Building a Solar Collector

Things get slow over the winter season for me and, as they say, idle hands do the devil's work. In this case, they built a solar collector for my garage.

The project did not require any fancy materials and the basic plans were available on the internet (though I tweaked them considerably.) All told, the project took a couple of days. For someone handy, it would have been a single day project, but my fine carpentry skills start and stop at the "Honey, where's my sledge hammer?" stage.

Building the Collector


My first step, after gathering supplies, was to build the collector itself. Since I can’t follow a simple recipe, this is where I began deviating from the plans. The collector sits inside the frame and absorbs the solar energy. I intended to use a small duct fan to boost air flow, so instead of designing the system to flow up the screen using natural convection, I made it a down-draft panel with the cold air coming in at the top and the fan sucking the warm air from the bottom.

Then I made three more changes. The original plans called for two layers of mesh. I went with five. I also changed the material from the plastic mesh to black aluminum screeen. (In hindgsight, I think the black plastic mesh would work just as well.) The final change in the collector was to add black plastic to each layer in a staggered pattern so that the air is always in contact with a solid, warm surface.

To anchor all the mesh, I used a frame of 1x2 lumber and mounted each layer on lathe strips (because they are skinny and cheap.)

Building the Box Frame

This is where my general lack of handiness asserted itself. This was combined with at least one moment of total nit-wittery. We’ll get to that shortly.

I spent a bit more money to buy pressure treated 2x12 lumber for the exterior frame. It can be done with less expensive materials, but I paid the additional cost in the dual expectation that the collector would work (there were doubts among friends, family, and the neighbors) and that it would last the next 20 years.

I cut the wood to fit with the bottom edge of the supporting side beveled to improve my angle to the sun. Then I inserted the top and bottom planks and proved to myself that I can be an idiot.

I built the collector to be four feet by eight feet. When I inserted the top and bottom, they were slightly larger than four feet so I could get the collector in without busting it apart. So far, no problem. I bolted everything together, easy as pie. Then I tried to drop the collector in – and discovered my little math error. The collector wouldn’t fit by 1.5 inches. When I measured for the longer axis, I neglected to account for the thickness of the bottom board.

Crud. Given no choice but to undue my work, I did. Re-measured (carefully this time!) and put everything back together. This time, the interior collector fit, if a bit snugger than I intended.

Insulate, Seal, And Ductwork

The next phase was to insulate the box with foam and caulk seal all the joints. Pro-tip for homeowners – if you want to save money on heating and cooling, don’t by a fancier furnace or expensive windows. Insulate and air seal – you’ll get your money back in a year or two.


Once the insulation was in and I got caulk smeared everywhere, I added the ductwork using inexpensive dryer ducting. I insulated that, too. Flipping it over, I caulked the plexiglass to the front of the frame and the collector was ready to move to the south side of the garage.

Remember the bevel cut at the bottom? The second purpose for that was to add stability to the whole frame so I wouldn’t need to screw it to my wall. The frame is heavy enough that wind will not bother it.

The ductwork extended past the back of the box enough to enter in a window. Just as I didn’t want a dozen screw holes in my siding, I didn’t want to cut holes into it, either. So, the window. I framed out ducts with more insulation, sealed with expansion foam and used the window to lock things down tight across the top the same way you would with a window air conditioner.

On the inside of my unheated garage, I ran a 20 foot length of dryer duct and added the fan. The discharge point is right over the laundry machines. The fan is on a timer.

So Does It Work?

Better than expected, actually. The heat on a sunny day coming from the collector exits at better than 100 degrees. Remember that this piece of ducting is 20 feet long, so there is considerable temperature loss along the length of it. When I measured the immediate discharge piping with my infrared camera, the temperature was over 140 degrees. Very pleasing!

On really cloudy, rainy days, it works, but not as effectively. The heat output is usually between six and ten degrees above the input temperature, so it is still heating.

During an average winter, the garage gets down to freezing and stays there. This year, it has gotten as warm as a balmy 63 degrees.

All in all, a fun project that will also save me money in the long run, and it’s kind to Mother Nature. I think I’ll build another one next year for my office.


I Have Angered the Tech Lords

Following up on my previous post about the unsocial media, I apparently have triggered some algorithm in Facebook and now they have locked me out of my new account. 

I say new account, because I closed the old account. Based on Facebook's record of respect for privacy and invasive tracking of users, I decided to create a new account that served a dedicated purpose.

I got far enough along to set up an author page and a business page for the home inspection side of my life. Then, I started adding people to my list of contacts, primarily the writers I met at the Superstars Writing Seminar in Colorado Springs since they were the only reason I didn't leave FB entirely. Those folks are THAT awesome.

Within a couple of days, Facebook locked me out. Not permanently, mind you. They sent this message when I tried to log in Wednesday:

Upload A Photo Of Yourself
Please upload a photo of yourself that clearly shows your face. We'll check it and then permanently delete it from our servers.

The reason stated was that there was 'suspicious activity' on my account. They did not detail what the suspicious activity was nor did they offer an opportunity for me to review the activity. Big Brother was there to make those decisions for me and, if I would just send them a picture of my face, they'd let me back into the cool kid's club. 

I'm not a cool kid. I'm actually turning into a bit of a curmudgeon. I do believe that they will delete the picture. I also believe that they will extract the data points from the picture so they can recognize you here ever after. No thanks.

I will be the first to admit that I have major trust issues when it comes to social media and the tech giants like Google. To be fair, they have done everything they can to exacerbate those trust issues by tracking our every move, snooping into every aspect of our lives, and selling our data to the anyone who ponies up some cash.

This not being nearly abusive enough, both Facebook and Google decided to up their game. Facebook has introduced facial recognition and kindly offered to let you opted out. My guess is if you do, you'll eventually get hit with the same warning I got and coerced into getting with their creepy program.

Google is worse. Their smart home plans are so invasive, to the point of coaching you on child-raising, that they are frightening. They want sensors and cameras that can tell when a kid is near the liquor cabinet. Good, right? 

They can tell when adults are there, too, and how much you drink. Then they can sell that information to whoever wants it. 

Like your health and life insurance companies. They'd sure like to know and would adjust their premiums accordingly.

It can tell if your child is near your bedroom - and sound an alarm. Of course, it will not recognize that the child is suffering night terrors and needs comforting, child/adult/bedroom and decide that mischief is occurring.

 So, back to my lock-out on Facebook. I did submit a picture. I just didn't use one of my face. I made this one for them. I send it once a day. They reject it once a day. Someday, they'll terminate my account entirely and I will not even notice. 


Odds and Ends - New Year edition

Yep, I know. New Year's day we make resolutions. I procrastinated and just got around to it now. 

I did, however, take some actions. Facebook and Twitter are gone from my personal life. I'm not on either except in a very limited sense to promote my business, my books, and other people's books. As best as I could tell, both are bad for my mental health, so both are on very short leashes.

I've also (as evident by this post) decided to start blogging a bit again. It will be on stuff that interests me and will be a mostly politics-free zone. I know that authors John Scalzi, Anne Rice,  and Chuck Wendig are big on pontificating on the liberal side and there's Vox Day with his sycophants on the other, so the field is already over-saturated with such lunacy anyway. 

Expect pictures on places I go or things I find amusing. 

Maybe even some video. 

I'm sure I'll try some other stuff but we'll just have to wait and see. I'm winging it on content which is exactly the opposite of all the recommendations for having a profitable blog, but I think it will be more fun this way. 

Take care!

Today's hike was in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. Yes, it should be snow-covered. Instead, the weather was wonderful.

Today's hike was in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. Yes, it should be snow-covered. Instead, the weather was wonderful.

Yet Another Reason to Appreciate William Shatner

Randy Pausch, in his book The Last Lecture, wrote that every little boy of a certain age wanted to be Captain Kirk. Not quite true but his statement certainly captures the verve of Kirk in Star Trek. Since then, William Shatner, who proudly counts himself as a 'working actor', has taken dozens of roles of all sorts. One of his best, though, came last night, playing himself, on Twitter. (Yes, I know I rant about Twitter and the rise of the perpetually offended. Not this time.)

It started like this:


What followed was incredible. Shatner spent hours responding to, comforting, and encouraging people in the path of Irma.

This morning, Bill Shatner picked up where he left off last night, offering encouragement, linking to sites with good advice (DON'T shoot into the storm! Really? People amaze me) and basic human decency.

Bill Shatner is the real deal. Heroes lead by example and he's out front right now.

Why Are So Many Writers Such Frickin' Pansies

Get on Twitter, they said. Facebook, too. Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest, woo-hoo. It's all great for marketing books, they say. They, of course, are people that have their heads up their collective rear-ends. For most writers, there may not be a worse way to present yourself to a wider audience than being yourself on social media. First, most of us are simply not very interesting which is why cat and food pictures feature prominently on some feeds.

Some writers are a bit delusional on this score, but let's face it, we sit around and make stuff up. In our pajamas. If we get fancy, we put on pants and go to the local coffee shop. Unless you get caught up in an episode of Friends, the excitement factor is somewhere south of 'snooze.'

Second, and more importantly, we are supposedly masters of story-telling. This is a nice way of saying that we are all a bunch of drama queens and a goodly number haven't matured all that much since junior high school.

All this first occurred to me when I read a retweet by Chuck Wendig back in April or June. I'd link to it but Chuck blocked me a while ago. (The reason for that will be a different post tentatively titled "Dude, Your Bullshit Detector is BROKEN.") The subject of the tweet was how dare a mere mortal publicly tell a writer that his book sucked. Chuck, as is his wont, felt free to tell people what horrible people they were if they did such a mean, mean thing.

My response on Twitter was that it was a good thing the writers in question weren't home inspectors as we get called idiots three times a week. Most writers aren't nearly mentally tough enough to handle the profession.

At the same time, it got me thinking.

What is it about being a writer that's supposed to be so damn hard?

So someone tells you that your book sucks. Or that you suck. So what? It doesn't stop you from putting fingers on the keyboard and putting words on the page.

Writing, like running, is about effort. Yes, there are a talented few that will be superstars. I'm not one of them in the running world - lousy oxygen uptake, too big, etc.

I might not ever be a superstar in the writing field either. It's way too early to tell and I have a ton of practice in front of me, but it's long odds against. To become competent, though? That's a practice and persistence issue. That's on me. Why would I let a negative nellie discourage my effort?

So, advice.

If someone offers creative criticism, take it. If someone is poo-flinging, ignore them.

You own the space between your ears. You get to decide where to apply yourself. Don't surrender your control.

Now, go out and do something great. Screw the odds and screw the naysayers.

It's your life - live it big.

Contest for Free Kindle and Books


Enter to win a new Kindle eReader, PLUS fifteen (15) fantasy eBooks.

In addition to the awesome All-New Kindle E-reader – Black, 6” Glare-Free Touchscreen Display, one lucky winner will receive…

Echo of the High Kings by Kal Spriggs.

Fade by Daniel Humphreys

Doctor to Dragons by Scott G. Huggins

Who’s Afraid of the Dark? by Russell Newquist

Brotherly Envy by S.D. McPhail

Scales: A Mermaid Tale by Pauline Creeden

Honor by Rachel Rossano

Fallen Emrys: Niawen’s Story by Lisa Rector

Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset by Sarah Ashwood

Playing With Magic by Carrie L. Wells

Where Carpets Fly by Elise Edmonds

Toonopolis: Gemini by Jeremy Rodden

Got To Be a Hero by Paul Duffau

The Temptation of Dragons by Chrys Cymri

From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings by Heather Hayden

By entering this giveaway, you acknowledge that your email addresses will be added to the newsletter email lists of ALL FIFTEEN (15) participating authors. You will receive email from them, but never spam.


Entries accepted until September 18, 2017.

Hump Day

I was supposed to write a blog post on protecting your mental space today, but . . . I spent all night dreaming about rattlesnakes. I'm afraid of rattlesnakes, so it was not pleasant nor restful dreaming. And, yes, I got bit.

So, in lieu of a long blog post, here is a cute picture instead from out my front door.


I'm skipping my trail run and sticking to pavement, just in case dreams do have predictive power.

Have a wonderful day.

Attention Thieves – The Electronic Iteration

Guard Your Mental Space, Part II

Happy Hump Day! Let’s get to work.

Work, that thing we do when we aren’t distracted. Play, too.

The Old Days

Distractions aren’t new. People have been ranting about television commercials almost since the invention of television. Ditto for radio. Phones used to be anchored to walls and you had to literally dial numbers, one at a time, to call someone locally. When salesmen discovered they could always find people at home during dinner, the useful telephone became a primary annoyance.

Even your home was not fully insulated from distractions. Back then, salesmen knocked on doors selling brushes, pots and pans, vacuums, and life insurance.

These were all obvious efforts to gain attention, first, and sales, second.

Killing the Old Ways

There is a difference between voluntarily watching a show - “I want to watch Raylon Givens take on Boyd Crowder tonight” and being involuntarily pummeled by car ads. The thieves say we give permission by watch the show. That is a provable falsehood. They could offer shows the same way movies do. Produce them and charge for each show, an honest exchange on the open market. Why don’t they? Because their revenue would leave a smoking crater on the balance sheet. They know this. Stealing your attention with advertising is more profitable for the producer and the captured attention of the audience means that the advertiser doesn’t have to hand sell individually like the old door-to-door salesmen.

People adapted. The popularity of TiVo and Netflix is directly related to the ability to avoid commercials. Spotify and Sirius Radio do the same with music. People ditched landlines in droves.

Each of these was a way for ordinary people to minimize the efforts of attention thieves.

New Days

One defining characteristic of a marketer is they don’t quit. They invent new ways to capture attention and the creation of the Web made their job easier. We changed mediums, they changed delivery systems. Web banners, flashing ads, auto-launch video and audio, and a dozen other methods are used to distract you. No one reads an article in magazines or newspapers anymore. Those are dying as ad revenue dries up. Instead, we catch the last clickbait-y article on endurance training or world affairs (if you think it isn’t happening in standard news reporting, you’re not paying attention).Everyone of them has at least a couple of ways of sidling ads in under the radar.

They also figured out that getting paid by the click required more clicks, so now we have the “Top Ten Reasons You Won’t Get Laid Tonight” type of clickbait spread over eleven web pages. Sure, they could put it all on one page, but that’s bad for revenue. Both the title and the layout are designed to steal your attention for as long as possible.

Attention Thieves Turned Drug-Pushers

The rise of social media escalated this to new heights. They create an intentionally addictive system to capture and hold attention. Facebook and Twitter are the two leaders for now, with Snapchat, Instagram, and a host of others not far behind. New versions come out daily like Gab. (Disclaimer: I am an investor in Gab.)

The first means they use to addict you is the network effect. Simply put, you need to be on the platform because you may miss out if you aren’t. Network television pioneered this, but Facebook took it to a whole new level. Instead of “Who shot JR?” conversations around a water cooler, we now have constant conversations online.

Facebook has a notification feature that reinforces this, as do the other social media sites. You open a FB page and the first thing you get is a little red emblem with a number. Ever wonder why it is red? Go check your FB page. What else is red?

The second means is the near instantaneous speed of communication. Someone says something dumb, and you can correct them in a nanosecond. This is a particular problem for me. I have tendencies toward playing the part of Don Quixote, but instead of tilting at windmills, I aim for hypocrisy (others hypocrisies, mind you, not my own.) and stupidity. The end result is squandering emotion and energy into a black hole, but because the inclination of people is to seek a point of status superiority, it is addicting.

Equally addicting and for the same status-seeking reason is the effort to rebrand other people as undesirables, deplorables, or untouchables. Ostracizing a person for wrong-think is a trait that predates modernity. If you were too lazy to hunt, you weren’t going to get fed. If you wanted to upset the established order, the established order would dispatch you from the tribe. It was, and is, an effective form of control.

Social media has elevated the sayings of shibboleths to a daily ritual for a great many users. Use the term SJW? You must be Alt-right! Note that both sides have their tests. Well, make that all sides. Social media has a tendency to fracture everything into “Not my tribe” for every activity.

Ostracizing is still happening, it's still a form of bullying, and that isn't going to change any time soon.

What To Do

Television I control by paying for Netflix. No commercials. I use Pandora Plus for music. The landline is gone and the business phone is on mute. I answer my personal phone only for friends and family.

I have three ad-blockers on my web browser. If sites demand I remove them, I keep moving and close the page unless I really want their content.

I have mostly weened myself from Facebook. I’m still there but on my own terms, participating in a few groups. Some of the family is there, so I keep up with them, though daughters still, and will always, get a phone call at least once a week. I limit my time and stay task-focused.

Twitter is my demon.

My tendency to call out stupidity? I have lost hours on Twitter making points only to watch goalposts get moved. Then they invariably block me. For a little while, it was a game. How fast could I get someone to block me using purely rational arguments? That fun fades fast on that, by the way, and I gave it up.

This past week, I tried the Lincoln method to manage my Twitter-bursts. Lincoln famously would write a letter excoriating a critic. Once complete, he put it in his drawer. Days later, feeling better, he consigned it to the dustbin. Over the last week, I probably composed a dozen replies that I ended up erasing. Anne Rice, in particular, seems to have been a catalyst.

The act of writing the tweet was satisfying. The act of deletion was more so as it demonstrated that I was indeed in control.

When most people preach awareness, they talk about in the environment around you. A higher level of awareness is to see and understand how you react to that environment – and adapt your reaction to your goal. Try it. See how it works for you.

Guard Your Mental Space, Part 1

Welcome to Hump Day! Aaaand, some of you just harrumphed.

Wednesday used to be celebrated for the half-way mark to the weekend. While that doesn't hold for writers who can work every day of the week, it was a pleasant milestone in a workweek during the manufacturing age.

Back to the harrumphers. Don't deny you did and I agree, you have a point. What weekend, you ask? My phone, email, etc. never stops. Calls come in from clients or bosses at all hours, including the middle of the night. Emails chime on the laptop or the smartphone with urgent requests or imperious orders.

Yep, that is a problem.

Today, there is no Hump Day. The information age drove a stake into the heart of it. In the 24/7 wired world, we work on weekends, on evenings, and drive ourselves batty with online outrage from social media. Throw in the never-ending news cycle, a drip-drip-drip of negativity in our lives, and it's no wonder people are getting increasingly desperate to regain some control over their lives. Well, not everyone, but that will be a separate blog post.

The information age is maturing. The early gee-whiz phase of computers has evolved from strictly task oriented projects where technology served to accelerate progress to a system of gaining attention. Your attention. For all the money that technology saves in increased productivity, the big bucks are on stealing your attention, your data, and your thoughts.

If you don't think so, look at the tech field. The dominant players are not the hardware manufacturers. They are the companies that produce software that can monetize off the user. For example, Windows 10 from Microsoft is a data-mining scheme built onto a crappy operating system. Google has been busted spying on emails. Think your iPhone is secure? Think again.

In this regard, the social media platforms are more honest. They tell you up front in their Terms of Service that they intend to sell you out.

These are the voluntary areas that we elect to engage in. The involuntary, like work, is equally pernicious in violating our private time. For those who want to blandly state that "well, if you don't like it, quit", I will politely suggest they shove it. Families need to eat and for all the fanfare about employment, finding a new job that doesn't impose on personal time is an exercise fraught with stress and eventual disillusionment.

None of this is healthy. For me as a writer, it is especially damaging. The ideas for writing need to come from a creative mindset that disappears under high stress. My writing becomes unfocused and burdensome when it should be joyful. Under stress, I also indulge in bad health habits like imbibing more adult beverages than I should, or killing an entire bag of potato chips in one fell swoop, or skipping exercise.

The plain fact is that much of this stress, and my reaction to it, is self-inflicted.

This blog series is about guarding your mental space. The problem is, that topic is so vast, I can't do it in one post or at least, not one that can be read in a day. So I'm breaking it down in bite size pieces, one post a week on Hump Day. I'm going to keep them short, so you can read them fast.

The goal here is to change one person's interactions with modern life.


Twelve steps programs are big on an initial affirmation of admittance and powerlessness. I reject the second part of that.

I, Paul Duffau, have an information addiction and, through my choices, let others steal my attention. But I am not powerless. I can -and will - change my choices and guard my mental space from all intruders.

The truth is, none of us are totally powerless. Taking control, though, takes effort and willpower. We all have those - and when we need to, we can lean on each other for a little support.

See you on Hump Day next week. The subject?



Timberline Adventures - A Couer d'Alene Must-visit

I took a play day yesterday and conned the eldest grandson, Jeffrey, into going on a zipline adventure by telling him it "would be fun, dude!" My daughter could have warned him that my idea of fun spans a range of activities a mite more exciting than tiddlywinks. She didn't. I think she figures that three girls survived me as a dad talking them into crazy things, so the grandson would survive, too. Probably.

This little jaunt was planned back in January over a glass of wine. Last year, everything aligned to treat my daughters and eldest two granddaughters to a series of concerts - Pentatonix, The Piano Guys, and Lindsey Stirling.

It was time to do something fun with Jeffrey and this struck my fancy as a grand way to treat Jeffrey to a memory that would stick for awhile.

Timberline Adventures in Couer d'Alene runs the excursion. They do it well. The check-in process - yes, they will make you sign a waiver - was smooth as silk. Then, they weigh you. This part had me a little worried as the weight minimum to zip alone is 80 pounds. Jeffrey, like most of the grand-kids, does a fair impression of a beanpole. He didn't make weight which meant that he'd have to zip in tandem with someone else. Not me, though. Our combined weight blew right past the upper limit to 270 pounds.

Our guides for the trip, Ali (Big Al) and Taylor, set us up in harnesses and helmets and covered the ground rules. Mostly, listen to them and don't be stupid stuff. Then we left, eight of us, all newbie zippers. in a van to a chunk of private property with seven ziplines, a couple of bridges, and a very cool tree house under construction.    

Jeffrey got a little more wide-eyed the closer to the top of the mountain we got. Pretty sure he was reconsidering the wisdom of hanging with Papa. Still, the kid is a trooper and stuck to it. We hit the first zip, a short little bunny of a line according to Ali. I asked Jeffrey when he wanted to go.

"Last." Sensible. Let all the big people go first. Just in case . . .

Taylor, who is not a big person in stature but oozes personality, zipped over first. The system that Timberline established makes eminent sense. One guide heads over first. That one handles the brake on the line that they use to keep the rest of us under control when we get to the next platform.

One at a time, Ali clipped us into the safety lines, then transferred the rollers to the zip line, then locked us in. She and Taylor maintained radio contact. No one zipped until it was cleared on both ends. Ali, too, oozed personality, but not the showmanship ham of Taylor. She was quieter and funny and kept all of us on an even keel.

Down the line they went, the family of four, the couple from Spokane, and then, my turn. As with most things in life, I'm too tall. Ali's directions - "Step off the top platform and go." My result? I could walk to the next step down. And the next. Then, I could go. And did.

Zipping on a steel cable sixty feet from the ground is a rush. You can steer your body to face whatever direction you like by shifting weight and arm movements. It took about three seconds to realize just how good Taylor and Ali's balance must be to have the level of control that they maintain.

I hit the next platform in good order - surprise! - and waited. The folks back at the storefront mentioned that Jeffrey might be able to do some of the early zips by himself. The longer ones would be in tandem. I hadn't thought it through, but watching some of the lighter people gliding in on the longer lines, the physics kicked in. The lighter bodies didn't have as much momentum to over come the friction loss as they came up to the landing platforms. More on that later . . .

. . . because here came Jeffrey like a rock star. zipping on his own. He'd done the first zip solo. He was easily the youngest in the group by a decade. The others couldn't have been more supportive. If this was a representative group, then zippers, experienced and the newbies, are incredibly pleasant people to spend an afternoon with. Jeffrey did seem relieved to actually slide into a landing.

Each zip built on the last one. There are seven total with the first four acting as the training lines and the last three exhilarating. Jeffrey only did the first zip solo. The second he did with Ali. After I had made my way down, they had a conversation. I wasn't privy to the details but, given how slowly Jeffrey had hit the end of the first run, I think Ali was concerned that he might get stuck in the middle.

Ali took absolutely terrific care of Jeffrey. He zipped in tandem with her for the rest of the lines, though he walked the bridges solo. She talked to him like a buddy and had him smiling and enjoying himself.

The rest of us had fun. One of the young ladies had more faith in the safety harness than I did and leaned into space from the platform, imitating Taylor. She laughed when I mentioned that I spend my days minimizing my risk of falling. Ali, when we first geared up, asked if I was afraid of heights. I'm not. It's falling that gets to me, so I don't do it.

Both Ali and Taylor kept up a steady stream of conversation, but their attention to detail was impressive. The training that Timberline does must be effective. At no point while we were tree-bound was a guest not hooked to at least one safety line and usually two. When the two of them transferred safeties, they moved precisely to snap each carabiner in proper sequence. (We had been previously warned not to mess with them ourselves. I declined to mention that I had already figured out the catches. In my defense, it was at the storefront. Once in the trees, I behaved.)

Midway through, we took a short break from Line 4 while the group ahead of us cleared. Taylor told us to follow him, and we made a short jaunt through the forest to a very cool tree house that Timberline is building. Since you can't show me a house without my inspector instincts kicking in, I was checking out the glulams and inverted trusses. It is a neat piece of engineering. Next time I go, hopefully it will be open. The views of Lake Couer d'Alene alone will be spectacular.

To get to the launching pad for Line 5, you need to cross a bridge. The bridges swayed and bucked more than the lines did. Even here, they keep the guests tethered. The safety protocols were impressive.

The last three lines got progressively longer and faster. The last one was 1600 feet long. Taylor reminded us that over-steering slowed the descent and to be careful not to strand ourselves out in the middle. Each one of the lines has sag built into it, a thought that hadn't occurerd to me, but make eminent good sense. If the run was tight and downhill, the arresting mechanism would be the tree. Ouch.

So, instead the line sags. You accelerate down it and then, at the bottom of the arc, begin to slow. The slack and drop height between the anchors is set up so there is more acceleration time than the reverse otherwise the friction would leave everybody hanging around looking for a hand.

On the last long line, it dawned on me that you should be able to optimize speed (cannonball maybe, or an upside Superman position - Taylor would know) and flare out at the last minute and use air resistance to slow down.

If your mental picture just included a body going splat! into the tree trunk and was accompanied by the theme music to George of the Jungle, welcome to the club. I wasn't trying it on my first time zipping.

Maybe next time. Jeffrey is already game to try it again and, with a host of grandkids getting bigger, we might even talk a couple of others into. In the meantime, if you find yourself in the Spokane/Couer d'Alene area with a summer afternoon to spare, might I suggest giving Timberline Adventures a try?

As I said, it's rush.


For Steam and Country - Jon Del Arroz

Young Zaria von Monocle is the hero in Jon Del Arroz’s first entry into the steampunk genre. An orphan farm girl whose father, the Baron, was a swashbuckling figure throughout the kingdom of Rislandia, Zaria struggles to keep her life and the family farm together. All of that gets turned on its head when the dignified Mr. du Gearsmith and the martial Captain von Cravat present her with her inheritance from her legally deceased father. When her farm gets invaded by soldiers of Wyranth, she faces a decision to die on the farm – or accept the mantle of the true daughter of the famous Baron von Monocle.

For Steam and Country is a refreshingly fun read. Nicely paced with action throughout, author Del Arroz paints a picture of a world where steam rules. Rather than resorting to the intricacies of the machinery, he leaves us enough detail to bring out the clanks and vibrations of the equipment and place us squarely into every twist of the story. That story moves along crisply to keep the reader engaged.

The real strength of the steampunk world that Del Arroz created lies in the people he populated it with. Woven into the story is a playfulness that comes through with the dialogue. The cast of characters add verve and flair to his world without resorting to cliches.

A clean fun read for everyone. Very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

My Sweetie Has Spent More Time in Jail than I Have

Back in ancient times when I drove a concrete mixer, I met a couple of drivers who partially convinced me that I’d missed something by not going to jail. Not so much that I was in a hurry to knock off a bank, mind you, but clearly my life experiences had a gap. More surprising is that my sweetie has spent more time behind bars than I have. In fact, she seems to be making a bit of a habit of it. Darn near monthly, she’s landing in the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino, ID. Last night, she brought home a former inmate.

Meet Summer. Summer was abandoned in a home filled with feces and frightened to death. Joyce Keefer, a  local Realtor who already does a tremendous amount of good work for the local Humane Society, discovered the poor dog (along with a trio of kittens) and alerted authorities. Summer ended up in the care of the Lewis Clark Animal Shelter and my sweetie. She was understandably skittish and had some trust issues when she arrived but started to come out her shell with the help of the staff at the Shelter.

Then, Summer went to jail with my sweetie accompanied by five other dogs. They were the introductory group for a new program at Orofino. The program is called PAWS (Paroling Animals With Skills) and was started by Lieutenant Earl Johnson. Started originally to help the dogs, the program has been even more transforming for the inmates/trainers. The dogs live with the men inside. Each dog has a pair of trainers and get training daily. KLEW-TV ran a segment on the program with my sweetie and Lieutenant Johnson.

The evidence nationwide, not just at Orofino, is that the program increases social interaction and teaches skills including patience, responsibility, compassion, and self-esteem for the prisoners. For the dogs, they get the benefit of 24/7 training. Both get a healthy and needed dose of unconditional love, perhaps the most transformative substance known to humanity.

Summer is a boxer mix. She’s sweet-tempered (she let our 2 year-old granddaughter pet her). She’s still a bit timid, but fully trained and available for adoption. If you’re not ready for a dog but want to support the program, you can donate at the Lewis Clark Animal Shelter website. They have a special wishlist on Amazon or you can donate at the button to the side. Volunteers are always welcome and appreciated.

If you meet Lieutenant Johnson on the street in Orofino, thank him for all the good work he's doing, please.

To watch an inspiring video of the program in Massachusetts, click here.

You can read A Walk With Rose for free on Kindle Unlimited

Are You a Believer? Or, How Does An Avowed Agnostic Handle Prayers for Him?

I’ve had a spot of trouble to deal with lately. Specifically, a spot on my forehead that popped up three months ago. As it happens, it is squamous cell carcinoma. Yesterday, Dr. Burry of Valley Facial Plastics and ENT excised it, leaving a quarter sized hole over my right eyebrow. Dr. Burry, by the way, is fantastic. Once we have confirmation that we got it all, he'll be stitching me up. The size would probably have been greatly reduced had the cancer been correctly identified sooner. This is partly my fault. I went to the urgent care because I was working six days a week, dawn to dusk. I had a Saturday pop open and used it to go to the clinic.

The clinic is not staffed by a doctor. Instead, as is becoming increasingly common, it was staffed by a physician’s assistant who did not recognize what they were looking at. My mistake was taking that person at their word. Four weeks later, when the prescribed treatment program failed, I went to my doctor, got a referral to a specialist, and another to Dr. Burry. Fortunately, it hadn’t started to metastasize. If it had, I’d be in pretty deep trouble.

I’m not much for keeping those kinds of secrets, so when people asked what was going on with my head, I told them the truth. Many of these people, including most of my family, are followers of Christ. I am not, though I’m also not antagonistic toward faith. I wish I had it.

It is impossible for a person with any degree of true empathy to attend a worship service of religious believers and not see the beauty that exists in their submission to a God that asks that they live to their highest selves and to love their neighbor. It does not matter that they will fail in that task. We know that human beings are not perfect. They will sin. We all will and, yes, I include non-believers in that statement. Unless a person is so egotistical to consider themselves above any guiding principles (and those people do exist, sadly), they will have some moral foundation that they will subscribe to. The only question is whether their transgression is against a divine or self-imposed law. In either case, people will transgress.

As I mentioned, my family is blessed with faith and I was in their prayers. You expect that of family, accept it. Or ought to, though some resist.

But what of friends and acquaintances?

“Are you a Believer?” I was asked, and I answered honestly, “No.” Then, I explained why, not in detail, but enough.

“Well, I’m going to pray for you anyhow.”

There is a segment of society that would be offended at such a statement. They are militantly atheistic. Some will claim agnosticism while denying the fundamentals of that position. To be linked to religion even tangentially is an anathema. That’s a shame. They deny themselves on a great gift. Just as there is a beauty to a communion service, there is a beauty to the offer of prayers.

When a Believer offers to pray for you, he or she is not just offering a religious experience. They are freely giving you the strength of their hope and belief. In that moment, they come the closest to living the ideal of loving thy neighbor as they ever will.

There is great power in knowing that people care.

So how’s an agnostic to respond to that?

By accepting the gift with gratitude and thanks, not just for the gift of their faith, but of the blessing that they bestow by caring.

To all those that offered prayers and best wishes, family and friends alike, thank you.

Thank you so very much.

Dawdling into a Productive Day

I am willing to concede, as a practical matter, that I am not an organized individual. Those that know me well just fell over laughing at the understatement. I'm the guy that can lose his glasses, car keys, a coffee mug three seconds after setting the item down. I have a theory regarding this, and my wife has a competing theory. My theory is that when I'm inattentive, which is most of the time when I'm performing mundane tasks like getting ready for work or driving, my brain fails to accurately record where I put my keys or, when driving, that I should have turned right eight miles ago. My sweetie's theory is that I use everyone else as part of my extended memory. She might be right, since my first instinct is to bellow. This worked better when all the girls lived with us as it gave me extra 'storage', plus extra eyeballs when things invariably went missing. Middle daughter, in particular, was helpful here, because she has a bit of an OCD streak. Since my sweetie has her own things to track, making sure I can find my way to the door isn't high on her priority list. And the girls are gone.

I've compensated by setting up failsafes. My glasses only get put down in specific locations (except when they don't because . . . squirrel!) Likewise, keys go into one spot. Highly organized, except that every system has a weakness. In this case, the weakness is named Paul. I'm not consistent. I know this, so I set up another system, too. I have four keys to my FJ Cruiser. On my keyring, one inside the vehicle, one hidden outside, one in the safe as a backup when I lose yet another key. It's not overkill; it's planning for the inevitable. Ditto. I know where my old glasses are and the prescription is close enough that I can function. 

I recently have adopted a scheduling book and to-do list because tasks were falling through the gaps, especially the unpleasant ones. Very Type A, I'm told. Nope. A fallback-

(Sorry for the interruption. Just realized I had committed to kid-sitting but hadn't recorded it. Fixed now.)

- position so that I get stuff out of my head. With the exception of appointments, the whole schedule is subject to sudden and rapid changes. Such as, this morning is set aside for revising Splintered Magic for my editor. 

Doesn't this look like editing? No, you say?

Yeah, busted. I'll get to the editing, but I've been working effectively seven days a week for a month and haven't written anything in a while. I needed a fix. That doesn't mean the editing won't happen. It will, but in the meantime, I've managed to dawdle today and send out marketing letters for the book, post on a private group asking (begging!) for reviewers, checked in with my cover designer, written this blog post, answered a half-dozen work related questions, rejected a couple of work proposals, printed a report that I will hand-deliver on my way to work in a couple of hours, done some paperwork for the business, and imbibed two pots of coffee.

The failsafe, though, is set. I know that I'll get to the editing shortly. It's on the list, and I can't afford the time to bump it and still meet the publication schedule. So while I lollygagged this morning, it was productive time. Remember that line about attentiveness? When I work, I work. I don't check email, social media (I've mostly broken that habit, thankfully), book sales, or the latest outrageous news from whatever or whoever. A slew of tasks that eventually needed to get done, have been. That frees me up mentally to take on the editing.

Just as soon as I figure out where I left my coffee cup. Pretty sure I'm wearing out the coffee maker today. Onto editing and pot of coffee three.

Have a great day, yourself!