Notice I don't call it "vacation," and here's why. On the other hand, it sure was a nice break to not have to be "on" for classes all week!
  • I've been writing several mornings, every week since mid-December. Completely revised the opening scenes of The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella, completely re-envisioned how I'm handling POV (which means significantly rewriting every single other scene, too), wrote many more notes for future scenes, and cut thousands of words while writing thousands more... I've passed a total of 44k words, which means it's more than half-way done (based on a projected 70k)!


  • Finished updating all three syllabi and Blackboard sites (that's the web interface for KU courses) for my spring semester classes. Sent all the students links to where their syllabi live online. HOORAY! Good lord, is it just me or does it take everyone most of a day to do this for each course?

  • Worked a bunch on the hot-rod Newport, including rebuilding the broken valvetrain; finishing installing the new fuel-injection system; installing half the custom exhaust (with electric cut-outs for added raucousness on demand!); designing a crankcase-ventilation system that won't put so much smoke into the intake and getting started installing that; and finding a great deal on a new front-drive system that'll upgrade the alternator to handle fuel-injection duties, the A/C and power-steering pump to something that works, and convert it to a simpler serpentine-belt system that'll make it more reliable and more efficient - oh, and it's all polished aluminum, so it's much lighter and really pretty, too. ETA for street duty: a week or two! Assuming something else doesn't blow up....

  • Did a bit of work on the Chevelle, but I want to get the Newport mobile, washed, waxed, and covered before really diving into this project; picked up some more parts I'll need, though. ETA for street duty: Late spring.

  • Rewired a cool vintage ceramic lamp and installed it in the ceiling of my living room. MUCH nicer than the old (light-free) ceiling fan that used to clutter up the space:


  • Did a bunch of updates on the Center for the Study of Science Fiction's website, and planned much more. Oh, and we're working with a major donor right now who's intending to support not only a full-ride scholarship for the summer Workshops, but also something even bigger for a student coming to study SF during the regular semester. Details to come....

  • Started reading for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel. Loving everything so far, which is great, but could also be trouble come decision time....

  • Got back into astronomy, with a new (to me) 100mm f/9 apochromatic refractor. WOWEE, does it provide gorgeous images! This is my first apochromat, a type of refractor that uses varying types of rare-earth glass to produce lovely, sharp, and color-free images. On a really nice German equatorial mount with dual-axis drives and a handy through-the-polar-axis North Star finder:


  • Resumed a regular, hardcore workout schedule at the gym. Tried the beautiful-but-useless fancy fitness center here at KU (Ambler), because it was free to staff & faculty last week; we usually use beat-up, old, and dingy - but free - Robinson, because of its really useful and large free-weights room, and only visited crowded Ambler that once.

  • Oh, and on a related note: Not to sound braggy or anything, but over Break the awesome Clevermanka started giving me regular, multi-hour massages at least once a week, sometimes EVERY DAY. OMG, I am so lucky.


Other stuff, too, like watching the new BBC Sherlock series! (Which starts on PBS tonight.) LOVE IT SO MUCH.

What did you do over the past month, whether or not you got a break?

Best,
Chris
First up, I want to tell everyone that Summit Racing is awesome. I spent a couple days last week working on removing the rear suspension setup for the Chevelle in preparation for installing modern, awesome-handling parts. Full write-up with photos here. Summmit comes in because I noticed I was missing something. See this photo:



You probably noticed that there's no new lower control-arm in this photo side-by-side with the old one, like with the upper control-arm and the cross-brace. You'd be right. I also noticed this. But not right away; instead, I only noticed when I was setting up this shot, six months after ordering the parts... and failing to notice back then. Oops. A few emails and some calls with Summit Racing resolved the problem, which was that the manufacturer simply failed to ship them! Now they're on their way, and Summit is even reimbursing me the $40 price-drop since when I ordered the parts. I love Summit! Not only do they have great selection and prices, but their customer service rocks.

Next: You know I love my squirrels. Here's Spot, one of my "outdoor pets," a charming and clever fellow who has taught me to feed him whenever he's hungry. How? By getting my attention like this. He's also fearless, and when I toss out a cup of seed, all the other squirrels run away. But not Spot. He gets dibs, so intelligence DOES equal higher survival fitness, at least in my back yard....


Finally, today is Hadley Rille Books' 7th anniversary, and they're celebrating with 99¢ Kindle and Nook e-books for a limited time! Hadley Rille's specialties are SF, fantasy, and archeological - check 'em out!

It's also publisher Eric Reynolds' birthday. As a gift to himself in 2005, he fulfilled a long-time dream of starting a publishing company with Golden Age SF: Tales of a Bygone Future, a fantastic collection of short fiction - and it's still available. This is one of the things I love about this publisher in particular but the small press in general: As long as there's still demand, the books remain in print. Because Eric is such a great guy and Hadley Rille is such a cool business, I went with him to publish my first novel - and several short stories in a variety of collections.

Not into e-books? Well, Hadley Rille offers even more great novels and collections in both trade-paper and hardcover. Books make great gifts. Just sayin'. For example:


Click the cover to see more about the book, links, sample chapters, and more.

Now it's back to grading. I seem to say that a lot. Friday will be an all-day The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella write-a-thon, and Saturday is slated for working on the Chevelle, at least for part of the day, and then maybe going to see the new "Life of Pi."

Chris
Okay, people have wanted to hear the mechanical music of the two hot-rods dwelling in my garage, so here they are! I apologize for the non-scripted narrations and noise-protection sticking out from my ears; I make no claim to being a pro film-maker. You can hear 'em start up at the end of each vid.

First up, the 1968 Chevelle SS396 drag-racin', corner-carvin' machine of doom <-- click that link if the video below doesn't load - it's not playing nice with my IE9:

Forgot to mention a few other mods: Also has ported heads and will soon be getting a 6-speed transplant plus A/C.

And the 1966 Chrysler Newport hot-rod Town Sedan:behind the cut )

Chris
This might not seem like a big deal if you haven't been in my garage before, but if you have you know how much work it was to make room for the new baby. Suffice to say it took a whole weekend's work - and building a shed to store some things - to carve out a spot to work on the new car. Here I'm standing on the workbench at the front of the garage:



To the left is the workbench where the drill-press, vise, grinder, and hardware all live; to the right are (temporarily) my telescopes... until I finally bite the bullet and build an observatory on the roof of the house.

This shot shows a bunch of new shelving along the far wall, soon to be filled with Chevelle parts. There's actually plenty of room between the telescopes and the toolchest (and workbenches) in front of the Newport, but not as much as I'd like. This shot is taken from the doorway:



Wow, is the Chevelle smaller than the Newport, in every dimension.

And finally the rear view, standing on some scrap wood at the (rear? but it's the main door...) corner of the garage. Notice the nice, big expanse of pegboard above the workbench in front of the Chevelle (past the ladder). Woohoo! More organization!



I'm hoping to do a bit more juggling of stuff from the shed onto the new garage shelves, then from the garage back into the shed. And starting this weekend: Off with the Chevelle's suspension!

Chris

Damn, I love this car. Even with transmission issues (linkage problems, including no way to get into 1st gear and tricky 4th and reverse) and sloppy suspension, this thing is a blast to drive! When we first took it out for a drive to visit T&N, upon leaving it seemed the right thing to do was to do a little burnout. Y'know, just because. The car certainly has the power. So I brought the revs up a bit - nothing crazy - and dropped the clutch. That's when it felt like I was getting shot in the back by a cannon. Repeatedy. The thing bucked and hopped and spun, repeat, only during one of the violent hops it fired a wheel "beauty ring" into the grass beside the car. Too much! We were laughing our brains out.

Much of what I'm doing to improve the suspension includes getting the rear end under control: heavy-duty, adjustable control arms top and bottom; mega-duty sway bar where it now has none; heavy-duty drop springs; QA1 adjustable shocks; and Delrin bushings all around - firm, quiet, and non-binding. This thing will be PLANTED. The front, also sloppy, is geting a QA1 adjustable coil-over setup, tubular A-arms with 1" raised tie rod for better cornering, a sway bar with twice the control of the stock unit, 11" drilled and slotted disk brakes hanging from drop spindles, and all Delrin bushings like the rear.

Here's a fantastic promo shot of The Latenight Callers, clearly up to no good:

The band is (left to right): Krysztof Nemeth, Ellen O'Hayer, Nick Combs, Gavin Mac, and Julie Berndsen. Photo by Mat "SLIMM" Adkins.

So the issues will be remedied soon, and it will handle like a modern sports car. Also, a modern 6-speed double-overdrive transmission is soon to replace the old 4-speed. Why shouldn't muscle cars get to enjoy high-tech handling? Why shouldn't they also have low revs on the highway and lots of gear ratios to choose from? Well, this one sure will!

More on this soon, as the parts are already starting to arrive. Next up: into the garage for a tear-down and build-up. Can't wait.

These photos were taken in downtown Lawrence, just across the street from The Bottleneck, where tonight a few of us went to see the fantastic band, The Latenight Callers, born here in town but now operating mostly out of Kansas City. Don't know them? They ROCK. Check 'em out on their website or visit them on their Facebook page. Get to know them now so you can say you knew them before they were famous.

Below is Krysztof Nemeth, a friend and co-founder of the band. I took this shot using his smartphone with no flash and some funky digital effects - blurry, yes, but he liked it this way so here it is:

mckitterick: The ale tasting at the 2009 Kansas City Renaissance Festival. (RenFaire Chris)
( Mar. 20th, 2012 11:59 pm)
It's been lovely so far! Man, I needed a vacation.

First, kicked it off with a visit from a friend I haven't seen in far too long (hi Thomas!) on Thursday evening. Great to see you, man! Miss you!

Just beforehand, my "Science, Technology, and Society" class talked about robots, and the author of one of the stories (Robin Wayne Bailey, plus his wife Diana) paid a visit. The students really enjoyed his being there, and it was a great discussion. As a thank-you, I took them out to dinner at one of my favorite local restaurants, Ingredient, then bid them adieu before joining the Thursday-night crew at Harbour Lights, Lawrence's oldest bar (in continuous operation since the end of Prohibition). Ended the evening with some adventures with a friend who's always up for adventures. Lovely evening.

Spent a fair sum ordering parts for the Chevelle. It's going to be awesome! If only the people from Keisler Engineering get on the ball and update my 6-speed transmission quote so I can get that thing ASAP.

Also worked a bit on the Newport: made an anti-drainback valve for the fuel system in hopes of keeping the gas from running out of the carb back into the tank, so it'll start easier between runnings. If all goes well (haven't been able to test it, as we're enduring 40 days and nights of deluge here in Larryville), I'll put together a little tutorial for how to make one for yourself, saving tons of money if you can even find something that works for a carbureted engine.

The Lawrence St. Patty's Day Parade is always charming, with pretty much everyone in town participating, either by watching or driving in it: If you have a convertible, you're in. And if you ever won a beauty pageant within the past few century or two? Sit in the back of one of those converts! That part was a little weird. It was a beautiful, cool-but-pleasant day, and we sat outside most of the time enjoying good company and conversation. Ended the evening at Matt's place playing old Atari and Nintendo games (remember The Adventures of Link?) on his Wii. Also had a drunken push-up contest - turns out I can do 7 one-armed push-ups with each arm (yes, even with the damaged side) after blasting out 30-odd nose-to-floor knuckle push-ups. Absinthe is a curative. 'Twas a blast.

Got caught up with the current BBC Sherlock series. Wow, but is it amazing: great acting, great actor chemistry, great filming, great writing... just all-around fantastic. LOVE IT.

Also finished Season 2 and started Season 3 of Due South, which is even better with the addition of Callum Keith Rennie. He and Paul Gross (RCMP Constable Benton Fraser) have PERFECT timing. At a few points in their first episode together, I was laughing so hard we had to pause and rewind to hear the dialogue. LOVE IT - how did I miss this series before now? Thank you for introducing me to this often-surreal series, CR!

Getting caught up with reading through more of the mountain of nominations for the Campbell Award. Really loving Ernest Cline's Ready Player One right now: It's well-written, well-conceived, funny, serious, and meaningful. Hope it gets even better; if so, it's probably my favorite book of 2011.

Earlier today, bought my first pair of running shoes since high school, New Balance Minimus MR10 trainers in an astounding green-and-blue color combo. They weigh less than the box they came in! Also got a pair of exercise shorts from Sears at 50% off (yes, Lawrence is losing our Sears *sadness*). I couldn't buy a pair of Nike or New Balance or other corporate-logo shorts. Can't do it.

Why did I need this equipment? Well, right now I'm recovering from the introductory session of CrossFit. WOW, but I'm beat. And I'm beginning to get hints of how sore I'll be tomorrow. I thought I was in decent shape with my regular exercise (weights, pull-ups and push-ups with 25-lb weight vest, heavy bag-work, stair-running, and so on), but boy was I WRONG. They say, "Expect to have a challenging, but short workout that might give you a little reality check on your fitness level." Reality check? CHECK: Kettle ball swings up over the head, lunges, box-leaps, sit-ups, running while carrying a medicine-ball, hardcore stretching... I just about died. Even so, we both decided to sign up for the next step: a 10-session "Elements" punch-card that includes several one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer. Seems like a great workout; can't wait for the next one! (Did I really just write that?)
trimmed for my most-recent fitness-tracking photos )
I'm in a little better shape right now, but not significantly - that's why I bought the 25-pound weight vest for pull-ups and push-ups and part of why I decided to do CrossFit, because I've been kicking ass for a long time without significant results. I'll take another set of shots after CrossFit to see how this program improves things!

Okay, and now I need to get back to finishing my little 7-questions response for Weaselmom....

Chris
Just got back from the Highway Patrol VIN inspection: It passed and is ready for a new title!

Also took it by the local tire & suspension place for an inspection, and they said it looks solid - even has modernized (and new) bushings and other suspension parts that are grease-able. Good news!

About the way the mufflers are hung (straight-through glasspacks that dump in front of the rear axle), he said, "This is cute, but I've seen worse." They just kind of dangle from straps. They won't fall off or anything, but clearly making it high-tech was not on the prior owner's mind ;-)

He suspects the loose handling is due to the rear end being jacked up and having big tires out back and small ones out front. He said the springs could be replaced, but they don't look shot, and that just putting on reasonable tires will go a long way toward making it drive better. Needs front wheel bearings, but that's about it.

Woohoo!

And now: New photos!


I am in love with this angle. I mean, LOOK AT THE SHAPE OF THIS THING! A timeless and beautiful design.
click for more photos )

I'm in love.

Chris
Look what just arrived this morning! A badass 1968 Chevelle SS396! Okay, almost certainly it's a "tribute" car rather than a factory SS model - which would have cost about $10-20 grand more - but it is an original 396 4-speed, and now it's even faster than stock!

Here it is after a 600-mile trip from Milwaukee. The fellows who delivered it are great and brought it here for half what others charge (can't find a website, but they're Double-D Hauling from Milwaukee, I believe, and I found them through Progressive Auto Relocation). Everything about the delivery was perfect once I finally found a shipper... that part was a huge pain. If you ever need to have something delivered fast, affordably, and with good humor, these are your guys! Here they are backing the Chevelle off the trailer, driver in the car and helper guiding him off:



I love how the only color in that shot is the Chevelle. After a minute or so of warm-up (it's actually winter in Kansas now), he backed it right off and parked it in the street, where I got this requisite "Hooray my car arrived and it's as nice as I hoped!" photo!



Yes, this is the first time I bought a car off eBay without being able to inspect it first. Scary. Also scary was having it delivered by people I'd never worked with before. Let me tell you, but did I ever do my research. Even so, I still had nightmares about shippers turning out to be car-thieves, or the car getting here and turning out to have been totally misrepresented in the ad, and so forth. *whew*

I had been looking at and occasionally bidding on Chevelles for months now, particulary the 1968 model (my favorite because of the angled nose, sleek tail treatment, cool interior design, and elegant body shape), and had actually bid on this one a few times. Yes, it's a sort of hobby. I didn't want to pay a lot, which was tough because I preferred a 4-speed and the big-block, both of which add big-time to cost. This one had been relisted several times, with a pretty horrible ad that used photos taken with a cell-phone camera. The seller never updated his ad with more description or better photos for the month or two I kept track of it, though he did lower the reserve a little each time. Finally, after the bidding once more ended without a winner, I got a "Second Chance Offer" matching my high bid (almost $4000 off the reserve price!). HOORAY!

We exchanged a few emails and calls, and he sent me a much nicer photo he had from when he first bought the car. Though it wore the wrong wheels (and too big, in my opinion), it revealed that this was not a complete basket-case. I should point out that I paid about half of book value in medium condition, so I figured that even if it needs some work, whatev! We can spend some time and moolah to fix it up and even improve it. See, Chernobylred is also a big muscle-car fan, and we wanted something to use as a regular driver, so it didn't need to be perfect and we both kind of preferred it that way - it's a little scary to think of driving an expensive, historically significant car in the rain! In fact, it's going to be the first car she works on, too. There's little more satisfying than having been part of the restoration and customization process of your classic car!

This came at a really good time, too, because the Saab's fuel-injection is once again failing. *sigh*

Anyhow, its condition is about what I expected: a few areas of bubbling under the paint, a couple of small holes in the trunk floor, tires need to be replaced, driver's-side door panel needs to be replaced, the shifter linkage is a bit wonky, it needs to have one of those aftermarket AC/heater systems installed, and a few other things need to be addressed. On the other hand, the engine is clearly newly rebuilt - and built to the back teeth! It uses a gear drive (what an incredible sound!) to drive a hot cam, the heads are ported and polished to flow more air, it has new long-tube headers, and the power it puts down is pretty awesome to feel. Who needs first gear? Well, it'll be nice to get that fixed, but still - WOW! And even though it delivers about 450 horsepower to the wheels (way more than stock), it's a little quieter than the hot-rod Newport because it has Cherry Bomb mufflers that dump right before the rear axle, which is located using drag-race-style ladder bars. What a sound it barks out the exhaust, by the way!

Oh, and I took it for a spin around the block. I discovered that it'll go a little sideways in all the gears when the roads are damp and you give it lots of throttle... heh heh.

Anyway, once I got it back to the garage I spent some time wiping off the wet road grime and inspecting it. Verdict: I'm happy with the new addition to the stable. WOOHOO!

Chris
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