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7th-Aug-2011 09:40 am - A Daughter's Gift

 I was fine as we began our walk; her right hand gently holding my left arm, the train of her elegant white dress lightly caressing the pavement. I focused on keeping our pace reasonable and the single turn along the pathway as smooth as possible. And then we were lined up for the final run, the wedding party straight ahead, family and friends on either side, all turned to watch, and me fighting not to lose it.

I didn’t feel like I was about to lose my daughter; we had already survived the fallout and separation that so often comes with divorce. I didn’t feel any fear or concern about her future; she’s a strong woman and has chosen a man with a big heart, who loves her deeply and will cherish her forever. But, what I did feel was love.  A love that has been with me since the day she was born, that sometimes grabs me by the heart and squeezes until I can’t talk. A love that I have for all my children, one that I don’t expect to be returned in kind, but through some miracle is. But, I’m a man, and like most men, I find it hard to express my feelings, especially one this profound.

I managed to regain my composure and enjoy the rest of the ceremony which was quite lovely, and during the course of the reception we participated in the father-daughter dance. She picked out the music just for this dance, to make it a special moment for the two of us, but I honestly couldn’t focus on it; I was focused on her; how proud I was of her, how much I loved her. I congratulated her on finding such a great guy, and she told me that she was never one of those women looking for love in the wrong places because of "daddy issues". She reminded me that when she was younger and we would have to say goodbye, I always cried. And because of that, she always knew she was loved.

I told her once again that I loved her, and she said "I know." And I realized that’s all I will ever need to feel complete in this life; to know with certainty, in spite of my inabilities to express myself, in spite of the messes we make in our lives, that my children know I love them.

 

20th-Jul-2011 02:40 pm - Time to Fish or Cut Bait
It's the ugly truth that's been said over and over: "Writer's write."  If I'm not spending quality time with butt-in-chair actually collecting strings of reasonably coherent words, then how can I call myself a writer?  I've finally decided that the problem keeping me from my goals is really very simple, I need to develop the habit of writing.  If I only write after everything else in life has been accomplished, then I have doomed myself to the ranks of the wannabe. I need to actively create a space in my day that is set aside for writing, and this is where it gets tricky for me. 

I am a night person.  In my ideal world, everyone else's day ends about 10 PM, the house grows quiet and I bang away at the keyboard, undisturbed, into the wee hours of the night.  Here are the problems with this scenario:
  • It's the end of the day.  If I've been carrying bags of cement all day, I'm not going to be up for writing.
  • The morning often comes around at the same time of day, regardless of how late I stayed up. And sleep deprivation will make it that much harder (impossible) to write the next day.
My only other option is to create a slice of time in the morning. I really hate that.  I'm definitely not a morning person.  I generally don't function very well in the morning, but, I say that knowing (through my own fault) I am often rather sleep deprived. I rarely get more than six hours of sleep in a night, and it's generally because I just don't want to let go of the day. I feel like I'm cheating myself if I succumb to something so wasteful as sleep.  At least that's how I feel about it emotionally, but my rational side knows that sleep is important and lack of sleep is a huge risk factor for health, not to mention quality of life (see second bullet above). 

So, if I'm going to create a new habit of writing in the morning, part of that habit is going to include changing my sleep habits. I know they say we should get 8 hours of sleep per night, but I'm going to target 7 hours because I just don't think I need any more than that and it will definitely put me ahead of my current allotment.  For this habit to take hold as a recurring daily activity, I also need to schedule my writing (and precursor sleep pattern) for the same time each day.  As I look at my schedule, I see that the long pole in the tent is on Monday.  On Monday's I already get up at 5:00 AM so I can be at work by 8:30.  Can I actually train myself to get up at 4:00 AM every morning to write?  More importantly (to my night-owl ways) can I go to sleep by 9:00 PM every night?  My mind rebels at the idea, but the thought of being a wordless writer actually enrages me.  I've reached the end of the line.  It's time to fish or cut bait.

I've developed a plan that I hope gradually eases me into this new paradigm over an 11 week period:
  • First week- Sleep from 9:50 PM to 4:50 AM, Write from 4:50 to 5:00 AM, goal of 100 words
  • Second week - Sleep from 9:45 PM to 4:45 AM, Write from 4:45 to 5:00 AM, goal of 150 words
  • Third week - Sleep from 9:40 PM to 4:40 AM, Write from 4:40 to 5:00 AM, goal of 200 words
  • Fourth week - Sleep from 9:35 PM to 4:35 AM, Write from 4:35 to 5:00 AM, goal of 250 words
  • Fifth week - Sleep from 9:30 PM to 4:30 AM, Write from 4:30 to 5:00 AM, goal of 300 words
  • Sixth week - Sleep from 9:25 PM to 4:25 AM, Write from 4:25 to 5:00 AM, goal of 350 words
  • Seventh week - Sleep from 9:20 PM to 4:20 AM, Write from 4:20 to 5:00 AM, goal of 400 words
  • Eighth week - Sleep from 9:15 PM to 4:15 AM, Write from 4:15 to 5:00 AM, goal of 450 words
  • Ninth week - Sleep from 9:10 PM to 4:10 AM, Write from 4:10 to 5:00 AM, goal of 500 words
  • Tenth week - Sleep from 9:05 PM to 4:05 AM, Write from 4:05 to 5:00 AM, goal of 550 words
  • Eleventh week - Sleep from 9:00 PM to 4:00 AM, Write from 4:00 to 5:00 AM, goal of 600 words
Part of the reason for starting with a small chunk of time and working upwards is to create a sense of urgency to actually write, rather than fiddle with research, structure, or editing.  I need the habit of  writing "in flow".  It's like the criticism about the old adage that "practice makes perfect", which isn't true if you're practice is wrong.  The writing time needs to be just that, a time to write.  I can work on research, structure and  editing at other times during the day (and I have identified times for that), but those things are handled by the other side of the brain and don't seem to need so much coddling. By keeping a tight reign on time and word count I hope to force Fred (the guy in my head who knows how to write) into submission. If I'm successful, the word count goals could easily be blown away.  And 600 words per day is already over 200,000 words per year.  That's easily a book, maybe a book and a half.
So, that's my plan.  I've presented it as a form of accountability.  I'm going to start my new writing time tomorrow morning (7/21/11) and will post updates on my progress every week through facebook.

Any encouragement along the way will be greatly appreciated!
When my Dad turned 50 he started showing signs of mental aging. I’m not talking about dementia, I’m talking about that thing that happens when you’ve lived long enough to see your brain’s filing system get overloaded. For instance, one time when Dad went to the mall, he couldn’t find his car when it was time to leave.  He wanted to report it stolen, but instead the mall cops (who had seen this before) drove him around till he found it on the opposite side from where he thought he left it.  Genetically, I’m very much my Dad … which means parking lots are fast becoming a thorn in my side.

I work at two different campuses about eight miles apart.  I use a parking structure at the main campus that has 7 levels and a structure at the other campus that has 8 levels.  Some days I have to park in both of them.  These days, it’s a real challenge for my aged neurons to remember where I left the damned car.  So, here’s my work-around:

First, park the car within sight of the elevator, so if all else fails I can ride up and down each level without adding a good hike to find the car.

Second, recognize that a number is harder to remember than a physical object.  So, I have assigned numbers to the following body parts:
1) Left Foot
2) Right Foot
3) Left Hand
4) Right Hand
5) Mouth
6) Nose
7) Left Ear
8) Right Ear
9) Left Eye
10) Right Eye

This morning when I parked on level 7, I got out of the car and performed this little ritual as I walked towards the elevator: Left Foot (I put weight on my left foot), Right Foot (I put weight on my right), Left Hand (clench my left hand), Right Hand (clench my right hand), Mouth (touch my mouth with left hand), Nose (touch my nose with right hand), and finally Left Ear (tug on it several times with left hand and remind myself that I’m parked on level Left Ear). The ritual lets me build a physical ladder in my memory that ends with an emphasis on the appropriate body part.  So, when it’s time to find my car later, I find it’s easier to remember tugging on my left ear than it is to remember the number 7.  

I’ve been doing this for a while now and it seems to work.  It beats the hell out wandering around with a confused look on my face.


1st-Mar-2011 06:46 pm - Accidental A-Hole
I had to lay off two of my staff today (budget cuts from on high).  On the one hand, it made for a sucky day, but on the other hand I know two people who had a much suckier day.  After the deed was done I sent out an email to the rest of the staff calling for a mandatory meeting in an hour. The point of that meeting was to ease the fears and concerns of staff, letting them know they were safe (for now). Then I decided to walk around the office area to tell those present about the staff meeting, just in case they weren't monitoring their email. This was my first encounter:

Me: "Did you see my email?"
Her: "No, what was it about?"
Me: "About the meeting in the conference room."

The expression in her face drops, her eyes grow large. I've just finished a pair of "meetings" in that same conference room.

Me: No, no, no!!!  It's a staff meeting ... for everyone.

She smiles in relief.

I learn a valuable lesson before the next encounter.
14th-Dec-2010 12:59 am - Son of a Bircher
My wife once told me how embarrassed she was when her mom handed out healthy fruits for trick-or-treat at Halloween.  I told her I could beat that story by a mile.  During the Halloween trick-or-treat of 1968, when I was only 10 years old, my dad handed out “George Wallace for President” bumper stickers.  The next day, there were Wallace bumper stickers plastered on every pole, wall and car up and down the length of the street.  All the kids in the neighborhood made it a point to tell me how angry their parents were about the mess.  I suppose a lot of them were angry about the choice of candidate as well, but I was too young to understand all that then. 

In 1968 George Wallace ran as a third party candidate, with his main platform being to keep the south racially segregated.    He carried five southern states in the election, but I can’t imagine he did very well where we lived in California.  I remember asking my Dad before the election (and before that infamous Halloween) who he was going to vote for, and he was a little cryptic about it, telling me that he was going to vote for the candidate that promised to keep “law and order”.  Apparently both Nixon and Wallace claimed to be the law-and-order candidates, so this was my Dad’s way to be coy about the fact that he was voting for Wallace while leaving some room to believe he was voting for Nixon.

I’m pretty sure my Dad fancied himself as not being racist but he grew up in a heavily segregated Texas.  It’s hard to overcome that kind of conditioning.  African-Americans identified themselves as Black and that’s generally how Dad referred to them, but most of Dad’s relatives referred to them as Colored, or Nigras.  But when the civil rights marches were going on and race riots were piped into the black and white TV in our family room, I began to see some changes in my Dad.  When I was about twelve, I recall walking with him and my sister in JC Penny and my Dad didn’t like how we meandered through the store, looking at items to the left and right, catching up with him, then repeating the procedure.  He wanted us to walk right next to him, with a purpose.  Not scattered around like the Blacks walked together.  I remember watching the Jackson 5 on some variety show (probably Ed Sulivan) and my Dad’s comment afterward was about how little Michael seemed to be jockeying for position to be seen in front because that’s what THOSE people do.  At some point I saw some books or pamphlets around the house that were associated with the John Birch Society.  I never read through them, but I could tell they were all about how to be a “Good American” and what we needed to do about the “Bad Americans.”  Around that time period I saw a box filled with a ream of printed paper.  On each piece of paper was printed an application to join an organization who’s purpose was to preserve law and order and establish justice even if (especially if) our government failed to do so.  It was for an organization that my Dad was trying to create.  I asked him about it when I found the applications and he explained that the organization was needed in order to “take care” of individuals that escaped justice through the regular legal system.  Or in other words, the organization was there to apply its own verdict and carry out sentencing. 

I didn’t see or hear any more about this organization for a while, but about a year later, my Dad showed me a small vase in the kitchen and told me that if I ever came home and saw that vase in the kitchen window, I was to leave immediately and go call the police.  He also let me know that if he were ever taken into custody by the police that I should know that he did not do anything wrong and not to listen to any lies that the press might try to spread about him.  I think it was about this time that he bought me a Winchester .22 rifle for my birthday.  I never asked for it, used it for target shooting twice, and a year or two later realized it was gone (after my Dad complained that I never used it).

Sometime in 1975 I opened up a closet in our spare bedroom and found another rifle.  This was no Winchester.  This was a powerful instrument designed to kill.  I picked it up and put it in the crook of my arm, looked down the sight and aimed at a point on the ceiling.  I moved the safety off and was about to pull the trigger, because nobody in their right mind keeps a rifle like that loaded.  But, on the other hand, I knew enough to know that nobody in their right mind ever presumes a gun is not loaded.  I pulled the clip out and discovered it was indeed loaded with very large caliber ammunition.  There was even one already in the chamber.  I carefully put the gun back, thankful that I had not blown a hole in the ceiling of our house.  I asked Dad about the rifle later and he told me that he believed we were still at risk of having a race war break out and he was just being prepared.

So, given all of this background, shouldn’t I be some racist white supremacist, cheering Glen Beck every night and shouting about our Muslim/Socialist President who isn’t a citizen?  The answer is NO, for three simple reasons:

1) My father wasn’t very engaged.  From about the age of eleven and on, my father spent less and less time with the family as he cooked up schemes to get rich, that ultimately always made him poorer. (It’s easier to dismiss a failure)

2) I am not my father.  I can and will interpret the world through the lenses I choose to put in place.  The programs we are nurtured with are powerful, but not all-powerful.  We have the ability to learn and to empathize and to change.

3) I don’t want to be my father.  Beyond the paranoid racist nonsense, he was also kind of a dick.  Of course, some or all of my children are likely to tell you that I am also a dick.  But I think I can say with great certainty, that my dickishness is nothing compared to my father’s dickishiness, just as he could say with great certainty that his dickishness was nothing compared to his father (a physically abusive asshole of a man).

I guess the point I’m trying to make with all of this is that even though I’m a Son of a Bircher, you shouldn’t presume to know me because of that.  Likewise, we all shouldn’t presume to know anyone based on their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexuality.  They all may play a part in molding our personality, but the direction of that molding can only be discovered as we interact with each other.  Assumptions are not allowed.
28th-Jun-2010 05:58 pm - The Gender Wars
We live in a country where the law states that you can't discriminate against someone based on gender, but, the US military does so on a daily basis.  On the one hand we want to provide equal opportunity to women, but on the other hand we want to protect them from the harsh realities of war.  Our society is fractured on this issue.  Women are allowed to serve, but they are excluded from combat roles. This means that by definition, a woman will never be allowed to hold the top ranking positions.  You will never see a female Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (under current conditions).  Is this appropriate?  I don't believe it is.

When we allow women into the military on the basis of "equality" but then restrict them to certain roles, aren't we setting up a breeding ground for institutionalized sexual harassment?  When I was in the Air Force, loading munitions on fighter aircraft, there were a few women who made it into that particular career field.  Even though they tended to have less physical strength than their male counterparts, I was never one to hold that against them.  In my specialty, the Air Force decided that the physical requirements were limited to the ability to lift 50 lbs.  I once saw a load crew fail in their effort to install a missile on an F-16 aircraft.  The process consisted of three people picking the missile up by cradling it in their arms, walking over to the missile launcher on the wingtip of the aircraft, lifting up the missile above their heads, engaging the missile hangers in the slots on the launcher and sliding it forward.  In this particular instance, the crew could not hold the missile steady enough to engage the missile hangers in the slots on the launcher.  The crew consisted of a woman and two small men (all under 5' 6" tall).  A lot of people would point to that and say it was an example of why women shouldn't be doing that kind of work.  But the missile weighed over 260 lbs, which meant that each person was responsible for lifting over 85 lbs above their head.  That's a lot more than the Air Force requirement for 50 lbs.  So, who was demonstrating incompetence, the woman who couldn't lift 85 lbs or the Air Force who didn't recognize the real requirements of the job.  Frankly, I'm not sure that the two men on the crew were up to the task either.  For that matter, should they be?  Is it appropriate to manually lift that kind of weight as a routine part of your job?  If it were a civilian job, would OSHA approve?  Bottom line, I don't fault the woman for being the possible weak link on the crew.

So, I don't buy the "women are weaker" argument for excluding women from the military.  Establish realistic physical standards and let the chips fall where they may.  But, when the physical standards are incorrect, and it prohibits a woman from being successful, then it fosters a patronizing attitude.  If women tend to be physically weak, should they  be put on desk jobs where they won't be hurt or possibly hurt others?  It seems like a practical solution, but it means that the women are removed from the actual work experience that will help them advance.  And from the male perspective, it reinforces the stereotype that women have to be coddled.  One of the pet peeves that men had during my time of enlisted service was that most women could cut their enlistment short simply by getting pregnant.  That option was not available to men.  Separate standards help breed contempt.

When my daughter served on a Navy ship, she was the only female who helped "pull the lines"; a dirty physical job.  Women weren't excluded from this task, they just weren't expected to participate because after all, they were just women, not real sailors.  Is it any wonder that men on the ship openly graded and ranked the women on "hotness"?  This kind of behavior has been abolished in the civilian workplace, but it is almost understandable in an environment that actively (and legally) promotes the idea that women are not qualified to engage in the most dangerous (combat related) jobs.  If the institution stipulates that women are not equal, then it should come as no surprise when the men demonstrate an affinity to the same standard.

So, what's the solution?  Do we decide that war is strictly a male endeavor and eliminate women from the military?  Or, maybe we should establish "female only" fighting units to demonstrate equality (much like the "black" units in WW II).  But, I think ultimately, we need to fully buy in to the idea of equality and eliminate distinctions between gender (or, sexual preference for that matter).  With equal rights comes equal responsibility.  That means equal treatment with the draft, and equal treatment with assignment to combat roles.  If it means that our society as a whole will be less comfortable with going to war, then isn't that also a step in the right direction?
26th-May-2010 04:43 pm - The Cannibal Defense

How smart will we look in a hundred years or so.  If I write a book about some subject near and dear to my heart, will it still hold up after a hundred years?  How much of my personal bias will be on display?  How much will seem odd and out of place?  I'm currently reading "History of Circumcision from the Earliest Times to the Present" by Peter Charles Remondino (published 1891).  The subtitle begins: "Moral and Physical Reasons for its Performance ..."  The book is also identified as No. 11 in the physicians and students ready reference series.  So, here is a book aimed at delivering science (medical information) along with philosophical considerations.  That already marks the text as out of sync with current trends.  We like to keep science in one corner and philosophy in another, although I think each has to inform the other.  Science without philosophy (ethics) or philosophy without science (practical application of the real world) easily leads to harm.

Although the title highlights circumcision, a better name would probably be: "Everything you ever wanted to know about genital modification or mutation, but were afraid to ask."  The text provides not only information about circumcision, but also infibulation (use of rings, clasps or stitches in girls or boys to prevent intercourse), muzzling (various chastity devices), castration (removal of the testicles) emasculation (removal of the entire organ),hermaphrodism (double gender) and hypospadias (anomaly in the opening of the urethral canal).

On the philosophical side, the text covers miracles (increased fertility from contact with the circumcised foreskin of Jesus), Eunuchism (should boys be castrated or emasculated for specific work as harem keepers or soprano singers), and a section disputing the contention that physicians were by default, atheists.  You won't find this kind of information in a medical text today!

But let's get down to the nitty gritty.  Is the information still valid?  I'll let you decide.  The author takes a firm stand against one of the traditional aspects of circumcision called "suction".  Suction is a part of the Jewish custom in which the circumcisor sucks the blood off the just circumcised flesh and it is supposed to impart health.  The author thinks this as a problem, but this was before the germ theory was widely accepted as true.  Instead, the author is more concerned about the haemostatic quality (ability to stop bleeding)of this practice.    His concern is that suction may have worked well in the past, but modern man's secretions were now vitiated (corrupted).  I'll let him give you the good news himself:

Man, living in the open air of Armenia, Palestine, or Arabia, sleeping in the open tents of our Biblical forefathers, living on the simple diet of a shepherd's camp, with the abstemiousness that those climates naturally induce in man, could not help but be healthy.  In those early days, when neither passion, anxiety, nor worry disturbed either digestion or sleep, man had no vitiated secretions, wine was then a rarity, and water was the drink.  One of the early patriarchs on such diet would have furnished a dainty and savory dish to the most fastidious cannibal, who is now tormented by the Komerborg Kawan, this being a term used by the Australian cannibals to designate the peculiar nausea that is induced in them when they recklessly eat of white man, --something which they do not experience from feasting on the savages who live on the simple diet of a pastoral tribe.

Okay, now go pick up a current book and see if you can identify anything that will smack of the "Cannibal Defense" in a hundred years or so.  Come on, I dare you!


11th-May-2010 04:11 pm - Changes that Matter

As a child in the early 60’s I always wore my hair in a crew-cut. I wore it that way because A) I didn’t really care what I looked like, and B) It was how my Dad wore his hair. But, even so, by the third grade, I was wearing my hair a little longer. Not, “over the ears” longer, just long enough to actually comb. I’ll never forget the last crew-cut I ever had. A girl was over at our house and she was a little flirty with me but I had to leave with my Dad to get a haircut. The hair was already a length that I could comb, but my Dad convinced me I should get it cut like his again. When I got back to the house, the girl asked me why I got my hair cut like that, and the flirting disappeared. That was my first experience with the idea that I should care a bit more about my own appearance (and that Dad may not know everything).

Fast-forward to the mid 70’s and my Dad still has a crew-cut, but I’ve been growing my hair past my ears for some time. I had to put up with complaints from my Dad like “The men in our family don’t look like women,” but I really looked pretty mainstream by then. Dad’s crew-cut was the odd-ball hair style. But, of course, there was no convincing him otherwise. That is, until he went through EST. Erhard Seminars Training (EST) was a quintessential 70’s kind of phenomenon where people paid a lot of money to learn how to become a new person. They emphasized change. They noticed right away that Dad’s hairstyle was a throwback, so they challenged him to let it grow longer. At first he disagreed with them, until he decided to count the number of crew-cuts in the first 100 people he came across, and didn’t find a single one. So, he grew his hair out, joining me as one of the “men who look like women.”

He received lots of praise by his EST buddies for his willingness to stretch himself and some of the higher-ups of the organization began to take note. When his hair was long enough, he even got a permanent, which got the EST people all in a twitter because of how far he had come. There was talk about important positions within the organization. But, at home he was still the guy who had lived with a crew-cut for decades and he started demanding that my Mom help him with his hair because “she knows how.” As he got more and more frustrated with dealing with it, he had an epiphany: If they liked it when he grew it long, and loved it when he got a perm, they were going to go nuts when he went with the Yul Brynner look. That’s right, he shaved it all off. But, here’s the thing, bald looks great, even sexy, when you have the shape for it. But Dad’s head had knobby protrusions and a couple of ugly moles and a permanent five-o’clock shadow. To look at him was like looking at someone who had just been in a terrible accident. It was horrifyingly disfiguring, but you knew it would be impolite, even depraved, to stare for any length of time.

Needless to say, the EST buddies who loved change for the sake of change didn’t like THIS particular change and he fell out of favor. I like change too, but I learned early on that not every change is a good thing. I think Dad learned that lesson too, just a few years later than me.


15th-Apr-2010 06:39 pm - Compassion
Last night, about three car lengths in front of me, a lady drove her SUV into an oncoming motorcycle.  I didn't see it (thankfully) because I was looking at something to my right, but I heard it.  There was a couple of medical guys, still in scrubs who were in the cars in front of me and they got out first and started helping the rider and called 9-1-1.  There was nothing more for me to do, so I analyzed the damage.  The motorcycle was completely crushed under the car's right front side.  The rider was laying in front of the car on his side and was was pretty busted up, obvious broken left leg and pain from whatever other bones were broken (I'm sure there were a few).  The fact that he wasn't thrown far tells me he must have been pinned between the car and motorcycle at some point.  I'll take the fact that he was conscious as a good sign, but I couldn't believe one twenty-something guy from the neighborhood who whipped out his phone to tell a friend (in a loud voice) how "messed up" the rider was while he was standing about four feet from him. 

People need to have a little more compassion than that.
12th-Apr-2010 09:43 pm - Real Steampunk
For those unfamiliar with Steampunk, wikipedia has a good definition: "The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used — usually the 19th century, and often Victorian eraEngland — but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers (such as Charles Babbage's Analytical engine); these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality."

I don't go gaga over steampunk, but I've read some decent stories, so it does manage to peg my interest meter a bit.  But I think I've come across the closest thing to "real" steampunk in the sense that it reads like steampunk except it's not a work of fiction.  I recently got a Nook e-book reader from Barnes and Noble, and since digital memory abhors a vaccuum (or something like that), I've been filling the thing with public domain documents (over 400 and counting).  I've been collecting interesting historical works like slave narratives, fairy tales, myths, folk tales, philosophical and religious texts, classics, and anything else that looks interesting.  I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I came across a book by George Sutherland, titled "Twentieth Century Inventions".  Here's the kicker though, it was written in 1901 at the dawn of the twentieth century.  It's basically the work of a futurist of his time, taking the state of the engineering of his day and extrapolating into the future.  I feel like I'm reading a steampunk manifesto. 

Here are some examples:

It will be seen, in the course of the subsequent pages, that portable electric power has as yet won its way only into very up-to-date workshops and mines, and that the means by which it will be applied to numerous useful purposes in the field, the road, and the house will be distinctly inventions of the twentieth century.  Similarly the steam-engine has not really been placed upon the ordinary road, although efforts have been made for more than a century to put it there, the conception of a road locomotive being, in fact, an earlier one than that of an engine running on rails.  Steam automobiles and traction engines are still confined to special purposes, the natures of which prove that certain elements of adaptability are still lacking in order to render them universally useful as are the locomotive and the steam-ship.

or,

In the condenser, the high pressure cylinder and the automatic cut-off, which utilises the expansive power of steam vapour, mankind now possesses the means of taming a monster whose capacities were almost entirely unknown to the ancients, and of bringing it into ready and willing service for the accomplishment of useful work.  Vaguely and loosely it is often asserted that the age of steam is now giving place to that of electricity; but these two cannot yet be logically placed in opposition to one another.  No method has yet been discovered whereby the heat of a furnace can be directly converted into an electric current.  The steam-engine or, as Watt and his predecessors called it, the "fire engine" is par excellence the world's prime motor; and by far the greater poroportion of the electrical energy that is generated today owes its existence primarily to the steam-engine and to other forms of reciprocating machinery designed to utilise the expansive power of vapours or gases acting in a similar manner to steam.

or,

"The wave-power machine, when allied to electric transmission, will, without doubt, supply in a cheap and convenient form a material proportion of the energy required during the twentieth century for industrial purposes.  Easy and effective transmission is a sine qua non in this case, just as it is in the utilization of waterfalls situated far from the busy mart and factory.  Hardly any natural source of power presents so near an approach to constancy as the ocean billows."

Here's my favorite passage so far, a detailed description of a wave-power machine: (My apologies for expressing such geekitude)

A buoy of large size, moored in position at a convenient distance from a rock-bound ocean coast, will supply the first idea of a wave-motor on this primary principle as adapted for the generation of power.  On the cliff a high derrick is erected.  Over a pulley or wheel on the top of this there is passed a wire-rope cable fastened on the seaward side to the buoy, and on the landward side to the machinery in the engine-house.  The whole arrangement in fact is very similar in appearance to the "poppet-head" and surface buildings that may be seen at any well-equipped mine.  The difference in principle, of course, is that while on a mine the engine-house is supplying power to the other side of the derrick, the relations are reversed in the wave-motor, the energy being passed from the sea across into the engine-house.  The reciprocating, or backward and forward movement imparted to the cable by the rising and falling of the buoy now requires to be converted in a force exerted in one direction.  In the steam-engine and in other machines of similar type, the problem is simplified by the uniform length of the stroke made by the piston, so that devices such as the crank and eccentric circular discs are readily applicable to the securing of a rotatory motion for a fly-wheel from a reciprocating motion in the cylinders.  In the application of wave-power provision must be made for the utilisation of the force derived from movements of differning lengths, as well as of differing characters, in the force of impact.  Every movement of the buoy which imparts motion to the pulley on top of the derrick must be converted into an additional impetus to a fly-wheel always running in the same direction.

The spur-wheel and ratchet, as at present largely used in machinery, offer a rough and ready means of solving this problem, but two very important improvements must be effected before full advantage can be taken of the principle involved.  In the first place it is obvious that if a ratchet runs freely in one direction and only catches on the tooth of the spur-wheel when it is drawn in the other, the power developed and used is concentrated on one stroke, when it might, with greater advantage, be divided between the two; and in the second place the shock occaisioned by the striking of the ratchet against the tooth when it just misses catching one of the teeth and is then forced along the whole length of the tooth gathering energy as it goes, must add greatly to the wear and tear of the machinery and to the unevenness of the running.

Taking the first of these difficulties into consideration it is obvious that by means of a counterbalancing weight, about equal to half that of the buoy, it is possible to cause the wave-power to operate two ratchets, one doing work when the pull is to landwards and the other when it is to seawards.  Each however, must be set to catch the teeth of its own separate spur-wheel; and inasmuch as the direction of the motion in one case is different from what it is in the other, it is necessary that, by means of an intervening toothed wheel, the motion of one of these should be reversed before it is communicated to the fly-wheel.  The latter is thus driven always in the same direction, both by the inward and by the outward stroke or pull of the cable from the buoy.

Perhaps the most convenient development of the system is that in which the spur-wheel is driven by two vertically pendant toothed bands, resembling saws, and of sufficient length to provide for the greatest possible amplitude of movement that could be imparted to them by the motion of the buoy.  The teeth are set to engage in those of the spur-wheel, one band on each side, so that the effective stroke in one case is downward, while in the other it is upward.  These toothed bands are drawn together at the lower ends by a spring, and they are also kept under downward tension by weights or a powerful spring beneath.  The effect of this is that when both are drawn up and down the spur-wheel goes round with a continuous motion, because at every stroke the teeth of one band engage in the wheel and control it, while thos of the reversed one (at the other side) slip quite freely.


If that's not the description of a steampunk device, I don't know what is.  I love the complete reliance on the mechanical, with no thought to anything electrical.   I'm only up to page 26 of 166 but I can't wait to see what else is in store.
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