Thursday, February 21, 2019

Carboard Cartography, Part Two

The next step was to place the captions for the locations under the main map, against the backdrop, and glue them into place so they were visible through the cut-outs. After that, we glued down the mountains and the forest, which completed our lesson in cardboard geology.


As you can see, it's still not really done yet - the locations (spraypainted white) will need to be fitted into place, and the path of the journey will need to be marked, and we'll need to Label All The Things. But you're getting to experience the process of building this in much the same way we did: slowly and painfully, with a lot of waiting between steps.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Cardboard Cartography, Part One

So, our first step was to sketch out the map on the sheet of cardboard. The next step was to take a second piece of cardboard, sketch out the forest (again) and cut that shape out of the smaller sheet of cardboard. Then we did the same for the mountain.

The forest and the mountain came out of the same sheet, so they fit together perfectly. They're going to go on top of the main map, giving the whole thing a 3D element. We spray-painted them (green and gray, respectively) and set them aside. All of that was on Sunday. On Monday, cut out all the Important Locations from the main map, being careful to label them as we went. Then we painted the main map tan, and the cut-out Locations white. The next step will be to glue the main map to the backboard, so the locations will have a floor under them when we press them back into place. We have to wait for the paint to dry, first.


It may not look like much now, but when it finally comes together I think it's going to be pretty awesome. The assignment calls for a "three-dimensional, interactive map showing the journey and at least seven important locations" and I'm pretty sure we've got that done.

Monday, February 18, 2019

School Project: The Map Of Doom

So the boys are out of school today, and Firstborn has a project due Thursday. I am determined to have this project finished, y'know, today.

The assignment is to read a book involving a journey -- they're reading The Hobbit in his class -- and then create some sort of interactive 3D map, which he can use to give a presentation. Now, I had ideas for how we might approach this. I favored using Martha Wells' excellent The Cloud Roads, in no small part because the book doesn't include a map of its own. So on the one hand, we'd have to build the map based on the text, and on the other hand there wouldn't really be any wrong way to do it. Plus, it would have been fun to build some of the locations in that book.

But Firstborn had decided to work from one of his Minecraft books, specifically the one that's... I don't know... number fifteen or sixteen in a series. So I committed myself to reading it. And it's... To be fair, I can see why he enjoyed it. But the books are intensely first-person stream of consciousness, so there's probably two pages of explanation/digression for every page of plot advancement. Plus, the author is clearly writing a serial: the individual books aren't very long, but they're part of a single, unbroken storyline. The result of these two factors is that the book I read simply didn't have enough locations (or events, for that matter) to fill in the required Seven Important Locations that we needed for the map.

Y'all, I have now read four of these books, digressions and all.

But we have now gotten enough information together to start building the map. We're building it in layers, out of cardboard, so that each location will be a little cut-out square that you can lift up to see information about why it's important and what happens there. This will involve spray paint, and white glue, and printing relevant text in blocks that will fit underneath the removable squares. It will absolutely not strain my concentration to the breaking point or leave me frustrated, drained, and questioning my worth as a parent and as a human being in general.

But just in case, send more whiskey.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Music: Valentine's Day

A bit of Trout Fishing In America, to help you celebrate Valentine's Day:


Alternatively, if you're taking the other approach to Valentine's Day, here's some nice, crunchy Godsmack for you:

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Back on Schedule-ish

I kept Secondborn home from school yesterday and took him off to see the pediatrician. (He's been grumpy and out of sorts for about a week now, and at one point told that he thought he maybe had Strep again. So, y'know, doctor visit.)

The Strep test came back negative, but the doctor put him on antibiotics anyway because his lymph nodes were swollen enough to warrant it. Apparently the stuff tastes pretty horrible even with the flavoring in it (or maybe because of the flavoring in it, who know?) but that's where we are.

A day at home with his father seems to have done him a world of good, even if it resulted in taking Yucky Medicine twice a day, so now I'm back at work and trying to get everything back on schedule. Also, I'm exhausted and out of sorts myself, so I think tonight it's going to be early bedtimes for everybody.

Hope the rest of you are doing well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It's the little moments that make it all worthwhile

So being a parent is, you know... And, I mean, it's also kind of... Plus, you get to...

And then there are those moments when your younger child, who hasn't been feeling very well the last several days, comes to you because he's sad that his grandmother -- your mother -- is dead. And you have to comfort him, even though now you're unexpectedly sad all over again too. And he wants to go visit her grave, which is a good two days away by car, and really only slightly less by airplane.

Yeah. I don't know, maybe we can work something out for this summer.

Meanwhile, send whiskey. I'm about to deplete the supply.

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Season of Ugh and Yuck

That's either the title of my upcoming YA novel, or it's an apt description of the family this weekend: a lot of stuffy sinuses, lack of energy, and general inability to focus, but nothing pronounced enough for me to say, "Aha! We're sick!" (Plus the weather has turned dreary, gray, and cold - at least, Texas cold.)

Secondborn, meanwhile, has been watching these family-produced shows on YouTube in which the kids engage in Nerf battles with their parents, each other, and occasionally secretive masked villains who are very definitely not just their parents wearing costumes. This has been a lot more of a problem than I would have expected. For one thing, it had him weirdly out of sorts last week (admittedly, some of that may have been this weird quasi-illness thing, too). For another, well, apparently the shows have introduced him to the concept of pranks, and now he wants to start pranking his brother.

It has not gotten off to a good start. His first attempt was to leave some lotion on his brother's bed, in the hopes that his brother would lie down on it and be... I don't know, smooth-skinned or something. Unfortunately, he couldn't find anything to hold the lotion so he finally settled on an old children's book from Beautiful Wife's childhood. Fortunately, the child's about as subtle as an elephant walking on airhorns, so his older brother immediately spotted the lotion-covered book. (Perhaps more fortunately, I was able to clean the lotion off the cover of the book.)

So this prompted some extensive discussion of how pranks work differently in real life than they do when you're essentially creating a TV show and everybody knows what's going on. It also prompted some discussion of how we treat books.

I don't much hold with pranks myself. I think that in far too many cases it's just a barely-disguised form of bullying, and that it sets up situations where it's really easy for something to go unexpectedly wrong. So tonight we'll be having that conversation, too.

So that's pretty much where we're at.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Accidental Warlock

This is a background piece for my upcoming #DnD character, assuming the game ever gets back off the ground...

Aristai Miseral looked up at the ten-foot-tall devil in front of him and said with a calmness that surprised even him: "I'm dead."

The room around them was frozen into stillness. Aristai could still see himself, bent over as he studied the pages of the ancient tome, the tongues of flame atop the room's candles and the fire in the hearth all turned to glowing crystal, the stars unflickering outside the wide windows. Only two things moved in this captured moment: the devil's mind, and his.

It was a magnificently crafted form, with red skin and neat black horns, black hair and a goatee, and startlingly human eyes in an inhumanly handsome face. The wings folded behind it were covered in black feathers, and the tail moved with graceful expressiveness. Its build was broad-shouldered, square and powerful, but otherwise human -- human enough to wear dark robes highlighted with traceries of gold and something that looked like spun rubies, and polished leather boots. Still, as beautiful and awful as it was, it was nothing compared to the glimpse Aristai had caught when it first looked at him from it unimaginably distant home. As strange and powerful as it might seem now, he knew that the devil had created this body when it stepped into this world, just as a human might pull on a suit of clothing before greeting a guest at the door.

What else did you expect? it asked, pushing the words into his mind without bothering to move its newly-shaped lips. You found the key to the Hellish Glyphs, and read from the Thrice-Dark Threnody. Did you think I would not notice? Did you think none of us would notice?

The devil's voice was the roar of flames and endless darkness, each word weighted with unimaginable agony, but the certainty of his death insulated Aristai from the fear that moved through his muscles in cold waves and raised all the hairs on his body. "I thought..." The young half-elf tried to swallow and found that he couldn't. "I thought it was a book of history."

The fiend froze, as still as the room around them.

Then it laughed, and the sound was the thundercrack of lightning, shivering through Aristai's body. Mortals! It started to reach for him, and Aristai saw the gleaming black claws that tipped its fingers. Then it stopped, and stepped to one side. Still, it was cleverly done.

Hope flared in Aristai's chest, though another part of him was certain this was just a trap to make his death sweeter for the devil. Somewhere in the back of his mind, yet another voice was still screaming at what he had seen before the fiend gave itself form. "I only wanted knowledge," he said.

The devil stepped closer.

One chance, mortal. You have have one chance. Swear yourself to my service, here and now, and I will let you live. Swear yourself to my service, and I will give you such knowledge as you never imagined possible.

Aristai didn't hesitate. It was a choice with only one possible answer: "I so swear. Let me serve you, and I am yours."

It is done.


A moment later he was back in his body, staring down at the explanation of the Great Consuming that had been nothing but a string of indecipherable runes for the endless, frustrating months of his studies. Then agony washed over him, as if his flesh burned all the way down to the bones.
He didn't know if he screamed, if he thrashed, if he fell. His vision was white agony, his hearing nothing but the endless roar of the devouring flames. He tumbled and turned, consumed by pain, until at last it gave way to darkness.



He blinked and looked around, aware that he was clutching the edge of the table and that the ancient tome that had been his obsession for the last eight months was gone. He did not know if he gripped the table because he had steadied himself against it, or if he had used it to pull himself upright. There was something wrong with his hand, his arm, his balance... his body.

His skin had turned a rich crimson in color, his fingernails black. He straightened, found his balance odd, and realized that he could feel something brushing against the back of his legs... and feel his legs with the tail that brushed against them. Cautiously, he rolled his shoulders and straightened his back, but he didn't seem to have wings. That was probably for the better; the tail was throwing him off more than enough already. If the fiend had given him wings, he probably would have needed to learn how to walk all over again. Cautiously, he touched his forehead and found the small, upturned, goatlike horns there.

It seemed the devil had remade him in the image of its chosen form, at least mostly. He doubted there was anything elvish left in his blood; he wasn't even sure there was anything human. At least he seemed to be close to his former size and build.

Then Tabratha opened the library door, saw him, and shrieked.

Aristai flung his hands up, but her eyes went past him to the fireplace. He turned, and saw the book atop the burning logs, already more than half-consumed by the flames.

The sight turned her fearful surprise to anger. "What did you do with Aristai?" she demanded.

He tried to answer, but his against his will his throat clenched and no words came out. You are finished here, said the voice of fire and darkness.

I am destroyed, he told it.

You are reborn. Go. Leave this place.

He took a step towards Tabratha, who was tall and pretty despite her purely human blood, but she stepped back and pulled the door closed. It probably didn't make any difference; he still couldn't speak. He had sworn himself to the fiend's service, and it still held his throat closed against the passage of words. He looked around the library one last time, seeing nothing worth taking with him, then stepped to the door that led out to the smooth stone of the veranda. A moment later he was over the carved stone railing and gone, vanished into the night.

He would need supplies, but he supposed he could steal those if he was careful. He would also need to remain unnoticed, and that would be far more difficult. Most vitally of all, he needed to find some way to be rid of this curse and restored to his former life. That, he suspected, would be the most difficult thing of all.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Music: Make America Great Again

Sure, what the hell, let's make America great again. Music by Frank Turner, who isn't actually American:

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

February Horoscope

Aries:
Take a few moments for yourself this morning: eat a good breakfast, have an extra cup of coffee, whatever. Then go forth and rampage across the world, leaving a wake of chaos and destruction that will be remembered for a thousand years. This is your day.

Taurus:
Today is a good day for double-checking systems. Make sure the secret door works, the escape route is open, and your go-bag is ready. You won't need them today, but you're going to be very busy, very soon.

Gemini:
Stick to roads and sidewalks today, and avoid creeks, rivers, and other bodies of water. Carry a handful of salt in case something reaches up to grab you.

Cancer:
They'll come hunting you from the upper air, so stay indoors as much as possible. Some sort of hat may be in order.

Leo:
Today is going to be horrible, but at least you can take comfort in the fact that absolutely none of it will be your fault. The police won't agree, of course, but that won't be your fault either.

Virgo:
Your missing stapler is on the boss' desk. If you're going to burn the whole place down and move to some tropical resort, today is the day to do it. Check the envelope on the floor before you leave the building.

Libra:
Aliens will attempt to kidnap you today, but will be foiled by the accidental presence of a bird flying over your head. If you hadn't read this you would be none the wiser, but if you look up at just the right moment you might see the faint, shimmering outline of the ship.

Scorpio:
Do not plan any trips today, not even to the grocery store. You already took a huge risk just by getting out of bed. This would be a great time to build a pillow fort; they can't sense you through the blankets.

Sagittarius:
This will be a great day for dropping things on the floor, so make sure you get a good grip on anything valuable or messy.

Capricorn:
The dark winds howl endlessly between the stars, and the universe grinds on relentlessly: cold, dark, and incomprehensibly empty. This would be a great day for a hot bath and a chance to binge-watch your favorite show.

Aquarius:
Do that thing you've been meaning to do today. You know the one. You can find lime and shovels at the construction site afterwards. Remember to wear gloves.

Pisces:
It'll be fine. Just reboot it, and it'll go back to asking if you want to play a game of chess. Averting a world-ending crisis has never been easier.

Well... Probably not car thieves

So on Saturday an actual moving van arrived. And the same guy was there, and was definitely directing the movers, and with a bit less familiarity than he'd shown with the the tow-truck driver. And at this point, the covered car in the driveway is no longer covered.

So I'm forced to assume (contingently, and also grudgingly) that he's actually just a guy moving into a house, albeit in the weirdest way possible.

I still feel like there's something going on, but now I'm wondering it's much more sordid and mundane than what we'd originally suspected: divorce, maybe, with the husband moving into the former-couple's rental house? Or maybe it's just like I said, and he's just some guy moving into a house in the weirdest and most suspicious way possible.

Regardless, he seems like a decent guy so far.

Monday, February 4, 2019

I Think The Civil War Was Run By Idiots

Compiled from Twitter:

So I'm reading a history of the Civil War, and... Y'all, I knew it was a huge, long, sometimes-bloody mess, but I hadn't realized the full scope of what a comedy of errors the whole thing was. I mean, some of that was down to the limits of intelligence-gathering and communications at the time, and some of it comes from trying to lurch from a functional peacetime economy to a state of total war with absolutely no preparation. But it sure doesn't help that activities on both sides - both military and political - seem to have largely been directed by idiots.

You want an example?

Well, all right: the one that prompted this post was the expedition of Henry H. Sibley, who offered his services to Jefferson Davis in the form of a plan to raise troops in Texas, then advance up the Rio Grand through New Mexico to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Once there, he'd drive out the federalists and turn west, eventually extending the Confederacy all the way to California (and picking up some gold and silver mines to help replenish the Confederate treasury along the way).

So he recruits his brigades and heads north from El Paso. And... well, the situation is really messy, but he basically is able to march north all the way to Albuquerque with only minimal resistance (from Fort Craig) but also with minimal supplies, in some very harsh desert. He then arrives in Albuquerque to find that that the Union garrison has set fire to their supply depots and fallen back to Santa Fe, so he takes what supplies he can find and moves on to Santa Fe, with the same result: no enemy soldiers, but no supplies to be taken.

At this point, Sibley is *shocked* to discover that the local population isn't going to greet him with cheering, parades, and floods of volunteers eager to swell his ranks. In fact, they're not very friendly at all, and they certainly aren't eager to let Sibley & Co. buy supplies with Confederate currency, which they regard as completely worthless.

Meanwhile, all the troops that have been retreating as he advanced have gathered at Fort Union. Sibley decides to attack, and... well, again, it's messy, but he meets the Union troops in Apache Canyon in a sort of horrible battle-by-attrition at Glorietta Pass. Except one unit of Union troops slips completely around the battle and torches his entire supply train. Sibley retreats to Santa Fe, and the main body of the Union Forces cautiously decides to hold Fort Union rather than risking a pursuit.

Meanwhile, the guy from Fort Craig - which Sibley had disdained to finish off after defeating its troops fairly decisively in one battle - comes north to Albuquerque, exchanges fire with Sibley's troops there, and calls for the Fort Union troops to come reinforce him.

So this should have been the set-up for a final, decisive battle to drive the confederates back down into Texas. Only Sibley has finally figured out his troops can't live off the countryside, the locals aren't going to help him, and he has no supply lines. His artillery is nearly out of ammunition, and his wagon train is gone. So he just... leaves. Heads back the way he came. Through the desert. With no supply train.

The Union forces at this point are basically just pacing him - like, they're not so much attacking as just escorting him out. This goes on for several days, until finally the Union forces wake up one morning to find that they're camped across the river from an empty camp.

Sebley has decided to make a hundred mile detour to the west, to avoid Fort Craig. Through the desert. With no road, no guide, dense brush, and only five days' worth of supplies for something like a ten day trip.

By the time he gets back to Texas he's lost something like 1700 of his troops, of which less than 500 were lost in battle. A lot the rest were lost in that last 100 miles of marching.

Sibley survives, but his idiot certainty that naturally he was the hero and the people of New Mexico would rise up to support his glorious arrival does not. His follow-up report is basically a long essay on what a horrible place New Mexico really is.

"I cannot speak encouragingly for the future, my troops having manifested a dogged , irreconcilable detestation of the country and the people."

Because, you know, invading armies and occupying foreign forces should really expect to receive *better* from the local populace. They deserve it for being so gosh-darned noble and heroic, don't you know?

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Groundhog Day

They waited.

"Why are we standing beside a hole?"

"That's the burrow."

"Oh! So if it emerges..."

"...Then Spring is here."

"Wait, doesn't it need to see its shadow?"

It emerged then, almost too fast to see, coiled a fleshy loop around the slim form and dragged him into the narrow hole. It happened too fast for screaming; there was only the dull snap of breaking bones and a quick series of thumps and splats.

"No," the other replied to the now-empty air beside him. "It only needs to see yours."

He turned back to the waiting crowd. "The offering is accepted! The blood fills the earth! At last, the season shall turn!"

Cheers and cries of joy filled the first morning of Spring.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Pretty Sure Those Are Car Thieves

So, the house across the alley from us has been a rental property ever since the elderly couple who lived there moved out and sold it off about a decade ago. It's gone through a couple of families (generally pretty congenial) until a few months ago when the most recent set of renters moved out. (I think that was because the owner had raised the rate.)

The time since has been... weird. For a while the house was just sitting empty. Then, starting a few weeks back, we had people going in and out through the garage, and producing a lot of trash in the bins. Mostly, it looked like they were just fixing the place up, though there was an odd moment where there were people inside and a minivan parked in the (open) garage, honking for/at them.

For the last week, the house has been sitting there empty with the garage door open. Which, even in our very-low-crime neighborhood, is odd.

Then last night at about 8:30, there was a large truck in the alley, which I didn't get a very good look at; I thought at the time that it might be a moving van. There was also a car parked on one side of the garage (which I also didn't get a very good look at) and a second car parked in the driveway in front of it, effectively blocking it in. The car in the driveway has one of those car covers on it, though it was either thrown on hastily or it was designed to cover an entirely different vehicle. I honestly didn't pay that much attention to it, mostly because aside from the large truck beeping loudly when it backed up, there wasn't any reason to. I mean, yeah, that seemed a little late to be trying to move in, but that kind of thing does happen.

Except that about 10:30, I heard the large motor and the beeping again, and opened the back gate to find that a very large tow truck was in my driveway, apparently trying to angle itself to deliver a car to the house across the alley. I bent down to inspect the license plate on the truck, which was when another guy (not the driver) came across the alley and half-shouted some sort of defensive explanation about how the tow truck hadn't hit my garage door. I asked him what it was doing here at this time of night, and he said he was moving in. (I was dubious but didn't contradict him.) I told him that the thing was awfully loud, and that I had school-age children asleep inside, and that he should finish this up.

So... that took until about 11:00, by which point I was increasing suspicious that something nefarious was going on, so I went outside again. I got out there to find the guy (who's "moving in") directing the tow truck in how to get angled so it could drive back out of the alley without hitting any of the various obstacles around it (fences, electricity exchange, etc.) Now, I'm sure the driver needed the help, what with trying to drive a ridiculously oversized tow truck (this is the kind of thing where the card actually rides up the bed of the truck, which can tilt down to be a ramp) in a suburban alley... but Guy Moving In was shouting directions to him by name ("Angle left, Michael!" "Okay, you're clear Michael!"), which seems a bit odd if you've simply hired someone to transport your vehicles for you. (And why would you transport them that way in the first place???) Then, once the truck was properly lined up and it drove off down the alley, he apparently hopped into yet another car and drove off after it.

The house itself doesn't look ready to be inhabited. There's little if any furniture, and there's still some stuff visible on the floor through the living room windows - looks like a pile of pulled-up carpeting or something similar. But now the garage door is closed (at last) with two cars presumably inside and a third (covered) car parked outside.

Now, maybe in a couple of days he'll get settled in and he'll turn out to just be a guy who collects cars and owns a towing company, and we'll find that Michael was one of his employees who got commandeered to help the boss move.

Maybe.

But the whole thing looks dodgy as hell right now.