Steampunk Writing and Thumb Drive Blues

It happened again. A friend had a thumb drive die. Of course it contained the only copy of a file that he needed.

Thumb drives are good, useful, even necessary, but they will fail just like hard drives.

Always back up your files on two or more thumb drives. And keep the drives away from the computer and each other. Back ups won’t do you any good if the thief that steals your computer or the fire that destroys your computer also get your thumb drives and your back up flash/hard drives.

In the race to escape a disaster such as the recent Thomas fire you may not have the time to take your computer or be able to get to your house to save your computer or backup drives. Disasters happen fast.

If you have stuff stored on the cloud don’t get cocky. Cloud services have closed down and all the data on them was lost. A good hacker may one day find a way to hack AWS, evernote or one (or all) of the big cloud services.

Don’t store your only copy of your book, article, photos, etc. on one cloud service, on one hard drive, on one thumb drive. It’s your book, your life’s work, protect it, make several copies on several different medias, and store the media, the hard drive, thumb drive, even floppy, in several different places.

Big thumb drives are cheap. Keep one on you person. Keep another some place other than your house. Jerry Pournelle used to store back ups of his writing in a safe deposit box. A garden shed would do or even burying it in a flower pot by the back door if you have no place else.

Whatever you do; backup and then backup some more.

Bad things happen to data. Be prepared.

Stay strong, write on, and back it up.
Professor Hyram Voltage.

Steampunk Mythology and the Black in Blacksmith

A smith is a person that makes things using a hammer and fire. A silver smith takes a lump of silver and using a hammer, and heating the lump when it needs softening, to make things out of silver.

A silver worker is all the others that make things out of silver like jewelers, silver-caster or foundry men.

A silver smith will make you a spoon by hammering a lump of silver into the shape of the spoon, Then he will have his apprentice polish it up.

A silver worker will cast you a spoon and have his apprentice polish it up for you.

Both can engrave the work, chase the work, incise the work.

A Blacksmith is something special. Maybe you have heard about the effect of cold iron against magic and magical beings.

Why do they call them Blacksmiths? It’s not because of the soot, or the black scale that flakes of the surface of heated iron. They’re called Blacksmiths because if you take an piece of ancient iron, often called wrought or puddled iron, and bend it the metal will come apart in layers, or sheets. You’ll ruin it if you bend it cold. It takes experience and knowledge gained from generations of smiths, to know how much to heat the iron before you can bend it. You can ruin wrought iron if you heat it too hot. Red-short is the condition where you heat a piece of metal to red hot and bend or hammer it and it crumbles or breaks. A good smith can tell or determine if a piece of iron will red-short. It will take years for someone to figure this out by trail and error. Just watching a Blacksmith will not clue you into the secrets of work iron.

You can still find on ebay the ends of wrought iron bars that have been forged into the head of a dragon. The makers of the iron did this to show that the iron was malleable and not prone to red-short.

Steel can be made from wrought iron by hammering the carbon and impurities out of the iron. Over half (often three quarters or more) of the iron you start with will be wasted as scale and rust by the time the iron becomes steel.

Iron (and steel) can be welded by heating it to less than its melting temperature and hammering two pieces together. The temperature has to be just right, not too hot or too cold. The smith can not hit the metal too hard or the pieces will spring apart even if they were partially welded. The Blacksmith will also use a mixture of sand, seashells, leaves, borax, and other things to aid the welding of the metal.

A Blacksmith uses fire. Fire that is often made with coal that has lots of sulfur (brimstone) in it. He works in the shade so he can see the color of the heating metal so he knows when it is ready to be bent or welded. He uses concoctions to make the iron weld together. Not just anyone can bend wrought iron like you can modern steel. You have to know the right temperature, the right way to make a fire, how hard to hit the hot metal.

So a Blacksmith uses brimstone, works in the dark not in sunlight, uses potions and knows things that aren’t common knowledge. He works the Black arts. He’s a magic maker that impresses his will on iron to make it do what he wants it to. He is a master of the Black arts, he is a Blacksmith.

Stay strong, write on, and go watch a good Blacksmith, there’s more going on than you can see.
Professor Hyram Voltage

How to solve problems the Steampunk way

I apologize for the last couple of post being late. My main computer died. Hard. I got the new blue screen of death with the frowny face. The computer tech had to wipe the computer and re-install windows.

Decades of work has to be re-installed. I did not lose much except playlists for music and the bookmarks in the browser. The computer died in the middle of a back up. I keep several back ups. It just takes time to re-install all the programs. Thank goodness I had a recent copy of the password vault data base.

How did someone in the Steampunk era solve problems. You may joke that they hit it with a hammer.

Having done some blacksmithing it’s not that easy. There are many different type of hammers. Some with very special uses that an ordinary straight peen hammer will not do well. Think of trying to make a shoe with a sledge hammer.

Also a blacksmith does not hit the metal he is working on as hard as he can. What he is trying to do determines how hard he has to hit the work. If you hit it too hard you can undo a weld you are trying to make, destroy a bend you are making in a piece.

Before a blacksmith hits the work he heats the work to the right temperature. It looks so easy, but the old style black smith shop had a shade roof with sides where the boards had gaps between them. The boards provided shade while the gaps let air in to cool the the smith, and the door was on the shady side of the building and was always left open. That is why I never believed in a dwarf smith working in a cave. It would get so hot he couldn’t work and the coal smoke would choke him. The same goes for an elven smith working out in an open glade.

Besides the fire hazard with the sparks the elven smith needs the shade to see the slight changes in the temperature as shown by the change in color of the metal. Red hot glow for bending wrought iron, straw yellow for working a steel sword blade, white hot for forge welding. The straw yellow is the hardest one. There are a thousand shades of straw yellow, but only one shade will work best for that piece of metal.

That’s why a blacksmith never worried about a farmer watching him work. He knew that the farmer would go back to his farm and take the biggest hammer he had and beat the piece he was trying to fix as hard as he could and turn the piece into a managed mess that the blacksmith would have to repair for a higher price.

But every now and then I want to treat this computer like an Orc and take my biggest hammer and beat the living c@#! out of it.

Stay strong, write on, and hammer it. Professor Hyram Voltage

Steampunk Inventors

I’ve read too many stories lately about steampunk inventors that have no life, social or otherwise, are independently wealthy, and live in a vacuum (or on an island in the middle of the ocean).

An inventor does not have the time to mine, smelt, cast and then form his own copper wire for his high speed telegraph invention or forge the steel plate for his improved hyper-pressure steam boiler invention. There were people that made the wire and steel and other things and tools for a living. If he did make his own wire he would probably end up in the wire making business and all his inventions would be about making wire, better and faster.

Inventors like writers need day jobs. Thomas Edison has a series of day jobs till he started earning enough from some telegraph patents that he could establish his own lab and do nothing but invent.

Inventors did not work in the dark. The Wright brothers, when they decided to build an airplane they ordered every book they could on the subject. That included tables of information from Lilienthal. After a glider they built did not have the lift the tables said it should, the Wright brothers did some experiments and found that the century old value for the Smeaton coefficient was to high. This was one of the major advances made by the Wright brother. They built interments and did experiments, they challenged the excepted theories. Using a new value they determined from their experiments including the use of a home built wind tunnel they designed a new wing that worked better. Others had figured out that the value was wrong, but you had to look closely at their data to figure it out. Even back then, inventors wrote up their results and talked to each other.

The Wright brothers were not wealthy. They owned and ran a bicycle shop. They hand built bicycles. Sometimes out of wood. Would your steam punk inventor stoop to using wood to build one of his creations? The Wright brothers earned an income, were part of the community. They were secretive, worried someone would steal their inventions, but they were not hermits.

So come with me and strike a blow to the cliché of the hermit inventors with the magical supply of raw and processed materials and inexhaustible supply of spare parts. Take a look at real inventors and make your inventor a part, a participant of your steampunk society.

Stay strong, write on, and give your characters a life.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Year full of Mondays

On new year’s day there was a comic that said that it was the first of 52 Mondays. Something set off an alarm in the back of my mind. I went to the calendar and counted. Yes, there are 53 Mondays this year.

The good news is that two of those Mondays are holidays, the first Monday is New Years Day and the last Monday is New Years Eve, so there are only 50 working Mondays this year.

So cheer up.

Now if your retired and self employed every day is a Monday.

Stay strong, write on, is it Friday yet? Professor Hyram Voltage.

Happy New Year Steampunk Writers

Happy New Year.
It’s 60 degrees outside and there is rain in the forecast.
Why would I be happy about rain? Well, it doesn’t get cold enough, well very often, to freeze the rain, and we haven’t have a good rain yet and the rainy season is half over.
Without serious amounts of rain we will be back in drought conditions soon.

What does this have to do about Steampunk writing? Well, I can not read a monthly science fiction magazine without running into an end-of-the-world ecological based story.

Where’s the Steampunk story about a London with an unusually warm winter. With the water level in the river Thames lower than it has every been. Ships are having trouble navigating the river. With shifting sand bars that have never given trouble and are now grounding ships. The water in the Thames is getting too salty to drink from seawater intrusion.

In this world there are newspaper articles about autonomous coal mining machines that work 24 hours a day and are causing the price of coal to drop. Inventors are churning out steam/coal powered labor saving device after device that are that are out striping the newly enlarged supply of coal.

There is unrest with many miners and others out of work, replaced by the autonomous machines.

A minor, little known inventor says using all the coal is causing the problems with the weather and the river level, and it’s the use of coal that causing the problem not the autonomous machines. But he gets in trouble when he says that they will have to stop using the autonomous machines. The inventor disappears. Did the mine owners do him in? Did foreign agents from countries that need the coal do him in? Did the makers of the autonomous machines do him in?

I got the makings of a good mystery here.

Stay strong, write on. Guess who done it.

Professor Hyram Voltage.

Happy Year End Day

In a Gray Lensman story by E. E. “Doc” Smith the main characters attend a Year End Day celebration. I like the idea. The idea of celebrating the good things of the past year.

We seem to focus on the bad things in life. We should also recognize and celebrate the good things too. I do not mean to ignore the passing of friends and family. I have lost both this year. But I have gained new friends this year. New friends will not replace the memory of friends lost, but they will open the future to a world of new memories.

There were adventures this year. I went to see the eclipse in Oregon. While doing that I got to see a lot of Oregon I normally would never have seen and met people I would have never met other wise. I went to conventions and saw things most people will never get to see. A fire that happened months after one convention destroyed some art work that was prominently displayed there.

Nothing will replace my friends home that was destroyed by the big fire in California. But my friend is alive and is rebuilding. It won’t be the same, but I’m sure it will be better. It will take time and it will be sad.

From my friends sad experience of not knowing what he had, the small things, the things he used every day, so he could claim them on his insurance forms I am doing a photo inventory of by belonging. It’s a lot of work, I got a lot of stuff. It’s also a treasure hunt. You never know what you’ll find in the back of a drawer or closet. I’m also getting rid of stuff I forgot I had. It’s a time of memories and sadness as I go through some of the old stuff. It’s also a time of renewal and of planning to do better. And it’s a time of sitting back and thinking about what I’ve accomplished this year and past years. Many of those things no one will ever get to do again. Hey, I survived Y2K. That’s not going to happen again.

So here’s to a good year, past. Some people thought the country would fall apart. This old country got its problems, but it is a long way from coming apart. Some people thought the world was going to end, over and over again they changed the date. They’ve been saying that the end of the world is coming for over 3000 years.

I got the back yard looking better than its looked in years. Not that I don’t still have a lot too do in the back yard. I have a new access door into the garage so when the main door fails to open again I won’t have to call in specialist to get into the garage. I have helped friends, it made me feel good to help. I still have a lot of cleaning and reorganizing to do, but that’s for next year, but then that’s tomorrow.

I got plans for next year. World con (science fiction convention), conventions in San Diego, Kansas, who knows where else. I completed plans I had for 2017. I didn’t get all the plans completed, but I made progress.

Intermingled with the sadness of last year I had fun, I did things.

May you remember and celebrate the good things of last year. May you pause and reflect on the sadness of last year. And may your new year be prosperous, bountiful and joyous.

Happy Year End Day.

Stay strong, write on. Happy New Year. Professor Hyram Voltage

And I say this after spending all new years eve morning and most of the day in the emergency room of the hospital.