Friday, April 29, 2011

Horoscopes


You know, there's a reason why I don't consult my horoscope. Aside from horoscopes being comprehensive bunk, I mean. Or the part where there's supposed to be any sort of prediction that could be useful - let alone accurate - for one twelfth of the population. No, the reason I don't consult my horoscope is that it never tells me the things I actually need to know.

For example, this morning's horoscope should have read: "You will get stuck behind the slowest and least competent drivers in the Metroplex, all the way to work, so be sure to leave a little early. Oh, and your son almost certainly has an ear infection, so make an appointment with the pediatrician as soon as you can. On the plus side, work will be insanely busy but there won't be anything you can't handle. You'll want sushi for lunch."

The moment my horoscope starts saying things like that - you know, things that are actually useful - I'll start paying attention to it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Some thoughts on parenting

I'm the father of a (nearly) five year old, and a one year old; both boys. And I love it. I love watching them grow from projects into people. I love that Firstborn is making up words and learning to spell and creating his own superhero poses. I love that Secondborn will come and flop down on top of me when I'm lying on the floor, and that his first identifiable words were "more pizza". I love that my wife and I work as a team, making sure the kids get what they need in order to grow and learn.

And now I'm forcibly reminded that I'm months behind on my parenting journal. ::sigh:: But anyway...

I get irritated with people who insist, axiomatically, that children are always an unalloyed blessing. Kids are a lot of work. Parenting is not a job for the faint of heart - it's a job with a heavy workload, odd hours, and very few breaks; it's sometimes terrifying, often disgusting, occasionally sleepless, and invariably expensive. It's not for everybody. But it can also be profoundly rewarding, and it's no wonder at all that people love it.

Two nights ago, Firstborn told me with great sincerity that he was going to make cardboard armor. With twenty spikes. Because it was going to be a horned frog. And he wanted a mask. That shoots blood from its eyes! And yeah, I know that's going to seem deeply weird to a lot of people, but that's my son!

(His grandmother was just glad that he hadn't settled on some other college mascot.)

Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

That's right, folks. I just used the word "ironic"; but in that way that, ironically[1], doesn't involve actual irony.

You may revoke my English license now.


[1] Yes, that was intentional.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Acquired tastes

I'd just like to point out, for the benefit of posterity and on the off-chance that my children ever read this, that "It's an acquired taste" can be translated as "this stuff is completely disgusting, but people eat/drink/snort/inject/whatever it anyway" about 99% of the time.

Anyone who disagrees is welcome to offer counter-examples in the comments.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Changing the Plan

So, the design of the vampire porcubats didn't work out so well. I mean, it did, but... ::sigh:: Okay, let me explain.

Porcupines are sometimes supposed to be able to throw their spines. That isn't really how it works with ordinary porcupines; it's more of an urban legend. Except that, well, the porcubats... by the time I got done with them, they could. And they were surprisingly accurate, at distances of up to about thirty feet.

Fortunately, the mad science lab is underground, so most of its surfaces are reinforced concrete. Unfortunately, a couple of the porcupats got loose, and made themselves a nest behind the decontaminator. By the time I found them, there were a couple of dozen of the little buggers - they're designed to breed quickly, after all - and when I surprised them, they scattered.

I'm still picking quills out of the equipment... Most of which, by the way, is highly expensive, very delicate, and more than a bit hard to replace. Some of it is unique - devices that I invented myself. I'm more than a little bit annoyed by this.

So: no more porcubats. Instead, I've managed to create a Venus Flytrap large enough to trap and consume an adult human. That should be be sufficiently threatening to drive people away; all I'll need to do now is crossbreed it with kudzu to make sure it spreads fast enough to clear the land that my client wants cleared.

That should be much easier to control than the porcubats were.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Alethos Aneste

Thomas hesitated at the door, overwhelmed for a moment by a sense of longing and dread so deep and profound that he couldn't begin to separate them. The claims were so preposterous; they could not be true. Yet nothing in the faces of his companions gave the slightest hint of a trick, or (worse) any sort of jest.

He had to know.

With that realization, Thomas regained command of his body. He crossed the threshold, turning his head to take in-

Him.

It was as if the rest of the room didn't exist. There was only Thomas, and his Teacher - his Master, his Lord, the man he had followed for years. The man who had claimed the role of Savior, and been tortured and killed. Thomas had seen him die, knew he could not be standing here.

Yet here he was, standing, moving forward; regarding Thomas with an expression of kindness and sympathy, one hand slightly extended as he drew the sleeves back with the other. "Would you touch the wounds?" he asked gently.

Thomas fell to his knees. "Master," he said.

The wounds were plainly visible, their marks unmistakable. The flesh that held them was changed, but that was easy to believe: what man could lay dead for three full days and not be changed by it? "Master," he said again.

"You are blessed that you believe in me," said that soft voice, so familiar that it brought tears to the corners of Thomas' eyes. "How much more blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe?"

Still Thomas could not take his eyes from his Master, could not begin to understand what had happened. Here was life - strange life, but life undeniable - where there should have been death. Here was salvation, where there should have been despair. "I am yours," he said simply.

Now Peter came forward, bearing a simple chalice in his hands. There were signs of change in him as well, as if he too partook of the Master's triumph over death. There was a grace to his movements which had not been present before; there was a look of calm, of serenity, on his face. He lifted the chalice, and their Master took it.

"This is my blood," said the Savior, in His soft and gentle voice. "With it I will make a new covenant. Take. Drink."

He extended His hands, and Thomas - still on his knees - lifted his lips to the edge of the cup. As he swallowed, he felt the liquid move through him: a trail of warmth and light, spreading through his body. It did not sit in his stomach, but spread through his body. It healed as it went, and he felt himself transfigured. All that was old, and mortal, and frail was passing out of him. His Master's promise of eternal life was fulfilled.

"Now you are prepared," said the Savior. "Now we can bring about the Kingdom."

Thomas lifted his arm and gazed upon it. Already he could see the changes in his flesh, subtle but undeniable. He raised his hands to his mouth, touched the eyeteeth there. Already they were lengthening, growing to match those born by his Master and by his fellow Disciples. The rite would have to be repeated, he knew. Already his new body called out for more blood, in memory of the Blood the Savior had shared with him. And the Kingdom would be built. They had conquered death; what man could stand against them?


So, yes, it's Easter again. And I just saw the trailer for Priest the other day. (I haven't seen the movie or read the comic, though.) And the two things kind of came together in my head: vampires are a natural enemy for the Church. Why? Because Christianity claims to do mystically what vampirism does physically.

So this is the Easter story, as it might have been if Jesus had said, "Let me show Your strength against my enemies," instead of, "Forgive them, they know not what they do."

And, by the way, Thomas remains my favorite Apostle.


Also, if you haven't seen this, you should. You'll never look at the Easter Bunny the same way again. I wouldn't show it to small children or anyone of a sensitive mindset; it's definitely a horror piece.

Friday, April 22, 2011

United Way Fundraiser: Zombie Survival Basket

So, as part of our fundraiser for the United Way, we're having an auction. Naturally, they've hit us all up to submit baskets for the auction. So... I've submitted a basket. It is - and I say this without pride or exaggeration - easily the most important and useful basket in the auction. Behold! The zombie survival basket:

You are bidding on a unique and vital survival kit. When the dead rise up to feast upon the living, will you be ready? With this kit, you can be! (Survival kit may also prove useful in the event of a resonance cascade.)

The winning bidder (or, as we prefer to call them, “the survivor”) will receive:
  • An Outdoor Products hydration waist-pack. It comes with two .5 liter sports bottles, and can be used to carry most of the equipment included in this kit.
  • A copy of The Zombie Survival Guide. It’s your guide to complete protection from the living dead. Remember: Organize Before They Rise!
  • A 24” Crowbar. Use this for prying open crates of supplies, or for fending off zombies who get too close. Also useful in cases of headhopper infestation.
  • A 10” Coghlan’s Pack Axe. Intended primarily as a backup to your crowbar, this can also double as a hammer if needed.
  • A pair of Coleman’s Lumistick chemical lights. These provide hours of light with no heat or risk of fire. They can also be used to distract the living dead.
  • Stormproof Matches. Each pack includes 25 waterproof, windproof matches. The possibilities are endless!
  • Lifeline Waterproof First Aid Kit. While the bite of the zombie is always fatal, you still need something to help you deal with the cuts and scrapes you collect while running away.
  • Ozark Trail Hobo Tool kit. Don’t live like a barbarian just because you have to scavenge your food from the ruins of civilization! This 7-in-1 tool includes knife, fork, spoon, bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew, and awl.
  • A 1.75 Liter bottle of Bacardi Zombie drink. Included to help you mourn (or celebrate!) the fall of civilization, this ferocious blue liquid is guaranteed not to turn you into a zombie.
  • Pocket Knife / Multitool Kit. Everything you could possibly need for scavenging, repairs, and building shelter.
  • Flashlight. Don’t get caught in the dark when the hungry dead seek your flesh! This compact, light-weight flashlight will help you see your escape route.
  • ...And finally: your very own Dismember-Me Plush Zombie Doll. Don’t leave your kids ignorant and unprepared! Use this fun, cuddly toy to teach them about the danger of impending zombie outbreaks and the inevitable end of the world which will follow.
The total value of these items is $105, but your survival amidst the walking dead is priceless. Don’t be caught unprepared. Bid today!

A Timeless Observation

"You have no conception of the speed and accuracy with which our Congress can reflect current idiocy. Way down at the bottom of the public mind there's always a strong current of common sense, but somehow it never finds its way to Washington."

~James Blish, "First Strike" (Copyright 1953)

It's the date on that which really amused me. Apparently some observations are timeless... a fact which I've noted in regard to Tom Lehrer as well.

This, by the way, is what happens when I raid my father's library for "new" (to me) reading material.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Seasonal Music: Mandy Thursday

Okay, I'm really not trying to turn this into a music blog, I swear - but apparently today is some sort of holiday, at least for certain brands of Christianity. So, in the spirit of openness and tolerance, here's a little music to help you celebrate Mandy Thursday.

Barry Manilow:


Spinto Band:


Jonas Brothers:

The Bricklayer Song

Just another bit of music to brighten your... Thursday? Is this Thursday? Okay, sure. Thursday.

This particular version is sung by The Corries (not to be confused with The Corrs). And now, without further ado, The Bricklayer Song:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I lost my mind

So, yeah, I decided to go insane. It seemed like a time-saving measure. Also, life is much more relaxed when you're a penguin.



If the moon believes in red, does grass eat flower pudding?

Making the busy season even busier

So, my Urban Camping Experience(tm) was successful: firstborn will not attend kindergarten at the overcrowded and disorganized school closest to us. Instead, I have secured a transfer to another, better organized school that happens to be just a bit further away.

To do this, I spent eighteen hours camped out in front of the local school district offices. I arrived Sunday afternoon. Shortly after setting up my hobo camp, I was joined by two other parents, equally intent on the same goal. By eight p.m. there were eight of us in line. By midnight, it was up to about twenty. The real rush started around three or four a.m., and there were probably forty or fifty parents in line by the time they opened the door.

But let me tell you, that first dozen (or so) of us? We bonded. We have kids the same age. We were all stuck out there overnight. (At least the weather was nice.) We shared folding chairs, set up portable DVD players so multiple people could watch, held each other's places for bathroom breaks... And, of course, every one of us was the sort of parents who were paranoically concerned about our children's education.

So right now I'm tired, my back is stiff, and my sleep schedule is neatly inverted (or, to put that another way, it's slipped back into its default "nocturnal" setting). Ne'ertheless, I am basking in my success.

Meanwhile, my wife's sister gave birth to twins on Sunday, bringing her up to a total of three children. Happy (and relieved) as we are about this, it has taken my mother-and-law out of town. (She's gone to help out with the new babies.) MiL, as I've mentioned before, takes care of our boys on the two days a week that my wife teaches. In some ways this is good timing - I'd already taken a day off to wait in line for the transfer, so wrangling the boys yesterday didn't cost me an extra vacation day. In other ways... well, this is my busy season. Not just building up to the busy season; oh, no. We've got two major festivals coming up in May - the second one is thirty-one days and seven hours away - plus a fund-raising campaign for the United Way, plus all the stuff we keep up with normally. We're there. So all in all, it would have been a bit more convenient if my sister-in-law could have gotten pregnant, say, a month earlier than she did.

Also, on a not-entirely-unrelated note, Firstborn has reached the point where he thinks it's funny to try to drive Daddy absolutely insane. He does this by repeating questions back to me with one word wrong - like this:
Theron: "What did the window say?" instead of "What did baby Roland say?"
Me: "The window didn't say anything. Baby Roland said, 'biggack'."
Theron: "What did the shelf say?"
Me: "The shelf didn't say anything. Baby Roland said, 'biggack'."
Daddy's responses gain increasing numbers of "Ahhhgk!"s as the game progresses. Yesterday, Firstborn was laughing so hard he could barely breathe before I had to call a halt.

All of which is to say that I have no idea what's going to happen in terms of the posting schedule here on the Blog o' Doom. (The Deranged Cultist is overdue, and I had another idea for the Mad Science Lab, and... well, anyway...) Posts may be few and far between, or I may compose more than usual in an effort to maintain my sanity, or anything in between. I really have no idea.

I did change the background on my desktop in honor of the season:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gangster Rap

But only because this is awesome:



Since I'm out for today (I'm trying to arrange a transfer so Firstborn doesn't start school at the chaotic and disorganized place closest to us), I'm just going to invite you all to share your favorite funny, strange, or just silly songs in the comments.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Morning Prayers - Oh, Lord...

What? It's Sunday. These are prayers.

Well, sort of. I mean, we're addressin' the Almighty, here. That counts, right?



And, hey, while we're at it...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

And lo, the armies gathered

The day dawned clear and bright. The armies arrayed themselves, facing each other across the unblemished field. One band stood fast before the cardboard towers and crenelations of their fortified outpost. The other group manned the trebuchet, straining as they moved the arm into position.

The ammunition was loaded into the sleeve, and they all backed away. A young man pulled hard on the cable that held the latch in place. The counterweight dropped, and the arm swung around. At the top of its sweep, it flung its missile across the clear blue sky.

One of the defenders raised his sword in defiance. Another stood hapless at the point of impact and was struck. He staggered, and liquid splattered the grass at his feet.

The water balloon... had found its mark.

(We just returned from the birthday party of my cousin's eleven-year-old son.)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab - Vampire Porcubats

So I have a potential customer with an interest in bioweapons. This sort of thing is important, because Mad Science requires all sorts of expensive supplies and equipment (and that's not even counting the secret lair, the pay and benefits for my minions, the emergency escape arrangements, or the kids' college funds).

Now, this customer is interested in taking over... some nearby territory, let's say. To do that, he wants something that will drive people away, but doesn't look like a genocidal assault initiated by his gov- er, by him.

So, after a bit of haggling, we reached an agreement. I will provide a small, fast-breeding predator that will rapidly overrun the area he desires, and a custom-tailored virus which will kill them off after they've done their job. The virus, by the way, is 98% guaranteed not to get into the local ecosystem and cause grotesque and violent mutations. (He could have gotten the 100% guarantee, if he'd been willing to shell out the extra five hundred thousand.)

So, after considering numerous ideas, I've settled on a design for the predators: they will be vampire porcubats. That's right, I'm creating an unholy hybrid of porcupines and vampire bats. To keep things interesting, and to keep my skills from atrophying, I'm developing my crossbreeds the old fashioned way.

This is harder than I remember it being - and far more difficult than designing a porcubat embryo from scratch would have been. Still, the extra challenge keeps the wits sharp... and while this method may be time-consuming and obsolete, it's so much more satisfying than the modern technique.

The real trick is to get the bats drunk enough to think this is a good idea.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Friendly Evangelism: Follow-up from a Believer

Okay, so, I wrote the Friendly Evangelism posts in an attempt to provide a reasonable answer to the question, "How can Christians talk about their beliefs to non-believers and former believers without driving them away or giving offense?"

Today, I find that Alise Wright - who happens, among other things, to be a Christian - has hit a lot of the same points in a much more succinct format in a guest post over on Rachel Held Evans' blog. So if you're interested in this topic, pop over there and give it a read. There's also a lot of good material in the comments, with the result that Alise Wright has posted a follow-up on her own blog, pondering the question of whether deconversion (and/or faith) is a choice. (My answer? Arguably yes, but I don't think "choice" is a very good word for it.)

Have a look. It's good stuff.

We're not computers, Sebastian, we're physical.

So, on the plus side: father-in-law's computer appears to be successfully repaired. Hooray for checkdisk!

On the minus side, I really should have gone to bed about three hours earlier than I did last night. At this point in the afternoon, I'm pretty sure I would fail a standard Voight-Kampff test.



So, my new personal goal: get through the rest of the day, then sleep.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My son, the typhoon

So... Secondborn will be one year old tomorrow. Today, he spoke his first words: "More pizza."

No, I cannot prove it. I would swear on a stack of Bibles, but anybody who knows me wouldn't be impressed by that. Here's the scene: we're sitting at the kitchen table. Secondborn has just asked to be let down - not using the hand sign, but simply by standing up against the restraint of his seatbelt until he wiggled/forced his way free. Yes, the word 'juggernaut' is appropriate here. So I put him on the floor, and he went around to his mother. The Beautiful Woman pulled him up into her lap, whereupon he did use a handsign: the finger-into-opposite-palm sign for "more". I said, "Would you like more pizza?" and moved the pizza crust he'd been eating from his high chair to a spot on the table in front of him.

He replied, "Mo pizza," or something so similar as to be indistinguishable. So I don't care whether or not I have video evidence, or whether that happened to be random phonetic similarity, I'm counting that as his first words: "More pizza."

My wife is a witness.

Anyway, that wasn't his big achievement for the day. Oh, no. I've mentioned before that he has an incredible knack for positioning himself in the worst possible place at precisely the wrong time - it's a good thing I don't practice juggling, really - but I'm pretty sure this is the culmination of that tendency. You see...

Well, let me back up a little bit. My wife's parents live about half a city block from us. That's an easy bike ride, a slow walk, or about five good bowshots. On the days when my wife teaches - which, owing to the recent birth of the boys and the mercy of the college, is only two days a week - my mother-in-law takes care of both boys. This is... honestly, I don't think I can overemphasize how important this is. If we had to keep the kids in daycare, even two days a week, I'm pretty sure it would be more cost-effective for my wife to give up her job. I'm also quite sure that she'd go completely insane under those circumstances. So my mother-in-law essentially enables our lifestyle.

Now, Firstborn can be fairly demanding. He's sweet, he's polite, he's friendly, but when he has something to say he expects people to listen. If you're trying to watch two boys at once, that can be a bit... distracting. Secondborn is determined, clever, determined, indomitable, and determined. Did I mention determined? And his particular obsession for this morning was the power switch on my father-in-law's home computer. Apparently, he poked it on and off quite a number of times. And after a while, that provoked precisely the sort of catastrophe that people warn you about when they suggest that you should use the Windows menu to shut down, instead of just holding down the button.

When I got to the computer, it wouldn't boot. It gave a familiar error, suggesting that Windows had failed to boot properly and suggesting some options. None of the variations of Safe Mode worked. The Last Known Good configuration... wasn't. Starting Windows normally was, unsurprisingly, a lost cause.

So, well, okay. It's an XP system, and the in-laws have an XP install disk that they bought for an earlier computer. So I used that to boot up, and tried the "repair" option.

It dropped me into a DOS prompt. That's... not a good sign.

But okay, I went to the C: drive, where all the system files live, and called for a directory.

...I got an error.

The hardware seems to be fine, but the file system is well and thoroughly screwed. My boy, he doesn't do things by halves. So now, at my brother's suggestion, I'm running Checkdisk to look over the hard drive and repair anything it finds out of place. Nearly two hours later, it thinks it's 60% complete. So I'm going to leave it running, and see how it looks in the morning. We have some other software at work that might also help deal with this, but it's going to take time.

The worst case scenario is that we end up having to completely wipe and rebuild the hard drive. That would be inconvenient, but - since we have the XP install disk - it could be done. The big deal there is that my father-in-law would have to reinstall the VPN that allows him to work from home... and he was originally planning to work from home on Friday. So, again, my son's timing is oriented towards chaos.

::sigh::

If I ever manage to update the Book of Parenting, both these items will feature prominently. Being a parent is not for the faint of heart. Or the squeamish. Or anyone who's too attached to their possessions.

Martial Arts and Weapons

I mentioned in my last post that a lot of martial arts lately seem to be discarding or downplaying the study of weapons - owing, I think, mostly to the popularity of MMA. I also mentioned that I think this is, or at least can be, a serious mistake.

Admittedly, I'm biased. I love swords, spears, staves, knives, and all their manifold variations. I love them with the sort of deep, irrational interest that leads other people into truly inexplicable hobbies - like philately, say, or golf. But having said that, I still think there are good reasons to include weapons training in the study of traditional martial arts.

From a self-defense standpoint, any kind of weapon completely changes the nature of the game. Fighting unarmed, you can sometimes afford to take a hit in order to give a better one. If your opponent is armed with a knife, or swinging a stick at you, that simply isn't true. In fact, in a case like that your entire focus shifts to the weapon; getting control of the weapon is absolutely essential. (That assumes, of course, that you have no choice about fighting in the first place; getting away is really a much better option.) So if you're interested in martial arts for self defense - rather than, say, as a violent and competitive sort of exercise - ignoring melee and/or ranged combat is a pretty major oversight.

The obvious counterpoint is that nobody fights with swords or spears anymore. That's true, but that doesn't mean that the knowledge is obsolete. Techniques for the chinese straight sword transfer easily and immediately to a cane or anything similar; for something a bit heavier, you'll swing it around like a saber. Spear or staff techniques map fairly well for use with a broomstick or any reasonably sturdy pole that happens to be lying around. The tip-heavy, two handed cleaver (generally sold as a Dadao, if you want to google it) can be easily replaced with a baseball bat. The edge-awareness and general caution that comes from practicing with a blade is, in this context, basically just a bonus.

So that's one reason to retain weapons in your martial arts curriculum. There's also an exercise issue. One of the criticisms I've heard (generally from Mixed/Modern Martial Artists) is that the traditional arts don't put enough emphasis on conditioning. There's some truth to that accusation; I've certainly heard enough traditional schools claim that "you don't need to be in shape to study with us," or "it doesn't matter what shape you're in, our techniques will work," to become quite annoyed with those sorts of claims. Physical conditioning - and even more basic things like size, reach, and body mass - make a big, big difference in a fight. That's why combat sports (boxing, wrestling, MMA, etc.) invariably have weight classes. Yes, if someone is larger and stronger than you, you can still overcome those advantages if your technique is good enough; but that should never be taken to mean that those aren't advantages.

(Interestingly, this is much less true in any sort of armed combat. As I said, weapons are a game-changer. But I digress...)

Anyway, traditional martial arts really should involve a lot of physical conditioning - but frequently they don't, and often that seems to be because they're being taught incompletely. I can't speak for every style, obviously, but I have it on pretty good authority that the weapons forms are the loose equivalent of weightlifting in Tai Chi. From what I've seen, that appears to be the case in BaGua, also. I presume, admittedly from a small sample, that this a role that weapons commonly play in traditional training. So by leaving them out, you're potentially losing a lot of the physical conditioning that was originally part of your art.

Finally, of course, there's the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse to consider. While it's true that swords never run out of ammunition, that isn't the best reason to use one. Gunfire is noisy. Shooting a zombie invariably attracts more zombies. A quiet beheading offers you a far better chance to pass through the hordes unnoticed.

Well, okay, you can probably ignore that last bit. Probably. But I still think that a comprehensive study of the martial arts should include the study of weapons. (That actually includes guns, too, but guns are a subject for another post.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Martial Arts History

I've had a number of combat-related hobbies over the course of my life. I'm not talking about video games, though I certainly enjoy pixelated violence too. ("All the adrenaline, none of the guilt!") No, I'm talking mainly about martial arts.

In grade school, my brother and I took some Karate down at the local community center. (I can't tell you what sort of Karate, unfortunately, except that it was Okinawan in origin. I mention this because there are a great many different fighting styles that fall under the general heading of "Karate" - for Chinese styles, "Kung Fu" is the same way.)

In high school, I wrestled - and I think I was pretty good at it, though I never actually competed. (If that sounds odd, it's because in order to do this, I had to work out with the wrestling team for a school that I didn't actually attend. As a result, the couldn't - or wouldn't - take me along to events.)

Then I went away to college, and for about two years I did... nothing. After I changed colleges, I found a new group of friends and, among other things, got involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism. Being a Starving College Student, I only dabbled in Heavy Fighting (when I could borrow enough equipment - heavy fighting simulated knightly armored combat), but after a while I became a reasonably formidable Light Fighter. (Light Fighting basically used epees to simulate rapier and smallsword combat. This was twenty years ago, so Schlager play was still in its early, experimental stages; I never managed to try it.) I wasn't an expert, to be sure, but I was mobile and had a particular knack for the closing-of-distance involved in sword-and-dagger fighting.

And then I graduated, and again did nothing for several years. After I moved from Lawton, OK back to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, my brother and some of my friends introduced me to a place that taught Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu... a system I particularly enjoyed, and one for which I still have a great deal of respect. That got me introduced to the basics of staff techniques, and the beginnings of two-handed saber. Unfortunately, the commute eventually became too much to deal with, and I started looking for a place closer to home.

That brought me to a fellow who taught at a local Chinese community center - the sort of place where they speak English mainly as a courtesy. He offered courses in BaGua (Eight Trigrams), Tai Chi, and Hsing-I... and while the teaching style was very different from what I'd had before, there were some advantages: among them, the fact that he would offer a course for just about anything that enough students were interested in.

I've always been interested in weapons; it's what brought me to traditional martial arts in the first place. So here, I was able to work with the Chinese Jian (straight sword) and Dao (saber), and pick up the basics of spear as well. Best of all, the styles he taught were compatible with the Praying Mantis Kung Fu I knew already; I didn't have to unlearn anything in order to learn new skills.

Then Firstborn came along. His arrival pretty much killed off my free time. If he would have napped during spear class, it might have worked... but no, he wanted to get up and move around. In a roomful of people practicing with spears. That might have been funny in a Warner Brothers cartoon, but in real life? Not so much. So that pretty well ended my practice of Kung Fu.

Once Firstborn was old enough that he didn't require the constant attention of whichever parent was taking care of him - I want to say that this was just before he turned two - I found a place right down street that taught Brazilian JiuJutsu. They didn't teach weapons, but that style meshed neatly with my wrestling background (and, oddly, with some of the Tai Chi and Mantis techniques as well). By this point I was willing to sacrifice weapons for exercise, so I signed up. That lasted for about a year and half, until they changed locations and suddenly became a whole lot less convenient to get to.

By then, though, the Praying Mantis school had opened a branch over on my side of the Metroplex, so I was able to do that again... for about six months.

That was when Secondborn arrived. But this time, we were expecting the interruption, so Secondborn never got a chance to try to insert himself into a martial arts class. Given his unerring instinct for placing himself in the worst possible spot at exactly the wrong moment, I'm sure he's very disappointed about this.

Secondborn, however, is coming op on his first birthday... on Thursday, in fact. So we are once again nearing that magnificent moment where I might actually be able to have hobbies again. And after some consideration, I'm leaning towards a place that teaches Korean swordsmanship. It's not as close as it could be, but it's easy to get to, and I'd get to play with weapons again. (The current emphasis on MMA seems to have caused a lot of schools to quit teaching weapons and focus entirely on unarmed techniques. I think that's a mistake for several reasons, but in all honesty I'm mainly annoyed that it makes it just that much harder for me to find the things that I want to study.)

So, assuming that the Zombie Apocalypse doesn't arrive in the next six months or so, that's probably the plan.

I think I may have overdone it

I can't tell whether I'm actually sick, or whether this is just allergies[1], but I think I've overdone it. I got up yesterday morning, took Firstborn over to his Nana's house, and then realized that if I actually tried to continue on to work, there was a pretty good chance that my head would fall right off. Probably roll into a ditch somewhere.

I didn't want that, so I turned around and went back home. I managed to call in to work before I collapsed again. So yesterday was pretty much a wash. I mean, I got a few things done around the house, and I bought groceries, but that was about it. And then I made a point of going to bed reasonably early last night.

So this morning I'm feeling a lot better. I'm still sore, but I'm nowhere near as stiff as I was. Plus, I have my energy back - though based on previous experience, I don't know how long it will last. So, I'm going to catch up on everything I missed while I was out yesterday, and if I have any oomph left after that, I'll see about finishing up some new material for the blog, here.

I hope everybody else's week got off to a better start.

[1] D/FW (and Dallas in particular) is some sort unholy nexus to which all North American allergens are required to make regular pilgrimages. And that's completely ignoring the various sources of pollution which frequently give our air the sort of chemical composition that really ought to be banned by Geneva convention.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Saturday Morning Concert

I'm the mood for crazy Irish rock bands this morning. So, because I love you all so much, I give you:

Let's start with The Pogues ("Turkish Song of the Damned"):


...Add some Black 47 ("Rockin' the Bronx"):


...Then a dash of Flogging Molly ("Seven Deadly Sins"):


Edited to add, because I cant believe I forgot - Boiled In Lead ("Silver Carp):

...And, to close things out, The Real McKenzies ("Bugger Off"):

Friday, April 8, 2011

A genuine Irish ballad to brighten your Friday afternoon

Identifying the Looters

I don't want to get too deep into the relative merits of Randian beliefs, mostly because I don't feel qualified to talk about them. My exposure to Ayn Rand has been limited, thus far, to a single book - and, while it was thoroughly packed with her philosophical outlook, it was also self-evidently a fantasy novel.

Having said that... it seemed pretty clear that even in Ayn Rand's own morality tale, being rich was only loosely tied to merit. The folks who were extremely wealthy on the basis of their own work were an extreme minority; few enough, in fact, that the entire group of them could comfortably occupy a single valley hidden away in Colorado. The vast majority of rich people, the upper crust of society and goverment, and in fact the majority of companies and corporations with whom these heroes were competing (if not opposing outright), were clearly shown to be looters.

And yet, an awful lot of the Rand devotees I run into online seem to reflexively, axiomatically support big business. Or, inversely, it seems that an awful lot of the reflexive support for big business has its roots in some version of a Randian outlook. So my question is, basically, how is that not at odds with Ayn Rand's writings? How do those views not conflict with their own source materials?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Beware the stare that will paralyze the will of the world

At one point, back in college - in the early nineties - the girl I was dating decided that we should find a church. I wasn't a believer, but I didn't have any particular dislike for Christianity, either; she knew this. I decided to humor her. So one bright Sunday morning, we headed off The Church On The Rock in Fort Worth, Texas.

I was raised Episcopalian, so I expect certain things; incense, kneeling and standing and sitting at appropriate times... things like that. Things I think of as part of a normal church service. I also expect churches to have congregations of a hundred, maybe two hundred people at the most.

Apparently I was a little sheltered.

The Church on the Rock was huge - a large building, a giant sanctuary, a congregation easily five times the size of anything I'd seen previously. Their worship was nothing like the Episcopalian services of my youth; they didn't kneel to pray. Instead, the entire crowd raised their arms to the sky, and stood there swaying and praying. You know that scene in the horror movie where the teenagers have wandered into the abandoned madhouse or prison and accidentally triggered the switch the closes all the doors and windows? And you can see them looking around, realizing that it is just exactly too late to back out? Where they suddenly become aware that they have no idea what's coming next, but whatever it is, they're stuck there for the duration? Well, that was me.

But the real high point of the experience came later. By then I'd settled back down a little bit. I might have been completely out of my element, but I was trying to go with it.

And then we got to the altar call.

If you've never seen one of these - and I hadn't, because, y'know, Episcopalian - this is basically just a point in the service, generally right after the sermon, where the priest/pastor/preacher asks if anyone feels called to come forward and (re)dedicate their life to Jesus. Which would have been fine, by itself. But in this case, as soon as he said it, everyone in a forty-foot radius turned to look directly at me, including my girlfriend.

I am not making this up. It could not have been more perfectly orchestrated if they'd practiced it. It was like something out of Village of the Damned. It was creepy.

But I stood there, and I did my best to act completely oblivious, and when the service was over we went away. We, um, we didn't try any more churches after that.

Ah, the Children of the Night

It was dark when he rose from his resting place: a crouched figure, shuffling forth in search of the warm, rich liquid that would restore him to a greater semblance of life. It was here, somewhere. It must be.

He moved through the darkness, seeking... hunting.

There. Now he could smell it. The source was just ahead, going about its own business, oblivious to his approach. Soon I will live again. He crept closer, reaching out...

...and pulled the pot from the coffee maker.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reflections on Jobs

While we're waiting for a response - any response - from the Elders, let me talk about my job. Or, you know, what used to be my job before I disappeared for a couple of weeks.

First of all, having a job is - for most of us - exactly like it is for normal people. That is, it's a way to put food on the table and keep the utilities on. Some of us, though, take particular jobs that allow us to help our fellow worshippers. Members with degrees in law or medicine are particularly valued, for reasons that should be obvious, but there are plenty of jobs that are valued by the Elders that have far less status (and income) among outsiders. Christian - I don't think I've mentioned him before - runs a costume shop. It doesn't really matter whether or not he turns a profit (though he does), that shop will never close. It's where we store everything we use for rituals, all the odd outfits and strange items.

I chose to become a pharmacist, even though the career didn't really interest me all that much. It was something I could do, and it was easier than trying to become a doctor or lawyer... but it still gave me some status with the Elders, because I could provide certain sorts of drugs when we needed them. It kept me from being relegated to grunt work, or sucked into the more dangerous aspects of our rituals and explorations that Mbata made his career.

Mbata. I miss that son of a bitch. He could be... unkind... especially to outsiders. But I miss him. And I wish I knew what he was doing when he came to collect Claire from our apartment. Damn it. But I digress...

People like Mbata are essentially subsidized by the Elders. Oh, they may hold a job (or, often, a series of jobs), but that's usually a cover. Their real job is to do whatever the Elders tell them to do: checking on our believers, refining our practices, dealing with our enemies or anyone who gets too curious, acquiring new knowledge for the Archives. Because of the extra research I was doing, and the aptitude I was showing for it, I might have been headed that way, myself. And if the Elders decide that I'm worth keeping around, it'll probably have to be the way my career goes now.

If that's the way it works out, I can't say I'll be entirely sorry. Being a pharmacist is... well, it's not as much fun as it might sound. Much like teaching, there's an awful lot of work that takes place in what are theoretically your off hours. There's a huge amount of paperwork: for the feds, for the state, for every insurance company in existence... and insurance companies are a real pain the ass. Their job, as they see it, is basically to prevent you from dispensing anything that might cost them money - in other words, anything that might actually help someone. They don't come right out and admit this, of course. Instead, they make the whole process as complicated as possible - and I swear by things I dare not mention here, they get together and make sure that no two of their processes work the same way. So multiply "as complicated as possible" by "every insurance company in existence" and you'll have some idea of why I think a single-payer system would have been better.

Pharmacy is also a relatively small, insular field. That's why I probably won't be able to, say, move to Chicago and get another job if things ever go back to normal. Pharmacy students go through a matching program, somewhat like doctors do, to see where they'll best fit for their internship. Pharmacists in a given area generally know each other by name... and by reputation. Having vanished without notice for something like two weeks now, I'm not just fired - unless I'm exceedingly lucky, I need to find another line of work.

Then there are the customers... here's the thing. Most of them are honest, if concerned, citizens. That's actually a sort of problem, because it makes it that much harder to stay alert for the ones who are addicts, or thieves, or scam artists. On the other hand, the ones who are dishonest are very frequently rude, nasty, entitled... and often not very smart. About two years ago, someone called in a prescription for the painkiller Xanax. The woman was calling from a "doctor's office" (actually, the call came from a carpet warehouse), and I had to ask for the dosage and the amount.

The Austin police department was kind enough to send a plainclothes officer over and explain what I had to do. I filled the prescription, and handed it over, and the officer promptly arrested the woman. As it turns out, she was part of a ring - basically, trying to get pharmacies to fill fake prescriptions for Oxycontin, Xanax, and other things with some value on the street - and she immediately gave up several of her accomplices.

So, yeah - it's a constant concern, but an infrequent threat, which makes for a bad combination. My almost-certainly-former employers have some policies in place that are supposed to help deal with that, but frankly I think they do more harm than good, most of the time. Seriously, not letting someone know that their doctor has sent over the refill for their prescription? Yes, it probably keeps the addicts from hounding us about whether or not the refill is ready yet, but it also keeps an awful lot of people with legitimate problems panicking over whether or not the meds they need to function are going to be ready in time.

It's a weird situation. (I admit, once again, that weird is relative.) I won't miss the job. Not at all. Not ever, if it comes to that. But I'm very worried about how many people my emergency replacement might be hurting in my absence.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of Fiction. No degrees were faked - and no drugs were illegally dispensed - for the purposes of this post.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

E-mail Marketing Company Hacked

I just had to write this up for work (because, hey, English Major), so I thought I'd throw it up here, too.

Some of you may have seen this in the news, or received warnings from companies if you happen to be on their mailing lists. If you're coming in late, here's what you need to know.

1. There's a company called Epsilon (a subsidiary of Alliance Data Systems Corp.)
2. Epsilon handles e-mail mailing lists for a lot of other companies.
3. Late last week, someone hacked into Epsilon's database and obtained an unknown (but presumably very large) number of names and their associated e-mail addresses.

What does this mean to you?
1. Apparently names and e-mail addresses were the only data taken. As a result, this is a fairly minor threat. That is simply not enough information to use for identity theft, credit card fraud, etc.
2. BUT, it does mean that anyone who gets ahold of the stolen information can create better, more convincing phishing scams.
3. Also, you're likely to see a lot more spam in your e-mail accounts for the next few weeks or months.

Phishing scams work by convincing people to give the scammer their personal (generally financial) information. The scammer pretends to be from a major company: Bank of America, Amazon, Comcast, Ebay, etc, The scammer sends you an e-mail informing you that there is a problem with your account, and that you need to provide your information (bank account, credit card number, username and password - things like that) in order to fix it. If you give your information to the scammer, they use it to rob you.

The data taken from Epsilon allows scammers to send their e-mails to people that they know are on the mailing lists for specific companies. That makes the phishing e-mails more convincing, since they appear to be coming from companies that you actually use.

So, what can you do to keep your information safe? It's the same strategy that you should be using anyway, all the time: never give your personal information away. Reputable companies will not send you e-mails asking for your account information; they already know your account information. They also won't send you e-mails asking you to visit a website where you put in your information. (For that matter, they won't call you up to ask for that sort of information, either.) If someone contacts you and asks for your information on behalf of a company, do not give it to them. If you're concerned, contact the company yourself (go to their website by typing in the address yourself, or looking it up through Google). Make sure you know who you're really talking to.

In other words, this is not something to panic about. It's just a good idea to be a little extra-vigilant for the next few weeks. If you want more information, there's a CNN article about the breach here:
http://articles.cnn.com/2011-04-04/tech/epsilon.stolen.emails_1_fake-e-mail-phishing-security-breach?_s=PM:TECH

Curse of the Werebaby

Okay, so back when Firstborn arrived, we babyproofed the house. One of the things we used were doorknob covers like these:



They're designed to spin loosely when a child grabs them, but still allow adults to turn the knob. Ha!

Secondborn will have his first birthday in under two weeks. This morning, he ripped the cover off the knob on the bathroom door. Now he is roaming the house, chewing on it. Evidently whoever designed these babyproofing devices did not take the furious strength of the werebaby into account.

Beautiful Wife has promised to get pictures for me.

Movie Review - Cabin Fever II: Spring Fever

Okay, so... you all know that I have a weakness for bad horror movies, right? I mean, even the really awful ones? Well, guess what genre Cabin Fever II: Spring Fever falls into?

I'd warn you that there are spoilers ahead, but let's face it: for a movie like this, nobody is going to care.

Let's start by considering the fact that the name makes very little sense in terms of the plot. (The disease doesn't actually cause any sort of fever, and the cabin from the original film is completely absent from the sequel.) Follow that with the observation that the horror-related portions of the plot made very little sense. (Who are the guys in vans? Why are they locking everyone in the school, and then killing them? If they're trying to suppress the outbreak of the disease, wouldn't a quick bit of arson be simpler - and, by the way, how did they know about the outbreak anyhow?)

This would be even more of a problem if the horror elements were more prominent; as it stands, the plot is more of a John Hughes teen-angst drama. Consider, for example, where it places the dramatic tension: in the high school relationships. Will the protagonist end up with the girl of his dreams? Will she get rid of her abusive boyfriend? Will their friend find a date for the prom? So, yeah: it's a teen rom-com which just happens to end with everybody dying horribly from a flesh-eating disease. Which, you know, if that's your thing, then great; I was hoping for more of a horror film, myself.

To be fair, the acting is actually pretty good; I can't fault the actors, except possibly for not finding a better production in which to showcase their skills.

The movie did, however, offer one completely new experience for me. By the time we got to the prom, I really wanted to insert myself into the movie (a la Pleasantville). The reason for this was simple: I was so completely annoyed by every single character in the film that I seriously wanted to go in there and kill them all myself, before they had a chance to die from the disease. Which, from a plotting-and-characterization perspective, is kind of a problem.

Listen, if you're going to make horror films, there's really only one rule. Be scary. Because let me tell you, the alternate ending of the film? The one in my head, featuring me as a spontaneous mass-murderer? Yeah, lame as that was, it would still have been a lot more scary than what was actually on the screen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

First World Problems

We've hit that point in the semester. My wife is... grading. A lot. And she stayed up late to try to finish, so she missed her window for going to sleep, so she stayed up later. Right before I went to sleep, she told me: "I may need you to hold Secondborn so I can send an e-mail in the morning."

(On the days when she teaches, she gets up quite early. Secondborn - he'll have his first birthday in about a week and half - does not like sleeping alone. He tends to wake up and start screaming. Usually, if that happens, I hold him for a few minutes while my wife finishes getting ready.)

So this morning I spent at least an hour - maybe an hour and a half - in Secondborn's bedroom, half-dozing, and rousing myself enough to comfort the baby every few minutes. He might have been calmer if we hadn't had a massive thunder storm raging outside the house during this time. After a while, the child struggled up to a sitting position and voiced a particularly loud complaint - Toddlerese for "I am done sleeping now, so quit trying to settle me down" - so I picked him and carried him to the back hallway. Where I stood on the tile floor, rocking the baby, while my wife finished loading the car. The baby was the last item to get loaded.

So I headed back and flipped the switch on my alarm clock - and in the process discovered that I had a whole minute and a half to spare, before it would have gone off and (doubtless) awakened firstborn. So, fine. No more sleep for me. I made myself breakfast, then went and showered. Then I went back to wake Firstborn and get him ready - usually just a matter of putting pants and shoes on him - and discovered that he'd created a mid-sized lake in the middle of his bed.

Fortunately, we keep a waterproof sheet on the mattress. Unfortunately, that still meant chasing the boy into the shower, gathering up his clothes, stripping the bed, and completely sterilizing my hands. Once the boy was clean and dressed, we got into the car and went on our way.

So now I'm at work. Also, I'm grumpy. This is not exactly how I wanted to start the day.

Still... First World problems.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Reflections on Patience

Want to guess what's happened in the last week? (...Or however long it's been?) I'll give you a hint: it's directly related to why I haven't posted any sooner.

If you said "nothing", give yourself a cookie.

We're still on the run, and still avoiding both sides. We still hear the whispers if we stay in any one place for too long. We're burning through money at a ferocious pace - travel does that - but we're not in danger of running out. (If this keeps up, though, we'll have a sample of spare change from every currency on the face of the planet.) On the plus side, both sides seem to be avoiding us, too - as in, our fellow worshippers won't come near us - and nobody has conjured anything new to send against us. We haven't had any word back from the Elders, and (because of the Whisperers) we don't dare make any detailed contact with the Snake Cult.

Claire wondered again this morning what was taking the Elders so long. Since the explanation is fresh in my head, let me write it down here as well. It's basically two things. First, this is an unusual situation for them. Sure, every once in a while an outsider learns more about us than they should know, or one of us slips up and says something that we shouldn't. When that happens, the Whisperers come, and bad things happen, and then there isn't a problem anymore. Alternatively, someone decides to leave us, but (if they're smart) they keep our secrets. In that case, the Watchers step in - and again, bad things happen, and then there isn't a problem anymore. Our situation is more ambiguous.

I'm guessing, but I think I have a pretty good idea of why the Elders haven't moved to destroy us. For one thing, while I obviously did Say Too Much, Claire is a member of a group that already knows something about these matters. And while we're currently at war with them, we have in the past been allies. The Whisperers still consider that a violation, but they can be a little... simple-minded. Secondarily, I haven't actually turned renegade; we're on the run from the Whisperers, but I haven't renounced my oaths. And we've successfully escaped the Whisperers for something like two weeks, now, which I'm sure the Elders find both frustrating and intriguing.

The other half of the equation has to do with the Elders themselves. They are, as the name suggests, old. Some of them are very old - centuries, if not millenia. I don't mean that they're necessarily hidebound; you don't survive that long if you're not adaptable. It's just that they're not hasty, either - and "hasty" apparently takes on a much broader meaning after you've watched a couple of centuries flow past. Then there's the issue of getting in touch with all the necessary powers and authorities, and in all likelihood some ritual divinations to help guide their decisions, and... well, you can see why this might take a while.

So it's a bit misleading to say that nothing has happened. I'm certain that any number of things have happened - and are still happening right now. What I really mean is that nothing conclusive has happened.

That won't stop either of us from getting impatient, but at the moment all we can do is gripe about it.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No secretive, nigh-immortal, occult beings were consulted in the creation of this post.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Quick History of Easter

As most of you know, Easter is fast approaching. It falls on April 24th this year, and today is the beginning of April. That being the case, I thought I'd talk a little about the holiday, maybe fill in some things that you may not know about it.

In the Christian Liturgical calendar, of course, Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. As with many Christian holidays, its place in the calendar is not based on the timing of actual events, but instead corresponds to a pre-existing pagan holy day - in this case, Ēastre (or Ēostre), which is where we get the modern word Easter. Historically, Christian imagery and celebrations of Easter drew heavily from the Jewish festival of Passover (which begins on April 19, this year), and the earliest Christians in all likelihood observed Jewish holy days rather than specifically Christian ones.

Most of that is pretty well known. Where the story gets really interesting is when you start trying to trace the history of the pagan symbolism - a surprising amount of which is still retained in our modern Easter celebrations. (Actually, it may not be all that surprising. Modern Christianity can be a lot more... purist... about meanings and symbols than historical Christianity was.)

The earliest elements of the Easter holiday can be traced to the Assyrian nation in the Fertile Crescent, starting around 2200 B.C. The collapse of the Akkadian empire had left Assyria and Babylonia as the two major powers in the region, and as a result there were both military conflicts and a lot of migrations. During this time, the Gonim Fac Tern (literally, Priests of the Sacred Hare) gained prominence in the Assyrian priesthood. They claimed through their rites to be able to increase fertility, which was very important to an expansionistic nation, and to command the "sacred madness" that hares experienced in the Spring. (This "madness" is actually the mating behavior, which involves a lot of seemingly-random darting back and forth as the males try to impress the females; it's also where we get the phrase "mad as a March Hare.")

By the time Assyria ceased to exist (it was defeated by a coalition of other nations in 608 B.C. but remained a distinct territory under the Persions, Greeks, Romans, and others), these rites and practices had spread throughout Mesopotamia. They had also become conflated with traditions from another group, the Worshippers of the Sacred Egg (Herim Tornt Mardik Sim), who occupied a similar role in Babylonian worship starting around 1,000 B.C.

The practice of actually dying eggs doesn't appear until around 700-800 A.D., and seems to originate with the worship of the goddess Ostara in northern Germany. It may have been introduced as a way to associate the older practices with the blooming flowers which indicate the arrival of the goddess in the Spring. The connection seems fairly natural, as Ostara was also associated with birds (again, returning in the Spring) and their eggs. This is probably also where we get the idea of an "Easter Nest" (which has become a basket in modern practice) where the holy hares can lay their sacred colored eggs.

So there you go: a little bit of history to mark the beginning of April. And now you know the secret origin of the Easter holiday: it all started with a cult of Assyrian bunny-worshippers four thousand years ago.

(Happy April Fool's Day!)