Friday, March 30, 2012

Real Work Conversation: Casillero

Context: we're looking at a picture of a label on a wine bottle.

Ex-Minion: "Casillero del Diablo. What's 'Casillero' mean?"

Me: "Cask, maybe? Something like that?"

I consult the All-Knowing Google.

Me: "Ah, here we go. According to the manufacturer, it means 'cellar.' So, Cellar Of The Devil, or something like that. Interesting, though, it looks like current dictionaries define it as a desk, or locker. But yeah, that's probably an older usage - like 'locker' can mean 'store room', too, in English."

Ex-Minion: "The Devil's Wine Cellar."

Me (holding a fist up dramatically): "And now, from the Devil's Rec Room...!"

Ex-Minion: "That sounds scary."

My Boss: "That sounds like a game show."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Morality and Ecclesiology

This - this, right here - is exactly why I read Slacktivist. Insight, perspective, empathy, and the firm resolve to call people out when they are acting badly - and explain, in very clear terms, exactly why he thinks they're acting badly: these are things I admire.
But again, this is not the Catholic Church attacking the victims. Those victims, by definition, are the church. This is Dolan, Donohue and the bishops attacking the church.
Read the whole thing.

Filler - Unfinished Projects

I have absolutely nothing to post this morning. (Work has eaten my writing time.) I haven't done any more character sketches, and can't spare the time to do one now; I haven't written enough of the next bit of Apocalypse River to put it up; the Mad Scientist has been busy, and the Deranged Cultist still hasn't reappeared in consensus reality; and I'm fresh out of random topics to ramble about.

So this is basically an open thread. What projects would you like to be working on, if you had more time/energy/money? Alternatively, what's keeping you busy these days?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I could look dramatic, too...

We have a television in the server room. (There are actual work-related reasons for this.) When not needed for anything else, which is most of the time, it's set to the Weather Channel. That's pretty bland fare, for the most part.

Recently, though, I've been seeing advertisements for shows like Ice Pilots and Turbine Cowboys. And if Reality TV has taught us anything, it's that successful shows have a sort of trickle down effect. (This is basically a result of producers saying things like, "This show made money. How many ways can we repackage the basic concept before the whole trend collapses under the weight of its own silliness?")

So now I'm wondering just how long it will be before someone shows up to make my own career look like a marvel of courage and ingenuity in the face of extreme danger. "Knights of the Server Room: you've never seen I.T. like this before. Premiering this fall on The Learning Channel." The tag line would be accompanied by a picture of someone in full climbing harness, suspended by a pulley from the ceiling, running network cables on the back of a thirty-foot-tall server rack.

What would your job sound like if it were ridiculously overdramatized for a Reality TV program?

Late edit: Apparently Cracked noticed the same pattern back in January...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Combat Theory 01: armed and unarmed

In the comments on the post about lightsaber battles, rejiquar asked if there were good beginning resources for writing and/or drawing believable combat scenes. I offered a partial answer there, but since this is a topic that plays to two of my particular interests - writing and martial arts - I thought I'd throw out some thoughts here. This might become a regular series, if it holds my interest and/or if enough of my readers find it interesting, so feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Obviously, I'm not going to be discussing self-defense in anything other than general terms, here. If you want to learn how to defend yourself, you need to find a competent instructor and spend some time training. Instead, I want to look at some elements of combat theory that might be helpful if you want to write medieval/fantasy fight scenes.

So, for starters, let's look at some of the differences between armed and unarmed combat.

First of all: a weapon, any weapon, is a huge advantage. Melee weapons - anything from a knife to a spear - offer a huge advantage in reach, leverage, and damage. With a weapon, you can hit from farther away; you can hit harder, and the edge of a blade (or even just a piece of wood) will deliver the force better than an empty hand or a foot ever will. Ranged weapons take this principle a step further, allowing you injure an opponent while staying well and truly out of his reach - unless he has a ranged weapon of his own, of course. The ideal situation is to have a weapon with enough reach that you can strike your opponent while he's still too far away to strike you.

The brings up one of the very nice things about using weapons: they offer quite a bit of gender equality. A five-foot-tall woman, facing off in unarmed combat against a man who's six-foot-four and twice her mass, is at a serious disadvantage. He has better reach, more weight, and almost certainly more muscle. He can hit her from farther away, and do a lot more damage. And if they move to a grappling situation, he can use his weight against her, too.

Put knives in their hands, though, and suddenly muscle and weight make a lot less difference. With a blade, it doesn't matter so much how hard you hit; it's much more important if you hit, and where you hit. So now the man still has an advantage in reach, but the difference in muscle now makes very little difference.

Now put swords in their hands, instead of knives. The man in this scenario still has more reach, but with each of them holding three feet of sharpened steel, the difference in reach is relatively slight and unimportant. It's still there, but it doesn't matter anywhere near as much. At this point it's mostly technique: skill versus skill.

Change them to using spears, and now there's essentially no difference in reach or ability to inflict damage. As long as nobody is too weak to use the weapon (which shouldn't be the case for reasonably able-bodied adults), the differences in strength and reach are unimportant, and the difference in weight can actually be a disadvantage for the heavier person. (It makes him less maneuverable.)

This also brings up another point: in unarmed combat, it's possible to absorb a blow from your opponent in order to deliver a more powerful blow of your own. I've heard this described as "sacrificing a pawn to capture a queen". With weapons of any sort, it really doesn't work that way. Weapons do so much more damage (and remember, antibiotics are a very new invention, historically speaking) that this sort of trick essentially doesn't work. Sure, you can take a blow to the leg in order to hit your opponent's head - but with any sort of weapons, you're still in real danger of having your leg disabled, not to mention death from blood loss or infection. At the very least, you've rendered yourself unfit for any further fighting until you recover.

From a fighting and/or self-defense perspective, weapons are basically always an advantage.

Oh, one other thought on armed and unarmed combat: there's more stylistic variety in unarmed combat. Some of that has to do with context. A style developed for men fighting in full plate armor is going to look very different from a style designed to fend off multiple unarmored opponents. But a lot of it is just difference in emphasis and body types.

With weapons, on the other hand, there's a certain sort of parallel evolution. There are only so many ways that a blade of a particular weight, shape, and balance can be used by a human body. So you find that katana techniques (designed for use with, basically, a two-handed saber) also show up, historically, in techniques for the Swiss two-handed saber. It's not because one style borrowed from the other; it's because there are only so many effective ways to use a blade of that approximate size and shape.

The Joys of Parenting

We have two boys. They're about four years apart. Firstborn will be turning six in June (and I assume that this surreal sense of How Did He Get That Old??? will only get worse from here on out). Secondborn will be turning two in about three weeks.

I am incredibly proud of these boys. They are bright, inquisitive, kind... and very, very active. But hey, I didn't really want to go to sleep at night anyway. Or keep anything delicate anywhere in our house. So it's all good, really.

Firstborn is currently in Kindergarten. He has learned to read, and his reading skills (and vocabulary, etc.) are growing by leaps and bounds. He's still doing gymnastics, and he's started climbing the fence in our back yard. Oh, and jumping off the fence in our back yard. He's also starting to play with his younger brother - Secondborn is just old enough for that, now.

Secondborn is learning to talk. He has a pretty good vocabulary - though offhand, I have no idea how many words he knows - and routinely constructs two-word sentences. He's also started asking "What?" and "Why?" fairly frequently. He's still blond, which means he picked up recessive genes from both his parents - or else the Faeries swapped our dark-haired child for a blond changeling, somehow. He can walk, run, climb, and jump - all with surprising skill. And he gets into everything.

I've mentioned before that parenting is a huge job, which essentially never ends, and which requires a massive investment of time, energy, and attention. It is not for everybody. Right now, though, I just want to talk about why I love doing it - me, myself, personally.

So join me below the fold, where I can continue bragging with pics and video:

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Gun Owner on "Stand Your Ground"

A Bookish Beemer writes:
I don’t like “stand your ground” laws. I understand the sentiment–if I have the right to be in a space, I also have the right to be there and be safe. I have the right to be free from harm, from being a victim of a crime. I have the right to defend myself.

I have the right to defend myself.

That is why I don’t like “stand your ground” laws. I already have the right to defend myself.
Read the whole thing. Please.

Really, Geraldo Rivera?

Where have I heard this before? ‎"It was totally his fault! Look at the way he was dressed! He was askin' for it!"

Uh huh.

By blaming the victim, Geraldo Rivera offers an excuse for the man who shot an unarmed kid in the chest. Whether he means to or not, he is now actively defending a murderer. I do not have the words to express the mixture of rage and contempt that I have for this.

A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds

This article originally appeared on John Scalzi's blog Whatever. It was written by an anonymous doctor, and is reprinted with permission.

I'm leaving the comments open, somewhat against my better judgement, so please be civil. I reserve the right to close comments at any time, for any reason.

Where Is The Physician Outrage?

Right. Here.

I’m speaking, of course, about the required-transvaginal-ultrasound thing that seems to be the flavor-of-the-month in politics.

I do not care what your personal politics are. I think we can all agree that my right to swing my fist ends where your face begins.

I do not feel that it is reactionary or even inaccurate to describe an unwanted, non-indicated transvaginal ultrasound as “rape”. If I insert ANY object into ANY orifice without informed consent, it is rape. And coercion of any kind negates consent, informed or otherwise.

In all of the discussion and all of the outrage and all of the Doonesbury comics, I find it interesting that we physicians are relatively silent.

After all, it’s our hands that will supposedly be used to insert medical equipment (tools of HEALING, for the sake of all that is good and holy) into the vaginas of coerced women.

Fellow physicians, once again we are being used as tools to screw people over. This time, it’s the politicians who want to use us to implement their morally reprehensible legislation. They want to use our ultrasound machines to invade women’s bodies, and they want our hands to be at the controls. Coerced and invaded women, you have a problem with that? Blame us evil doctors. We are such deliciously silent scapegoats.

It is our responsibility, as always, to protect our patients from things that would harm them. Therefore, as physicians, it is our duty to refuse to perform a medical procedure that is not medically indicated. Any medical procedure. Whatever the pseudo-justification.

It’s time for a little old-fashioned civil disobedience.

Here are a few steps we can take as physicians to protect our patients from legislation such as this.

1) Just don’t comply. No matter how much our autonomy as physicians has been eroded, we still have control of what our hands do and do not do with a transvaginal ultrasound wand. If this legislation is completely ignored by the people who are supposed to implement it, it will soon be worth less than the paper it is written on.

2) Reinforce patient autonomy. It does not matter what a politician says. A woman is in charge of determining what does and what does not go into her body. If she WANTS a transvaginal ultrasound, fine. If it’s medically indicated, fine… have that discussion with her. We have informed consent for a reason. If she has to be forced to get a transvaginal ultrasound through coercion or overly impassioned argument or implied threats of withdrawal of care, that is NOT FINE.

Our position is to recommend medically-indicated tests and treatments that have a favorable benefit-to-harm ratio… and it is up to the patient to decide what she will and will not allow. Period. Politicians do not have any role in this process. NO ONE has a role in this process but the patient and her physician. If anyone tries to get in the way of that, it is our duty to run interference.

3) If you are forced to document a non-indicated transvaginal ultrasound because of this legislation, document that the patient refused the procedure or that it was not medically indicated. (Because both of those are true.) Hell, document that you attempted but the patient kicked you in the nose, if you have to.

4) If you are forced to enter an image of the ultrasound itself into the patient chart, ultrasound the bedsheets and enter that picture with a comment of “poor acoustic window”. If you’re really gutsy, enter a comment of “poor acoustic window…plus, I’m not a rapist.” (I was going to propose repeatedly entering a single identical image in affected patient’s charts nationwide, as a recognizable visual protest…but I don’t have an ultrasound image that I own to the point that I could offer it for that purpose.)

5) Do anything else you can think of to protect your patients and the integrity of the medical profession. IN THAT ORDER. We already know how vulnerable patients can be; we invisibly protect them on a daily basis from all kinds of dangers inside and outside of the hospital. Their safety is our responsibility, and we practically kill ourselves to ensure it at all costs. But it’s also our responsibility to guard the practice of medicine from people who would hijack our tools of healing for their own political or monetary gain.

In recent years, we have been abject failures in this responsibility, and untold numbers of people have gleefully taken advantage of that. Silently allowing a politician to manipulate our medical decision-making for the purposes of an ideological goal erodes any tiny scrap of trust we might have left.

It comes down to this: When the community has failed a patient by voting an ideologue into office…When the ideologue has failed the patient by writing legislation in his own interest instead of in the patient’s…When the legislative system has failed the patient by allowing the legislation to be considered… When the government has failed the patient by allowing something like this to be signed into law… We as physicians cannot and must not fail our patients by ducking our heads and meekly doing as we’re told.

Because we are their last line of defense.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lightsaber Battles

For those of you who can't watch videos, what follows is basically making fun of the lightsaber sequences in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Intriguingly, they focus mainly on the stage-fighting aspects (of, you know, a staged fight) and entirely skip over the part where Darth Maul's weapon is carefully designed to help you to eviscerate yourself.

(True story: I once spoke to fellow who makes custom swords - he was making one for me, in fact - and listened to him complain about some of the design requests he gets. The one that particularly worried him was a request for a double-bladed weapon, not unlike Darth Maul's lightsaber, with a katana blade on either end of the central handle. The blades would have their edges aligned in opposite directions, giving the weapon overall a slight "S" shape. This would essentially guarantee that any horizontal slash with the lead blade would automatically and unavoidably carry the rear blade into the owner's body, sharp-edge first.)

Traditional designs may not look as exciting as fantasy weapons, but there are good reasons why they became traditional. Not killing the people who were trying to use them was a big part of that process.

This is still funny, though:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Need more tea...

So, so very not awake today. Or at least terribly lethargic. Will make another Giant Mug o' Tea (tm) and hope it helps.

Random Tangent: I lost my thumb drive a few weeks back. This was annoying, but not a terribly big deal. The main thing that actually got lost - that I didn't have duplicated elsewhere - was a folder full of images that I like to use for desktop backgrounds. So last Sunday, I fired up the computer and started doing image searches.

And it worked pretty well. Most of the images that I really wanted, I was able to find again; plus I picked up a bunch of new ones that I hadn't used before. The one irritating part of the process was when I was searching under "fantasy warrior". (I like images of people with swords and spears and things like that. Go figure.) Male warriors? No problem. I mean, okay, some of the weapons could have been more realistic, but the overall selection was fine. Female warriors? Probably nine out of ten were dressed in outfits that nobody - nobody - in their right mind would ever choose to fight in.

Which seems like a good place to mention Women In Sensible Armor, for the benefit of anyone who might have missed it earlier.

How about you? Any strange little gripes or pet peeves that you want to share? New and unusual topics you want to introduce? Favorite sites or projects (including your own) that you'd like to promote? Consider this thread an unarmed merchant ship sailing into the wind, bring your virtual pirate ships into boarding range, and hijack away.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Character Sketches: Edrin

Edrin entered the small church with the last of the parishioners. His skin began to burn as he crossed the threshold, but he ignored it. The damage wouldn't show until it was near to ending him, and that would take some time. He was used to the pain; the sun had the same effect on him as a holy place such as this.

The church was single, long room, though its essential simplicity was disguised by the delicate arches of the roof and the high, peaked windows along the walls. The public doors were at Edrin's back, and a series of rough wooden pews filled the space before him. Beyond them was the altar, set on a raised platform. The priest, Paer Meassim, stood behind it, dressed in the formal white robes of a minister at Devotion. Edrin squinted, and made out the faint shimmer of Meassim's angel, hovering above and behind the man's head.

The town of Millholm was small, the center of a rural parish. The modesty of this church matched its setting. Its income, by contrast, did not. Over the last five years, it had grown to collect two or even three times what churches like this ordinarily gathered. Perhaps the local population was simply more devout than usual, and willing to give freely from their meager incomes. It didn't seem likely.

So Edrin had come to Millholm, taken a room at the town's one inn, and begun looking around. The town wasn't truly run-down, not yet, but it was beginning to look worn. Decorations had been allowed fade; minor repairs that should have been made were left to wait; and everything cost more than it should.

Paer Meassim's house, on the other hand, was newly built and the largest in town. He lived there with three acolytes, amid rich furnishings and richer meals, and likely other luxuries as well. The townsfolk spoke no ill of their priest, but then they wouldn't. Paer Meassim was their connection to the heavens, and most likely their only source of earthly healing as well. Instead, they spoke of him not at all.

Edrin found that telling. In most places, the local priest was a vital and active part of the community. A town which did not speak of its priest was town that did not want him. From the signs, Edrin suspected that Paer Meassim was bleeding his parish dry. It only remained to confirm it, and then to stop it. For that knowledge, that opportunity, Edrin would sit through the service while the touch of the heavens slowly burned him away.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A very Monday sort of Monday

So, owing to a massive hardware failure (and some related software failures) over the weekend, the spiffy new website that we just took live a couple of weeks ago... is now noticeably scrambled. In addition, Saturday was St. Patrick's day and yesterday (Sunday) was the end of Spring Break here in North Texas, which makes today one of the more underrated holidays on the calendar: Bring Your Hangover To Work Day.

None of this bodes well for the start of my week. Though I suppose I should note that I'm not actually hungover myself.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Character Sketches: Cat

Cat waits in the branches of the tree, watching the monsters pass by below. He has never seen their like, and does not understand what he sees. No two of them are alike, for all that they share the same dull, black flesh. Some have claws, and some have tails; other have extra arms, shiny chitinous armor, whole limbs that are natural weapons. One among them even has wings.

From another branch on the far side of the tree, he feels Lady Aniel reach out to touch his mind with hers: Now. We can take them from behind, end them before they know we're here.

He radiates a sense of waiting, letting her know without words that now is not the time. Her familiars stir, impatient as she is. They remain still, but even the dullest semmis could sense the Gai-Cha they have gathered around them.

They fall still as another monster passes beneath them. This one is larger than the others, a many-legged snake, flowing like a river of black flesh down the path beneath them. Cat can feel its Sim-Cha, the life-energies within it; the monster is that large, that close. It should be able to feel them as well, the energies gathered around them at the very least, but these monsters seem strangely blind to the movements of Gai-Cha, despite the strength of it within them.

Aniel touches his mind again: They're headed for the Hold. They mean to break it open.

Cat considers, but only for a moment. Lady Aniel is adept with the Arts of the mind. If she says that is their goal, no doubt she knows firsthand. And this trail only goes to one place. And this is not a lone scout or raider; this is a war party.

He raises a hand, keeping the other on the tree's trunk for balance. There are two weapons at his back: a bow, the use of which he has learned unwillingly, and with difficulty; and a navic, a saber blade mounted on an equal length of handle, something between a sword and a polearm. It is the navic that comes into his hand: this is going to be close work, and messy. Lady Aniel and her familiars can cover him from above.

He slips the blade from its sheath and steps off the branch, dropping towards the monster below.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Filler: Onions

Because I can. And because Rowlf The Dog totally rocks:

My First Girlfriend

When I was in sixth grade, I asked Alese Watson, who was in fifth grade at the time, if she would go out with me. I didn't ask her myself, of course; this was a time when it was socially acceptable, even expected, to have someone else act as a go-between. So I sent word that I'd like to go out with her, and she sent word back that she agreed.

We went out for about a week. Then she sent a go-between to tell me that she was breaking up with me. Why? Because in that time, I hadn't actually spoken to her. This, I had to admit, seemed like a pretty reasonable justification. I mean, it simply hadn't occurred to me that I ought to be talking to her; but looking at it in hindsight, it seemed like a pretty normal expectation. So my response was basically, "Oh, okay. Sorry." And that was pretty much it.

True story.

Also, this is probably funnier if you've ever met me in person.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Odd mood this morning...

...So I'm currently inflicting Aqua on my co-workers. After that, I'm moving on to theme songs from Ranma 1/2, like so:

How about the rest of you? How's post-Daylight Savings Time time treating you? What are your favorite musical oddities (bands, songs, albums)? Consider this an open thread.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From comments: politeness, presentation, and ethics

I'm not sure how to introduce this, exactly. It showed up as an afterthought in the comments on one of the older posts, and I think it deserves a response, but I don't want to further clutter up that comment thread. Also, I don't really want everyone else to charge over there and respond. It's not that I don't treasure each and every one of your comments, dear readers; nothing warms my heart like finding that someone has not only read my stuff, but left an (invariably) interesting and thoughtful response. It's just that that particular thread is more than busy enough with just two of us commenting on it, at present.

...But I digress. Anonymous Commenter observed the following:

Sidebar......I just was on a blog where out of 10 comments by atheists I read bullshit, horseshit, bitch and fuck-2'x. So, atheist's Atheists don't have problem hating what Christians say but you'all have built a fine reputation for yourselves too.
Several thoughts come to mind, here. The first, of course, is that using swear words doesn't strike me as a useful measure of moral character. Swearing can be impolite, in some circumstances; crude, to be sure; but we're not exactly talking world-devouring evil, here.

The second thought that comes to mind is, "You're talking to the wrong sort of atheists." Except, I need to qualify that, because I'm perfectly well aware that there are atheists out there who are hostile to, contemptuous of, and rude about religion. Are they the majority, or even common, or are they just a particularly vocal minority? I don't know. I do know that if I only focused on a certain group of Christian blogs, I'd come away convinced that Christians are highly judgemental, death-obsessed, and unapologetically rude. And I'd be wrong. But neither Christians nor atheists are a monolithic group; trying to talk about atheists in general is about as useful as trying to talk about Christians in general - or men in general, for that matter.

But speaking for myself - though I believe that most of my atheistic readership feels much the same - being irreligious in no way requires me to be anti-religious. For the most part, I don't much care. Occasionally something catches my eye that I think is worth poking fun at, or otherwise dissecting; but for the most part, I have no particular interest in trying to convince religious people that they ought not to be religious, or making fun of them of them for being religious per se.

Character Sketches: Werdeth

Werdeth closes the car door and follows his uncle into the school. He's been to the school before, for meetings with counselors and administators; not when the other students were here. Not with all these people milling around, creating a sort of human log jam. Not with this overwhelming movement, these many scents blending and blurring.

A whisper of power stirs deep inside him, urging him to change, to flee, to run. He forces it down, along with the memories it brings: wind in his fur, fallen leaves and soil beneath his paws... blood in his mouth. He lost two years of his life the last time he let the beast run loose - lost them as far as the human world was concerned, anyway. He won't let that happen again.

Instead, he holds himself still while his uncle speaks to the secretary. It's probably unnecessary; he already has his schedule and his books. He could just go on to his classroom.

After a time his uncle glances back. "You'll be okay?" he asks.

Werdeth nods, recognizing it for the dismissal that it is. The office doors are glass; he can see the crowd outside, thinner now but still there. It frightens him, he realizes: the idea of being in middle of all that movement, all those people. Realizing that, he opens the door and steps out... into his first day of High School.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Character Sketches: Sean

I approach the ramshackle farmhouse carefully, watching for signs of movement, listening for anything that might be more than just the wind. I called out from the edge of the yard, but nobody answered: either the place is empty, or its inhabitants don't care to respond. With luck I can scavenge some supplies without finding any trouble, but that sort of luck is scarce these days.

My progress is steady, despite the limp. Beneath the worn cloth of my pants, my left leg is strangely deformed: longer and heavier than it once was, the skin black as coal. I wear a combat boot on my right foot, an old sneaker on my left. The difference is almost enough to compensate for this thing... this infection, this mutation... that's claimed my leg from just above the knee to just above the ankle. My left arm, tucked into a sling across my chest, is a match for the leg: the flesh is heavy and black from just below the elbow to the tips of my fingers. Another small piece of my humanity, traded away for a few more days of safety...

I reach the door, knock, and listen. Nothing stirs. I wait, knock again, wait longer. The others are somewhere behind me, waiting as I wait, ready to help if I need it. My family, and others... I guess I'd call them my tribe, these days.

Nothing. With my still-human right hand, I try the knob. It's unlocked, and the door swings open. I check the position of the weapons on my belt: wakizashi on the left hip, pistol on the right. The pistol is a last resort, because ammunition is a finite resource, but the guns are also the best defense we have against some of the things that share the world with us these days.

I leave the weapons in their places and pull out a flashlight instead. Batteries are even more scarce and valued than ammunition, but I switch it on and step inside...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Welcome to the First World

Beautiful Wife: "Bicycling... in the rain... with a backpack. Maybe he's preparing for a trip to Ireland."

Me: "They do that in Ireland?"

Beautiful Wife: "I saw that a lot in Ireland."

Me: "Sounds Damp."

Beautiful Wife: "Probably is."

Me: "Still, might not be too bad. I'd want a heated bicycle seat, though."

Beautiful Wife: "I think they make those."

Me: "..."

Me: "First World Countries: where we can make a luxury out of anything, no matter how stupid."

Friday, March 9, 2012

The things that stay with us...

Right, so, here's something you probably don't need to know about me.

I was born Episcopalian, baptized Episcopalian, raised Episcopalian, and confirmed Episcopalian. Nowadays, of course, I'm an atheist; but sometimes I still talk like an Episcopalian. And in particular, I still curse like an Episcopalian.

I'm occasionally surprised by the things that stay with us as we grow. How about you?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Email Wants To Kill Me

I just checked the SPAM folder for my email. In hindsight, this was clearly a mistake. But since I'm sure you're all dreadfully curious about what might be lurking there, here's what I found:

1. Paige says, Hey Baby! Where did you go??? :(
2. GO BIGGER wants me to add three inches to my manhood now.
3. Youtube Service has sent me two separate messages to tell me that my video has been approved.



...You know, actually...

...This has the makings of a short story, or maybe a sit-com episode. We have a novice director (we'll call him Tom), desperate to achieve fame and fortune by producing Youtube videos; the poor neglected girlfriend (or would-be girlfriend) Paige, pining away while Tom is busy filming; and their neighbor, GO BIGGER ("GO" to his friends), who has a cunning plan to get them (back?) together. Will Tom ever reach his dreams? Will he realize what he's missing out on by ignoring Paige? Will Paige wait patiently? Will she meet someone new? Will GO's wacky plot bring the two of them together, or drive them further apart??? And how much therapy will Tom need after he learns what GO has in mind for his anatomy?

Sadly, there's nothing about zombies in there, so I'm never going to write this.

What about the rest of you? Any intriguing story ideas hiding in your SPAM?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The first step is admitting you have a problem...

Hi. My name is Michael Mock, and I... am an addict.

It started small. Just a cup or so in the morning... you know, to warm me up a little. But pretty soon it was more than just one cup. The cups started getting bigger, too. And now... well, some days it seems like I just can't get going without it.

I told myself it was fine. I told myself I could quit any time. I... might have been wrong about it.

But, y'know...? It's not interfering with work. It's not interfering with my family life. Heck, my wife and children actively enable the habit. And I'm just not sure I'm ready to give it up. Oh, sure, maybe I'm a "functional addict," but right now I can live with that.

Plus, the stuff is full of antioxidants... and the way I drink it, it gets a little extra calcium into my system, too. That's healthy, right?

So... I'm sorry folks, but I'm just not ready to for that second step. If this is madness, I don't want to be restored to sanity. I'm just... I'm just not ready to give up my tea.

* * *

The other day, author Martha Wells observed that every time someone mentioned tea on Twitter, she gets a craving for tea. I tweeted back to point out that I get around this problem by making sure that I keep a massive mug of tea nearby at all times. This is true, but I don't think it really captures just how massive a mug I'm talking about.

So, to assist and enlighten you all, I've prepared a quick visual of my tea cup:
That's right, if your mug won't double as a life raft in an emergency, it's just not big enough. (Incidentally, while I did run that picture through Photoshop to put in the word balloon, I didn't mess with the sizes of the objects at all. The mug is seven inches tall and four inches across. You can get thoroughly sloshed just thinking about how much beer it would hold...)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Apocalypse River 004

This is one of those of those stories that I come back to as the mood takes me, so my progress is infrequent and irregular. The rest of it can be read here, if you want to start at the beginning or just refresh your memory.

The outer doors were open - old Belinda must have done that, anticipating the need to escape across the water - and Tammon was able to reach out and shove off them, increasing their speed a little. The boat rocked alarmingly, but didn't spill him out.

It was the largest of the boats in that boathouse, doubtless chosen so all the children could hide behind it, but it was barely enough to hold them. The children were huddled together in the middle of the boat, as low as they could get; driven there by a mixture of instinct and intelligent caution. Old Belinda was at the far end, which was now - mainly because of the way they were drifting - the front. Tammon and Shannan were at the back, closest to the boat house and the shore.

There was a loud crack behind them as one of the Forsters kicked open the smaller, shore-side door leading into the boathouse. The darkness inside made him hesitate, a massive silhouette tightly framed by the doorway. Then he caught sight of the boat and roared a command.

Other figures, equally large and solid, raced around the sides of the boathouse. Like the River People, no two of the Forsters looked quite alike. Most were tall, around six feet, and heavily muscled... but this one had four small, upswept horns on his forehead, and that one had two sets of vestigial arms hanging from its chest; this one was entirely covered in fur, and that one had a long tail that curled and lashed behind it. The one that had smashed his way into the boat house appeared to lack fingers entirely, having claws like knife-blades in their place.

He was the first to pursue them, hurling himself recklessly into the water. Another, the one with the horns, evidently heard the splash and followed his example, hopping down from the bank and wading out into the waters. On the shore behind him, the furry one leaned back and hurled a spear, which arched up and then dropped towards the boat with devastating precision.

Tammon felt Shannan move beside him. The movement was enough to rock the boat, but not to upset it - she had learned from his experience with the doors. She leaned towards the center, where the children crouched and lay, and as the spear came down her hands flashed out in a quick double slap. The first blow turned the point aside; the second caught the falling shaft as it spun around. She rotated the spear and laid it along the side of the boat.

One of the children whimpered softly.

Straightening slightly as Shannan settled back, Tammon looked again towards the shore. The knife-handed Forster had barely cleared the doors of the boat house before something pulled him under. His companions hadn't noticed his absence, yet. The other one, the one with the horns, was up to his shoulders in the water when his expression changed. He turned back towards the shore, but too late. Something had him, and the water around him was starting to change color.

Good, thought Tammon. That will keep the fish distracted. Nobody knew exactly what lived in the river these days - the streams and inlets, natural and artificial, were their own ecosystems, and havens for species seeking escape from the deeper waters. On its own, their boat - even metal - might attract some attention, some curiosity from something deeper in the water. Forster blood might draw everything nearby, though of course there were no guarantees.

Then something launched itself from the water. Faster than an arrow in flight, it impaled the Forster with the extra arms and dragged it into the river. Though he had seen it happen, Tammon was unsure just what had struck: a snake, a tentacle, a spearing fin from some heretofore unknown species of fish? He wasn't even sure it had been an animal. It might have been some underwater vine or weed, pulling in food so that remnants and scraps would filter down to the riverbed when the fish were done, and thereby nourish it. It was certainly nothing Tammon cared to investigate more closely...

And evidently the remaining pair of Forsters felt the same way. The one with the fur and the one with the tail turned and sped away, forsaking the river and making for the village, or maybe the forest beyond it.

"As much as you can, be still," said Tammon, directing his voice towards the children. Several were looking at him; three actually nodded. Good enough. He didn't want to explain; no telling if the things in the water could hear voices.

There was nothing left to do but cultivate patience. Even if they had brought oars, using such things would have been a risk. They were at the mercy of the current, now. Taking his own advice, Tammon settled back beside Shannan and tried to relax.

In the front of the boat, old Belinda was already asleep.

Monday, March 5, 2012

So far, so good...

New website is live (mostly) and so far nobody has set off a resonance cascade in the server room.

Episcopalian Humor

I remembered this yesterday, but I forgot to post it. You know how I keep saying that I grew up in a fairly laid-back, Grace-oriented version of Christianity? Well, this is part of what I'm talking about when I say that. You see, when I was growing up, one of the priests had a sign on his office door. It said:

Priests do more than lay people.

I was just old enough to get the joke. (For anyone out there who's still scratching their heads and trying to figure it out... it helps if you have your mind in the gutter.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Light Blogging

So... The Web Redesign Project Of Horrible Doom From Beyond Space is scheduled to go live on Monday. We will deactivate our current web server, and redirect our URLs to a new web server. In layman's terms: we will flip the switch, and the entire website will break. Panic and chaos will ensue.

Well, okay, hopefully not... but that's about what I'm expecting, frankly.

Unfortunately, just about the only thing that could dissuade us from making the changeover would be an even more epic catastrophe: the rise R'lyeh, perhaps. Or the zombie apocalypse. Rivers and seas turning to blood. Gozer the Gozerian making an appearance in New York. Martian war-machines beginning their invasion protocol. Gay marriage being legalized at the Federal level.

...Well, okay, maybe not that last one. Not catastrophic enough.

Anyway, it may be pretty quiet around here for the next few days. Especially if we get eaten by zombies.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Foglios, are you listening?

You know what would make my year? A collection of plush Jägermonsters. (Also, if there's anybody in my readership who isn't following Girl Genius, stop reading this post right now. Take the rest of your weekend. Go back to the beginning of the comic, and start reading. You can thank me when you get back.)

Right, where was I? Oh, yeah. Plush Jägermonsters.

Why do I need plush Jägerkin? Well, to put it simply, Firstborn's plushy monsters badly outnumber my own. He has Cthulhu, Gug, Ithaqua, and Nyarlathotep; he also has a facehugger, a scorpion, two wombats, two platypi, a parrot, and a pretty ugly doll.

I have a one-eyed teddy bear who's approximately as old as I am. And while he makes an excellent statesman, ambassador, and political adviser, that isn't much help when Firstborn's hordes come against us.

But Jägers? I think the Jägers could take them. Especially if I could get ahold of, say, a nice set of four? Phil & Kaja Foglio, take note: this is a brilliant marketing opportunity... and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't lose your hats.

So... Please? Please???

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Ecological Housing

Ladies and gentlemen, I must apologize. It appears that I may have made a very slight miscalculation in constructing my latest project.

My son, you see, wanted a tree house for his birthday. Well, more of a fort, really. He didn't just want a wooden room built into the big tree in the back yard. No, he wanted a house that was a tree, and would keep away all the people that he didn't want in there.

I have to say, I was rather proud of what I came up with. It's basically a tree with a massive trunk, carefully designed so that a boy-sized tunnel spirals up through the center to the chamber at the top. The chamber at the top has four windows, which open onto the outside between the two layers of the canopy: one circle of limbs below, and another set of limbs above. (If you've ever seen a White Pine, it's kind of like that.)

The people my son wants to keep out are mostly his fellow eight-year-olds, which limited what I could do: no death rays, no giant mutant Venus Fly Traps, and so forth. So I went for more gentle, organic defenses - which had the added bonus of being things that my son couldn't get blamed for. So, in addition to the branches at the top, I designed it to grow thorny vines all the way around the bottom third or so... and to produce urushiol oil into the bargain. Urushiol oil? It's the same substance the poison ivy produces, the part that makes you itch.

Naturally, all this took some time to develop. So, by the end of last week, I had only a few days to grow the tree house - or citadel tree, as I prefer to call it - if it was going to be ready on my son's birthday. It was here that I may perhaps have made the tiniest error in my design. You see, in order to speed the growth, I incorporated elements of kudzu into the design.

In my defense, it worked brilliantly. The tree was completely ready for my son's birthday, and only a few of the children went home itchy from his party. For the past week, my son has spent his every spare moment in the top of the Citadel Tree. He's even asked to sleep up there when it gets a little warmer.

Unfortunately, the tree... hasn't stopped growing yet. It now occupies most of the back yard. The oak that used to be there is completely covered by the thorny vines, which appear to be slowly strangling it. The vines have are also climbing up the side of the house... and apparently digging down under the foundation as well. It's also assimilating the privacy fence.

That isn't really the problem, though. I mean, I could set up automatic laser-trimmers to control the vines. No, the problem... is the spore pods. They showed up in the upper branches some time yesterday. And late last night, they opened. And as of this morning... well, let me put it this way: you can tell which way the wind was blowing by the way the seedlings are scattered. The neighbors' house is pretty well inundated with them. So is the front yard of the neighbor beyond them. The street isn't faring too well, either, though the next set of yards in the line only seem to have gotten a handful of seeds.

This... is going to be a bit of a problem. Especially if they reproduce again before I have chance to deal with the ones that are already growing.

Never fear, though. Science will prevail!