So Many Things in My Head …

Between trying to make progress on the new novel (writing the thing, as well as adding more detail to the fictional world); and looking at other people’s novels for the “day job”; and reviewing chapters of the forthcoming audiobook version of Walking on the Sea of Clouds (paperback version at this link); and reading bits of other books for pleasure; and spending time with family in the real world; and looking over notes for literally dozens of possible blog entries that I’ll probably never flesh out; and reading interesting articles that come to my attention; and comparing products that I might want to buy; and interacting with other people by e-mail or text or social media; and playing songs every once in a while; and looking at possible graduate courses to take; is it any wonder that my brain feels like this:

I can’t seem to stay in one mental lane long enough to get where I want to go! (Image by Joshua McKenty on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Lord, help me figure out what mental road I should take to get where I need to go.

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So Much for That Idea

Last month I posted my thoughts on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and particularly my opinion that a brute-force method should be used to stop the leak. In response to my friend David’s comment, I sent the idea in for evaluation and the other day I received the boilerplate response:

> Dear Gray Rinehart,
> Thank you so much for taking the time to think about and submit your proposed solution regarding the Horizon incident. Your submission has been reviewed for its technical merits. Unfortunately, the team has determined that your idea cannot be applied under the very challenging and specific operating conditions we face. All of us on the Horizon Support Team appreciate your thoughts and efforts.
> Sincerely yours,
> Horizon Support Team

In the publishing world, this is known as a “form rejection,” with the only personalization being that the system grabbed my name from the electronic form and popped it into the letter. (I know this because I’ve received lots of form rejections for my stories, and have sent out my share as well.)

What amuses me is the phrase “cannot be applied.” I’m aware of “the very challenging and specific operating conditions,” since in 1993 I directed a search-and-salvage operation in the Pacific Ocean for pieces of a failed Titan-IV rocket; based on that experience, I still think my idea is feasible. But because it would render the undersea wellhead unusable forever, it is most certainly undesirable to the powers that be.

I could be wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last. Nevertheless, I think the kid gloves should have come off a long time ago. By not making the situation better, the people in charge are definitely making it worse.

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Maybe We Should’ve Been Indelicate

[Grain of salt statement: This is something of a rant. It is my unqualified opinion, as I’m not an oil man and the only floating oil rig I’ve ever been on had been converted to a space launch platform. This post is for entertainment and stress-relief purposes only: primarily my own entertainment and stress relief.]

I fail to understand why British Petroleum hasn’t written off the failed Deepwater Horizon as a total loss and taken steps to entomb it forever in order to stop it from leaking. Instead, it seems to me, they’ve been working hard to save their equipment and preserve this particular access point by trying small-scale, piecemeal fixes. (Here’s a nice article about some of the methods they’ve tried.)

Note that I don’t fault them for their statements to the press or misunderstanding the magnitude of the problem. Long ago I learned from one of my commanders that in the first hours of any major crisis, nothing is correct. Nothing you know, and usually nothing you do, will be correct until the situation begins to sort itself out.

So I understand that the first thing for BP to do was to try to activate the so-called “blowout preventer” — the device that was supposed to keep a disaster like this from ever happening. But once that failed, and especially once the amount of oil emerging from the well was known to be far greater than anticipated, it seems it was time to stop pussyfooting around and squash the thing like an undersea bug.

The nearest metaphor I can come up with is that the Deepwater Horizon wellhead is like a coffee straw sticking out of a Dixie cup at the bottom of a really deep swimming pool, and we’ve been trying to plug that straw by dropping grains of sand into it. The objective should have been to leave the thing sunk and bury it forever.

I understand that forced-in drilling mud (which is a special mineral slurry used in oil extraction) could overcome the well pressure and stop the flow, and I understand that now they’re drilling relief wells (see this article) in order to pump in mud and eventually concrete, but those are delicate operations at a time when brute force seems necessary.

Maybe we — BP and all of us — should’ve been indelicate. It seems to me that we have seen too much footage of smart bombs going through windows, and have forgotten (or no longer believe) that sometimes overwhelming force is required to solve an intractable problem.

Why not drop something big and cylindrical like a farm silo down over the thing, right over the blowout preventer, stand it up on the ocean floor and dump concrete in it until the concrete spills over the top. If that doesn’t stop the oil from coming out — if the oil bubbles up through the concrete as it’s setting — build a bigger cylinder and drop that over the first one and fill it up, and so on until the thing is encased in as many cubic yards of concrete as it takes to stop it from leaking into the ocean. If we have to build a five-hundred-foot-tall mountain of concrete on the ocean floor to seal the thing up, it seems a lot better than hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil spreading across the water.

They could’ve cut their losses, learned a big lesson, and moved on to the next project. Instead, we’re all learning some much more difficult lessons ….

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Happy Discoverer’s Day … and A Publisher’s Public Slushpile

Those who know me well know that I prefer politeness to political correctness, so my personal reference to Columbus Day as Discoverer’s Day is not (I repeat, not) (I tell you three times, NOT) the usual anti-Columbian protest on behalf of the American aborigines.* Rather, when the government decided that Presidents Washington and Lincoln would share a holiday with all the others who have occupied that office, I decided that other holidays named after famous people should also be renamed to share with those with similar accomplishments. The obvious exception to this is Christmas, since I can’t find anyone else in history who has changed the world as profoundly as did Jesus Christ.

End of rant/sermonette, and Happy Discoverer’s Day to one and all.

In other news, I was pointed to what appears to be an experiment by Harper Collins to let the online reading public sort through their slush pile for them. Called authonomy, it’s “a brand new community site for writers, readers and publishers, conceived and developed by book editors at HarperCollins.”

From their FAQ page,

authonomy invites unpublished and self published authors to post their manuscripts for visitors to read online. Authors create their own personal page on the site to host their project – and must make at least 10,000 words available for the public to read.

Visitors to authonomy can comment on these submissions – and can personally recommend their favourites to the community. authonomy counts the number of recommendations each book receives, and uses it to rank the books on the site. It also spots which visitors consistently recommend the best books – and uses that info to rank the most influential trend spotters.

…. HarperCollins hopes to find new, talented writers we can sign up for our traditional book publishing programmes – once we’re fully launched we’ll be reading the most popular manuscripts each month as part of this search.

In a way, this is similar to the process on Baen’s Bar whereby short story submissions to Jim Baen’s Universe can be critiqued and catch the eyes of the editors. The electronic slushpile for Baen Books works a little differently — the submissions aren’t available to every member of the Bar.

I’ll be interested to see how the Harper Collins experiment works out.

*Disclosure: I may fall into this category myself, having a percentage of Cherokee blood; I’ve never gone the route of documenting how much to see if I qualify for tribal membership.

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