Stretched Thin and Lost

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David 15Sept2012 - v2Some days life seems overwhelming. I’ve had a few days like that lately. You know the drill – task list longer than your arm, only to find you can’t decide which task to do first. So you do none.

Multitasking isn’t a new concept for me. With many varied interests and a mild case of ADD (if such a thing can be mild), I’ve always been easily distracted. I’ve spent a career as a scientist, but even within that realm I’ve zigzagged through specialties as I’ve hopped from one firm to another. Marine biology? Covered! Aquatic toxicology? Got it! Pesticides? Chemicals? Food and Drug? Effluents? Ocean disposal sediments? Check, check, check, check. Zoology, Botany, Physiology, Anatomy, Ecology? Yup, and more. Adaptability kept me employed despite periodic company upheavals, layoffs, job hopping. Need me in Brussels? Where’s my ticket? Edinburgh? I’m there. I’ve fallen a lot professionally, but I always found a way to fall upward. Well, mostly always.

Of course, a career of science didn’t keep me away from my second career as an Abraham Lincoln nut. Early on in my life I became enamored of our 16th president, which made me the odd-man-out in my revolutionary war-focused neighborhood. I’m not sure what attracted me to him – maybe his honesty, integrity, ability to read the public sentiment, really tall hat – but I started reading about him when I was very young. How young, I don’t recall, which means it was very very young. I do remember reading Jim Bishop’s book The Day Lincoln was Shot, and of course Carl Sandburg’s The Prairie Years and the War Years. And many more. Now I’m focused on my Lincoln studies as Vice President of the Lincoln Group of DC and Board member of the Abraham Lincoln Institute. I’ve written one book on Abraham Lincoln (two if you include an Amazon e-book) and am working on two others. Lincoln activities consume many of my days (including today; I leave shortly to attend a lecture by a fellow Lincoln historian).

Ah, but then there is the travel. I call my home website Science Traveler. After living and working in Brussels for three years, traveling as much as work and pocketbook would allow, I got the travel bug. I even quit my job a few years later to focus on writing and traveling (and writing about traveling). I recently returned from a road trip, am flying off again soon to board a ship, after which I have another road trip, then yet another road trip, then a few more before flying off again. In the next 12 months I should be on as many as six continents. Planning and doing takes a lot of time.

I just found myself exhaling a huge sigh, right after realizing that the monologue above doesn’t even include my writing. I have one primary major book on Lincoln I’m working on, but there is also a secondary Lincoln book I’m just getting started (I’ll be editing a compendium volume). Oh, and my first Bill Bryson-esque travel memoir, a road trip through Argentina’s Patagonia, that will be the first of my science traveling series. I’m also starting to plot out the research for my “next” book, assuming I can stay focused long enough to get the current book(s) written.

There’s more – a lot more – but you get the idea.

As the title of this piece notes, I’m stretched thin in every way except height and weight. My “to do” list not only keeps expanding, it has stretched into multiple pages. For every item I cross off there are a half dozen I add. Something has to change. I’m just not sure what.

Meanwhile, I’m a bit lost. My writing has suffered because I’m trying to juggle too many things at once (including actual juggling; I recently set a new continuous run record of over 1300 balls without a drop). Rather than work on the next chapter of my Lincoln book I can’t seem to stop adding to and editing an already-way-too-long current chapter. Getting into a writing routine is hard when my days are split among so many different interests and obligations. To make matters worse, WordPress has suddenly stopped their “Daily Prompt” page, which was so often a stimulus to what I wrote here on Hot White Snow. Now I’m wondering if I should find an alternative daily prompt or if I should redirect my energies and the focus of this page in another direction. Some of the pieces here have been “memoir,” relating stories from my life. I’ve posted about my travels, my family, my “50 Objects,” and my research. I have a section called “On Writing” where I offer advice on the writing life. Others are random creative pieces stimulated by the prompt.

Like my life, Hot White Snow has become a little bit of everything. Perhaps both need more focus. But in what direction?

I’m stretched thin and lost. How shall I find myself?

David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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My Long-Awaited Civil War Times Book Review

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Lincoln cover approved 4-3-17Who knew there would be such drama over a book review?

It all started positively enough. I was chatting with the Editor-in-Chief of Civil War Times, the preeminent magazine on the American Civil War. We were at the annual Lincoln Forum and I showed him my recently released book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America. He immediately noticed the preponderance of graphics in the book and exclaimed (yes, exclaimed) his desire to have it reviewed for the magazine. With a circulation of over 100,000 subscribers, plus most public libraries, having my book reviewed was a great opportunity.

One of his favorite book reviewers just happened to pass by us at that moment and the editor assigned my book review to him on the spot. This was fortuitous, given that that same person has bought a copy of my book earlier in the conference. We were good to go.

Months passed and after two issues of the magazine had appeared without any sign of the review I queried the editor. Long story short – some miscommunication left each of them expecting to hear from the other and a review had not yet been written. The editor decided to re-assign the review to another Lincoln scholar, whom I had just seen at a recent event.

Finally the next issue arrives (the magazine is published every other month). Before reading anything else or even looking at the table of contents I go straight to the back and look for the review. Nothing. I see four other books reviewed, all full pages with big headlines and photos of their book covers. I don’t see mine. Alas, I think, it must be scheduled for the next issue.

Then I get an email from the reviewer. Did I see his review of my book in the latest CWT, he asks. Well, no, I respond. I didn’t. So I look again. This time I find it. It’s a short review, merely a narrow column long, squeezed onto a page dominated by ads and facing a full page review of another book with its big headline and cover photo. With a small headline and no cover photo, the review of my book is easily overlooked. Heck, I was looking for it and missed it. I suspect everyone else will think, as I did, that the column is merely the extension of the facing page’s book. Since most people will scan the reviews they may not notice that the “extra column” is actually a review of a different book.

Sigh.

So I finally got the book review that I had been waiting for in the most-read Civil War magazine in the world. I’m grateful for that, though it may be missed by many of its readers.

The review itself is wonderful. Jonathan White is a world-class Lincoln scholar with several well-respected and award-winning Lincoln and Civil War books to his name. His review of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America is hugely positive:

“He succeeds admirably,”

is one of his lines. He says that the book:

“tells the story of our 16th president through a wonderful blending of lively prose and attractive imagery.”

He has other nice things to say, which can be read in the magazine (page 69). My goal was to create a book experience that draws in members of the general public that might not ever pick up a scholarly book on Abraham Lincoln. The graphics (photos, cartoons, drawings, paintings) both grab the attention and enhance the text. Based on feedback, I’ve succeeded in teaching a broader range of people without them feeling like they are back in school being forced to study a textbook. Many of my readers will be stimulated to learn more about Lincoln, and I’ve provided ample book suggestions in the back to give them a head start.

Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America is already into its second printing, with more printings hopefully down the road. Likely it will join my previous books on Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison in being translated into several foreign languages. Prefer German, Dutch, Spanish, Czech? We have you covered.

The CWT placement may not get as big a splash as I was hoping for, but I’m honored to have such enthusiasm by the editors, the reviewers, and the public for my book. I hope CWT readers will find it a refreshing change from the more academic books they read and present it as gifts their family, friends, and neighbors.

Now, I’m on to the next Lincoln book. Stay tuned.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Juxtaposed Justice (Where to Find Me)

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David 15Sept2012 - v2I want to thank WordPress for running these Daily Post one-word prompts for so long. They have helped stimulate my creative writing and given me a chance to discover so many great writers out there in blog-land.

Since these Daily Prompts will be ending as of May 31st, I want to invite people to like my blogs and Facebook page so we can keep in touch.

Hot White Snow is the home of my creative writing, memoirs, and other writing experimentation. Most often I respond to the Daily Prompts on this page. [https://hotwhitesnow.wordpress.com/]

Science Traveler is the name of my main author page. I write about my world travels, aquariums, and the topics of my five books to date: Abraham Lincoln, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison. You can also find links here for my FB, Twitter, YouTube, and other pages. [http://www.davidjkent-writer.com/]

The Dake Page: I also have a science communication blog for climate change and other science related discussion and book reviews. [http://thedakepage.blogspot.com/]

Finally, I have a Facebook Author Page that everyone is free to join. Here I post links to articles relevant to the topics noted above. Please feel free to join and become part of the community. [https://www.facebook.com/DavidJKentWriter/]

I look forward to following many of you in the blogosphere!

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

[Daily Post]

 

Disappeared Computing

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broken-laptopSeveral weeks ago I wrote about how I was fretting over my computers. One had seemingly died; the other was on life support. Then they both disappeared.

The desktop gathered dust on top of the desk it lived for seven years while I used my plugged in laptop on my separate writing table. As long as I had my laptop there was no urgent need to decide what to do with the monstrosity that overwhelmed my desk.

And then I had no laptop.

As is Microsoft’s wont, they flashed me a message saying I must restart my computer to install a new update to my Windows 10. The update proceeded as normal, taking much longer than I expected but dutifully telling how far along it had progressed – 45%, 57%, 76%, 81%, 81%, 81%, 81%, 81%. Hmmm, seems stuck.

It got worse.

Suddenly the laptop flashed to a blue screen asking me what language keyboard I was using. Umm, okay. English. Got it. Now, choose whether to go back to a previous version of Windows or insert a disk to reinstall Windows. Ummm, NoooooooooOOOOOOOO!

Many hours and attempts later I gave up on fixing it. The required Microsoft Update, which I had no option to avoid, had eaten my operating system. I had gone from two computers to no computers.

Flash forward: Past the grief, the agony, the growing homicidal feelings; I had to do something. A writer without a computer just doesn’t work.

It’s a few days later now and I’m back to two computers. I decided a new desktop was in order so ran out and grabbed an “All-in-One” Lenovo, to which I’m still in the process of uploading my many thousands of photos and documents backed up on an external hard drive (phew). Such a hassle to find my key “favorites,” which didn’t transfer, and remember the hundreds of passwords needed to reach all my important information.

I also have my laptop back. Sort of. Some googling via someone else’s working laptop found a place to download something called “installation media” onto a thumb drive, which after many attempts finally reinstalled Windows 10 onto my laptop. I was even able to download and reinstall my Office software without having to rebuy it. Again, my browser favorites are all gone and I’m resetting forgotten passwords for every site I visit. But at least I have a laptop to work on. It’s still getting old and I still probably should replace it.

Maybe I’ll wait until I finish paying for the “All-in-One.”

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

[Daily Post]

Lincoln Slights Niagara Falls

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Niagara FallsAbraham Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, had recently returned from a visit to Niagara Falls. He proceeded to describe the majesty of the falls in glowing, heart-felt, awed terms. Nearly exhausted with this description, Herndon then asked Lincoln of his opinion of Niagara Falls, knowing Lincoln had seen them some years before. “What made the deepest impression on you when you stood in the presence of the great natural wonder?” he queried Lincoln, expecting something equally imagery-indulgent.

“The thing that struck me most forcibly when I saw the Falls,” Lincoln said, “was, where in the world did all that water come from?”

Others may have been satisfied with the “mere physical” of Niagara Falls, or like Herndon, enthralled by the beauty without thinking too much about the science, but Lincoln’s analytical mind took this much further. He thought of the phenomenon from multiple viewpoints, a characteristic that allowed him to make decisions with both deeper and broader understanding than most people. Examining his fragment gives us further insight into that mind.

“The geologist will demonstrate,” Lincoln writes, as he envisioned how the vast movement of water wears away the rock as it plunges over the Falls, not just of the bottom, but more importantly, from the top. He speculated that that geologist would “ascertain how fast it is wearing now,” and determine from this that the Earth was “at least fourteen thousand years old.” This estimate is close to the time of the last Ice Age, which is when the Falls were formed.

Lincoln also showed he had some grasp of natural hydrology cycles, speculating that a natural philosopher “of a slightly different turn,” would look at Niagara as the pouring of “all the surplus water which rains down on two or three hundred thousand square miles of the earth’s surface.” He was remarkably accurate in this estimate; today’s scientists say the Niagara River and Lake Erie combined drain a watershed of 265,000 square miles. This same natural philosopher, according to Lincoln, might estimate “that five hundred thousand [to]ns of water, falls with its full weight, a distance of a hundred feet each minute—thus exerting a force equal to the lifting of the same weight, through the same space, in the same time.”

This is rather scientific stuff for a frontier lawyer with little formal education. Lincoln is writing this as he made his way back by steamer home from the East, so he would seem to be recalling all this from memory. But he did not stop there. Lincoln elaborates on this hydrology cycle by pulling in the role of the sun, which through the process of evaporation the water is “constantly lifted up.” He contemplates that if enough water is raised from the watershed to feed the Falls, this natural philosopher would be “overwhelmed in the contemplation of the vast power the sun is constantly exerting in quiet, noiseless operation of lifting water up to be rained down again.” This sounds like a science geek talking, not a future president. He would incorporate this view of solar power (as well as energy from the wind) in his later Discoveries and Inventions lecture.

Lincoln thus shows he is multidimensional in his thinking. While Herndon was enthralled by the beauty and power of the Falls, Lincoln saw the Falls as both beautiful and a learning experience. He contemplated not only its charm and power to excite emotion, but also its hydrology, geology, and natural science aspects. Keeping in mind that the Falls we see today are significantly lessened since the 1895 diversion of water into tunnels feeding the new hydroelectric plant, the site Lincoln saw must have been awe-inspiring indeed.

[Adapted from an article entitled Abraham Lincoln – The Majesty and the Math of Niagara Falls in the fall 2015 issue of The Lincolnian.]

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

[Daily Post]

Tesla and Lincoln Harness the Tides

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TidesWhile his most well-known effort was developing hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls, Tesla also offered dramatic ideas on how to harness the power of the sun, wind, tides, geothermal hotspots, and even cosmic rays. His biggest ideas related to extracting power from the water and the wind.

When still a boy, Tesla had experimented with small water wheels in local creeks. A little older, when he was studying engineering in Austria, he got his first taste of more sophisticated, but still preliminary, water turbines. After hearing a description of Niagara Falls, Tesla “pictured in my imagination a big wheel run by the Falls” and declared that one day he would “go to America and carry out this scheme.” Many years later he would accomplish a much more advanced version of this dream using turbines and alternating current rotating induction motors of his own design. Niagara Falls would be the first of what would be many large-scale “power from water” generating stations.

Likewise, Tesla focused intensely on gaining energy from the wind. In his massive treatise, The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, he noted that the force of the wind was “very considerable” and could “be much more easily put in service” through the use of windmills. He argued that while some may not be able to afford a furnace in his house, he could always erect “a windmill on his roof.” While Tesla thought that other energy options (e.g., tides and waves) were not ready to be exploited in the early 1900s, windmills were “by far the better machine, allowing a much greater amount of energy to be obtained in a simpler way.”

That was over 100 years ago. But even more amazing is that the idea of gaining energy from the wind and water was being offered by Abraham Lincoln 50 years before that!

[Excerpted from Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate]

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

[Daily Post]