Hungarian Goulash and Minestrone Soup

Time for another round of minor updates and short items.

Last week I posted a piece on the proper use of the apostrophe, which included a deliberate error as a joke. When there was no reaction, I asked for feedback from you all. My thanks to those of you who responded (you know who you are…) Consensus opinion is that it was too subtle for the typical online reader, who can be expected to browse through a post, rather than reading it in detail. I shall take that advice to heart and henceforth I shall keep my jokes as broad as possible.

This breaking news just in: The Bay Bridge has yet to collapse!

The old span closed last night at 8 pm to allow construction staff to connect the new bridge to the road at both ends. For reasons that are hopefully obvious, the old and new bridges need to be closed while the work is being done. The ceremonial last car across the old bridge was a 1930 Model A. Reports are unclear, but it appears that the driver was required to pay the normal toll: toll collectors didn’t leave their booths until after he passed through the toll plaza onto the actual bridge.

The new bridge will be officially opened at 3 pm Monday with a chain-cutting ceremony attended by almost none of the politicians who were instrumental in extending the bridge replacement process to almost a quarter of a century. Depending on how smoothly the construction goes, traffic will start flowing at some time in the 12 hours after the ceremony.

Traffic was mixed this morning. Reports were that the other bridges were crowded, but not totally blocked. A quick local inspection showed that I-80 was wide open headed south towards the Bay Bridge through Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, and Berkeley, but noticeably slower than usual headed north towards the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. An on-the-spot report (thanks, Maggie!) says that BART trains headed for SF were close to 50% fuller than usual, and parking garages were noticeably more full than usual (the Chron’s website notes that BART police issued a larger-than-usual number of tickets to cars parked in permit-only lots).

The Federal Highway Administration says the new bridge is safe. Caltrans says the new bridge is safe. The only important voice not yet heard from is Mother Nature. I’d suggest that she run a QA test on the bridge’s seismic stability, but any quake large enough to give the bridge a decent test would shut down BART for at least several hours while the Transbay Tube is checked for damage, and possibly much longer if any damage is done.

In a related story, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Scientists at the University of Washington report that they have successfully conducted an experiment in mind-control over the Internet. OK, I exaggerate. One scientist, connected to an EEG, visualized moving his index finger. The recorded signal was sent via network to the second scientist who wore a “transcranial magnetic stimulation coil” positioned to stimulate the portion of his brain responsible for controlling his right hand. When the signal was received, his index finger moved as pictured by the sender.

Sounds creepy, doesn’t it? The team points out that it’s not quite as disturbing as it seems. It was done under ideal conditions, requires highly specialized equipment carefully positioned, and can not override the receiver’s will. All true enough; on the other hand, this is a first step, not an end product.

And despite what Internet rumor may suggest, the research was not funded by the NSA. Funding actually came from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and, well, the U.S. Army Research Office. It’s definitely much to early to get alarmed about this research, and there are certainly many, many good uses for the technology once it matures, but it’s something I intend to keep an eye on.

Finally, if you’ve been wondering what the title of this post has to do with the contents, allow me to elucidate. Thanks to the influence of singer Allan Sherman, I’ve long suspected that Goulash and Ministrone were designed as ways to use up leftovers. I won’t try to convince you. Check the recipes below, listen to Sherman’s take on the subject and make up your own minds.

Hungarian Goulash

Minestrone Soup

Taking Stock

Today, 5 July 2013, is the 75th work day of this new life I’m living. Yes, yesterday was a federal holiday, but I put in some writing time*, same as I did back on Memorial Day. That makes them both work days, so I get to count them. 75 may not be a nice round number like 100, but as a multiple of five, it has resonance, and it’s large enough to make it a reasonable number at which to pause, take a look back and see what I’ve accomplished so far.

* OK, so it was only five minutes or so, and I only wrote one sentence, but it’s an important sentence, with ramifications for the entire rest of the work.

On the non-fiction side, I’ve got 96 blog posts written (counting this one, the cat posts, and a couple of meta-posts about the blog, but not counting the emergency posts in my backlog). Some of them are on the short side, but I’ve also written 67 comments, so I think it averages out. I’ve proven to myself that I can write coherently on a variety of subjects and that I can write to specific word count targets. The 49 followers and readers from 14 different countries suggest that I’m even managing to do it in a reasonably entertaining style.

On the downside, the evidence strongly suggests that I’m not going to be supporting myself with this blog (no, that’s not news, nor was it part of the plan). I’m not even earning enough to keep the cats in Kitty Krunchies. The Amazon Affiliate links have earned me a grand total of nothing. Worse yet, nobody has thrown their corporate selves at my feet, offering me zillions of dollars to pontificate on their site instead of (or better yet) in addition to this one.

Ahem. Moving on.

As far as fiction goes, I’ve written two short stories. Both can be at least loosely described as “fantasy”, and both are making the rounds of possible publishers. For the curious, I’ve added a “Scorecard” page (last link on the right near the top of the page, directly under the picture of the fish) to the blog. It’s a snapshot of the current status of my fiction, tracking the stories’ submissions and responses. There’s a third short story, this one firmly in the realm of “science fiction” on my mental back burner. It’s got a device and a motivator, but I don’t see a lot of point in proceeding until I figure out the resolution. (For anyone reading this blog in reverse chronological order, that sentence will make more sense after you read the 4 July post.)

One novel is chugging along. This is not the epic one I’ve told several of you about; that one is still in the “research and world building” stage, and is likely to remain there for some time to come: I’m not kidding about “epic”. There are a couple of ideas in my files that could turn into novels as well, if everything comes together just right. The one that’s chugging is loosely outlined (I know what’s going to happen, but I’m not entirely sure in what order) and at a guess I’ve got about a third of the first draft. I got stuck for a couple of weeks, and put it aside to rest, which is why there are two short stories making the rounds. I seem to have gotten past the blockage and the book is making progress once more.

Even assuming it doesn’t get stuck again, I have to figure this novel is at least a couple of months away from completion. Given typical lead times, that means that even if it sold instantly (highly unlikely), it’s a year or more away from publication. In turn, that means I’m a long way away from cracking the New York Times bestseller list, selling the movie rights, and achieving fame and fortune.

Am I disappointed? Of course. I’d love to be rich and respected after only a couple of months of effort. Wouldn’t you?

Am I surprised? Nope. I kind of figured this is about where I would be at this point. I had hoped to be further along with the first novel (whichever one I tackled first) by this point, but I’m not surprised.

So, I keep plugging away. I’ll continue with the blog. I’ve added a front page note that I’m available for freelance work (over there on the right–at least it should be; it didn’t show up for me at first; please let me know if you’re not seeing it). I’m looking for paying work juggling words. That’s got multiple purposes beyond the obvious impact on the Kitty Krunchie situation: it should give me more practice in writing things I wouldn’t have thought to do on my own, and it should get my name out there where that elusive corporate entity who will pay me zillions to pontificate can see it. And I’ll continue working on the stories and novels.

And in the short term, I’m declaring Monday to be a holiday. It’s my birthday, which seems like a good excuse for goofing off–I’ve taken a vacation day on my birthday most of the last decade or more; why tamper with tradition? There will still be a blog post; it’s already written and uploaded to WordPress and will go live before I get out of bed. But I intend to stay away from the keyboard; unless the Bay Bridge Bolts give up the ghost, causing the bridge to crumble into San Francisco Bay, I’m not going to write a word.

See you all Tuesday.