Posted by: wrmcnutt | July 1, 2015

Short Story Published

Whoo-hoo! I have completed my first published short story for Amazon.com!

It’s an urban fantasy set in an unnamed, densely populated northern city.  I went for “gritty neo-noir,” and I think it turned out okay.

http://amzn.to/1INFIgs

Posted by: wrmcnutt | June 22, 2015

12 Volt Man

With apologies to Jimmy Buffet, I’ve been working on the electrical system of “Charleston Lady,” my West Wight Potter – 19, for the past couple of weeks.  East Tennessee has blasted into the 90’s as summer has arrived in the South, so I’ve only been able to work for a couple of hours a day.

It all started early last fall when I took it into my head to voyage downstream from my home waters on the Tennessee River, past Loudon Dam, with the goal of transiting the lock for the first time, overnight-ing on the boat, and returning the next day.  While there were challenges to be overcome, as there are in all voyages, this tale begins after I selected an anchorage, found a spot, got my hook set, and prepared dinner.  As the sun set over the riverbanks of the wildlife sanctuary I’d chosen for my overnight anchorage I took it up on myself to light my anchor light.

For the non-boaty types among my readers, the anchor light is a required safety feature that transforms your boat from a large, black object sitting in the middle of larger, blacker night, into an illuminated, picturesque vessel drifting gently with the current at anchor on the river.  This, theoretically, prevents a boatload of drunken college students doing forty knots in a ski-boat daddy paid for from running  you down on their way back to their anchorage/dock from the beer run.

I was deep, deep within a side-branch of the river, a good sixty yards from open water and wildly unlikely to be run over.  But rules are rules, and good habits gained now may keep me from getting chopped to chutney later when I’m anchored under less favorable conditions.  So I leaned over to push the toggle that would turn on the anchor light.  The fifteen year old plastic switch shattered under my finer.  The mounting tabs broke off, the case split in to small fragments, and whole mess turned into small shards of plastic.  In a Quality Assurance Meeting, this would be referred to as a “negative outcome of the standard procedure.”

Now, there had been a small problem with panel ever since I bought my boat:  the switch labeled “depth finder” did nothing.  If the main switch was on, I could operate my depth finder regardless of the position of the panel switch. So the short term solution was to disassemble the panel and re-wire it, routing my anchor light to my depth finder switch.  A quick test and:  the anchor light was now controlled by the depth finder switch and I could still operate my depth finder, regardless of the setting of the switch.

I’ll just swap out that switch over the winter.  Or maybe even the whole panel – after all, ALL of those switches are 15 years old. If one went bad on me . . . Yeah.  I’ll get that done before Christmas.  (Quit laughing!)

They’re laughing because they know what happened.  There are ALL SORTS of things that are more interesting and more fun than working on a boat electrical system, and the summer sailing season was upon me before I knew it.

As it happened, I had a mom and the Small Child overnight-ing on the boat.  If you have a Small Child in your life, you know that bedtime includes Story Book Time, and that means there needs to be sufficient light.  In addition to the problems detailed above, two of my cabin lights had died.  Well, the light was insufficient in the remaining light to properly execute Story Time.  Uncle Bill’s boat has officially been LAME.  Well, I may be closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, but be that as it may, THIS kind of lame will not be permitted to happen again.  So off we go to West Marine, for we need “marine grade” electrical components, lest corrosion set in.  While I was there buying new switches (because, of course, it couldn’t be loose connections, oh no, it had to be the most EXPENSIVE component of the cabin lights . . .) I noticed the fuse panels and thought, “oh yeah, I need to take care of that.”

And then I heard a siren song.  “Pick me,” she sang, “in addition to the four switches you need, I have TWO ADDITIONAL 12v sockets to plug in accessories.”

So I grabbed the little hoyden off of the hook and added her to my swag bag of electrical doodads.

Well, of course, the switches were a little too large, so I had to grind out the stainless steel fittings just a little.  The screws STILL aren’t the right size, so one of the light mounted a little wobbly. I need to get a larger screw the next time I’m at West marine.  But now I can turn to the simple swap out of those two fuse panels.  I opened the package.

“Um, cutie-pie.  You’re not a fuse panel. You’re a breaker panel.”

“You should have thought about that before you put a ring on it honey.  You’ve broken my seals and lost the receipt.  Besides, check out my 12v accessories sockets. You know you want me.”

Step One:  Remove fuse panel from hull-liner.  “Wow!  Look at all those wires.  And they’re going EVERYWHERE.  It’s only four circuits.  How many wires can they POSSIBLY need?”

Step Two: Mark ALL wires and where they came from.  Because I’ve done this dance before.

It got both a little easier and a little weirder at this point.  Roughly a third of that intimidating nest of wires turned out to be jumpers for the illuminated switches.  That it, they went from point to point ON the old fuse panel. I didn’t need to do ANYTHING with them.  So, win.

But the actual wiring got weird on me.  For starters, I had a whole mess of red wires.  One wire, used as a bus, ganged them all together.  Same for the black wires.  Then, each black and red wire attached to a prong on the fuse box. But I also had white, brown, and a single blue wire going off into the ether, Somewhere Into The Boat.

I’ll skip all the research I did.  It’s all very technical.  Well, actually, I retained NONE of it, and ended up with the old “monkey push the wire” approach.  I hooked it up every way I could think of until it all appeared to work.  “Trace every wire on the boat from one end to the other” is now on the “Boat List” for this fall when I can tolerate crawling around those tiny spaces.  But that, as they say, is another story.

I put the boat back in the water this weekend, so the final mounting of the (currently functional) breaker panel may wait a bit.  It was time to go sailing.

Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 7, 2015

Repairing My Nose Ring

Briefly, when I last launched the ‘Potter, I failed to remove the safety chain, and jerked the safety loop halfway out of the hull in the bow. The consensus has been that the lack of backing plate is was a BAD thing, and that I should not only repair the hull, but that I should add a backing plate. I’m a little worried that the lack of backing plate was by design, because jerking that loop out did a LITTLE damage to a SMALL part of my hull. I have a nagging fear that a proper backing plate might mean a LOT of damage to a LARGE part of my hull.

So I revisited my ‘glass’ repair on my West Wight Potter-19 yesterday. After consulting with a number of total strangers on Facebook, I decided to upgrade my repair.

I went back yesterday and added an additional four layers of what I believe to be six ounce glass cloth for a total of eight layers of glass behind hole, plus the glass I stuffed into the hole. I’ve very pleased with the look of the repair inside the chain locker.

On the outside there was a three-inch chip of gelcoat plus the outer layer of glass split away. I dremeled this off, cleaned the back side as well as the raw glass on the hull. I slathered both with rosin and them clamped the broken chip back into place. Once that had cured I then had to deal with the kerf from the dremel as well as the cracks from the original damage.

I priced a gel-coat repair kit from West Marine, but it was over fifty dollars, and I’m currently feeling quite poor. I only needed about a tablespoon of repair compound, and I balked at spending $50.00 to get it. But THIS part of the repair is cosmetic, not structural. The eight layers of glass and incipient backing plate (which I’m still not sure of) will be taking the load. This is just crack filler. So it doesn’t need to be as strong as a glass repair.

I have the remnants of a gelcoat repair kit purchased a couple of years ago with a little blue pigment that might match my hull close enough. during the above glass repair I save the last two tablespoons of mixed epoxy and added pigment to it. The idea was that I would let this thicken up, spread it into my cracks, and buff it down. All the ingredients were paid for, so the gelcoat repair would be “free.”

Well, it may have worked. The first complication was that even at the end of the “fast cure” hardener’s working time, it was still too thin to spread in the cracks. The hull is, of course, upright, so I needed something thick enough to stay in the crack on the vertical surface. I ended up adding another dash of hardener and continuing to stir for about a half-hour until it started to finally thicken enough to do the job I was asking of it.

But it seemed to have worked right there at the end. It left a goopy mess on the surface of the hull, of course, so I don’t know if it worked for sure. I will have to go after it with 1000-grid sandpaper to remove the excess colored rosin to confirm. And I have to go home and pack for an non-boat-related road trip this weekend, so I can’t get back to the boatyard until Sunday afternoon at the earliest.

And so the glamor and romance of being a yachtsman continues.

Where to begin?  For those of you who don’t participate in the grand melange that is Geek Culture, Dragon*Con is a gathering about forty or fifty thousand geeky, nerdy, or dorky folk of widely varied and overlapping interest groups.  The ‘Con itself is a for-profit venture in Atlanta Georgia over Labor Day weekend.  The subject matter is wild and widely varied, from “The Bionic Duo – Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner Reminisce” to “How the US gov’t and the CDC prep for pandemics and other health threats, plus tools to help you minimize these threats and stay informed.”  The VIP guest list this year had everyone from Lucy Lawless (Xena, Warrior Princess) to Ed Asner.  Yes – Ed Asner of ‘Lou Grant’ and ‘Mary Tyler Moore.”  There are film festivals that include marathons of popular works, such as the James Bond marathon, as well as the world premiere of many a tiny short film.  There are late night parties, old friends you haven’t seen in over a decade, a vast and thundering art show by up-and-coming artists in many mediums, and an entire major hotel whose meeting rooms are dedicated entirely to table-top gaming.   And finally, there’s the shopping.

This year what was called in my day “The Huckster’s Room” was moved to two floors of America’s Mart.  If you’re looking for blue jeans, sneakers, or a velvet Elvis painting, you’re probably out of luck.  But there were at least 3 vendors selling light up light sabers, reproduction movie props, and autographs.

My girlfriend and I invested in “Eternal Memberships” about twenty five years ago.  If you got in early enough and, after going to enough Dragon*Con’s to “make a profit” on them, we stopped going, other things took precedence, demanding our time and dollars.  Things like like getting married, graduating from school, starting a career, and the death of my parents.   You know: life.

And so the years rolled by.  A couple of years ago a large number of our very far-flung friends started to attend Dragon*Con and we started talking about flexing those Eternal Memberships and returning to D*C.  Plus – my sister lives near the Marta line, so we could attend for “free,” and had free housing.  All we had to spend was gas money (and eating out).  So on impulse, we decided to go down there.

And the Dragon*Con of my youth cannot be returned to, for it is gone forever.

Oh, it’s not all bad.  But it’s all different.

The single biggest change from back in the day is the crowding.  While the event has four times as much space as it did twenty years ago, it has six, eight, ten times as many people.  On three separate occasions I was literally unable to move in some of the passageways.  We were packed in so tight I couldn’t advance or retreat, and we were body-to-body.  I’m here to tell you, if you have claustrophobia or agoraphobia, Dragon*Con is not the ‘Con for you.  I don’t have either of those problems, but they crossed my mind.  And then I saw the lady in the scooter.  As bad as it was for those of us on our feet, the people in wheelchairs and scooters had all of that going on, and their faces (with noses) were at crotch/butt height. Ouch.  I quit feeling sorry for myself.

And since we’re on the subject, I wish to report that most of the time the legendary “Con Funk” was not very noticeable most of the time.  For the newcomer, there was a time where Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions had a reputation for conventioneers whose hygiene was . . . less than optimal.  Mind you, some folks still got a little whiffy. I still think that Cons should seek out both soap and deoderant companies and sponsors and give away product samples.  But I don’t think that it was nearly as bad as it was back in the day.  As a whole, the entire Con smelled . . . better.

Which brings me to the women. The proportion of women to men is vastly different than it was twenty years ago.  If you were to tell me that as many as 46% of the attendees of Dragon*Con 2013 were women I would not be in the least surprised.

As I mentioned above, Dragon*Con is bigger. It’s now spread to five major convention hotels downtown.  I’ve yet to see any official numbers, but the final headcount floating around Facebook is around sixty five thousand people. The various panel discussions started at eight o’clock in the morning and ran until after ten o’clock at  night.  There were more than a hundred talented artists in an art show so large and complex it rated it’s own five pages of panels.  Painters, sculptors, leather workers . . . the field was huge.  Of course, today the art show rigorously enforces copyright, so fan art is right out.  Back in the day, my bride bought most of her Xena art at the Dragon*Con art show.  Not so much any more.

The prices have gone up.  That’s no big surprise. A full membership to Dragon*Con cost $130 this year.  I think I may have paid as much as $45.00 for my first Dragon*Con membership.  The Eternal Memberships mentioned above could be had for $350.00 twenty years ago when we bought them. Today they cost $2000.00.  Hotel rates have gone up by about five hundred percent, while the cost of food has only tripled.

Lines.  The amount of time you spend waiting in line has gone up, up, up.  If you want to see a popular panelist, such as Lucy Lawless or Jame and Adam from Myth Busters, you will wait at least an hour and a half for a 55 minute presentation.  If you aren’t willing to do so, you won’t get to see them.  The line rules are also entertaining.  You’re not allowed to start lining up for a panel until a hour beforehand.  We did it anyway.  We called them the pre-line lines.  Dragon*Con staff spent a great deal of time and energy trying to shoo us away and get us to disperse if we showed up more than an hour ahead of time.  It was like trying to empty the ocean with a sieve.  We just came right back as soon as they turned their backs.  When I went to see Jim Butcher of Dresden Files fame, the line stretched out of the room, down the hall, along the catwalk, up the stairs, down the other hall, up more stairs, down one more corridor, and then into a room where there was a final queue.  Those of us waiting were stretched across five floors of the hotel.

I think the thing that I miss the most, though, is the access to guests.  One of my fondest memories of attending Cons was running into James Doohan (Scotty from Star Trek) and getting five minutes with him, one-to-one and being able to chat.  In that five minutes I got told to call him “Jimmy,” I was able to move past the “Scotty” persona and come to appreciate him as an professional and a human being.  That was when I learned he’d lost a finger while leading troops on Juno Beach during the invasion of Normandy during Operation Overlord in World War II.  I once met Virgina Heinlein in a meeting room when she came to read some of Robert’s work.  She was a wonderful lady.  I got to shake Margaret Weis’ hand and she gave me her contact information and offered to read one of my novel efforts.  (That came to nothing – I never finished it.)  Personal contacts like that are simply not possible at Dragon*Con today.  The convention venues are vast piles of re-bar and concrete that are riddled with hidden back corridors and staff-only elevators so that the staff can cater meetings without having to drag food and equipment through the guest areas, and it is through these accesses that the VIP’s move so that we don’t mob them.  And I can’t really say that it’s wrong.  If Jimmy were still alive today and only one-tenth of the population of Dragon*Con stopped him in the halls, that would be sixty-five hundred people.  If he spent just five minutes talking with each of them, he’d be standing there for five-hundred forty one hours, or twenty two days.  It’s just not possible.  But it still makes me sad.

I’m glad I went.  It was great to see old friends and make new ones.  All in all, I had a good time, and I’m looking forward to next year.  But I also have to admit – I missed the old days, too.

Posted by: wrmcnutt | July 2, 2013

Sercuring Your Trailer

Master William’s Advice to SCA Trailer Owners:
I am advised by my trailer dealer that East Tennessee is one of the leading areas for trailer theft in the United States. With this in mind, I thought I would share with ya’ll some tips regarding avoiding trailer theft. Bear in mind that I am not a credentialed security expert, I’m just a guy who had his trailer boosted and then read a bunch of stuff on the internet to try to keep from losing another one.

Further, you can’t prevent a determined thief from taking your trailer. Given time, he will defeat any security measures you attempt to install. The key characteristic of thieves is that they are lazy.  If they weren’t lazy, they’d work to earn stuff, not take stuff that belonged to other people.  And that’s what we’re going to try to exploit.  We’re going to try to  make our trailers too much work to bother stealing.

That said, we start with the low-hanging fruit You probably already use a padlock on your latch. I’ve been warned, again, by my trailer dealer, that the bad guys will simply back up to your trailer, hook up the safety chains, and drag your trailer off by the chains, to cut your padlock off later. To delay this, simply clip your safety chains to your hitch, using the same lock you are using to secure your hitch. This will extend the process of stealing your trailer and delay the thief, making him more likely to go look for another trailer to steal.

Once you have a padlock on your trailer hitch that locks it in a “closed” position, and you are locking your safety chains in with your hitch it’s time for the bad news: that padlock is almost entirely ceremonial. Lemme tell ya a story. This one time, at Gulf Wars, I lost my trailer keys. So I showed up at my trailer with a hacksaw and a tire iron, and thinking that I would need to get my battery operated grinder out of the van. But I figured I’d just try the tire iron, thinking I could maybe jerk the hasp out of the mechanism. I stuck the tire iron into the lock and pushed gently, just to gauge how much force would be needed. The hasp shattered into five pieces with almost no effort. So let me say it even more blatantly: a padlock on your trailer hitch prevents NOTHING but casual impulse theft. But there IS something you can do.

Trailer Tongue Lock

Click to Order

Here’s the tongue lock that I like. It’s almost completely immune to tire irons. The ball on it fills the socket on the hitch. And the bar that holds it in place is over an inch thick. It takes an angle-grinder to remove it. I also like the fact that it’s made by a well-known company that has significant investment in name recognition. And before anyone brings up boots again, yes – you need one.

This is perhaps the most critical of my posts regarding trailer security. We have already covered locking back your safety chains and the fact that a padlock is largely ceremonial. We’ve also discussed real tongue locks that prevent the hitch from being connected to the ball. But here’s the thing: even with the hitch completely blocked, the bad guys can, will, and have butted an “un-useable” hitch to a ball and then expended a half a roll of duct tape on it and rolled off, do deal with the hitch lock later, in private, and with angle grinders. And angle grinders WILL defeat any lock you install. I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve seen a demonstration. Yes, enough wraps of duct tape will effectively bypass ANY hitch-securing mechanism you can purchase. So what do we do about this?

450px-Picture_of_a_person_putting_a_%22boot%22_or_wheel_clamp_on[1]If I may be permitted a bilingual pun, the answer is: Das Boot. A boot applied to one of the wheels of your trailer that prevents the wheel from turning will keep your trailer from rolling off with all but the most determined thieves  .I’ve actually watched people case my trailer from my hotel room window. They walk up to my rig, start walking around it, and when they see the boot they stop and walk away. Now, I use a cheap boot. I’m hoping to upgrade this month if I can manage it. My boot looks like this one:  The boot clamps around the wheel, preventing it from turning without making a lot of noise and damaging the vehicle in the process, rendering theft useless. This particular boot is not ideal because it can be defeated by removing the tire. It does make stealing the trailer more work than most thieves are willing to undertake. The longer it takes to drive off with my trailer, the more time there is for me to show up with a baseball bat, or worse. I went with this style of boot because a) it was cheap, but better than nothing, and b) because it was what my trailer dealer had in stock when I was buying the trailer that replaced the one that was stolen.

car-wheel-lock[1]This month I hope to upgrade to this model. This model is superior because in addition to jamming up the wheel if the bad guy tries to drive off with your trailer, it also covers the lug nuts and prevents him from removing defeating the boot by removing the wheel. Extra boot hint: always boot your trailer on the wheel facing the street, where the boot will be clearly visible to anyone casing your trailer.Please be aware that all three of these steps, securing the safety chains, locking the hitch, and even booting one of the wheels only makes it more work to steal the trailer. We have probably eliminated the dishonest and lazy. But I can think of at least two ways to defeat even a good boot. If a professional trailer thief targets you, you should probably have good insurance.

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