So I fired off a knee-jerk tweet after reading a column on a local news website, and I figured I should expand a little. The column was about strata properties (I think in the USA they call them “homeowner’s associations?”) and, to be fair, was somewhat honest about how to know whether or not they are a right fit for you. Of course, since the person writing the column is quite involved with their own little political setup, the net message there was still overly positive.

When I bought a strata property, I didn’t think much of the politics. The reason is that my dad owns one and has never bothered with the process at all, and hasn’t needed to. It’s like the strata was a separate hobby for the old people who had nothing else to do. That is why I didn’t see a problem with the system, despite the ubiquity of strata horror stories. As for my situation, it doesn’t start in some dingy hall during general meetings. No, it’s far more sinister.

 

The Swimming Pool Interrogation

The retired ladies love our 70s kidney pool, and not necessarily for the sheer joy of lying on a concrete slab in the sun. As a young person who has just moved in, this is probably your most vulnerable position. You’re half naked, don’t know anyone, and just want to test out this pool to see if it really is worth the extra you pay on your monthly fees. The demographic here is stacked against you—as I said, they are mostly retirees. Nevertheless, they waste no time in flattering you and pretending to be interested in who you are. Once they warm you up, they’ll mention council-related matters. Oh yes, I totally agree, we need to fix the fences. Oh, I didn’t know that X problem was made worse by the previous council’s attempt to fix it. Wow. How interesting.

 

Then they start shit-talking the guy down the hall who was on last year’s council. And I mean they tore into him with some of the most vile language I’ve heard from “nice” old ladies.

 

Then comes the request for proxies. The proxy vote is at the root of the strata oligarchy. More on that later.

 

I play my cards pretty safe. That is, I don’t extend myself into any of this nonsense until I know what’s actually going on. What these people don’t know is that I know the guy they’re talking about and have heard the other side.

 

Later on, my fiancée goes to the pool while I’m at work. She’s the most charismatic girl in the world, so obviously she got on their good side right away. And once that happens—once these bitter, nasty people feel comfortable with you—they show their true colours readily. This time, they’re whispering to my fiancée about the two lesbians who had moved in. The things they are whispering are homophobic and wrong, and basically amount to that they shouldn’t be allowed to show affection in public. I guess people are free to have their own opinions, but strata law relies on sophomoric interpretations of the word “democracy,” more often simplified to the elementary-school phrase “majority rules.” If the majority are wrong, does the fact that it’s a majority make it right?

 

“Democracy”

 

My first attempt to vote in a general meeting began with 10 minutes of waiting in an Eagles hall before I realized that I had to go to the property manager and register. Once I did that, I was told that I could not vote because my account had been in “arrears.” Since my strata fees are automatically withdrawn from my bank account, this is absurd. But there was an inexplicable statement showing a charge of ten f-ing dollars, the description of which simply read “Levy.” I had no idea what it was for, and still don’t, but it was ten dollars and I wasn’t that concerned about the actual money. I even had cash to pay it right there—but no. The property manager denied me the right to vote because some bogus charge foisted upon my account for sudden and inexplicable reasons, which he then refused to allow me to even pay!

I left without saying anything mean or disgruntled, stopped by the gas station and bought a pack of cigarettes (I don’t actually smoke, except in times of extreme duress), and went home.

 

Later, I find out how voting actually works. Voter apathy isn’t seen as a public problem here—it’s actually the core of the oligarchy and encouraged. The one or two people actually in charge are pretty good at going around to collect proxy votes from people. When I first moved in and they did that to me, I thought it was nice—I had no time to deal with their meetings, and the person was giving me a chance to still (kind of) participate in a vote. Then I started to notice things and put it all together. The pool. The parking garage. The mailbox. The oligarchs—who are of course unemployed and have the time to do this—haunt those hubs and interrupt your day to get your proxy. When it’s time to vote, the oligarch has more proxies than there are actual voters, and there’s no hope of ever being in “the majority” that’s ruling.

The root of voter disenfranchisement seems to be how much of a life they have. Busy, young professionals seem to lose out the most, and incur most of the wrath of bad strata. I know very successful business owners—well-known, popular citizens who contribute a lot—who end up being badgered and harassed on a weekly basis by their strata, which is run by unemployed, retired, or underemployed people. And unlike myself, these guys often do get involved and try to change the strata, but end up having to give up because of the abject awfulness of The Majority.

 

The Philosophical Deadlock

 

To me, here’s where it gets interesting. The problems with common property are also general philosophical sticking points, and for some reason, I find those incredibly fascinating. It brings to light the issue of justice vs fairness, which in the philosophy world aren’t at all the same. As a side note, the engineering world hates philosophy, and so for the past two semesters I’ve had to pretend I’m not interested in it. However, when faced with this question, I can’t help but out myself as the well-rounded thinker I am.

 

Speaking of which, the justice vs fairness problem is also present in college, and in a big way. To me, “fairness” is a less-loaded way to say “equality.” We all know what that means, right? The specifics don’t matter—you’re a person (or student, or strata lot owner, or union member) who is fundamentally indistinguishable from the one next to you. You are equivalent. There is no you, but a metaphysical stand-in created by the notion of equality. Justice is not the same thing—what is right is not always what is “fair.” Justice is a reference to a set of societal norms and expectations, most of which aren’t always conducive to “equality” 100 percent of the time. These are far more realistic and important—and more in-line with our collective morals. This is how the law (usually) works. Judgment is key—without judgment, justice is not possible.

Good judgment is not easy to find. Fortunately, in the absence of good judgment, we have the blunt instrument of equality. No thought is required. This is a life saver for college instructors who hate philosophy and having to exercise their own judgment—when faced with a possible dilemma arising from a student’s grade and legitimate reasons to adjust it, they can easily whip out that machete and say “Nope. Can’t help you. It wouldn’t be fair, you see.” And all you can do is shrug and say to yourself, “yeah, I guess the guy is right. It wouldn’t be fair,” and deal with it.

Here’s an interesting one: where does my example of the lesbians at the pool fit in? Can there be overlap between justice and equality?

In some ways, I want to say that it still isn’t a case of equality because the offence of discrimination to our cultural norms is fairly precise and rooted in ideals of personal freedom. Outlawing discrimination in a wholesale manner based on ideas of need or equality doesn’t have the same flavour as the former description. The kind of just society we take for granted—private property, freedom, protection from discrimination–doesn’t come from a robotic, thoughtless process stemming from logic that amounts to A=B=C=D.

Did you ever screw up an algebra question and end up with something silly like 1/3=0?

It doesn’t make sense, does it? At the risk of sounding like a Randroid, that’s the logic of equality. The reason previously marginalized people have rights is not because someone said “we are all exactly the same.” It came from the fact that discriminating or harming someone on the basis that they’re not the same as you deeply offended our ideas of a just society.

This brings me to the problem with common property. We have a terrible attempt at collectivism here—it is outlined in poor language that cannot be supplemented with real-world judgment. The genetic origin of this is unclear to me—I don’t know from which tradition or social norm they base the laws. These orphan-laws give absolute power to a strata on the shaky basis of equality—they demand community at gunpoint. There are literally no limits placed on what these groups can do if they play-act “democracy.” But the truth is, strata corporations get away with things that any other democratically-elected component of society would never be able to.

 

The TL;DR On Strata Property

 

Strata properties are a good way to get that first home under your belt. For sure, it’s better than paying somebody rent in most cases. Now, the experts with their newspaper columns will spout off boring tips and caveats that we all know. I won’t get into those. But the problem with those boilerplate caveats is that even if you followed them all, you could still end up with a nightmare. Personally, my big mistake was simply assuming that I would be dealing with rational, intelligent people and that there was always a way to work out solutions that made sense. This is not possible. With strata property, you will be subject only to what is written down, and any attempt to change or interpret those written commandments will be futile.

The biggest factor that I can see though, is the life-stage of those in the development. If the place you’re looking at has a majority of people in your demographic, chances are it’ll be fine. If not, you’re screwed.

Make sure you know who is actually living there and don’t assume that you get the vibe of the place just by reading some minutes and walking around. There will always be more under the surface, and unless you do your homework on the other owners, it’ll be too late by the time you stumble upon the real dynamic.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Once again I’m finding it necessary to reiterate the fact that yes, I actually still am alive. I may even still be a writer—I guess we’ll see soon enough.

That’s it—24 weeks of 35 hours-per-week-plus-homework craziness. It’s hard to believe that the first half of my engineering technology program is done. I don’t even remember what I did with the extravagant amounts of time I must have had before this. Kind of a sobering thought, really.

If anyone reading this has/is considering one of these programs and is on the fence, I’d say just do it. When you look at all the cool stuff you get into versus the cost and time, it’s totally worth it. Now, on r/engineering, most of the guys will say otherwise and that you should just get a big engineering degree. Sure, if that’s what you’ve set out to do, by all means it’s obviously the best way. But I don’t think everyone interested in engineering necessarily wants or needs to get to that level. For myself, when I read the conversations about students fretting over turning town awesome jobs with huge companies because they want to “do research” or get a phd, my eyes glaze over and I start thinking about more interesting things like gear ratios or cats. Some of us just want a cool job and the scope of a technologist still has plenty of room to go pretty far. Not only that, but if you find you want to become a P.Eng after the fact, it’s easy to continue on with university.

The reason I mention this is because I wish I had done it a decade ago. When I was that young, I still believed the crap people had taught us about how everyone is meant to do this or that and that precious snowflakes should just follow their passion—as if 19-year-olds actually have a clue what that really is. And I think people still believe that, because in the few job interviews I’ve had, a sticking point seems to be the drastic shift in my career goals. If I had been pushed a little harder to look at programs like this, I would have realized that I liked it a lot and wouldn’t have to deal with that issue. It certainly was not at all on the radar back then. I didn’t even know it existed.

Ah yes, the co-op issue. So I didn’t end up with one. I’m on my own until January of next year—whether I find something I can count as a work term or just continue slaving away in the health racket, it’s a bit of a blow.

I used to get job interviews for fun in the health industry. I knew what I was doing, have a reputation here built around it, and had no problem taking control during an interview the way you’re supposed to. In career change land, not so much. Like I said, it looks like being an author is actually hurting me here. These are two worlds that definitely do not get along. I understand why, but the stereotyping is frustrating and something I don’t know how to navigate quite yet. A major reason I didn’t end up with a co-op position is that I can’t really move to where most of the work is. In that regard, not successfully competing in a tiny job market isn’t that big of a deal. But this is why I would plead that anyone thinking of doing this just stop hesitating and do it now—it’s so much harder to do when you have an adult life and can’t pack up and go to a camp for 8 months. I’d love to do it, but it’s just not feasible right now.

Anyway, yes, I’m still a writer. Already I’m starting to look past the current projects I have on the go—mainly a sequel and my serial. I’m thinking about diverging from dieselpunk after I finish those. Two things are getting me going these days when it comes to fiction:

 

  • The way Canadian literary fiction makes me thankful I have a calculus textbook now, because calculus a hell of a lot more interesting
  • Hard SF is full of really great writers, but seems stuck in the 90s.

 

Don’t get me wrong—being stuck in the 90s is awesome. But it’s those little gaps that make me want to write. It’s why I wrote dieselpunk before it was even a thing.

Dieselpunk is on its way to better things. I think it reaches a point where the rate of reproduction outgrows the artistic values that made me write it, and that even when I continue to write in the genre, it won’t necessarily be recognized as such. My vision of it isn’t going to change, but collectively it will.

 

Canadian literary fiction drives me up the wall. How did we go from Leonard Cohen to this? I’m seriously considering trying my hand at it again. It’s like being in a room with all the picture frames placed cockeyed and such. A lot of people would agree—this idea is nothing new. But I don’t get why a lot of writers trash literary fiction, focus on their own little corner, and don’t try to add anything to it. This is something that has constantly bothered me about the genre writing scene. I guess it’s fine to like what you like and stick to that, but I’ve never been able to limit my writing to one area.

Hard SF doesn’t bother me the way the above does, but there are definitely gaps to be filled. I have no idea if I’m capable of addressing either of these things, but hopefully I’ll get to try.

 

That is, after I wrap up some diesel projects of course!

I haven’t done a lot of interviews, but when I have done them, or had to prepare talking points about writing, one of the things I mull over beforehand is science fiction. For some reason, the topic always gets derailed and I’m left with a lot of things to say about it, even though I’m strictly a fantasy author with no real intent to challenge the hard SF guys. I mean the Aurora Award might as well just be named “National Robert Sawyer Appreciation Day.”

The weird thing is, sometimes I have way more to say about science fiction than I do fantasy. Why? It’s hard to say. Without wanting to sound like an elitist douchebag, I think some of my motivation to write fantasy is the fact that so much of it makes me want to jump out of my skin and throw the book into a vat of molten steel. But like the Skynet chip or whatever the hell it was they were trying to destroy at the end of whichever Terminator movie I’m thinking of, it would likely just keep coming back in different, more upsetting incarnations. I like a challenge, especially when I know it is within my grasp.

This post isn’t about things that drive me nuts about fantasy, but about why science fiction is so cool. And difficult.

Before I wrote Blightcross I wrote a lot of crappier novels. One of them was hard science fiction. It was doomed from the beginning, and part of me actually knew this as I wrote the first draft. But I also knew that abandoning projects in your first few attempts at writing is a good way to fail. So I pretended nothing was wrong and finished it, revised, revised again, and tried to sell. I describe it as “hard” science fiction but it probably wasn’t even close. It might have scraped by as hard SF in the 80s, but having been written in an entirely different millennium kind of made even that ridiculous.

So, let’s try to summarize the problem without getting into detail about the embarrassing story. See, one of the sins I had committed was writing from a place of opinion or protest. My opinions at the time meant nothing and weren’t based in much, and because I was young, were naturally pretty strong. The story was about some stupid trans-humanist fearmongering (on my part), and the objective of this novel was to tell people interested in transhumanism and the idea of the “singularity” that it was “bad” and should be stopped before it starts. Well, recently I read an article that outlined exactly why the “singularity” idea wouldn’t happen anyway. My understanding of the whole thing was embarrassingly outdated because I had been involved more in writing and music than I had been with computers and technology at the time, and had fallen way behind.

Anyway, I think the “singularity” idea came out in the 1970s, so it wasn’t exactly cutting-edge subject matter to begin with. I’m not entirely sure why I had become freaked out about the idea at the time.

Here’s the thing: you can make even an outdated premise work . . . with enough skill. Actually, you don’t even need that. You just need enough skill to barely make the material interesting PROVIDED THAT YOU HAVE EXPERTISE IN THE FIELD WITH WHICH YOU’RE TRYING TO BULLSHIT THE AUDIENCE.

To clarify: I knew nothing whatsoever about the topic. Well, except that for some reason it freaked me out.

Even John Ringo (if that is a real person, and I’m too lazy to research this but the one novel I read of his was so ridiculous I figured it had to be a joke . . . a really awesome, ironic joke) demonstrates some credible expertise that shockingly legitimizes the story’s bad taste. At that point in my life, I was offended that this guy was making money writing science fiction. Now I admire the guy’s chops. The books sell. They are definitely entertaining. I don’t care about his politics—not that you can tell from a writer’s fiction what those truly are.

A lot of hard SF drives me insane because it’s so boring, but at the same time really, really interesting because the author knows their stuff. I mean, the magnitude of boring some of these hard sf novels have is mind-blowing. The fact that they end up being good novels in spite of just how boring they are is a testament to the major chops these guys have. So when literary snobs trash genre fiction, they might have a point when it comes to hacks selling more stories about Jizznar the Elf Warrior, but they really need to examine just how amazing the hard sf writers are.

Flash forward to the present. I’m in a position that I never, ever would have dreamed could be possible: I have a good short haircut, lift weights, and . . . am in an engineering program. Suddenly the issue about expertise doesn’t seem like such foreign territory. And now, even with the most basic applied science education—barely scratching the surface—I’m seeing a clearer picture of what goes into good science fiction. Like I mentioned in the previous post, the amount of control and perception we actually have of the world is like magic. But it’s magic most people can learn, if they apply themselves.

When us fantasy writers debate the differences, we get all pissy and claim that oh yes, we had to make detailed worlds too! They had to be convincing and internally consistent. Yeah, that’s a tough thing to do. But not as hard as building a story around real technical knowledge. And a lot of fantasy writers still have that—there are a bunch who know every detail about medieval life and it’s equally impressive. But it’s not necessarily required. Fantasy authors, if they’re good at it, can fake it if they have enough intelligence and attention to detail. There’s rarely a hard sf author who can fake it. That was basically the approach I took in my attempt, and it was just awful.

At school, stuff that’s boring is still interesting. Instantly my imagination is triggered by dry technical material. It’s hard-wired to find a way to make this stuff into a story, and an awesome one at that. There was a thread on r/engineeringstudents about what job we all wanted. Of course I put the absolute ideal, which for me would be on Mars. I mean, of course, right? Doing even the most mundane geotechnical work would be fucking awesome on Mars. It’s not that far-fetched, since private companies are already trying to throw together a Mars colony. I wanted to do it, but being old and tied down now, I can’t sign up. Hell, I even debated with my fiancée the morality of steering one of our future children into going to Mars. Sadly, the consensus is that being concerned about having one of your children get to Mars is “not normal” and probably not something to talk about in everyday conversation. Anyway, I might not be able to do civil gruntwork on Mars, but I can damn well write a good, convincing story about it someday. That would be impossible if I had thought of the story idea and knew nothing.

Some pros can pick a storyline that needs fleshing out, then immerse themselves in the technical details it needs for a month and pull it off. I don’t know if that works with hard sf. Stephen King does well spending a week or whatever with a police department to do research, but hard sf needs something more. It needs to pick up on the drive the author has to pursue the technical knowledge in the first place. It does come through in the writing—but don’t mistake this for “passion.” On the list of things that ruin a story, an author who is merely writing about pet interests is close to the top.

Will I end up writing science fiction in the future? Hard to say. Archon has some sf elements in it but is still going to be fantasy, which actually might bother people. My fantasy writing is evolving with the technical knowledge, but I wonder what it would be like to try my hand at a good, classic hard sf story someday.

 

At the time, I didn’t quite put it together and just chose the name for my fictitious subdivision CAD drawing because Geddy Lee is awesome, but then I realized that hell, one of Rush’s best songs is literally the thing I had just drawn.

wpid-IMAG0162.jpg

 

Anyway, this is probably one of the more enjoyable things I’m doing right now. Actually, I’ve always been fascinated by drafting and technical drawings. To me it was like magic. As a kid I remember reading through my brother’s auto mechanics textbook and being more interested in how the hell someone drew an engine and transmission to scale than how to take it apart and fix it. My only experience with drawing–as someone encouraged to be an “artistic” person–had been just drawing artsy things, and I was really terrible at that. I think in the fifth grade, a teacher had felt the need to tell my parents that I had zero artistic ability. At the time I don’t think I consciously thought much of it. Even then, I knew that assessing someone’s abilities at such an age was a dumb idea. Nobody would have guessed that I would pick up a guitar at 17 and work hard enough at it to be able to shred, play classical guitar, teach myself jazz theory, and all sorts of things usually reserved for people deemed to be meant for it at an early age.

That’s not to say I didn’t pick up any weird subconscious hangups from the experience, though. I think that must be why technical drawings seem like such a godly feat to me. The programming in my head, without me knowing, was that it was something that will always be way beyond my understanding. Magic.

Never mind that I had always liked to draw and continued to draw really shitty things for my own amusement and nothing more. Fast-forward to high school, when little technical schools try to recruit students near graduation. I spoke with someone from DeVry, and when they mentioned drafting, it piqued my interest . . . to the point where the sales rep took my name and continued to call my freakin’ house a few times, trying to get me into the school. I found excuses to blow it off.

Thirteen years later, I’m drawing subdivisions and naming them after Geddy Lee. The above drawing hasn’t been marked yet, but I think it’s not bad for a first subdivision, having had little time to really digest the material due to having to deal with a calculus exam at the same time.

 

So although sometimes I think I envy kids who had more push in any given direction, I also know the downside of making absolute statements to a kid about what you think their abilities are. Those opinions are completely worthless.

It’s kind of hard to believe that I’ve avoided writing about the one thing I know how to do pretty well that normal people actually like.

Cooking.

I took cooking for granted before getting into college. Going back even further, my days as a single person pretty much involved little more than lots of running during the day and cooking interesting things while drinking alone and listening to jazz in the evening.

Of course nothing close to that is possible anymore, and I’ve mostly lost my taste for drinking alone. But there’s something special about drinking while cooking. The point here is that I didn’t realize what a luxury it was to be able to just cook for the hell of it.

The other day I nailed a curry. Not just any curry, but my absolute favourite one from an Indian restaurant in town. It was completely off the cuff and improvised, cobbled together from three different recipes that all sounded wrong but somehow managed to mimic almost exactly the thing from the restaurant.

What is it? Hard to say, really. When I stumble over the Indian name for it at the restaurant, the waiter always brushes it off and tells me it’s “butter chicken.” I don’t think it is, to be honest. I used hardly any butter and it tasted almost the same. The name on the menu is murgh malai masala, if I remember correctly. Here’s how I did it:

1 can of coconut millk
1 tsp each of turmeric, dried ginger, cumin powder, dry-toasted cumin seeds, mustard, chili powder
1 tbsp dried coriander
1 lemon
2 tbsp brown sugar
Salt
100ml (approximately) tomato paste
1 onion
800g chicken
Tsp black pepper
Cayenne pepper

As with any curry, you have to start off by frying all those spices listed above in oil. I use a mix of  grapeseed oil and butter, both to keep the calorires in control and to make the butter more resistant to burning. Of course if you’re using ghee like you should, the burning probably isn’t an issue. I don’t have an exact quantity, because I basically just kept adding bits of oil to the spices until it became a paste. After about 5 minutes of medium-heat frying, just add the onion and chicken, fry it for a couple minutes, and add coconut milk and 4 big tablespoons of tomato paste. Let it simmer for 10 mins or so.

I know real recipes are just a set of instructions, but at this point I think you have to use your own palate to get the balance of sugar, salt, and lemon right. The acidity of the tomato needs to be dealt with delicately–if you’ve ever been disappointed by tomato-based jar sauces it’s likely because they seem to universally suffer from this problem. Definitely let the tomato paste settle down for the 10 minutes (or more if you have time, but this isn’t some 70′s slow-cooker deal, remember), then start playing with the right amount of brown sugar and salt. After you balance that, I think the lemon is easy to make work. I just squeezed two halves into it. Once that’s done, just let it simmer for 5 minutes and serve it with rice and naan. Adding a swirl of cream on top at the end can be nice, but I don’t find it necessary. Tossing in some fresh coriander leaves is also a good idea.

The acidity of the tomato, to me, seems quite different to the sour acidity of the lemon. In a tomato-ish curry the former really needs to be contained properly without beating it completely into submission. The success of the spices–which need to pop properly in these dishes–depends on getting that tomato raunch into its proper place. Brightening it up with the lemon is the thing that  makes these flavours  work.

That’s probably a lot of writing for a recipe, but then I don’t write anything if it’s something everyone else has already done . . . Even if it’s a recipe.

My fiancee insists that I mention that tzatziki on the side pushes this dish to the next level. I’ll take her word for it. I’m not into yogurt and the like, except when absolutely necessary, like it is when you make other types of curry.

Another thing: I mentioned above about cutting some of the calories, or at least making some of them unsaturated fats, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Cutting back the grease is sometimes a necessary evil, especially when you’re cooking for other people as well. If you can handle a shitload of butter, do it!

I’ll add some photos when I’m less lazy.

My first daily driver was a 1979 Honda Accord. I phrase it that way because for a short time I had a ’71 Cutlass Supreme, but a kid generally has a hard time running a beast like that and I ditched it in favour of something I could afford fairly quickly. Anyway, I think something lost on us now is the appreciation of basic engineering in our vehicles—we’re obsessed with supercars and how expensive they are and hold a narrow view of what makes a good car. Not that I mean to downplay fast cars . . . of course they’re cool and have their own set of engineering landmarks, but those shouldn’t come at the expense of some of the more mundane aspects that are actually pretty neat.

One thing that confuses me is what we consider good fuel economy right now. Why? Well, a first-generation Honda Civic with a CVCC motor and special Weber side-draught carbs could achieve economy nearly on par with the collection of random junk we call “hybrid” cars. There would be no extra cost and environmental concerns associated with batteries and so on, no extra moving parts, and the car would cost practically nothing to make nowadays. How does it make sense that today’s compact car struggles to reach 30mpg? And even stranger, why do we now consider that to be pretty good, even for a 4-cylinder economy car?

But let’s get back to less abstract things, like Honda’s CVCC engine. CVCC means “Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion.” The cool part about it is that this and other stratified charge engines is that it separates the fuel into a lean mixture, which goes into the cylinder, and a rich mixture at the spark plug. And if the reader is wondering what this could possibly have to do with dieselpunk, the idea of a stratified charge came from Rudolph Diesel. In fact, the direct-inject direction most engines are taking now seems to refer back to the diesel engine.

What was the result? Meeting emissions standards without using a catalytic converter. Sounds boring right? Well, it’s not that easy to do. I don’t think anyone even tries to anymore, possibly due to a massive conspiracy perpetrated by Big Catalytic Converter, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Big Lithium Ion Battery.

 

My Honda CVCC was in rough shape, but still worked pretty well. The whole thing seemed like a mess of vacuum lines, and perhaps this mechanically-derived route to emissions control was part of what killed this type of motor. Mine had a manual choke, which I found hilarious and still do. It was slow as hell, no thanks to the 2-speed Hondamatic transmission—although this was itself a fascinating piece of machinery. If I remember correctly, the Hondamatic wasn’t just a powerglide knockoff, but an automatic transmission that used gears more like the ones you’d find in a manual. I once drove this car for a week with the oil light on, and the thing didn’t give me any more trouble than it did before that erm . . . minor oversight.

Strangely enough, CBC News is on as I type this and I just caught a bit about an epidemic of catalytic converter thefts . . . see, people? That entire rash of minor inconveniences could have been avoided simply by driving a 200-dollar car from 1979.

Okay. So fuel injection comes along and is supposed to be more efficient. But . . . but it’s not? Why do these carbureted dinosaurs offer better economy?

I have no idea. The cars now, compact ones, are a lot heavier, perhaps. New safety standards and such. I don’t think anyone would ever accept a car with 80 horsepower these days, even if they just wanted a basic grocery-getter. But I think in Japan they might have turbocharged a later version of the CVCC and gotten decent performance out of it.

The importance of this isn’t lost on absolutely everyone though, since it has been designated as part of the Mechanical Engineering Heritage of Japan. I’m not entirely sure what that really means, but I assume it’s like a monument in Civilization XXX (I’m too old to know what version of Sid Meier’s Civilization we’re on . . . I ran out of time for that game around Civ 3 . . .) and when you look at the other, erm, “things,” on the list, it seems like quite a big deal.

As to why our expectations have changed, I can’t quite get it. Maybe the phrase “fuel economy” needs to be taken more literally—that is, to mean the optimum amount of consumption given the market, not necessarily some absolute race to the bottom. I know to a conspiracy theorist that sounds like stating the obvious, but I do think there’s a difference between “oil companies want you to use all the oil that is humanly possible so they can make tons of money right now” and “our perception and expectations of how we use resources changes depending actual conditions.”

 

It’s hard to believe but the final marks are in and it’s already time to start thinking about next semester. The days since the end of final exams crawl by in comparison to during classes—if this is old news to everyone else, bear with me. I never, ever, EVER had planned to be doing this and the post-secondary school world is way outside my zone.

That’s the funny thing about this turn in my career plans. For the last decade, I had plenty of plans. Plans are important, they always said. They never really explained how to gauge the quality of those plans, nope . . . all they said was that there were plans and you had to make them to get anywhere.

It’s funny because getting into engineering was totally unplanned and outside the box; yet it was the best decision I’ve made to date . . . well, besides the decision to get engaged, but that’s another area of grown-up life beyond the scope of this post. Heh.

I think one of the lost posts on here might have addressed this in a meandering way—the precious idea that everyone is supposed to be “passionate” about one or two things and only pursue those for their entire lives. Going even deeper but probably too deep for the purposes of this blog, this idea ultimately arrives at the myth of the “true self” and candy-coated way people pigeonhole themselves because they’ve been told that whatever little box or category is most readily available to the outside actually defines “who you are.” It’s a dumb idea, and one so far entrenched in our culture that it isn’t recognized as the social oppressor it can be. Excuse the dramatic language.

Not that there’s something inherently wrong with picking something you like and sticking with it for life. Not everyone is restless and feels the need to question everything, and when that questioning becomes far too reflexive, it can manifest as self-doubt, which is one of the most crippling character flaws imaginable.

So there’s that meandering again, rearing its head. Reel it in, Petropunk.

Basically I surprised myself. I was sure that I’d failed a couple classes, but that was nowhere even close to happening. And while I’m very surprised and happy with what I did grade-wise, now that I know what school is like again and have a good benchmark for what kind of marks you get for the amount of effort put in, I can shoot for better marks next time. You’ll never get me to go along with all the new no-pressure strategies they are trying to introduce into high school grading now, but it’s a little unfortunate that the actual process of learning isn’t taken into account. A crappy student who makes big improvements still gets a crappy average, while a world-weary veteran of the school game can blow through, learn almost nothing new about themselves and earn endless praise despite the fact that he didn’t even show up most of the time. Ah well. Nothing is perfect. Attempts to reinvent the system haven’t produced anything that isn’t laughable yet, as far as I know. Anyone into “new math?” Didn’t think so.

Writing stuff:

I’m doing an interview/google hangout on Jan.11 with my publisher. You know, the one that was supposed to happen months ago but I had to bail due to other obligations. I’ll get a link up here for it soon, but if you’re curious about other authors on a similar wavelength, Tyche Books has their other authors’ interviews on the youtube. They’re worth a look.

Also, I’ve started work on another episode for Archon. After reading an article about how it has become acceptable these days to expect authors to work for free, I’m not into doing that whatsoever. Writers write stories. I respect guys who can give away their writing for free and make money off their appearances/other vague products, but that doesn’t mean every author should be expected to work for free and hope to make money from ad revenue or speaking engagements. My auto mechanic wouldn’t rebuild my transmission for free in the hope that I’d watch his weekly podcast and click on ads, and I think as writers we get backed into this corner of thinking that for some reason we need to live like that.

So I’m going to get a few episodes done and try to sell it. It may not see the light of day now, or it might just take a while.

 

That is all.

 

Well no, not quite. Ian Thornley rules.

 

That is all.


 

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