Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dude, It's Steampunk: Coal

Yay! My first, belated post of 2013! And what better way to start things off than with another  "Dude, It's Steampunk" post. Our topic is coal. At first glance, one might not think that coal has very much to do with steampunk. But the fact is that coal has EVERYTHING to do with steampunk. You may disagree with me on this point. It really depends on your definition of the genre. But for me, you can't have steampunk if you don't have steam, and you can't have steam power if you don't have coal.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts on steam power, the technology was originally invented to help pump water out of...get ready for it...coal mines! Coal was used as fuel for a variety of different industries in the past and is still used in the present. So let's take a look at coal and how wonderful it is, and how it is more than just a dark hard rock that disgruntled factory workers shovel into furnaces or what Santa gives you when you've been naughty.

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a historian and do NOT pretend to be one. If you do find inaccuracies or know better resources for more information, feel free to share.

What is Coal? 
As always, let's start with the basics. What is coal? Coal is a sedimentary rock composed primarily of carbon, hence its name which means, "mineral of fossilized carbon". However, coal not only contains carbon but also hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen. Coal forms in the rock strata in deposits called "coal seams" or "coal beds". As it is a fossil fuel, it originally formed from prehistoric plants that were buried by mud and other vegetation and slowly compressed and heated over time. For most, the definition of standard coal ends at hard black rock, which is perfectly fine and normal. However, there is really no such thing as standard coal.

An important thing to note as we press on is that not all coal is created equal. Coal is ranked using Hilt's law, which says that coal's quality is dependent on the depth of the coal seam. The greater the depth, the greater the materials' exposure to heat and pressure, which allows the process of carbonization to occur. The below coal types are written in order from lowest to highest.
The above image is one I took while studying abroad in Ireland. This is peat. Think of it as coal in raw form before it is has time to sit in the ground and become proper coal through carbonization. Peat is a spongy substance that is composed of decaying organic matter and other plant material. It has been used as a fuel source in Ireland, Scotland, and Finland for centuries.   

This is also referred to as "brown coal" or "rosebud coal". Lignite is the intermediate form of coal and is considered the lowest in rank and the lowest in energy content. It has high amounts of volatile matter and a lot more moisture. However, the downside to lignite is that it must be carefully stored and transported since it is susceptible to spontaneous combustion.

Bituminous Coal 
This type of soft coal is used primarily for heat and electricity generation, steam power electricity in particular. Bituminous coal also has a higher heating value than lignite. There are three different types of bituminous coal. The first is smithing coal,  which is ideal for forges for metalworking. The second type is cannel coal. Cannel coal was used to make coal oil for public lighting in the 19th century and was eventually replaced by kerosene. The third type of bituminous coal is coking coal, which is used in steel manufacturing.

In the hierarchy of coal, anthracite is at the top. It has the highest energy content of any other type. It's a hard coal and is formed deep in the rock strata where there is a great amount of pressure and heat. Given its fine quality, anthracite is not cheap. However,  for those who can afford it,  anthracite is used in stoves, furnaces, and in water-filtration systems. It has very fine pores that can capture sand and other harmful impurities.

And there you have it, a simple overview of the world of coal. If there is anything to be taken away from this post, it should be that there really isn't such a thing as standard coal and without this lovely little black rock, we wouldn't have been able to power the 19th century or the 21st century.  But also keep in mind that coal is a nonrenewable resource. It takes millions of years and the right conditions in order for nature to produce coal and there is a limited amount of it as a result. So one can't help but wonder what will happen when we run out?

To learn more about coal, check out the links below.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Project 003,The Kite Runner, Copper, and New Year's Resolutions

Hello! I am still alive. Fooled you, didn't I?  I've recently had a batch of some of the busiest work days of the year, and finally things are starting to simmer down. I have also been reading and writing a lot in my spare time and have quite a few things to report.

We'll start off with the writing. I am happy to say that I finished the first draft of a new book, Project 003 about a week ago. It's big, weighing in at 103k. It is going to need some work, however, I am grateful that I can, one, still find time to write, and two, be able to produce a third novel length work. I've put this one in the drawer, and I won't be looking at it for a few months. In the mean time, since sitting around and twiddling my thumbs is against my nature, I started to gather research material for Project 004. I have forced myself to be still and read and also listen to audiobooks.

My library has a very limited selection of audiobooks, but I always manage to find something that is worth listening to. In this case, it's The Kite Runner.  I am not a big fan of adult fiction. I find it very tedious and typically I avoid it at all costs. But The Kite Runner is different. It follows the story of two Afghan boys, one who is wealthy, and the other, the son of the wealthy boy's servant and how their friendship evolves over the course of time, being shaped by events beyond their control and social prejudices. I found it very compelling, dark, and honest. When I say honest I mean that there isn't much that gets sugar-coated in this book, including the hardship and turmoil of Afghanistan's past and present and what both boys experience as a result. Some elements of the book are definitely not for the faint of heart. On the flip side of that, the book also showcases Afghan culture and how beautiful Afghanistan was as a country. That part I don't think a lot of people have read, especially nowadays. Case and point, if you haven't had a chance to read this book, or you've always been curious about it, I suggest giving it a try. It's worth it.

So, while I we are on the subject of dark , let's move on to Copper. I saw the trailer for this TV series on a whim  and was interguied immediately.  I have a morbid fascination with the Five Points ever since Gangs of New York  came out years ago. That piece coupled with a gritty crime thriller element is freakin' awesome. After seeing the Copper trailer I thought to myself "oh, it's like they made this series just for me!"Anyways, I got my hands on the season 1 DVD. Overall, as you might've guessed, I enjoyed it immensely. There wasn't a single episode where I got bored, and I cared about what happened to the characters . I find that a show is pretty bad if I want the protagonist to die more than the antagonist. This of course didn't happen with Copper. I'd recommend this series to anyone who likes history, cop dramas, or just  a good story. I am very happy to know that there will be a season 2 in the summer of 2013, which brings me to the final part of this post.

At last the time has come for the end of the year. It's interesting that New Year's doesn't get nearly as much preparation or promotion as Christmas even though it too gives hope for better things to come. At midnight, it's like a giant page turn. You leave the past behind and start over-- new beginnings and so forth, which is embodied in the famous "New Year's Resolution". Some people make them and other don't. I tend to ride the fence on resolutions. When I make one, I do so with the full intention of keeping it. Otherwise, why make it?  In any case, my writing resolution for 2013 is about the same as it was for 2012--keeping a blog. I've been pleased with the my little piece of cyber real estate and the amount of traffic it has gotten, even if it's a glance, it means the world to me anyway.  My hope for 2013 is to keep the The Run Ragger alive as well as continue to pursue publication. I am optimistic about both of these goals but this is tempered with caution. The future is uncertain and that is what makes it scary and fun.

Happy New Year to all passersby!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Wee Update

So things have been quiet here in my little sliver of cyberspace. I've been working on a new book and that has consumed most of my time and energy. This one is growing very fast and it's getting big.  How big will it get? I can't say. It's like when you adopt a pound puppy and the people at the shelter swear to you that the dog won't get any bigger than 30 lbs and then it turns out to be 80. I have a similar problem. I write long and for a while I used to get very upset about it. But really the beauty of writing long is that you have plenty of material to work with.  You can shave it down as needed, versus trying to come up with more material. However, I am hoping that this novel doesn't get as big as the very first manuscript I ever wrote, which was 187,000 words.  I don't think it will do that but I have never underestimated my muse's tenacity to screw with me.

In other news, I recently started drawing again. I've been drawing since I was a kid, and it has always been linked with my writing. The two tend to feed each other.  If an idea is strong enough, I will start drawing characters or scenes and then a few days later, start crafting a story around it.  But it can also happen the other way around like this image below.

This one wormed its way into my brain over the weekend. I had been working on a short story, in addition to my novel, for a few weeks. This is one of the creatures that had been stalking around in my subconscious since Halloween. If I can see it and draw it, I can tell that the story is worth writing. If not, most of the time, it falls apart or I just get bored with it.

But in any case, I love it when my writing and drawing are in sync. It makes each process all the more thrilling. It's more than just seeing a character in your head. Once you put them on paper and they're staring back at you, they can tell you who they are.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thoughts on House of the Scorpion and Real Deep Stuff...

Well, you won't find any musings about steampunk or the human condition in this post. I am working on a new "Dude It's Steampunk" but it will take me some time to rake material together. In the interim, I figured I should talk about writing. It seems to be the thing for writers who blog to do, so I will. At present, I finished putting the final touches on a manuscript and sent it out to an agent I met a few weeks ago. I plan to start doing this more frequently. Submitting work is a hard thing for me and I don't take it lightly either.  It's not really a matter of me being worried about rejection, I've been rejected about 10 times and this goes for short stories as well as novels over the span of several years. For me, it's about deciding who to send it to, if the agent is as close a match as I can possibly get to my work. So I do a lot of reading and thinking, probably more than is healthy. I hear about an agent, I read about them, then think...and then I read and think some more. Sometimes I get stuck in that loop and I never get anywhere, so I am trying to be a little more decisive and intrepid. We will see how things go. I've also started a new novel and I am certain that it will be even better than the can only hope.

In other news, I finished reading The House of the Scorpion last week and loved it. This book and I have a little history, if you want to call it that. I heard about The House of the Scorpion when I was in high school, matter of fact, it came out my sophomore year. Everyone talked about how awesome it was. I wanted to read it. I had a very keen interest in science particularly cloning and genetic modification were some of my favorite topics. I even liked filling out punnett squares...who does that? But life or other shiny things lured me away. Now, 9 years later, I finally got my sweaty little mitts on a copy of the audiobook. I count listening to an audiobook the same thing as reading.  I absorb stories the same way and remember them just as vividly. Anyways, there has been a lot of acclaim for this book, and if you ever get the chance to read it, which I highly suggest you do, it isn't very hard to figure out why. It is so well written. I couldn't just see this world in my head, I was in it.  Very few books do that for me and it is something I aspire to in my own work as well. The characters also got me, too. Each of them was colored in some shade of gray, in other words, they all had good and bad sides. Sometimes, it was hard to see who was good and who was bad, which kept things interesting. The question of  "what is human?" that the book seems to pose is probably one of my favorites themes to explore. In terms of YA, it lines up pretty nicely with the liminality of adolescence. You are not a kid anymore but not quite an adult and the obvious preceding question is "what the hell am I then?" I could really get into the weeds with this, but regardless of the thematic interplay just know that it is an awesome book and if you haven't read it, you are missing out. You can find out more about The House of the Scorpion here.

 That's enough rambling for now. Stay tuned for more news and "Dude, It's Steampunk" on The Run Ragger.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

In Which I Arise and Go to the Windy City : My Adventures at Worldcon 2012

So I got back from Worldcon (Chicon 7)  Monday and now that I have had a sufficient amount of sleep and settled back into a natural rhythm, I can finally shuffle all my thoughts together and put them in some sort of order that makes sense.

Our little story starts a month prior to Worldcon at my MFA program, Stonecoast. It was my graduating semester, my spirits were high and my internal turmoil dutifully subdued, although there were a few times during the residency where it spilled over. Anyways, a friend of mine, Mur Lafferty, came up to me and suggested I go to Worldcon, saying it was a great place for young writers and I might be able to network there. My initial response was "I don't know. I don't think I have the time to go." But I promised to think it over. At the time, I pretty much convinced myself I wasn't going to Worldcon.  While I had money that I could scrape together, I had no time to take from work, and I was intimidated about going to a big city like Chicago.  

However, a few weeks after graduation, circumstances were such that I had the funds and time to go. One evening, I sat down and made my decision. I got the logistics sorted and all I had to do was wait for the weekend to arrive, which it did, faster than I expected. Before I knew it, I was on a plane headed for Chicago.

Now, I 've seen pictures of Chicago, and I've watched films that were shot in the windy city, but I had never been to an urban hub like this one before. I was pretty much staggered by the place. The architecture being my favorite part. Some of the buildings were so tall they wouldn't fit within a single picture. The building where the Chicago Tribune was housed was probably my favorite. Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of it because I was too busy gawking at it. You are just going to have to take my word for it that it was awesome.

The convention reminded me of residency only ten times larger. There were panels on almost every topic imaginable and sometimes I found myself torn between what I really wanted to invest my time in. The first day I went to three panels in the span of an hour and a half. If I only had the ability to split myself and absorb everything, alas I could not. I tried my damnedest though and was rewarded with some very informative notes to mull over. However, I think I learned just as much from the people as I did from the panels. Some of the editors and agents I met were nice enough to share their insight with me, and I am still glowing from having the privilege of meeting them. Overall, the people I met were always nice and full of energy. One lady randomly offered me candy while I was waiting for the shuttle to take me to the first night reception at the Adler Planetarium. Unfortunately, my childhood training in "don't take candy from strangers" kicked in and I politely refused.  But all and all I didn't really ever feel lonely or out of place at Worldcon, especially when I met up with some of my friends from Stonecoast.

The Hugo Awards Ceremony blew my f*cking mind. I think it was the scale of the event  that did it. The line to get into the ballroom was almost a mile long and everyone at the con wanted a seat. Thankfully, my friend, Karen, saved me one, and I didn't have to stand in the back of the room. The Hugos were run just like the Oscars, and I couldn't believe some of the people who showed up, Neil Gaiman for one. Even though I only saw him on one of the big screens and was separated from the stage by a few hundred people, I felt happy just to be in the same room with some of the big names in the genre.

The major buzz kill of this adventure for me was the very end. I had caught what apparently everyone calls "con crud" and was dying through the latter half of the Hugos where my brain might as well  have been coming out through my nose. So as you can imagine, I did not stay for any after parties and was ushered out of the room by Karen and driven to the local pharmacy, one that was very scary looking and open at close to midnight. After Karen procured for me, NyQuil and two bags full of Halls Defense tablets, regular and sugar free, she dropped me off at my hotel. I stumbled back to my room, showered, and fell back onto my bed in a NyQuil-induced stupor.  Not the way I would've chosen spend my last night in Chicago, but I am pretty sure I wouldn't have been very sociable in my red cocktail dress and biker jacket with pockets full of soggy tissues...I'm just sayin'.

I think Worldcon was an overall rewarding experience. I did make a few connections there and learned a few things that I didn't really expect and walked away with a memory that will stay with me for a very long time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dude, It's Steampunk: Bartitsu

Welcome to yet another installment of "Dude, It's Steampunk".  This post will be about a martial art called bartitsu. Martial arts has always been something of interest to me, I practiced tae kwon do for about three years. The style I learned incorporated elements of jujitsu and arnis. Unfortunately, time, money, and physical injury caught up with me and I had to stop practicing. But I still never lost my fascination with martial arts.  Now you might be asking, how does bartitsu fit in with steampunk ? Well bartitsu was developed during the same historical period from which steampunk is derived and it has sometimes been referred to as the "The Steampunk Martial Art". Take that as you will.

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a historian and do NOT pretend to be one. If you do find inaccuracies or know better resources for more information, feel free to share.

The founder of bartitsu was a man by the name of Edward William Barton-Wright (or Edward William Wright as he was originally named). He was born in India and had travelled the world in his youth, receiving education in a variety of subjects including martial arts . While in Japan, Edward studied jiujitsu ryu at two different schools, and when he returned to England, he combined these styles with others he had been exposed to in his worldly travels to develop bartitsu. The term itself is a combination of the founder's name, "Barton-Wright" and "Jiujitsu". Barton-Wright defined bartitsu as "self defence in all its forms".  

Bartitsu was intended for the upper and middle class as the streets of London and other industrialized urban areas like New York and Sydney were becoming more dangerous with the formation of gangs. If you weren't careful, you were more than likely to get a beat down. Barton-Wright promoted his new martial art as a way to defend oneself from "ruffians and bullies ", a "gentlemanly art of self defence", although I hardly see how it is very gentleman like to crack someone's bones with a cane or in a joint lock but I digress.

Bartitsu had four different ranges-- the stick, foot, fist, and close-combat. Bartitsu practitioners were encouraged to learn all four of these different disciplines. This is always an advantage no matter what martial art you choose to learn. No one attacks in the same way every time and therefore you should always have more than one way to fend off an aggressor. Bartitsu is no exception. The Japanese components of this martial art, judo and jiujitsu were employed only when in close quarters and not for when your opponent was smart enough to keep their distance and that is where Vigny stick fighting comes in handy. This style like bartitsu, combined a variety of martial arts, including ko-ryu jiujitsu, judo and savate or French kick-boxing. Vigny stick fighting employed a number of blocks, strikes, and disarms and utilized the one weapon that any proper gentleman would've had at his disposal-- a walking stick.

Though popular in its day, bartitsu eventually vanished from the martial arts scene in the early 1900's. Some have speculated that the reason for the decline was due to the expensive tuition and enrollment fees for the Bartitsu club. However, whatever the reason may be, interest in this form has since then been revived and there are some who continue to practice the traditional techniques of bartitsu while others have expanded on the style and incorporated more modern practices and training equipment. This variation is aptly called "neo bartitsu". I could go on about this martial art. It's truly a unique style and great to watch. If you can find the time, check out the sites below, even if you don't practice bartitsu yourself. Who knows. It may be of use to you in your steampunk world.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Thoughts on: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Movie & Book)

 Okay, so this post is coming 2 months late, but since I went through the trouble of seeing this movie and reading the book, both of which I enjoyed by the way, I thought I would type up my thoughts about it.
    When I first saw the trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I was stoked. At that point, I hadn't read the book but was so intrigued by the story that I wanted to go see it opening weekend, which I did. Beforehand, what I expected from the movie was hampered with doubts of whether or not it would be any good, especially since a lot of reviews of it were poor. Some thought the movie would be more humorous than it actually was and continued to boo hoo about this at length. But I was undeterred.
   I enjoyed the film a great deal. I can understand why people might think that this would be a dark comedy of some kind. The title does beg for a "snicker in your sleeve" response. However, when I went into the theatre, having watched many trailers, I was effectively weaned off this notion and expected a campy gore flick, which is what I got. I think the most enjoyable aspect of this film was that it took vampire hunting seriously, making it a bit gloomy and dark. While there was room for more wittiness I wasn't put out by its absence. After all, what can you really expect from a movie with that sort of title anyway? You won't find religion or come to some sort of epiphany--just a crap load of blood spray.
    Now a word on the book,  which I too enjoyed but for other reasons. I like the fact that the pace is a little slower, and we spend more time with Abraham in different stages of his life. I found that part to be  the most intriguing. The tone is also much darker, in my opinion, than in the film. You get to see how Abraham feels about killing vampires and how he struggles to have a normal life and take on normal less murderous pursuits. More over there is an overwhelming fear Abraham has of the possibility of being unable to protect his family, these aspect as scantly touched on in the film and could have been punched up more in some way. I've always had an interest in what goes through a character's head when they are the slayer of "X". I imagine taking any sort of life inhuman or no is not as easy as media makes it out to be. I definitely got more of this from the text and that is probably what made it for me.
    I do have one mark against the book though and that is the involvement of the Union with Abe's political exploits. I don't think this was intentional, but the Union's involvement in the elections seemed  to say that Abraham couldn't do it on his own. It made him look more like a pawn than a president and more of a lackey than a vampire hunter.
   That aside I really did enjoy both renditions of this story. They took different directions in terms of tone and focus but overall  they were entertaining, which is one of the reasons why I read to begin with. It won't change your life, but you will have fun with Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.