Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tuesday Morning DBAN Coming Down

So the DBAN today was 281.3. It's been slow going, but progress is being made. People at work are asking me if I've lost weight now, so it must be starting to show. I know my belt is getting really loose again and it's on the last notch.

Sunday I put over 10k steps on the pedometer for the first time since I broke my toe in early January. I clocked 11.6k for the day and the next day the toe only ached a little and my legs were pretty much worn out. I put over a mile on it Sunday morning by pushing 1 year olds around in a large cart at church. I made six laps around the church with them and broke a pretty good sweat doing so.

Yesterday I only did 6.1k steps since I was just plain tuckered out by the time I got home and got Jack ready for bed. Plus it's cold and I hate walking on the treadmill. I'm going to try to do 10k again today and then slow it down the rest of the week since I'm going caving in north Alabama on Saturday.

A Hatch Book Meme

I don't normally do these, but Wilfred keeps doing them and I'm jealous, so when I saw one that was related to sci-fi books I decided to snag it from Eve who snagged it from some other blogger.

Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror?
An even mixture of Sci-Fi and Fantasty. I rarely read Horror. I read Amityville Horror back in elementary school and I think it scarred me for life.

Hardback or Trade Paperback or Mass Market Paperback?
Honestly, I don't care. I even read online books occasionally, especially at Project Gutenburg. In 2005 I read Candide there. At home I have mostly Hardback and trades. I do avoid the Mass Markets for the most part because they fall apart so easily.

Heinlein or Asimov?
As far as Sci-Fi goes, it would be Heinlein, who I read voraciously as a horny teenage geek. I've read most of Asimov's Foundation series, and I've read a lot of his non-fiction as well. The man wrote an insane amount of books on vastly different topics.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?
I buy a lot from Amazon, although I pick up an impulse buy a few times a year at a Brick and Mortar. I hit the local library a lot too.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?
There aren't any Borders in Nashville that I know of, so I don't really have a choice usually. When I lived in Atlanta we would drive to the huge Borders in Buckhead several times a month. It was an insanely great bookstore and was big enough to require escalators. It had a huge selection of science, computer, and sci-fi/fantasy books.

Hitchhiker or Discworld?
I've been meaning to read some Discworld novels for years now, but I've never gotten around to it. I read the Hitchhiker books a lot when I was a teenager and loved them at the time. I tried to read the first Hitchhiker book again a few years ago and found it unappealing.

Bookmark or Dog ear?
About once a year, a certain someone in my house tries to be helpful and saves the place in a book I've left lying open by dog earring the page. This drives me completely nuts and there's usually an argument involved.

Magazine: Asimov’s Science Fiction or Fantasy & Science Fiction?
Neither. I prefer Analog and I've read it for years.

Alphabetize by author Alphabetize by title or random?
Totally random. Boxes of books laying around in the garage random.

Keep, Throw Away or Sell?
I did a huge purge several years ago and so far it hasn't built back up too much. I tend to use the library more now, so that helps. I also tend to gather up a pile and give them to Paul and he will do the same for me.

Year’s Best Science Fiction series (edited by Gardner Dozois) or Years Best SF series (edited by David G. Hartwell)?
Haven't read either, so can't comment.

Keep dust jacket or toss it?
I often take the dust jacket off to read and then lose it, so it's not a planned action.

Read with dust jacket or remove it?
See previous entry.

Short story or novel?
I like both. I buy a few issues of Analog magazine every year and I'll tend to read an anthology every once and a while.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
I haven't read either. I'll probably read Harry Potter along with Jack when he gets old enough. I think Victoria read Lemony Snicket books a few years back.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
Sometimes in the middle of a paragraph depending on how tired I am. If I've already stayed up too late but I really want to keep reading, I'll make a deal with myself to stop at the end of the next chapter.

“It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?
Once upon a time.

Buy or Borrow?
I do both in equal measures. It's been a while since PC and I did a swap, so I may need to take a pile over to his house this Sunday.

Buying choice: Book Reviews, Recommendation or Browse?
I rarely read reviews, so it's usually a recommendation or browsing.

Lewis or Tolkien?
I've only read the first Narnia book and that was a looooonng time ago back in middle school I think. I've read The Hobbit and The Ring Trilogy by Tolkien. I tried to read some of his other stuff but it's like reading an atlas. On three occasions I've tried to slog through the Silmarillion, but I get bogged down about 1/4 of the way through.

Hard SF or Space Opera?
Hard Sci-fi all the way. I did recently read a great Space Opera though. Check out the 2006 reading list.

Collection (short stories by the same author) or Anthology (short stories by different authors)?
Both. I'm in the process of reading The Compleat Enchanter (collection) and The Enchanter Compleated (anthology), both about the character created by L. Sprague DeCamp.

Hugo or Nebula?
I've read many of the books awarded the Hugo and I've never been disappointed. Forever War is one of the best, as was A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. I'm not very familiar with the Nebula so again I can't comment.

Golden Age SF or New Wave SF?
New Wave for the most part. I'm not sure when the "Golden Era" stopped, but I tend to pick up a 1970's Sci-fi book every time I'm near Hillsboro Village and I'm able to stop in Book Man/Book Woman, which has an insanely great, if random, selection of old sci-fi paperbacks.

Tidy ending or Cliffhanger?
Tidy. Cliffhangers suck unless there's another book to resolve it later.

Morning reading, Afternoon reading or Nighttime reading?
Almost always at night. Sometimes I read at lunch, but lately I haven't been taking long lunches.

Standalone or Series?
I like series, but they usually bog down if they go longer than 3 books. The best example of this is the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. It started out being insanely great, but after the third book it slowly ground down until the last couple have been almost intolerably bad and boring. He says he's going to wrap it all up in one more novel, but I can't see how he will without rushing things and leaving a lot of plot lines open.

Urban fantasy or high fantasy?
I'm not sure what "urban fantasy" is. I pretty much like the traditional fantasy worlds where magic is rare, feared, and often misunderstood. I did enjoy the Thieves World books, but again, like most series they bogged down soon after the third book.

New or used?
I buy both, but often used. I tend to go to Book Man/Book Woman and buy a stack of used paperbacks for the same price a new hardback would cost.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
I don't tend to read unknown books. Since I tend to read some of the older stuff, I'm sure a lot of people my age and younger have never heard of some of them. Check out anything by Alfred Bester, but if you only read one, read The Demolished Man, which won the first Hugo award. If you read two, go with The Stars my Destination, which is probably the original "Cyberpunk" novel.

Top X favorite genre books read last year? (Where X is 5 or less)
A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin
The Night's Dawn Trilogy - Peter F. Hamilton

Top X favorite genre books of all time? (Where X is 5 or less)
Dune - Frank Herbert
Voice of the Whirlwind - Walter Jon Williams. (I re-read it every few years. Probably my favorite book.)
The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein
Battlefield Earth - L. Ron Hubbard (Yes, I love this book. I've read it multiple times since I was 16 and haven't seen any signs of Scientology in it. It's just a great big campy sci-fi book that's a lot of fun to read.)

X favorite genre series? (Where X is 5 or less)
A Song of Fire and Ice - George R.R. Martin
Wheel of Time (The first 5 books) - Robert Jordan
The Belgariad - David Eddings (You can safely skip The Mallorean, the sequel series.)
The Night's Dawn Trilogy - Peter F. Hamilton
The Riftwar Saga - Raymond E. Feist

Top X favorite genre short stories? (Where X is 5 or less)
I don't tend to remember short stories much after I read them. They're sort of like eating M&M's. I really enjoyed the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber, and I need to read them again soon. The short stories in Thieves World and Wildcards were always enjoyable too. I've read a lot of sci-fi in Analog magazine over the years as well.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

DBAN Update

This morning's DBAN read exactly 284.0 lbs, so I've dropped about 8.5 lbs in the last three weeks. This isn't as much as I had hoped, but I also broke the second toe on my left foot about three weeks ago, so the walking and exercise has been minimal. The toe is still hurting a little, but it's not completely black and blue like it was two weeks ago and you can barely tell I'm limping.

I decided this week to start a modified version of Weight Watchers, which is what my wife has been doing with great success the last three weeks. I'm not allowed to mention specific numbers for her, but she's doing great so far. Weight Watchers has traditionally been seen as geared towards women, and I think I know why. They love all the complexity of it since it gives them something to talk about and focus their minds on. There's little paper calculators and books and group discussions and all that helps them stick to it.

I decided to simplify it. I'm multiplying my weight by 5 and that's the max number of calories I'm eating every day, split into 5 small meals. So right now it's 1420 calories. That's 284 calories per meal, which is exactly what a Lean Pocket is. So I bought 10 boxes of them on Sunday and I eat one about every 3 hours starting at 8 am. It's cheap, it's portioned, and there's so many varieties it will be a while before I get sick of them. I also bought some cereal, but so far I haven't eaten that for breakfast yet.

Weight Watchers includes extra points you can use during the week, and I'm allowing myself an extra 1000 calories maximum on any day I go caving, which could be a few more weeks until my toe completely heals up.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What I Learned Today

This evening I've been reading a biology book and I thought I actually caught a typo so I looked it up. The author was talking about reproduction and used the phrase "sperms and eggs." I took biology in high school and at the university level and never realized the plural of "sperm" is "sperms." I would have bet a small amount of money that its singular and plural forms were both just "sperm," sort of like sheep and sheep.

I'm guessing that both are probably acceptable. After I guessed that I checked a few other dictionaries and some actually list both as plural. The author of the book is British, so that could explain why I haven't seen that particular plural form before.

Fentress County Showdown

Near Pall Mall, TN in Fentress county is a cave the locals call Blowing Cave. Cavers refer to it as Wolf River Cave and it was purchased a few years back by the SCCi and the Nature Conservancy. Before this purchase it was gated by the previous owners, and the SCCi declined to remove the gate to maintain the protection of the Indiana Bats that roost there during the winter. I haven't visited this cave yet, but it's well known as an important cave within the caving community, especially since the Indiana Bat is on the verge of extinction.

Also near Pall Mall, which by the way is the home of Alvin York the World War I hero, is a road named State Route 28 and US127 and the Alvin C. York Highway. (One thing about Tennessee is that almost every road has at least three names.) The stretch of highway near the cave is very curvy, steep, and tends to slide down the hill every couple of days. It reminds me of the road from Vandiver to Leeds back in Shelby County. People tend to die on this road at a regular rate, and TDOT spends a lot of time repairing the road, sometimes on a daily basis.

So obviously many years ago, a decision was made that it needed to be fixed. Being a large bueracracy, TDOT took its sweet time making up its mind, and I'm sure the people of Fentress county spent a lot of time and effort and money pushing them to get it completed. So TDOT comes up with a plan, they bid the contract, and then they decided to apply for the necessary permits with TDEC to alter or destroy several streams and a tiny wetland (0.05 acres).

Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but in this case one of the streams emerges from a conduit in the side of an abandoned quarry then exits the quarry at the bottom through a crack which is termed a "karst fissure." TDOT wants to fill in the quarry and re-route part of the road to go over the top of it. The problem is that they want to fill it with waste material from the cuts they're making for the rest of the road, and that material will almost certainly contain pyrite (Fool's Gold). Pyrite reacts with oxygen and water to produce sulfuric acid, so if the pyritic material were placed in this quarry, it would likely produce acid runoff that would enter the karst region below directly through the fissure.

TDOT's plan to prevent this is to "encapsulate" the material by putting a 6 foot layer of very compacted clay around it and layering crushed limestone every 3 feet which as a base would neutralize the acid. The problem with this is that they have no idea how long the encapsulation would last. They've given various figures of 50 years to 100 years. That's fine, but what about 200 years from now? If the acid enters the karst system and makes its way to the cave, the aquatic life will die. This includes species that are likely unique to that cave system, which has not had a full biological inventory performed on it yet.

The simple solution is just to put the material somewhere else, but TDOT is stubbornly clinging to the encapsulation idea, and the local people, who only want to get the road finished as fast as possible, have fully embraced it.

Fortunately, before TDEC issues permits, it is required to call for public comments. Enough cavers sent in concerns and requested a public hearing that TDEC announced a hearing in Jamestown, TN on January 16, 2007. Four people from the Nashville Grotto rode up to Fentress County that night, along with a few people from the Nature Conservancy and a couple of other cavers. I had a speech prepared since I was representing the Nashville Grotto as I've been elected to be Vice-Chair for 2007. I think we were all expecting a small affair, with a few TDOT, TDEC and maybe some locals that had some interest in the project.

We got there early, and as we chatted amongst ourselves in the lunchroom of the local elementary school, the place filled up. I'm not sure how many people were there, but I'd say well over 200. Fentress County was angry that night, my friends. We were getting stared at early on, but no one was outright rude at that point.

When the poor guy from TDEC stood up to make some opening comments he was immediately barraged with questions and comments from the crowd. Everyone was angry that the road work had been delayed once again, and they were there to voice their discontent. The TDEC rep stated again and again that this hearing was only to hear about "water quality issues", but nearly all of the local people ignored that and repeated over and over how badly the road was needed. At one point someone said "well apparently the only ones opposed to this are the cavers." We knew at this point it might get ugly.

Finally things settled down enough for TDOT to give a powerpoint presentation about the project. It was very slick and polished and designed to play into the emotions of the Fentress county residents. Unfortunately, it left out certain key facts, like the existence of the karst fissure at the bottom of the quarry. The TDOT speaker also made a few snide comments about the people that were concerned about the encapsulation, which was us of course.

There was another barrage of questions to the TDOT rep, and some of them were pretty good. A few locals asked why they couldn't dump the material somewhere else, and someone even asked why they let the bid before they had the necessary permits. The TDOT rep avoided direct answers here. I asked "What is the expected lifespan of the encapsulation?" He hemmed and hawed, and never gave an answer past "a long time" although he did mention a figure of 50 years.

Finally came the time for testimonials. There was a microphone at the front of the room and each person that spoke was required to give their name and then have their say. One of the locals requested that everyone identify where they were from, since someone had asked earlier if the people objecting to the permit were from "New York or China or somewheres?"

The first couple of people that spoke were politicians. As expected, they really had nothing to say about water quality issues and were there to speak to the crowd instead of TDEC. Then 20 to 30 local residents were called and most of them only touched on water quality issues and focused on how dangerous the road was. At this point I was being torn, since I could identify heavily with them and I sure wouldn't want my kids on a bus going down this road twice a day.

Three people opposed to the permit spoke near the end. The first was Heather from the Nature Conservancy. She was clearly nervous and told me afterwards that if our group hadn't been sitting directly in front of the microphone she thought she would have fainted. Next was Bill from the SCCi, and did well going through his prepared speech, although he skipped parts of it since it was getting late. Since the SCCi owns the cave and he was representing them, the anger of the room quickly focused on Bill and there was some muttering while he was up there.

Soon after that it was my turn. I had a two page prepared speech with lots of two dollar words in it, but when I stood up there and looked out across that room I decided at that moment not to use it. I just spoke from my heart. I started with "Hello, my name is Alan Hatcher and as someone requested earlier, I'll say that I live in Hermitage, Tennessee in Davidson county."

I don't remember a lot after that since I got a bit emotional and let some of my anger at TDOT come out. I remember mentioning that I have two children at home and that I'd surely hate to send them over that mountain every day, and that I'd lost an uncle on a similar road in Alabama (the one from Vandiver to Leeds). As we had all said up to that point, we had no desire to block the road project. We only want the pyritic material placed somewhere safer since TDOT has no idea where the karst fissure leads. I also mentioned the creatures in the cave, including the crayfish which can live 40 to 80 years. Apparently I lost them a bit when I mentioned it was important for their grandchildren to be able to see those creatures. Their anger here was about the cave gate and they had been talking about the danger the road presented to the children all evening as well.

Afterwards, no one was rude to me at least. One lady did come up to Bill and introduce herself and then whispered to him "I hope you rot in hell." I talked to someone from the contractor that's going to do the work, and the we left and headed back to Nashville. This was my baptism of fire in speaking at public hearings. It was also the first time I've spoken in front of a hostile crowd. I may have lost my cool a bit, but at least I looked them all in the eye while I was speaking to them.

The only other interesting part of this story is that I was sitting at the same lunch room table with Alvin York's son, who is a ranger at the park that's now where Alvin lived. I didn't get to speak to him, but it was a slightly odd feeling being only one degree of separation away from someone I read about many times as a child and who was one of my childhood heroes, but being worlds away that night due to a disagreement over a hole in the ground.

Reading Lists

I finished updating my 2006 Reading List and started my 2007 Reading List. As is usual for me lately, I'm reading 2 or 3 books at a time, but they won't be listed until I've actually finished reading them.

The first book for 2007 was Dune by Frank Herbert, which I finished last night. This is the third time I've read it and it didn't let me down this time either. I first read it when I was about 14 and I found it dry but passable. I read it the second time when the movie came out in my 20's, to see how badly they screwed up in the movie. The movie was a mess, and you can trust me that the book is much better.

This time I think it was different because I could relate more to the character Paul near the end of the book when he's a father. I won't spoil anything, but the ending of the book struck me in more of an emotional way this time around. It also helps to have a laptop with Wikipedia called up next to you when you're reading it. I looked up things on several occasions and gained a deeper understanding of some of the terms and concepts. All of this was unavailable when I first read the book 25 years ago.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hatch the New Year

Ugh. I was trying to keep my holiday weight gain down to 5 lbs, and I was doing pretty good until the last couple of weeks. I ended up putting on about 7.5 lbs, so after a final carb binge at Uncle Paul's house yesterday topped off by a big helping of his Cobbler-less Blackberry Cobbler, I'm back on track to start another big weight loss push.

This morning's DBAN was 292.4. I walked 5196 steps yesterday and my goal is to average 7k steps per day for the next week. Get ready for lots of boring statistics in the coming weeks. It's just what I do. Don't make me tell the story about the frog and the scorpion again...