Tuesday, December 31, 2013


This is one of those silly little games that was going around on Facebook. The idea, basically, is that someone gives you a number, and you have to tell people that many things about yourself... except, you have to make those things up. (There's another variant involving "things you may not know about me" in which the facts are actually, um, facts... but this one is more fun.) So, since I have nothing better to put up this morning, I'm going to copy my list over for your amusement:

1. I have two left feet. One of them belonged to my grandfather.

2. My ninja training came to an abrupt and dishonorable halt at age eight, when I accidentally stepped on the Grandmaster's foot during a training exercise. I still maintain that it wasn't my fault; if he hadn't been blending with the shadows, I would have known his toes were there.

3. I am the first person who thought to open a Lament Configuration while wearing a full suit of platemail armor. The fishhooks bounced right off.

4. I hold PHDs in parapsychology and necromancy.

5. I once found Excalibur for $67.99 in a thrift shop, but couldn't afford to buy it.

6. Last February, aliens landed on my lawn. We had a nice conversation about human customs and the possibilities for interstellar travel and trade. Unfortunately, the inferior quality of my cheap, generic, store-brand tea convinced that Earth just wasn't a suitable vacation spot for upper-class Arcturians.

7. Years of alchemical study and experimentation finally paid off when I discovered the Philosopher's Stone. Unfortunately, my three-year-old promptly lost it somewhere in the back yard.

8. Owing to a minor accident with a time machine, a bottle of wine, and thirty yards of surgical tubing, I am my own great-grandfather.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Rethinking The Hunter Prince...

I have this thing I do when I'm writing. It's especially common when I'm just noodling my way through a story, with no particular goal in mind, but it happens even I have a pretty clear idea of where I want to go. Basically, my brain just throws a new story element into the mix, and then refuses to let go of it.

Case in point: the formal dinner in The Hunter Prince. It popped in at the end of "A Chest Full Of Grabby-Monster", because apparently my brain decided that writing an age-appropriate story for Firstborn about a prince trying to figure out what to do with the grabby-monster in his room... just wasn't complicated enough.

All right, I thought to myself. I can deal with this. I'll just work it in. So I bravely soldiered on, and set the scene with "Two Views of the Great Hall". So what was I setting the scene for...?

No idea. Absolutely none. I've played with a few, but none of them really work for me. (Probably the best of them was the idea of visiting noble's daughter, who enticed Caijar's cousin into putting the beast in the prince's room as "a prank" - but that places her as part of a larger conspiracy, which means mapping out backstories and motivations for both factions and individuals, and honestly I have neither the time nor the interest for all that. This was meant to be a collection of interrelated short stories, not a full-length fantasy novel. Sheesh.)

My general attitude to writing is to let the story lead, and the writing follow. That means, basically, letting the story play out in my head, and then figuring out how it all fits together, and putting it all into words. There's nothing wrong with that approach in itself, but... well... over the years it's become increasingly obvious that my imagination, when left to its own devices, is ambitious. Hugely ambitious. Wildly ambitious. Ambitious far beyond the scope of the resources I have available to actually, you know, finish my writing projects.

So while I agree with the idea of Following Your Intuition in principle, in practice I really need to learn when (and how!) to rein it in.

In this particular case, the whole formal dinner element was a colossal mistake. I should never have tried to include it. Trying to include has effectively caused the entire story to grind to lurching, ugly halt.

So it's coming out. That's the plan. It means going back and editing "A Chest Full Of Grabby-Monster" and essentially deleting "Two Views of the Great Hall" (though I may add that back in at some later point, in some other story). It's a bit of a pain, but it will also allow me to continue the story, and - dare I hope!? - perhaps even finish it someday.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Once more unto the Plague Ward

Right, so: no Christmas get-together on Sunday. Both boys tested negative for flu at the pediatrician's office, but Secondborn showed up with a double ear infection. So, he got antibiotics, and we picked up a pizza and went back home...

...Where Firstborn promptly developed a hundred-and-three degree fever. So, one late-evening trip to a 24-hour pharmacy later, and he's on Tamiflu. (Tamiflu, by the way, is pretty interesting stuff.) He's also had doses of Tylenol and decongestant/expectorant. Anything to keep the gunk from building up, really.

As of this morning, both Secondborn and myself are still running low-grade fevers, and Secondborn is acting weirdly irritable and generally out of sorts. He's also producing the same sort of gunky cough as his brother. So I'm off for another quest to the pharmacy.

I swear, my End Of The World book starts just like this. Except for the part where (here in the real world) we still have medicines that affect the disease.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Spoke too soon

I was just observing the other day that this is the first time in three (or maybe four) years that we haven't spent the entire holiday season, from mid-October until sometime in January, being horribly sick.

Clearly, I should not have said this. The Beautiful Woman started feeling ill on Christmas day, and was essentially immobile all day yesterday. As of today, she's been diagnosed with Flu A. (Yes, that's the horrible kind. Of course it's the horrible kind.)

Since both the boys have been complaining about their throats, we're taking them to the pediatrician this afternoon.

So far, I'm still doing okay... but with our house descending into Plague Ward territory again, I doubt that will last.

On Sunday, we're supposed to be having Christmas with my side of the family... including my newly-adopted-from-China nephew. I'm starting to think that that's a very, very bad idea. We'll see what the doctor says before we make any decisions, though.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Anatomy of an Argument

Firstborn decided that he wanted to play a two-player video game with me. I agreed.

Then he decided that instead of Borderlands, we would play Skylanders. Grudgingly, I agreed to that as well.

The move to Skylanders inevitably led Secondborn to decide that he wanted to play. I turned over my spot to him.

The addition of Secondborn (who is still three, and tends to make his character run all over the battlefield instead of usefully contributing to the game) inevitably led to a certain difference of opinion in how the game should be played:
"Come this way!"
"No! Over here! Dis way!"
"There isn't anything over there! Please just follow me!"
"No! Go dis way!"
"Away from the blades! Move away from the blades! You're pulling me into the blades! Are you crazy?"
"I am not cwazy!"
"Then why are you running into the blades? Getting yourself killed is crazy! If you don't want me to think you're crazy, stop running into the blades!"
"I am not cwazy!"

So... Skylanders is off, both boys have retreated to their rooms, and I have a headache. Oy.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Confidential File Transcript: A Silent Night

NP IntSec Incident Report 785236
D/T: 2013-12-20 17:00 (Approx.)
IncLoc: West Factory 2nd (Semiconductor Fab A7)
IntSecInvBadge: 36429

Incident Description:
At five o'clock on December 20, Electrical failure shut down semiconductor fab A7. Workforce injuries were negligible, and mainly resulted from stumbling in the dark. However, a high-voltage power spike burned out most of the primary equipment. Replacement is possible, but will take three weeks or more, even if we divert resources from toy production. ProdCoord reports that we can still meet our quota, as long as the other two fabs remain functional.

Investigation revealed clear signs of deliberate sabotage, (see case file 785236-B for details) making this the seventh such incident in the past three weeks. The backup generator which was used to supply the additional voltage was activated by a timer. Note that if the timer had been set to go off any earlier, this year's operations would have been crippled. We can probably assume a degree of restraint on the part of the saboteur(s).

Actions Taken:
Following the initial report, emergency crews were dispatched to check the building, establish temporary lighting, and escort the workers outside. (Medical assistance was largely unnecessary.) IntSec officers took statements, and removed the workers to the quarantine dormitory for further questioning. Struct-Maint crews were sent to restore power to the fab, and reported evidence of tampering to IntSec. (See case file 785236-B for details.) Cleaning and Struct-Maint crews were also remanded to the quarantine dormitory for further questioning. IntSec Agent 623488 was assigned to gather documentation from Struct-Maint and Cleaning.

Follow-up Required:
Initial investigation has failed to turn up any substantial leads. The fab workers came up clean, and their involvement seems unlikely; none of them appear to have had the opportunity, and they all have high Loyalty ratings. Cleaning seems similarly unlikely to be involved; personnel there tend to score lower on Loyalty, but also lack the technical knowledge for this sort of specialized disruption. A perpetrator in Struct-Maint seems most likely, especially as the maintenance logs for West Factory 2nd have clearly been altered. (See case file 785236-B for details, or 785236-F for a copy of the document itself.)

Unfortunately, owing to the alterations in the logs, further investigation there would require quarantine for all Struct-Maint crews, if done properly. Such action is obviously not feasible at this time, but will be pursued as soon as Delivery Day is complete. IntSec is already on high alert, so there isn't much to be done except wait and hope that whoever's responsible makes a mistake.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A lot of teeny little anecdotes

I'm digging back through the Beautiful Wife's Facebook feed (ahem, "timeline") to collect all the parenting stories. (Don't ask. It's for a good cause.) There's an amazing amount of stuff buried there.

The Season's Upon Us

And, this is my favorite new discovery for this year's Christmas music collection:

Merry Christmas (Exclamation Point)!

You can blame this one on Matt Mikalatos:

Just Another Christmas Song

Stephen Colbert:

Feliz Navidad

Courtesy of punk rock band It Dies Today:

The Huron Carol

Oops! Fixed the link...
This one has a particularly interesting history (and it's also fun from an anthropology perspective):

Christmas Carol Flash Mob

I love the whole concept of flash mobs:


And another:

A Christmas Carol

Another old favorite:

Awake Ye Scary Great Old One

I have nothing (at all) for this morning. So, here's a bit of music for the season... sort of:

It seemed more appropriate when the Deranged Cultist was still making appearances here on the blog, but it's still fun.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A response to Dear Abby for a young agnostic

This was written in response to Dear Abby's answer to a letter from a young agnostic in a devoutly Catholic family.

I am writing in response to the December 14 letter from the young woman whose devoutly Roman Catholic parents were unable to accept her lack of belief.

While your response to her was not terrible, it didn't strike me as particularly helpful, either. She asked, basically, how she could get her parents to take her seriously on this topic, and where she could find support if they wouldn't. Your advice on the first point, if I'm reading it correctly, is to avoid arguing over the topic, and ask the parents to support your spiritual "exploration". While I agree that it's important for Agnostic to try and maintain a good relationship with her parents, sometimes it simply isn't possible to avoid arguments - especially on a topic like this. Far too often, "don't let this become a contest of wills" amounts to "suck it up and be miserable so that the rest of the family isn't discomfited". As you might imagine, that isn't really a sustainable approach.

You answer to her second question was... nonexistent. So, let me fill in: there are a large number of resources available to young agnostics and atheists. Permit me to recommend The Young Atheist's Survival Guide, by Hemant Mehta, as a resource book; it should be available through Interlibrary Loan, if nothing else. There are resources and communities available online; I myself help to moderate support groups on Facebook for both Christian parents and atheist or agnostic children who find themselves in these situations. My advice to Agnostic in Stockton would be to look around. There are all sorts of unbelievers around, and many believers who wrestle with doubts or questions. Her situation is far from unique, and there's no reason why she should have to deal with it alone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Superhero Bar Stories: Road Trip!

What? Yeah, I'm still here. No, no family visit for me. It's not like crime takes a holiday - if anything, it's the other way around. Lots of packages being delivered, lots of people in a spirit of giving, and plenty of criminals ready to take advantage of both. Plus the people who are solid citizens for the other three hundred and fifty-eight days of the year, but just go completely batshit for this one week. So, no: I'll still be here, still be running my patrols. Ready to lend a hand, that's me.

Not that I'd mind visiting the family. It's just... we get together off-season, y'know? There's still some bad blood over our parents' grand ideas for past holidays.

Yeah, all right, I guess I should explain that. And I guess that means trying to explain my family.

...So give me a minute.

Okay, here's how it looks: my parents both had powers, but neither of them were big names. My father could locate anything, as long as he knew it existed. Technically, he worked for the office; but he was almost always out on loan to some police department. A few days here, a few days there; half his career was spent in transit. You'd think that would make him happy to come home, but no: he loved to travel. My mother was a low-level telepath: she could read people's minds, but only if they were fairly close and she knew they were there. She was in law enforcement, too. That was how they met. Only she stayed with one department, working as an investigator. So when she had some free time, she liked to travel.

What that meant for the three of us - I have two sisters - was that every time a vacation rolled around, we had "family time". "Family time" inevitably meant some sort of road trip. And our road trips inevitably turned into disasters.

My older sister had a tendency to burst into flames when she was upset. Or when she needed to use the bathroom. When she was twelve, she burned through the window on a station wagon that was supposed to be fireproof. My younger sister was a Viewer. She'd leave the television on at home, and watch it from... well, wherever we happened to be. Even on the road. So family time with her meant being completely ignored, and knowing that she was probably having a lot more fun than I was.

Then there was me. I tried, but I didn't really didn't have control of my power until I was fourteen or fifteen. Since my power is not being noticed, well... you wouldn't believe the number of picnic areas, gas stations, and restaurants I got left behind at. My parents once reached Grandma's house on a Friday night, Christmas Eve, and didn't notice I was gone until some time after everyone had opened their presents on Christmas morning. My dad could find me, of course, but that didn't help if he didn't realize I was missing. By the time he drove back to get me, I'd missed almost the entire holiday, and he had to pay for the forty-five dollars and sixty-seven cents in snacks I'd eaten.

So... Yeah. Holidays have bad associations. Now that we're all adults, we get together on our own schedule... and we don't take trips together when we do it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Confidential File Transcript: Up On The Rooftops

Recorded conversation between agent Emma Ström and individual identified as Snowblossom Smith in Mexico City, on December 15, 2013 at approximately 20:00.

Agent Ström: "Are you here?"

Snowblossom Smith: "I'm here."

Ström: "I don't see you."

Smith: "I can't let you see me. Not right now. Also, please don't use my name."

Ström: "I understand. Why did you agree to meet with me?"

Smith: "I need help. Information. Does Interpol have a red notice on me?"

Ström: "Not yet, but we're getting a lot of pressure. What can you tell me about the disappearances?"

Smith: "Disappearances?"

Ström: "No games. We know you arrived in Belize last Tuesday. On Wednesday night, twenty-eight children disappeared. They were all under the age of twelve, and they were all in the same suburb - about three square blocks."

Smith: "...Were any children left behind?"

Ström: "About one in five. No apparent pattern."

Smith: "Dear God."

Ström: "What happened?"

Smith: [No response.]

Ström: "Tell me what you know. I can't help you if you don't-"

Smith: "He set the Krampus after me. I thought it was the reindeer, but they were just scouts. He sent the Krampus after me. I was gone. I heard the clicking on the rooftops again, and I left. And when the Krampus couldn't find me, it took the children instead."

Ström: "So the children..."

Smith: "You won't see them again. After all this time, the Krampus must have been starving."

Ström: "If you'll come with me..."

Smith: "I can't. I wouldn't last a day, no matter what you did to protect me."

Ström: "The more we know..."

Smith: "...Then find out what's happening up north. The Krampus hasn't been loosed in centuries. It's too dangerous, too hard to control. Why would he risk that? I'm just a renegade elf. I don't have the answers you need."

Ström: "You have more than I do. ...You can find me if you change your mind?"

Smith: "If I come up with anything solid enough to bring him down, you'll be the first to know."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Hunter Prince: Two Views of the Great Hall

This section won't be part of this story. I have, upon consideration, decided to remove it. It may yet make an appearance in some other story about Caijar and his friends, but for this story it's a distraction (and from a writer's perspective, therefore a roadblock as well).

The last time that Caijar had visited the great hall was a full season earlier, when Master Barigil had brought his students there. The great hall, he explained, was older than the rest of Castle Eldwark. Once it had been a hall unto itself, the last building standing amid the ruins of a fallen fortress-city. The castle had taken shape around it. In its earliest form, the castle was little more than a fort: a crude stone wall built from the stones of the older city, to hold back the beast-men of the hill tribes. The hall was the center of the fort, and the only stone building in the compound.

When Lord-General Edorn was banished to Castle Eldwark by order of the Immortal Imperor, he brought no only his soldiers and his serfs, but crafters and stonemasons as well. He established a new outer wall, marking the boundaries of a much larger town. Rather than tear down Eldwark Hall, he made it a part of his keep. The stone building, with its great double doors, became the great hall at the heart of the keep, where Edorn received petitions, entertained guests, and passed judgements.

By the time of the Great Death, when the Immortal Emperor was slain and the empire fractured, Eldwark had grown from a border keep into a massive, sprawling castle that covered the whole of the hilltop: well beyond the boundaries that Lord-General Edorn had marked for his town. The town, now a city, lay at the foot of the hill. It stood outside the castle walls, and was surrounded by a wall of its own. The beast-men of the hill tribes were no longer enemies; they were citizens, and they remained citizens of Eldwark even after the empire fell.

When they had come as students, the great hall had been dark and cold, empty and echoing. Even with a dozen servants bearing lamps, it was little better than a cave. It was easy to see it as something apart from the rest of the castle, something old and dark and private. Columns and arched ceiling aside, the room was basically a large rectangle, with the double doors at one end and the throne at the other.

Tonight, Caijar barely recognized it. The tall, heavy doors stood open, guardsmen posted like statues in front of them. The room inside was warm and bright and loud. Caijar stepped inside, and waited while the steward announced his arrival to a crowd of people who probably couldn't hear the man at all.

A single season, Caijar thought, and the contrast couldn't be more complete. The fireplaces had been filled and lit, one at the center of each long wall. Shimmers danced overhead, their small, graceful forms filling the room with soft light as they moved. Paintings had been hung, and busts and statues had been set in place along the walls and among the columns. Each had been carefully chosen for the occasion; Caijar knew that from talking to his mother. Over and around the toneless hum of conversation, he heard a soft, soothing tune: a group of musicians occupied one of the four balconies that overlooked the hall.

The crowd was not large; even counting the children, it numbered only fifty or so. The great hall could hold far more, and Caijar could remember several times when it had. Most were people, as Caijar knew the term: finely dressed, in the bright colors dictated by current fashion. Some were part of the court; others were visitors from other courts.

Still, there were others, and it was there that Caijar found his attention drawn. By the fireplace to his left, he saw a pair of the hill people, their fur carefully cleaned and in places braided, talking to the emissary of the Botarin, who had a well-known fascination with the not-people of Eldwark. To his right, and well away from the fires, stood one of the Deathless Ones of Farmont. It was easily indentified its dark gray robes and black veil, but if there had been any confusion the eye-cystal in its staff would have settled the matter.

"Do you plan to stand here all night?" asked Janiva, and Caijar realized that he'd been standing just inside the doors for several minutes.

"Of course not," he said, to cover his embarrassment. "At some point, there'll be food."

He looked back at the crowd, and saw that servants were moving among them, directing people towards the tables that had been set in front of the throne. "Now, I believe," he said, and stepped forward.

Janiva snorted and walked with him.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A brief scene from my childhood...

The battle raged for hours. Uncounted shots were fired, yet neither side could gain a clear advantage. The shootout finally came to an end when the authorities intervened in an effort to quell the chaos.

So epic was the confrontation that two weeks later, we were still finding little yellow disks behind the piano.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chocolate Milk... With... A Straw!

We have chocolate milk!

No, wait. I don't think I'm explaining that very well.

Okay, look: I went by Sonic to get dinner for myself and the three-year-old last night. The three-year-old told me that he wanted milk ("wif a straw and a lid") when we got home. So, when we got home, I naturally went to pour him a cup of milk, preparatory to putting a lid on the cup, and a straw through the little hole in the lid.

Easy, right?

Something is... wrong... with the milk. There are... clumps of dark sediment... floating in it.

This looks suspiciously like what happens when you try to mix the hot cocoa powder into cold milk.

Don't ask me how I know that. Trust me. I. Know.

And, in precisely the same way that I know that this is chocolate, I know exactly how it got into our milk jug. I know, beyond any reasonable doubt, exactly who put it there... and, contrary to what some people might assert, it was not the cats.

This means that person who put the chocolate into the milk is the very same person who is now asking for a cup of milk. Which means that it doesn't really matter whether he poured the chocolate directly into the jug, or whether he had a cup of chocolate(d) milk that he poured into the jug. Whatever germs are in there, they're his.

So I go to pour him him a cup of his homebrewed, chocolatish milk.

It is at this precise moment, with a cup on the table before me and a jug of milk tilted to pour, that I discovered that the chocolate was not the only thing in the milk jug.

There was also a straw.

I discovered this as it emerged from the top of the jug, carrying its own special, randomly-aimed stream of slightly chocolate milk. It was a matter of purest luck that I noticed in time to prevent utter catastrophe.

Secondborn has agreed never to put chocolate in the milk again. I have explained that this will make me very happy for a very long time. Secondborn has decided that that will make him very happy for a very long time.

Whether he'll remember that vow tomorrow is anybody's guess.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Argument Is Unnecessary Or Invalid

My boss is currently troubleshooting his code. The analyzer is trying to tell him that one of his arguments isn't necessary. He insists that it is. The analyzer insists that it isn't.

My boss is now having an argument about his argument.

Icepocalypse 2.0

Well... we haven't resorted to eating the neighbors yet. However, the ice storm actually hit harder than I expected, with the result that we've been more or less trapped in the house for a couple of days. (We ventured out a couple of times, cautiously, but... well, let's just say that by the end of yesterday, the boys were inventing new games. Games which involved sneaking up behind us and jumping up to try to climb on our backs. Games which showed no regard whatsoever for what we were doing, or what sort of sharp, hot, and/or delicate items we might be holding.)

I'm back at work this morning, and frankly it's a bit of a relief. However, owing to the nearly-complete absence of writing time, none of the things I'd meant to have ready for this week are actually, y'know, ready. So, instead, to celebrate the ongoing Icepocalypse, I give Zombies On Ice:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Real Parenting Conversations: Once More Unto The Snow

Secondborn: "Can I got outside in the snow?"

Me: "You have no pants."

Seconborn: "Now can I go outside in the snow?"

Me: "You put on one glove. You still have no pants. Where are your pants?"

Secondborn: "I tink dey are hiding outside."

Me: "Your pants are not hiding outside. Where did you put them? Find your pants."

Secondborn: "Here dey are!"

Me: "That's good, but you still have to put them on before you get to go outside."

Confidential File Transcript: There Arose Such A Clatter

(Translated from the Italian. Records obtained by InterPol on December 6, 2013.)

Regarding: Visit from Interpol

The Office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith received a visit from agent Emma Ström of Interpol this morning. Since Your Holiness may not be immediately familiar with the issues involved, I am attaching a collection of background documents regarding this situation. I advise you to read through them before considering the results of this morning's meeting.

Following up on last year's assessment, the office has confirmed reports of Snowblossom Smith's presence in Darmstadt, Peshkopi, rural New Zealand, and eventually Guaraí (Brazil). After that, we lost track of him. Since it was Interpol taking an interest in this matter, I received the visit in my role as Cardinal Prefect. The conversation that followed was both intriguing and disturbing.

According to Agent Ström, Interpol has received troubling reports of "prancing and pawing" on certain rooftops in San Carlos, Venezuela. The Bolivarian National Police put out a request for information on any similar incidents, which led Interpol to contact us. It seems they have received requests to put out a "red notice" on Snowblossom Smith. So far, however, the charges and accusations have not been sufficient to justify that level of response.

I informed Agent Ström of Snowblossom's attempt to contact this office last year, including the response from Polar Liaison Twinkle and the discovery that the person who came to our office was a fake. Agent Ström accepted our account. It appears that she was aware of our interest in the matter, as she offered to keep us informed of any new developments in exchange for any information that we discovered. I tentatively agreed, and as a gesture of cooperation offered her our list of confirmed sightings. According to Agent Ström, our list matched three confirmed Interpol reports and added a fourth. Their listed added London (Ontario, Canada - not England) to our own.

Bearing in mind the Vatican's current focus on social issues, and the appearance of ongoing interest in Snowblossom Smith by the North Pole, I recommend that we cooperate fully in sharing information with Interpol on this issue. The issues submitted last year remain relevant, but the risks remain as well. This is a situation that requires close observation and extremely cautious action.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Ladies and gentlemen of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, winter weather is (finally) coming. According to the Weather Channel, local temperatures will actually drop below freezing some time tonight. This dramatic change in temperature will be accompanied by 100% chance of precipitation, which can mean only one thing: Freezing Rain.

Fellow Texans, I'm sorry to say... many of you will not survive this. If you want to have any chance at all, you must go - GO NOW! - and hoard food, water, blankets, and fuel. (If you don't have firearms already, you aren't a True Texan.) Remember, the temperature may go as low as twenty-six degrees. That's low enough that the precipitation might actually accumulate as ice! The roads could possibly become completely impassible for several hours, or even a whole day!

Create or review your Family Emergency Plan. Be sure you know which of your neighbors you will eat first, should that tragic situation arise, and what steps your family will take to keep your neighbors from eating you. Every neighborhood has that one house that's uglier than everything around it; in an extreme emergency, unsightly houses can be torn down for fuel. If the unsightly house in your neighborhood also happens to be home an edible neighbor, it will make your emergency operations all the more efficient.

Then be sure to check back Saturday morning for our next report on this devastating winter storm.

(I think I missed my calling when I decided not to go into meteorology. I could have put my penchant for needless drama to good and profitable use in a career like that.)

Do not underestimate the power of the curse waffles!


Secondborn: (age 3.75) "Is because of waffles!"

Firstborn: (age 7.5) "It is not because of waffles."

Secondborn: "Is because of waffles!"

Firstborn: "What are they, cursed waffles?"

Me: (age 40) "Do not underestimate the power of cursed waffles! The nation of Guggenheim was destroyed by cursed waffles!"

Firstborn: "There is no nation of Guggenheim."

Me: "Because it was destroyed! By cursed waffles!"

Firstborn: "..."

Me: "Once upon a time there was a princess who came to the town of Guggenheim to meet the prince. They were supposed to have waffles together. But the prince decided that he didn't want to meet the princess, so he went off to eat... an omelette! All by himself! And the princess was left alone with the waffles, and she was very sad."

Me: "But what the prince didn't know what that princess wasn't just a princess. She was also a witch. She put a curse on all the waffles in the kingdom. The people who ate the waffles all thought that the prince was a putz."

Firstborn: "What's a putz?"

Me: "Someone they didn't like. Anyway, the waffles that didn't get eaten grew little tentacles all around the outside edges and scurried around and jumped on people's heads."

Firstborn: "Like headcrabs?"

Me: "Yeah, like headcrabs, except they didn't turn to the people into zombies. Instead they just stuck there, so instead of hair the people all had these waffle-patterns on top of their heads. After that, everybody was so mad at the prince that they burned down the castle, and then the whole city. And that's why Guggenheim doesn't exist anymore."

Firstborn: "Because of the curse waffles."

Me: "Exactly."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dead whales: more dangerous than you might think

I'm not talking about live whales. I'm not talking about great white whales. I'm not even talking about zombie whales. (Zombie whales probably wouldn't be that dangerous anyway - I mean, what are they going to do? "I will filter feed on your braaaaaains..."? But I digress.)

No, I'm talking about the under-appreciated, and extremely gross dangers of dead whales. Take, for example, this striking (and extremely gross) video of a man cutting open a dead whale (which is, in case I haven't mentioned this, absolutely disgusting and not for the weak of stomach):

That's right, dead whales can actually explode. (There's a quick discussion of the science behind it right here.) Sometimes, though...

Sometimes they get a little help. Or a lot of help. With... um... with dynamite.

I suppose you could consider that a Cautionary Tale... or maybe just a cautionary tail.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

This One Weird Trick That Everyone Hates

All right, advertising copy-editors. Listen up. This is important.

Look, I know times are tight. I know you're only pushing out these crappy little one-line scraps of advertising copy because you need the money, and I know it's so little money that it's not worth putting any thought into it. Crank 'em out, get paid, and maybe you can make rent this month. I get that.

But this business of recycling the same advertising hooks for every new job that comes along? It's getting out of hand.

Everything is now "one weird trick". Doesn't matter what's it for. Could be something to lower your insurance costs, increase your muscle mass, help you learn a new language, get you through that writing project, or magically cause you to lose weight. Whatever it is, whatever it does, whatever the hell you want us to click on, it's "one weird trick." Have you even looked at your topic, to see if it's genuinely weird, or even nominally a trick? No, of course not. You're just grinding 'em out, one disposable headline after another.

That would be bad enough by itself, but you can't stop there, can you? No. Whatever it is, somebody hates it. If it helps you learn a foreign language, then professors hate it. If it helps you build muscle, personal trainers hate it. If it makes your computer run faster, computer manufacturers hate it. (Really? They have a compelling dislike for something that makes their products work better? Have you even noticed that that doesn't make any gerbil-buggering sense? No, of course you haven't. Grinding out those taglines, over and over...) I swear, you're not even writing any more. It's just a product-specific version of Mad Libs.

So here it is, ladies and gentlemen of the advertising world: your wake-up call. This thing you're doing, using one-sentence fill-in-the-blank templates to advertise products? It's turned on you. It's become that one weird trick... that everybody hates.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Hunter Prince: A Chest Full Of Grabby-Monster

I'm revising this one, so while I'm going to leave the original here, I'm also going to cross out all the text. The new version can be found here.

Caijar returned to his room before dinner, and found that his valet had already come and gone. There was a fresh outfit waiting on the bed.

The room was quiet, and Caijar wondered if the grabby-monster was still alive. The chest where he'd trapped it had only a single keyhole for air, after all. He carefully unlocked the chest, and slowly lifted the lid...

It jumped at him.

Caijar had been half-expecting it to attack, so instead of wrapping itself around his torso, it ran head-first into his fist. A moment later it dropped back into the chest, thrashing angrily. "Stop that," Caijar snapped.

The beast went still.

"That's better," he said. He didn't think the grabby-monster was smart enough to understand his words. Apparently, though, it was smart enough that it could be trained... and this one had been. "Well... You lasted this long. You can stay in there until I puzzle out something better."

He tucked a couple of stray tentacles into the chest and closed it again. Then he sighed, and stood.

Usually, he ate with his friends in a small serving room near the kitchens, but tonight was a formal dinner. That meant dressing nicely and eating in the grand hall. It also meant that Saisha wouldn't be there, though Janiva and Morius would. His cousins, Dabin and Seshil, would be there too. They weren't much fun at the best of times, and Caijar had hoped to avoid them until he learned whether they'd had a hand in putting the grabby-monster in his room.

Unfortunately, there was no way to avoid a formal dinner. Caijar's mother insisted that he must be there for the sake of appearances, while his father considered such experiences "training in diplomacy". Neither of them would excuse him from the event.

So much for my evening, Caijar thought. The meal would run for at least two hours, and after that he had to write his description of the use of armor-statues for Master Barigil. He could write that from memory, so at least he wouldn't need to do research; but it would still take time. Finding something to do with the grabby-monster would have to wait.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday...

Look, it's not that I don't like sales. It isn't as if I think that buying things is intrinisically immoral. It's just that when you get to huge, crowded, pseudo-holiday sales, well...

"Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Swords and Sexism

I don't have anything useful to contribute for today (unless you want to hear about my sudden bout of nausea, in which case you're out of luck - I don't want to talk about that). So, instead, I'm going to send you over here to read this: Why I Hate (Most) Photos and Drawings of Women with Swords.

While you're at it, check out Women Fighters In Reasonable Armor.

Then, of course, there's... well... this:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is atheism a choice?

I'm phrasing this as a question, but honestly it's something I hear as an accusation ("How could you turn your back on God?") or as an assumption, sometimes implicit and sometimes stated openly. ("Romans 1–3 makes it plain that the knowledge of God is written on our hearts—every human being knows there is a God and every human being is 'without excuse' (Romans 1:20). So there are no true atheists." -Ken Ham) However you phrase it, it's a very common conception: this idea that becoming an atheist, like becoming a Christian, is a choice.

I don't think that's true. I think it's untrue for many Christians, maybe even most Christians. But I'm sure it's untrue for a great many people who started as Christians, and later lost their faith. I know it's untrue for me.

The problem is, I don't think the opposite is true, either. So, I don't want to just say, "It's not a choice," because that makes it sound like unbelievers have no volition - as if we're hopelessly at the mercy at forces beyond our control. That isn't really how it works, either.

It's more complicated than that.

Mainly, I don't think that the language of choice is a good way to talk about faith at all. When it comes to the loss of faith, it's even worse: it isn't just insufficient, it's misleading.

I've said this in various forms before, but - as far as I can see - the loss of faith isn't a decision in and of itself. It's one possible conclusion to a much larger process.

It starts with questioning. There may be some particular slight or injustice that acts as a catalyst, and it's easy to focus entirely on that. ("She just had a bad experience with that one church." "He's just angry at God because his puppy died." "If her Youth Minister had been able to answer her questions, she wouldn't have left.") Or, there may not be any obvious cause; a lot of people start into this process precisely because they were trying to take a deeper look at their faith, or simply because they were trying to put things together and couldn't quite get the pieces to fit. But even if there's one particular moment or incident that seems to have started someone on the road to disbelief, it's a mistake to put too much focus on it. It might have been the trigger, but almost certainly isn't the cause. Again: it's more complicated than that.

So: it starts with questioning. The questioning is the important part: what a person is wondering about, or troubled by; what they find as answers; how they sort through possible answers and reach their conclusions. Everyone, believers and atheists alike, is doing the best they can with the information they have... but we don't all have the same information, and we don't weigh particular pieces of data in the same ways, and sometimes there are other factors as well. (It's possible, for example, that a bad enough experience can basically spoil someone for a particular faith - it's possible for someone to have personal reasons that make them unable to take part in something, without necessarily believing that the thing itself is evil and wrong. Presumably God, if He is as all-knowing and all-loving as advertized, would understand and even sympathize.)

So: after the questions, there's a period of evaluation. Some people find answers. Some don't find answers, but retain their faith anyway - faith being, for them, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Some lose their faith in particular doctrines, or churches, or denominations... but retain a fundamentally Christian faith, either changing denominations or becoming "Christian but unchurched" or "spiritual but not religious".

Some change religions entirely, but remain religious. They become Wiccans, or Buddhists, or... almost anything, really.

So atheism isn't the only possible result of this process. I suspect it isn't even the primary result of this process. Atheism is where you end up when you conclude that every religious, spiritual, or supernatural way of looking at the world just doesn't work for you.[1] And even then, it isn't necessarily an end-point. Some people leave religion, and remain unbelievers for the rest of their lives. Others pass through a period of unbelief, and eventually return to some sort of faith - either the religion of their birth, or something similar, or something else altogether.

That's what I see. That's what I hear from other unbelievers. The idea that someone would "choose" not to believe sounds... odd. Off-key. It seems like the sort of thing that only works as an answer if you're asking the wrong questions.

The idea that unbelievers are "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness" (because everyone knows that God exists and that He looks exactly the way that particular strains of American Christianity describe Him) is worse. It says that I cannot possibly be what I am. It says that I'm either lying, or I'm delusional; possibly both. I suppose that might be reassuring to believers, but it's utterly useless to me. I know I'm not lying, and I really have no choice but to assume that I'm not delusional.[2] Once someone says that to me, the conversation is pretty much over; there's nothing I can say to that, and there's no reason to listen to it.

Atheism isn't a choice, and asking if (or assuming that) it is... is a fundamentally misguided approach to understanding it.

[1] I've seen arguments that everyone is born as an atheist, but I don't think that's entirely true; I think the truth is a bit more complicated than that. People are born without any specific religion, but the tendency towards religious belief in general - towards belief is some sort of Unseen Forces That Shape Our Lives - seems to be wired into the species.

[2] Also, if I am delusional - or even just wrong - a loving God would understand and accept that.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Hunter Prince: Lessons

"Where were you?" asked Saisha, as they were rolling up their palimpsests and gathering their writing boards.

"The very question I came to ask," observed Master Barigil, standing over them.

"My apologies," said Caijar, looking up at his tutor.

Master Barigil was a tall, lean man, too muscular to fit the typical look of a scholar. He practiced with the King's Guard in the evenings sometimes, having made his name among them before retiring to teach the children of the Court. Rumor said that he was born of noble blood, but the details varied: sometimes he was a second or third son, unwanted and bereft of inheritance; sometimes he was the illegitimate child of some unknown lord. Caijar thought it very likely that the man was nothing more or less than he appeared.

"Did you have to see a healer?" asked Janiva. "I didn't..."

Janiva was the one who'd knocked Caijar off his horse in the morning's cavalry training. Though they were almost exactly the same age, she was taller than Caijar and at least as strong. She was training for knighthood, and she was serious about it.

"No," said Caijar. "I was only bruised. There was a mess at lunch, and then..." He shrugged, not wanting to tell them about the grabby-monster. "It was a day where one thing went wrong, and then another. I came as quickly as I could."

Master Barigil glanced at Saisha, who nodded. She was the teacher's daughter, which put her firmly at the intersection of two worlds: courtly, but not noble. She was quiet, but that had nothing to do with being shy or deferential. She was just... observant.

"Well," said Master Barigil, "It's clear you've done the reading, at least. I'll expect a written description of the use of armor-statues in the Third Southern Rebellion for tomorrow, and we'll say no more about it."

Caijar bowed his head. "I'll have it ready." From the corner of his eye, he saw his cousin Dabin throw a disdainful glance his way. Dabin was a year older, and disdainful of almost everything; the few things he did admire, he admired in a way that bordered on worship.

Master Barigil turned away, and Dabin departed with his younger brother Seshil trailing behind him. Caijar watched them go, and wondered if either or both of them had left the grabby-monster in his room. They would, he thought, if they could manage it. He just didn't believe that either of them could acquire the beast without help, let alone get it into the castle.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Another one down...

Well, my story for the upcoming Nightbreed anthology (Midian Unmade) got rejected. I'm not entirely surprised by this - it took a heroic effort just get the thing written, and the end result was far from perfect. (I know there are writers out there who have children and still managed to get published, but at this point in my life I have absolutely no idea how they manage it.) Also, I'm pretty sure the anthology received about a billion and a half submissions. So, like I said, I'm not really surprised by this.

That, however, in no way prevents me from being completely bummed about it.

Parenting is all about the Little Disasters

Let me tell you how my morning is going:

1. I've slept on the floor in Secondborn's room for two nights straight. I do this because if I don't, there's a seventy percent chance on any given night that the boy will wake up at two o'clock in the morning and attempt to come and sleep atop his mother. If I'm in the room with him, he doesn't do this. If I try to sleep in his bed, he sleeps on top of me... and I don't sleep so well with toes in my eyes or elbows in my ears (or, on one memorable occasion, both).

So: me, on the floor, "sleeping".

2. Unlike my preferred under-the-covers-in-a-real-bed arrangement, being on the floor in Secondborn's room puts me in the perfect position to hear everything that goes on in the house. Someone brushing their teeth, for example. Or running a bath. Or clunking dishes and cabinets in the kitchen. It doesn't matter how quiet they try to be; I'm ten feet away through an open doorway. There is no ignoring it.

This probably explains how I came to be dreaming that I was visiting my Supposed Former Wife at a very, very strange military base. (There was a bar created entirely for oriental personnel. It served sake. Also, the windows on our quarters were blacked out, and we had turn out all our lights when the rest of the base did -- it was like nobody was supposed to know we were there, even though we were walking around the base normally during the day.)

So: when I was sleeping, weird and slightly disturbing dreams.

3. Firstborn woke up approximately two hours before Secondborn did, and therefore woke me up approximately two hours before I wanted to. I sent him off to watch videos in his room. He woke me up again. I sent him off to watch different videos on my Kindle Fire in the back room. He woke me up again to explain that he needed to use my computer instead. I sent him off to do so. He woke me up again: "Daddy, I have news! I've learned all the controls on--" "I don't need news, I need sleep."

Then Secondborn woke up.

So: no more sleep.

4. Every parent has a list of inviolable rules that they would never have come up with if they didn't A) have kids, and B) have the particular kids that share their household. This morning's example is this: Never Keep Paint In The Kitchen Pantry. This morning, you see...

No. You know what? I can't even bring myself to describe it. I'm just going to leave it to you to envision what might have happened.

So: me, instead of making breakfast, performing a massive, messy cleanup on a massive, messy mess.


5. It's now ten o'clock in the morning, and nobody -- including me -- has had breakfast yet.

So: hungry. So, so hungry.

We're... going out to breakfast. Now.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Don't Tell Daddy

My wife was on her way to bed last night when she passed by Secondborn's room. (Secondborn, for those coming in late, is three-and-a-half going on seventeen, and finds the entire concept of "bedtime" morally repugnant.) Secondborn was supposed to be in his bed; he was supposed to be lying still and being quiet; and he had been warned emphatically that if Daddy found him out of his bed, he would be In Trouble.

Instead, as the Beautiful Woman passed by his doorway, she heard the sounds of movement. So she stepped inside and flipped on the lights.

Secondborn was standing on the floor, trying to wrestle his mattress back up onto his bed. When the light came on, he whirled to face his mommy. The first words out of his mouth were: "Help me wif dis, and don't tell Daddy."

We are in so much trouble when he gets to be a teenager...

Fur Elise

Here. This should brighten up everyone's morning:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Snappy Answers to Banned Questions

So, Christian Piatt has a new book coming out (apparently it's now available for pre-order) called Banned Questions About Christians. If you follow that last link, you can see a list of the fifty questions that the book thoughtfully, patiently, and faithfully addresses.

Unfortunately, I'm nowhere near so thoughtful, patient, or faithful. So I'm only going to look at the first fifteen questions, and my answers (in italics) aren't going to be anywhere near as helpful.
1. Can you be LGBTQ and be a Christian? Yes. A minister? In some denominations. More denominations and Christian communities are welcoming LGBTQ people, as well as ordaining LGBTQ as ministers. Is this really possible? Absolutely.

2. Preachers such as Joel Osteen preach about Jesus wanting us to be rich. Where does this belief come from? Wishful thinking. Wasn’t Jesus poor? Yes. Didn’t he tell rich people to give everything away? Emphatically.

3. Where did all of the pictures of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus come from? Psychological projection. Do Christians really think Jesus was white? Not if they've given the matter even a moment's thought.

4. Why do some Christians not seem to believe in science? They've been told they can't. Can a scientist be a Christian? Yes. Have there been famous scientists that were Christians? Many.

5. In too many instances, the most gracious, gentle, peaceful, thoughtful, patient, kind, generous, and steadfast people in my life have been non-Christians. Does it really take being a Christian to be Christlike? Dunno about that. It certainly doesn't take being Christian to be moral, caring, or decent.

6. Is Christianity really just about fire insurance? For some people. Are we just trying to make sure we don’t go to hell when we die? Not all Christians, no. And if personal salvation is a once-and-for-all event, why bother taking part in church after that? Coffee and donuts? (Actually... and I realize this may come as a shock, but... some people genuinely enjoy it.)

7. Some Christians believe the Bible is without error and the only real authority for living, but they ignore parts of the Old and New Testament. Why hold on to six verses on homosexuality but ignore books and chapters about slavery? People focus on what's important to them.

8. Are Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Spiritists, Christian Scientists, etc., really Christians? Who cares? Who gets to decide? Whoever has the power to enforce their opinions.

9. Do Christians have to be baptized? Yes. Absolutely. Unless they don't. Why do some sprinkle while others immerse? Because given the opportunity, people will disagree about anything. Which one is “right”? When you let yourself get sucked into arguing over trivial minutiae, everyone is wrong.

10. It seems like there’s a lot of conflict between Christians and Jews. Wasn’t Jesus Jewish? Yes. Aren’t Christians technically Jewish too? You know who really ought to answer that? Jews. Ask them. Yes, seriously.

11. If all Christians basically believe the same thing, why do they have so many different denominations? Because given the opportunity, people will disagree about anything. And if there are so many denominations struggling to survive, why don’t they just combine with other ones? Because these things are important, dammit. (Old joke: You know why office politics are so petty? Because the stakes are so small.)

12. Can someone be both an atheist and a Christian? No. Not without stretching the definition of "Christian" to the point of absurdity. If “Christian” actually means “follower of Christ,” could someone be a student of the life of Jesus without accepting the claims of his divinity, or claims of the existence of any divinity at all? If you take away the divinity and the miracles, there isn't much "life of Jesus" to be a student of... and what's left isn't all that unique.

13. Why do so many churches do communion in different ways and on such different schedules? Because people will disagree over anything. I may be repeating myself on this point. Who is allowed to serve communion? It varies. And do all Christians believe the bread and wine/juice actually become the body and blood of Jesus? No. Why? Because, say it with me, people will disagree about anything.

14. What do Christians believe about disaster and suffering in the world? It varies. If God has a plan, why is suffering part of it? A. It's because of The Fall. B. The people who are suffering are clearly being punished for their transgressions. C. The people being punished are being taught a Meaningful Life Lesson. D. It's ineffable. (Pick any combination you like. Answers may vary according to how well the person explaining knows the people suffering.) How do Christians reconcile suffering in their own lives? They tend to take it more personally than they do when it's happening to someone else. Otherwise, it's about the same.

15. I’ve met lots of people who say they are Christian but haven’t been to church in a long time. I’ve even met some who say they were raised Christian but never went to church. Can you be Christian outside of a community of Christians? Yes, but other Christians will probably mistake you for some sort of heretic.

Thursday Morning Music: Godzilla

I had another post planned for this morning, but I'm having second thoughts about it; so instead, here's Godzilla:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Infamous: Festival of Blood

So, I finished playing Festival of Blood on Sunday night.[1] This post may feature some spoilers for anyone who hasn't actually played the game yet; consider yourselves warned.

I'm... weirdly ambivalent about it. I loved Infamous and Infamous II. (It's hard to separate them entirely; they're two games, but basically a single storyline.) I posted some earlier thoughts on them, and on the Karma scale and the way that morality is conceived and applied within the game, here, here, and here. I love the way the storyline comes together; I love the game dynamics and the graphics and the voice acting, the little touches that really make the setting come alive. I love that it's possible to be extremely good or extremely evil, but it takes some effort either way; I love that part of trying to be Really Good involves Not Hurting Innocent Bystanders, and the way that means that you have to be really careful - especially with the really powerful powers.

Festival of Blood does away with a lot of that. It features the same protagonist, Cole MacGrath, and it uses the same engine and setting as Infamous II, so in a lot of ways has very much the same feel. Then... well...

First of all, it adds vampires. Now, in the original storyline (in the first two games), super-powers only appear after the explosion in Empire City, and they're connected to the item that caused the explosion: the Ray Sphere. This isn't a world in which some people have always had powers; it's a world in which suddenly, now, things that only happened in comic books and movies have suddenly intruded into real life. To maintain that sense of a more... realistic, plausible world, the powers aren't magic; they're basically psychic powers, brought out and radically enhanced by the device known as the Ray Sphere. In other words, the powers are A) a new thing; and B) amenable to scientific study, albeit of the Star Trek This-Sounds-Plausible-Enough-For-Suspension-Of-Disbelief variety. Except now, in this story, there are also vampires, and they've been around a lot longer than the sort of power brought out by the Ray Sphere.

Second of all, because this story is built around Cole being turned into a vampire and then trying to restore his humanity by slaying the vampire who turned him,[2] the Karma meter is suddenly gone. There's no particular penalty for draining the blood of innocent bystanders; in fact, at a couple of points the game encourages it (and I think at one point requires it, though there might be a workaround that I didn't find). So this where I emphatically did not like the game: the Cole MacGrath that I'd just finished playing in Infamous II would never have killed civilians just to power his vampire-cloud-of-bats flying power while he was chasing a Bad Guy. He'd have found another way. But... that didn't seem to be an option here. (Evil-side Cole, from one of my previous games, would have cheerfully done it just to escape his creator's control - but, again, choices.)

So that was my first reaction: an Infamous game without the moral choices and moral consequences just doesn't feel like an Infamous game, and using the same character just felt wrong. What almost saved it, and what allowed me to play it all the way through instead of giving up in disgust, was the framing device: the whole thing is a story told by Cole's best friend, Zeke... to a woman that he's trying to pick up at a bar. That helped, because Zeke is probably some sort of Grand High Poobah of unreliable narrators. Except that in the very closing scene, we discover that the woman he's been talking to is a vampire herself, which means that enough of the story is probably true that all the my initial objections - This Doesn't Fit The Established Setting and This Is Out Of Character For Cole - that all of my disgruntled objections immediately came rushing back.

My second reaction was that it would have been very possible to create a story similar to Infamous, in which instead of receiving electricity-based superpowers, the main character had just become a vampire. Yes, the powers involved would be different, and the environmental hazards would change, but you could still do a fairly awesome story that way: something like Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain in a modern setting[3], with an awful lot of the same moral and social choices found in the other Infamous games.

This particular combination, though... It was kind of fun to play, but aesthetically it just felt wrong.

[1] Yes, I realize that my gaming tends to run anywhere from six months to four years behind whatever's current; and yes, I also realize that this makes my reviews essentially useless as reviews. That's... not the point. Not generally. Not much of it, anyway.

[2] ...before dawn arrives, because now we're dealing with magic and not bothering to rationalize how this makes any kind of sense...

[3] The powers could either be traditional horror/fantasy vampire milieu, or could plug directly in to the established world as a new variety of Conduit. Cole can already drain fallen enemies of their bio-electric energy, though it's considered an evil act; it's not like conduits can't have some vampiric tendencies already.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A conversation at our house

Beautiful Wife: "Take a look at this: Cowboy Bail Bonds."

Me: "Have you heard their theme song?"

Beautiful Wife: "Theme song?"

Me: {singing} "Yippee Ki-yi-yo, get along little felon. It's your misfortune and none of my own. Yippee Ki-yi-yo, get along, little felon. You know if you call us we'll give you a loan."

Beautiful Wife: "They should hire you."

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Brief Dissertation Upon The Ghastly Subject Of Grabby-Monsters

"The grabby-monster," said the wizard, ponderously, "is a product of dark magic. It was first conjured into our world from the outer reaches of Nightmare, by a young man named Orbil Mithrump. According to the records, young Mithrump had grown tired of leaving frogs and snakes in his sister's bed, and wanted something that would really scare her. Nowadays, of course, they can be found in marshes and swamps. A few foolhardy souls even raise them as pets.

"Grabby-monsters do not breed as natural animals do, neither laying eggs nor giving birth to their young. Instead, once every six years, all their tentacles fall off and grow heads, becoming young grabby-monsters themselves." He paused. "What else...? They're predators, naturally. They tickle their prey until it can no longer breathe; their victims usually suffocate. Then, of course..." He trailed off, looking at Caijar. "Well, their eating habits are a nasty business."

Caijar nodded. "Could someone conjure one? Here, inside the castle?"

"Of course not!" The wizard's hand curled through his long, white beard. "Every stone in this place is woven through with protections. And a rift like that would not go unnoticed. Nor, for that matter, would a grabby-monster come here on its own: the beasts prefer isolated hunting grounds, where they can strike from hiding." He shook his head, sending waves through his fluffy mane of white hair. "Fear not, my prince. You're quite safe here."

Caijar nodded, though he wasn't really surprised. It was a plot. Of course it was a plot. Some days it seemed that everything that happened here was either part of a plot, or the result of one. His father had once remarked that if it weren't for plotting, the court would never accomplish anything at all.

He thought of the grabby-monster, still locked in the chest in his room. He hadn't told anyone about it; though he'd drawn the breath to do so, Caijar hadn't yelled for help. He was thirteen years old now, and that (as his father liked to remind him) was more than old enough to start solving his own problems.

Right now, though, he had more urgent concerns: he was late for his studies, and Master Barigil would not be pleased.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Video: What Does Adoption Mean?

This is not a topic I talk much about, mainly because it's not a topic I know much about. This particular video only came to my attention because it happens to include my soon-to-be-nephew. What the video mainly does is try to drive home just how little the kids involved in international adoptions understand about adoption, Americans, and what happens when/if they get adopted - just how much of a culture shock it really is for them.

It will also, very probably, make you want to adopt one of these kids.

Watch it anyway.

Friday I'm In Love

...Friday morning music:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Story For Firstborn

I was going to explain how Wednesday kicked my butt, between the sinus headache, one or both of the cats peeing on the clean laundry, and the discovery that I was vastly more tired than I'd heretofore believed. It would have been a wonderfully depressing and self-indulgent post. However, as a small service to humanity in general and my readers in particular, I'm instead going to post a bit of fiction. Or a piece of a bit of fiction, anyway. I have no idea if this is shaping up into an actual story; it was something that I came up with at bedtime on Tuesday, when Firstborn was suggesting that we should stay in his room and tell stories, instead of reading quietly and falling asleep. That may have shaped the course of the narrative somewhat...

Once upon a time there was a prince named Caijar. Caijar was having a very bad day. In morning cavalry practice he fell off his horse. Then at lunch, the Jester slipped while juggling fifteen wooden balls, and one of the balls landed right in Caijar's soup. Soup splattered everywhere, but mostly on Caijar.

The servants brought towels, of course, but there were still bits of soup dripping from Caijar's hair as he opened the door to his room.

His valet should have been standing ready with fresh clothes for the prince. Instead, the room was empty. Caijar sighed and stepped into his room, then pulled the door closed behind him.

That was when the grabby-monster grabbed him.

Prince Caijar started to laugh. That was the worst part about being attacked by a grabby-monster: it didn't hurt, it tickled. Grabby-monsters made you laugh, so everybody would think you were having fun, and nobody would think you were being attacked.

The second-worst part was how it grabbed you. Grabby-monsters looked like big, flat snakes or worms, but they had rows of tentacles on both sides of their bodies. They wrapped all around you, and tried to pull you into a little ball so that you couldn't get away or call for help.

Caijar kept his arms out and grabbed for the tentacles, trying to pull the monster off him. When that didn't work, he used one hand to reach back and hit its head. When that didn't work, he used his other hand to push the tentacles away from his ribs and belly, trying to stop the tickling so he could breath. His ribs ached from laughing, his face hurt from smiling, and despite the laughter he was furious. So when that didn't work either, he turned around and slammed himself backward into the corner of a table. It would have really hurt, but there was a monster on his back, so it hurt the monster instead.

The grabby-monster grabbed tighter, but it stopped tickling him. Caijar could have called for help, but he was too angry. He slammed his back into the wall, then into a desk. Finally he threw himself back into a chair, trying to squish the grabby-monster.

It struggled, and this time he was able to tear the tentacles loose from one arm. He held them tightly with both hands. He pulled on the tentacles until the monster slipped forward and he could reach its head. Then he grabbed its head, and used its head to pull it off his back. It tried to escape, but he stuffed it in a chest and closed the latch.

Then, finally, he could get enough of his breath back to call for help.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Random Parenting Thought 257b

It occurs to me -- and this is the sort of thought that I would never have had before becoming a parent -- it occurs to me that Wreck-It Ralph must be a really, really good movie... because I have now seen it twenty-three and a half times, and I still don't hate it. Trust me: after that many viewing in the space of the last few weeks, if there were anything wrong with the film, I'd be ready to talk about it.

Toys, games, movies... Three-year-olds don't have favorites. They have obsessions.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jedi Ninja Lightsaber Duel

I'm not feeling entirely well, so... um... have a ninja Jedi battle! Sort of. Yeah.

Here's hoping that today is a lot quieter than yesterday...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cthulhu Ftagn

I'm pretty sure I've posted this (or something very like it) before, but what the heck. It's Monday morning, embrace the madness!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sound The Bells

Friend of mine recommended this:

It might have come to his attention by way of Pacific Rim. I don't judge. Enough of my music collection has been acquired from children's movies that even if Pacific Rim wasn't my thing (it may or may not be; I haven't seen it yet), I still wouldn't have any room to criticize. And in any case, the song stands perfectly well on its own.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Homework Is Not Optional

Firstborn has, apparently, been having some trouble "staying focused" in school - meaning, primarily, that he hasn't been finishing all his work. We're working on this, but we don't seem to be making a lot of progress. Today I came home to find that of his four "subjects", he'd only received a smiley face in one.

On top of this, he also appears to have made it home without his math Review Boxes, which are his homework.

I am... irked.

So, Firstborn has now been obligated to sit and watch Daddy create a Genuine Faux Review Box Worksheet ("Made from Genuine Faux Math Problems!"), and then do the worksheet. I doubt his teacher will give him any credit for it, but I hope she'll appreciate the fact that we intend to have him do his homework on school nights, no matter what it takes.

I'm still irked, though.

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: An Intro To LARPing

My son has expressed interest in a new hobby. Apparently he and his friends want to try some LARPing, and he's hoping I'll help them out.

For those of you who don't know what LARPing is (I had to look it up, myself), the word is short for Live Action RolePlaying. It's an outgrowth of the older RolePlaying Games, or RPGs, in which a small group of people got together and told stories in which they pretended to be other characters (elves, dwarves, garden gnomes, and suchlike) and go around fighting off evil wizards, saving the world, collecting treasure, and growing even stronger so that they could go on to fight even greater threats. The "live action" part means that instead of sitting around a table telling each other these stories, they actually want to dress up in costumes, and actually fight simulated monsters and villains and such.

For the record, I do not consider this the best use of my son's intelligence and imagination. That said, it sounds like good exercise; and my son assures me that there's a lot of math involved, though I don't see where. Still, his birthday is coming up, and he wants to have a couple of his friends over to celebrate, so I should have time to put together a LARP for his party.

Naturally, I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

If the Dark Forces had a sense of humor...

Dylan heard a soft, girlish giggle and caught a brief glimpse of a white dress. He looked, but the child was gone... again.

He'd been wandering this city for two days now, and he hated it. It was always dark here; even in the daytime, the sky remained a dark, sullen gray: clouds heavy with the promise of rain that never came. The people who lived here were furtive and sullen. Maybe they didn't like strangers, but after two days of watching them Dylan had concluded that they must not like each other very much, either. He'd given up on trying to get a room, and slept on a bench in the bus station.

That was where he had first seen the little girl. He'd woken up to find her sitting on the bench across from his own: a bright-eyed child of six or seven in a clean white dress, cherubic despite the darkness of her curly hair, and smiling the first genuine smile he'd seen in what felt like weeks. But when he'd try to say something to her, she'd run away, laughing. He'd caught glimpses of her here and there, since then. Once he'd seen her in a shop, but when he went inside the only person there was an elderly woman who looked him over and sniffed as if disappointed. Later, he'd seen her in a park; but again she was gone before he could round the fence. Then he'd caught a glimpse of her sitting on the steps of an old, weathered house; but it hadn't been her, it had been a stout matron in a frumpy old dress with a white blouse. That was when Dylan had first started to wonder if he was losing his mind.

This time, though... He'd seen which way she went. She'd darted into an alley, dim and grubby even by the standards of this place. He took to his feet, following her. Whether she was a real girl or just a figment of his imagination, this time he meant to keep up with her.

The alley narrowed further, until he was running with brick walls at arm's length to either side. There wasn't much back here, just rusty pipes and a few lines of laundry strung overhead. The girl had a good head start, but Dylan had longer legs and he knew how to run without exhausting himself. He fell into an easy pace, gaining steadily, letting the walls of the alley slide past.

Ahead, the buildings came together to form an arched roof over the alley. The girl never hesitated. He heard her laugh as she vanished into the darkness. The laughter stopped a moment later, as he followed.

He slowed, running with his arms in front of him. He couldn't see anything here, and if he ran headlong into a wall... Well, that would definitely put an end to the chase. Still, he didn't quite slow to a walk. He couldn't hear the girl anymore, not her laughter nor the sound of her footsteps. It was possible that she'd ducked off to one side, in which case he might go past her without even realizing she was there. The thought made him slow further, to a fast walk.

That was when the alley went dark behind him. He turned, looking back, but there was nothing there. He turned again, and realized that he wasn't sure he was still going the same direction. He might be headed straight for a wall, or an open manhole, or... Anything.

Dylan stopped.

Anything could be in here. He fumbled in his pocket, wishing for the first time in his life that he smoked; if he did, he might have had matches, or a lighter. He had... nothing. Half a dollar in change, a crumpled receipt, and a keyring with only three keys. Finally, he gave up and started forward again, shuffling slowly. He kept his arms out, feeling for walls; he tried to feel along the ground with his feet. He drew a breath, finding nothing but darkness.

Another breath.

A third.

As he drew in his fourth breath, his hand found a solid surface: smooth and cold, definitely not brick. He stopped, barely touching it, and suddenly there was light all around him.

He had his fingers against the back of a massive steel door. All around him were rows of tiny, numbered cabinets. There was no way in or out. "What the hell?" he wondered out loud.

* * *

Forty-five minutes later, he was sitting in the back of a squad car with his hands cuffed behind him. The officer who'd arrested him, a big red-headed man with a build like a fireplug, slid into the driver's seat. "Look kid," he said. "I read you your rights, so you know you don't have to answer me, but... how in the hell did you get into that vault? The door was sealed, there isn't a mark on the walls or anything out of place, but the cameras went dark for a second and then there you were. How'd you do it?"

Dylan shook his head. "I wish I knew," he said.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Why is it always November?

November has been a strange month, at least for the last couple of years. I mean, sure - it has Thanksgiving (here in the States), but it's also National Novel Writing Month, and "Mo-vember" - when otherwise-sensible people decide to grow mustaches in order to raise awareness, or money, for some issue or other. (Possibly just facial hair; I can never remember.)

Now, Thanksgiving is logistically nightmarish, but the actual family get-togethers are fun. So we'll be doing that.

Mo-vember, obviously, is Not My Thing. I don't do mustaches, not by themselves, and if there's a cause I particularly want to support I tend to donate directly. So that's out.

This pretty much leaves NaNoWriMo. On the face of it, it seems like exactly the sort of thing I ought to take part in. Write your novel with the help and support of your friends, family, and complete strangers on the Internet! Settle in and really work on your draft! Put some actual time and effort into that thing you always said you were going to do!

...I won't be doing it. If Thanksgiving is a logistical nightmare, NaNoWriMo is a logistical impossibility. I could devote enough time to writing to finish a rough draft, probably... but the house would be a disaster, the boys would have disowned me, my wife would quite probably have killed me out of aggravated aggravation, and likely as not I wouldn't be employed anymore.

I like being employed. It means I get to eat.

I like being able to eat.

So, yeah: I'll be writing. I'm always writing. I'll even be working on a novel-length project - but again, nothing too unusual there. I will not, however, be participating in NaNoWriMo. I just don't have it in me.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Surviving Halloween

Well, our Halloween went very well - this despite all of us being exhausted when we got home yesterday. Firstborn went as - is it "Steve"? - the main character from Minecraft, anyway. He had a foam sword and diamond armor, and was convincing enough that the Minecraft fans were able to recognize the costume. Secondborn went as Batman... sort of. He wore a Batman shirt, a Batman hat, and black pants which he calls "Batman pants". Despite this, he insisted that he wasn't Batman.

As usual, I stayed at the house to hand out candy while the Beautiful Wife took the boys over to their Nana's house for Trick-or-Treating. I wore a Batman T-shirt with a little cape that velcro-ed on the back, and a Batman mask. Despite being just about the laziest costume imaginable, this proved wildly popular with the various middle-schoolers who came to our door.

The boys had a great time; apparently they ran basically the whole way, racing from door to door, yelling "Trick or treat!" and collecting some candy before sprinting on to the next house.

So, all in all, a very successful Halloween.

Now, of course, I'm ready to collapse.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lure of the Ghost House VI

Cat woke hours later. He was back in the guest-lodge, and someone had laid his weapons out beside him. Mara asked if he was ready to continue on, and he said he was. He didn't ask about the children; he didn't need to.

He'd known they wouldn't recover completely. At least, he would have known if he'd had time to think about it. The children had been connected, their thoughts spilling into each other while energy poured through them and into a ghost. They'd parted ways, gone back to their families, called their parents by name, but... Some remnant of the connection remained. Cat could feel it, a pull at the edge of his thoughts. In devouring the ghost, he'd taken the link with the children into himself. It might fade with time and distance, but then again it might not.

Even if his connection to them dissolved, those children would always have a bond with each other. Cat didn't know if it would be a strength or weakness for them. He suspected it might be both; he suspected that it would be shaped by how they dealt with it, and with each other.

He couldn't stay to find out. The children would likely be better off with him far away. There was still a war-beast loose near the town of Brightness, in the hills a few miles off; there was still a job to do.

But someday, perhaps in a year or two, he would have to come and check on them.

Lure of the Ghost House V

"Well, well," said the ghost. "Have you come seeking apprenticeship? Or are you looking for the children?"

In life the man had been tall and lean, with shoulder-length black hair and a neatly-trimmed black beard. The pallor of his skin might have been remembered, or it might have been an acknowledgement of his spectral state. He wore the grey robes of a Verath, which was a bad sign; and he seemed to know who he was and what he was about, which was worse. A ghost that was muddled and confused might be set on its way, dispersed into the tides and flows of the world-blood, but one like this... This is bad, Cat thought.

He rose to his feet, frowning. He didn't see any way to delay this, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. Still, if there was any way to take the ghost off-guard... "What is it you have to teach?" he asked. Then, deliberately idle, he added: "...and what are you doing with those children?"

The ghost drew himself up as if affronted; then his shoulders lowered. "If you seek a teacher," he said, "you should show more respect."

Cat waited.

"Very well," the dead Verath said at last. "Serve me, and I will teach you the arts of death. They call to you, don't they? The training you have, passing the elements through your body, it isn't enough, is it? You know there is more you could learn."

Cat nodded. He knew. "And the children?" he asked.

The ghost shrugged. "The villagers took my children. Now I have taken theirs. And when I have used them to restore my living body, I will teach you the things it took me decades to learn."

Cat shifted the navic to his back, and let it hang there. Even sheathed, the blade was part of him; it hung comfortably across his back with nothing to support it. He took a step forward, moved as if to kneel...

...And came up with the indoor saber in his hand, slashing.

Two strides away, the ghost fell back, cut in half by the blow. Still connected to the children, it restored itself with stunning speed, and Cat's follow-through rebounded from an unseen shield. It gestured, murmuring, and Cat felt darkness gather around him.

It was a Death Art, one that drained his strength and dropped him to one knee. He extended his arm by an act of will, then drew it back and to the side, fingers clenched for gripping. In physical combat, the motion would have voided an enemy's attack, drawing it off into empty space. Against a Verath's Art, it pulled the draining numbness into darkness and silence and cold. The effect collapsed as he devoured it.

The master of the house stood staring, his ghostly face slack with shock. Cat lunged up and forward, and for a moment he stood locked with the ghost. In life, it would have been no contest; but the ghost still drew energy through the circle of the children, and with the house insisting on its presence all around them, the spirit was as solid to the touch as flesh would have been. For a moment, they stood locked, strength against strength; then Cat shifted his weight, and felt the opening as the ghost failed to follow. He twisted, sending the ghost past, avoiding its force and more, drawing it into the void he had created...

It screamed as it fell into the darkness and cold, as Cat devoured it. A shockwave of ice rolled out across the aged wooden floor, momentarily dispelling the house's memory of itself and revealing weathered wood layered over with dirt and ash.

Cat staggered and fell to his knees. His head was throbbing, and his blood alternated hot and cold. He knew what "children" the master of the house had lost; he knew that they had been horrible, rotted things, murderous and deranged and uncontrollable, animated by the darkest of Arts. Small wonder the peasants had killed them; they'd had no choice. It was that or wait to be killed.

For a moment his heart stopped; then, entirely on its own, it started beating again.

He knew how the peasants had trapped and destroyed the master's monstrous children, two centuries earlier; he knew how the master had created them; he knew how the master had died, poisoned by his servants; he knew how the master had watched, screaming in bodiless rage, as the peasants had burned his body and scattered the ashes. He remembered fifty years of studying the Art alive, and two more centuries of study as a ghost. He wanted to pound his head against the wooden floor until the memories went away.

Mara smashed through the non-existent front door, which reformed itself (now open again) behind her.

Cat raised his head, and forced his body to be still. "Basement," he said. He could feel Delissa approaching, and feel the house recoiling from the energies that cycled through her and filled the air around her. She must have come in the back. "There's a circle in the basement." He could still feel it. He could remember the connections that had been forced between the children. "Don't break it. Tell them to do it."

Then the wooden floor was rushing towards the side of his face. He didn't have the strength to stop it.