Speaking of Annoying Noises

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About four days ago, I was in the basement and heard a chirping beep—just like the sound a smoke alarm makes to alert you to a low battery; you know, the one that makes you scratch your head and say, “Am I hearing things? What was that?” Except in this case the sound was not coming from any of the smoke detectors, at least none that I could find. Eventually I became convinced that it was coming from above the ceiling sheetrock, and further convinced that some contractor had put up sheetrock over a smoke detector. Then I became convinced that it was coming from a big junction box for our ductless mini-split system. Connor was convinced it was coming from another device, but that didn’t sound right to me. It started making increasingly shrill sounds at intervals.

I finally texted Plumber Mike, asking if it could be from the ductless system, and he said, Maybe. He and his assistant came by today to check it out. They searched and searched, going through all the same suspicions I had. But it was not coming from the ductless system, or the other. Finally they found it:

It’s a battery-powered leak detector that used to be attached to one of our old water heaters. At some point it must have gotten kicked off, and someone carelessly put it up on a shelf. A high shelf, well out of sight. Where it sat until its batteries ran low, and its trilling could confound the allegedly wise.

The batteries are out now, and it is in the trash. Sanity, for the moment, is restored.

The Evolution of O2

They came and took away my oxygen concentrator, and also almost a dozen small tanks that were clustered in the other room. In their place, they left a new oxygen concentrator—one that I think puts out a flow closer to the advertised rate—and a Dalek-like machine that sits on top, which refills tanks while I sleep. Now, instead of being limited to the ten smallish tanks that I was allowed per month, I have only two, but I can use them as fast as I can fill them.

This is for going out, of course, especially for dog walks. I’ve learned that my clever Inogen portable concentrator (POC) is fine for going out to the store or whatever, or just knocking about where exertion is low. But when it gets more aerobic, like dog-walking, it just can’t keep up with my needs as well as a small tank in a backpack. I believe this is because the POC gives the O2 in little pulses when I inhale, which is less assistance than a tank on continuous flow. The duration of a tank is shorter, of course, but all I need is 30-40 minutes to walk the dogs, and for that it’s better.

The new machine has a different and no less annoying continuous drone from the old one, and since it’s near where Allysen works all day, I spent that afternoon putting together some sound baffling to try to cut the decibels. That part is still a work in progress.

So, How’s Your O2?

The last two weeks have been all about oxygen. O2. Breathing stuff. Not that important until you’re not getting enough. Two weeks ago is when the first oxygen supplies arrived. (In case you missed it, the reason for my oxygen is spelled out in Pulmonary Fibrosis and Me.) We now have the constant drone and rhythmic ptoosh of a big oxygen concentrator, which sits centrally located in our apartment and sends supplemental oxygen through a network of green tubes laid out through the house: one to the bedroom, one through the bedroom and up through a hole in the closet ceiling to my office, overhead, and one that I just snake around behind me as I move about. I’m on the O2 most of the time, to keep my blood saturation levels up. I can go off for short periods, but if I’m active, my O2 percentage will drop right into the 80s, percentage-wise, which isn’t great. Most people are pretty stable around 97-98, as I used to be. Also, staying on the O2 seems to reduce my coughing. Here’s the big guy.

Also, I bought a secondhand portable concentrator that I can wear in a backpack when I’m out doing things like walking the dogs.

I never knew walking the dogs was such an aerobic activity! I really have to pace myself. But as promised, I have increased my daily exercising—leg lifts, crunches, etc., before getting out of bed. The highlight is forty squats and forty pushups while the coffee is brewing. That’s something to look forward to every morning! (Not really.) Stopping between sets to breathe really hard and wait for the O2 to come back up, that’s the ticket. Here’s my cool ring oximeter.

Sometimes I get sick of the cannula in my nose and I switch over to Darth Jeff mode. I sound just like the guy in the black suit.

Weird thing about in-home oxygen supplies: It apparently has never occurred to any of these companies that people might need to split their O2 feed into different rooms. They’ll give you the hoses and connectors and cannulas that you need, but when you ask about a splitter valve, they wonder what language you’re speaking. Well, okay, I thought, you can get anything on Amazon, right? Um… After much searching online, I did eventually find a link to a really overpriced two-way plastic valve that works (the gray one on top of the machine). A week later I realized I needed more, and eventually I found the brass gizmo with the yellow knobs. I had to MacGyver a connector between them, because no one seems to make an O2 connector that’s female on both ends. It’s not rocket science, people! Lots of folks are out there looking for the same solutions as I was, but you can’t get it off the shelf. Victory to those who can think outside the box. I feel like I’m controlling a submarine here.

But how am I doing? you ask. Well, some days I feel kind of discouraged. Most days I soldier on. You’re not taking me without a fight, dammit. I’ve got stuff to do!

36th Anniversary!

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A few days ago, Allysen and I celebrated our thirty-sixth wedding anniversary. Here we are having dinner on the sidewalk patio of the Town Tavern, right here in Arlington.

Chicon 8, Worldcon 2022. In Chicago—ish

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This weekend, science fiction and fantasy fans are gathered for Chicon 8, the 80th annual World Science Fiction Convention, held this year in Chicago. I am participating in a number of panels and similar things, but I am reaching out from home, limiting myself to the virtual portion of the con. There’s actually a pretty impressive virtual portion!

  • I’ve already been on one panel, Thursday morning: “Cats in Science Fiction and Fantasy,” which was quite enjoyable.
  • Friday at 2 p.m. Eastern time, I’ll be part of a panel called “Let Me Tell You About the Very Alien: They Are Different from You and Me.”
  • Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern time, I’m on a panel called “Claiming Your Online Real Estate: Socials, BookBub, and Beyond.”
  • Sunday at 5 p.m. Eastern time, I’m joining a panel called “The Glories of the Tie-In Novel.”
  • Sunday at 6:30 Eastern time, I’ve got a Virtual Table Talk, which is like a kaffeeklatch or literary beer, except without the beverage and without the table. A chance for a small group of fans or the simply curious to sign up to hang out and chat with me for an hour.

It’s nicely spread out, and I look forward to meeting new people and saying hi to old friends, even if virtually. On Sunday evening, the Hugo Awards ceremony will take place, which many people consider the highlight of the con.

If you’re attending, please come join me at any of the above events!

Pulmonary Fibrosis and Me

Time for some sobering talk. A number of months ago, I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), which is a scarring and thickening of the tissue around the lungs’ alveoli, cause unknown. The main symptom is shortness of breath, with cough. It occurs mainly in older people, and it only ever gets worse, not better. Some people live with it for a long time; others, not so long. It’s a disease that can kill you, and I’d never even heard of it until I got it. The only “cure” is a lung transplant.

I wasn’t too worried at first, because my shortness of breath was fairly mild, and I seemed to be stable. In the last couple of months, though, my shortness of breath has gotten a little worse, and I am now taking one of the two medications that are available to try to slow the process. They have side effects, of course. I have an excellent pulmonologist, and also an appointment with a clinic at one of the leading Boston hospitals that specializes in IPF and other interstitial lung diseases. This is all to the good, but doesn’t change the fact that I have gone from being pretty dang healthy to having a life-threatening illness. That’ll sober you up…

I am upping my exercise routine to keep my lungs and body in general in the best shape possible. For that to work, I need supplemental oxygen, and that’s supposed to be arriving tomorrow. I will soon be walking the dogs with a little tank slung over my back. Yay. In the meantime, I take breaks between sets of pushups and squats, etc., and pant and wait for the numbers to go back up on my pulse oximeter.

My secret hope for a silver lining is that once I have more O2 flowing in my brain, maybe some of the creative writing blocks that have been troubling me will give way in the face of oxygen. I can hope. Meanwhile, prayers and healing thoughts would be much appreciated. I hope this will be a long story to tell, but only the future knows for sure.


Tanglewood 2: John Williams 90th Birthday Celebration!

Last weekend, we made our second pilgrimage to Tanglewood—to attend the BSO’s sold-out celebration concert for my favorite composer John Williams’s 90th birthday year. It was magnificent. Guest performers included Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Branford Marsalis on sax, Jessica Zhou on harp, James Taylor with his voice, and surprise guest Itzhak Perlman on violin.

John Williams greets old friends (Boston.com)Boston.com

Most of the music was by Williams, most of it not the well-known film scores. One film excerpt that they did play was new to me, from Catch Me If You Can. It was mesmerizing, with Marsalis on sax and other guest performers on vibraphone and double bass. The surprise performance of the evening was the haunting theme from Schindler’s List, with Itzhak Perlman in a wheelchair reprising his performance of the original film recording.

Yo-Yo Ma and James Taylor celebrate John Williams (Boston.com)Boston.com

We camped out in the lawn area with a picnic dinner this time—great sound, following the orchestra on big video screens. (With our binoculars, we couldn’t see much of the orchestra directly over all the heads, but the binocs were useful in bringing the video images closer.)

Williams sat in the front row of the audience, taking it in. There were stirring tributes from directors and musicians he has worked with through the years, including Yo-Yo Ma, and ending with a video tribute from Steven Spielberg. The concluding number was the finale to Star Wars, and after all we had heard, that unexpectedly brought me instantly to tears. Truly, truly beautiful; I cried through the whole thing. Williams came to the stage afterward, and the assembled 18,000 people sang Happy 90th Birthday to him. (That brought Allysen to tears.) Finally, he was handed the baton for an encore, and he conducted the Boston Symphony in the theme to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not a dry eye in the house, or on the lawn. It was a truly magnificent time.

My one regret is that he is close to retirement. I must accept now that there will never be a film adaptation of one of my books with a score by John Williams. There are worse fates, but that is a dream I now willingly let go.


I’m an animal lover and a softie, and I hate to thwart critters from living a normal life. However, I do have my limits. When they repeatedly chew electric wires and go after my house and my solar panels despite my efforts to keep them away… well, it’s game on, you little fockers.

As I mentioned last time, the solar panel guys found yet more squirrel damage last week, even after an expensive tree trimming behind the house, laborious tree-trimming in front of the house (by me), an expensive installation of “critter guards” around our solar panels, and serious efforts on the part of a pest-control expert to get the little pests off the premises.

I thought I had pruned the tree out front sufficiently to eliminate the threat. I basically made it a bas-relief of a spruce tree. That was basically wishful thinking. I don’t think anyone was living in the tree last winter, because our Christmas lights survived the season unchewed. But now I come to find a big summer home nestled in a tangle of branches near the top, on the side facing away from us where I couldn’t see it. I had not observed the rascal itself, but Lexi and Connor downstairs had. And apparently it could get up onto the roof from there.

Yesterday I got out my vorpal sword, the extensible tree-trimmer, and strove mightily against the Fortress of the Squirrel. In the end, its great house fell. And our tree is now a couple of feet shorter, and I hope no longer within leaping range of easy roof access. I still need to do some restorative sculpting.

Did I feel like a heel? I surely did. If this had been a talking-animals animated feature, I definitely would have been the evil developer felling the homes of the lovable critters.

Thankfully, this was not such a movie.

Squirrels 1, Humans 1.

Will the series be renewed? Too soon to tell.

Chimney on a Hot Tin Roof

Okay, my roof isn’t tin, but I’m certain it was blazing hot up there in the sun yesterday. Our chimney has been in need of rebuilding for some time, as evidenced by leaks when it rained and pieces of old flashing falling into our attic. We finally had it done. The able team from Best Chimney that did the work had the bad luck to work up there with the temperature in the mid-90s, as we along with half the U.S. and most of Europe endured a massive heat wave. I did not personally labor in the sun, but I got hot enough just squinting up at the guys who did. As far as I could tell from way down on the ground, they did excellent work.

Here’s the teardown:

And the finished chimney:

A downside of having solar-electric panels on the roof is that we had to pay another team to come and take several panels down, and come back next week to put them back up. As luck would have it, they discovered yet another chewed cable under one of the panels—even after the installation of critter guards to keep the squirrels out. The little buggers are just determined to cause mischief. Sigh. Steps will be taken, perhaps in another post.

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