Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I don't wanna be a grownup!

I don't want to get out of bed. I don't want to do all the things. I just don't!

This is somewhat ironic, in that yesterday I really did want to get out of bed and Do All The Things, but I wasn't doing to well. Today, I don't want to at all... but I'm doing much better.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

It is what it is

"It is what it is." Ye gods, I hate that phrase. I have never ever, ever heard it used in the stoic/zen/philosophical sense that it's supposed to represent. I only ever hear it used to describe situations which are:
A) Stupid
B) Untenable
C) Wholly beyond the ability/authority of the speaker to fix

"It is what it is." Yeah. And what it is, is unpleasant, unnecessary, and unavoidable.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Boys & DnD - The Second Session

So, on Friday the whole family gathered around the kitchen table after dinner and we had our second session in The Great Wildly Underprepared Daddy Dungeons & Dragons Campaign. Much like the first session, it was both fun... and fraught.

The first major decision that they faced was whether to go back to town and report, or whether to explore further into the hole. Beautiful Wife and Firstborn opted to return to the hole and check for signs of any further danger. Secondborn, on the other hand, expressed the fear that there might be an invisible dragon down in the dungeon, and wanted to stay on the surface and kill things and get stronger before venturing back inside.

::sigh:: I probably should have seen that coming. He's only seven, remember.

After a certain amount of mild argument, the party split up. Firstborn and Beautiful Wife returned to the dungeon entrance; Secondborn wandered off into the woods. So, I handled this the only way I could.

Firstborn and Beautiful Wife checked over the place where they'd battled the goblins, then explored further back into the tunnels. One of the goblins had tried to flee, so they went in the direction that it had been running when my Beautiful Wife the Halfling Sorceress decided to immolate it. They found a connecting tunnel, did some exploring, and found an enormous pit, with a ramp circling down around the outside edge as it descended into the depths.

Secondborn found a squirrel.

Firstborn and Beautiful Wife reached the bottom of the ramp and found two exits, one on each side of the circular chamber. The one on the south opened onto a passage, but since the passage was perpendicular to the exit all they could immediately see was the far wall. The one to the north went a short ways and then opened onto a much larger chamber. They elected to head that way.

Secondborn heard birds. He then spent something like 20 minutes IC climbing up a tree, spotting a nest, climbing out the branch to get to the nest, discovering that the nest was empty, and climbing back down.

The lower level, like the upper, was assembled from dressed stone. The mortar between the blocks has been overgrown with strange mushroom and some sort of phosphorescent lichen. Firstborn and Mommy decide to put out their lamps and navigate using the natural light, which is dim but sufficient. They step into the large room and attempt to survey the length of it. I have them roll Spot checks.

It's a big room, with a row of columns on each side. Off at the far end, barely visible, is some sort of dais with a dark block atop it. The first thing they notice is that the high ceiling is covered in webs, which wind around and anchor to the rows of columns as well. The second thing they notice is that there are cross-passages in the two nearest corners, one about thirty feet to their left and the other about thirty feet to their right. There's a goblin standing in the one to their right. It screams and runs away.

Meanwhile, Secondborn encounters trees.

Firstborn and my Beautiful Wife decide to investigate this room before chasing after the goblin. They proceed towards the block at the far end, and Beautiful Wife expresses her (somewhat concerned) opinion that this is, or was, some sort of temple. Secondborn, of the Human Rogue/Ranger, is the only one with any sort of Hide or Move Silently skill, so they're basically just strolling through the web-infested temple. They're about halfway down the room when Firstborn looks up and realizes that there's a rather large spider lowering itself towards the halfling sorceress's head. He pulls his dagger and flings it at the monstrosity, which is roughly the same size as the halfling it's about to eat. The spider shrieks, the halfling looks up and lets loose with a Scorching Ray, then steps calmly aside as the stabbed, burning spider plummets down to land in the spot where she'd been standing a minute before.

Secondborn decides that the forest is really, really boring, and decides to go catch up with the rest of the party. He enters, then begins following the tracks to find where his friends have gone.

Firstborn and Beautiful Wife take a closer look at the webs, and realize that there are web-wrapped, mummified figures suspended up there - quite a number of them. Beautiful Wife expresses the opinion that there might have been more than one spider. While they can't make out much in the way of details because of the webbing and the poor lighting, it looks like the bodies are pretty small: the size of goblins, say... or halflings. They proceed to the back of the room, finding the dais to be made of the same rectangular-cut stones as the rest of the place, and the almost-certainly-an-altar of a single stone block. It's a little hard to be sure what sort of altar it might have been, since there are no carvings and no adornments.

However, when they circle the altar they find a larger body. Like the ones up in the webbing, it's completely covered in webs; but instead of hanging in the air, it's anchored to the back of the altar. They cut it loose, and discover that while it's human-sized, it isn't human. It looks like a human-sized goblin: a hobgoblin, in fact. Also, it has a few coins, which they promptly claim.

Secondborn has spent this time following the trail. He's found the ramp and started down it. At the bottom, he stops to look at the tracks again, then follows them into the large chamber. I ask if he's sneaking or walking normally, and he says he's just walking. So when he comes out into the main room behind the group of goblins who are attempting to corner Firstborn and the Beautiful Woman, he finds that four of them have turned to look back at him.

The band he's facing off with consists of six goblins and a hobgoblin. However, only four of the goblins have noticed him. The hobgoblin and the other two are still approaching the back of the room, intent on trapping Firstborn and Beautiful Wife, and killing them.

We roll for initiative. Secondborn rolls something obscene, just like he did in the last session, and ends up going first, with Firstborn and Beautiful Wife coming after him, followed by the goblins and finally the hobgoblin. (No, I don't have the patience to roll for the goblins individually.) Secondborn puts an arrow through one of the goblins that's looking at him, killing it, and the battle is on.

These are neither the best equipped nor the most powerful opponents. Beautiful Wife and Firstborn take cover behind the altar, and Firstborn (the Elf Barbarian/Druid) looses his viper companion to go slither up next to the pillars, which it does unnoticed. Beautiful Wife takes a shot at the hobgoblin with Scorching Ray, but between the poor lighting and the partial cover/concealment of the pillars, she misses.

The goblins finally manage to attack, inflicting a bit of damage with arrows on Secondborn's character. One of them (lacking a bow) charges in close enough to attack with its axe, but misses. The other two goblins and the hobgoblin continue to advance, using the pillars for cover. One of them takes a shot at Firstborn and Beautiful Wife, but the altar provides excellent cover and the arrow shatters against the stone wall behind them.

Secondborn (against my advice) elects to drop his bow and draw his sword, and neatly dispatches the goblin in front of him. Firstborn decides not to do anything yet, and waits beside the altar. My wife, the Halfling Sorceress, takes another shot at the hobgoblin, and this time she melts his face.

The two advance goblins continue their approach, bringing one of them into range of the viper. However, despite the advantage of surprise, it misses. The goblins attacking secondborn loose more arrows, but fail to do any damage. The hobgoblin, being dead, merely smolders.

With the immediate threat dead, Secondborn puts his sword away and retrieves his bow from the ground. The two goblins who have been sniping at him try again, but again fail to connect with him.

At the other end of the room, Beautiful Wife finds that a goblin has crept up into reasonably close range. She draws her magic dagger, throws it, and puts the goblin down. Firstborn, meanwhile, steps up to the goblin that his snake has tried to attack. His snake tries to attach it again, but again misses. However, the goblin is now flanked between Firstborn and the snake, and Firstborn cleaves it in twain with a blow from his greatsword.

Secondborn takes a shot at one of the two goblins who are shooting at him, and puts a arrow right through its eye. (Natural 20, confirmed critical.) It dies instantly, and the one remaining goblin runs away.

Well, at this point we've been playing for two hours and it's time for the boys to go to bed. They loot the goblin and hobgoblin corpses, then head back to the farm to rest again.

Overall: So far, so good. I think we're learning to stay together and work as a group. The enemies I've given them so far aren't much of a challenge, but that's fine; I'd rather err on the side of weak enemies than put them up against something that kills them all. The boys are becoming more familiar with how all this works, and we've definitely established that having the one half-elf farmer's kid fall into these dungeons has opened up a real danger for the community. More importantly, the boys are really enjoying this.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Books I will almost certainly never write

I've got nothing, so instead here are some books that I will almost certainly never write:

The Maltese Space-Falcon
He's the richest and most eligible bachelor on Alpha Centauri. She's an ex-cop who's been burned one too many times. The alien artifact they're searching for could unlock the secrets of an alien civilization, or destroy their own. Or both!

High Stakes
Evie Dowling is an ordinary high school girl, but when a 4,000 year old vampire joins her senior class, she suddenly finds herself dodging magical traps, supernatural assassins, and an entire squad of vampire hunters. Now she'll have to choose between her humanity and the tempting combination of immortality, supernatural power, and incredible wealth. High Stakes: humanity doesn't stand a chance!

Heroic Destiny For Sale!
Dov spends his days being herded by goats and dreaming of heroic deeds. But when he stumbles onto the magical sword foretold by ancient prophecy, he suddenly realizes that being a hero isn't as much fun as it sounds. Now the Dark Lord's minions are trying to kill him, Princess Jerra wants to throw him in jail, and his magical talking blade just won't shut up. Dov thinks it'll be okay, though: all he has to do is get to the market at Derwhit and auction off the blade for enough money to retire on, and all his problems will be solved.

It's not about the budget, it's about the priorities

I've mentioned this before, but when someone tells that there isn't money in the budget to do something - like, say, raise salaries for teachers, hypothetically? It's almost never about the budget. It's about the priorities.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Boys Try Dungeons & Dragons

So, back on Saturday I ran a game of Dungeons & Dragons for the boy.

It's a little soon. I mean, Firstborn is eleven, which is plenty old enough; but Secondborn is still seven, which is well below the intended player age for Ad&D. He did pretty well, despite his age and despite the part where we really didn't have a lot of visual aids.

We're playing in 3.5, because honestly:
A) That's the most recent version that I'm familiar with - I never really tried 4 or 5.
B) It's a good, reasonably balanced and playable system.
C) You can make it as simple or as complex as you like, relatively speaking.

For now, we're sticking with simple. Or... mostly simple. The boys have complicated things, all by themselves. And I've also discovered that, as much as I like to think of myself as a veteran Game Master (or Dungeon Master, as Firstborn just reminded me) it's been years since I played, and I've actually forgotten huge chunks of the rules. So I'm... well.. winging it. Specifically, I'm filling in the actual combat system with the "this seems reasonable" system, at least until I can read back through and wrap my mind around the system.

So let's talk about boys complicating things. I let everybody start at fourth level, because first level characters die ridiculously easily. So both of the boys immediately decided to go with split-class characters.

Firstborn has decided to play a Elvish Barbarian/Druid, which is odd but viable. He's taken a viper for his animal companion, and he's set up to be a fairly reasonable front-line fighter, who can then fall back and heal people when the battle is over.

Secondborn went with a Human Ranger/Rogue split, apparently with the intention to sneak up reasonably close and then snipe people with arrows. This is, again, odd but viable.

Beautiful Wife said she'd fill in anything that would round out the party's skillset, so she's a Halfling Sorceress with an owl for her animal companion. She has one really good attack spell, and some useful/defensive secondary spells, plus a magic dagger that she can throw; her job is to hang back and use ranged attacks, or to do the talking and negotiating for the group.

That left me in need of, you know, a setting and an actual adventure, but I think we're off to a pretty good start. The characters all know each other, and more or less grew up together - at least in the same town. They grew in the free town of Morendell, which is out in the southwestern edge of the great forest. It's an area that the human kingdoms generally consider to be part of the elven kingdoms, but that the elves consider to be outside of their demesne. Elves come there to trade with humans in a reasonably comfortable environment; humans come there to trade with elves without having to actually travel into the deep forest. The population is approximately 40% elves and 40% humans, with maybe 8% being half-elves and the remainder being dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and everybody else. It's a walled city, with a ring of farms outside the walls and the forest beyond the farms. Our heroes are a special unit of the guards, who patrol - or at least sort of check in with - the outlying settlements: the farmer, trappers, woodcutters, and etc. who live outside the walls and out in the forest.

For our first adventure, I introduced the human Chief Guard, Vendik (Fighter, lvl 7 - we're not hugely advanced around here). He's about halfway between a sheriff and a police chief, but he's well organized and keeps the city safe. He's also the one who recruited the PCs and set them to patrolling the outlying settlers. Vendik was waiting with one of the outliers, a half-elf farmer named Berrin. Berrin explained that his kids had been playing in the woods a couple of weeks back when one of them fell through the forest floor. The kids were smart: one of them waited with the one who fell, while the third went back to get help. Berrin and his wife came back with rope, and they pulled the kid out.

Since then, though, they'd been hearing noises in the night. They thought something was prowling through the woods and watching the farm. So Berrin had come into town, to get the guard to come have a look and tell them whether they were really in danger, or whether they were just scaring themselves.

Vendik told the PCs to skip their patrol of the eastern settlements, and look into this instead; then he told Berring that the PCs would take care of him, and went back to his office.

...And we were off.

One of the complications that came up immediately was that Secondborn (who is only seven, remember) didn't realize that being a ranger made him the tracker for the party. They got to the farm immediately, but it was quiet and when they went to put their horses in the barn they found that something had cut its way into the chicken coup, killed the chickens, and probably carried them off. Once the ranger realized he could track things, he identified the prints as small boots, and the party set out to follow the trail.

Unsurprisingly, the trail led to the hole that Berrin's child had fallen into. It wasn't a cave, or at least not exactly; the edges of the hole, and the fallen stones, were clearly clean-cut rectangular blocks. After a bit of consultation, the group descended into the hole, and immediately discovered that they were in a large-ish room, still mostly covered, with a doorway at the far end. Also, the Druid/Barbarian was just sure there was something else down there, even though nobody else could hear anything.

The Ranger/Rogue began to scout ahead, but the Halfling Sorceress got impatient and sent her familiar owl on ahead. The owl grew concerned and came flapping back, and all of a sudden everybody could hear harsh, guttural voices up ahead somewhere. So the Ranger/Rogue snuck up the hall, around a couple of corners, and looked in through a doorway. By then he could smell both smoke and cooking meat.

Looking in, he saw a large room, with pillars to support the ceiling, and a fire in the middle. There were three goblins sitting on stone blocks around the fire, and a pot cooking over it. He ducked back when one of the goblins looked at the doorway, and went back to report to the others.

They moved up to the nearest turn in the hallway, and the ranger/thief decided that he was going to sneak into the room and take the goblins by surprise. He crept silently down the hall, reached the doorway, and started around it. That was exactly the moment when he realized that there was a goblin sneaking around the corner in an exact mirror of his own plan. For a moment they just stood there, staring at each other. Then we rolled initiative.

Secondborn rolled something obscene - a 19, I think, which combined with his Dexterity bonus and Improved Initiative to let him go first at 24. Firstborn was next, and then the Beautiful Wife. The goblins rolled poorly, and all came after the Player Characters.

So Secondborn jumped back, I guess because he was startled, and pulled his longsword. (Never mind that he's an archery specialist; he's seven years old, he's startled, and by the gods he's going to beat things down with a sword.) The goblin, meanwhile, yells loudly to alert its companions.

Firstborn and Secondborn move to flank the door, leaving Beautiful Wife a little ways back down the hallway. The goblin is still there in the doorway, and Secondborn attacks with his sword - not a one-hit kill, but a one-hit KO which is good enough. Firstborn spots the goblins by the fire and charges one of them. This leaves him open to the fourth goblin, who was hiding just inside the doorway, but that goblin misses and Firstborn reaches his target and essentially cuts him in half. He's raging, of course, as only a barbarian can - and while his skin hasn't turned green, that elf suddenly looks a lot larger and more muscular.

Beautiful wife advances to the doorway, and sights the other goblin beside the fire. She lets loose with her one offensive spell, and immolates him. Like, he bursts into flames and then dissolves into ash. This, I suppose, is the advantage of taking a single-class character.

The one remaining goblin decides to dodge past the characters in the doorway, and race off into the deeper darkness down the other branch of the hallway. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite manage it, and Secondborn sticks a broadsword in his kidney but doesn't quite kill him.

When the next round starts, Secondborn decides to let the goblin go. Apparently, he's having second thoughts about wantonly murdering sentient beings over stolen chickens. Firstborn's character yells "Let it go!" for the slightly more sophisticated reason that he wants to chase it and find out where it was trying to go.

Beautiful Wife's character immolates it anyway, either because she's tired and cranky or because halflings are nasty like that.

After some prodding and some consultation, the characters decide to head back to the farm, put their horses in the barn (under guard) and bring Berrin and his family up to speed.

So... I think we have a good start. The characters have a decent base of operations (the city, and to a lesser extent the farm). The boys have had a decent introduction to the system and how it works. They've kept the farm safe and found out what got into the chicken coop. If they don't decide to explore the dungeon on their own, I'll have their commander order them to make sure it's safe.

More importantly, I think everybody enjoyed it -- even the Beautiful Wife, who spent a fair amount of the game looking at FaceBook. Firstborn is thrilled; he's actually asked if, once this adventure is done, he can try being the dungeon master. (For the record, I said: "Sure, but you have to realize that it's a lot more work than it looks like.") Secondborn did amazingly well for something that requires sustained focus, and I think had a good time as well. Beautiful Wife was less enthused at the outset, but she did get into it -- and, again, she's not feeling entirely well, which makes it hard to really dig in on something like this.

I've offered to take the boys to the local gaming store tomorrow, and let everyone choose their own dice, if they'd make a reasonable effort to go to bed. This, they've done. I may let them pick out figurines for their characters, too, if we can find anything suitable.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Love is a Many-Translated Thing

So I've been thinking about that "if you receive a friend request from Steve Miller" meme that's going around, and... yes, I know thinking about it was my first mistake... Anyway, I've wondering about speaking with the pompatus of love. Is there, like, a Rosetta Stone program for that? Maybe Duolingo? 'Cause I think "fluent in the pompatus of love" would be a great addition to my resume.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A brief snippet of Urok...

Opening Paragraph:
Urok set his mug on the laquered wooden table and sighed. He'd wanted to see the town of Merchuk, and now he had. He'd wanted to have some human-brewed ale, and he'd done that too. He'd used up the coins that old Salvain had paid him for cutting wood and hauling stones. It was time to head back into the grasslands.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Self-Maintenance & Boy Conversations

Nothing for this morning, really. We finally got some news at work, but that's still going to play out however it plays out; I'm still writing, but that's also going to play out however it plays out. The boys are still awesome, though:
Beautiful Wife has noticed (and she is not alone in this) that Secondborn tends, when hungry, to be a bit... cranky. Irritable. Rage-prone. Homicidal. Unfortunately, he gets this from both sides. Fortunately, once fed, he morphs back into the sweetest little dude imaginable, and is all ready to tell EVERYBODY just how much he loves them, which is a lot. It's almost like Gremlins, except that the Mogwai only changes if you *don't* feed it, and if you do feed it then it changes back.

Beautiful Wife: "Man. When Secondborn hits puberty, it's going to be like a series of nuclear bombs."

Firstborn (who is eleven, and speaking in the most sardonic voice imaginable): "We're going to need a bunker."
So that much, at least, is still right with the world. And yeah, my family is about the only thing keeping me sane right now.

Oh, and also:
Firstborn: "I have decided that I will do Orchestra instead of Band when I start Middle School next year."

Me: "Now we see the violins inherent in the system."

Firstborn: "What?"

Me: "What?"
Meanwhile, I'm reminding myself yet again why basic self-care is so critical to writing and any other sort of creative endeavor (and critical to Not Getting Sick as well). I'm supposed to be a grown-up. You'd think I could remember that, but... no, apparently not. ::sigh::

Anything fun or exciting happening with you, gentle readers? Consider this an open thread.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Gifs of Life

Friend on Facebook is all like, "Using only a gif, tell me what you do for a living."

Me:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Another Old Project

So, last Saturday I got to play Dungeons & Dragons again, for the first time in... I don't know. Fifteen years? At a guess?

It was fun. It was good to be with friends. It was definitely not the sort of campaign I'm used to -- I'm pretty sure my character showed up just in time to help the other characters take over a drug cartel, for example. Fortunately, my character is both Chaotic Neutral and Not That Bright, so he doesn't have to be terribly concerned about it.

I'm playing a half-Orc druid, which means that I have two basic roles in the party. Basically, I hang back and summon animals to fight for us. Then, if I have any spells left, I heal anybody who needs it. So far, it's worked amazingly well. And since we're pretty low-level, my animal companion is the toughest thing in the party. He's a wolf. I call him "Puppy."

...All of which has gotten me thinking about an old character that I wanted to write about: Urok, the half-Orc barbarian. And I'm considering taking Urok and his soon-to-be-found friends, and posting bits of his story here once a week as a regular feature.

I've tried this before, with mixed results. It does help me keep things going, but sometimes I end up posting things that really aren't ready to be part of the story or desperately need to be revised (or abandoned). Several of my other blogs (mostly neglected, if we're being honest about this) were intended for this sort of use.

But... I'm also beginning to think that I need to be rotating several projects at the same time if I'm going to make progress on any of them. In my teens, I'd focus on a single project and just write it, but that was thirty years ago and my life was very different then. So taking a break to generate the next scene for Urok at least once a week might be just the break I need.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Sales Calls To Our House

Beautiful Wife: "They say these sales callers aren't personal, but it turns out you can get them there."

Me: "I'm not sure that provoking them to the point of homicidal hatred is the best way to establish a personal connection with people."

Beautiful Wife: "But it does work!"

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Friday, June 30, 2017

Clean Teeth

The scene: evening, bedtime. I wander into the living room, looking for boys so I can tell them to get in bed. Firstborn is sitting on the couch, fiddling with his Kindle Fire. Secondborn has ninja'd himself into invisibility by hiding under the table. Beautiful Wife, like Firstborn, is on the couch.

Me: "Ah, good. There is Firstborn. Now, if only I could find Secondborn."

Beautiful Wife: "He is brushing his teeth."

Me: "I was just coming to tell him to brush his teeth. I will look for him in the bathroom."

I leave the living room and look in the bathroom. It is, of course, empty. Secondborn is a righteous ninja, but he hasn't actually mastered teleportation yet.

Me: "He is not brushing his teeth!"

I return to the living room.

Firstborn: "You sound like a character from an Elephant and Piggie book."

Me: "WE MUST BRUSH OUR TEETH!"

Firstborn: "I have given you too many ideas, and by that I mean 'one'."

Callahan's Friday Pun: Royalty

Me: "Do you have any idea what it's like being the king?"

Beautiful Wife, looking suspiciously at the pool ring on my head: "...No..."

Me: "It's a very unpeasant experience."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Done

I am... tired. Beyond tired, even. I'm just kind of *done*. I have no focus, I have no enthusiasm, I'm impatient but not because there's anything I particularly want to *do*. In fact, it's kind of the opposite: I just want to stop doing things. I want this day to be over. I want my job to be over.

I'm not suicidal. I don't want to leave my family. I'm just... I deeply tired of being tired. I'm deeply tired of being discouraged. I'd like to have some motivation back. I'd like to have some energy. I'd like to have some sense of morale.

If I'm about to get sick, then I'd like to just run a fever (or whatever) and get it over with. I don't think that's it, though. I just want everyone to shut up and go away for a few days. Which is kind of a problem, since I'm parent to two pre-teen children and since my wife seems to be in just about the same place I am, emotionally speaking. And, honestly, when I wrote this the boys were doing a lovely job of entertaining themselves; it's just that I can hear one boy's YouTube videos and the other boy's video game, and I want it all to stop.

I swear, I used to enjoy things. I used to have hobbies. I used to be able to finish things, at least every once in a while.

Right now, though -- and I'm going to set this to publish later, not just after I finished writing it, so with any luck none of you will read it until after I'm somewhat recovered -- right now I don't want to do any of it. I just want to bury myself in the earth for fifty years, like one of Ann Rice's vampires, or plug myself into cryosleep for a century-long trip to another planet. I want to turn into a statue and wait until the proper alignment of the stars recalls me to life and movement.

I want to stop needing to do all the things that right now I still need to do.

Instead, I'm going to put the boys down to bed. And in the morning I'll wake them up and I'll go to work again. I'll even pretend I care about what I'm doing there, though I don't guarantee it'll be convincing.

And I think... I hope... that I'll start looking for some way to make a change. Because I think it's vital, especially in a mood like this, to remind myself that things really can get better. And maybe if I act like it, I'll start to believe it again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Unstructured Time

So, we're making selections from a list of "vital needs" - the things you need to have in your life in order to be happy, or at least satisfied. Firstborn has just finished looking them over.

Firstborn: "What is unstructured or structured time?"

Me: "Structured time is time with planned activities. Unstructured time is time when you get to do what you want."

Firstborn: "Oh."

Me: "Like, I have unstructured time. Maybe I'll play some video games. Maybe I'll take a bath. Or maybe I'll read a book. Or maybe I'll run down the street naked with a piece of fried chicken in each hand."

Beautiful Wife: "Don't run down the street naked with a piece of chicken in each hand. That's illegal."

Me: "There's a fine line between 'unstructured' and 'illegal'."

Firstborn: "...And running down the street in a bathrobe would be right on that line."

Me: "Exactly. Running down the street naked would be waaaay over it."

Firstborn: "An uneaten piece of fried chicken in each hand!? That's way over the line!"

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Being Cherished Is Harder Than Jello

Woke up this morning & came out to the living room to find that everyone had curled up on the couch. I sat down on one end and was immediately snuggled by both boys. Firstborn then offered one of his massages, so I got myself stretched out... and the Secondborn and the Beautiful Woman joined in.

My friends, I feel positively cherished. I mean, it is a truly awesome Saturday morning when the first thing that happens is megaboysnuggles, and the second thing that happens is that the entire family joins in make sure you feel good.

Then, as he was working on my legs, Firstborn discovered just how knotted my calves were. (I keep a lot of my tension in my calves apparently. This is exacerbated by having an extremely sedentary desk job.) "Wow!" he exclaimed, or something to that effect. "Daddy's calves are harder than Jello!"

And that really just broke us all up. I'm laughing, the Beautiful Woman is laughing, even Firstborn starts laughing. Secondborn leaps to my defense with, "Maybe we should say--" but Firstborn waves him off.

"My metaphors need work," Firstborn explains.

Well, that may be -- I mean, I know how he meant it, it just didn't come out quite right -- but even so, the next time I feel like being really snarky about something, I am so going to find some way to work the phrase "stronger than Jello" into the conversation.

Friday, June 23, 2017

LED Eyelashes

I may have observed before that an awful lot of what passes for fashion is apparently just a concerted effort to make clothing way more difficult than it should be. This, however, takes it to a whole new level: I can't even imagine wearing these. They look like the most annoying thing in the world.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Out to Lunch

Me: "Okay, I'm going to lunch. If I'm not back in an hour... call the President."

Me, a moment later: "On second thought, the President's an idiot. Don't call the President. Call..."

Me: "Ummmm..."

Co-worker: "Yeah, I'm not coming up with anybody up there that I'd care to call, either."

Me: "National Guard. If I'm not back in an hour, call the National Guard. They can probably still figure out how to get things done."

Co-worker: "Deal."

My filter is just gone, y'all. It's sailed off to the Caribbean and I don't think it's coming back.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Annnd we're back

We've gone on the Great Family Odyssey to Tennessee, and returned alive if not entirely unscathed. Though we tried to squeeze as much vacation out of it as possible, this has definitely been more of a family gathering than an actual vacation. And it's been a curious mix of splendid fun and horrifying ordeal. And I may come back and explain all that, but...

It's Sunday night.
We just got in today at about four o'clock.
My head hurts.
I have no energy.
I have no brain.
I really need about three days to recuperate and get everything back in order.
I have to be at work tomorrow.

Whuf.

On top of everything else, I have this jagged little cut/bruise/thing on my forehead. (I'll be delighted to tell you any number of fanciful stories about how I got it. My personal favorite is the one about the rogue packs of mutant grizzly bear that roam the Arkansas hills, and how I had to head-butt one of them while they were trying to climb in through the window of our fourth-floor hotel room.) I suppose it might look cool if I was younger, but somehow "The Middle-Aged Man Who Lived" just doesn't have the same cachet, y'know?

Anyway...

Here's a picture of the boys in the one cave we managed to visit:


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Under The Waterfall...

So, we took the boys hiking...


When we got down to the waterfall... No, let me back up a little bit. It's a decent hike, but the waterfall itself is one of those places that figures prominently in both my personal history and my even-more-personal mental landscape. The water comes out between two layers of sandstone, and tumbles down to an intermediate shelf, and then falls down another thirty feet or so into a pit and vanishes. There's no stream leading to it; there's no stream leading away from it. The water appears at the top, drops, then drops again and disappears.

Moreover, if you've followed the trail down then you've likely come out facing it from the intermediate level, but on the far side of the pit. So there you are, firmly on the earth, watching a waterfall that begins Above and ends Below. It has a very World Tree feel for me; it always has. It feels like it's connecting the realms, or at least it should be.

So when we got there, the boys took a few minutes to admire it, then noticed the little hole off to the far side: the one that looks like it would allow you to get down into the pit without having to scale wet limestone walls. Which is... mostly true. Naturally, they asked if they could go down there. Which was... mostly possible.

So I climbed down myself, making strategic use of a couple of logs that had fallen (or been shoved) into the hole. Then I had the boys ease over the edge so that I could grab them and lower them down.

Then they proceeded down the slope to the bottom of the pit.



All of this went perfectly well. We found a frog down there, and then a turtle. I even had them stop and pose for a picture together.


Then, we climbed back up. Well... Sort of.


The thing is, neither of them is tall enough to reach the holds needed to get back out. So I took Secondborn, showed him where to put his foot when he was high enough, and lifted him back up to the shelf, until he could find some handholds and push up with that foot. Then I grabbed Firstborn, who is substantially heavier; he ended up using my shoulder as a step, which was basically fine. Then it was time to get myself back out.

This was... more of a challenge. The handholds and footholds are there. Getting myself positioned so that I could use the ones I needed took a bit of preparation. Actually hauling/pushing myself out with them required what we used to call "a metric fuck-ton" of effort. So while I'd been doing fine on the hike itself, this was the strain that let me know that I'd finally really overdone it.

But, I made it out. Then I sat on a fallen log for about five minutes while my heart rate slowed, my breathing caught up, and my energy made half-hearted promises about someday coming back to me. I sat there with my head swimming and my guts hurting in that peculiar way that overexertion sometimes brings. It didn't help that I was at a higher altitude than I'd been in quite some time, or that the air was a lot more humid than I was acclimated to; but if we're being completely honest, neither of those things would have been much of a problem if I wasn't forty-mumble-mumble years old and if my cardio wasn't so bad. But I sat, and I recovered, and after a few minutes we started back towards the head of the trail.

The hike back up was almost, but not quite, entirely uphill.

Yeah.

Firstborn, meanwhile, for reasons that deserve a blog post of their very own, made the entire hike without needing a break and was ready for more at the end of it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Puerto Rico As Our 51st State

It seems that Puerto Rico has voted in favor of statehood. This is going to be a contentious issue, for several reasons. First up is that while the vote was overwhelmingly in favor -- like, 97% in favor -- only 23% of the population turned out to vote. (That's low enough to make state-dwelling American voters seem positively civic-minded by comparison.) Secondarily, Puerto Rico can't simply declare itself a full state; that has to be approved by Congress, and the sheer amount of crass political calculation that will go into such a decision staggers the imagination.

Possibly the biggest problem, though, is this: even if those hurdles were overcome, where would we put the fifty-first star on the flag? I mean, right now we're all neat rows of little white stars. An additional star would totally throw off the arrangement.

Well, I can't help with either of the first two issues, but I do have a solution for the big one. Here's my design for our brand new flag, one which would incorporate all fifty-one states and make a clear statement to the international community about who we are as a nation. In an excess of humility, I have decided to call it New Glory:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Tale From The Borderlands...

Right, so:

One of the funny little things that I enjoyed about Borderlands 2 is that at various obscure points in the landscape, you find spots where the inhabitants of Pandora have set out chairs in improbable places: beside lakes full of threshers, on the edges of cliffs... it's just such a bizarre-and-yet-believable thing for people to do.

So... What did I find today, whilst exploring the area where we're currently staying (which is on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, if I failed to mention that earlier)? You guessed it:
I mean, I didn't see any threshers, but then we found this:
...So I'm thinking I should make sure I've equipped my best shield and a good array of weaponry in case of bandit attacks... or in case we find a Vault.

Friday, June 9, 2017

June 2017 Writing Resources

1. Jennifer Crusie discusses Protagonist/Conflict/Antagonist and formulating a one-sentence story premise to keep your writing on track.

2. Over at Black Gate, Tina Jens discusses a revised character sheet to help you really get to know your characters in detail.

3. Lydia Schoch discusses The Seven Deadly Sins Of Writing, which are also worth thinking about in terms of their corresponding virtues.

For myself, I've been spending a lot of time cogitating on opening lines and opening scenes, and what kind of promises they make to my readers. I'm thinking specifically in terms of the projects that I'm working on (in no small part because one of the projects continues to frustrate me on precisely these grounds: I can't seem to find a satisfactory jump-off point).

Taking my cue from the Jennifer Crusie article above, I think my premise looks something like this:
A member of the City Watch joins forces with a renegade outlander to try to break the curse that has plunged the city into darkness, plagues, and monsters.

So my current options for opening lines look something like this:
  • Somber made his escape well before dawn on the last day of the harvest festival, when everyone by rights should have been asleep.
  • Maija had been drinking steadily for two hours when the disaster began.
  • Somber hadn't intended to do anything other than get out of the city as quickly as possible, but the boy's arm was broken and there was nobody else around.
  • Maija took three long swallows of her drink, then settled back on the bench. It was the last night of Harvest, and she was with her friends in their favorite restaurant, out on the balcony that overlooked the square. Alcohol, food, and good company were finally conspiring to help her relax.

Those are four different approaches, starting with two different characters (Maija is the Warden of the City Watch, Somber is the renegade outlander) and building from very different aspects of their personalities and situations. They offer different access points to the story. They make different promises to the reader. They set different expectations.

I think it's time to pick one, and go with it.

...And I think I'd like to write out a setup like this for at least one other current project, maybe two.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Love and Tea in 2017

Relationships are different. Relationships are different because people are different. But if you're going to write a magazine-article fluff-piece, you pretty much have to ignore that and pretend that the particulars of your individual, idiosyncratic relationship are actually Grand Universal Truths -- regardless of how silly that makes you sound, and regardless of the actual state of your actual current relationship. So here goes:

Hot Tea
Hot Tea is the foundation of a good relationship, a stable marriage, and solid parenting skills. If you're the first person to get up in the morning, make tea for your spouse. This will show your undying love for each other, strengthen the bonds of your marriage, and provide a stable footing for raising your children.

If you're still just dating, take your significant other out on a tea date. Try new teas. Introduce them to your favorites. Order custom teas, and use funny-shaped diffusers to brew your cups of tea. There's nothing more charming than tea, and nothing more likely to make someone fall hopelessly in love with you than a tea date.

If your kids can be trusted with the responsibility, show them how to brew tea! It'll make them feel useful, and you get tea! There's no downside. Kids! Tea! Awesomeness!

Make hot tea a central part of your relationships and your life. A relationship that doesn't share tea isn't worth having.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Weird Dreams and Travel Plans

I was remarking the other day that lately I don't seem to remember my dreams the way I used to. I don't know if my dreams are less vivid (since I don't remember them, obviously), but it's been a fairly distinct trend. Some of it, I think, is just that I'm getting older... but I'm increasingly convinced that a big chunk of it is spending way too much of my time way too tired.

As if to make up for it, I slept hard last night, had bizarre dreams and actually remembered them.

So, first: the setting was this massive ivy-league university with the most incredibly gothic architecture imaginable. Kind of like Marburg, but on an even larger scale. (It actually reminds me of some of the settings in Bloodborne, only better lit and populated by students and professors instead of townspeople who are descending into madness and monstrosity.)

This part is almost certainly related to our travel plans: my family and I are going to be out of town next week, so visiting this sprawling, epic-scale place is perfectly in keeping with that. (On a related note, I probably won't be posting much of anything while we're gone.)

I have no idea where my pants went, but that part of the dream is almost certainly tied to the way this week has been going: chaotic, disorganized, and full of unexpected crises.

What I'm really puzzled by, though, is this: why did we have a tied-up neo-nazi in the back seat?

Yeah, that was part of the dream too. And no, I have no idea.

Monday, June 5, 2017

An impromptu essay on the appeal of the superhero mythology...

Composed on Twitter. There are probably ways to compile it and post it here (and feel free to suggest them), but for the moment I'm just going to create a link. It's here, and it begins like this:

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sorry about that last post...

I really just needed to get that off my chest. Unfortunately, that was really the only way I could publish those observations. So, thank you all for not-reading the invisible text.

How about some invisible music to make up for it?

Linkin Park:


Skylar Grey:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Music: The Garden of Earthly Delights & World On Fire

courtesy of Apocalypse Orchestra:

This is the kind of stuff I listen to when I'm writing -- not always, but often.

If that didn't quite do it for you, maybe try Les Frictions with World On Fire?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Unattributed Quote That's Currently On my Mind

"I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say... and I will be your slave."

Yeah.

Go ahead.

Unpack that one.

(It's not really unattributed, of course. If you don't recognize it -- and I'd bet most of you do -- then a quick search on Google or even YouTube will give you the source.)

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Boys, the Sea, and the Little Fishes

So, I've been reading Terry Pratchett's The Sea And The Little Fishes to the boys at bedtime.

Secondborn really enjoys it. He's seven, and he likes being read to sleep. I think it's partly just having the sound of words all around him -- he's an intensely auditory child -- and partly knowing that there's nothing happening without him, that everything important that's happening is happening right there on his bed. But he'll listen to me read and pass out in, I don't know, ten or fifteen minutes. Left on his own, by contrast, he can easily take an hour or more to fall asleep.

Firstborn, of course, gets it in some ways that his younger brother doesn't yet. He's ten, and cultivating his own deadpan, sardonic approach to humor.

So I'm reading along in the story, and I get to this part:
Letice had what Nanny thought of as a deliberate walk. It had been wrong to judge her by the floppy jowls and the overfussy hair and the silly way she waggled her hands as she talked. She was a witch, after all. Scratch any witch and…well, you’d be facing a witch you’d just scratched.
At this point I notice that Secondborn has fallen asleep, so I stop there and close the book.

Firstborn looks over at me from the top bunk. "Scratch any witch, and you'd be facing a witch you'd just scratched," he repeats. Then he adds: "Probably as a chicken. Or a frog."

Yup. This one's coming along nicely.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Under Warranty?

Me:
Can you tell if by any miraculous chance, the iPad with Serial # XXXXXXXXXXXX is still under warranty?

Apple Store:
Coverage has run out on this item. Is there an issue we can help with?

Me (knowing that it's an iPad 4 that was bought back in 2013 or thereabouts):
I am wholly, entirely, completely, utterly, and in all other ways unsurprised by that, but thank you for checking.

There isn't what I'd call an issue. I think the only thing that can be done for the device at this point is to give it a decent burial, and (after a suitable period of mourning) replace it with something less... mangled.

Apple Store:
I’m so sorry that is happening. Please let us know if you need anything else as we are here to help always.

Me:
It's okay. I have it on good authority that iPad brought this terrible fate on itself through a life of reckless extravagance and poor moral judgement. It seems inevitable that it would have come to such a bad end.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Conjuration in the Real World

I realize that most people don't believe in magic, or at least think they don't; to convince you that it's real, I'd like to present you with a spell I cast successfully just this past weekend:

Me: {admiring nice, clean, shiny car}
Me: "Yep, sure is a good thing I got the car washed."
The Sky: {Rumbles Ominously}
The Sky: {Loud Crack of Thunder}
The Sky: {Begins Raining}

Monday, May 22, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

Financial Transparency in Municipal Government

Heh. You ready for another personal theory? Here goes:

The biggest bar to financial transparency for a municipal government isn't the desire to keep the public (or even the self-appointed watchdogs thereamong) from knowing what their employees make. Government employees -- especially at the city and county level -- really don't make that much.

No, the biggest bar to financial transparency for a municipal government is the desire to keep the employees from knowing what the other employees are making.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Not even The Shadow knows...

Co-worker: "So, why are we doing this, exactly?"

Other Co-worker: "Not even The Shadow knows."

Me: "To be fair, The Shadow only knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. The IT Strategic Plan is much more confusing than that."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Monologue from the isolated cabin where my college friends and I are having a party

I'd be a big help in a horror movie. It comes of sending out helpdesk emails.

"Okay, look. Just... try not to get too drunk. That creepy guy with the axe is still out there in the woods. I know the cabin's secure and nobody's been murdered yet, but we all know it's coming, right? Just take precautions. That's all I'm saying."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Reading Suggestions

Some stories for you to enjoy and/or explore (preferably at home - I make no promises that any of these are safe to read at work, or in front of elderly or impressionable family members).

Sun, Moon, Dust
They Will Take You From You
Say, She Toy (Big Time Trigger Warnings on this one, folks.)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Another Odd Memory

My mother once told me that when I was much, much younger - in my first decade of life, though she didn't phrase it that way - that she used to arrange for me to have a friend over. Now, this friend was almost exactly my age; he was the son of my Godmother, one of my mom's oldest and closest friends, and was born just barely over a month before I was. Both of us were oldest siblings in our families, too.

So it helps, I think, to remember that this is someone I grew up with.

Anyway apparently my mom would set up these afternoons for Childhood Friend to come over and play with me. And he'd come over, and we'd play... for a while. Then I'd get tired of him, and go off to play by myself. Apparently he would then go and complaint to my mom that I wouldn't play with him, and she'd explain that there wasn't much she could do about that, and... I don't know. I don't know what the next step was, whether she would give him something to do or send him back to find something to play with on his own, or what. Maybe she'd just call his parents and tell them it was time to come pick him up?

Like I said, I don't know.

But this kid would come over to play, and we'd play, and then after a while I was done interacting and I'd go play by myself.

I think that really tells you all you need to know about what I was like as a kid.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Vital Importance Of Kettle Corn

So I pick up the boys and bring them home, while the Beautiful Wife arranges to pick up pizza and catch us up there. Since I'm not sure how long this will take and when we'll actually I have food, I hand each of the boys a plate with some Kettle Corn on it.

"Since I'm not sure when Mommy will get here with the pizza, here's some kettle corn to hold you over," I tell them.

"...And this is why I love growing up in this family," Firstborn tells me.

Secondborn then takes his plate out into the back yard with him. He returns a few minutes later with the empty plate.

"Can I have some more?" he asks.

"No," I tell him. "Not unless you were attacked by a flock of crows who ate all the kettle corn off your plate."

"Oh," he says. "Yes. That's exactly what happened."

"My goodness!" I exclaim.

He turns back to look at me. "No, I'm kidding!"

I give him an extra handful of kettle corn anyway, after explaining that his answer was hilarious.

Then the Beautiful Wife arrives, and we all sit around eating pizza and discussing tardigrades.

Monday, May 8, 2017

When Daddy Sings, The Whole World Cringes

Me, in the car, singing loudly:
I came in like a Taco Bell
I ate and I don't feel so well
The grease has gone into my gut
Things soon will come out of my butt

Beautiful Wife: "Did you hear that somewhere, or did you come up with those lyrics yourself."

Me: "I came up with them myself."

Beautiful Wife: "I'm so proud."

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Movies

Okay, how can I watch Guardians of the Galaxy and the opening is fine, but I watch Spring and the dude losing his mom in the first three minutes utterly wrecks me?

I know I'm late to the party, but it's actually a really good movie - part romance, part horror, part science fiction. If you haven't seen it yet, see it. Whatever you think it is, it won't be what you expect.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Ash Knight Scene 4

It was just past dawn when someone knocked on his door. Edrin had been readying himself to sleep, but he'd half-expected some sort of interruption and hadn't settled in yet.

"Yes?" He opened the the door a crack, found the custodian looking in at him, and opened it the rest of the way.

"Two men tried to break into my rooms last night," the custodian said without preamble. "I need to know if you stopped them." He looked at Edrin, swallowed, then added: "I won't speak of it. But I need to know, for my own mind."

Edrin shrugged and stepped back. "Yes," he said. "You told me it doesn't happen here. If I have my say, it doesn't happen here."

"They belonged to the Plague Dogs," the custodian said, crossing to one of the bare wooden stools that had come with the room. He seated himself upon it, then turned to face Edrin again. His face was pale, and there were dark circles under his eyes. "They would have taken the rents, everything I need to keep this building in even this poor repair, and everything I owe to its proper owner."

Edrin spent a moment considering that. This was supposed to be a hiding place while he tormented the church in hope of reforming it, but that didn't mean he could ignore what went on here. "The Plague Dogs are a problem? Or will be, now?"

"If you are what I think you are," said the custodian carefully, "I don't want to know. Better they think the building is haunted -- and from the sound of them, they do. But that won't keep them from looking, or from seeking some sort of revenge."

Edrin nodded. "You sent those two back?"

The custodian nodded. "Naturally. Two men, injured in my building and calling for their friends? Of course I helped them."

"Tell me about the Plague Dogs," Edrin said quietly. "Tell me where to find them."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Theory on Teams

I have a hypothesis. I'm not sure exactly when I started developing it (or when it went from a sneaking, subliminal suspicion to an actual hypothesis), but over the years I've come to believe more and more strongly that it's true.

It seems to me that any time you have a good, solid, working organization, there are one or two core people who are holding the whole thing together. As long those one or two people are involved, the team will hold together even if other members come and go (though there's also likely to be less turnover as long as that key person/those key people are in place).

Now, so far that doesn't sound like much of a revelation. In fact, it sounds like the opening line from any number of Business Leadership books and articles.

The thing is, the key people for any given team -- and this can be a company, a department, a church... almost anything, really, as long as it has some organization and some goals. The thing is, the key people for any given team aren't necessarily the ones in charge. They can be, but they don't have to be. They can be the ones who make the consistent good suggestions for how something should work, or the ones who help other people explain what they're trying to do so everyone understands it. They can be the ones who have a solid vision for what they're trying to do and how best to get there (which is usually, but not always, the formal leadership). Sometimes they're just the person who follows up and keeps track and makes sure everything gets done.

This is how you can change out a CEO without much changing the way a business works, but lose the head designer for the same company and have the whole business ready to collapse within a year. This is how you can have someone apparently innocuous retire (a good, solid employee, but nothing special) and end up having to hire two or three or four people to take over their duties. And this is how having one person leave can make an entire team completely dissolve.

It's not leadership, exactly; or at least, it isn't always what people think of as leadership, or identify as leadership. But in a lot of ways, it's actually more important.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Music: Darkness

Music by Theodor Bastard. Animation by Icepick Lodge.

I'm going to have to find more of their music. It's all over the place, but a lot of it seems to kind of... land in my sweet spot.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Ash Knight, Scene 3

Edrin had taken a room in one of the tenements in the Sink, where the Watch never patrolled and he would be hidden from the attention of the High Church. Only the poorest and most desperate lived here; only the Gardeners and a handful of actual priests ministered to them.

The Sink had grown up in the lowlands west of the docks and the warehouse district. Only the main streets were cobbled, and even those were in poor repair. The smaller streets and alleys were dirt, or more frequently mud, and in the spring the whole district would flood with runoff from the river. The pervasive scent of mildew was occasionally buried by the smell of smoke, rotting garbage, or human waste; the area was home to more rats, snakes, and feral cats than people.

Edrin slipped in through the narrow doorway, and made his way down the dirty hallway to the tiny wooden stairwell. When he'd first taken a room here, the custodian -- a big, burly man whose sharp eyes belied his rough looks, ragged clothing, and broken teeth -- had looked him over carefully and then said: "This is a lawful building, you understand? You fight, you steal, you cause trouble, you do that somewhere else. You don't bring the Watch here, you don't bother the other tenants, and you pay on time." Edrin had nodded and agreed; he had no intention of causing trouble here. These people had enough of their own.

So when he came around the corner and found the two men in front of the custodian's door, one of them kneeling as he wiggled a lifter between the frame and the edge of the door, the other standing over the mostly-hooded lantern and watching him work, Edrin's flare of outrage was immediate and overwhelming. He wasn't carrying a light; by reflex, he'd used the small blessing that allowed him to see in the dark, so the two men didn't see him immediately. So he kept walking, whispering another quick blessing to keep his steps silent on the creaky wooden floor. A third blessing, exhaled just at the threshold of audibility, snuffed out their lamp.

There was no other light in the hallway. The two would-be thieves never knew what hit them. By the time the custodian lifted the bar and opened the door, a length of axe handle clutched in one hand, Edrin was gone.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Food Preparation

Right, so:

Firstborn, who will turn eleven years old in June and is currently nearing the end of Fifth Grade, came to us a few weeks back and suggested that we needed to be eating healthier food, and that we should maybe join one of those Send-You-A-Meal programs.

This turns out to have been possibly the most brilliant suggestion that anyone in our household -- and I'm including both the Beautiful Wife and Myself, here -- has come up with in the last five years.

We get three meals a week. Firstborn cooks them, under adult supervision. He has learned to prepare meat and roast vegetables; he has learned to chop, slice, and peel things. He has read and followed directions, but he's actually been surprisingly good at that since he first learned to read. And so far, we've only had two injuries: he's sliced his own finger once, and his mother's finger once. Neither had required more than some Neosporin and a bandaid to fix.

We're now entering our third week of this, and so far the meals have been consistently Very Good, and in several cases Excellent. This, after being prepared by a ten-year-old.

Even more amazing: it's gotten Firstborn, and to a lesser extent his brother, to try some things that they simply wouldn't have touched under any normal circumstance. Cauliflower. Brussel Sprouts. Heck, it's gotten me eating pork in non-bacon forms and actually liking it.

But possibly the biggest revelation to come out of this whole thing (at least for me) is the discovery that it's not that I don't like vegetables. It's that for my entire life, most of the vegetables I've been served have just been badly prepared. Cook them right, pair them with a proper bit of protein, and they're scrummy.

I never would have guessed.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Whence Came This Tupperware?

Responding to this writing prompt from Lilith Saintcrow...


I'll just drop it here, pulsed Heerath, setting the scanner between a rock and one of the oddly-tall local plants, by the side of one of the human roads.

What? Nebath pulsed back. Don't do that. It's right out in the open.

That's why we shaped it, remember? Heerath felt its antennae flex with annoyance. It looks just like one of their artifacts.

Do you even know what kind of artifact it resembles? Nebath had turned, creating a faint shimmer in the air despite the best efforts of its active camouflage. One of the humans was approaching rapidly, accompanied by one of the various domestic animals that the race apparently cultivated. If it's shaped to resemble their detritus, they'll likely dispose of it. If it's shaped to resemble something useful, they'll take it for their own use. They're not going to just leave it lying there.

Heerath rippled its tendrils in irritation. Esteemed Xenosociologist Teer selected this shape as one of the items that the humans would ignore. Of course, Esteemed Xenosociologist Teer also theorized that the humans kept these other species around for religious reasons, and Heerath felt pretty safe in assuming that meant that the xenosociologist had no idea why the humans seemed to prefer to live with lower lifeforms. Explorers were forbidden to argue with any of the Prime, but that didn't mean that Esteemed Xenosociologist Teer had any idea what he was talking about.

Nebath didn't argue, though. The human approaches, it pulsed back. We'll know soon enough.

They backed away, moving across the street. The denizens of this world had a very limited sensory range, and their active camouflage should have kept them undetectable; but every explorer had been trained with the reflex that distance equated to safety when confronted with the unknown. As far as Heerath was concerned, there was far too much about this world that fell into that category, and Nebath evidently agreed.

The human slowed, then stopped and looked down at the scanner.

I told you, pulsed Nebath.

Heerath sent back the brief, minuscule pulse that demanded silence.

The human stood for a long moment, regarding the scanner. Doubtless the xenobiology cohort was ecstatic, in their analysis-space back on the ship. So much data, gathered at such close range...

The quadruped made a little hopping motion, pulling at the strand that connected it to the human's manipulator, and the human glanced at it. Then the human turned its head back to the scanner and pulled a device from its belt. Something flickered, and Heerath and Nebath both made themselves very still.

Then the quadruped pulled ahead, and this time the human went along with it.

What was that? Heerath knew it sounded nervous.

Neerath curled its tendrils. A brief flare of electromagnetic radiation in a very tight set of wavelengths.

Did it just... Heerath paused, considering the implications. Did it just scan our scanner?

I think so, yes.

Using what?

Nebath rippled its tendrils, the gesture puzzled and slightly frantic. I don't know. A burst of electromagnetic on that frequency wouldn't penetrate much of anything, but I didn't detect whatever else it was using.

This is bad. Heerath settled its tendrils by an act of will. All right, we're going to abort. I'll retrieve the scanner. You call for extraction.

Agreed, pulsed Nebath, then began configuring itself for a deep pulse. Heerath crossed the street and lifted the scanner, risking a momentary break in its active camouflage so it could conceal the scanner underneath. By the time Nebath had finished the call, Heerath had returned and was waiting.

They had only a brief wait. The scout ship settled over them, its cone-shape rendered theoretically undetectable by its own active camouflage. It manifested a floor beneath them, and began a cautious ascent back to the August Science Vessel. I'll inform the Primes that we must make a full withdrawal, pulsed Heerath. This planet is dangerous.

I offer my ardent agreement to your assessment, Nebath pulsed back. As far as Heerath was concerned, that settled the matter. An Explorer Second could offer correction, provide additional insights, or outright disagree with the conclusions of an Explorer First, but a unanimous finding would not be ignored even by the Primes. The study would be abandoned, the planet marked as unacceptably dangerous, and the August Science Vessel withdrawn to study some safer prospect.

A brief wind stirred the dust on the street below. Somewhere, a dog was barking.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Music: Bloodborne Rap

So, I showed Firstborn the "You Died" song, and he told me I needed to listen to the Bloodborne Rap.

And since I refuse to face this alone, here you go:

Hey, if you weren't curious, you should never have agreed to submit to blood ministration.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Past The Rocks and Shelves

The cart moved slowly down the aisle. One wheel creaked with every turn: Yeenk. Yeenk. Yeenk. The two boys pushing the cart couldn't hear it, though. Their ears were stuffed with wax. Their job was simply to push, moving the heavy cart from one end of the aisle to the other. They would not empty their ears until the danger was past.

The man in the cart was heroically built, but his body was hunched over with his knees just below his chin. The breadth of his shoulders was bent down by the heavy ropes that crossed over them, tying him firmly to the cart. His wrists and ankles were similarly bound, tied together and held fast against the metal of the shopping cart. He looked ahead with curiosity and a hint of trepidation; there was no wax in his ears. That was what the ropes were for.

They were a third of the way down the aisle when the song began, rising from the shelves along either side. There things there: unnatural things, but alluring. The first faint strains of their song caressed his ears, and his arm twitched involuntarily. He stilled it, but the song continued.

They near the center of the aisle.

Then the full power of the song comes upon him, and he struggles against his restraints. The boys pause, exchange glances, then draw more ropes from beneath the cart. Deaf to his cries, his pleas, his commands, they bind the man tighter still. When they have finished, they return to pushing the cart. The man curses them, but of course they cannot hear him.

The song crests, then begins to grow quieter as they near the far end of the aisle. The man's struggles grow less desperate, less violent, until finally he is still beneath the weight of the ropes. They emerge at last, and the boys steer the cart to safe harbor beside the dairy products. They pry the wax plugs from their ears, dig fingers in to scrape out the last little bits, and yawn to equalize the pressure. Then they set about untying the man, who slumps within the cart.

In that brief time, he has changed dramatically. His face has acquired new lines, and his hair is touched with gray. He is a sadder man, but wiser: he will carry the weight of this ordeal and the knowledge of the song for however much of life remains to him.

He has heard the song of the corn chips and survived.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Music: You Died

Apparently written in relation to Dark Souls, but let me tell you: this was exactly my experience with Bloodborne. Music by Miracle of Sound:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ash Knight Scene 2

The House of Charity was a dark, squat stone building that sat on one side of an unlit, irregularly-cobbled street. As Edrin watched, a shadowy figure pushed off from the wall and staggered away, leaving a wet stain behind in the moonlight. It caught up with two other figures who were waiting and few steps away, and the trio wandered off together. Drunk on a workday, Edrin marveled. The last of the brandy-houses would have closed hours ago; likely this group was drinking from their own bottle. They'd have made easy targets had there been any thieves about, but this neighborhood only bordered on the dockside slums. Though poor, it was still respectable, and the young men were in little danger.

Edrin watched for a few minutes longer, then eased out of the shadowed doorway and crossed the street. Ignoring the sharp smell of urine, which carried clearly on the crisp night air, he stopped at stone arch that framed the wide front doors of the House of Charity. The doors were thick oak and bound in iron, but the one on the left had a narrow slot in it for donations.

Using his cloak to conceal his movements, Edrin began emptying the messenger's bag into the slot, one handful at a time. When it was empty, he rolled it up and tucked it behind his belt. He took a moment to survey the street, but at this hour it was completely empty. He could see a single light in the distance: the lantern of a solitary watchman, moving slowly along a cross-street. That was fine; even if he was seen, he was too far away to be identified, and most likely the Watch had no idea that anyone had been stealing from the High Temple. It wasn't the sort of thing that the priesthood would willingly admit.

The House of Charity was part of the temples, of course, but it was almost as far from the High Temple as it was possible to get. It was run by the cenobitic Order of San Tribulus, and the Gardeners (unlike the higher orders of the priesthood) took their vows of poverty, charity, healing, and support quite seriously. The High Priest's coins would be put to good use here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tweets from a Random Housecat

I started a new Twitter account, mainly for my own amusement. As with everything else I do, tweets are going to be somewhat erratic and I have no idea how long I'll keep it up. However, it's amusing me, and it might amuse the rest of you as well.

Random Housecat

Monday, April 17, 2017

Compassion Burnout and Empathy Fatigue

A post on Facebook recalled this memory:

Decades ago, my brother broke both his legs in a motorcycle accident... and shortly after that, had a bad reaction to the anesthesia. He was in another city, but not out of reach; maybe a four hour drive. Only, at the time, I was in the middle of a number of issues that would eventually culminate in a divorce from my then-wife. So when the news came in, my reaction was simply: I do not have it in me to engage with this as well. If he died, well, I was going to have to deal with that; and I was going to have to deal with the fact that I hadn't been there. Even understanding that that might be the outcome, though, this was just one thing too many for me to deal with.

Now, yes: you can tell me, or I can tell myself, that this is a terrible reaction to have when your brother might actually be about to die. And that may even be true. But it doesn't - didn't - change the fact that I simply didn't have it in me to deal with that at that particular time.

It happens.

(In this case, my brother lived; he attended a Halloween party a few months later costumed as someone with only *one* broken leg - not much of a disguise, really - and only has minor residual effects.)

Caregiver Burnout is a real thing.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Oh, Lordy...

The Whiskey-and-French-Fries dinner?

Yeah, that was not the best idea I ever had. Maybe not quite the absolute worst idea I ever had, but I'd put it somewhere in the top ten.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rorschach Joke

I am (inexplicably) reminded of this:
Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor...I am Pagliacci.”

If you don't recognize the context, it's here:
http://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/131380/was-rorschachs-pagliacci-joke-a-real-joke

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Music: Want You Gone

Since I seem to be on a Portal kick:

Work stuff is still dragging on. We'll see how this shakes out.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Music: Still Alive

I know I've been kind of absent lately; I'm trying to sort out some real-world, work-related stuff, and it's eaten both the blogging and the comic. On the plus side, I'm not dead yet.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Music: Everybody Knows

Yes, I'm back to Leonard Cohen:


I was going to juxtapose it with Richard Strange singing "The Time Is Now", but for reasons I don't understand that one doesn't seem to be on YouTube.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bingo Memes

I've been sucked into doing the United Way at work again this year, and one of our fundraisers is Virtual Bingo. Virtual Bingo is just like regular Bingo, except that A) it's done entirely over email, B) the Bingo cards have names & pictures of our department heads instead of numbers.

Naturally, I've gotten a lot of people complaining about receiving the Bingo emails when they aren't even playing. I've explained that they're supposed to see the emails and become so excited that they rush out and buy Bingo cards so that they can play, too; but for the most part they remain unconvinced (and whiny). In response, I've become even more relentlessly cheerful about our Bingo fundraiser, because I'm helpful like that.

I even made little pictures, because by God if I have to do this then everyone else has to enjoy it with me.

So... Bingo memes:
And if, by some horrid chance, you should find yourself in a situation similar to my own someday... well, feel free to use any or all of these yourself, whoever you are. And remember to smile while you're doing it. Smile big. Smile all the time.

It's the only sensible response, really.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Bloodborne Legos: the first Hunter!

Equipped with the Hunter's Axe and the Blunderbuss:

Out hunting with the Threaded Cane and the Hunter's Pistol:

I will tell you now that this game scares me silly. My six-year-old, however, is completely undeterred. And he's making Lego guys based on it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

SONY Playstation Network Support Fail

The credit card I use for the Playstation Network quit working on the Playstation Network. (It works fine literally everywhere else.) Last night, I finally sat down to try to troubleshoot, so I could purchase the things that are sitting in my shopping cart. It... didn't work. Not even when I put in a completely different card. And when I went to the Support Forums, I found that I wasn't the only one who had this problem. So, this morning I finally found the link for their chat-based tech support. It...

It did not go well.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:02:42 AM): Hello, My name is Tech how may I assist you today?

Me (3/26/2017, 9:03:12 AM): So, my PSN account apparently cannot actually charge credit cards.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:03:46 AM): I’m sorry for any inconvenience that you are experiencing with your account, I'd be glad to look into this for you today.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:04:11 AM): Just to confirm we are working on the right account. Is the Online ID you entered at the beginning of the chat the account you need help with today?

Me (3/26/2017, 9:04:43 AM): Yes.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:04:49 AM): myemail@myemail.com

Me (3/26/2017, 9:05:11 AM): Here's an overview of the problem; I'm the reply on this thread:

Me (3/26/2017, 9:05:13 AM): http://community.us.playstation.com/t5/PlayStation-Network-Support/Can-t-add-funds-to-my-wallet/td-p/46204040

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:05:21 AM): Let me ask you, are you trying to make the purchase from the console, or from the website?

Me (3/26/2017, 9:05:56 AM): I've only tried to make the *purchase* from the console, but I can't add funds to my wallet from the website, either.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:06:22 AM): Thank you for that information. Allow me to access your account and verify the events log, hopefully there is no lock on the account. Please bear with me while I check this for you.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:07:46 AM): I'm curious: if there's some sort of lock on the account, shouldn't the error message say so? All I keep getting is the "invalid credit card - check your information carefully" error, which at this point is starting to make me kinda stabby.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:08:01 AM): Thank you for waiting. After verifying your account events, the system shows that there are some failed attempts to add funds. These can happen when for some reason, such as miscommunication between the bank and PlayStation Network, the payment instrument is not accepted and gets rejected. As result, the system locks the account for a certain period of time; this is strictly, for security reasons.

In this case I will be sending you an email with suggestions that should help you resolve the issue once the block has been lifted. Again, please do not attempt to change your card or make purchases until the lockout period has ended.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:08:30 AM): ...And how long does this lockout period last?

Me (3/26/2017, 9:08:45 AM): Since I apparently have no way of seeing that the account is/isn't locked?

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:09:25 AM): In some scenarios the lock usually lasts from 24 to 48 hours depending on the number of attempts made, my best advice is to not to try within that period of time to not to extend the lock time frame.

My system shows that the last attempt was made on 03/25/2017 22:14:20 PDT

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:09:42 AM): In the meantime, let me provide you an option that does always work for these scenarios, and personally is my favorite one. You can add funds by purchasing a digital PSN card code. These can be purchased online and you get the code right away after completing the purchase online, and there are no extra fees:

http://www.amazon.com/10-PlayStation-Store-Gift-Card/dp/B00GAC1D2G/

All you will need to do is redeem the voucher by logging in and visiting the following link and click on “Redeem prepaid card”: https://account.sonyentertainmentnetwork.com

Me (3/26/2017, 9:10:23 AM): So, check me on this:

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:11:13 AM): Sure.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:12:01 AM): I had a card on file. I'd used it make a purchase back in... mid-February, I think. I tried it again a week or so back, and it said the card info wasn't valid. I finally sat down last night, re-entered the card data a couple of times, entered data for a completely different card, and now my account is locked *because of me trying to fix it*?

Me (3/26/2017, 9:12:54 AM): I realize you aren't responsible for your billing software, and I realize that sometimes these are actually issues with the banks, but that seems a bit...

Me (3/26/2017, 9:13:14 AM): ...well, infuriating, actually.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:13:49 AM): And that's leaving aside the issue where the system doesn't inform me that my account is locked.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:14:04 AM): Keep in mind that the credit card needs to support the AVS system the address on file for the card needs to be the same as the one on the PSN account, I will recommend you to verify with your bank if the card support the AVS sytem.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:14:39 AM): All right, I can ask them about that. But, again, the card *was* working.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:15:17 AM): How long have you been relying on this AVS?

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:15:47 AM): I totally understand It could be there some type of restriction on the cards that maybe was not there before.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:16:13 AM): We used this system for a long time.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:16:21 AM): I’d like to know if you have any other question or request I could help you with.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:19:08 AM): Are you still there?

Me (3/26/2017, 9:19:34 AM): Yes, I do have a request. Could you forward this to you IT guys, or whoever handles the billing software? I quick stroll through the support forums suggests that while the numbers aren't huge, I'm not the only one having this problem. And if the system is going to lock my account for security purposes, it should tell me A) that it has done so, and B) when I can expect the lock to be removed. I should not have to guess. But honestly, given that those same credit cards work fine elsewhere, this looks to me like a problem with the billing system.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:19:52 AM): Do you know for sure that my account actually *is* locked? I mean, is that something you can see?

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:20:42 AM): I really apologize for the inconvenience this lock can take 24-48 hours to be remove i will recommend you that you try once the time pass contact us back with case number XXXXXXXX.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:21:23 AM): So you *can* see that there's a lock on my account?

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:21:41 AM): Correct.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:21:52 AM): Dear God.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:22:57 AM): All right. What happens when 48 hours has passed, and I try this again, and your system still refuses to process my credit card? I'm not real keen on taking the extra step to go purchase some sort of gift card, import that, and then purchase things. I put a credit card on file so I wouldn't have to do that sort of thing.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:24:01 AM): If the issue persist contact us back and will try to help you so far due to the lock on the account you will be unable to make any changes.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:24:22 AM): Also, at least one of the items in my cart is on sale. I have no idea if it will still be on sale in 48 hours. It's probably no more than a couple of dollars, but...

Me (3/26/2017, 9:24:44 AM): Does it keep the price it was at when I first attempted to purchase it?

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:25:07 AM): I recommend you to purchase the PSN cards and you will be able to made the purchase right now.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:25:14 AM): No.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:25:27 AM): Can you escalate this to someone who has the authority/access to lift the lock?

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:26:09 AM): Ok. In this case Please wait for the system to remove the lock because this lock was made automatically by the system and will be remove the same way.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:26:22 AM): CAN it be removed manually?

Me (3/26/2017, 9:26:36 AM): Is there someone in your hierarchy who can remove it?

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:27:05 AM): I'm really sorry but there is no option to be remove manually it was made automatically by the system.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:27:35 AM): And you have no higher level of support to escalate this to?

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:29:04 AM): There is higher levels but since the lock was made automatically by the system this could have happened because of events that can interfere in the communication, such as high traffic on the servers, several purchase attempts from different sites (for example, console and website) which enable the anti-fraud system on the PlayStation account, locking for a period of time the usage of credit cards or PayPal accounts.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:29:58 AM): 'Cause if that's the case, SONY needs to give you guys better resources. There's no good reason why you should be unable to help, or to get me to someone who can.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:30:02 AM): It will be remove on time frame provided I'm really sorry since this can not be remove manually for you I am sorry since I did not help you in the way that you wanted I have done everything possible

Me (3/26/2017, 9:30:11 AM): I know.


Me (3/26/2017, 9:30:17 AM): You've been lovely.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:30:33 AM): And I understand that there are limits to what you can do.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:31:24 AM): But this is asinine, and if you have any sort of channel for passing suggestions to management, you should probably point out that neither of us should be in this position.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:32:27 AM): Is there a corporate contact/customer feedback phone number somewhere?

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:32:52 AM): Thank you for your feedback Edward for sure i have take notes of this situation and i wish i can provide to another option.

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:32:59 AM): Phone support is available at 1-800-345-7669 and our hours of operation are:

8:00AM to 8:00PM Pacific Time, Monday-Friday

Closed on Saturdays and Sundays.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:33:33 AM): Is that technical support, or customer feedback? (Useful either way, but...)

Tech (3/26/2017, 9:35:38 AM): We take the feedback for you and provide the information as well

Me (3/26/2017, 9:37:20 AM): Okay. I'll contact them and let them know that neither of us should be in this position.

Me (3/26/2017, 9:38:21 AM): Thank you. You've done everything you can. I'm still pretty angry, but it's at SONY and this benighted system. You've been as helpful as you possibly could.

TL/DR: They can't troubleshoot my account because there's a lock on my account. There's a lock on my account because I was trying to troubleshoot my account. The system does nothing to alert me that there's a lock on my account, let alone when the lock will expire, and the tech cannot remove the lock or get me to someone who can remove the lock. The only available solution is to wait for 48 hours, try again, and then -- when the credit card still fails to work -- to try to get in touch with support again.

I am... not entirely satisfied with this.

I hope to hell that the poor support tech's day gets better from here. It sucks when your job is to solve people's problems and you aren't actually given the tools to solve their problems. (That being the case, I've removed the tech's name from the transcript, because none of this is really the tech's fault.)