Even Favorite Authors Can Write Too Much

I’m a big fan of David Weber’s work, both his series (Honor Harrington, Empire of Man) and his standalone stories.

I also really enjoy his Safehold books, about a human colony struggling to recover after being set up in scientific and technological stasis by its founders. They wanted to ensure the colony, the last remaining human settlement in the galaxy, wouldn’t be exterminated by an alien species that had wiped out everyone else. The books follow the work of a warrior android, set up by a faction among the original starship’s crew who objected to the cultural stasis, who is brought back to life almost a thousand years after the initial settlement.

It’s a great yarn, spanning quite a few books…but those books are getting amazingly, groaningly long. The latest, Hell’s Foundations Quiver, clocks in at 679 pages (plus a hundred pages listing all the major and recurring characters in the books)! I tend to buy books by favorite authors as hardcovers, for my library. But these massive tomes have almost forced me to switch Weber to eBooks just to keep my wrists from being injured.

Worse yet, while there’s plenty of plot development and action in each of the novels, it’s what’d suffice for, say, 300 pages. When spread over more than twice as many words there are pages and pages of exposition and embellishment and recounting of internal musings galore. So much gubbage that I lose track of where I am, who’s speaking, why they’re important, and how they fit into the developing story.

As a result I’ve done something I’ve never done with novels: I’m skimming them. I really want to see how the story evolves, and maybe even ends someday, but it turns out you don’t miss much by just skipping over most of the verbiage. It feels wrong to do it, but at least I’m preserving my sanity.

I suspect this is all because Weber is immensely popular…and hence immensely profitable for his publisher(s). I’ve noticed before that tends to make books get longer. Editors know that if they push too hard for cuts, their company will be cut out of the gravy train. I first noticed this effect years ago with Tom Clancy.

But it’s sad. Weber’s a hell of a novelist. But his books need to shed some pounds, literally, and go back to the fast-paced work on which he made his name.

Tiger (1999 – 2015)

We had to put our remaining cat, Tiger, to sleep Thursday afternoon. She’d been getting progressively weaker for a while and losing weight. I think the final blow involved a fairly serious respiratory infection. It would not have been kind to her to keep her struggling on.

Continue reading »

Has It Really Been That Long???

I don’t normally do a lot of reflection when birthdays arrive. The day is important to me, of course. But it’s just another day on the calendar so far as the real world is concerned :).

But this year is a little different, because it’s one of those Years With a Zero. Six decades is worth a few moments looking back-and-forward.

When I was a kid I remember thinking that 40 was old, and 60 was ancient. Yet while daily experience and recuperating from my recent motorcycle accident are reminders I’m physically not as robust as I was when I had those thoughts, I don’t feel all that old. Which is probably not a bad state of mind to be in.

I still enjoy seeking out new knowledge and insights. And I’m particularly impressed that I can discover long-held ideas and beliefs to be just flat out wrong. Sure, it’s disruptive, sometimes painfully so. But who would want to live in a world where that didn’t happen? Isaac Asimov once said about scientific inquiry that:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’

If six decades has taught me nothing else, the same is true of life.

Today is extra special because my wonderful kids, Arthur and Caroline, as well as my brother Art, sister (in-law, technically, but I think of her as the older sister I never had) Diane and my sister Ann are all here helping me celebrate. I wish Ann’s husband Gary and my brother John could have made it, too, but travel is challenging for them, and John is dealing with my sister-in-law Gail’s pneumonia.

I am eternally grateful for all the other friends and family I’ve had with me on this journey.

I am continually amazed at how lucky I’ve been to share the majority of my life with my love and best friend, Barbara.

And, being the greedy sort, I look forward to more years of the same :).

Enjoy the day!

That’s No Moon…er, Hose!

One of the necessary skills to be a successful — as in “don’t go down” — rider is scanning the roadway in front of you. That’s true of driving a car, too, of course. But it’s more important on a bike because you have a lot less road grip — two tires instead of four, each narrower to boot — and turning a bike involves leaning — which reduces the footprint of your tires further — where turning a car does not. So you’re constantly looking for stuff which, in a car, you would ignore, or simply hit with impunity.

The other day I was coming back on CA-84 from San Gregorio Beach — a great ride — when I saw a piece of hose in my path. I could tell it wasn’t stiff, like a pipe, because it was in curves. Needless to say I swerved to avoid it.

As I passed by I realized it wasn’t a hose. It was a big, fat, honking snake, sunning himself on the roadway. In fact, I think it was a rattlesnake. Although it might have been a California garter snake, they can look similar enough to a rattler that it’s hard to tell the difference as you zoom by at 55 MPH.

Those Speed-Crazed Bicyclists

Motorcycle riders have a reputation of being disreputable, law- and convention-flouting people. But in terms of insane, hang-it-out-over-the-edge chutzpah they have nothing on bicycle riders :).

The other day I was coming down into Woodside on CA-84 through the twisties. If you’ve ever driven that stretch of highway you know that it can be a workout. Posted at 35 MPH, I have yet to see anyone hit that speed except perhaps on some of the brief straightaways. I like to ride it to practice skills, and to assess them, too: I’ve noticed that the more experience I get riding, the smoother my handling of the curves and dips is.

I was quite impressed — I think that’s the word — to be coming down the incline behind a bicyclist. Who was going — maybe — a couple of miles per hour slower than I would have gone without him in front of me. In fact, I fell behind him at some points as he flew through some of the transitions. And him with essentially no protective gear on other than a helmet.

So when we finally exited the twisties and I passed him I did something that’s frowned on in the motorcycle world. I gave him a big thumbs up (riders and bicyclists are a bit like cats and dogs; an uneasy peace is generally the norm). He earned it…even if he was nuts :).

Those Killer Minivans

It’s one thing to ride on a mostly empty road, even at speed. It’s another thing entirely to ride — even at low speed — in traffic. On the open road the main risk factor is you and your ability to spot road hazards and the occasional vehicle entering or exiting the flow.

In traffic the threats are everywhere, and frequently come at you simultaneously from different directions. Even sedate minivans take on a whole other aspect when they’re bearing down on you, driven by a stressed mom late getting her kids to their next appointment :).

I experienced all this today when I rode out to see how the other half lives, taking El Camino Real south to Atherton. I figured I needed the practice. You can’t always ride on lightly traveled roads, after all. In the end, it all worked out fine; not even any near misses.

Cruising Atherton was… interesting. I’m not used to seeing homes on acre-plus size lots. Nor seeing such a wide variety of architectural styles on the same (admittedly long) block. Aesthetic conflict is probably less of an issue when the homes are spaced that far apart.



Oh, The Ignominy!

Today I rode out to Skyline Drive (basically the spine of the Peninsula) and went down to Woodside via Huddart Park. The traffic was stop-and-go up Highway 92 to the Skyline turnoff because of everyone heading over to Half Moon Bay and the beach. Once I turned south there was almost no one else on the road. Just me, the forest, and some beautiful vistas to both the west and the east.

Descending into Woodside involved taking Kings Mountain Road, a reasonably steep and pretty twisty route. I was in second gear on that section for most of the way, and rarely exceeded 20 miles per hour. Better safe than sorry, after all, when you’re a new rider and you’re on an unfamiliar road.

But the end result was I got passed.

By two other riders.

On bicycles.

Oh, the shame! :)

Actually, it was almost comical. But only almost. Because one of the bicyclists rode parallel to me through some very twisty bits for long enough that I turned my head to him and said “dude, what do you think you’re doing?” In any kind of unfortunate interaction between me, my 30 pounds of protective gear and a 430 pound bike — and him in his biker shorts — I’m pretty sure I know who would end up on the short end of the stick. And it wouldn’t be me. I guess he just didn’t want to wait for a straighter stretch.

But that was only a brief annoyance on an otherwise beautiful ride. Punctuated by relaxing with a cappuccino and a lemon bar at Woodside Bakery & Cafe. Definitely a ride worth repeating.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

I’ve been having a lot of fun learning to ride my new motorcycle. Yesterday I cruised through Portola Valley — very pretty horse country — which I don’t recall ever visiting before. The day before I checked out parts of Hillsborough and came back along Skyline and Canada Drives.

I had my first experience with not being heavy enough to trip the signal light switch at the Skyline/Canada intersection. A bit of a heart-in-the-throat moment turning left on red (lawful in California after two complete cycles of the light), but it all worked out fine.

Today I tried to squeeze in a ride before the rain showed up. I thought I’d do the Hillsborough/Skyline/Canada/Edgewood loop…but by the time I got to Hillsborough via Crystal Springs I realized “this is not a good idea” — rain coming! — and turned back.

I managed to miss any heavy downpour (that arrived after I got home). But as a result of being relieved to get home in one piece I forgot to put the kickstand down after I shut off the bike in my driveway…and I didn’t forget to get off the bike :(.

It turns out (for me, at least) you only have about one second to realize you’ve made a mistake before that 430 pound piece of equipment is so far off vertical that you can’t stop it. Fortunately, I was able to make it a controlled fall — one positive result from all those hours in the gym — but even a nice-and-easy lay down is a lay down. Sigh.

It took Caroline and me working together to get it back upright (Thanks, Caroline!). Except for the shift lever getting bent a bit there wasn’t any damage. A few minutes with a heavy pair of pliers fixed the shifter, at least temporarily. But I think I’ll run it by a real bike mechanic to make sure it’s okay.

Memo 5,913 to file: always put the kickstand down before you get off the bike!

You Just Think You Know How to Fill a Tank

For day 2 I rode around Redwood Shores — great place to practice shifting, as there are few cars and a LOT of stop signs — Belmont and Emerald Hills.

I learned first-hand how motorcycles are invisible (they are, even when a driver makes eye contact with you). Not by a near miss, but by being passed by another biker whom I did not see behind me, despite frequent mirror checks. Interestingly, he didn’t do the secret wave as he went by. Then again, he was weaving among cars, splitting lanes, etc. Clearly a moral degenerate :).

I also set a new personal speed record, hitting 45 mph on one stretch. Not that I’m trying to set records — believe me, 25 mph on a bike feels very fast! — but because that was the speed limit, and it was the speed at which the traffic was moving. And if you’re going to ride roads, you have to be able to keep up with the flow.

The gyroscopic balancing effect of the spinning tires was much more pronounced at higher speeds, making the bike more stable. But it also became more resistant to turns, requiring “formal” countersteering rather than just leaning.

Unfortunately, I also picked up a shard of rock on my rear tire which is going to have to be repaired. The tire’s not leaking, or if it is it’s doing so very slowly. But it’s not safe to ride with a tire that may go out on you. I have no desire to practice the emergency procedures they taught us in the Basic Skills class.

One truly comic moment from today’s ride: Having run the gas tank down to about 1/4 full (I left the dealership yesterday with half a tank) I wanted to fill up before going home. No big deal, right? I’ve filled gas tanks on cars thousands of times.

Only it turns out motorcycle gas tanks are different. You can’t stick the nozzle in particularly far. Certainly nowhere near as far as you can with a car.

Which is a problem in any state, like California, which requires vapor recovery systems at gas stations.

After a few frustrating minutes I gave up and rode home. A quick goggle search showed that the easiest solution is to pull back the vapor recovery sheath — which normally happens automatically when you press the nozzle into your car’s filling tube — by hand. Simple, but not obvious.

A Long Sought Dream Realized

Today I took my new Honda CB500X for a spin.

Actually, no spinning was done. Nor any falling or slipping, for that matter. There was a bit of chugging/lugging on a few hills — have to relearn how to deal with a manual transmission on steep hills — and a little bit of tipping at one point. But that’s all.

Which is a good thing.

Overall the experience was a blast! I can’t wait to get back out on the road again (weather permitting; rain is a big turnoff). Turns out that 25 miles per hour on a bike feels much faster than 25 miles an hour in a car. More like doing 50 or more behind the wheel.

There were a few funny moments during the 20 miles I put on the bike today. As I drove off on my test ride I realized I’d never used the turn signals on a bike before. All the signals on the training bikes at the course I took were broken. I had no idea how to cancel a turn signal after making a turn (they don’t automatically cancel like in a car). Do you just slide the switch back? No, that just signals for a turn in the opposite direction! I’m sure I confused the drivers behind me: he’s going right…no, he’s going left…no, he’s going right again!

It turns out to be pretty simple: just press the signal switch in. That cuts off the current signal.

I wonder what I’ll learn next?