Solar in Minnesota

I’m reading Maggie Koerth-Baker’s new book, Before the Lights Go Out. It’s a good general introduction to American energy issues. As you’d expect from a science reporter, she focuses on big energy. Her thesis is basically, “it’s not the planet that needs saving. It’s our way of life. More important, I’m not going to save anything, and neither are you. Not alone. The way we use energy is determined by the systems we share” (Kindle Locations 637-638). MKB remains pretty exclusively focused on power (and power solutions) running through the grid -- there’s not much attention paid to the idea that by getting more people off the grid or at least a little less dependent on it, we’d be in a position to eliminate some of the least efficient old elements of our national infrastructure. But given that she’s entirely focused on the big business/big government side, she does quite a good job explaining that aspect.

One of the fun things about the book is that she writes from a midwestern perspective. How often do you see a book dealing with national or global issues, locating itself in the “flyover” zone?

But in the end, I think the rubber will really hit the road when regular people can make changes that work for
them, rather than the whole of society or the energy companies. That’s why it’s cool to see people in places like northern Minnesota doing their own thing with solar energy. Or maybe it’s just that I’m an incurable rural localist...

Real time

Boy oh boy, there are a lot of stories out there! It continues to amaze me, how everyplace I look, there are interesting, compelling history that could potentially turn into serious projects. Okay, maybe I have a short attention span, and maybe I need to complete some things (like my dissertation) before taking on any new projects. I’ll give you that.

So what I’m trying to do is get a little bit of info, when I find these topics, so I can get back to them later. In a sense, maybe this is how authors worked in the days when they were doing the final edits on one manuscript while writing the next, proposing the one after that, and looking for the projects after those. This is the way mu adviser once described her process. In the world of self-publishing, the steps are a little different, but maybe the principal is the same.

The one thing that has really struck me, as I’ve been getting down to writing one
project that I’ve been thinking about for a couple years, is how wasteful it is to go over the same ground again and again simply because I didn’t complete the job earlier. I have file folders, backup hard drives, and memory sticks filled with documents. I’ve downloaded hundreds of pdfs from Google or the Internet Archive. I have a stack of index cards nearly four inches high, two partial bibliographies in Endnote and one in Sente. And I have a half dozen outlines and drafts.

It’s good that I’ve been thinking about this project as long as I have been, and it will probably be a better end product because of it. But next time, I’m going to try to be a little more careful about identifying the material I’m collecting, and writing about it as I’m collecting it. In real-time.

Maybe I thought I wasn’t ready to actually start writing this, or maybe I was just lazy – or too excited about the research. You know how it is: one link leads to another, and soon you’ve got gigabytes of great material. But now that it’s writing time, I need to go back over all this material, rediscovering the paths I followed that led me to these records and relearning how they all fit together. Makes me think if I could have been a little more detail-oriented on the front end.

So I’m trying to build a single bibliography for this new, potential project I’ve just discovered. I’m connecting the documents to the entries in Endnote, so I’ll know where they are (and I won’t have to wonder where the most recent ones are!) I’m writing little abstracts and synopses now, so when the time comes I’ll understand how it all fits together and where each record fits in the story. I’ve even got a timeline and a cast of characters, that I can add to anytime between now and whenever I really start this project.

Wish I would’ve started this sooner! The
original project I came to grad school thinking about is still out there on a back burner. That folder on the backup drive measures about 29 gigabytes, and some of the files date back to 2006. It will be fun revisiting all that stuff someday. But very expensive.