Nuclear Plant Hacks?

I'm getting scooped left and right! It's really getting frustrating.

I'm getting scooped left and right! It's really getting frustrating.

Maybe I shouldn't write books that take place just a few years in the future based on plausible but disasterous world events...Because they keep coming true before my book is ready! E-Pocalypse is supposed to be a fictional dystopian thriller, not a non-fiction recounting of global news. Ugh. First a Maine-crewed vessel was lost at sea, then we begin facing off with the Chinese in the South China Sea and now this.

I guess I shouldn't complain because this BBC News story only mentions the Wolf Creek nuclear facility in Kansas getting hacked and my book features the Palo Verde plant in Arizona. 

Can we at least not have power plants hacked and shut down during a record heat wave? That's my entire premise, not to mention that doing so causes people to die and would be awful. This book is supposed to be a grim warning, a meditation on modern vulnerabilities and hubris, not a digest of events come and gone.

I had already been mumbling and grumbling when the Russian hacking story gained prominence. After all, they have been my fictional bad guy hackers since 2012. Do I now change my hacker villains to North Koreans, Chinese or Estonians just to avoid imitating life? Blah again.

I guess the only good news about E-Pocalypse about imitating life is that the second draft is now DONE and in the hands of my beloved Advance Readers. I hope to arrange for publication by year's end. Want to be an advance reader and receive a free copy and thank you in the acknowledgments? Just drop me a line. Edits due August 30.

-Dave Holman

Maine

Posted on July 7, 2017 .

The Baumer

Mark Baumer was way better than me on our baseball team growing up in North Yarmouth, Maine. He was a better athlete. He was a more ambitious writer than me. He was unfiltered. Authentic. Back in high school he was quirky and fun but hadn't grown into the full weirdness he later embraced. Back then, JD Seeley held the undisputed weirdness crown for the Greely class of 2002, but Mark clearly wrested it from him later in life. Mark was a man who never grew out of the inner boy and channeled his childlike curiosity in every hour he lived.

He was a fearless writer, artist and activist. His fearlessness led to his death and his fearlessness has led to the inspiration of thousands of people across the world who are now discovering his art online. He was a prophet of our times and also of his own death. His last video has over 26,000 views as of last count and his fundraising goal of $10,000 stands at over $20,000. Click below to donate in his honor:

Mark liked doing things. So he did things. He chose not to live within the comfortable middle class social boundaries than 999 out of 1000 people restrict themselves to. Why bother? That life didn't inspire him. Spontaneity, adventure, travel, and constant, constant creation were the trademarks of his inspired minimalism, self-experimentation and stubborn refusal to conform to a bland life of full time employment that is incumbent on most people.

I haven't kept in close touch with most of my high school classmates and Mark was one of the few who I tuned into. If you knew Mark, you couldn't help but tune in sometimes. He was constantly posting, writing, making videos, books, poems, wild crazy experiments, writing in the squirrely neon script of a child experimenting with life itself. He was mesmerizing.

Death makes us honest. And to be honest, and I'm embarrassed to say this, there were times over the years when I checked out his creations and then tuned out because it seemed to me that their poetic incoherence bordered on madness. I'm more of a non-fiction reader and I didn't get some of Mark's projects. Maybe I was jealous that he wrote 50 books in 50 days when it took me five years to write one. There were times when I really thought he might have gone crazy. As I began to pay attention to his barefoot journey and watch his videos I woke up to the realization that Mark was a genius.

First of all, his video editing, his rapid jump cuts, his constant stream of consciousness are addictive. Each video has moments of belly laughter, joy, weirdness and spontaneity. His videos are brilliant, well edited, and speak powerfully with his unique style and voice. They are raw, authentic and amazingly somehow edited on whatever mobile devices he could charge at gas stations and use under a tarp in the rain.

I began to identify with Mark again. I identified with his journey, with how his mind was working. I've been on long endurance hikes and marathons when my internal monologue stepped in to fill the boredom and pain of putting one foot in front of the other. Mark was talking to himself and talking to others at the same time. He created a fascinating window into his journey, his beliefs and mind through his art. He invited us all to walk with him. Barefoot. Across America.

Finally, after being out of touch with Mark for years, I posted link to his 99th video on Facebookand urged people to support his efforts. I meant to donate but didn't. I should've made that gift when he was alive but I didn't. I made my donation the next day when I heard the tragic news and my stomach sank. Too late.

Mark wrote me a short, simple and nice comment the day he died. It had weird emojis of course.

As I neared the end of writing this tribute to Mark, it occurred to me that his reply to my post might have been the day before he died. It wasn't. It was the morning of his death. It was at 9:56am. Fear suddenly shot through me. Was it possible that Mark had been distracted by writing to me? Could he have wandered near that white line as he looked down and typed to me? I pictured him smiling at an old name suddenly popping up after years of silence. I saw him walking in the sunshine, typing to me, momentarily oblivious to his surroundings, not looking up as an oncoming driver used their phone. Could I have been inadvertently responsible for killing my friend? I Googled articles with shaking fingers until I found one. Mark died three hours and nineteen minutes later.

Mark lived on another wavelength. He danced the line between genius and weirdness and blended both into a unique vegan smoothie of his own creation. His vision was prophetic in many ways. Like many great figures, it now almost seems like he had some premonition of his own passing from the Earth. After all, his site is literally https://notgoingtomakeit.com/ and the day before he died, he encountered a yellow post by the roadside with the word "killed" scrawled on the asphalt. In classic Baumer fashion, rather than avoiding this ominous sign, he embraced it and made art with it. He slapped that sucker on his blog. Now his bare, authentic, poetic feet announce his passing in characteristically bizarre style.

Mark was prolific, poetic and passionate. I'll be discovering more of his art over the coming weeks and years. I feel like I've only scratched the surface of a person who just constantly made fascinating things. He created so much in his 33 years and set it all up to be shared, commented on and discovered. I have no doubt he'll be inspiring people from all over the world to be weird, to act on their beliefs and to be creative for a long time to come. I hope you'll take the time to read, watch and listen to more of his creations. It hurts a lot to lose Mark, it still feels unreal, and I can't really accept that Mark is totally gone. Per one of his last videos- I like to think that Mark filled out the proper paperwork to become an owl and now he's an owl.

 

Posted on January 24, 2017 .

2017 Resolutions

As I drove down Sligo Road in Yarmouth, I started thinking about 2017. I love making resolutions, commitments and vows. They help me challenge myself, explore new ways of living, and also to find my limits or go beyond them. New year's resolutions offer the hope of improvement, fresh starts and new beginnings.

Here are the resolutions I'm considering for 2017. Some are broad, some are specific. I think that the more resolutions are like SMART goals (specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, time-based) the better. I'm not sharing these goals to brag, but because I know that publicly committing will make me more accountable. I also hope that by sharing them I might inspire you to get to work on your own goals and give me feedback on mine.  I'd love to know what you think.

1. Be a fantastic dad and husband. OK, it's broad beyond belief. Yet, it's really my first priority for 2017, and I'll achieve it through more patience, open communication, and time management.

2. Run at least one mile every day without fail. 30+ min of exercise counts. I tried this last year and made it to March 24th, when we went into the hospital for our daughter to be born. I've been off the wagon. I'm getting back on. Running every day made me feel great. There were a few cold/sick/tired days when my run resembled a trudge, but my physical fitness level felt far better by spreading my mileage out all week than condensing it into 2-4 medium mileage days.

3. Publish my next book E-Pocalypse. This is a big one. It will require writing and/or editing 1000 words a day. I'm almost done with the first draft, but I've stalled at around 95,000 words. It will require query letters, dogged persistence and better time management.

4. Food and Diet. Here are a bunch of things I am eager to try:

  • Eat the Forks over Knives Diet in February. This means no meat, dairy or sugar. This will be tricky to balance with family omnivore considerations. I did this once before and forgot to eat enough salt because the diet makes finding allowable processed foods difficult and thus no extra salt is in my food like usual.
  • Only eat meat max three times per week and avoid it whenever possible. I'm close to this now so it won't be a big stretch.
  • Limit of 5 alcoholic drinks per week and none before driving. This will be easy since I stopped drinking in 2016 shortly after my daughter was born. It's a nuisance so I'm going from straight edge back to casual enjoyment.

5. Buy at least 2 rental units. I'm learning how to invest in real estate on the side. I realized that to save enough for my daughter's college, and allow me to eventually live the life of a part or full time writer, so I need to create passive income streams. The plan is to provide quality homes and move them towards energy efficiency and green materials. Achieving this goal will probably take the form of finding the deal, partners and financing to invest in a duplex or 4-plex apartment building in 2017.

 

 

 

Posted on December 20, 2016 .

Sligo Solar Part 3 - The Roof, The Roof

If you stood in our front lawn and gazed up at our roof, it looked fine- just like a shingled roof should look. Our inspectors had blessed it when we bought our house two years ago. Of course this same inspector missed the fact that daylight was visible from our attic around the bathroom exhaust fan pipe which had lost its ring seal- but that’s another story (and a good one that involved me worming my way over attic insulation in a gas mask with full cans of caulk and spray foam insulation in the dark in the February cold). But I digress. The roof.                 

I had a feeling that a 27 year old roof might not be in the pristine shape it appeared to be, so I asked a roofer if he’d be interested in coming over to look at it and provide me a quote for replacement, just in the off-chance that I’d need it. When he arrived we circled the house and he pointed out how some of the singles had a mild warp that caused their exposed ends to turn upwards. “That’s an early sign that they’re getting old. It’s not too bad. I’d say your roof has 5 to 10 more years in it.” He then cheerfully provided me the gut-wrenching $10,000 quote to replace said fully functional roof.

                  I began a long and almost-successful line of thinking that went like this: since solar radiation, temperature fluctuations and the impact of rain, hail, etc are what cause the most damage to roof shingles over time, installing solar panels over those singles might well protect them, extending their lifetime. Perhaps installing panels that will last 25-30+ years over 5-10 year shingles will magically convert those singles to 25-30 year shingles. This was a tempting line of thought with $10,000 was at stake and I indulged in it.

                  But what if I installed the panels somewhere other than my roof? Surely delaying a $10,000 expense for 5-10 years was worth the effort of considering a ground-mounted array. The trouble with ground-based arrays at my house is two-fold. My yard is quite well ringed by 50-75 foot tall trees and though we have some good areas of southern exposure for the panels, the trees would shade them for certain parts of the day or could even fall on them. I found myself considering how many of my trees I’d have to cut down to install solar panels. Sure, I’d chainsaw them up and burn them for heat, but still, it just felt wrong. We like our trees. I also had visions of our 4 clever pet goats finding a way up on top of a ground-mounted array and cavorting over our kilowatt generators and prancing on our panels. I considered a pole-mounted rotating panel array but the price per kilowatt hour was always 10-30% greater than a similar roof-based array, plus the ten year warranty on the hydraulic rotator didn’t reassure me.

                  Community solar offered an alternative to all this roof and ground confusion and it was (and is) taking off in Maine. Basically, anyone who lacks a good roof for solar (so most people) can get together with 9 other people and all buy panels that are sited in a field (typically a field owned by one of the 9 members). The beauty of this system is that a condo dweller in Portland can own solar panels in Penobscott that offset their Central Maine Power (CMP) electric bill every month. Anyone in the CMP service area all over Maine can do this anywhere in that service area. Maine has a net metering law whereby any excess power generated by one’s panels in a given month is banked as credit for 12 months until it expires. So in sunny summer months, solar owners can generate double or triple their usage while in the dark colder months they can use up the credits they banked so a properly sized system it averages out to about $0 each year.

                  There was only one company in Maine offering to facilitate community solar farms, and that was Revision Energy. They had given me some very competitive quotes and even offered their own 2.99% fixed rate financing on projects with a 12 year loan where the monthly payments came out to be very close to my current average electric bill payments. It seemed like a no-brainer. Except that community solar projects have extra costs. Lawyers are involved, landowners have to be paid rent, fields have to be mowed, the group has to insure its panels etc. Nonetheless, I pursued the idea but Revision kept discouraging me from trying because I had a perfectly situated south-facing roof. They insisted that I’d be paying more per kilowatt hour to go with community solar. A ten percent extra cost on a five-figure project is nothing to sneeze at. The fact that the cheapest quotes were always for people to climb up on my roof rather than work comfortably on the ground felt counter-intuitive, but it proved universally true- roofs are cheapest.

                     Both Rob and Revision had been firm in one thing: I’d be crazy to put brand new panels on a really old roof. I was so eager not to pay $10,000 to replace my roof that I even had Revision quote me how much it would cost to simply remove and reinstall the panels 10 years from now when I actually did have to replace my roof. After some head-scratching the answer of several thousand dollars came back. And the level-headed suggestion that I replace my roof. Rob brought up a genius idea, as he is wont to do: why not just replace half the roof?

                  Eureeka!  In fact, I really only had to replace about 40% (3 of 4 front pitches) of the entire roof to cover the area under where panels would go. I finally met with Rob for about two hours and got down to brass tacks.

We fully analyzed the pros and cons of ground mounted and tracker panels vs. a roof array and he provided a roof array quote that I reckoned as the cheapest (per kilowatt hour-installed) and highest quality of all the quotes I’d received. Plus, he had a really cool crystal ball instrument of sorts that allowed us to view how my trees would block a ground mounted array at all times of the day throughout the entire year. Rob got his calculator in full gear and something told me that the months I had spent quoting, questioning and analyzing needed transform into action- this was the best I was gonna get. I told him that I needed to figure out the roof situation and financing situation and I’d be back in touch.

                  Both happened quickly. I got a loan for the full amount of the panels and A+ Roofing gave me a jaw droppingly affordable quote of just over $3000 to replace my roof with energy star architectural shingles that reflect (rather than absorb) most of the sunlight that hits them. Game on. Roofers were soon swarming over our house, producing so much thudding that our cat’s years of paranoid vigilance proved to be warranted as she cowered in the basement expecting monsters to eat her at any moment. I estimate that the roofers smoked about one cigarette for every ten shingles they installed, but that was none of my business- it’s a damn hard job and my hat is off to anyone who can shimmy up a two story ladder with 70 pounds of equipment on their backs. A crane came and hoisted pallets of new shingles up and the men set to work with what looked like giant crowbars to pry off the old shingles into a giant tarp set up over our flower beds and plants below. They had our roof stripped bare, re-shingled, flashed, and ready for the senior prom in about six hours. Then they were cleaned up and gone with only a few scraps and cigarette butts left in their wake before I even got home from work. It was awe inspiring. They do indeed earn an A+.

                  Now the roof was ready...

Posted on November 20, 2015 .

Sligo Solar Part 2 - The Reckonings

The larger the investment, the more due diligence needs to be done. Before we bought our home, my wife Rommy and I poked around the crawlspaces and closets of twenty houses with our delightful real estate broker Dick Sproul. We saw stairways to nowhere and frogs in the basements of what from the outside appeared to be charming homes. There are no solar brokers that I know of to help one navigate the plethora of panels out there and the many firms pedaling them, but I could've used one! Hopefully this story will help others travel from the dark to the sunshine with solar.

The first decision to be made was a simple one: rent vs. own. In Maine we have the dubious fortune not to have companies targeting our tiny market for solar leasing, but this is very big business in most of the US. The lease deals sound too good to be true. They say, "We'll just come to your house and install solar on your roof totally free and it will lower your electric bills!"

What often happens in reality is that there are some installation costs involved to the home owner and the electric bills may not be significantly reduced. The lease company pockets all the federal, state and local incentives and derives a good profit margin while the homeowner actually loses money over time compared to buying their own panels. This is like leasing a zero emissions furnace for your basement. Let me be clear, I think solar leasing is far preferable to nothing and I would bless almost anything that moved society off fossil fuels, including solar leasing. Solar leasing slaps panels on roofs and reduces all the mercury, smog and pollution that would've powered that home. Leasing might make sense for some people in some situations (for instance if you plan to move in less than 8 years, which is the breakeven point on my solar panels), but the economics of buying panels, even by financing 100% of the costs, are undeniably superior for the homeowner. Would you lease a car for 25 years? Lease payments, and financing payments are similar in their monthly cost but the lease payments never end whereas paying off a solar loan lets you do the free electricity dance.

Though tempting with its apparent freeness, I ruled leasing out due to its actual costliness. Next, I needed to get quotes from solar companies, so I burned some gasoline to attend a community energy expo of sorts. Families and prospective buyers mingled with heat pump salesmen, energy efficiency consultants, solar contractors, and green business people of all stripes. I spoke with four solar installers, including our family friend Rob Taisey who has founded his own solar company Assured Solar.

Rob lives on a road near ours and is an unrepentant entrepreneur, engineer, tinkerer, inventor, and general jolly do-er of all things mechanical. His local claim to fame is his perfectly named business Stump and Grind, which uses gigantic robotic chainsaws to make stumps wish their seeds had never sprouted. Despite his mustache, suspenders, and unconventional interests, Rob is actually a Bowdoin College graduate and former nuclear engineer which put him on the extremely over-qualified fringe of solar representatives at the community expo who ranged from professional sales reps to recent college grads. Rob started dabbling in solar back before it was cool in the 70s now his former hobby employs almost a dozen people in our town.

Naturally, I wanted to work with Rob but, being a believer in due diligence, played hard to get, circulating among many solar booths and requested quotes from all. I couldn't afford to pay thousands of dollars extra just because Rob was a friend, so I resolved to only choose Assured Solar if their quote was closely competitive with the other quotes. As we chatted, Rob pointed out a startling idea that I hadn't considered, "You know, you could put panels on your roof that would power your parent's house on Chebeague Island too."

I did not know this. I'd never heard of such a thing. But it was intriguing and after some discussion, my parents hopped on the bandwagon as well. They also use heat pumps so their electric bills justified a solar investment.

The next question to tackle with the installers providing quotes was a choice between 3 options: a roof array, fixed ground-based array, or a pole-mounted 'tracker' array that followed the sun's angle perfectly throughout the day. The pros and cons of each possibility from each installer multiplied the complexity of my decision making process and bogged me down with hypotheticals. Some weeks after the expo as quotes and possibilities trickled in, I picked up a magazine in a doctor's office and learned about the rapid growth of community solar farms in Maine...

To be continued in part 3.

 

Posted on November 13, 2015 .

Sligo Solar Part 1

I'm really excited about a project put solar panels on my house. I'm going to share some of the experiences with this process here as unrepentant solar evangelist in the hopes of convincing even the most hardbitten oil-burning wild catter to give solar a chance.

Before I go any further, I want to shout one key message from the rooftops: I'm doing this because it's cheaper than natural gas and oil in the short, medium and long run. I heat my Maine home with two high efficiency electric heat pumps and we have a third that heats our water, so we pay a hefty $140 per month on average in electric bills to keep our house a toasty 70 degrees. That's water, space heating and electric for about $1700 per year. I'm taking out a 10 year loan with a 3% fixed interest rate for $13,000 (the price of the system after a 30% federal tax rebate). These solar panels will offset 100% of my annual electric usage and the monthly payments on that loan will be $127. So I will pay about $13 less every month than I pay now, and each bill represents a mini-mortgage payment to own my own electrical generating system rather than "rent" electricity from the coal-fired grid. After 10 years of loan payments, my space heating, water heating, and electric bills simply...stop. For 20+ years. Over the 30 year life of this system, I estimate I'll save about $25,000, averaging about $865 a year.  Although I'll break even in 8 years, because I'm financing this (rather than using my own money), the savings start on day 1. So I'll shout it from another rooftop, solar can be radically cheaper than oil or natural gas. Plus it can't catch on fire, explode, pump pollutants into our atmosphere, get spilled into the gulf of Mexico, or lend support to petro-state monarchies and dictatorships. Well, I suppose you could dump a panel into the Gulf, but you know what I mean.

The wheels started turning in my mind back in college when I learned enough about science to realize that we're on the brink of catastrophic climate change within the next 100 years. If you believe in science, that reality of climate change is not up for debate. What is up for debate are the countless details of how the catastrophe will unfold: how fast will it happen? When? Where? What impact will feedback loops have? Which populations can adapt and which must migrate? How much coastline will be lost and where? How badly will different argicultural regions and societies fail? When will we lose the glaciers? Can we capture carbon and terraform Earth to slow this down? If we can, should we? When will the Great Barrier Reef be gone? When will Greenland's icecap melt start contributing to significant sea level rise? Will polar bears go extinct? Will it get really bad by 2030, 2050 or 2100? These are all urgent questions that our best scientists and climate models can't answer with great precision and they are also great excuses for the complacent to do nothing because firm answers are not forthcoming.

End Part 1

Posted on October 21, 2015 .

1000 words an hour

I've been writing a lot recently. The first draft of my next book is about one third finished with almost 30,000 words in the can. There's one hitch. I switched from working on my non-fiction running book about Mensen Ernst to working on my fiction novel, E-Pocalypse. I had gotten bogged down frankly. With company in our house for several months and a lot of dense historic research to handle, I was spending weeks and months this Spring and Summer without making much progress.

I needed some low hanging fruit. Something easy. So I put Mensen aside for a while (not long I hope!) and switched to writing the fast paced thriller E-Pocalypse. This one has been FUN. It's gotten me excited about writing again, and that's an intangible but elemental necessity. Where I used to get up early to write, this past week I've been very productive between 9 and 11pm. Routine is key, but sometimes changing it can help shake me out of a non-writing stupor.

I'm excited about E-Pocalypse because it weaves together three challenges facing society today:

  • Environmental problems like global warming and glacial melting
  • Cybercrime in the internet of things and the vulnerability of infrastrucutre to cyber attack
  • Macroeconomic instability in a digital financial system that cannot quickly absorb shocks

Throw in a lot of multi-cultural intrigue, plenty of romance, and I hope I have something you'll really enjoy. Writing fiction feels effortless after 6 years laboring over historic non-fiction. It's like switching from bulky trainers into racing flats or taking an addition class after calc. I'm not saying my book will be a great success or that this is actually effortless, but it certainly releases me from the burden of research. Where each written page in non-fiction might require me to read and synthesize ten, fiction turns this ratio on its head. I still enjoy mixing a lot of real history, politics, people and places into E-Pocalypse, and I've been able to spend 60-90 minutes producing about 1000 words almost every day in recent weeks. I feel some momentum building. At this pace I could finish my first draft by December and have a free copy ready for advance readers by February.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Dave Holman

Posted on October 3, 2015 .

Friday Event, Diving Deep, and 1000 Miles in 1000 Hours

First, if you live in Southern Maine, I invite you to come to the Portland Public Library this Friday, March 6, at 12pm to hear me speak about Coffee Smuggler as part of their Local Author Series.

With that plug out of the way, I am excited to tell you a little bit about the research I've been diving into. I haven't read like this in years. Err, decades. I'm averaging a book every five days.

I realize that this is normal for many of you and perhaps even slow for the real speed readers out there, but for most of my adult life, I've read a book about every 3-5 weeks. Good ones go quicker, boring ones languish or get put aside. Pretty soon after I first learned to read (I was a late bloomer in those embarrassing pull-out classes until 3rd grade), I went from 0 to 60 and spent the next 5 or so years reading a book per week for pleasure. I loved losing myself in the story and couldn't wait to pick a book up and a glass of raspberry iced tea when I got home from school.

That feeling is back thanks to my ultra-marathon book buying binge. First, I raced through Running on Empty by Marshall Ullrich. This was necessary because I had scheduled an interview with this legendary ultra-runner and wanted to be able to ask questions that his book left unanswered. Marshall is an amazing man and the story of his 3,000 mile run across America provides valuable insight into the life of Mensen Ernst (the subject of my next book). Just before Marshall, I interviewed Frank Giannino, who holds the record for running across the US- a blistering 66 miles per day from San Francisco to New York set in 1980.

Next, Eat and Run by Scott Jurek took me deeper inside the sport of competitive ultra running and gave me some fascinating glimpses into the mindset that a runner like Ernst must have. Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel by Jason Robillard provided a comical, yet practical guide on the physical realities of ultra-marathons, orienteering, and trail running. Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn amazed me with the similarities between Kenyen runners and the life of Mensen Ernst. Now, I've launched back into the historic context of Mensen Ernst with Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Sport by Matthew Algeo and also Why We Run: A Natural History by biologist and ultra-marathon record holder Bernd Heinrich.

I finished feverishly scanning Loperkongen Mensen Ernst, one of two books ever written about Ernst. This copy was dear to me because it was the only library copy in the US, diligently lent to me from the Library of Congress and due for return all too soon. At first, I tried to read the choppy Norwegian-to-English translation that my phone was conjuring, but I soon abandoned that if I was ever to get through the entire book during my lunch breaks in the Bowdoin Library. Tantalizing clues about the real Mensen Ernst have been flying by me and I'm eager to dive into this translation and make sense of it.

There's so much I want to tell you about. There are so many facts and phrases that can be woven together to support and provide context for Ernst's life. Perhaps the most startling theory I've begun stitching together is that virtually without exception, all the greatest ultra-distance runners experienced hard working childhoods and were raised in relative poverty in rural areas: Mensen Ernst, Marshall Ullrich, Yiannis Kourus, Scott Jurek, Edward Payson Weston, Dennis Oleary, the Bunioneers, and hundreds of Kenyan runners who dominate distance running today. This rural upbringing and poverty meant a lot of physical work and foot travel as a child. These runners also dedicated many years and sometimes decades of their lives to running before achieving their best results. Yet everyone seems to agree: running and especially ultra-running is a mental sport, so researching the psychology behind endurance running will be an important piece of Ernst's biography.

More books are on the way, including a biography of a man who no doubt inspired Mensen Ernst, Captain Barclay who ran 1 mile every hour for 1000 hours in 1809. Most critically of all, a Norwegian librarian is going to scan and send me the origin text for much of Ernst's story: his 1842 German biography written while he was still alive. I'm off to the races.

 

Posted on March 4, 2015 .

Next Book: OCR Adventures

Raise your hand if you know about OCR! Optical Character Recognition.

Today I sat in the Bowdoin College library reading Løperkongen Mensen Ernst by the Norwegian author Bredo Berntsen. I need to read this book because it's one of only two that have ever been written about the man I believe might be the greatest runner in human history: Mensen Ernst. My next book is about Mensen Ernst who ran from Paris to Moscow in 13 days and 18 hours. That's about 110 miles per day. Or 9 minute miles for 15 hours per day. It's at the very outer limit of human ultra-marathon possibility. But possible?

I got an email notifying me that the book arrived at the Bowdoin library from the Library of Congress as per my World Cat request (yeah, I'm picturing Garfield too). I trudged a frigid quarter mile past lawns buried in two feet of fresh fallen snow to take my new book home to examine. At the front desk, I asked for my inter-library loan book. The librarian and her student worker looked at me like I was a fool. "Are you sure it's an inter-library loan book?" she asked raising her eyebrows. She already knew the answer. Of course it wasn't. Unbeknownst to me, inter-library loan had gone out of fashion. I felt old.

"I think so, it's called-" I gave her the unpronounceable Norwegian gobble-

dee-gook. Finally, after much searching among stacks of other books, the student worker found it, sitting by itself in a cubby marked inter-library loan. The librarian made a little clicking noise and began treating me like an equal. Then book was wrapped in a strongly worded white paper from the Library of Congress. She kindly but firmly informed me that this book could not be removed from the library. I suppose since it is the only copy in the United States, I could abide by that rule.

Prize in hand, I found a table with a nice reading lamp. I would need good lighting. I opened the book and began reading the first pages. I got those little goosebumps of adventure as the words revealed themselves to me. I felt like an old alchemist using a magnifying glass for the first time to see a hidden world inside commonplace objects. Except instead of a magnifying glass, I was holding a smart phone.

I don't read Norwegian and this book is definitely in Norwegian. I don't know how to say the most basic things like hello or beer. My smartphone does though, and with a $10 OCR app called TextGrabber, I was able to read Bredo's words with only a slight delay. Not only could I read them, I saved digitized text files that scanned Bredo's words on paper into digital Norwegian and then translated that Norwegian into English. In about 2 seconds. I read 20 pages of a Norwegian book in half an hour.

Of course, anyone reading this after 2020 will think I'm quaint. Oh, those were the days before flawless instant translation of everything. Language barrier? Were you born in the 20th century or what? I had to let out several audible woooowws and gasps of amazement as paper Norwegian transformed into digital English before my eyes and I emailed myself pages of Bredo's book. It wasn't perfect, I had to retake the photos pretty often, and even then, the translation made his English pretty harsh. But it worked.

Løperkongen conquered, I then began to search for the rarest of them all, the 1844 biography about Mensen Ernst that Løperkongen is based on, the infamous German tome Des Steuermannes Mensen Ernst aus Bergen in Norwegen; See- Land- und Schnell-Reisen in allen fünf Welttheilen by Gustav Rieck. To pronounce that properly, it's very important to yell it loudly with a mouth full of sausage.

I had read a very insightful article by Tony O'Donnel about Mensen Ernst that said that only 2 copies of the book (whose title I won't repeat for brevity, we'll just call it Steuermannes) exist in the world. After some intense Googling, I found one in the Norwegian National Library and emailed them public contact number with the subject line, "book scan?". 

Greta Hysvær wrote me back with amazing news. They would put it in the scanning queue and it should be ready in a few weeks. Hopefully, the magic of OCR can crack this 1840s German nut too once it arrives. Needless to say, Librarians are fearless curators of knowledge and we'll need them forever.


Posted on January 28, 2015 .

Coffee Smuggler Sold At These Independent Shops

Posted on December 1, 2014 .

Coffee Smuggler's Banner Day: 250 Books, First Sales, Stickers and more

 

Today was a banner day for Coffee Smuggler- in part due to the arrival of a 7 foot high popup banner. That will help anchor my presence at book talks, signing and events. The most important thing that happened today was picking up 250 first edition Coffee Smuggler paperbacks from Walch Printing in Portland. The story starts yesterday as I was composing my away message from Bowdoin at the end of a hectic work day...

I called the company making the coffee smuggler coasters for my kickstarter backers and, to my frustration, learned that they had not started printing them and cannot deliver the coasters by the launch date as planned because my sales rep had gone on vacation early.

250 Books in my trunk providing extra traction in the snow.

250 Books in my trunk providing extra traction in the snow.

After the call I suddenly realized that my paperback print run was supposed to be done soon but I hadn't spoken with the printer. Maybe they were going on vacation too! A book launch without customized coasters is fine. A book launch without books...Not so much. I dialed Walch Printing's seven digits fearfully and only relaxed when my sales rep Aaron assured me that not only was he not yet on vacation, but that they were boxing my order as we spoke. I could pick it up tomorrow.

I drove to Walch printing this morning and saw a new proof copy sitting on top of my stack of boxes. I opened the proof to discover that it had all the errors that we were supposed to have corrected! This sent the lady attending me into a fit and she stormed back into the office to find Aaron. He came forth and to my relief, we opened a box and found that the 250 printed copies did have all the final corrections. The only one that slipped through was caught this morning by my Ebook creator Paul Salvette of BB ebooks, my chapter numbering goes from 34 to 36 (don't worry, the content is there, it's just a numbering error).

Part of me is glad that at least one mistake slipped through because this is what we book collectors call a "point" and use to distinguish between different printings of first editions to establish which really came first.

After I weighed down the rear of my car with books (Aaron assured me that this would help in the snow), I headed home. As I passed Falmouth, I realized that I should begin distributing my books to the bookstores I've spoken with, so I turned into The Book Review. Barbara gladly accepted 3 copies in consignment along with more invitation cards to the book launch. I then drove towards home and stopped at Royal River Books in Yarmouth where I made my first sale. That sale quickly transitioned into 3 sales when a customer in the store asked me about Coffee Smuggler and soon Dr. Ben Potter walked away as my first retail paperback customer! My friend John Sheeshly was the first to purchase a hardcover a few days back.

Today also marked the arrival of my business card/bookmarks and Coffee Smuggler stickers. These will be fun to give out and hopefully useful for people as well.

My bookmark/business card and the Coffee Smuggler sticker- soon to plague laptops and water bottles near you.

My bookmark/business card and the Coffee Smuggler sticker- soon to plague laptops and water bottles near you.

Finally, I created an author-direct purchase option on my website today. This allows readers to cut out all intermediaries and buy a book direct from me. This means that I can offer a lower price (on sale at $9.99 through Dec 1) and also make more per book (about $5) than through other wholesale/retail channels where I earn from $0-3 per book. I plan to offer the same author-direct option with ebooks and hardcovers when they arrive.  This means I'll spend a bunch of time packaging and shipping books, but that's something I've done and enjoyed for many years now. I hope offering this author-direct option will allow me to develop more personal relationships with my readers, help them enroll in my Author Updates e-newsletter while still allowing bookstores and readers all across the country to order the books wholesale and individually through convenient intermediaries like Baker & Taylor and Ingram (the 2 big wholesalers) and sites like Amazon.com

-Dave Holman

 

A banner day banner.

A banner day banner.

De Clieu is bursting out of his box after 200+ years.

De Clieu is bursting out of his box after 200+ years.

Thanks to Dr. Ben Potter of Yarmouth for buying my first retail copy just seconds after it hit stores.

Thanks to Dr. Ben Potter of Yarmouth for buying my first retail copy just seconds after it hit stores.

Coffee Smuggler in the Maine author section of Royal River Books.

Coffee Smuggler in the Maine author section of Royal River Books.

I am now armed with a credit card swiper to accept mobile payment.

I am now armed with a credit card swiper to accept mobile payment.

Posted on November 26, 2014 .

Site, Page and List

This is an exciting time for me because I'm transitioning from what you could call strenuous editing to light editing and marketing. My designer Katie Murphy of Univoice History has been working very hard on formatting the manuscript. I print these formatted chapters out and give her brief comments about spacing and formatting.

I finished the new website on Squarespace, replacing the old Wordpress site.

Now coffeesmuggler.com points to this site as well. This will be the "home base" for most of my content in the future. I'll keep adding content and depth to this site, but it's a start.

I also finished a new Facebook page to solve a dilemma. I have always maintained the policy that I will not become Facebook friends with someone who I'm not actually friends with or at least had positive interactions with. Readers want to be able to follow authors online, so I've created a Facebook Page (instead of a personal profile) where I hope you'll follow me for the latest news and updates.

Finally, as you probably know, I have started two MailChimp email lists. Once I've distributed the Kickstarter rewards, I will stop communicating through Kickstarter and rely entirely on my blog, mailing list, and social media. Please sign up now to stay tuned!



Posted on October 28, 2014 .

Editing Knocked Out in Round 10

It happened yesterday morning at about 7:15am with a cat occupying my lap and a coffee cup at my side. I scratched out the last edits to the 86,000 words of Coffee Smuggler. I stand in awe before the powers of my editor who rehashed my writing with me for dozens of hours in the past two weeks. Learning to edit (well) has been like learning Tai Chi in that it requires patience and diligence to hone intricate movements that I've done many times before.

 

Editing the book for a tenth time was sometimes excruciating. The focus required for few hours of editing leaves me mentally exhausted; like after taking the SATs. Writing my first draft was like building the shed. Editing ten drafts over 5 years has been like taking a poorly built shed apart, modifying the design/materials slightly and putting it back together ten times over, each time a little better built. I'm now satisfied in saying that this book is the best I could make it under the constraints at hand.

 

The next step is to translate these paper edits to my digital manuscript. I hope this will go quickly. It has to! I will add about twenty illustrations to the text. I'm excited about these. I think old maps, etchings, and paintings of the real places, events, and characters from Coffee Smuggler will add to the story. Then I'll finish my bibliography, add my title page and the manuscript will stand completed.

 

Next I appeal to professionals to finish designing the cover/jacket and formatting the book files for paperback, hardcover, and ebook. Know anyone? The book website and my own website need some work. Any volunteers? Switching between writing and marketing helps me maintain a healthy balance and not get burned out. Thank you for helping me get to this point- it's exciting. Please help me continue promoting the Coffee Smuggler Kickstarter campaign and see how far over the goal we can go in the next seven days. I'm off to turn my pen scratches into Word bytes.

Posted on September 27, 2014 .

Messi moves in, he shoots, we reached our GOOOOOOALLLLLL

Kickstarter.jpg

Thank you! Today, Coffee Smuggler is at 106% of our goal with $3280 raised! You 64 backers have made this happen, you are publishing Coffee Smuggler, so THANK YOU! Support coming from friends, friends of friends, owners of coffee companies, and total strangers has lit a fire under me and I'm pumped to push ahead to publication!

 

I particularly want to thank Nobletree Coffee, Coffee by Design, and Bernhardt Coffee. Months ago, Mary Allen Lindemann, co-owner of Coffee by Design offered to host my Maine launch party in November. This gave me motivation to push forward fast. John Moore and Matthew Swenson have not only invited me to do a launch at the Nobletree Roastery opening Brooklyn, but they have a blend called Le Dromedaire and they put up $525 towards the Kickstarter campaign! Bernard La Borie is launching Bernhardt Coffee on the West Coast and plans to sell Coffee Smuggler books on their website. Thanks to these modern Coffee Smugglers!

 

I wasn't sure this Kickstarter campaign would work and here we are, over goal with 11 days left!  The budget for hiring professionals to design, format, and print the initial run has been met! Should we stop here and call it a day? Nope! Please keep spreading the word about Coffee Smuggler and the great rewards people can lock in by joining the Kickstarter campaign. Here's what I plan to do with more support:

  • Upgrade my membership in the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance to a Promotional Membership ($70 more needed)
  • Order cool bookmarks to give out ($100)
  • Double the initial paperback run to 250 books ($650)
  • Expand the hardcover run to 100 instead of 30 ($1100)
  • Pay a Wordpress designer to make my website and the book website totally awesome and sparkling ($2000-$4000)

Thank you!

-Dave Holman

Posted on September 24, 2014 .

Book vs Shed

We have four Nigerian Dwarf goats named Willy, Whoopie Pie, Aurora, and Canela. I promised to build them a shed this spring and began construction in May. I also made a New Year's resolution to publish Coffee Smuggler in 2014. Both projects have progressed in spurts and the idea of comparing them dawned on me yesterday.

First I had to make a sturdy floor and give the shed good bones. Likewise, I made major structure improvements to Coffee Smuggler this year, axing several chapters that diverted attention from the plot and rewriting the first chapters.

I built the walls and began working on the shed roof. Then I got stuck and took a long break during July and August. I left the shed under tarps ostensibly because life was busy in other areas but really because I wasn't motivated at that time. I have done the same for Coffee Smuggler several times since I began it in 2009, unmotivated to work on it without deadlines or pressure.  There have been stretches of 6 months or more when I didn't even open the Coffee Smuggler file.

Both projects now have real deadlines and I'm racing ahead, making major breakthroughs. It feels great, however as they both draw nearer to conclusion, they are competing for time as much as complementing each other. One is an intellectual endeavor, the other a manual one, and both require arduous patience and consistency. When hours are spent focused on them, without multitasking, I make real progress but now they vie for the same hours.

My goat shed roof is now almost complete and I've edited 130 pages of my 197 page 10th draft manuscript (which will be around to 300 pages in book form). The shed roof requires careful measurement, cutting, and delicate ladder work as I balance aloft to screw things into place. The manuscript requires analytic review of every word in each sentence and thought about how the facts align and story flows.

The shed needs to be insulated and topped with slate shingles (I scored these slightly chipped slates for free off an 1864 colonial in Yarmouth receiving a new roof). The book needs the paper editing finished, changes added to the digital manuscript, illustrations added, cover pages and bibliography compiled, and text formatted. Then I must submit the finished product for publication in paperback, hardcover, and e-book formats.

The deadlines are converging. Willy, Canela, Whoopie Pie and Aurora need their new home ready before it gets too cold and I need to launch the book in November. I need to finalize both projects in the next two weeks. Both projects have been much improved by help from others. I've been learning as I go on both, watching the character of each evolve into an entity apart from myself. Both have taught me a lot. Both projects are ultimately something I have to do alone, something I'm proud of, and hopefully something that will serve their purposes well. The book will entertain and educate; the shed will be a goat palace.

I feel lucky to have 51 backers pledging $2,815 so far. This provides me with wind in my editing sails, and motivates me to make this book the best it can be- and fast. As my editor declared, "You have got to do this. You cannot be lazy." Thank you for your support, it's helping me rush towards a finish line that I'm beginning to see more clearly.

Please support Coffee Smuggler here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/298988291/coffee-smuggler

Thanks,

Dave Holman




Posted on September 21, 2014 .

The French Connection

At a recent wedding, I reconnected with some dear college friends. One of them, the illustrious Bartels, has married a French woman, Emilie. After chatting for a while it struck me, I need help translating De Clieu's original letter.

 

A librarian had kindly scanned De Clieu's original article in 1700s French and sent it to me. I performed a rough Google translate on it so get the basic meaning of De Clieu's words. His letter validated some of the "non-fiction" that has been written about De Clieu, and left much of what is said about De Clieu totally unsubstantiated (for instance, De Clieu makes no mention of pirates).

 I am publishing this letter in the back of Coffee Smuggler for the history buffs in my audience, because it was very hard to come by.

As I chatted with Emilie, it struck me, I need help! Emilie generously agreed to help me with my translation and has delivered on her promise. She researched old French words and produced an excellent translation for Coffee Smuggler. Thanks Emilie for helping bring a forgotten piece of history back to life!

Posted on September 11, 2014 .

Editing Marathon

Today I spent 7 hours working one on one with my extraordinary editor who wishes to remain anonymous. We edited 20 pages of my 8th draft manuscript.  It was intense. I learned a lot and Vince taught diligently.

For the first time I feel proud of my writing. We examined each word or each sentence with a magnifying glass. For the first time, I feel unafraid of criticism. For the first 20 pages at least.

Tomorrow we're going for 5 hours. The coming weeks will be intense as every word of every sentence of every paragraph of every page of every chapter is scrutinized. Each will be either accepted, improved, or destroyed. I owe my editor a great thank you for his service. I feel like Coffee Smuggler is transitioning from adolescence to maturity. Onwards!

Posted on September 6, 2014 .

Blog's Away!

Blogging in Madison

Today I found an hour to sit down in Bradley's coffee shop in Madison Wisconsin to move forward on some important pre-publication item. I listened to a great podcast on the way here called Author Biz that reminded me about the important the importance of establishing a mailing list. So presto, with a delicious decafe espresso in hand I've banged out both a mailchimp email list and a new blog. Correction, this is actually an old blog I started in 2008 but am now returning to, revitalizing and re-purposing. Right now I'm in a tricky balance between pouring energy into final edits of my manuscript, beginning the self-publishing process of cover design, manuscript formatting etc and increasing the marketing efforts that will help Coffee Smuggler see the light of day. It's at once very fun to have all the controls in my hands and scary.

 

Whenever I spent time away from the manuscript I begin doubting myself. I wonder if anyone will like it. When I dive back into editing and remind myself what I've got, that confidence returns. Part of why I'm writing a blog is to connect with readers for the dialogue, encouragement and feedback that keep me energized to dig deeper into the work that will finish this project. So thank for being there, for your words and for helping me on this journey. See me waving...?

Posted on August 15, 2014 .