Tuesday, August 6, 2019

There's something interesting going on out there

Something definitely had their attention. They didn't even notice me sneaking up for a quick photo. When I went to the window to see what was so interesting, there was a rabbit sitting quite oblivious on our front lawn.

I didn't manage to get a shot of it because it dashed off, but I'm surprised neither of the cats were bothered enough to jump down to the front steps and chase it. I guess it's been so warm they were content to perch and spectate.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Camping 2019

I’ve been away from the blog for the past month - it was a hectic end to June, and then we were camping for the first part of July.

We took off for a much-looked-forward-to break to our usual haunt at Pacific Playgrounds. Going so early in the summer is always a bit chancy, and it wasn’t a good omen to find ourselves at home hitching up in a torrential downpour. By the time we’d got hitched and ready to go, we were all soaked through despite waterproof jackets! Fortunately, by the time we’d driven up-island we’d left the clouds behind. For now!

Yes, we had a few days of mixed sun and cloud, and then more rain. Luckily it mostly happened overnight, with sun and cloud during the day, but it did mean we had to be careful to bring everything under cover of the awning each night, just in case. So different from most camping trips, where we’ve been used to just leaving everything out.

On the plus side, this year we managed to have proper camp fires every evening. The first in many years, because by the time we travel there’s usually a fire ban in effect.

Overall, despite the fact that we didn’t have a single cloudless day, we had a good time. There was enough sunshine to let us spend time swimming in the river most days. The only other difference that really bugged us, literally, were the hordes of mosquitoes out on the field where we walked the dogs. By the end of the trip, my legs were covered in bites.

It’s probably a measure of a good camp that we hardly felt the need to leave the campground, other than for groceries and walks along the river and beach - which Ellie and Mishka loved!

We did make a point of visiting the chainsaw wood carvings up at Campbell River, which we do every year. To give a sense of scale, these carvings are each about 8 or 9 feet tall.

Apart from that, I spent a lot of time on writing - mostly critiques, as I’m putting The Long Dark through the queue on Critique Circle, plus editing Breaking the Block. And Ali has discovered her niche as an artist, doing rock paintings.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Long Dark - ridiculously large vehicles

Last week I talked about Elysium’s towns and cities. One teensy detail I mentioned in passing - the ridiculously large vehicle garages - might have raised an eyebrow or two if anyone stopped to thing about it.

Why would they need garages anywhere up to three hundred meters long?

The answer is, they need to shelter ridiculously large vehicles.

The people on Elysium travel the surface in modular vehicles, that can easily stretch half a kilometer in length. These giant crawlers are made up of alternating cars slung between wheel and power units (called yoops - short for Universal Power Unit). The wheels are lightweight, sprung mesh seven meters in diameter. Think moon buggy scaled up an order of magnitude. The cars they support are giant boxes about twelve meters square and four floors tall.

Of course, these aren’t the kind of vehicles you take out on a jaunt, or drive down to the corner store. These are working vehicles.

The colonists make a living harvesting materials from the depths of the planet-girdling plant mass. During the summer months they can spend weeks out in the field, hundreds of kilometers from the nearest town. Crawlers carry everything they need to support a harvesting crew of fifty, along with climbing, cutting, and hauling machinery, and storage to carry their finds back for processing.

At the turn of the seasons, these same crawlers carry the entire town’s population, belongings, and equipment across the equator to towns in the other hemisphere where they resume work for the next few Earth years.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Long Dark - habitats

Last time I talked about worldbuilding The Long Dark, I mentioned cities and towns made up of enclosed domes. All the centers of population are built from dozens or hundreds of units that follow similar basic designs. From the air, a large city would probably resemble a rumpled sheet of bubble wrap.

All the units share some features in common. They are either circular or oval in plan, with a basin-like rigid base topped by a slightly flexible weather shield supported by ribs. Together they form an airtight bubble to keep Elysium’s poisonous atmosphere out.

The base is sunk into the surface of Sponge. The upper surface doesn’t have to hold in air against vacuum - Elysium’s surface pressure is not too different from Earth’s - but it has to cope with extreme weather including wind speeds in the hundreds of kilometers per hour. Hence the ability to flex (within reason) instead of trying to stand rigid against the storms.

Any internal structures are built onto the base, and stand well back from the weather shield to allow room for it to move. Each dome has its own power supply, air filters, waste treatment etc. so towns don’t need much in the way of centralized infrastructure.

To complete the picture, domes have a series of standardized airlocks evenly spaced around the perimeter. Domes are linked together by a network of semi-flexible tunnels, to allow for the slight movements that come from making your home on the skin of a living organism.

A standard habitat dome is about ninety meters in diameter. It has six airlocks around the edge, and hallways running into the center as well as a walkway between the weather skin and the buildings inside. The buildings form a circular stepped pyramid about ten floors high, containing living quarters, kitchens, and communal dining halls. At full capacity, a single dome can house up to a thousand people.

There are smaller circular domes for workshops, administration, and community spaces - schools, hospitals, entertainment.

Finally, there are much larger oval structures - up to a hundred meters across and three hundred meters long - for warehouses, vehicle garages, and hydroponic farms.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Treat every day like your first

My organization puts on a fabulous learning event each year, where they invite speakers and facilitators to talk and lead sessions. The event took place last week over three days with a variety of sessions to choose from. It’s an opportunity for staff to get out of the office for a day or two and hear some great speakers.

One of the keynote speakers last week was the inspirational Drew Dudley. He talks all over the world about everyday leadership, and his theme was the need to come into work every day as if it’s your first day on the job.

Yes, there’s a funny story behind this about a tour guide who took him out into the desert in a dune buggy, but the guide brought such joy and energy to his work because, as he put it, “I’ve been doing the same job for seventeen years, and every day is my first day.”

And it occurred to me this morning that the same applies in life outside of work.

When we emigrated from Britain to Canada, we expected to have some tough adjustments to make. One of the golden pieces of advice on immigration is to make a list of all the reasons why you chose to move. When things get tough, take out that list to remind yourself why you did this.

That advice is along the same lines of resetting your mental state to recapture the hope and excitement of those early days. Drew Dudley just takes it a lot further.

And it’s true. As I drove to the grocery store this morning, I was struck afresh by my beautiful surroundings. Glorious sunshine, open fields, mountains in the distance, wide and empty roads ... And I could appreciate afresh the unhurried ease of shopping, uncrowded aisles, the friendly staff ... as if for the first time.

So, despite all the people-driven crap going on in the world, take time to look with fresh eyes at the wonder that is the world we live in. The wonder that we all too easily take for granted.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Long Dark - human habitation

Continuing occasional posts about worldbuilding for my current WIP.

Aside from extreme weather patterns, the colonists in The Long Dark have another major problem to contend with. The planet is superficially Earth-like - similar gravity, similar temperature on average, abundant water and an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere. All sounds moderately livable. Except for one thing. Both the air and the water are laced with a cocktail of poisons. Without treatment they are deadly.

OK. I decided the toxins would be large organic molecules and relatively easy to filter out, so there is no shortage of air and water per se, but they do need treatment.

That means you can’t go out onto the surface without a mask, and all living areas need to be enclosed and secured to keep the native atmosphere out.

This isn’t as extreme as living on, say, the Moon, where you have to pressurize living spaces against vacuum, but you do need a reasonably airtight barrier and airlocks everywhere. So, the colonists live in large domes, clustered together into towns and cities.

The dome arrangements of the town of Serendipity, where most of the action takes place. The large ovals are vehicle garages and warehouses. The smaller domes are habitats and workshops. The town is roughly a kilometer across.

The relatively habitable equator is ringed by eighteen large cities. These are occupied year-round, and contain all the major industrial processing and hydroponic growing areas.

Away from the equator, in the twenty to thirty-five degree latitudes, there is a scattering of nearly fifty smaller towns in each hemisphere. These are only occupied during Elysium’s summer months. Half the planet’s population live here, harvesting medicinal products and other useful materials from the depths of the plant mass. At the turn of the seasons they have to migrate across the equator to escape the winter deep freeze - the “Long Dark” of the book’s title.

Map of Elysium showing up to forty degrees north and south. The equatorial cities and the northern towns are marked here.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Husky Houdini

When we moved to Canada we got a husky. We installed a new fence all around the back yard to make it husky-proof. In all the years we had Gypsy, and later Ellie, our Australian Shepherd, we never had a dog escape unless someone left one of the side gates open.

Sadly we lost Gypsy in 2016, but now we’ve added Mishka to the family, a five-month old husky who gets along fabulously with Ellie.

Tuesday afternoon: Panicked call at work from Megan, who’d dropped by home to pick up some groceries. Mishka is missing. Ellie is still there, and the gates are secured, but no Mishka.

Immediate conclusion - someone’s taken her.

Luckily, a neighbor whose property backs on to one of our next-door neighbor’s, called Ali to say she had Mishka. She has two huskies herself, in a fenced yard, and noticed she had mysteriously acquired a third. So, we were glad to have Mishka back but instead of one mystery, we now had two. How did she get out of our yard, and how did she get into our neighbor’s - both supposedly husky-proof?

Tuesday evening: Check the fence all around the back yard. No signs of digging. No loose fencing anywhere. No obvious way for her to get out.

Wednesday morning: Feed dogs as usual and let them loose in the back yard. A little while later, spot Mishka roaming the front lawn.

Conclusion: Somehow, she can escape. So likelihood is that she got out on her own yesterday. No need to assume some stranger had let her out for some reason. From there, our favorite theory is that she found her way through the neighbor’s property to the road behind, and someone found her wandering. It’s possible someone mistakenly though they knew where she lived and let her in with the other huskies.

Wednesday evening: Take Ellie out the front and pretend to go for a walk, leaving Mishka on the deck under covert observation, hoping she’ll repeat her feat and let us see how she escaped. No such luck. A lot of plaintive whining and wandering around on the carport roof, but no jailbreak.

Wait ... what? She’s not supposed to be able to get onto the carport. We have a deck over the garage, with the carport alongside. The roof comes up level with the railing that runs around the deck. Very early on, to stop Gypsy climbing up there, I installed fence panels along the edge of the roof nearest the deck. It stopped Gypsy, but not, apparently, Mishka. She happily squeezed around the end of the fence in the few inches between that and the edge of the roof.

That’s the far end of the fence in this picture. The carport is behind the fence to the left.

More worrying, she then decided to jump into the hedge jutting out and shielding the carport entrance. She floundered in the greenery ten feet above a very hard driveway.

Luckily I was able to reach down from the deck and haul her out. She must have decided that was fun, because she repeated the performance later that evening and had to be rescued again. Not very comforting. What if she did that when we weren’t around?

Regardless, whenever we tried to tempt her to escape again, she went straight for the carport. Current theory is that she escaped previously by jumping down the far side, only a five or six foot drop into the neighbor’s yard because we’re on a hill. But clearly the carport has to be out of bounds.

Thursday morning: New lattice panel added to the deck to act as a deterrent.

Friday: No more escapes. Fingers crossed!

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