclaims, "If you think what we do is so easy, do it yourself!" To her shock and surprise the suits decide to do just that.

How hard can it be? They're all competent professionals who have been around advertising for years. They'll show those namby-pamby artistic types how ad creation should be done. Unfortunately things don't go quite so well for the suits. They have issues dealing with some of the more exotic personalities involved in making a commercial. Myrtle Perkins, the animal trainer they hire who has a star celebri-pig in Mr. Pinkie is a handful for them. Things go sadly downhill for the suits as they desperately try to finish their commercial in time for the Super Bowl.

It's a fun and easy read that should bring more than a few smiles to your face as you read it.

For those interested in the football game itself, I expect the Patriots to win, but I'm cheering for the Falcons. As a rule in the NFL, film study is crucial to prepare for an opponent. The one exception to that is the Patriots. If you study their game film you'll end up studying something you won't see in the game. Bill Belichick will always throw new stuff at you. The Falcons need to prepare for everything and ignore whatever the Patriots have shown on film so far. Belichick's defense is apt to assume a 4-3, 3-4, 5-2, 2-5 or some other exotic formation to try and confuse the Falcons' blockers. He may put just two defenders at the line of scrimmage or all eleven.

The Patriots typically win by confusing the opposing team more than by beating them in terms of being more talented. Bill Belichick will peruse the rule book for any loophole he can exploit. The Patriots only really have two great players. Tom Brady is great and Gronkowski (on the DL and not playing in the game) are their great players. Everyone else is a good to average player. So why do they win so much? Because they always show you stuff you haven't seen from them before.

So how can the Falcons beat the Patriots? The key to beat a Bill Belichick coached team is to focus on the basics. Your blockers need to know who to block no matter what formation the defense lines up in. Ignore the window dressing and focus on your talent beating their talent. The Falcons are the more talented team in my opinion. If they can focus on exploiting that advantage they can win. The more of a sandlot style of football you play, the better your chances of success.

On defense the Falcons have to focus on getting pressure on Tom Brady up the middle of the field. The Texans did that fairly well in the first half and Brady looked mortal. The Falcons best pass rusher is an edge rusher however and outside pressure really doesn't faze Brady. He'll just step up away from it without pressure in his face. They also have to glue their defenders to the Patriot receivers. A zone defense doesn't work against Brady. You've got to get your hands on his receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing. Use "A" gap blitzes, stunt your defensive linemen to try and get someone free up the middle, and glue your defenders to the receivers. If you can do that, you've got a shot at beating the Patriots.

It should be a good game to watch, but expect the unexpected is the rule when you play the Patriots. A team preparing to play them in the Super Bowl has to be ready for everything. They could have Tom Brady running the zone read offense if Belichick thinks the Falcons won't be prepared for it.
 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"The sky is falling!!!"

With Trump's inauguration bearing down upon us, many are feeling as though the end of the world is near. There is a feeling of panic among many of the more liberal members of society, so this is a good time to remind people that we've been through much worse than anything Trump is likely to bring to us and we've survived.

 What we're seeing now is very similar to the reaction to Reagan's election way back in 1980. Oddly enough the world didn't end, we didn't end up in global nuclear holocaust, and by and large, we came out of that period in pretty good shape. There's no reason to assume we won't do the same this time.

"But, but, but, you don't understand! This time it's different!"

I'm now 58 years old and sad to say, I've seen many, many "the world is ending" scenarios play out only to find the world never ends. What I've adopted lately is what I like to call the British grandmother's approach to dealing with a perceived crisis. "Oh my, yes. That is something. Would you like a cup of tea?" "No, you don't understand! The world as we know it is ending!" "Yes, yes, but a good cup of tea will make it all seem better. Now you just sit there while I put the kettle on."

I was just sending an e-mail to a newer acquaintance about participating in the first Earth Day way back in 1970 and I looked up Earth Day online to be sure I had the date correct. There I found some of the predictions that were made back in 1970 that had people in a panic. Among the more dire was worldwide famine. That by 1995 75%-80% of the world's animal population would be extinct, 65 million Americans would starve to death in the 80's, pollution would block fifty percent of the sun's rays from reaching the Earth, and my favorite, that Earth was chilling sharply and that a new ice age was largely unavoidable. These predictions were all by reputable sources who were considered experts at the time.

That ice age prediction actually had some people (I believe including some politicians) calling for a series of man-made mountain ranges to the north of our large northern cities that would have sharp spines designed to break up the soon to be advancing glaciers as they came south, into smaller and smaller pieces so that by the time they reached the city the remnants would be easily removed. There were advocates demanding we start building those man-made mountains immediately, for the ice age was a near certainty and if we waited too long, we would run out of time. The price tag for these man-made mountains was astronomical which is probably why they never got built.

Around that time we also heard that the Gulf Stream was migrating north and that soon New Jersey would have Miami like weather as a result of that. One of my local newspapers so believed that to be true that in a farming column they advised nurserymen to consider saving space for orange and banana trees rather than replant with apple or peach trees. The last I checked it didn't feel like Miami outside.

For a while it was global warming. Had the predictions made back at the height of that period come true, I'd likely be typing this with water up to my knees right now. I'm happy to report I'm not. Recently it's been climate change. Well, when exactly has the climate been stable? Now it's Trump. 

The reality of life is that there's always some new disaster out there just waiting to pounce upon us. But guess what? The vast majority of the time the disaster never materializes and life goes on. The next time you turn on the TV and you see and hear people predicting disaster, turn off the TV, fix yourself a nice cup of tea and a cookie (or two) and relax.  Things are never as bad as many people want you to believe and there's nothing like a good cup of tea to make it all seem better. If history has shown us anything, it's that people are horrible at predicting the future. It doesn't matter how impressive their credentials are, or how loudly they scream, the most dire threats very, very seldom ever appear and worry does nothing to solve the problems. Now a good cup of tea on the other hand, that warms you, nourishes you, and makes everything seem better.

"But you don't understand! This time it's different! We've got to do something!" Yes, of course, let me go put the kettle on.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How does the mind of a writer work? Part 4.

And the writing continues. Yesterday I crossed the 12,000 word mark in the new story. I opted to change the way that Myrtle gets injured from stubbing her toe, to getting a sore elbow from helping Gayle and Pearl enclose their front porch. This change was done to make it clear that Myrtle is still physically strong and capable. I think it works. I could change it back later though.

So, what am I thinking now? I'm worried that I may be making Myrtle too mean to her son and daughter-in-law, so I'm working now to try and give her justification for how she feels. To some extent I'm doing this by telling more of the backstory of her relationship with her son and his relationship with Natalie (his wife.) In yesterday's writing I told how Natalie was ten years younger and lived a party girl lifestyle before dating James. They then moved in together six months into the relationship and Natalie got pregnant a few months later and her son had rushed into marriage with her. To Myrtle, Natalie is a gold digger who staked out her son and is milking him for his money. She thinks her son is being fooled by a pretty girl who doesn't really love him, but is using him. She's tried to open her son's eyes, but he refuses to believe it. That helps to explain the coolness in their relationship. Natalie also got an expensive gold necklace and bracelet from James for Mothers' Day, while Myrtle got a coffee maker, clock and smoke detector (all with hidden cameras.) I'm also showing more of the sweet, loving Myrtle that her neighbors know to try and balance her out better emotionally.

In today's writing I'm planning to build on where we ended yesterday. Yesterday we ended with James letting it slip that Natalie saw Myrtle with a sore elbow and looking a bit disheveled and thought she'd fallen. Myrtle then finds the hidden cameras with the help of Augie, Gayle and Pearl. Today we'll start seeing the plan to use those cameras to Myrtle's advantage. If you know someone is watching and listening to you and you have some general idea of when they're watching and listening, then you can use that to your advantage. Myrtle teams up with her neighbors in this effort and the group starts their campaign of shock and awe.

With the construction still under way at the girls' house, Myrtle invites them to have their weekly Saturday night poker party at her house (on camera) instead. She recruits Mrs. Buckley to join them and more or less drags her over. (Mrs. Buckley is a bit agoraphobic and a cat lady who almost never leaves her house.) There's a lot of drinking and pot smoking that goes on during these parties along with a lot of nudity, all of which shocks James and Natalie as they watch in awe.

Myrtle takes advantage of the cameras to leak secrets about both James and Natalie to the other one during their respective lunch hours which leads to some tension in their relationship that causes trouble for both of them.

I'm walking a bit of a tightrope in making Myrtle mean to her daughter-in-law, but not too mean. But, what is too mean? Her daughter-in-law was at least part of the decision to plant hidden cameras in Myrtle's house to spy on her and the two have a very frosty relationship before that. Do I make the daughter-in-law just a witch and a vile person, or do I keep her more human? Do I make her into the gold digger Myrtle thinks she is? I'll figure that out more and more as I write.

Monday, December 26, 2016

How does the mind of a writer work? Part Three.

The story is continuing to come into better and better focus each day. I've now crossed the six thousand word mark in the writing process and I'm pretty happy with those first six thousand words. I may do a few tweaks here and there, but overall I'm pretty happy with those first six thousand plus words.

The story is still more or less on the same track it was on. Myrtle is getting her spy cameras disguised as Mother's Day gifts. She'll still get the coffee maker and a clock for her living room, but I've moved away from the clock radio and more to a smoke alarm for the third hidden camera to be placed in her bedroom.

In the writing so far, we've had Myrtle head to the hospital and now discharged and sent back home where hr family is worried about her being alone and refusing to use any assistance. Shortly after getting back home her family can't contact her for several hours so her son rushes over only to find her coming out of a neighbor's house where she'd been visiting. Myrtle has her first visit from the visiting nurse and physical therapist who she largely dismisses.

So, now we've largely set the stage. The main characters have been introduced, their quirks and foibles have been hinted at and introduced. So the plan is to write the part today where the idea of planting hidden cameras in Myrtle's house comes up as a way to keep an eye on her and save James (her son) from having to run back and forth each time they can't make contact with her. In today's writing we'll have Natalie (James' wife) suggest using a nanny/granny cam to save them all stress and James ultimately agrees. He knows however that his mother will never agree to being on camera, so they decide to use hidden cameras without her knowledge.

I'll have James acquiring the cameras in today's writing, setting them up to work on Myrtle's wireless network, and positioning them so he can see her in her kitchen, bedroom, and living room. Depending on how the writing goes we may explore the first few issues James/Natalie see with Myrtle. They won't approve of the way she eats, they'll worry if she's drinking enough, they'll see her leave a pan on the stove and walk off without watching it and watch as the pan starts to smoke and call to prod her to go back into the kitchen to see the pan and take it off the burner before it catches fire. They'll watch her taking her pills and getting worried about how she takes them.

Their Myrtle TV channel will become a bit addictive to them as they spy on her whenever they get the chance. They'll be watching her in the morning as they get ready for work, then during their lunch breaks, then after they get home until Myrtle goes to bed. Now they've got to keep the cameras secret in order to know what Myrtle is doing, but she starts to get suspicious after stubbing her toe while fixing lunch for herself one day. The call from her daughter-in-law (who she's not overly fond of) asking if she's okay and getting very specific about her limping has Myrtle thinking that maybe, just maybe she's being spied on.

I'm now starting to work on tentative titles for the story. "Granny Cam" is one option. "The Granny Cam Saga" is another. "Spying on Granny" is another option. I'll likely go through a thousand options before I'm done. So that's it for today. It's time to get back to the writing. I'll be crossing the ten thousand word mark sometime this week, possibly today if the words flow easily.

Friday, December 23, 2016

How does the mind of a writer work? Part two.

Yesterday, I walked you through the stream of consciousness behind a new idea for a story as the idea formed and took shape in my head. If you haven't read that, then hop back and give it a read. It'll set up what I'm talking about in today's post. Then after posting yesterday's blog I put the first words on paper and put down a tick over two thousand words (2295 to be precise.) Today I'll give you a look at the first two pages of the story (533 words) and explain why I started the book there, and chat a bit more about the process. So, here are the first two pages of the new story as they were written yesterday. (I haven't edited them yet, so excuse any miscues. This was copied and pasted as it was written.)

Chapter One

Pearl Hatcher heard the siren of the ambulance approaching and raced to the front door to see where it would stop.
Her partner Gayle was right behind her.
“Where’s it stopping?” asked Gayle.
“I don’t know, it’s not here yet. Mrs. Harvey’s son’s car is in her driveway, so maybe there? Maybe she’s having some trouble?”
“Oh, I hope not. She’s a very nice lady.”
Pearl nodded her head in agreement.
Pearl and Gayle were the ‘new neighbors’ in this neighborhood despite moving in nearly thirty years ago after retiring from teaching. The rest of the residents had lived there fifty years or longer. There had been some initial confusion over a pair of somewhat flamboyant lesbians moving into this quiet neighborhood, but that initial confusion had given way to acceptance and a live and let live attitude.
The fact that Gayle was a very handy person who could fix just about anything helped smooth the transition. Pearl was an avid gardener with a huge vegetable garden and she freely distributed surplus crops to the neighbors which also helped smooth the transition.
“What’s her son’s name?” asked Pearl who always had a hard time with names.
“James. He’s named after his father who was also James, but everyone called him Hank.”
“He’s just come out and is waving his arms. The ambulance must be going there.”
“Oh, dear. I hope it isn’t anything too serious.”
The ambulance pulled to a stop in front of Myrtle Harvey’s house and the crew quickly emerged and grabbed their bags before disappearing into the house.
“How old is she now?” asked Pearl.
“I think she just turned eighty one.”
“Oh, so she’s not that old. That’s just a few years older than us.”
“We’re not exactly spring chickens any more. I hope she’s okay. Has her son been there long?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see him arrive.”
There were four small houses in this little neighborhood and the residents of three of them were now glued to the front windows and doors watching the ambulance that had pulled up and that signaled trouble for one of their own.
Inside the house at ten Garden Drive the ambulance crew was meeting some resistance from Myrtle Harvey.
“I’m fine, I tell you,” said Myrtle defiantly as the medic took her blood pressure one more time.
“Mom,” said her son. “You’re not fine. I came in and found you unconscious at the table. Your pulse and blood pressure are way too low. We’ve got to get you checked out at the hospital to figure out what’s going wrong.”
“I don’t want to go to the hospital. I’ll be fine if you’d all just leave me alone.”
Her son looked to the medic and asked, “Any idea what it could be?”

“I don’t think it’s anything too serious. Her EKG looks pretty good. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say it was medication related. She’s taking some pretty strong blood pressure medicine and it’s possible she took too strong of a dose. She might have taken two pills instead of one, or something along those lines. It’s pretty easy for people to get confused on medications.”

Okay, so that's how I've tentatively started the book. Bear in mind everything can and likely will change over time. If you were reading the book in the standard (for me anyway) six inch by nine inch paperback format that I use, you'd now have read the first two pages.

Why did I start the book there? I needed to introduce the characters and the setting while hopefully engaging the reader early. For those living in a major city hearing a siren is nothing. It's rare when you don't hear one, but for those who live in the country, or more rural areas, hearing a siren approach gets your attention. It means someone around you is in trouble and there aren't that many people around you, so it's a bit scarier. It's not the best hook I've ever used, but getting the reader wondering who the ambulance is for isn't a horrible way to start a story. (My personal favorite hook is the opening to my novel "Sara X.")

I want to show how close knit this little group of residents are and how they care for one another despite all being quite unique and different characters. In the other fifteen hundred plus words I wrote yesterday we meet the other two neighbors to give you a feel for them. I'll flesh them all out a bit more as I go on, but in those first two pages you've learned that there's a pair of older lesbians who are the new neighbors despite having now lived there thirty years. That tells you that the old neighbors lived there longer. This is a close knit, interconnected group.

And then we meet Mrytle. Mrytle (tentatively named after my grandmother Mrytle but names are easily changed later in the process) who is annoyed at all the fuss being made over her and just wants everyone to go away and leave her be. She could have early onset dementia of some sort, but it's very early on and most of the time she'll be sharp as a tack. She knows she gets a bit forgetful from time to time and that scares her, but she won't admit it. She loves her home and refuses to move out. She and her husband, now departed, moved in there over fifty years ago, they raised a family there, they've seen births, deaths, and the house is just filled with memories. She'd rather die there than move out. She's scared of losing control and will fight to the death to keep control.

Why didn't I start with Myrtle? It's hard to say really. I just didn't feel that starting with Myrtle was ideal. While this story does revolve around her, it also revolves around that small community of neighbors, so starting with a neighbor (or two) worried about their neighbors just felt right to me. I could have started anywhere, Myrtle could have been in the ambulance, in the ER, at home before the incident, or anywhere else, but this just felt like the right place to start. 

Right up front we meet the "new neighbors" who have lived there thirty years now. We learn they're a pair of lesbians and one of them is very handy and can fix anything (which makes her very popular in a neighborhood) and the other one is an avid gardener who shares her surplus with the neighbors. We feel their compassion and warmth towards Myrtle as they worry about her and hope she's okay.

A little farther on in the story they see Myrtle being loaded into the ambulance and are relieved that she looks fairly good. Gayle races out to talk to Myrtle's son as he prepares to follow the ambulance to the hospital and learns what she can from him. Then she gets hailed by Augie, their often nude, older male neighbor who's always lived alone in a very small house just filled with electronics and dominated by a huge Ham radio antenna. 

After Gayle tells him what she's learned she's flagged down by Mrs. Buckley who lives next door to Myrtle. Mrs. Buckley is a widow who largely replaced her departed husband with cats. She lives in an old mobile home with thirty or so cats and more coming all the time. When I finished writing yesterday Myrtle was being discharged from the hospital and was heading back home with her son and his wife. They were trying to convince her to accept their help in handling her medications and adapting to the aging process,but she's not overly receptive to the idea.

So, today I'll continue to flesh out the characters and the story. I'll have Mrytle return home and her neighbors stop by to check up on her and offer her assistance if she needs anything. She'll thank them but insist she's fine. She'll head next door to help me develop Mrs. Buckley's character a bit more. I'm going to have Mrs. Buckley suffering from a bit of agoraphobia. She hates to leave her little trailer and the cats and won't even go out for her mail. She's a very sweet, loving older woman, but life has been a bit harsh to her and largely broken her. Myrtle and the other neighbors look out for her and support her. (Later in the story Myrtle invites Gayle and Pearl to have one of their weekend parties at her house and she manages to drag Mrs. Buckley from her house to join them where some recreational marijuana combined with wine has a very interesting effect on both Myrtle and Mrs. Buckley. I'm not sure how I'll set that all up yet, but the scene lives in my head and if I can get what I'm seeing there down on paper it should be quite entertaining.

Before I start writing each day I read what I wrote the day before. I do whatever editing jumps off the page at me and then I start on the new day's writing. This 'edit as I go' approach works well for me. It helps me keep my characters consistent and by editing as I go I tend to avoid the big goofs. (Or so I like to tell myself.) And that's what I'm off to do now. It's be around 8:40 AM locally as I get started today and I'll write up to around eleven or eleven thirty, then quit for lunch, if not the day and let the ideas percolate in the old head a bit more. I should get another two to three thousand words down today, maybe more. The story is now largely formed in my head and simply needs to be fleshed out and put on paper.