Sunday, December 29, 2013

Catching Up With Clive Cussler.

I joined a society which one year ago I did not know existed. The Clive Cussler society is a dues-paying group with an email chat list. When I got tired of pressing a glass to the wall, I paid my dues and was invited into the inner circle. This afforded me the opportunity to purchase a fantastic hat:

I'm an anthropologist at heart, but a curious goofball by nature. In either case, I had to know what was happening in the minds of Clive Cussler's biggest fans.

I read "Shock Wave" in 1996. I was impressed by the intricacies of the plot and the fortitude of Dirk Pitt - Clive Cussler's greatest serial hero. After Shock Wave, I bought the next 50-cent Clive Cussler book that I came across. It was while reading Sahara that it began to dawn on me that all of Clive Cussler's books might be the same. There is a formula.

I stopped reading Cussler books, but I continued to take notice of them. New ones sprouting up all the time; old ones from the 1970's being sold for a dime. Clive Cussler doesn't have the most titles - what interests me is the machine that he has built. He now co-authors with several other men, including his now-grown son, Dirk Cussler. The machine is now a family business, and it churns out several new titles every year.

I wonder about the details of the writing process. I am curious about the nature of the communication between co-authors, and I would be interested to learn how much weight rests on the shoulders of Cussler himself, now in his 80's. I want more information about the demographic of those who join the Society. (I think it's mostly just rich men with Doxa diving watches.)

With nowhere else to turn, I have decided to begin reading all the books. The first Dirk Pitt adventure was written in 1973, and I am moving in chronological order by series.

Based on reviews, and the fact that I've read "Shock Wave," I am getting the picture that Clive Cussler's writing got better with practice. The early books - I've read three so far - are quaint with a tendency to include wince-inducing passages. In the first three books, we establish that Dirk Pitt is a misogynist who is immune to bullets. While reading these books, I've found that I am not rooting for the main character so much as standing on the sidelines with my jaw slightly agape.

Forging ahead: I am now preparing to begin "Raise The Titanic!" In his previous adventure (captured in "Iceberg"), Dirk Pitt faked extreme stereotypical homosexuality in order to lower the defenses of the evil people who were planning to take over the world. He braved some bullets and unfortunate slurs, but his pulp-beaten bones healed enough for him to fuck a woman at the end. I hope the next adventure is equally incredible.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Problems or Blahblems? Anxiety via Task List.

I'm having a real issue with feeling unproductive and inundated by an infinite task list. This is white knuckle fuck-the-world anxiety; probably induced by drugs or a lack thereof.

Regardless, I managed to pack and ship a good pile of eBay items, and then turn around to photograph and list ten more items. For a day with a slow start, this is a good result. But - I haven't found time to work on a single detail of my new house in a week.

The to-do list is long, pals and scouts. The list is long and growing...

I should be happy. I have health and freedom and I've learned how to generate a reasonable income without the suffocation of a blue collar job.

I'm usually happy. As much as I deplore consumer culture, it makes a reliably buoyant elixir to float upon. At 31, I'm still finding my place.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Shipping Internationally with eBay. Seller Protection is a joke.

Shipping outside of the United States is something that makes US eBay sellers cringe. To qualify for "seller protection," you have to ship with a service that provides a tracking number and delivery confirmation. That leaves one option at the post office: Priority Express International. The cost is much higher, and it is typical for prospective buyers to assume you are trying to fleece them. The fact is though, when you ship with a lesser option, the buyer has only to say that they did not receive the item, and their money will be refunded every time - at the seller's expense. Regardless of any mitigating evidence, eBay will automatically rule in favor of the buyer. I understand why eBay does this - they must protect eBay's reputation as a safe place to buy. Unfortunately, the way they achieve this is by systematically throwing sellers under the bus.

It cost me about $300 to learn this lesson. Now, when somebody asks for international shipping, I just quote the high price and give a short robotic explanation.

Sometimes people don't mind:
Hi sandwichbear,

I'm very glad to invite me to your auction and to get chance to take your fine parts. The Topline crank-set is my favorite one and I've been using four sets for my bicycles. I hardly ever see a new one in recent years. I don't mind the shipping cost what you anxious about. Thank you very much.

Kindly Regards,

Takashi from Japan

Takashi seems like an alright guy. Like many Japanese, he is also willing to pay a fair price for good components. If I could lower my shipping costs, I would happily do much more business with Japan.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Installing an inlet, wiring an outlet.

What a difference a pill makes. In spite of a cold wet day, I managed to get some work done.

First up on the chopping block: an alternative to running an extension cord through an open window.
I bought a weatherproof “inlet” for the side of the house. An inlet is like an outlet, but it has three prongs instead of three holes. Since I don’t know the professional way to complete most tasks, I had to piece together a plan from Youtube videos and bits of forum threads. Mix that information with some common sense, and you’re ready for tools.

15mg of borrowed Adderall worked like a charm. Without it, I’d be muttering and cussing. A project like this might bring me close to tears. With it, I’m focused. I know my methods are cobbled together and inefficient, but isn’t that the nature of all self-directed learning?

I slipped a Sharpie out of my pocket, and traced a circle around the guts of the inlet. The circle was two inches in diameter, and I only had a 5/8″ bit. Not to be slowed down, I drilled several little holes instead. I retrieved my new Rotozip to clean it up. The Rotozip didn’t like my siding too much, so I walked back through the snow once more to retrieve a jigsaw. Better. I only had to hack away for another five minutes to get a good fit for the inlet’s guts.

Any person with skill or experience would be done by now. I was still getting started.

From the outside, I ran my 5/8″ bit up at a slight angle, and towards the general area where I wanted to install an outlet inside. The bit broke through the drywall pretty close to where I was aiming. Close enough, anyway – and I allowed myself a wide margin of error.

The next task was to install a plastic outlet receptacle on the inside wall. The Rotozip was right at home for this part. I Sharpie’d around the box, plunged the Rotozip’s bit through the drywall, and found almost immediately that I had traced the box over a stud. That’ll need to be touched up. I traced again, and cut out a rectangle the size of the box. The size was about right, but the depth was about a quarter inch shallow.

Here’s where I started getting fancy.

I used a big flathead screwdriver to slash a bunch of shallow grooves into the foam board insulation. I clawed the insulation out with my fingernails and the flathead blade until the box fit. I know there was a better way, but sometimes the best way ends up being any way that doesn’t stop the project. The box fit.

But I wasn’t done yet.

This type of receptacle – the blue plastic type – attaches to a stud with two pre-installed 3″ nails that are at an angle nearly perpendicular to the face of the box. Maybe a 15 degree angle. The box itself fit the hole, but the nails did not. Even if the nails did fit into the recess I’d carved out – how could I pound them in without cutting out way more drywall?

I cannot recommend this solution, but it worked:

I used the Rotozip to carve out two extended recessed lines where the nails could be nested. The receptacle and the nails were now recessed in the wall where I wanted them – but how could I pound in the nails? I walked through the snow again to retrieve a nail set. A nail set is used to push the head of a nail neatly flush with a surface without damaging the surrounding material. In my case, I eyeballed the angle of the nail and estimated where the nail set could go to line up with the head. Then I jammed the tip of the nail set through the drywall at an angle, and forced it to line up with the head of the nail. This took minor violence. I pounded the nails in using the nail set jammed through the surrounding drywall at a shallow angle. It worked.

I can probably fill the hack-job drywall damage with some spackle – much easier than patching. My drywall job is far from pro, but it looks alright with paint on it. You can see all the joints and a good percentage of the screw heads, but I’ve moved beyond caring about that. I can hang drywall, but it’s going to have some character.

I walked through the snow again, and took a fifteen minute break to review outlet wiring. Brass = hot; silver = neutral; green = ground. I got a clean scrap of Romex, stripped the three wires on one side, and with inefficient meticulousness, I attached the wires in a correct and respectable manner. I slipped the wires into the wall-hole from the outside, and attached the cover plate of the inlet making sure the waterproof gasket was evenly compressed against the siding. I moved inside, stripped the other end of the Romex, and attached the wires to their corresponding outlet screws.

A careful idiot could do this. A careless idiot might get injured, but a careful idiot will do just fine. Double check your work, and plug in something you don’t care about. I had no issues. Now I can plug an extension cord into the outside of my house, and the outlet on the inside will have power. The battery charger is always plugged in – so when you plug in the extension cord, you are “plugging in the house.” I love it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

ADD, SAD, and feelin' bad.

I'm all out of meds. It's a long convoluted process to import brain medicine into this country. You have to convert your money to Bitcoin, send the Bitcoin, verify that it was sent... and then... after awhile... you'll get tracking info. After that, you're home free - you'll have your pills in 7-28 days. Needless to say, I ran out. I'm living the catch-22 reality of being an ADD case that needs to plan in advance for certain things.

An additional encumbrance is how immediately defeated I feel when there is no sunlight. The chemical imbalance is enough to toss me off my rocker. I landed on my ass, and that's the position I've been moping from all day.

I wish I could hide myself in a burlap sack until spring, but sadly, my exposed vitriol sometimes comes in contact with innocent bystanders.