Archive for July, 2009

Water Bureau Field Day

A couple of months ago, Kate told me that July 23 would be “a surprise.” We got in the car this morning and drove across town to… a big industrial-looking parking lot full of giant trucks and earth-moving machines. “The hell?” I said.

Turns out she’d signed us up for the Portland Water Bureau’s annual Field Day. In other words, we went on a field trip. It was fun and we learned a lot about how the water we drink (and use for so many other things) gets from the Bull Run watershed to our tap. If you have the opportunity to go next year, I’d recommend it. It’s free.

Me being me, I couldn’t help but take extensive notes, which I present for your edification below.

Started off with a talk by the head of the Bureau and the Chief Engineer – we all got bright orange hard hats, reflective vests, and a safety lecture – it felt like Take Your Citizens To Work Day at the Water Bureau

Water is absolutely vital to life but we usually don’t see the infrastructure that brings it to us

4 C’s of water: Clean, Cold, Constant, and Cheap – taking water from different levels of the dam to select the right temp for people & fish – colder = deeper – they take surface water during the winter to “bank” cold deep water for the summer

Portland’s Water Event Station (WES) is a mobile system to provide tap (fire hydrant) rather than bottled water to events like Bridge Pedal

Portland does have a seasonal drought – since June 23 we have been in “drawdown” where we’re taking more water from Bull Run reservoirs than is coming in – most years we don’t have to use groundwater from the Columbia wellfield to supplement, but sometimes we do – groundwater is also used when heavy rain or other events cause turbidity (dirt in the water) in Bull Run reservoirs

Water conservation: Benson bubblers are on timers and now have flow reducers (40% of previous usage) – most decorative fountains recirculate – these add up to a tiny fraction of 1% of total water usage – Benson bubblers are symbolic of Portland – there are only 2 outside of Portland: Maryhill and Sapporo

Portland’s system is completely unfiltered – water doesn’t really move very fast in the pipes so what sediment does come in from Bull Run settles in the pipes and must sometimes be flushed out (UDF = Uni-Directional Flush) – system is full of loops, can set valves and flush any given section of pipe with fire hydrant water

Federal LT2 standards against cryptosporidium will require burying/covering reservoirs and (unless we can get a waiver) treating the water with either UV ($90 million) or filtration ($400 million) – chief engineer has a clock on his desk counting down to the LT2 deadline

Bull Run is unique because it has never been logged, inhabited, or used for recreation – only one protected by Presidential Proclamation – New York State has some fine reservoirs but they’re surrounded by houses and people water-ski on them

Boarded a bus for our selected tour “Maintenance and Construction” – our tour guide: Kelly Mulholland (!) – no relation to Willam Mulholland of Chinatown fame

There’s a lot of standing around a hole waiting for something to happen – “Authentic shovel-leaning experience”

You have to have perfect trust in the backhoe operator – so many ways to die – one of the most dangerous jobs in the city – even dumping the dirt into the truck can be done well or badly

Water hammer is a hazard to big pipes – valves must be opened slowly and in sequence to prevent damage down the line

Ductile iron has some magnesium, will bend a little, vs. cast iron which just cracks if bent

Some cast-iron mains from the early 1900s are in great shape – mains from the 1940s are in worse shape because their iron was made with lower-quality higher-sulfur coal

pH balance: you don’t want too much acid because it leaches lead out of brass fittings, but more acid makes the chlorine more effective against microorganisms – it’s a tradeoff like so many things – modern brass is made without lead

What’s that valve you just took out of the hole? Just a piece of scrap some previous Water Bureau worker threw in the hole as fill, years ago

Former bank being converted to a gym – have to bring everything up to code – old 2″ domestic water line being converted to fire service and new 1″ domestic line being installed – fire & domestic water used to be separately metered & billed – today there’s just a remotely-monitored backflow meter to check that you are not using fire water for domestic purposes – meter is buried in dirt with a “remote-read gun” port (black circular plastic thing with cross) in the sidewalk above it

Paint marks on the street use an agreed color code (blue = water, etc.) – water, sewer, gas, electricity, cable TV, telephone – each utility is responsible for locating (marking) its own lines before anyone starts work, based on records & metal detectors – both can be inaccurate – “Every day with a backhoe downtown is like Christmas – you never know what you’ll get” – City to property owner: “Does your basement extend under the sidewalk?” Owner: “No.” Backhoe: “Yes.”

They take out dirt, send it to the dump, where they pull out the concrete etc. and re-use much of it – they re-fill with gravel rather than dirt because dirt turns into mud – vaults are used (vs. direct burial) to protect electronics or when frequent access is needed – a CV or CIV (small Cast-Iron Valve cover) marks a pipe going down to a buried gate (valve) that is opened/closed with a key (T-shaped wrench)

Many of the other people on the tour are PSU students in the interdisciplanry “Capstone” program – one is a water bureau employee (customer service) who wants to learn about other parts of the department

Uni-Directional Flush: test and close valves to send the flow down the target stretch of pipe to a fire hydrant – onto the street and down the storm drains – a “dechlorinating diffuser” on the hydrant to keep chlorine out of streams, bad for fish – UDF dislodges pebble-sized “rocks” of old sediment – first flush is pretty ugly brown – doesn’t generally affect customers except for a loss in pressure, but if there are unknown closed gates (valves) they can cut off water to a block without meaning to – they don’t send out letters because they don’t know for sure who will be affected – they don’t do UDF when we are using groundwater (pumped, therefore expensive) or when it’s raining (storm drains already taxed) or freezing

Portland has very low losses (3-4%) – it’s a very nice place for pipes, non-acid soil and not much freezing – in some parts of Australia the pipes are buried in sand and they lose up to 17%

Each valve has a “gate card” that says which way to turn it (on/off) and how many turns – before doing a UDF they verify this info for each gate in the area and mark what they’ve done in chalk on the underside of the CV

Portland’s water is entirely gravity-fed from Bull Run except for a few parts of the West Hills – pumping is expensive (other water bureaus spend 20-30% of their budget on energy) – we could get 100% of our water from groundwater but we don’t like to because pumping it up is costly

I wonder about people driving by and seeing 20 people in fluorescent vests and hard hats staring into a hole – thinking “must be a big problem” or “what a waste of tax dollars”

Very nice lunch at Sabin Hydro-Park – sandwiches from Grand Central, your tax dollars at work – Hydro-Park is not a water park, it’s a community park, playground, and garden on Water Bureau property – there are 7 of them, offering parks to neighborhoods that lacked them – maintenance and liability issues are kind of hairy, the Water Bureau owns the land but isn’t really in the park business – 2 water towers here – is the water pumped up into them? Actually no, it’s gravity-fed from Bull Run, which is even higher than this hill – these towers store water for the neigborhood and provide backup pressure, also they moderate pressure changes in the main supply – also provide a site for cell antennas and microwave dishes

Cell phones make the water bureau more efficient – crews can now talk to each other and to local businesses directly, rather than going through dispatch – but there’s a loss of tracking & accountability

Kind of cool to be driving around Portland in a big tourist bus – can see stuff from up here that’s invisible from Corolla level

Watching a live tap into an 8″ water main for a new subdivision – big honkin’ drill, very slow – drill goes thru a valve – when hole is done, withdraw drill and close valve – cut-out circle is called a “coupon”

The 4 C’s are NOT: Cloudy, Crunchy, Colorful, and Coagulated

In addition to coordinating with other utilities and property owners, also have to deal with dept of transportation, Tri-Met, etc for any traffic disruptions

New 4″ water main is just a fraction of an inch too long – haul it out of the hole and cut it down – shower of sparks, and smoke coming out the other end of the pipe – cut-off circle is still hot to the touch half an hour later

Doing a live tap avoids disruption for customers and water quality issues (disturbing sediment in the pipes by turning water off and on again)

Putting in a new bioswale near PDX – water mains need to be lowered to go under swale, meters and fire hydrants also need to be moved to new curb line – have to do this work so that road can be re-opened so that traffic can go through here so that another road can be closed – everything depends on everything else

Taking out a fire hydrant attached to a 12″ main – very glad to dig down and find a valve, it was just marked on the map as a T – if it had been a T they would have had to shut down the main (supplying a big stretch of Columbia Blvd) – as is they can just close and cap the valve, no shutdown required – don’t want to start that work today, though, it would mean the bike path would be torn up on the weekend – nice to see so much consideration for the citizens

Impromptu trip to Seattle

A variety of circumstances have come together such that we will be going to Seattle tomorrow, leaving Portland after lunch Friday and returning home in time for dinner Saturday. We’ll be bunking at Mary Kay Kare’s for One! Night! Only!

While we’re in town we’ll hit the Clarion West party, possibly visit Mark Bourne in the hospital if he’s up to it, and pick up our six-year-old niece Alex. We will then take Alex home for a one-night sleepover at Aunt Kate and Uncle David’s place (Saturday night), sending her home with her mother who’s coming to Portland for a concert on Sunday.

We’re also working on Bento. It has to go to the printer on July 30 if we want to have copies in hand for the Worldcon. Wish us luck.

In other news, I’ve participated in an SF Signal Mind Meld, about memorable F/SF stories. Check it out for a bunch of recommendations of really fabulous stories, many of them online. My own selections, I realized after I had written them up, say a lot about me and why I write the kind of stories I do. See my essay there for more details.

Also, Ellen Klages and I will be Celebrity Party Hosts at the Reno in 2011 party on Wednesday night at the Worldcon. See the at-con convention newsletter for location and other details.

My Worldcon schedule, let me show you it

Here’s where you can find me at Anticipation, the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, August 6-10 (which is, um wow, really soon).

Thu 20:00: Overpaid, Oversexed and In Our Time Zone
Curtis Potterveld, Cynthia Huckle, David D. Levine (M), Paul Cornell, Perrianne Lurie, Ronald Oakes
What’s going on with Dr. Who? Has becoming a sexual being made him a more or less interesting character? Just how far can they go with this?

Fri 13:00: Writing Workshop K (2 hours)
David D. Levine (M), Jenny Rae Rappaport
Critique session for previously submitted manuscripts.

Sat 11:00: Fan Editors Panel
David D. Levine (M), Guy H. Lillian III, Jeanne M. Mealy, Joseph T Major, Steve Green
Fanzines have different audiences, frequencies, means of distribution, and editorial attitudes. Editors explain why they publish a fanzine. Thinking of publishing a fanzine? Encouraging words will be offered. An optional lunch outing follows the panel.

Sun 9:00: I left my heart in Clarion East, West, South
David D. Levine, Maura McHugh, Steven Popkes (M), Nalo Hopkinson
Workshops can get in your blood, and they can provide both life changing and shattering events. Panelists discuss the six-week Clarion workshop, including highlighting differences between the different Clarions.

Sun 11:00: Writing in a Culture Not Your Own
David D. Levine (M), Emma Hawkes, Joshua Palmatier, Kaaron Warren
How does a writer get into the head of a character from a different culture, race, planet, gender? How can writers include diversity in their writing without using stereotypes? Or should they not try at all?

Sun 14:00: Kaffeeklatsch
David D. Levine
A chance to ask those burning questions.

Sun 15:30: Author Readings (1.5 hours)
Aliette de Bodard, David D. Levine, Karin Lowachee

You may also see me listed in the program on a couple more Sunday panels, but that would have meant six and a half solid hours of programming in one day and I had to beg off.

Raw footage

Word count: 16823 | Since last entry: 297

First draft complete at 16,823 words. (I actually wrote more than 500 words tonight, but I also deleted the last couple hundred words of outline from the end of the file.) I like the character, the story’s structure, its emotional arc, a lot of the details. It needs to be streamlined and strengthened, and I think it needs even more period detail, but it’s a draft.

I think I’m going to have to treat this draft as raw footage — like the thousands of hours of tape that comes out of a reality show, most of which will never appear in the forty-one minutes of content that fit in an hour of commercial TV. It has to be a process of picking the bits that are necessary rather than cutting out the bits that aren’t. It will mean leaving a lot of darlings on the cutting room floor, but that’s the biz.

I can do this. And I will. Starting tomorrow.

Hacks and Artistes

Word count: 16526 | Since last entry: 2425

1500 words today at Camille Alexa’s, including the dramatic climax. Just one more scene to go. The story will probably come in at about 17,000 words, and will require much hacking and slashing to get down to the target 10,000 (or so) words.

After that, set up the grill and grilled corn on the cob (first of the season) and a nice spice-rubbed pork tenderloin. Oh yum.

Talking with folks at Camille’s I realized I’d never posted my theory of “hacks and artistes.” You may be familiar with the idea that every other driver on the road is either an idiot or an asshole: the idiots are the ones who are going slower than you, and the assholes are the ones who are going faster. Well, in writing it’s similar: every other writer is either a hack (someone you look down upon because their writing is more commercial than yours) or an artiste (someone you look down upon because their writing is artier than yours). Probably the same is true of many other art forms.

But this theory has a sting in the tail, to wit: in driving, by definition, one is never an idiot or an asshole oneself. But in writing, the concepts of “hack” and “artiste” are relative to one’s aspirations rather than one’s actual current performance. Which means that you can look at your own work and brand yourself as a hack or an artiste. Possibly both at once; writers can be very creative when it comes to self-denigration.

We saw Moon yesterday. I liked it a lot — it’s a serious science fiction film, heavy on the moral and intellectual problems and light on the thud-and-blunder. I had a few quibbles with some of the science, tech, and plot logic, but in every case I have to admit that the things they did “wrong” were the right things to do to bring the film in under budget and/or make it more accessible to a general audience. (One spoiler-free example: the characters bounce around like people in 1/6 gee only outside the lunar base. Simulating low-gee inside the base would have been difficult, expensive, and probably giggle-inducing, but on the lunar surface it’s familiar from the Apollo footage everyone’s seen.) Highly recommended.

Also seen recently: Duck Soup, outdoors on the roof of the Hotel deLuxe’s garage. I may never have seen the whole thing in one sitting before. Tons of laughs even for a 75-year-old film where I knew most of the jokes already. But the complete chaos, especially of Harpo, was a surprise. I had expected it to be a little more, oh I don’t know, coherent? Still, marvelous entertainment.

Too many of the wrong words

Word count: 14101 | Since last entry: 1238

Argh. This story is supposed to be 10,000 words long. It’s now about 13,500 words (plus about 600 words of outline in the main file) and I’ve probably got another 2000 words to go to wrap up the plot. Maybe more. The outline was too complex to begin with, I realize now. This is a common failing for me… too many scenes in the outline. I need to combine scenes, streamline, strengthen, move faster. Maybe even cut out a character or two. Probably everything I’ve written in the last three days will have to be cut. But maybe a few incidents or character moments can be preserved.

Oh well. Nothing to do but bull through to the end and then cut back. I’ve got almost a week and a half before the next crit group deadline… that should be enough time to finish the first draft and then give it a good whacking back. Maybe not enough time to whack it all the way back to 10,000 words, though. I’ll have to ask the editor if there’s any flexibility on length.

David Gerrold had a problem kind of like this with the first draft of the Trouble with Tribbles script: he was using a nonstandard 12-pitch typewriter, so his script came out the right number of pages but 20% too long. When he was done cutting it back, though, he found that the exercise had made it tighter and crisper. I think this story will definitely benefit from the cutting I’m going to have to do. (But can I get it all the way down to 10,000 words? We’ll see, I guess…)

Endeavour launch

Word count: 12863 | Since last entry: 1681

I’ve been following astronaut Mark Polansky (Astro_127) on Twitter, and thinking how cool it would be to see a shuttle launch someday, when I happened to receive an email from OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, about upcoming events. One of which was that they were going to show the shuttle launch on the big screen in the planetarium. Today. It just so happened that I had nothing specific to do at that hour this afternoon, so I went.

I showed up just as they opened the auditorium, half an hour before launch. There were about 60-70 people there, mostly families with small children, and an OMSI volunteer provided running commentary to fill in the gaps between the NASA announcer’s pronouncements. Leaning back in that planetarium seat, listening to the countdown and the poll of the various departments, and feeling that tiny personal connection with the pilot because of reading his Twitter feed, my heart really started to race as we got down to the final nine minutes. And when the Orbiter Access Arm (the bridge through which the crew boards) pulled away from the shuttle at T minus 7:30, the pilot waved at the arm’s camera as it swung away. Hey, that’s Astro_127 waving at me!

We were supposed to count along with the final countdown from 10, but the announcer didn’t actually start counting out loud until 5. It was still pretty impressive when it went up. And then we got External-Tank-Cam all the way to orbit, which was cool too.

On the way out of the museum I noticed a display of slide rules. How far we’ve come.

Worldcon Writing Workshops

There have been some problems with publicizing the Writer’s Workshops at Anticipation. Due to a glitch with the Worldcon website, the workshop isn’t listed there and thus the submission process has also gone astray.

According to workshop organizer Oz Whiston:

“The Writers Workshops at Anticipation are small session workshops for either experienced or beginning writers based on manuscripts submitted in advance. These workshops provide Anticipation members the opportunity to have their manuscripts evaluated by selling writers and industry professionals who enjoy helping them grow as writers. Many of these professionals have taught at residency workshops, such as Clarion, or in creative writing programs.”

Information on the workshops, their guidelines and how to sign up for them can be found in the rest of Oz’s blog post. The deadline’s July 25th, which is soon.

I’m one of the pros tapped to do a workshop session this year, so if you’ve ever had an inexplicable burning desire to be critted by me, sign up in the next week!