Wednesday, October 30, 2013

London Holiday

Kristin and I are in the UK for the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton.  The convention starts tomorrow, and in the meantime, we've been in London doing the tourist thing.  Being who we are, this has meant not Big Ben and the Tower of London, but the Science Museum, the Classics wing of the British Museum, and Verulamium near St. Albans.

We're staying in a hotel room which is very modern, but rather small:
Kristin on her phone in the hotel room

The very narrow bathroom
All the lights in the hotel room appear to be LEDs, from the ceiling lights, to the stars overhead, and the blue highlights and the television accents:

Blue highlights and star-studded ceiling

The television has a nice glow behind it.
And, of course, there's a collection of inputs for the television, in case you want to show something through HDMI, VGA, RCA, or any other connection.
Connections for the television.  I'm using the USB to charge my phone.
I'm afraid that I didn't take any pictures at the Science Museum, which is too bad.  There was a fairly nice exhibit on steam power, with a huge, working steam engine.  I'm sure all the steampunk writers at World Fantasy would enjoy it.

Kristin and I were focused on the Roman exhibits at the British Museum.  I have more pictures than is practical of that part, but here are a few:

Cooking utensils in the ancient world

A body chain, one of the few examples of this Classical type of jewelry

Weapons!

The Portland Vase
I took a lot more pictures, of a lot of different things, mostly for reference in my writings.

We also went to Verulamium, which was one of the big Roman towns in the early years of Britain's induction to the Empire.  They had a pretty nice museum as well.  Much smaller than the British Museum, and very kid friendly with a lot of annoying multimedia presentation, but there were some interesting items, including the reconstruction of a number of rooms to try to show daily life:

Preparing food in a "middle class" kitchen

A door latch--I've been trying to figure out how exactly it worked

A hearth for preparing food
There are also a few excavation sites nearby:
Part of Verulamium's wall

What's left of the theater

A mosaic floor with a hypocaust--an underground heating system
Today, we went to see St. Paul's Cathedral.  They wouldn't let us take pictures inside, but we were able to take some outside:

The front of St. Paul's, distorted since I was using the panorama mode of my phone.
The dome
A picture from the top of the dome,  looking down on the towers in the first picture.  It required climbing a lot of stairs. 
That's all for now.  Tomorrow, we're heading for Brighton and the World Fantasy Convention.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

T-shirts

For our anniversary in May, Kristin and I designed matching T-shirts.



They are now available for sale, in an array of styles and colors.

I won't ruin the joke by explaining it, but I will give a hint.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

LED bulbs

I've recently been buying LED lightbulbs to replace the various bulbs we usually use around here. For a while, my wife was buying CFL bulbs, but she got tired of them, not so much for the quality of the light, but for the fact that their odd shapes and sizes kept them from fitting where she wanted them. So she's been buying the energy-efficient incandescents instead. These use a small amount of halogen (usually flourine or bromine) inside the bulbs, resulting in a chemical reaction which redeposits the tungsten evaporated by the bulb onto the filament, which allows the bulb to be operated at a higher temperature, where it has better efficiency. Most of which I learned from the Wikipedia entry.

The halogen incandescents are only very slightly more efficient than regular incandescents, though, and the GE ones, at least, are also dimmer than the bulbs they're supposed to replace. The 60 W replacements consume 43 W to produce 750 lumens rather than the standard 800 lumens, while the 100 W replacements consume 72 W to produce 1490 lumens rather than the standard 1600 lumens. Meanwhile, I can buy LED light bulbs that consume 9.5 W and produce 850 lumens, or 19 W and produce 1680 lumens. In math terms, they consume a quarter of the power and produce about 15% more light than the energy efficient incandescents.

I've long believed that LEDs were probably the light bulb of the future. They're more efficient than incandescents or CFLs, and last longer--twenty years, by standard measurements (which, unfortunately, don't actually involve waiting twenty years and seeing if they still work).

The problem is that LEDs cost commensurately more. I can buy decent quality 60 W equivalent LED bulbs for $10-20 apiece, or spend $2.50 for an energy efficient incandescent. And as for 100 W bulbs--not that long ago, you couldn't buy 100 W equivalent LED bulbs at any price. That's changed, but they're still expensive: $50 or more usually, though I have found a few available for $30 apiece. 100 W energy efficient incandescents? About $2.50 each for those too. Sure, the LEDs also have a 20 year lifespan, compared to the one year of the incandescents, but then again, LED prices are coming down pretty quickly, so buying incandescents this year and buying LEDs a year from now would probably save money in hardware costs. Not, though, when combined with electricity costs. So my compromise is to replace the bulbs we use the most--kitchen, living room, bedroom, with LEDs, and leave the rest for a little while.

LEDs in the living room's candelabra
One of the problems I've run into doing that is that a lot of pre-existing light fixtures in our apartment use the candelabra bulbs, and finding LEDs for those is more difficult--escpecially since it takes a lot more of them to fill the light fixture (6, in the case of the two we have in the living room and dining room), and they're about the same price as 60 W bulbs. Fortunately, I have found a fairly cheap option from Feit--a three bulb pack for $21. These actually work pretty well. They have a slightly higher color temperature at 3000 K (which means they're slightly more white than the yellowish incandescents), but they are close enough for us. We get 300 lumen for 4.8 Watts out of them. I have noticed that they turn on a bit slower--most of them seem to take half-a-second to come to life after flicking on the switch, which is usually something you see in CFLs, not LEDs. And one of the sockets won't work for any of the Feit LEDs for some reason--I had to use a LED from another company (one of the ones costing $10-20). But it works. And it seems to be just as bright as the fixture in the dining room, where I'm still using all (non high efficiency) incandescents.

The incandescents in the dining room.
In the kitchen, we have a five light fixture which takes normal sized 60 W bulbs. Two of them have CFLs which my wife put in a while ago, and since they seem to be working well, I haven't bothered replacing them. The rest I've replaced with LEDs, all from the Cree 60 W replacements. These have the right size, even if they're a bit oddly shaped.
The one on the left is the old style Cree 60 W, while the one on the right is the Cree TW 60 W.
I've tried both the older Cree bulb, and the Cree TW, which is supposed to have better color. I think the color of the TW bulb is a bit better, but as it's also more expensive ($18.50 vs. $12.50), and it also consumes more power (13.5 W vs 9.5 W). I think that the older bulb is a better purchase. It can be found at Home Depot, in packs of 6 (or less, for a slightly higher price), though it looks like that may not last for much longer.

I have yet to buy any 100 W bulbs. I bought a 75 W bulb from Sylvania at Amazon, but at $38 it was pretty expensive. Still, it works pretty well, and it appears to be brighter than the 100 W equivalent CFL which it replaced. That may simply be because the light is less omnidirectional, and while it produces only 1100 lumen, more of it is in the direction I want, while the 1600 lumen CFL sends more light up and to the sides.  Or it could just be that I didn't wait long enough for the CFL to reach full brightness--but if it takes more than a couple of seconds, that's an advantage for the LEDs.

100 W equivalent LEDs are mostly above $50, but at $30 apiece, this set of two seems more reasonable. I'm a little bit reluctant to buy them before I see some more reviews. They seem different from the usual orange Philips LEDs, and I'd like to know why. I've also spent a good bit on LEDs recently, and these, while cheaper, are still expensive. They're also larger bulbs, matching the large size A21 bulb, rather than the usual A19. There are places where they can fit, but they're too big for a lot of our fixtures.

I think I'll wait a month or so before buying any more LEDs, and then I'll probably buy more of the Feit candelabra bulbs, the Cree 60 W bulb, and the Philips 100 W bulbs.

Update (10/13/2013): I was clearing out my pictures on Google+, and accidentally deleted the pictures I had here.  I've replaced most of them, but I've changed the text so it's not as dependent.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

New card

So I've created a new writing/blogging business card, just in time for the World Fantasy Convention:

New business card.
The picture is one I took when Kristin and I visited Italy for our honeymoon.  That's the Second Temple of Hera at Paestum. I felt it appropriate for my frequently Roman-themed stories.

The reason for the new card is that I also had a new role to advertise, that of a book reviewer at Black Gate. Since I'm reviewing self-published books, I thought it might be good if my card had that information to hand out.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Co-writing

On and off, my wife and I have talked about co-writing a story. We're both published writers, but we have noticeably different strengths and weaknesses. It seems like a co-written story might be able to combine our strengths and cover our weaknesses. And hopefully not the other way around. One problem I'm running into is figuring out how. How do two authors write a story together? I have a few ideas, but nothing's really seemed like it's the right way. Then again, there may not be a right way.

Here are the ideas:

1. Alternating revisions. What if just one person wrote the first draft, and the next person revised it? "How's that different than editing?" you ask. Complete creative freedom. The reviser isn't limited to line edits. They can make whatever changes they see fit. Deleting scenes, writing new ones, changing the entire course of the story. Of course, at that point, the story is returned to the first author, and he's free to make whatever changes he wants. At some point the two authors are going to have to negotiate, but at least at the beginning they're free to do whatever they want.

2. Alternating writing.  A lot of writing groups have done the exercise where the first person writes a paragraph, then hands it to the next person, who reads the first paragraph and then writes the next one. If you've done it, you've probably seen how quickly the exercise goes off the rails. Someone will write something the next person finds absurd, and soon everything up to that point becomes a dream or a daydream. So first, you probably shouldn't do it by paragraph. It would work better if you do it by scene. You also have to set some ground rules.  Like what type of story it should be,  no retconning without permission, that sort of thing. In theory it could work.

3. Joint Outlining. I have a feeling that this is the most common way of co-writing.  Two people sit down and come up with a story: the characters, the plot, the setting, etc. And then once it's planned out, they split up the work between them. This is probably the most effective way to do it.

4. Backseat writing. You literally write it together. One person looks over the other's shoulder as they type into the computer. I've done that, usually for work, and it's really slow and not much fun. It generally means debating word choice for every little thing. I can imagine that many projects will require some of this, but I can't imagine writing a whole story this way.

Any other ideas?

Sunday, October 06, 2013

New review


I've just posted my latest review at Black Gate.  This month I review Thomas Alexander's Mistress of the Dancing Bones.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The War Against the Squirrels

My wife has been fighting the most wily and dangerous enemy of her gardening career.  She woke up with a cold on Monday morning, feeling sick and coughing. But that was a minor nuisance compared to the calamity that struck later in the day.  The squirrels had gotten into her raised bed and destroyed much of it, including most of the recently planted seeds and some of the younger plants. Kristin had been using Cayenne pepper flakes to keep the squirrels out, but apparently one of them has developed a taste for it.  She threw the closest thing at hand at it (my cell phone charger) when she saw it in her garden, but by then the damage had been done.

The damage from day two of the great squirrel war. The red is from the now ineffective Cayenne pepper.
Since then, she and the squirrels have been dueling.  She's been trying something different every day, inspired by the dark secrets found in the murky depths of the Internet, or possibly just in her cold-drug-addled brain.  She's tried throwing rocks, she's tried shooting foam discs, she's tried garlic and chicken wire and most recently, ghosts.

Spooky ghosts to frighten squirrels
She's determined to drive the squirrels away, though I worry that she'll make them so accustomed to the spicy, garlicky food and spooky ambiance that they'll never eat at a bland, regular garden again.

Update (10/5/2013): One more photo:
Ghosts from above!