Thursday, May 16, 2019

Math

Back when I was studying at the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), I took a class called "Fluid Dynamics." It was the hardest class I've every taken. We did differential equations all the time. I was literally doing them in my sleep. Luckily, I'd had had a class in differential equations and loved it because the math actually reflected the real world.

Unfortunately, like all knowledge, it's use it or lose it. I haven't done differential equations since leaving college. Nor calculus. I know the theory behind them but not the mechanics. I can still do algebra fairly well.

In this novel I'm writing (the second of a planned trilogy that is a prequel to Treasure of the Black Hole), I found an occasion when being able to differential equations would be helpful. But, of course, I don't remember how.

So, instead, I did an Excel spreadsheet.

Here's the situation. The bad guys fired missiles at the good guys. The missiles were accelerating at 100 times the force of gravity (gees). The good guy's ship was accelerating at ten gees toward the missiles. Even though this was taking place in three-dimensional space, I simplified it to being on a line. The captain of the good guys ship asked "How long until the missiles are in firing range." And that's when I realized I had to do the math.

The ship and the missiles were approximately 1 AU apart (98 million miles). I set up a spreadsheet that would at each second calculate how far the missiles had gone and what speed they were going and did the same for the ship, calling its velocity and acceleration negative. I ignored relativity (even though the missiles would be going 5% the speed of light when they were close to the ship).

So I set up my equations (which used the data from the previous equation to do the math) and copied them down (and down and down) until the ship and the missiles were close together on my line. And that happened at 16,653 seconds. or about 4 hours 36 minutes.

And all that work because one character asked a question.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Pour Out that Water Bottle

I try not to use disposable plastic water bottles because I think they are ridiculous. Get a glass of water. But sometimes it's unavoidable (unless I want to go thirsty, which I don't).

The biggest issue I have with plastic water bottles is something someone once told me. If you throw out the bottle with water still in it, and the cap on, that water will be sequestered and out of the environment until the bottle decomposes in a thousand years or so (according to this website, it takes about 450 years or more).

Why is this a problem. Well, according to this website (an anti-plastic bottle site), Americans throw out 38 billion plastic water bottles a year. There are 12 billion recycled according to that same website, so almost a quarter of them are recycled. But if each of those 38 billion bottles not recycled end up in a land fill with an average of only one ounce of water in them, that's 296.9 million gallons of water. That's almost 450 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

If there's an average of 2 ounces, that's almost 900 Olympic-sized swimming pools. And that water will not re-enter the environment for 450 years, at least.

So if you're not going to drink all the water in your water bottle, pour the water out. Pour it out on the ground, pour it down a sink. Anything other than leaving it in the bottle. And throw the bottle out with the cap off so the little bit of remaining water can escape.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Writing Press Releases

In my freelancing life, I am often sent press releases for events. And I am often shocked by how much information is left out, leaving me to email or call to fill in the details. If they remember to include an email or phone number, that is.

In writing a press release, you want to remember the "Five Ws" (plus one "H"). That is:


  1. Who
  2. What
  3. When
  4. Where
  5. Why
  6. How
Who is doing (or did) the thing? Remember to include an email and/or phone number.

What are they doing (or did they do)? Details are important.

When will (or did) it happen? Date AND time.

Where will (or did) it happen? Be specific and include an address.

Why will (or did) it happen? Again, details are important,

And how will it (or was it) done. Details detail details.

If you remember the five Ws and one H, you will do a much better job writing a press release. And I won't pound my head on the desk in frustration.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Toyota and BMW?

2020 Toyota Supra
(I seem to be on a car kick lately.)

In the 1980s I read two books set in an amusement park. The first one was called Dream Park and it was written by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. (I just looked on Amazon and there's four Dream Park books now.)

In the second one I read (might have been The Barsoom Project) there's a ride that takes visitors through a sunken Los Angeles (there was a big earthquake and a lot of LA is under water). One of the characters says, "Hey look, there's Mercedes from before they merged with Toyota." I'm paraphrasing, of course from 35 plus years of memory.

At the time, that didn't seem implausible because of gas shortages and car sales were down. But it, of course, never happened. (The big earthquake never happened either...yet.)

But would you believe Toyota and that other icon of German cars, BMW? They aren't merging, but they are building a car together. The Toyota will be the return of the Supra. But it will have a BMW chassis, BMW engine, and a lot of BMW parts in the interior. The BMW will be the Z4. Both cars will be built in a plant Graz, Austria. A Toyota made in Europe and exported to the US? I don't think that's ever happened before.

The Supra is a good-looking car (see above). The Z4 is a handsome car, but I like the Supra better.

Pricing isn't available, but I bet neither car will be cheap.



Thursday, April 18, 2019

SUVs and Pickups

Cadillac SUV
Speaking of cars...

The other day I was following a pickup truck into town. Pickup trucks are very common in this farming community where I live. And I started thinking about how every U.S. car manufacturer is cutting back on making/selling cars, especially sedans, in favor of crossovers, SUVs, and pickups. The best selling vehicle ever is the Ford F-150 pickup. And car manufactures make huge profits on pickups and SUVs and not so much on cars. The reason is that they can keep the price up due to demand while a pickup or SUV isn't any more expensive to make, and often less expensive, than a sedan. Meanwhile, the price of sedans has been beaten down by lack of demand.

In the near future, the only car (not a pickup or crossover or SUV) Ford will make/sell in the U.S. is the Mustang. GM is getting rid of a bunch of low-volume sedans that are Chevrolets, Buicks, and Cadillacs. And FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) announced a while back that they were eliminating two sedans (the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart) from their lineup. Meanwhile, FCA made sure there's an Alfa Romeo SUV sold in America.

For some reason, nearly everyone is buying pickups, SUVs, or the dreaded (by me) crossover. A crossover is an SUV-like vehicle on a car platform. Like a tall station wagon bought by people who wouldn't be caught dead in a station wagon. Such as the Volvo Cross Country, which was basically a Volvo station wagon with a raised suspension and plastic cladding. Sold like hotcakes.

Meanwhile, Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Porsche all make SUVs now. And there's a rumored Ferrari SUV coming (probably made with Fiat 500L parts, I'm thinking).

I don't like SUVs and have never owned one. I see pickups as utility vehicles that some people need, such as farmers. But a lot of people buy pickups who never use them as utility vehicles. And a option-heavy pickup can run you over $60,000. I'd rather have a nice car.

What do you like to drive? Am I alone here in my disdain of SUVs and crossovers? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Barrett-Jackson Auto Auctions

Sixties-era Camaro
Starting today, the Barrett-Jackson auto auction will be running in Palm Beach, Florida. It will run until Sunday.

These auctions are televised and I can watch hours and hours of it. And hours. I love watching the collector cars and seeing how much they sell for. In January, when they held their last sale (that time in Scottsdale, Arizona), I was shocked by how much some cars were selling for. A basic 1960s-era Camaro or Mustang might go for six figures. I didn't know if it was the good economy or what that drove up the price of the cars.

There are basically four types of cars sold at these auctions (and Barrett-Jackson isn't the only one, it's just the one on TV): Used cars, restored cars, "restomod" cars, and custom cars. Oh, and then there's the charity cars.

Used cars (my term) are not classics. They might only be as much as ten years old. They are usually high-end cars such as Porsches, Ferraris, Bentlys. I even saw a black 2007 Corvette Z06 be auctioned off (and it went for a few thousand over the Kelly Bluebook price).

Restored cars are older cars that someone restored to look as new as possible. Most even have period-looking tires (I have no idea where you buy those). I love restored cars. They are usually very pretty. But then I think about owning one. They all have carburetors. And while I know what a carburetor does and how it works, I have no idea how to adjust or maintain one. One car I saw in January had three carburetors.

Restomods are cars that have been restored and modified. You take a 1960s-era Camaro and put in a modern fuel-injected engine, modern suspension, modern brakes, and modern tires. This has an appeal because you get the great look of a older car with the safety and convenience of modern parts.

Customs cars don't appeal to me at all (except classic street rods). This is where you take a car and modify the body to customize it. Usually they shoehorn in a huge V-8 engine, redo the interior, and put big wheels on it.
A Street Rod

A street rod is a Model A Ford (usually) with a huge V-8 engine put in. The roof is usually "copped" (lowered) and there are modern suspension, brakes, and wheels, The only reason I like them is I like the look.

The other game I play is guessing how much a car will sell for. As I said, in January they sold for a lot more than I was expecting. The past few years, Chrysler muscle cars have been going for over $100,000. But this year it seemed almost any classic muscle car for the 1960s would sell for over $100,000. I was shocked. And I can't wait to see what happens in Palm Beach.

Another thing that doesn't surprise me are the guys (almost always men) who buy these cars. They tend to be in their fifties or sixties. So these are the cars they wanted as kids. And, they have the money to buy them. I wonder in 20 years if soupped up Hondas will go for $100,000.

Once I looked into what it takes to be a bidder at one of these auctions. You have to be able to wire the money you bid for the car (if you win the auction) almost immediately. And there's a 6% buyer's fee on top of the bid price. That's in addition to what the seller pays (a percentage of the selling price, I'm sure). They won't take checks.

I like sixties-era Mustangs and Camaros. Not real crazy about stuff made by Chrysler (Dodge, Plymouth) although those seem more popular. My dream car is a restored, pre-1969 Mustang Shelby GT 500. They usually go for well over $100,000.

Well, it's fun to dream.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Casablanca

I re-watched the move Casablanca recently. I'm not sure how many times I've seen this movie. But this time I especially paid attention to the writing. This movie is written amazingly well. There's not a wasted word or comment. And there are many memorable lines that people still quote to this day, even 76 years after the film's release. One of my favorites (I'm not sure why) is when Rick talks about the Germans marching in Paris. Speaking to Ilsa he says, "I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue."

But there were so many memorable lines. One that get's used often (even by people who probably don't know its origin) is feigned surprise saying "I'm shocked, shocked." The full line is: "I'm shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here." It's spoken by Claude Rains playing the lovable but slimy Captain Renault. And right after he says it, he is handed his "winnings" (bribes) for the evening.

Rick was, of course, played by Humphrey Bogart. Ilsa was played by a young Ingrid Bergman. The acting was never over the top, as it could be and sometimes was in old movies. And each shot by director Michael Curtiz is exquisite. I can't imagine the movie being any better if it were in color. In fact, it probably wouldn't work.

Casablanca was made during the days of the "studio system" when actors, writers, and directors all worked for one studio. That is all came together on this movie is amazing.

Yes, the airplane is obviously a model when it's flying. The movie was made during World War II and aviation fuel had to go to the war effort, I assume.

There's a reason this movie is so revered. It deserves all its accolades. There is literally nothing I would change about it.