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.)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bloodborne Legos

So... Secondborn is supposed to be asleep. It's ten o'clock at night. But he keeps emerging from the bedroom.

He's been building Lego Bloodborne characters, complete with weapons. So far he's brought me one guy, with a threaded cane and a hunter's axe. He's trying to figure out how to make a saw-blade weapon. Meanwhile, he found a hunter's pistol and brought that out too.

As with so many other things involved in parenting, I can't decide if this is a righteous blessing, or a sign of my impending doom.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Results-Driven Deity

Saw this on Facebook:


And I just... I can't stop laughing.

Can you imagine if Jesus' ministry was results-driven? Can you imagine if Lord Almighty was results-driven?

"All right, human beings. Listen up. That is it. I gave you a perfect place to live. I gave you one rule, and you broke it. I sent you out into the world, and you trashed it. I wiped out the entire sinful lot of you and preserved only the truly faithful, and left them with written instructions so nobody could get confused. And what did you do? You spread right back out and went galloping straight back to sin and iniquity! I came down there and lectured you Myself and left you with a further set of instructions. And look at you now! Just look! I boiled the whole thing down to two rules: love Me and love your neighbors. And what are the two things that you consistently fail to do? Well? That's right.

"I'm sorry, humanity. But after extensive review in committee, We've decided to cancel your funding. We're just not seeing results. You will not be renewed for next season. The good news is, I'm not going to unmake you Myself. No need, really. You'll manage it all on your own. Probably something with North Korea, but that would be telling. Good day, My children."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Opening Scene for Ash Knight

This is the opening scene for something I never finished, but probably should have:

Edrin crouched atop the thick stone wall that surrounded the temple grounds. He balanced easily, despite the rough irregularity of the surface. Chunks of glass had been set into a layer of mortar along the top of the wall, but those were only meant to discourage casual intruders. Edrin's feet found places between them, and the leather of his boots, though soft, was thick enough to protect the places where they pressed against his feet.

The area below him was dark and empty: an open area of grass and a few scattered trees. Edrin dropped into it, then pressed himself back against the wall. Nothing moved; no one cried out. He crossed the grass with steady strides, knowing that if anyone emerged from the buildings ahead there was nowhere he could hide - and knowing also that sprinting for cover would draw all the wrong sort of attention if someone did happen to glimpse him.

A covered walkway ran along the back of the nearest building. He reached it, crossed between two decorated stone pillars, and stopped again. Still there were no sounds -- no human sounds, anyway. The wind stirred softly between the trees and ran its invisible fingers through the grass, while insects whirred and buzzed in the darkness. The Temple Guard would have people nearby, but for the moment Edrin was alone.

He crouched, focusing his energy, then sprang into the air. His hands touched the edge of the roof, and guided him over. His feet landed lightly against the graveled surface of the rooftop, and he straightened. The walkway beneath ran from the Temple offices to the rear gate; the messenger would almost certainly come this way. All Edrin needed to do was wait.

He lay back on the gravel, stilling his thoughts and focusing on his breathing. He could restore his energy, at least a little, before the messenger arrived. Then he heard a door open, and cautious voices drifted across the night air. He turned his head, but still couldn't make out the words. Now he could hear footsteps as well, moving down the walkway. Or perhaps I'll rest later.

He waited until they had passed, then sat up and leaned over the side of the roof. Hanging his head down, he saw three men. The front and rear were heavyset, muscled, and armed; the one in the center was smaller, and carried a messenger's pouch. They seemed wary of the darkness -- as they should be, he thought -- but Edrin had no trouble picking out the Temple's sigil (a divided circle) on the carry-pouch. He swung down, and dropped lightly to the ground. No one appeared to be following the three men, so he fell in behind them. His steps were silent on the flagstones, even when he started to run.

A staff came into his hand as he reached them, formed from the stuff of the Heavens and layered with the curses he desired for this night's work. He brought it across, clipped the rear guard on the side of his head, and swung back to catch the messenger with a mirror of the same strike. Both men were falling as he passed them, and the lead guard was just beginning to turn when Edrin brought the staff down upon his head.

He skidded to a stop as the men hit the ground, and the staff shimmered out of existence. Reaching down, Edrin slipped the pouch off the messenger's shoulder. It was heavy in his hand, just as it should be. He opened the clasp, and saw a mixture of coins and promissory notes. That was good, but the presence of the guards was even better. A messenger might be counted on for discretion, but guards... sooner or later, guards would talk.

The time for discretion was past. He sprinted back across the grass, sprang to the top of the wall, and dropped easily to the street on the other side. It would have been easier -- and far, far safer -- to ambush the messenger outside the walls of the temple, but Edrin meant to send a message to High Priest Mathal Turvis: your status will not protect you.

The first pouch had been simple: it was carried by a solitary messenger who was not expecting trouble. This time the messenger had been accompanied by guards, which was all to the good as far as Edrin was concerned. Next time would most likely be a trap, so he would have to vary his pattern to avoid it. He could not afford to be seen.

Smiling under the hood of his cloak, Edrin walked away from the temple.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Real Work Conversations: Hunters and Badgers

My boss: "So I'll have to hunt that down."

Our Co-worker: "You're a hunter."

My boss: "I'm a hunter. Actually, I'm a badger."

Our Co-worker: "Now I have that stupid song stuck in my head."

Me: "Well, now everything is awesome."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Employee Discount for the Fitness Center

So, I got a call from a fitness center -- the local branch of one of the big national chains. "Several of your employees work out here," said the fellow, who claimed to be some sort of manager. "They'd like to see if we could set up some sort of employee discount for them."

"What did you have in mind?" I asked.

"Well, we create something where your employees can go online and sign up at a discounted rate."

"That sounds fine," I told him. "Just send me a link to the portal, and I'll put it up on our internal discount pages."

"Great!" he said, and we got off the phone.

Well, a few hours later I get an email from the fitness chain - not the guy who'd called me, but someone else. (I'm guessing this is some sort of corporate or at least regional department that handles discounts like this.) And it doesn't have a link, it has a PDF attachment -- which, when I open it, turns out to be a legal agreement rather than, say, an actual discount.

So I email them back. "Why am I looking at a legal contract?" I ask. "We don't usually do things this way. The guy I spoke to said you were going to send me a portal that I could link to. And why does the contract say the offer is only good for sixty days?"

The response I received was... not illuminating: "Oh, yes! It's a sixty-day period for your employees to sign up. The contract will allow us to move forward on creating a portal for you!"

Okay, fine, sure, whatever. I sent the contract over to the head of Purchasing, who has the authority to sign such things.

The head of Purchasing read over the contract, filled in a 60 day date range in the blanks (March 1 to April 30, which seemed pretty sensible since it was still a week before the end of February), and marked out the line that said we'd provide them with our employee records so they could confirm employee statuses. He initialed the change and signed it, and I scanned it in and we sent it back.

A day later, I got another email from the fitness center people. This one explained that they couldn't sign a contract with something marked out, so they were sending me another copy without that line. I checked it, and they had indeed removed that one bullet point. They had also copied over the dates we'd put in. However, the time period next to the dates now said "twelve months".

So I sent it back to them, with a note suggesting that they should either expand the dates, or change the time period to match the current set of dates.

Three days later I got another copy of the contract. They'd updated it. Now, instead of "twelve months", it said "sixty months".

I gave up. I pulled up Acrobat Pro and edited the document myself. The head of Purchasing signed the revised version, and we sent it off again. By now, of course, it's already March.

Two days ago, we got another email from them. This time they wanted to know what site we were going to place their link on "so they could make it match". Okay, sure, fine. They wouldn't be able to see our actual intranet, but we sent them the link for it.

Now, owing to an odd bit of history that resulted in some complicated jiggery-pokery on our network, that particular web address doesn't always take you to the same site. If you open it from inside our network, it takes you to our intranet site. If you open it from anywhere else, it routes you over to our main, public website. This is more than a little bit daft, but that's how it works.

And that is exactly why we got an email back from the fitness people yesterday, explaining that they couldn't send us an employees-only link to be placed on something that was clearly a publicly-accessible website.

You have to understand, we don't have a dedicated Employee Discount person. We do this on the side ("other duties as assigned") as a courtesy to our fellow employees and local businesses. We sent back an explanation, but at this point we've wasted waaaaaay more time on this discount than it's worth. They'll either send us a link to whatever purchasing portal they put together, or they won't; I'm done messing with it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Secondborn Wears All The Clothes

Secondborn had One Of Those Thoughts last night, and decided to put on as much clothing as he could manage. Behold!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Busy Writing

So... I'm behind both here and over at Surreal Situations. This is partly because my sinuses have been trying to murder me, and partly because my free time is limited (the next bit of Surreal Situations requires me to recreate an earlier scene -- which is certainly possible, but it means referencing the existing pictures, finding the right props, and getting them all back together - it isn't quick). Mainly, though, I'm behind because I've been working on The Chained Man, which I recently mentioned as possibly the weirdest story idea I've ever come up with. It's coming together nicely, though it's still pretty early in the Zero Draft: I have a first chapter of five or six pages, and maybe three pages of chapter two. Admittedly, it's torn me away fromthe Nameless project I'd been working on, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I keep restarting Nameless, whereas The Chained Man is sort of pulling me along with its own momentum.

I will get back to Surreal Situations this week, though. It's too much fun to let go.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The First Time I Played Bloodborne: A Memoir

So, a couple of weeks ago I finally got around to playing Bloodborne. (If you have no idea what that is, it's a dark and fairly gruesome video game. Check out Wikipedia or watch the trailer.) I was interested in it mainly because I'd been told that it had a lot of Lovecraftian themes, and fighting horrible monsters with bladed weapons in a cursed or haunted city sounds like exactly my sort of game. My knowledge of the game, however, was limited to one or two casual conversations; I had not, for example, watched youtube videos of the gameplay, or looked at any walkthroughs, or really even read much in the way of reviews.

So I bought the game, installed it, and fired it up.

This was... educational.

The game begins -- and I don't think I'm really giving anything way here -- with a cutscene that lays out the basic plot dynamic. You've come the city of Yarnam looking for something called "Paleblood" and you're going to have to become a hunter to do it. Tonight is the night of the hunt, which will give you your chance. In order to do all this, you'll need a transfusion of Yarnam blood, and in order to get that you'll need a contract. The contract is actually the character creation process, which allows you to customize your character's looks and select one of maybe eight or ten backgrounds that determine your starting abilities. I selected the one that said I had a tragic past but was tougher because of it, because I wanted a character who would be hard to kill. This will become funny in just a moment.

So, having generated the character, I signed the contract and watched the admirably-spooky cutscene.

After the cutscene, my character woke up in the now-empty clinic. I looked around a little bit, then headed downstairs and promptly encountered the Giant Wolfy Monster in the lower room. There were some little bubbling spots in the floor that looked like puddles or maybe pools of water, but I circled around those; they didn't look safe. After considering my situation -- i.e. unarmed, fresh from a medical procedure, and having discovered no other ways out of the building -- I decided to try to sneak around the Giant Wolfy Monster and out the door on the far side.

This went exactly as well as you might expect: I died immediately, and horribly.

At this point I found myself in a new setting: The Hunter's Dream. The little bubbly-water areas were on the ground here, too, but this time they had creepy little homonculi half-emerging from them, and holding out weapons. That looked a lot more encouraging, so I went over and tried talking to them. This was the point at which I discovered that these are Messengers, that they were offering me weapons and weren't going to try to kill me, and that by avoiding all the puddles in the original room I'd conveniently avoided all the little messages that would have told me which buttons on the controller allowed my character to do what. I made my selection of weapons, then wandered around talking to the messengers and getting basic instructions, and looking at the other things in the area. Much of it couldn't be activated yet, but I was expecting that; I'd just started the game, after all.

So I found the little headstone that let me return to the waking world, and came out back in the clinic -- downstairs, of course. With the Giant Wolfy Monster, of course. This time I took a moment to consult the messengers here, and learned how to do things like run, attack, dodge... you know, just the minor little extras. Nothing that important.

Now that I was ready, I tried a few practice swings and discovered that I still didn't have any weapons. This, despite having selected an axe and a pistol back in the dream. Well, maybe I needed to get a little further along in the game before I could use them. Maybe having selected them in the dream, they'd show up later here in the waking world. I could work with that. All I had to do was get past the Giant Wolfy Monster. And while I didn't have weapons, I did at least now know how to make an attack. I tried it a couple of times, and sure enough my character would smack things.

So I walked into the next room and attacked the Giant Wolfy Monster bare-handed.

This also went exactly as well as you might expect: I died immediately and horribly.

I tried again. I died. I tried again. I died. I tried again. I died. I tried again. I died. I dodged past the monster and out the far doorway, then raced up the steps and threw open that door. The monster caught up with me and I died. I tried fighting the monster again and died. I tried dodging past the monster and out the door into the small courtyard, and had to stop and open the gate out of the courtyard. I died again. I dodged around the monster again, made it all the way out of the courtyard and out onto the streets of Yarnam. I'd escaped! I took a moment to look around, found some corpses on the ground and searched them for useful items. Then the Giant Wolfy Monster jumped out of the gate and killed me again.

Well, all right: there was a guy around the corner, patrolling the street with an axe and a torch. Maybe he would help me with the Giant Wolfy Monster? I dodged around the monster, raced out of the building and through the courtyard, ran up to the guy, and waited to see if he'd help me.

Nope. Killed me with his axe.

I tried again, but this time I just ran up and attacked him. He looked mostly human, with his coat and top hat. Surely he'd be easier to kill than the Giant Wolfy Monster. Maybe I could take him bare-handed?

Nope. Killed me with his torch.

After dodging past him three more times, I figured out how to lower a ladder and escaped up to a ledge. I was safe! Finally! Maybe I was close to the area where I'd finally get my weapons, and hopefully some sort of tutorial to introduce me to how combat in this game worked? (Remember how I carefully chose a character whose background would make him hard to kill? I sure did.)

I moved a little further along, and crossed a bridge.

A guy burst out from behind a stack of crates, swinging a scythe at me. I took one look at him and jumped off the nearest ledge. I landed with only minor injuries, and started to explore the tiny little raised yard where I found myself now. There was, of course, no way back from here. There was also (of course) a fire lit in the middle of the yard, where a crucified monster was being burned at the stake. Presumably that was what the townsfolk did on the night of the hunt. And there was a guy standing by the stake. Maybe if I approached him, he'd help me out?

Nope. Attacked me with a cleaver.

This time, however, it went a bit differently: he lunged forward and got too close to the monster-burning pyre. Y'all, my very first kill in the game happened because one of the townsfolk set himself on fire and died.

...And didn't I feel silly two hours later, when I finally figured out how to equip the weapons I'd received in the first five or ten minutes of gameplay? Ohhhhh, yes. Yes I did. And then I went straight back and killed the hell out of that Giant Wolfy Monster, and the guy with the axe, and the guy with the scythe, and the guy with the cleaver.

Annnnnnnd then I stepped out into the street, where a whole group of townsfolk immediately turned on me and I died. But at least this time I was able to go back and eventually kill them too.

Now, I realize that that isn't really how the game is intended to be played. For one thing, I'm playing it offline. (I play video games so I don't have to interact with other people.) Apparently if you play it online, other players in other games can leave little notes at various spots in the landscape, often with helpful tips and warnings. For another, I imagine most people who start Bloodborne have already played the Dark Souls games and are at least passingly familiar with the interface. I was not, which was how my character ended up carrying perfectly serviceable weapons but not actually using them. But even taking all that into account, I do think the game could have maybe offered just a little more instruction, particularly in regards to the inventory system (which I finally discovered by accident).

On the other hand, trying to escape the clinic and explore Central Yarnam with no weapons whatsoever made for one the most harrowing experiences I've ever gotten out of a video game.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Penny War

We're having a Penny War at work (to raise money for the United Way). The way this works is that each department gets a jar, and people put pennies ("or bills", but I can barely type that with a straight face) in the jar, and the department whose jar has the most pennies wins. Easy, right? The catch is that any "silver coins" - nickels, dimes, quarters - count against your total... so you can go sabotage other departments' jars by dropping coins in them.

This led to yesterday's spectacle, wherein one of my co-workers emerged from her cubicle with a plastic cup full of change, sorted all the pennies into our jar, and dolefully announced: "There goes my retirement..."

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rough Night Of Considering Entropy

Despite being completely exhausted and (for once) sensibly going to bed as soon as the boys were down (around 9:00), I only slept for about five hours. Part of that was the cat - he tends to get annoyed when people are sleeping in the loft bed, and frequently starts meowing plaintively in the middle of the night - but I told him to shut up and he actually did, and I really should have been able to go right back to sleep after that. I think I've been doing that thing where I'm really not getting enough sleep, so I'm exhausted, so I push harder to get things done, so I get even less sleep. Though come to think of it, I also took some Theraflu before I went to bed, and slept pretty deeply - this could easily be a combination of sleeping (and breathing) better than usual, and my body being on a schedule where it thinks it's supposed to wake up after five or so hours.

...Which is fine, insofar as I do feel rested. Unfortunately, I feel rested at 1:30 in the morning, which is probably not going to help me at work tomorrow. And I woke up both depressed and adrenalized. There are several things that are probably contributing to that, too. we're in the middle of a season of big transitions at work, which is both frustrating (as it has a lot of things on hold) and slightly terrifying (as I think some of our systems are going to break down in ways that our current staff won't be able to fix). Our elected officials seem to be making a concerted effort to tear down the government that employs them - I'd single out Trump and Bannon, but I can make a decent case that tearing down the government has been part of the overall Republican platform for a couple of decades now. (I think that a lot of the people who voted for these clowns specifically to tear down government programs - repeal Obamacare, get rid of "entitlements", rid of governmental oversight and the "nanny state" - are going to be unpleasantly surprised when things actually start to fall apart as a result of all that tear-it-down policy, but somehow that isn't making me feel any better about it.) On top of all that, a friend of mine died a couple of weeks ago. I can't say he was a close friend, and we were friends mostly online (but not exclusively so - when he came to Texas a few years back, I organized a sort of "welcome to hell" party for him, and he dragged me out to a couple of concerts while he lived here in town, with some really excellent music that I wouldn't have known about otherwise). So, yeah: we weren't incredibly close friends, but he was one of those bright, erudite, funny people who, even if they never accomplish anything super dramatic, make a big difference to the world in countless small ways. I miss him. The world is a darker place without him.

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. I almost never used to feel that way, but by God I'm feeling it now. I can totally see how God -- if He's out there -- could look at the world and think that human beings weren't such a good idea after all. Admittedly, I'd still try to sway Him with the old "What if you only find one righteous man?" argument. The world we have may not be perfect, but I still think it's worth preserving.

But I'm honestly not worried about any sort of divine judgement or retribution, not even if our country is guilty of the sin of Sodom (the one described by Ezekiel 16:49, mind you, not the one everybody thinks of as sodomy). That's one of the advantages of being an atheist. No, if everything falls apart it will all be on us.

And I suppose that's what really worries me: I'm coming to grips with the deep, visceral realization that human beings can look at all the advantages we have, all the programs we've put in place to make our collective lives better, or at least less miserable -- from support for the arts, public libraries, and school lunches right on up to public schools, political compacts designed to keep Europe from erupting into world-engulfing wars every 20-50 years, vaccines, drinkable water and breathable air -- that people can look at all those things and conclude, "Eh, we're better off without 'em." I'm pretty sure there was a time when I thought that wasn't possible.

Now I'm pretty sure it's happening.