Thursday, January 31, 2013

Drug Store Princess

Fifteen years ago (or so) I was living in Stephenville, Texas while working on a Master's Degree. I had a roommate, who also happened to be one of my best friends. He, in turn, was dating a local girl - or a localish girl, anyway.

Got all that? Good.

At one point, the two of us decided to drop by the drug store where his girlfriend was working. The idea was to collect her just as she was getting off work, and then go out for something to eat. Which was how we happened to be standing in the drug store, waiting in front of the counter, when she got off work and came out.

At this point we each dramatically flung an arm up into the air in front of us, rolled our hands rather grandly down in front of us, and bowed as she went past. We were still staring at the floor when I heard a little girl's voice from somewhere off behind us:

"They bowed to her, Mommy. Is she a princess?"

...At which point we straightened up and followed her out of the store, as loyal retainers should.

It's perfectly possible to go through life without being randomly whimsical; it's just that it doesn't sound like anywhere near as much fun.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to Get a Good Night's Sleep

Over the years, I've read a lot of good advice on how to get a good night's sleep. Set a regular schedule; make sure you're getting a full eight hours; don't drink alcohol to help you settle down; things like that. So, for your edification, here is my advice on the topic:

1. No matter how desperate you are to find time for writing, don't stay up until midnight if you're not making any notable progress. (Admittedly, I remember when midnight was positively early, but I'm not that young anymore.)

2. Do not wake up from a terrible nightmare at, say, two o'clock in the morning. Especially one in which you've discovered that two of your fellow colonist/explorers who have been missing for weeks have apparently been being horribly tortured the whole time, after which you find yourself being chased by a corrupted toddler-thing that wants to get to your spaceship so it can leave the planet and spread its evil across the Universe - before you can get to your spaceship and escape. Above all, once you wake up shivering, do not lay there wondering if the toddler-thing is going to put its horrible, clammy hands in the center of your back.

3. Do not be awakened (at, say, four in the morning) by a six-year-old with a horrible, gunky, rasping cough. If that does happen, and you do get up to medicate him, do not discover in the process that he's wet the bed and will require an additional few minutes to use the restroom and change clothes while you try to scrounge up some fresh, dry bedding. In fact, if you can avoid having a sick child in the first place, that's really the recommended course of action.

4. Do not own cats. Ever. Especially not fat, elderly cats who firmly believe that their single most important contribution to the household is to serve as premature alarm clocks and ensure that everyone wakes up a good five or ten minutes before their perfectly-reliable electronic alarm clocks go off.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Superhero Bar Stories: Unluckiest Criminal

Unluckiest criminal? Okay, I've got one for you.

I'm down in the club district when I see them: It's two men and two women, dressed nice-but-casual, obviously not part of the neighborhood, probably on their way back from the clubs. They're cutting across this deserted parking lot at, I don't know, a little before three in the morning. Not the smartest idea in the world, but then they're pretty young - early twenties, I'd say.

There's another guy just a little bit behind them: older guy, maybe mid-forties, rough-looking, nondescript clothes. Sure enough, he starts moving up on them just as they're crossing the parking lot, and sure enough, he has a gun.

Now, if I'd been in costume, it would have played out very differently. I could have frozen the gun and restrained the perp from where I was. Unfortunately... for both of us... I wasn't, so all I had was a couple of short-range holdout weapons. So I start running towards the guy... Oh, right, you're new here, aren't you? I'm unnoticeable. That's my power. That's why I rely on all that equipment. If I was a flying tank like Captain Amazing, I'd be... well, I'd be Captain Amazing. Instead, I'm The Sniper.

Anyway, I start running towards the guy. None of them can see me, so I'm trying to get close enough to use one of the holdouts or just disarm the perp by hand.

At this point, the two couples and the perp are all out towards the middle of the parking lot. The perp gets close enough, and starts shouting instructions: "STOP THERE! TOSS YOUR WALLETS AND PURSES ON THE GROUND!" He's loud and aggressive, waving the gun around and trying to scare them into handing over their stuff before they have a chance to think.

He's also very, very unlucky. Because at that exact moment, a patrol officer - in uniform, yet - comes around the corner where he can see the whole thing. He's behind the perp and off to one side, so the guy hasn't seen him yet; he's still shouting at the couples.

I'm close enough now to see that they two guys are probably brothers. They're looking at each other, not at the guy with the gun; then one of them nods.

And that was when I found out just how unlucky the perp really was.

Not only did he have me running towards him and a cop staring at the back of his head, he... well...

Okay, one of the brothers lets out this roar and swells up into this massive, saber-toothed beast-man. Rips right out of his shirt in the process. I mean, this thing is the biggest, scariest monster I've ever seen. Scared the hell out of me, and I was still thirty feet away. The perp panics and fires off a couple of shots at him, which do exactly nothing. And then the other brother just vanishes.

I figured he was headed for the perp, but no: he's standing beside the officer and has one hand out to restrain the officer's gun arm.

Meanwhile, the monster steps in with this horizontal swipe. From where I'm standing, it looks like he's about to disembowel the perp. The perp thinks so too; he's screaming like a baby. Instead, the monster slaps the gun out of his hand, sets the guy on the ground, and sort of sits on him.

The officer steps back and turns, so his arm is free; he hasn't actually drawn his weapon. The teleporter, sensibly, takes a step back and holds his hands up; I can hear him apologizing to the officer.

So I figure at this point it's safe to let everybody see me, so I stop being unnoticeable and step forward as a witness.

The officer walks over with the teleporter. As he gets there, the other brother shrinks back down to human form, and holds out a handful of crumpled lead. It's the bullets, what's left of them. The perp's pretty much just lying there shivering, but the officer handcuffs him and reads him his rights. Then he takes everybody's information, bags the perp's pistol, and walks the perp back to his patrol car - wet pants and all.

And that's the story of the unluckiest criminal I ever saw.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Writing Progress

I hate to talk about my writing process. It's idiosyncratic, and whimsical, and very much at the mercy of my children (as is the rest of my schedule). This is why I can find myself making a rather desperate attempt to launch one writing project as its own blog back on Friday, and then spend a fair chunk of the weekend actually making progress (well, you know, four pages worth - it's a lot more than usual) on a completely different project.

So, writing-wise, that's what I've been doing for the last couple of days: destroying the world to the soundtrack of Advent Rising. What the hell, it's working.

So, in celebration, here's a track from the album: Greater Lights. It's done with clips from Final Fantasy, a juxtaposition that works surprisingly (to me) well.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A writing experiment

Okay, so... I'm trying a writing experiment. Since my longer writing projects seem doomed to remain incomplete, I'm going to try giving one its own blog. The theory is that maybe, since I can apparently manage to keep this blog updated, I can use this format to produce a longer work in bite-sized chunks. Admittedly, this hasn't worked so well with Apocalypse River, but I'm hoping that giving this project its own blog will help keep it from getting lost in the noise of unrelated topics.

...Actually, I'm just hoping that I can make some kind of progress on some kind of longer project, period. Full stop. So it would be completely fair to say that this isn't so much clever planning as existential desperation. And if you're harboring any cynical speculations about how likely I am to start this, keep with it for a while, and then lose track of it completely, well... I'd have a hard time arguing.

Anyway, if you're interested, come visit The Shining Walls.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I stayed up late the night before the world ended...

I meant to go to bed early last night. I really did. I made it through a full day of work, and came home exhausted. I would cheerfully have gone to bed and slept for a good twelve hours.

Except that, well, I have children.

So we did homework, and got Firstborn into bed. No muss, no fuss, no big deal.

Secondborn, by contrast... Secondborn didn't want to sleep. We got him into his room and onto his bed. I read a book with him and tucked him in. I turned off the lights. I fetched various cars, helicopters, and trains. I sat with him. I cuddled with him.

He didn't sleep.

Lights Out happened at eight thirty. I think he finally drifted off to sleep at ten thirty. By then I'd completely overshot my window for going to sleep, and I was all like, "Wheee! I'm so awake! I couldn't sleep now if I wanted to! Gaaaaaah! But, wheeee! Maybe I'll make some toast and read for a while. Or coffee, I could make - no, bad idea, no coffee. Why can't I sleeeeeeeeeeeep???"

So now, of course, I'm one of The Walking Dead. Or at least The Walking SemiCatatonic. Urrrrrrrrrrrrr! Want braaaaaaains! My own, for a start!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Random Parenting Stream of Consciousness

What is this I don't even that shouldn't be possible how did you fit all that into your diaper how did that even come out of you it's bigger than you are and you're violating the Conservation of Mass here and oh my God the SMELL I just it's horrible shouldn't have inhaled and for the love of all that's holy WHY???

Filler: Random Music

My whole system is a bit off this week. We got everything moved back into place at work yesterday, but that pretty much finished me off. (I really shouldn't be moving around much right now, but this was one of those situations where having the whole department there and working was The Right Thing To Do.)

So, since I don't have much to say myself, I thought I'd put up some music.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

This game used to be easier

So, on Monday Firstborn challenged me to another game of Battleship. Only this time, he set out to correct one of the game's more notable oversight. "We have to include the Fourth Dimension," he said. "You should be able to move your ships."

And I thought, Oh, no. But, I rallied myself and asked: "Okay, how is this going to work? On your turn, instead of firing, you can move one of your ships?"

He thought about that, then agreed. "And the spot you move to has to be touching the spot it was at."

We moved some ships around on the board to demonstrate. When we were both in agreement, I moved to the next consideration: I put a couple of white "miss" pegs around the ship. "What happens if your opponent has already fired around the ship? Let's say that you can't put your ship where your opponent has already fired."

Firstborn tried to argue that you should be able to move over those spots, but I held firm: "No, because you have to be touching the spot where you started." We moved the ship around some more until we were both in agreement.

Then we sat down on the floor in his room, and played Battleship: Our Mobile Edition.

The Good: It's playable. And it adds a whole new element to the game. Boy howdy, does it add a whole new element to the game. If the game has gotten boring and you want to add some challenge, this is the way to go.

The Bad: The ability to move boats makes the game run quite a lot longer, because you basically have to block off sections of the board to make sure that your opponent's boats aren't there and can't get there. Towards the end, we both found ourselves quite low on pegs, and I had started cannibalizing pegs from areas where I knew Firstborn's boats couldn't possibly be.

The Ugly: We had decided that you could move your ship even after it had been shot. That made the game considerably more complicated - I found myself, on several occasions, firing at the same spot a second time to make sure that Firstborn's ship couldn't move back there. There were also moments where I'd call a shot, and Firstborn would inform me that I'd already shot that boat in that spot... twice. So, for future efforts, I'd recommend a rule where once a boat has been hit, it can no longer move. Trying to track things after I'd shot them was one of the most brain-breaking portions of the new rules, at least for me.

Monday, January 21, 2013

You sank my... what?

So I'm playing Battleship with Firstborn, and he sinks one of my ships.

In keeping with the Faux Naval Rules of Engagement, I say: "You sank my... Battleship? Destroyer? Four pegs... Battleship, I think."

Firstborn: "Can I see the instructions?"

Me: "Sure. Is that them on the floor behind you?"

Firstborn leans back (we're playing on the floor) and collects the instructions.

I look back at my board: "Yeah. Four pegs. Battleship."

Firstborn holds up the instructions and gently corrects me: "Acorazado - 4 agujeros."

Me: "What?"

Firstborn, hiding a grin: "Acorazado - 4 agujeros."

Me: "Give me that." I look at the instructions. "Okay, yeah. Acorazado - 4 agujeros." I flip them over, and there - sure enough - is the English version. "Thanks, kiddo."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Update on the Great Flood

So, it looks like they'll have the walls repaired in time for us to start moving people back to their offices on Tuesday. That's the plan, anyway. Meanwhile, we're still over in a temporary work center elsewhere in the building.

On the plus side, my computer seems to have survived its swim, so I'm back to working on a real monitor and a full-sized keyboard. That's right, I can now put a finger on the keyboard and only hit one key! I'm very excited about this.

And now I find myself wondering what it would have been like to be the SysAdmin on Noah's Ark. Assuming Noah had remembered to include a server room and put data ports in the living quarters, of course. I imagine it would have been pretty rough - goats eating the cables; rats and snakes and things trying to curl up against the back of the servers rack, where it's nice and warm; and, of course, Noah and his family constantly complaining about their connection speeds. ("Why do you even bother to connect, Noah? All you ever do on that computer is play Solitaire...")

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Your plans for the End of the World?

The plague burned itself out three weeks ago. Or maybe they were plagues; nobody seems to be sure. The immediate effects were obvious: "flu-like symptoms", and possible death. There was no vaccine, no cure, and every attempt at quarantine failed miserably. With a worldwide death rate of seven percent, that was horrible enough. There wasn't any particular pattern to the deaths, either; the elderly were slightly more likely to succumb, but only slightly.

We were lucky. We survived, all four of us. The wife and I got it first, and then the boys came down with it just as we were starting to recover. "Lucky" doesn't seem to cover it, when more than one out of every twenty people we knew had died. For a week or so, it looked like most of the world was going to slide into a full economic collapse, but civilization held together. Barely. Mostly.

Things are different in the wake of the plague. It's not just the reduced population, though we're still feeling the effects of that. It's not just the shell-shocked look on so many faces, or the way that people will suddenly break drown crying in the middle of their work. It's not even the suicides, or the disruptions in water, power, and other services - fortunately, we haven't had too many of those.

No, things are really different. It's like the plague opened the door for other things. The parasites that make the zompires, for example. Or the big, scaly dogs that a friend of mine said are spreading through the woods around the Cumberland Plateau. The flying leeches. The Ghost Plague that made them evacuate London. People claiming that drinking blood now makes them stronger... with YouTube videos purporting to prove it.

We're doing what we can, of course. Keeping the servers up, keeping the information flowing: emergency announcements, safety advice, reports on new developments and how they're being dealt with. And waiting, of course. To see if this is going to level off, or if things are just going to keep getting worse. We've got the cars loaded, in case we have to leave... but I don't see anywhere that's particularly safe to go.

There's been hoarding, naturally, along with calls for repentance and the usual predictions about the end of the world. First time since I was sixteen that I've taken those seriously. But like I said, right now we're just waiting.

How about you?

I realize I've asked this sort of question at least once before, but I'm a bit burned out so I'm asking it again. What would you be doing if the world seemed to be spinning out of control en route to some sort of apocalypse?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Who need to title their posts?

There's a point in certain video games where, after you've spent hours or days building up your equipment and abilities, Something Bad happens and you lose all your equipment. It happens in HalfLife; it happens in Kya: Dark Legacy; and I'm sure there are other games that do this, too.

It comes to mind because that's what work feels like right now. We're working in temporary locations while they patch up the areas that got flooded. I just this morning managed to trade in the teeny little netbook I'd been using for an actual laptop, and I hope to be working on a real computer at some point in the near future. But a lot of the supplies and resources that I'm used to having around are still at my desk, which means that right now they're covered by a sheet of plastic and largely inaccessible.

Since this has me feeling a bit nostalgic, here's a track off the first cassette tape I ever bought. (Remember cassette tapes?) I didn't actually get compact disks for at least another year; my first CD was the soundtrack to The Lost Boys.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Silly Supervillains: Hazardous

Right, so, there we were: me and Captain Amazing, downtown, closing in on this suspected bank robber. Well, no - let's be clear. We "suspected" he was a bank robber because A) there'd just been a bank robbery; B) he was walking down the street in a ski mask in the middle of July; and C) he was carrying a giant duffel bag with bundles of money sticking out of it.

So Captain Amazing comes roaring up to the guy - just drops right out of the sky and lands beside him. You've seen him in news footage, right? It's quite an entrance, like a hawk dropping on a mouse. So Captain Amazing touches down, looks at the guy, and says: "Son, you're coming with me." And the guy just sort of cocks his hip, and then hip-checks the captain. It looks like a dance move, but it hits like a truck. Captain goes flying, right through a city bus and halfway into the nearest building.

So now I'm thinking, "Oh, hell, this one's got super strength." But I've already got the snot-gun ready, so I fire it off anyway. It spluts onto his left ankle, and immediately hardens. I figure he's just going to kick his way free, but no: the guy isn't moving. He's tugging on his ankle, but he's stuck. That shouldn't be possible, but I'm not complaining.

At this point, Captain Amazing pulls himself out of the building and launches himself like a rocket at the perp. He's got his fist cocked for a steel-bending swing, cape flaring out behind him, glint of determination in his eye... Well, our boy gets himself twisted around, and he sort of... meets the Captain's fist with his belly. Really thrusts his stomach out there just as the Captain reaches him.

And once again, Captain Amazing goes flying. This time he goes right through one of the big, reflective skyscrapers: in one window, and out another window that's two floors up on the far side of the building. I can see sky through the hole. Huge spray of glass, too - I think Faith Healer spent a good hour patching up civilians after the battle.

But, y'know, okay. The snot-gun worked once, so I fire it off again and glue his other foot the ground. Now he's really struggling, kind of thrashing around and trying not to fall over. I can hear sirens, and they're getting closer, so I figure this is a good time to actually show myself.

So I come up beside the perp just as the police arrive. By now I'm starting to figure out what's going on, so when the first officer approaches I say, "Be careful with this one, Officer. He's got a magic belt or something."

The guy kind of twists around and glares at me. And then - I am not making this up - he says, "I ain't got no magic belt, asshole. I got a power. I'm Hazardous Waist!"

Monday, January 14, 2013

Still Inundated

So, we're still recovering from the broken water pipe at work. There are big fans, and dehumidifiers (I think that's what they're called), and cut-out sections of wall, and a ton or two of misplaced furniture. Misplaced workers, too: we have a lot of people set up in impromptu work centers in the big meeting rooms. My computer was one of the casualties, so I'm working on a teeny little netbook - and let me tell you, man, that's no way to live.

Of course, I'm also moving tables and helping people relocate their PCs, so there's an element of physical activity that isn't usually present in my job. That part is actually kind of fun. And the place is basically dry now, though I'd be afraid to sit on the floor just yet. I'm told that we'll probably have everyone back in their offices sometime around Thursday, which isn't too bad. No word on when I might have a working computer again, though.

We're a bit inundated at home, too. The Beautiful Woman starts teaching at one college next week, and another the week after that. The boys have started back to school, a transition that shouldn't have kicked my butt but did anyway. Secondborn is very, very stuffy - which is making it hard for him to sleep. Then there are the usual cooking, cleaning, and sorting sorts of chores. Oh, and on top of that we have the Boy Scouts, which issue probably deserves a whole separate post of its own; suffice to say that Firstborn's desire to join has added a whole new layer of Holy-Poot-We-Did-Not-Need-This on top of everything else.

TL;DR: Blog posts may be erratic, and writing on other projects is nonexistent.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Battle Music!

I'm just going to toss this out here so I can find it again when I need some background music for writing battle scenes... Well, and also because I'm a huge geek.

When the pipe breaks, the water will fall...

So, um, yeah. Broken water pipe in the ceiling at my office. Went home Wednesday night and left the computer on; came back in yesterday morning to find the computer sitting in three inches of water - along with my desk. Fortunately, I don't keep much of anything else on the floor; a lot of people had stacks of paper, rolled up maps and blueprints, cameras, boxes full of files... yeah. It knocked out about a third of the building, and caused second-generation problems even up on the next floor.

Four feet further up the hallway, and it would have reached the server room. That would have been a disaster.

So we came in and found that the office was inaccessible. We promptly set up a work center across the hall, in one of the big meeting rooms, so we had some place where the really critical people (e.g., Payroll) could do their jobs. I'd given up on staying dry, so I kicked my shoes off in the server room, rolled up my pants, and waded around in my bare feet. One of the guys from another department looked at me funny - kind of disapproving, really - but I stand by the decision. It was probably some sort of unforgivable OSHA violation, but my feet dried almost instantly once I was out of the water - while the folks who kept their shoes on were still squishing around in wet socks well after lunch time.

I'm not at all sure just how much is going to have to be done to get the building back in shape.

So I'm working from home today, and on a completely different computer from the one I usually use. This is a little awkward, but not too bad. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nameless 01

This is just a little snippet of something that came to me. Might be the start of a story; might not. Even if it could be, I doubt I have time to explore it. So I'm just going to put it here, for now. Maybe I'll come back to it later.

I used to tell stories. At least, I think I did. Don't know if I was good at it. Not the point. Point is, I used to tell stories. I used to put words together, make them into sentences, put sentences together, make them fill pages. I could feel the rhythm of the story, hear the melody of the words.

But that was when I still had a name. Don't have one anymore. No name, no stories. I think I still have words, but it's hard to tell. People won't speak to me without a name. Most won't even look at me. It's like I'm not there, but I am.

I'm my own ghost.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

RAID 5 versus Evil

Let me tell you about RAID 5. RAID 5 is basically a way of storing electronic data; it takes a set of five hard disks and ties them together. From the outside, a RAID array behaves as if it were a single disk. However, the data is distributed across all five disks - and so is the parity data, which is basically a record of what each disk has on it. So, each disk has part of the data, plus a record of what data the other disks have.

The reason for setting it up this way is that it helps prevent data from being lost. If one of the hard disks crashes, there's still enough data spread across the other four that the overall array can continue to function uninterrupted. Even better, if you pull out the dead hardware and replace it with a new drive, the data on the other four disks can be used to "fill in the blanks" for the new arrival. This takes a little time, but once it's done you're back to full RAID 5 redundancy... and in the meantime, your array continues to operate as a data storage device.

As you can probably imagine, an array like this this is a considerable improvement over a single hard disk by itself; if a single disk crashes, everything on it is probably gone. The only real problem with a RAID 5 array is that if you happen to have one disk crash, and you remove it and replace it, and then you have a second hard disk crash while the system is in the process of rebuilding the data on the first disk... well... "KABLOOEY!" as Calvin would say.

Go on. Ask me how my day is going.

Not with a bang

It's starting again. The boys are back in school. (Well, the oldest one's in school; the youngest is back in his daycare program.) My wife is about to start her spring semester, and she's teaching at two different colleges this time around. And, of course, we've hit the end of the year (with its requisite site updates) and the first big blush of our busy season, all at the same time.

That doesn't seem to affect the Blog o' Doom here, much. At least, it hasn't in previous years, so it probably won't this time, either. It'll be just as random as always, with maybe a few more work- and stress-related rants. I expect my longer writing projects to grind to a halt again, but I guess that's fine; it's not like I was making any progress on them, anyway.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Unconditional Respect?

So apparently there's a bit of, um, "wisdom" running around in some Christian Marriage Help circles which says that, basically, women need unconditional love, and men need unconditional respect.

Now, I have some problems with the idea of unconditional love. First of all, I don't think love is ever truly unconditional; and second of all, no matter how much we laud it as a goal or ideal, I'm not at all convinced that unconditional love is actually a good thing. At least, not when it comes to human beings.[1] To pick an obvious example, if I love someone who keeps hurting me and and taking advantage of me, pretty soon I'm not going to love them quite so much (and soon after that, I'm not going to love them at all). This is not a failing on my part; it's a good and sensible reaction to unacceptable behavior.

So, no: I don't think that unconditional love (for either the husband or the wife) is a necessary ingredient for a successful marriage.

But the other half of this equation isn't just misguided; it's nonsensical. Unconditional love may be a bad idea, but unconditional respect is essentially a contradiction in terms. Respect is, by its very nature, something that must be earned. If it isn't earned, it isn't respect. It might be courtesy, or perhaps deference, but it can't be respect.

So, you know, at best this advice is misleading. At worst, it's deliberately designed to set up a situation where no matter how egregious the husband's behavior might be, the wife isn't supposed (read: allowed) to call him out for it. I'd like to think that that's a flaw, but I suspect for a lot of people it's a feature.

Generalized relationship advice is always suspect, but this seems pretty horrible even by those standards.

[1] I am aware of the theological assertion that God's love is unconditional. However, unconditional love is a very different proposition for an all-knowing, all-powerful being. Such a being is, by definition, simply not vulnerable. There is nothing limited creatures could do to harm it - ever. I'm not entirely sure that an all-knowing being could even be disappointed in any meaningful way. So God, if He exists, can afford to love unconditionally; for Him, there's no real risk or cost in doing so.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Great Skylanders LARP

So, Firstborn spent part of this afternoon playing Skylanders: Giants with me. Skylanders, as I've probably explained before, is a rather brilliant little marketing device, in which you collect colorful plastic statues of various characters, then set them on a "magic portal" which plugs into your gaming console in order to have them appear as playable characters in the Skylanders video games.

Firstborn, however, was playing Skylanders in the park - a location notably lacking in such accoutrement as game systems, or even televisions.

We were, basically, LARPing.

The way this works is that I make up a Skylanders: Giants character to play. Firstborn then makes up his own Skylander. And then we battle, which consists mainly of running around the park pretending to use our powers and attacks on each other. More precisely, Firstborn runs around the park. In keeping with the primary goal of taking children to the park ("Exhaust them, not yourself.") I tend to choose characters who ooze, shamble, walk, or are carried by lots and lots of little arachnids who don't move very fast.

Finally, my character dies. This is because Firstborn is a six-year-old boy, which means that he automatically plays in God Mode. So no matter what character I choose, I'm pretty much doomed. Here was the roster from this afternoon:

Round One: I selected Ooze, who's one of the giants - and, as the name suggests, he's a big slimy blob from the Water Element. He attacks by flinging ooze-drops, or by growing a big ol' pseudopod and smashing things with it. Firstborn selected an Undead Element character (not sure if he had a name), who could travel underground and then burst out under his enemies in a shower of flying skulls and sharpened bones; he could also summon twenty little bone dragons, and throw tombstones. (I realized that the Underground Travel attack was going to be a problem the first time he tried to do it in the game, because he signified it by hunching way down, running up to me, and then attempting to position himself directly beneath my crotch before leaping straight up. Which would have made for a very effective attack in real life, if I hadn't gotten out of the way.) The conclusion? He squashed me, I think with a giant tombstone.

Round Two: For our second battle, I elected to be Lightning Guy (Air Element), which basically meant that I called down lightning bolts and occasionally made an expanding circle of lightning bolts all around me. Firstborn elected to be a Tech Element Skylander, who fought using giant wrenches. This allowed me to fling lightning bolts at him while he raced all over the park, until finally I came too close and he got me with a wrench.

Round Three: This time, I decided to try the Undead Element, and became Zomb-Daddy. In addition his brain-gnawing prowess, Zomb-Daddy has the power to throw zombabies at his opponents. It sounded pretty formidable, until Firstborn announced that he was going to be Armor, a Tech Skylander whose armor could only be damaged by lightning. And he had big shields, which he could throw, and an arm-rocket that turned into some sort of disk attack, and... I died. Quickly. Even the lightning-bomb zombabies were no match for him.

Round Four: This time, I went with another Undead Element guy. His name was Duddy. He was covered in bandages, and his other power was that he was completely invulnerable: so if you set him on fire, he's a burning Duddy, and if you squash him he's a flat Duddy, but he never actually dies. Firstborn went with another armored tech guy, this time fielding something that sounded like a small-scale Mecha with a laser cannon. My decision to be unkillable gave us a good fifteen minutes of running around and battling without anybody actually dying, though I imagine there are still bits of mummy bandages scattered around the trees and play equipment from when I was trying to tie Firstborn up with them. (I mentioned this to Firstborn, and he said: "Well, and they're invisible bandages.")

So that was my afternoon. I'm not sure if we decided the fate of the Skylands, but we sure had fun.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Zompires Ahead

I eased my head over the top of the hill, and saw them: zompires.

Different people might call them other things, but we called them zompires. Unless they were particularly weak and damaged specimens, in which case we called them Vambies.

If you saw them in the early stages of the infection, half-blind and off-balance and uncoordinated, you wouldn't think they were much of a threat - and you'd be right. But as the parasite spread, killing and replacing human flesh like some fungous cancer, they grew faster and stronger and much more stable.

Smarter, too.

Fully developed zompires looked like nothing so much as a black-and-white photo of a skinless corpse, the grain of the muscles and the lines of the veins sketched in lighter and darker grays. Here and there they might be missing a limb, where something had rotted off before being completely assimilated, but that was usually just fingers and toes. It wasn't enough to slow them down or throw them off.

Very little threw them off. They didn't have a circulatory system, like we did; no matter where you cut them, they didn't bleed out. Their organs were redundant and distributed; a shot to the heart or head might stun them, but it wouldn't finish them. Even decapitation didn't always do it. You needed something systemic: intense heat, or extreme cold, or truly massive physical damage. They could starve, but not as easily as human beings could; ditto suffocation.

This wasn't a large group; maybe a dozen specimens, but they were all fully developed. That meant that they would react intelligently to whatever we did. It also meant that they had access to their full range of senses, which we didn't completely understand. We knew they could spot us up to about three hundred yards out, but we weren't sure how they did it; and we knew they had some other way of finding people, since they drifted towards us - or anyone else - across much longer distances than that.

Ordinarily, we dealt with zompires from as far away as possible, using rifles. With blood-addicted bandits sniffing our tails, we couldn't afford to make that much noise. And the ground ahead was pretty open; if we tried to circle them, we were pretty much committing ourselves to running. Maybe we'd make it, or maybe we'd end up cornered and overrun; no way to tell in advance.

I eased back down, and went to rejoin the others. "Drive through them," I said. "If we don't find shelter, we're done."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Let me tell you how my day is going...

Why, hello there, Cranky Customer! Why, yes, I'd be glad to try to help you with your problem, even though that particular application belongs to another department and the most likely explanation for your difficulties is User Error. However - and I am abjectly, grovelingly sorry about this - I do need you to take an active part in this process, since I cannot enter your credit card information for you. I shall now apologize repeatedly for not being able to wave my hand and fix it with magic, even though the entire situation is neither my fault nor even my responsibility.

The King of Cups

So we're sitting in the car at Sonic a couple of days ago, and I have ordered corndogs for the boys. In addition to the corn dogs, I have ordered two cups of water. (Firstborn actually asked for a cup of water, but that makes it a safe bet that Secondborn is going to want some, too. So, two cups.)

I hand the first cup back to Firstborn, who takes it. At six years old, he sits in a booster seat, which happens to have a pair of built-in cup-holders, one at each of the front corners. He pries open one of the cup-holders, and puts his cup in it.

"Firstborn," I say, "can you pull out the other cup-holder, and put Secondborn's cup in it?"

So he pries open the second holder, and accepts his brother's cup. Then, with everything in place, he proudly announces: "Ha-ha! I am the King of Cups, with my Cup-Throne!"

He's, um, he's kind of dramatic. I don't know where he gets it from, really. It's very mysterious.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pics from the Dallas World Aquarium

So, I mentioned earlier that we went to the Dallas World Aquarium back on Sunday, and it was awesome. I didn't take a lot of pictures, because I was exhausted, but here are two that you might enjoy...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Revolutions

Right, so... I don't make New Year's resolutions. It's not that I'm opposed to resolutions in general, you understand, it just seems like trying to fit them to an arbitrary calendar date is counterproductive. I make a mistake, I resolve not to do it again, and then I work on, y'know, not doing it again. The date is tied to when I noticed I was making a mistake, or falling short of the mark, or whatever else needed to be fixed. Strangely, that very seldom coincides with January First.

That said, I do like the idea of setting everything down and starting over. I'm not sure how practical it is - as I get older, it seems that more and more things would just get picked right back up again - but even if the date is arbitrary, it's nice to notice and celebrate another year out of the way. So if you're celebrating the change from one calendar to the next, I hope you're having a fun and safe time of it. And if 2012 was unpleasant in any way, I hope 2013 is better for you.

And if, despite all your better instincts screaming at you to sleep, you're still awake right now... well, I hope you take the hint and go pass out. It's what I plan to do...