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.