Friday, August 31, 2012

One more try...

Sat down with the Beautiful Wife last night and cranked out another short story, then fired it off for submission. This one was definitely a joint effort, and I think it's the better for it. So, y'know, wish us luck.

I cannot believe how stressful this summer has been. No real crises- crisises- no real disasters, just one bit of extra work and worry after another. I'm actually glad to have the boys back in school.

I may try to write more this weekend. We'll see. Meanwhile, have some frolicking otters:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

For Lovecraft Fans

Several book recommendations this morning, for fans of Eldritch Horror: has put together the Free Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft for ebook, nook, and kindle. (Also PDF, for people who don't have anything that'll read any of those formats.) My gratitude, like the touch of Yog-Sothoth, overflows all boundaries.

I'm currently reading The Translated Man by Chris Braak, which is a lovely bit of Lovecraftian world-building.

Over on Kickstarter, the Tremulus project has tripled its original goal, and is well along the way to meeting its stretch goals. This is shaping up to be a really interesting (tabletop) roleplaying game of Lovecraftian horror, so even though it's already met its goal, I'd encourage you to get in on it.

I also just downloaded Daughter of Hounds by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I read this one a while back, and it's another good example of Lovecraftian world-building. It's darker in tone than The Translated Man (above), and there are some elements (particularly a rape) that some readers may find triggering - though the author handles them carefully.

So that's my list. Anyone else care to recommend a book or two? Comments are open.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On Hold

"Welcome to Genericare. All our associates are currently busy helping other customers, even though the store just opened three and half seconds ago. Someone will be with you as soon as possible. Please hold."

(Really, really awful jazz.)

"Thank you for continuing to hold. Someone will be with you momentarily."

(Really, really awful classical: pastoral and cheery.)

"We care deeply about our customers and are always happy to hear from you. Please continue to hold."

(Really, really awful instrumental cover of Cyndi Lauper.)

"Our associates are happy to help, and look forward to addressing your concerns. Please continue to hold."

(Even more really, really awful jazz. Not that there's any other kind that gets played as hold music...)

"Did you know that we have a website? It's a marvelous new invention that's only been around for the last twenty years or so, you probably haven't realized that you could use that instead of being on hold. Unless, of course, you're only waiting here because the nature of your problem requires intervention from an actual, oxygen-processing human being."

(Calm, soothing classical music, designed to either put you straight to sleep or send you into a homicidal rage.)

"Someone will be with you momentarily. Your patience is appreciated."

(Really, really awful jazz. Again.)

"You do know about our website, right? For online support, visit this insanely long and ill-considered URL. In fact, we'll repeat it for you - twice! - because there's no chance you managed to get that down on the first try. We have all kinds of useless help files and upselling strategies on the website, so you should really go there and quit bothering the paid employees."

(More soporific classical music.)

"All our associates are currently helping other customers. Or faffing off in the break room. Or something. But let's face it: you've been on hold for eighteen minutes and twenty-two seconds, now. We know you aren't going anywhere. So stay on the line a while longer, and somebody will get to you. Eventually. Maybe."

(And then, at last, the music that broke my will:)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Second Day of First Grade

So today, rather than walking Firstborn into school, I'm just dropping him off. As we're pulling up to the school, the crossing guard has stopped the traffic for a pair of boys who are obviously walking to school from somewhere nearby. Once she has everybody stopped, the younger boy runs across and continues running all the way into the school. The older one just sort of strolls along behind him.

I mention this to Firstborn, because it's fun to see somebody running for the sheer pleasure of it, and because it's kind of funny to watch him running with a big ol' backpack on.

Then we pull around, and I reach the drop-off area and stop the car. Firstborn unbuckles himself, snags his backpack, and races away towards the school with a huge grin on his face. Fortunately, I'd already rolled down the passenger window, so I called: "And don't forget to close the door!"

Firstborn doesn't even break stride. He circles a brick pillar, runs right back to the car, says "I forgot!" and closes the door. His grin is slightly sheepish, but still huge. Then he turns again and races into the school.

Language is more than words and meanings

As a young man, I remember being taught how to say, "I don't speak Spanish" in Spanish.

This, as it turns out, almost completely defeats the purpose. If you tell someone that you don't speak their language in their language, they naturally assume that you speak their language. The fact that you just told them that you don't speak their language is completely superseded by the fact that you were just speaking their language.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day of First Grade

School is upon us again. The first day of first grade. I have to say that this went easier than last year, mainly because Firstborn and I are a lot more used to getting up at these early hours.

It started in much the same way: getting the boy out of the bed:

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Presumption Of Your Convictions

I hear people talk about having "the courage of your convictions." If you believe something, really believe it, then you have to have the courage to follow where it leads. Outside your comfort zone, outside your life, into the realm of unchallenged assumptions and people who aren't like you, who don't agree with you, who maybe think that you're doing the wrong thing, or maybe think that you're doing the right thing the wrong way, or who maybe just need your help in way that makes you profoundly uncomfortable... and maybe several, or even all, of those things at the same time.

What I don't hear about is the presumption of your convictions. That's... not exactly the opposite. It's not exactly a vice. It's just a natural human tendency to assume that the things that seem good and right and true and obvious to us, also seem -- or also should seem -- good and right and true and obvious to everyone else. As the Gershwins would say, it ain't necessarily so.

Now, there are times when I think I'm not a very good ally. I mean, there are people and issues that I feel strongly about - marriage equality is a good example - but I don't tend to be out there agitating for them. It's not apathy; it's something more like privilege. I don't spend a lot of time with people who disagree on these topics - I don't have to spend a lot of time with people who disagree on these topics - and as a result it's very easy to forget just how many of them are out there. It's the presumption of my convictions: because these things seem obvious to me, I assume they must be equally obvious to everyone else.

Well, not everyone, obviously... but the people who disagree are probably just statistical outliers. They couldn't possibly make up a significant voting block, let alone an entire political party. To be clear: yes, I know they do. But knowing it and feeling it are two different things.

...And that's a problem. As a practical matter, it makes very little difference if I don't care about an issue, or if I'm just not very aware of it; either way, I'm not helping.

So... I'm going to work on that. I'm going to try to be... not just more aware, but more active. I probably won't be talking about it much here on the blog; the blog exists mainly to amuse me, and hopefully anyone else who happens by. But it's something I'm going to work on.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Video Game Morality and Love Triangles

Still continuing from some earlier thoughts. Mild spoilers are possible. Read ahead at your own risk.

In my last post, I was talking about the games Infamous and Infamous II, and the in-game incentives to play as either a very good Good Guy, or a very bad Bad Guy.

Infamous also II sets up a situation that might charitably be described as a love triangle, with the main (male) character, Cole MacGrath, associating with Agent Kuo, who brought him down to New Marais in order to increase his power so he could defeat The Beast; and with Nix, whom he encounters soon after arriving in New Marais. Agent Kuo represents the forces of law and order, at the very least, and generally encourages Good behavior: she's the one who compliments you when you interrupt a mugging or stop to heal people, and her missions are oriented towards promoting trust and building goodwill with the general population. Nix, on the other hand, is deeply bitter, and doesn't see why you should care about the ordinary people at all; as far as she's concerned, the people without powers should learn their place. She compliments you when you beat down the police, take blast shards from powerless civilians, and generally impose your will on the least of these.

Now, this particular setup is something of a cliche, though I'm more accustomed to seeing it done with a Good Guy and Bad Boy that a heroine must choose between. Even so, it doesn't really bother me; the female characters are both characterized well enough to be interesting entirely on their own merits. But it's interesting that the game designers chose to set things up this way: not only do you have a little morality meter, but you're also interacting with women who, at least on one level, personify the good and evil paths. Was the morality meter (and its associated powers) not enough to emphasize the nature of the choice between good and evil? Or was this a convenient way to make the super-powered women distinctive? I suspect it's a little of both.

It's probably also worth noting that the "love interest" in the first Infamous game is MacGrath's girlfriend Trish, who doesn't have powers and spends most of the game being estranged from Cole because of his role in the Empire City explosion. Spoiler: she doesn't survive the first game, making her another potential addition to the Women In Refrigerators list. But there is, at least potentially, a troubling subtext there: in order to be a worthy love-interest for MacGrath, you have to have powers, too. For this storyline, Trish can be a sacrifice to build Cole's character, but she can't survive to play a role in the ongoing story.

And... this is still kind of incomplete, but I think I need to finish the game and see the Evil Side ending before I come back to it. So, thanks for you patience.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Video Game Morality

There may be some minor spoilers here; consider yourself warned.

Continuing some earlier thoughts...

In that last post, I talked a little bit about how I'm playing the Evil side this time around, so I can see what Evil missions and Powers I might have missed, and what the Evil ending might look like. I also talked a little about how oddly difficult I found it to be Evil in the game; I'm having to fight against my native inclinations and some ingrained habits. Despite this, I've managed to become as Evil as the game's system of morality will recognize. By the standards of Infamous II (and, before that, Infamous I), I am absolutely evil.

But that has some interesting implications all by itself. The way the game is set up, there's a very strong incentive to be either very good, or very evil. It's not the missions; you can complete good-side or evil-side missions as you choose. It's the powers. There are certain powers that are simply not available until you reach a certain degree of virtue - or a certain level of vice. (There are also certain... I'd call them "corollary effects" of being particularly good or particularly evil.)

Now, I'm not entirely opposed to the idea that someone with this degree of personal power - and seriously, we're talking "Hey I can take out an entire police force and be ready to go again five minutes later" kind of power - would likely do either a lot of good, or a lot of evil. Especially since MacGrath is interacting very directly with both his rivals and enemies, and with the un-empowered people around him: there's no insulation, none of the usual buffers that keep most of us from dealing directly with the sort of people who could ruin our lives on a whim.

But, I would like to see a third option: not neutrality, exactly, but... lack of extemism? I'd like to see what might happen if I used my powers without any particular concern for what kind of progression particular actions could earn me. I'd like a third path, where players could grow their powers without needing to strive for the ultimate good or the absolute evil.

I can make some guesses about how I might behave. If I wasn't striving for sainthood, I'd probably be less worried about hitting innocent bystanders... but not as sublimely indifferent as I am in my current quest to be evil. On the other hand, I'd probably stop to heal the sick and injured... especially if I'd injured them myself... but I might not have been so obsessive about healing every single person I found, if I wasn't both Becoming More Good and gaining experience points every time I did. Still, I'd be interested to see if those guesses bore out without the specific incentives to reinforce them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Caffeine Apocalypse, Part Two

Continued from Part One.

Evan had just reached the bottom of the stairs when he heard the sound of breaking glass. He and Doug exchanged a look, then started cautiously towards the front door.

The sound of running feet reached their ears almost immediately. "Oops," said Evan, then turned and ran for the stairs. Behind them, they could hear the shrieks and howls of the infected.

Even with a head start, they only escaped because they'd prepared their defenses in advance, and practiced getting them into place. So, at the top of the stairs they turned and grabbed the heavy metal filing cabinet, then dragged it across until it blocked the top of the stairs. Then they grabbed the desk and pulled it into place behind the cabinet, filling the space between the filing cabinet and the far wall. No matter how many of the infected filled the stairs, they shouldn't be able to shove that aside.

Doug tossed Evan a door-stop, then turned to wedge another one in on the other side of the cabinet. They were little more than tiny rubber triangles, but they'd keep the cabinet from sliding sideways. "There," said Evan, and scrambled over the desk to join Doug on the far side.

There were two other stairwells in the building, but they'd blocked those off by chaining their doors closed. They were safe for as long as the filing cabinet blocked this central stair.

"Jesus," muttered Doug. "What set them off?"

"The professor must have started the machine." Evan tilted his head, as if trying to see up to the roof. "If they can smell us, they can sure as hell smell that. We'd better get up there... and block off everything behind us. If the infected make it up there before it's ready..."

Doug nodded, and they started up the next flight of stairs.

Continue to Part Three...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Blog Filler: Cruxshadows

Gonna be an interesting morning, so instead of trying to come up with anything clever, I'm just going to share some music. So there, nyah!

Imbedded stuff below the cut:

Friday, August 17, 2012

From the Search Logs: Unquiet Spirits

Okay, seriously. Whoever just found the blog while doing a search on spiritus mundi vs soul reaver "yeats", please come friend me on FB or Twitter or something. I really, really need to meet you.

More Post-Apocalyptic Dreams

So I'm living with - or at least near - a bunch of people of people in a derelict building in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. No idea why; my best guess is that it might be related to some of the video games I've been playing recently. (I'm currently back on Infamous, which does feature a bit of urban devastation, but this dream didn't have that feel; this was much more in line with Rage, which I finished several weeks back. So... I don't know.)

This community has been hosting a guy from another community, or maybe he was just claiming to represent another community. And he'd been acting a little strange, so we weren't terribly surprised when he tried to kidnap one of the women. He wound up getting caught, or interrupted, or something before he could get away with it, but he did manage to escape.

...Which led to a segment where I was trying to track him down, so I could make sure he didn't do anything like this again. (I imagine that would have involved shooting him, but the dream didn't specify.) Which led me into asking around in yet another of these little post-apocalyptic communities.

Incidentally, if you're visiting someone else's derelict building home in a near-future wasteland, and you see something interesting that seems to be closed off in a room that also has little alien things crawling around... well, don't knock down the door to see what's in there. Tracking down all the little aliens wastes time and ammunition, and tends to annoy your hosts. ...But that was near the end of the dream, and may have had more to do with Secondborn waking up in the next room than any continuation of the previous narrative.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Ants and their uncles

I opened the testing room this morning, and found that those meteorite samples I've been testing have mutagenic properties. At least, that seems the most likely explanation for why the ants had broken out of the ant farm and grown to enormous size.

I suppose I should clarify that. After all, I'm not talking about anything on the order of my wooly spider-mammoths. Still, a mutant pseudo-ant the length of my arm is impressive in its own right.

Their size isn't really a problem, though. Nor is the impressive strength of their exoskeletal body structures. No, the real problem was that they've been cannibalizing the rest of the testing room... and building something in the open area down at the far end. I can't be sure of what it is, but it appears to be some sort of hyperwave communicator powered by a rather neat little cold-fusion reactor.

I'm really torn. On the one hand, I'd like to give them a chance to finish, so I can see what they're trying to build. Destroying them now could be an incalculable loss to the cause of science. On the other hand, I'm looking at a group of ants that have been given inhuman intelligence by an extra-terrestrial source in order build an alien communication device. That never ends well.

Hm. It seems they're preparing to connect the reactor to the communicator. Time to put an end to this. We'll start with chlorine gas... there.

Now to suck the atmosphere out of the room completely. Even if they survived the chlorine, the void should kill them.

There we go. The screen is clearing, the ants are dead, and... oh, my. It seems they were more intelligent than I realized. As they felt themselves dying, they arranged their bodies to spell out an obscenity on the floor. This may very well be even more of a historical event than I realized: not only can I now examine their devices, but I may very well be the first man in history to be cussed out by alien pseudo-insects.

Filler: Richard III and Tuned Chickens

My brain is blank. I can think of absolutely nothing useful or interesting to say. So... muppets:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Local Gathering Update

I haven't gotten much feedback on the North Dallas Gathering that I proposed a while back. So, I'm going to exercise my divine mandate as Future Ruler Of The World, and make some arbitrary decisions. Here's the updated information:
Time & Date: Saturday, October 13, 1:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Location: Trinity Hall at Mockingbird Station off Central Expressway (Highway 75).
Who's Invited: Anyone who's in the area (or happens to be passing through) and thinks this sounds like fun. Children are welcome (mine will almost certainly be there) though the location was not set up with kids in mind.
Note that this is a gathering (where we get together for food, drink, and socialization) and not a Gathering (where the few who remain battle to the last in order to take each other's heads and claim The Prize), so dress appropriately and leave your swords at home.

If anybody has any objections to this plan, now's the time to say so!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

From the Search Logs: Why Atheism is better?

While browsing through the logs to see what sort of intriguing searches bring people to this site, I found this little gem: "why atheism is better?"

I'm really torn. Because, on the one hand, there are all sorts of tongue-in-cheek, snarky, or otherwise humorous answers: you can sleep in on Sunday. You can eat anything you want, any time you want. You can shower in private, secure in the knowledge that there aren't any Peeping Tom's watching you from On High. Seriously, depending on your particular {complaints with/view of} religion, you can compose an entire Top Ten List of reasons.

But on the other hand, there's also a serious answer: atheists think atheism is better because we think it's true. We think that the world we live in is more accurately explained, and better understood, as the result of impersonal natural processes than as the work of some all-knowing, all-powerful creator. As far as we can tell, the available evidence does not indicate the existence of any sort of active divinity, singular or plural.

So when, for example, Gerie (of Exposing The Darkness And Telling The Truth) was shocked - shocked, I tell you! - to discover that atheists have already made up their minds, my reaction is basically, "Well, duh. Of course we have." I mean, we don't say these things because we're faffing around; we say them because, after careful consideration, we have come to think that they're true.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Problem of (Being) Evil

So, I'm playing back through Infamous and Infamous II. This is a pair of video games in which the main character gains electricity-based super powers after an explosion in Empire City - an explosion caused by a package that he was delivering. (I've mentioned these games before, because the main character - Cole MacGrath - looks like an adult version of my six-year-old's favorite super-hero, Lightning Zapzers.)

As with a lot of more recent video games, Infamous features a system of dualistic morality. Depending on your actions in the game, your character becomes more villainous or more heroic. This isn't just a measure of your in-game morality, either; the choices you make affect the way your powers develop, what missions are available to you, how the ordinary citizens react to your presence, and even your character's appearance.

The first time I played through, I went with the good side. I tried not to damage innocent by-standers, I healed people when they were hurt, I helped the police re-establish order, I dealt fairly with the citizens. Probably the hardest part of all that was avoiding collateral damage: Cole is so powerful that even with the good-side powers, it's easy to destroy things you didn't mean to. On a related note, never get into a guns-versus-lightning battle at a gas station.

This time, I'm playing the evil side. This is mainly out of curiosity: I wanted to see what the missions I'd missed were like, and how the evil-side powers developed.

At least, I'm trying to play the evil side. It's harder than I would have thought - I mean, evil is supposed to be easy, right? But I have to make a conscious effort not to stop and heal injured people when I pass them on the street. Or to pick fights with the police. And it gets really weird when I get feedback from the other characters; there's a very nice NSA agent who disapproves vehemently of my evil actions, and having her chew me out is weirdly uncomfortable.

Does that mean that I'm basically a good person? I don't know, and I'm reluctant to use a video game as any sort of litmus test for morality. But it's certainly an interesting experience.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Okay, Wordpress, you can stop it now

For the last couple of days, every time I leave a comment on a Wordpress blog, it doesn't show up. It vanishes, I think, into the SPAM filter. Doesn't matter if I've included links, or if my comment is nothing but text; doesn't matter if it's a blog I've been commenting on for years, or one I just found yesterday.

I don't even know whether it's doing this to all Blogger/Google IDs, or whether it's just me. (I've been seeing a lot of spam from throwaway Blogger accounts in my own comments, recently, and I suspect there's a connection.) Whatever the case, it would make me very happy if Wordpress would start letting my comments through again.

And if you happen to have a Wordpress blog, and it seems like I've been unusually quiet lately, would you do me a favor and check your SPAM folder? It's entirely possible that I have been saying things, and you just haven't seen them.

Grumble mutter snarl curse growl...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

From bad to worst

Bad: Wasting water by walking away and leaving the faucet running.

Worse: Realizing too late that the water has now overflowed the sink and is running onto the floor.

Worse still: Opening the cabinet to get out some towels to start drying up the water... and realizing that the towels are already wet from the water running down onto them.

Even worse than that: Pulling out the bottom drawer under the towels to discover that you've miraculously transformed the box of Q-tips into a small, rectangular bathtub.

Absolutely the worst: Realizing that despite the fact that you have a six-year-old and a two-year-old, who by all rights really ought to be the cause of any such catastrophes that occur in your house, this event cannot in any way be considered their fault, and the Floppy Hat of Abject Stupidity must be worn by you and you alone.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nothing on my mind...

Went to bed early last night. This is something that I've been needing to do for most of this week, and (for various reasons) something that hasn't happened. So I got quite a bit of sleep - which has, of course, completely weirded out my metabolism/circadian rhythms/body. I feel much more rested and relaxed, but also achy and a lot less focused. After so much rest, my body - perversely - wants more rest.

Fortunately, it's shaping up to be a quiet morning.

Meanwhile, for your amusement: lego mad science.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reflections on Shopping

Well, that was interesting. Kate sent me over to talk to a guy from the snake cult, who runs... I guess I'd call it an "odds and ends" store, in a strip mall. A lot of bric-a-brac, some genuine antiques and collectibles... and, for those of us who know to ask, more esoteric supplies and items. I've gone to him a few times myself, when I needed something that I couldn't get for myself, but I didn't know he was part of the snake cult until Kate told me. At least, I don't think I knew that. My memory's still fuzzy in places.

Anyway, she had me asking about one of our people, and some purchases she'd made recently. The guy who runs the store doesn't keep receipts for those kinds of things, but he has a very good memory. And the list was... interesting. Kate and I are supposed to sit down and go over it together this afternoon, so she can show me how it fits together and how to analyze it using the archives.

And, yeah, I realize I haven't said anything about the week I just spent with Claire's parents and the rest of the snake cult. I'm trying to get that put together, but it's a lot to sort out. But, for those of you who are wondering, here's the short version: they don't know where she is either, they don't have any better ideas than I do about how to find her, and the two attempts we collaborated on both failed.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No junk shops were harmed in the writing of this post.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Reflections on Reunions and Extended Families

I'd forgotten how much I hate flying. And before you ask, yes: there are other ways to travel. I could have just taken myself to Montana through the place of mists, for example. Squeezing myself into another plane of existence where I'm little more than a patch of mist would still be more pleasant than dealing with the TSA. So why didn't I go that way?

Mainly because Kate asked me not to. Since she's my mentor, and my main connection to the Elders, that isn't something I can just blow off. And she gave me some pretty good reasons, too: I've just spent... call it a year... in a completely foreign setting, being something so completely inhuman that after I got back I basically had to learn how to think all over again. There's no guarantee that that experience didn't affect my ability to travel through the place of mists. And even if the ability is intact, it's probably not a good idea to try that sort of transformation when I've only just gotten my mind back together.

So I took an airplane, and went Montana, and met with Claire's parents... and, as it turns out, most of their clan. The arrival was

Oops. Kate is here. I'll have to finish this later.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Primal Whimper

Sadly, the short story that I just submitted[1] has been rejected. Now, I can't be terribly offended by this; coming from this particular source, "This isn't quite what we're looking for" probably just means that it wasn't, y'know, quite what they were looking for. And rejection letters are an unavoidable part of the writing process, even for authors who have previously been published.[2] So there's no use wailing and gnashing my teeth, or raging about editors who fail in their gods-given duty to tell me how brilliant I am and offer to pay me lots of money. (Especially since, again, these are very professional people who know perfectly well what they're doing. Inflating my ego and following the script of the fantasy in my head are not actually a part of their job description.)

That does not, however, mean that I wouldn't like to go home and mope for an hour or two before I get started on my next attempt.

Edited to add: I should also note that actually submitting a story for publication is a huge improvement over my usual approach, which tends more to hoping that having an active blog and maybe eventually pulling together a book-length project will somehow magically transform me into a successful author. Baby steps, folks. Baby steps.

[1] No, I haven't mentioned it before. Stay with me, here.

[2] ...Which I have not. Been published before, that is. Tragic, I know.

Rise Against - Make It Stop

Rise Against: Make It Stop

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Caffeine Apocalypse, Part One

Sarah pushed the curtain aside and looked down. Four stories below, a mob filled the street: standing, staggering, pushing in towards the building.

Doug stepped up beside her, and Sarah automatically stepped back. She didn't like Doug; the sleazy bastard had tried to hit on her three times now, and at least one of those attempts had taken place while his girlfriend was in the room with them. This time, though, he seemed to be just looking.

"How do they keep finding us?" he asked, sounding frustrated.

Sarah didn't answer. They'd argued it over before, but nobody really knew. Privately, she suspected that the professor was right: the shambling horde in the street below could smell them. It didn't really matter, though. However they did it, the infected had found them and surrounded the building.

"Hey," said a voice from the doorway. Sarah looked up, relieved at the interruption.

It was Evan: a young man just out of high school, who'd been working as a plumber's assistant until the plague had swept everything away. He'd been an invaluable help to the the professor -- and to the rest of them, for that matter -- and the fact that he treated everyone from the professor to the year-old twins with a sort of pleasant equanimity made his presence infinitely preferable to Doug's.

"Hi, Evan. How's it coming?"

"We're getting close." He paused, then asked: "Sarah, can you find Melanie and head up to the roof? The professor could use a hand, and Doug and I need to go check on the barriers downstairs."

"All right." Sarah crossed the room from the window to the small table beside the door. A coffee maker sat on the table, with the usual accoutrements: styrofoam cups, creams, sweeteners, and a box of little straws that were completely useless for stirring it all together.

The streets outside were swarming with infected, and the building was too isolated from its neighbors to offer any hope of escaping overhead... but the lower floors were blocked, the electricity hadn't failed yet, they had plenty of food and water, and the professor had a plan. No, right now the only thing that worried Sarah was the prospect of running out of coffee.

Doug went past her and out the door, following Evan down the hall. Sarah poured herself a cup of coffee and drank half of it. Doug was, she thought, at least willing to work... provided the tasks were manly enough. He wouldn't have been her first choice of companions for the end of the world, but then if she'd had any choice in the matter they wouldn't be having an apocalypse in the first place.

Still carrying her coffee, she went to look for Melanie.

Continue to Part Two...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Best Boys Ever...

So Firstborn woke up before we did, at around 8:00 this morning. He apparently looked around the house, realized that we were still asleep, and went into the kitchen to play quietly. (Or at least "quietly" as perceived by a six-year-old.)

I heard this from the depth of my warm, snuggly blankets and thought, Oh, good. I don't have to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

A little while later, my brain surfaced again briefly because I could hear Secondborn crying. Under the circumstances, this probably just meant that he was now awake, too. As I was lying there contemplating the tragic process of actually climbing out of bed, I heard Firstborn say, "It's okay, Secondborn. Do you want to bring your weeeoh-weeeohs [1] into the kitchen?"

My relief was only overshadowed by my snoring.

Later, I overheard a brief exchange in which Firstborn asked if Secondborn wanted to play with... something, a car I think. Secondborn replied that he wanted a balloon ("boon!") instead. So a minute or so later, I hear the distinctive pphphphphphpphhphphphphphphphphphphphbt sound of air being let out of a balloon. The only way that could be happening is if Firstborn had actually blown up a balloon himself, for the benefit of his younger brother. The sound reduces both boys to helpless laughter.

Beautiful Wife got up a few minutes before I did and found the boys playing together. All told, I think we got an extra forty-five minutes of sleep. Which was completely wonderful. And, well, our boys like each other! We must be doing something right.

[1] Secondborn has an extensive vocabulary for a two-year-old, but it's a rather idiosyncratic one. Beep-beeps are cars. Weeeoh-weeeohs are firetrucks or ambulances, or any vehicle that sufficiently resembles a firetruck or ambulance. All buses are school buses. Oh, and all bugs are wa-wa-pedes.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fear is funny... sometimes.

You know, as humorous as I find the idea of things like this...

...I'm pretty sure they're a bad idea. (Watch the ending of this one.)

The problem with scaring people as a form of humor is that you never know for certain how they'll react. Sure, maybe they'll just jump and squeal. Or maybe they'll respond with violence. Or maybe you'll traumatize them waaaaaaaaay more than you expected. Or maybe they'll panic and do something ill-considered, and get themselves (or a bystander) badly hurt.

Scared people are unpredictable. Perhaps more importantly, scaring someone badly quickly crosses the line from funny to cruel. (And guess what? Saying, "But it was just a joke!" does not absolve you of that cruelty. Or for responsibility for anything that happens if things go seriously wrong. You don't get to say, "Well, if they hadn't panicked and done something stupid, they wouldn't have gotten hurt." Nobody thinks clearly when they're surprised. If you've set up a situation designed to get people to react before they have a chance to think, then anything they do because of it is fundamentally your fault.)

As a rule, I'd say that it's best not to really scare people unless they've agreed to it in some fashion. It's also a good idea to have someone around to intervene if things start to go wrong. But if there's any chance that your attempt at being funny is going to be mean instead, don't do it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Still working

So, I'm still working on a couple of posts - including the next bit of National Sunday Law and a decaf short story - and I expect that the Deranged Cultist may drop by at some point, too. So, in case you're wondering, I haven't forgotten.

However, I'm also trying to finish up a short story so I can get somebody to proof read it so I can submit it for actual publication, and let me tell you - that's hard to do when all the forces of the Universe seem to be conspiring against you. So if there's any sort of delay in tomorrow's posting, that's why.

Wish me luck!

Chick-Fil-A Recap

So, just to make sure I have my thoughts in order on what is, apparently, the burning issue of our times (or, at the very least, a major topic of online discussion this week)...

1. Chick-Fil-A as a corporation supports (through large monetary donations) organizations such as the Family Research Council, which actively campaign against equal rights for gays, lesbians, and QUILTBAG folks in general. (Also, I suspect, against anyone who could be used to scare the people on their mailing lists into donating more money, but that is merely uncharitable speculation on my part.) That is to say, Chick-Fil-A is actively supporting groups who not only don't support equal rights, but actively campaign against them (and in the process, throw out a lot of unfounded accusations and outright lies about QUILTBAG people). This is reprehensible.

2. Since this became national news, a great many people have decided - singly or collectively - that they can no longer, in good conscience, give their money to Chick-Fil-A. This may take the form of actual boycotts, or it may just be a individual decision not to eat there. In either case, this is a valid and appropriate use of free speech and free association rights.

2a. However, it's also worth noting that individual Chick-Fil-A stores are not run by the corporate decision-makers who are primarily responsible for making these ignoble decisions. They are run by franchise owners, some of whom may agree with the corporate stance, and others of whom may have just wanted to make a living running a well-known and popular restaurant in a chain that would guarantee them at least one day off each week.

2b. The employees are even less culpable than the franchise owners, not to mention less likely to actively support this sort of corporate policy. There's no reason to assume that they support these policies, and they have no say in corporate decisions in any case. They don't deserve to be targets for people's frustrations with the way the corporation conducts itself.

3. Several people in public office (including Boston Mayor Thomas Marino) vowed to prevent Chick-Fil-A from opening stores in their areas. This is not okay. This is... I'm not sure "censorship" is exactly the right word, but it's an abuse of government power. Speaking out as a private individual is fine; speaking out as a public official, and using the power of your office to block businesses just because you disagree with the (perfectly legal) views and activities of the people running them, is not. (I've heard some people suggest that these stories are being exaggerated by the media, which is certainly possible; but the Boston Herald quotes the mayor as saying, "If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies." So either he was badly misquoted, or he's misusing his authority.) The ACLU has come to Chick-Fil-A's defense on this issue, which isn't terribly surprising if you know anything about what the ACLU actually does.

4. Other people, individually or collectively, have made a point of eating at Chick-Fil-A to show their support for the chain, its policies, or both. This is also a valid and appropriate use of their free speech and free association rights.

5. Speaking for myself, I will not be eating at Chick-Fil-A. Unfortunately, that does mean that some local franchise owners may be unfairly caught in the crossfire; but it's also the most effective way I can express my displeasure with the corporate office for supporting groups that are actively doing harm to people I know and care about.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

North Dallas Gathering?

I've been wondering, off and on, if any of my friends, iFriends and/or regular readers would be interested in getting together for an afternoon of helping me pretend to have a social life. This was inspired, in part, by some of the get-togethers that have happened when Accidental Historian was in town, except that I'm trying for a venue where people can actually talk to each other. (I've had a lot of fun at those things, and they've kind of reminded me that I really don't Just Go Hang Out With People enough.)

Here's what I'm thinking:
Time & Date: Saturday, October 13, 1:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Location: Either The Londoner in Addison, or else Trinity Hall at Mockingbird Station off Central Expressway (Highway 75).
Who's Invited: Anyone who's in the area (or happens to be passing through) and thinks this sounds like fun. Children are welcome (mine will almost certainly be there) though neither of the suggested locations are really set up with kids in mind.
This is all pretty tentative, so let me know what you think. Is there a better place? A better date? I like the mid-afternoon time, because A) it shouldn't interfere with anybody's dinner plans, and B) those of us who have kids can get them back home with plenty of time to get ready for bed.

If you're interested in attending, leave a note in the comments. Even if you don't have any particular suggestions, it'll help me to figure out how much (if any) interest there is for a gathering like this.

Pokemon Mastered

As a parent, I am thankful for many things. One of them is that I have, so far, not been required to memorize the names and statistics for hundreds and hundreds of imaginary monsters in order to keep up with my sons' activities. Not that I couldn't do it, mind you; in my own youth, I could recite whatever I needed from both Monster Manuals and the Fiend Folio. Of course, in my own youth I had a lot more time for that sort of thing.

It's probably just a matter of time, though. Firstborn's interest in, say, Pokemon is pretty casual right now... but he starts first grade this year, which means new friends and new interests. So, we'll see.

What brought this to mind? Well, somebody posted a link to this on Facebook:

Man, there are a lot of those things.