Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Misfortune Cookie

Fortune I received in a fortune cookie yesterday:
An admirer is too shy to greet you.
...Which, I just... I mean, so what? Who cares? Even if the information is absolutely true, unless you're naming names it does me absolutely no good to know this.

Monday, December 29, 2014


Nothing for this morning. Quiet day at work, so I'm updating some licensing and going over web pages. Wrote a little last night; this time it might work, but I need to re-read it and make sure I can keep going before I'm sure. You'd think that the holidays would offer more writing time, but they don't. If anything, they offer less: the boys sleep in, and then stay up later, and there goes my quiet time.

I'm currently reading Hive by Tim Curran, which is not just Lovecraftian but explicitly building on Lovecraft's work -- and doing an excellent job of it into the bargain.

I'm currently listening to the Soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockinjay, Part 1.

...And that's about all I've got right now. How about you? Reading, watching, or listening to anything you think people should know about? Doing something fun? Get any particularly cool presents you want to brag about? Consider this an open thread.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Writer's... Um... Clutch?

I have an idea. I've been slowly fleshing it out in my head. I like the ways it might go, and I like the things that are falling into place as interactions and events, and I love the setting.

I don't like my opening. I mean, it's not bad, but it just isn't quite working. I wanted to use it to introduce the main character and set him up in his Ordinary World. And it does that, sort of, but it keeps trying to veer off into dull exposition or some long chain of unrelated events -- either way, wasting space until I can maneuver the poor fellow to the start of the Main Quest. (Yes, I'm kind of thinking of this in video game terms. Not sure if that's a good thing, but I appear to be stuck with it for the moment.) It's not the only one, either; I have at least one other opening scene for this same project, but it's just as much of a false start. Only I can't seem to get around either of those two approaches well enough to move on to something that actually works.

It's sort of like when you're trying to remember someone's name, and your brain fastens onto another name that you know is wrong -- but which is so similar that your brain can't move past it to the right name. It's just... arrrgh know?

I think it'll be an awesome little story, if I can just start the benighted thing.

Zombie Christmas Joke Song

Q. What do you get with a Zombie Christmas?

A. Rudolph the Dead-Nosed Reindeer.
Rudolph the Dead-Nosed Reinderr
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You could watch it decompose

All of the other reindeer
Used to groan and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Come with them in search of brains

Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa-zombie said:
"Rudolph with your nose so dead,
Won't you help me pull my sled?"

Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee:
"Rudolph the Dead-Nosed Reindeer,
Eat a brain or two for me!"
What? That's not enough? Need more Chistmas zombie songs? All right, here:

Friday, December 26, 2014

We survived Christmas!

The boys got basically everything they wanted, and they were extremely well behaved through the entire Crowd Of Visiting Family section of the day, as well as the movie we all went to see afterwards.

(It was Night At The Museum 3: The Secret Of The Ooze Tomb, and it was actually pretty good. Firstborn had been worried that it would be too scary, but there's a funny thing there: "scary" for my eight-year-old means waiting for things to happen. Once we get to a battle scene -- even against a big, scary monster -- he's fine.)

Beautiful Wife is still recuperating from being sick, and I'm beginning to think that I could use a break myself. (I worked Monday and Tuesday, had Wednesday and Thursday off, and am back at work today.) Still, we made it through and we made it work. So, y'know, go us.

Here's hoping everybody's holidays went well, and everybody's next year will be even better.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I'm very disappointed in the Internet right now.

How is "Ambrose the Amber-Assed Antelope" not on youtube somewhere? The closest thing I can find - the absolute closest is a variant version of the lyrics, featuring Adolph the Amber Assed Antelope, in text on somebody's blog. Okay, fine, here goes:
Ambrose the amber-assed antelope
Had a very shiny ass
And if you ever saw it
You would say it was made of glass
You would think that it was brass. [updated 2015-12-13 - see the comments]

All of the other Antelopes
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Ambrose
Join in any antelope games

Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say,
"Ambrose with your ass so bright
Won't you be my backup light?"

Then how the antelopes loved him
As they shouted out with glee,
"Ambrose the Amber-Assed Antelope
You'll go down in history!"
I can't possibly be the only one who's heard of this, can I?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

We Three Kings

Abney Park:

If this sounds like something that ought to be in your collection, you can find the album here. They have a lot of other good stuff, too, so take a prowl around their site.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Comic Books or Parenting?

It's time for another exciting round of everyone's favorite quiz show, Dialogue. Join us today as our contestants try to figure out whether the following exchanges came from comic books, or from parents and small children.
"It was... pretty horrible. Body parts everywhere. And their heads... where were their heads?"

"No, it's okay. I just hurt my foot a little when I kicked that car out of the way."

"Just put the elemental sword down and surrender, okay?"

"Oh my God. You're trying to kill me. You own loving father, dead of asphyxiation -- that's your evil plan, isn't it?"

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

Confidential File Transcript: A Santa Letter

Taken from a classified ad in The Times, published December 18, 2014.

Dear Santa Claus,

You know, I may be persona non grata up in the Arctic Circle, but I still hear things. So I have to ask... did you really open up a whole new assembly line just to produce a Corvette? I'm sure she's a really Nice girl and all, but do you have any idea how petty and corrupt that sounds? Maybe you thought you could keep it quiet, but... no. Just, no. It's a small village. People -- well, Elves -- notice these things. And we all remember the last time you did something like this. The One Horse Open Sleigh Incident? Remember that one? Remember how that turned out?

Does Mrs. Claus know about this? I can't believe she'd be okay with it. You want to spend another century sleeping in the guest room? I guess it really isn't my business, but I still think you ought to consider the probable consequences.

Speaking of business, what are we up to now? Fourteen workers injured this season? You can set aside an entire assembly line for your playmate, but you can't install basic safety equipment? Or provide your workers with a decent amount of rest and food, so they aren't making stupid, clumsy mistakes out of sheer exhaustion? I wish I could say I was surprised.

I know, I know. I'm making myself a target... again. I also know just how much trouble you had getting your oldest friend back into his lair after last year. (Don't bother looking for a leak on that one; I scried it myself. You were too busy to notice.) And I know how busy IntSec has been, too. So send your minions after me if you can spare them, but consider this: the easiest way to shut me up would be to tighten your red suspenders and do the right thing. Safety equipment. Reasonable working hours. That's all I care about. That's all I ever cared about.

As Ever,


Preliminary investigation (as well as the internal evidence of the letter itself) suggests that this is a genuine communication from the renegade elf, Snowblossom Smith. Add it to the file. -ES

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A new stage of life...

Apparently I've hit a new point in my emotional development. I was watching Lethal Weapon the other night (because, y'know, Christmas movie) and I suddenly realized that Martin Riggs, the troubled younger cop played by Mel Gibson, just doesn't resonate with me anymore. He used to; that was the character I identified with. This time, though, it's Danny Glover's character - Roger Murtaugh, the fifty-year-old with the house and the family, the guy who has to put up with all this - that I find myself connecting with.

I guess I really am too old for this shit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I awaken my child with a song!

The light was out. The comforter was warm. The room was quiet. The boy was deeply asleep.

...Until Daddy arrived.
Deck the halls and buy a Slurpee, Fa la la la la, la la la la,
'Tis the season to be derpy, fa la la la la, la la la la.
Time to rise and put on clothing, fa la la la la, la la la la,
Though we'd rather all be dozing, fa la la la la, la la la la.
Have to turn your homework in, fa la la la la, la la la la,
And you get to see your friends, fa la la la la, la la la la.
{Pause to pull comforter off sleeping boy and toss it on the top bunk.}
Now your comforter has fled, fa la la la, la la la la,
Time to climb out of your bed, fa la la la, la la la la.
That was about the point where my wife came in and asked, "Is daddy torturing you?"

Firstborn said, "Unnk."

Monday, December 15, 2014

While we're dwelling on unpleasant truths...

I am a white person.
I am occasionally a little bit clueless.
I am sometimes a bit racist.

Okay, now, hold on, everybody! I’m not, like, proud of that statement. The only people who are proud of that statement … I actually don’t know anyone who is proud of that statement. White supremacists? Hitler youth? No one wants to be racist. That’s why people begin statements that are usually super racist with the phrase “I don’t want to sound racist, but…”

(Tip: If you start a sentence that way, you are almost always going to say something incredibly racist).

I don’t want to be racist. No one actually wants to be a racist.

But I have been known to say or do clueless, ignorant, or hurtful things before, because of a subconscious prejudice against people who don’t look like me.

Do I enjoy the experience of owning up to that fact? Hell, no. It feels fucking terrible to admit that.

But I know it to be true. I have unpacked some of my past shitty behaviors and understood them for what they are. And I’m afraid — no, I mean it, actually afraid — that as educated as I am, as hard as I try to change this about myself, some of that subliminal bias is just never going to be completely erased.
Read the rest here: Race Ya.

Holidays not depressing enough?

DailyDot has converted the CIA Torture Report into 11 helpful (and fun!) memes. I'm not sure I can actually recommend reading them -- even 11 slides condensed from the entire 525-page report is hugely depressing -- but this is us; this is our government in action, folks.

Author Walter Jon Williams offers a cogent summary on his blog, also. Which, again, is about as much detail as I'm prepared to take.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

'Tis the season (for illness)

Got hugely, horribly sick on Tuesday. Like, "I don't trust myself to drive a car, and I probably shouldn't get out of bed." That kind of sick. I have antibiotics now, but I've dropped pretty much everything -- including updating the Blog o' Doom, here -- in favor of getting as much rest as humanly possible. I'll be back when I'm sure my brain is working again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

It's not just children's movies...

Okay, so, apparently it isn't just children's movies that make me cry uncontrollably. Frickin' Guardians of the Galaxy, which certainly takes a subversive approach to anything sentimental about the idea of heroism, also sets me off. I'm beginning to suspect that beneath this gruff, tough, masculine (and unbelievably attractive) exterior, I'm just a big ol' softy.

I will thank you all to either nod or grunt to indicate your understanding, after which we shall never speak of this again.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Great Moments in Gaming

"I immediately turn and slap the Cleric with the flat of my blade, to show the dragon that it's just a form of affection among friends and allies."

"The dragon considers for a long, long moment. Then he slaps you on the shoulder with his claws in a show of solidarity. Roll 6d10 for damage."
(Picture Source)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Secondborn Makes With The Art

So, Secondborn found the chalk and a little chalkboard to draw on:
Those are robots, by the way.

He's also taken to asking profoundly disturbing questions as if they were perfectly normal. Last night's example was, "Daddy, are bandits good guys or bad guys?"

Me: "They're usually bad guys, kiddo."

Secondborn: "Why do bandits take people's hearts? Why do bandits take people's hearts, which are usually their heads?"

Me: "Um... Uh... what?"

I swear, that child is responsible for half of my most colorful nightmares.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christmas Music: Pentatonix

I don't usually post Christmas hymns. That's partly because I'm not really a Christian anymore, but mostly because a couple of years of working retail in my brilliantly misspent youth left me with a... deeply ambivalent ...relationship with Christmas music. In this case, though, I'm making an exception.

Also, this:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My poor dentist...

So I'm sitting there in the dentist's office, because I need a crown, because I stupidly decided not to take care of my teeth back when I was a teenager. I've had a temporary on for about a week, and it's done fine; but now it's time to put the permanent cover on.

My dentist is a very nice lady of Indian descent, and she's working with a dental assistant. I'm laying in the chair, which is tilted almost flat, while the dentist is doing a little poking and prodding and cleaning, to make sure we get a good fit and nothing nasty gets trapped under the crown when they put it on. They have, at this point in the process, removed the temporary; so what's left of that tooth is rather exposed.

Being solicitous of my comfort, she asks: "Are you sensitive?"

"I cry at children's movies," I tell her. "Does that count?"

There is a long, long pause. Then she chuckles. "I've never had anybody say that," she admits.

"It doesn't count," puts in the dental assistant. "Those things are designed to make you cry."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Time to break out the Christmas Movies.

Right, so, it's finally December. I get to start playing Christmas Music at my co-workers. I get to break out my black Santa hat. And, of course, I get to watch Christmas movies:

1. Lethal Weapon
2. Die Hard
3. Saint (or Sint)
4. The Long Kiss Goodnight
5. Rare Exports

What are you watching? Are you doing anything in particular to help you get in the holiday mood?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Borderlands The Pre-Sequel

Since is the first time (in years!) that I've managed to play through a game when it was still relatively new, and since I just finished the game (in the sense of "went through the entire storyline once", as opposed to, say, "went through the entire storyline in super-ultimate-instant-death-vault-hunter mode" or "maxed out my character"), I thought I'd throw up a few thoughts here:

1. It's really fun, and -- as I rather expected -- it's extremely well done, from the playability to the settings to the storyline to the voice acting to, um, everything else. I'm not sure it's quite as awesome as Borderlands II, and in some ways it seems a bit... smaller? shorter? ...with the result that some of the side-quests seemed a little forced to me. That's not to say that the side-quests aren't fun and interesting; they are. It's just that... well, in Borderlands II there's so much going on that it seems like there should be some down-time when the characters might reasonably take a couple of odd jobs and just knock around for a bit before getting sucked back into the main storyline. In the Pre-Sequel, the storyline doesn't really have any of those sorts of breaks; so most of the side-quests were things that, realistically, my character should have been putting aside until after the world-threatening dangers were dealt with. Doing them as they came up in the game was still fun, but it kind of "broke the frame" for me. (That may seem odd, given the level of meta-references throughout the Borderlands games, but there it is.)

2. Athena may well be the Vault Hunter I've most enjoyed playing. In the original Borderlands, I wound up playing Mordecai; I'd basically just sit waaaaaay back with a sniper rifle and pick things off, then switch to a pistol if something got too close, then call out Bloodwing if I got in trouble. With Borderlands II, I figured I'd follow the same strategy, and tried to play Zero; I wound up very frustrated, and switched over to Axton instead. Then the Psycho Pack came out, and Krieg became my character of choice - basically the same strategy, except that when I got into trouble I'd go into a rampage and start smashing things with my buzzaxe. (That said, while I preferred playing Krieg, it was mainly for the character; Axton actually suits my play style better. I like having something that'll actually protect me when I get in trouble.) Athena, though... that combination of making enemies bleed (for continuous damage), making enemies explode (if they're bleeding when they die), that dashing attack (which makes getting into melee range sooooo much easier), and the Aspis (which actually tends to keep you from dying when you get in trouble)... Well, Athena's pretty awesome. She manages to be melee-oriented and suit my play style. Win-win-win! Sir Hammerlock would say.

3. The handling of "Bad Guy Perspective" is nicely done. (In Borderlands II, Handsome Jack is the enemy. In the Pre-Sequel, you're working for him.) He starts out seeming reasonably heroic, and becomes more evil (and crazier) by degrees as the game progresses. Basically, the Pre-Sequel does an excellent job of making Jack seem like someone you might reasonably be willing to work for, without contradicting his role as the Big Bad in Borderlands II.

4. Speaking of Borderlands II, one of these days I need to write a post about how Roland is actually a direct reincarnation of Aeris (from Final Fantasy VII).

5. I'm really looking forward to the expansion packs. Partly, that's just because I like playing Athena and I like playing the game; but it's also because, as I said earlier, this game seems a little smaller in its overall scope than Borderlands II was. I'm looking forward to having new things to do and new places to poke around. Hopefully one of those missions will finally, actually resolve the problem of the infection on the space station... Also, does Athena still have bugs in her brain?

6. Having enjoyed Athena so much, I'd also like to try out the other characters. The only other one I've tried is Claptrap, and he(?) is fun, too. Completely random and annoying, but fun.

What have you been playing?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Music: Thanksgiving Song

I'm out for the rest of this week, I think. Must give brain a chance to relax.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Bulletproof Squirrels

On the way home from dinner last night -- in a perfectly ordinary car, after eating at a perfectly ordinary restaurant; one must keep up appearances, after all -- we found a squirrel in the road. It had obviously been struck by a car, but it hadn't been killed outright. Instead, it was sort of dazed and staggering around.

My son is now twelve, and I fear he has grown a bit... sensitive. He asked me to save the poor beast. It was easy enough that I didn't mind indulging him, so I pulled a Collector from the trunk and sent it scuttling over on its spidery robotic legs. It unfolded its collecting unit, boxed the the squirrel up, and brought it back. Naturally, when we reached the house, my son took possession of the beast and carried it down to the secret lab.

I had meant to oversee his work, but my assistant, Cara stopped me on the way in. Apparently the Crypto-Zookeeper was having trouble with some sort of fungal outbreak. It didn't turn out to be terribly difficult to resolve, but these things do have a way of getting out of hand if you don't deal with them immediately. So it wasn't until a bit later that I was able to catch up with my son.

The squirrel had not only survived its experience, it was moving around and chittering quietly in a brand-new cage at one end of the Mortal Sciences Laboratory. My son was happy to see the beast restored to life, awareness, and energy; and for my part, I was pleased by the sophistication of the repairs he had made to it. Cybernetic limbs are tricky to manage on a human scale; for something the size of a squirrel, it requires a precisely calculated design, and delicate touch during the augmentation. He'd managed it, though: a tiny metal foreleg, fully articulated and under the beast's control (through a liquid crystal neural interface, he tells me; not terribly novel, but there's something to be said for using a classic approach, and the small scale was still impressive). He'd also reinforced the spine, using a nano-mesh sheath to hold everything together without any loss of flexibility.

I asked him why he hadn't gone for a full cybernetic conversion, and he said: "Well, then it wouldn't be cute and fluffy anymore." Definitely sensitive. He added some additional reasons, though: in its current condition, it could still live on its regular diet, it wouldn't have to re-learn balance and movement, and the odds of it going completely insane and trying to kill us were much lower. And I must admit, those are all valid points. It's just that I'm quite certain that for my son they ranked considerably lower than "cute and fluffy".

This would all be nothing more than an amusing anecdote, another milestone in my son's development that I could chuckle over with my colleagues and perhaps even share with the boy's mother, except... Well, one of the neighbors stopped me yesterday. (I was collecting the mail, and she was walking her dog.) She asked me if I'd been having any trouble with, yes, squirrels. I explained that I had not, and asked after what sorts of troubles she had in mind. She told me that a squirrel had chewed its way into her attic, but apparently she was far from the only one having difficulty with them.

Our neighborhood, it seems, has been infested with a new and hardy breed of squirrels. They're every bit as fast and agile as regular squirrels, or close enough; but they've begun to chew through vinyl siding, sheets of tin, and one of those metal no-kill cages that our local Animal Services department loans out to people who need to get rid of pests. One neighbor, a fellow up the street, swears that he ran over one of the animals -- it darted out in front of his car, as squirrels sometimes do -- and it shrugged off the impact, bit clean through the tire, and then zipped up a nearby tree... where it sat and threw acorns at his head (with, apparently, somewhat alarming accuracy) while he tried to change the flat tire.

They aren't hostile (yet), but they're definitely a nuisance. I fear my son has been at it again, and I'll have to ask him what he's done when I get my time with him this weekend.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

You know what? Let's toss up a Bible verse.

Exodus 22:21 - "Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt."

Seems like this one could use a signal boost.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Legal Affairs Department of the United States Treasury...

...Does not exist. Let me just get that out of the way first: there is no such thing as the Legal Affairs Department of the U.S. Treasury.

I mention this because I came home the other night to find a message on our answering machine from a "Sharon Martin", who -- in an accent so palpably thick that I honestly couldn't tell whether it was Indian or Jamaican -- claimed to be representing the Legal Affairs Department of the Treasury, and to be giving notice of a legal action being initiated against {Beautiful Wife's first name}. She then a gave a phone number, and suggested that if we were unable to call ourselves, we should have our attorney call them. It is, in other words, a message that was purpose-built to scare the living &*^% out of people.

Admittedly, it would have been a lot more terrifying if I hadn't had to play it back three times before I could manage to decipher the woman's accent.

Still, since this is the sort of stress that none of us need in our lives - especially at this time of year - and since the scam must work at least some of the time (or else they wouldn't be using it), I'd just like to point out a few warning signs that you should keep in mind if you get a call like this:
1. There's no such thing as the Department of Legal Affairs of the U.S. Treasury. Did I mention that?
2. Even if there were, the Treasury is not responsible for collecting taxes.
3. Legitimate legal notifications do not come from random strangers phoning you up, no matter how stern or authoritative they might sound. The legal system and the federal government are both inordinately fond of paperwork. Calling people up, not so much.
4. Even if you actually owe the government money, they will not demand that you pay it right this minute, or else LEGAL ACTION. No, not even in Obama's America. Despite what some people apparently like to believe, Teh Gummint doesn't work that way. They will have sensible methods to accept payments, which will not involve things like wire transfers or asking for your credit card number.
There seems to be quite a lot of this going around, so be warned and be wary.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A scam within a scam...

So, every once in a while I'll post a little public-service message about some scam or other. For example: This is a Scam. Usually this is because I've run into the thing myself.

However, every once in a while I'm reminded of one of those older posts because someone... well... comments on them:

Yes. That.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nietzche For The New World

"'Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.' Friedrich Nietzsche said that. It's good advice; anyone in the business'll tell you so. But when your best weapons against them are your claws and fangs, when your life depends on cunning and rage, when you barely even know what you're capable of, or whether it's you or the power in control, well... Freddy, old boy, that's easier said than done."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Beyond These Walls 03b

"That seems... less than completely honorable," said Miledha, when Roberr had finished telling her about the voices he'd heard in the night -- the voices that almost certainly had not been a dream.

Roberr shrugged. "Scouting and even spying are acceptable under a truce. I have some of our men out scouting the enemy -- for all the good that will do us -- and I'm sure they have their own scouts watching us."

Miledha frowned. "What happens if your scouts stumble into their scouts?"

"They look embarrassed and back away," he said. "The terms of a truce forbid fighting, and scouts aren't given the authority to negotiate, so that's really about all they can do. Magic doesn't really change that; they can look, but they can't attack."

Miledha grunted. That seemed like the sort of thing that would only work if everyone followed the same rules, but she didn't say so. People, she'd found, tended to get upset when she pointed out that even their most treasured customs were arbitrary and negotiable. "Well... the Shadir adepts aren't subtle. They probably didn't do anything especially clever; they probably just called up enough power to push through the protections in the walls." She paused, thinking. "That's probably why it woke you up, and why you could hear them. If I'd done it, you'd never have known I was listening."

Miledha had a brief moment to realize that she probably shouldn't have said that she could spy on Roberr; that was exactly the sort of thing that nobles tended to find threatening, but the words had come out before she could stop them. That's what I get for thinking out loud, she thought.

Roberr didn't react to that, though. Instead, he frowned thoughtfully. "You could spy on the Westerners without their knowing it?"

He wants them as much as I do, she realized, and found herself unaccountably relieved. And he trusts me, at least a little.

"Yes," she said. "I know, because I have." She paused, then added: "Not today, though. I'm setting traps along the road."

He chuckled. After a moment, he said: "I'll leave you to it. I assume if you knew any way to stop them from looking in on me, you'd have said so already."

"That's... true. Unfortunately."

He wasn't bothered by the knowledge that her arts had limits, either. "Take care, then. If we haven't heard back from Boeringen by tonight..."

She nodded. "I'll be ready."

Monday, November 17, 2014

We may have to try this daycare...

Okay, so, Secondborn is perfectly happy where he is, but... well, after watching this, I'm wondering if Happy Dreams Daycare might not be a better fit, you know?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Recommendation: A Colder War

I've still got nothin' for today (though I have now had an extremely spicy lunch, so at least I can breathe through my nose again). Instead, why don't you take a look at what the Cold War might have been like... if cosmic horrors still lurked in the dark corners of our world. A Colder War by Charles Stross - go read it.


So, Firstborn woke us up at about 3:30 this morning, with a 102.something degree fever. On a related note, my sinuses are trying to kill me. For the moment, that's everything I have to say.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Bed That Saved Our Marriage

It's a well-established scientific fact that houses get smaller the longer you live in them. This is particularly true if you're the sort of people who collect books and movies, and it's doubly true if you buy the house and then have children. After eight years and two kids, we were running out of room.

The traditional, all-American answer to this sort of problem is to move to a bigger house. So we loaded a lot of our stuff into a storage unit, threw out a lot of other stuff, and started trying to get our house cleaned and ready to sell.

Unfortunately, owing to combination of the local housing market, our work schedules, and the fact that small children can un-clean things much, much faster than anybody can possibly clean them, well... Moving didn't work for us. After a year of minimal progress and increasing frustration, my beautiful wife and I hit a tipping point: this wasn't working, and we needed to do something else. Specifically, we needed to make our current house livable -- not in terms of cleanliness or structural integrity, but in terms of having enough space and having our spaces arranged in ways that we could really use and enjoy.

One of the big obstacles to this was the master bedroom. There were two major problems there. First, because of the way the room was laid out, there was essentially no way to have a bed in there that didn't block off a big chunk of the room. Second, the bed that was there... had been taken over by our two elderly cats... who shed. A lot. As a result, we didn't use that room much, and that made our house even smaller than it actually was.

In order to get that space back, we needed a bed that:
A) Could be positioned in a way that didn't intrude on the rest of the room, and
B) The cats couldn't frolic on, and
C) Would fit in a room with an eight foot ceiling, which isn't all that high.

This is where Francis Lofts & Bunks came in. They build bunk beds (or, in our case, loft beds) for grown-ups. Real grown-ups. Heavy grown-ups. And they make them in grown-up sizes: ours is a queen. Even better, you can specify the ceiling height that your bed will fit under. And you can add other nifty options as well.

The bed we ordered was a queen loft for an eight-foot ceiling. In addition to the side rail that comes with the bed by default, we added a second side rail and another guard rail for the foot of the bed. Then we added the "bookshelf" option, which goes at the head of the bed. Then we paid our money, and waited for it to arrive.

We placed the order in late June. If memory serves, the bed actually arrived in late July. We assembled it immediately. Since it's now November, we've been using it for roughly the last four months. So, with that in mind, here's my review:

The Good: Almost everything. My beautiful wife and I were able to assemble the bed the evening that it arrived. The instructions were complete and thorough. The design uses exactly the same type of screw for everything, with the exception of (I think) the rail mounts... which are exactly the same width of screw, but slightly longer. The only reason we needed more than one hex wrench was so that both of us could tighten things at the same time.

Once assembled, the bed fit our needs perfectly. It's just the right height for our low ceilings. (Did I mention we have low ceilings?) It's frighteningly sturdy -- not only is the weight limit something like 2000 pounds, it doesn't move. I roll over, it doesn't move. I climb up the ladder and drop onto the mattress in a discombobulated heap of exhausted flesh, and it doesn't move. I swear, if we're ever caught in an earthquake, I am hiding under that bed. It's the strongest, most stable thing in the whole house. My beautiful wife has set up a little office-and-relaxation area under it, so that's more space that we get to use. The cats can't get up the ladder -- so far -- so the sheets aren't dirty mere minutes after we put them on. There's enough room on top of the bed to sit up or move around, and shelf makes a nice spot for alarm clocks, books, a flashlight, and a box of Kleenex.

It's also a very good-looking piece of furniture. We went with the black coloration, and it's... sleek. It's built of aluminum, so despite its stability there's nothing bulky or oversized about it. We haven't managed to get anything messy on it, but I think you could clean just about anything off it using just a washcloth and some warm water. The shelf at the head of the bed is basically just a shaped sheet of aluminum, but it works. It even has a small hole in the center, in case you want to run an electric cord up to (or down from) the lower shelf.

The Bad: The delivery was "curb-side service". To be clear (and fair), this was explained during the ordering process. That said, what happened was that the delivery trucked pulled up, set the entire collection of boxes in the street next to the curb, and squealed away -- probably with a cartoonish curl of smoke from the tires. Fortunately, one of the neighbors helped my beautiful (and strong) wife carry the boxes into the house.

Second, the instructions (while complete and thorough, as I said already) were a little less obvious than they could have been. Admittedly, if I'd sat down and read all the way through them before we started the project, I would have avoided a couple of "Oops, back up, we need to rearrange this" moments. (We were both in a hurry to start using the new bed, though, so we leapt straight into the assembly phase of the project.)

Third, while I think it could be assembled by a single person (given a certain amount of planning and patience), it's definitely a two-person job, and there are points where having a third person probably would have helped. That isn't so much a complaint as a consideration, though, since I can't think of any decent-sized piece of furniture that's actually, y'know, easy for one person to assemble alone.

Finally, the book shelf doesn't have sides. (Again, this is perfectly clear from the Francis Bunks site, if you even glance at the pictures before you order.) So if you're actually going to keep a row of books on them, you'll want book ends. Yes, this is the only other thing I can think of that might sort of vaguely qualify as a complaint, hypothetically. I'm just going to point out that since both my beautiful wife and I mostly read on our Kindles, it hasn't been an issue at all.

The Ugly: Nothing. Not a thing. The bed looks nice, works beautifully, and has gone a long way towards giving us back the master bedroom (probably a full fifth of our house). No, it isn't the only thing we've done, but it's been a huge part of the process. It might not have actually saved our marriage... but then again, it might have.

As far as I can see, the only potential problem is that with the cats gone, the boys may try to take over the bed:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fun, Random Dreams

I'm still not getting as much sleep as I should be - not as much as I need, I think.

So, yeah: I was at a sort of resort, and there was a girl, and we went swimming. I don't think there was anything romantic involved, though I wasn't married (or quite as old as I actually am) in the dream. Anyway, there was a lake outside of the resort, so we went down to the beach and went swimming.

I've dreamed about this resort before. It isn't quite the same - sometimes the resort buildings are the elaborate part, sometimes it's the lake itself with all its little islands, and in this case it was actually the little town on the far shore. (There weren't any docks this time around, and it was possible to swim all the way across, so maybe it wasn't the same resort... but it felt like the same resort.)

The town on the far shore was actually in another country; the lake was, I guess, on the border between two countries. I remember thinking that that was probably how the resort defended itself against accusations of helping people escape the country: it was such an obvious escape route that nobody would use it.

Anyway, we swam across, and sure enough there was a little customs office on the shore. (Though it was closed at that time of night - did I mention we were swimming at night?) So the next thing I know, I'm wandering around town looking for a place to put on dry clothes, and talking to a pair of older women who were trying to fix up their farm after a freeze had cracked the well. By this point, I'm pretty sure that at least one of them was the aunt of the girl I was with. There was going to be a festival the next day, and they were trying to get ready for that, too, but they were very nice to me.

That's when my alarm went off.

I don't think there was any particular point to the dream, but it's a nice setting and I'll have to work it into something, someday.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day, it seems...

...Let's have poetry to mark the occasion.
Warning: this is all going to be very, very depressing.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beyond These Walls 02b

Roberr had just reached the porch when Miledha emerged from the barracks. The courtyard was still dark, but the first light of dawn was just touching the high corner towers of the inner keep. The morning shift of guards had gathered in front of Shift-Captain Dorell, not quite in formal rows but not quite a disordered mob, either.

He couldn't think of a clever greeting, so he just spoke her name: "Miledha."

She yawned. "These guards of yours get up early," she said.

Roberr grinned. "You look like one of them," he said. "Except for the hair. And a sword-belt, you'd need a sword-belt."

"Not for me," she said. "Though I was going out to help them."

"Oh?" He wasn't sure what he'd expected Miledha to be doing, but helping with the earthworks definitely wasn't it.

"Traps," she said, "along the road."

"Ah." That made more sense. "Good plan." He paused, considering, then said: "Can you set them so they won't respond to small groups? If the Shadir send another messenger..."

Miledha blinked and tilted her head. "Yes, that would be a problem..." She trailed off, then nodded to herself. "It'll be more difficult, but yes: I can do it."

Roberr grinned again. "I'll look forward to seeing the results. First, though, I need your help with something..."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

NaNoWriFAIL Addendum

So, it turns out that my writing speed increases drastically when I'm not being asked about Lego Star Wars, getting ice water with a straw and a lid, or being assaulted with toy lightsabers. This should surprise exactly nobody.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo, mainly because there's no way I can do that which wouldn't result in my entire family turning feral and scavenging through the neighborhood for food and clean clothing, before returning to the foul nest that our house had become.

But, if I were participating, here's what my numbers would look like:
Total time spent writing: Two Hours, Forty-Five Minutes.
Total Writing Accomplished: A section title and four paragraphs, totaling 249 words.
Seriously, it has taken me over two hours to produce four paragraphs.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Sartorial Speed of Sheep

"Okay, Firstborn," I said, "You need to get dressed."

"He's already wearing shorts and a shirt," my wife pointed out. She was right; he was sitting on the floor of his room, wearing shorts and a shirt, and playing with his Minecraft toys.

"Yes," I said, "but those are the same clothes he was wearing at school yesterday... and while he was helping my change your tire last night. He needs something clean." (Last night was a bit... busy.)

"Oh," said the Beautiful Woman.

"Change your clothes, Firstborn," I finished. I waited for a few moments, then added: "Did you hear me?"

Firstborn reached for the Minecraft sheep figurine and picked it up.

My wife reiterated: "Firstborn, did you hear your--"

"Oka-a-a-a-a-y" baa-ed the sheep.

I blinked. "Child, if I get out of the shower and find that the sheep is dressed for school and you aren't... rocks fall, everybody dies."

I swear, the things I never could have imagined myself saying before I became a parent...

Fortunately, both the sheep and Firstborn himself were dressed and ready to go when I got out of the shower.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Great Weapons: Beyond These Walls 01b

This replaces the original opening for Beyond These Walls (which is Chapter 2 of The Great Weapons -- which is, obviously, a working title, because yeah). My basic outline is still intact, it's just a question of getting through this section without A) getting too caught up in details, or B) writing myself into a corner.

Miledha woke early, feeling more rested than she had any right to. The sleeping area at the back of the barracks was broken into small cells, each with four bunks and four lockers. There wasn't room to do much more than sleep, but then there didn't need to be; there was a common room at the front of the building, and a covered porch outside. The older guard, Ishua, had pointed her to an empty bunk, and handed her a blanket. She didn't actually remember closing her eyes.

She pushed her blanket back and swung her legs off the bunk. Across from her, one of the guards -- a girl only a couple of years older than herself -- blinked sleepily and asked, "Are those the only clothes you have?"

Miledha shrugged. "I had a travel pack, but I lost it."

"Ah," said the guard. She turned and opened the locker at the foot of her bed. It was solidly built; all the woodwork here was. "I have some pants, and an extra tunic. You look like you're about my size."

"That's..." Miledha hesitated. She'd been about to refuse, but that was more reflex than sense. Her skirt and blouse needed washing, and the guard's outfit would be more practical if she had to do any sort of running or climbing. "Yes, that would be helpful. Thank you."

The guard smiled. "I'm Kierna."

"Miledha," she replied, and the guard bobbed her head with a quick Oh, I knew that already motion that made her look almost shy.

None of the guards had been at all hesitant about changing their clothes back here, so Miledha stood up between the bunks and stripped off her blouse and her skirt. She pulled the pants up and adjusted the ties so they sat comfortably, then slid the tunic down over her head.

"Not bad," said Kierna, as she buckled her sword-belt on over her tunic. "Why don't you hold onto those? I'm not likely to need anything but regulation wear any time soon. And you can leave your own clothes on the bunk. Nobody will touch them."

"...Thank you," said Miledha, again.

Another woman appeared in the doorway: Ishua, the older guard who had led Miledha to the empty bunk. "You ready, Kierna?" she asked. "Shift-Captain wants to say something inspiring before we go out to do make-work."

Kierna nodded. "Yeah, I'll come be inspired."

Miledha felt she should say something, but Ishua had already disappeared down the hall and Kierna was ducking out the door after her. Miledha took another moment to adjust the tunic, then pulled on her boots. She ran a hand through her hair, a mass of black curls that was probably tangled and lopsided after the night's sleep, and wished she had something to tie it back with. Oh, well. If I'm going to be doing witcheries today, at least I'll look the part.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dad Metal

This is one of those things that's such an incredibly great joke that it really should exist...

Monday, November 3, 2014

So, how's your apocalypse?

I have a writing project[1] that I tend to come back to around this time of year. It has a pretty good opening scene, but I've never made it much past that; I don't know how to tie the rest of it together. But since I don't have anything else this morning, and since that's hovering around the back of my mind, I'm just going to toss it out here as a question: What are you doing as the world ends? Answer as much or as little as you'd like. Fill in whatever details you need - what kind of apocalypse? Who are you? What's happening? Make it as autobiographical or as completely fictional as you'd like.

[1] That's a technical term for "a novel I will never finish".

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Unreal Estate VII (Epilogue)

Four days later, Adelle was sitting in her office. She'd finally gotten Steve on the phone, and was savoring the disbelief in his voice. "That's right," she said. "Sold. At our asking price. Yes."

On the other side of her desk, Damon Petrovich smiled and raised an eyebrow.

"He's taking possession today. And, Steve? I quit." She smiled. "...Yes. Well, yes, I suppose I did get a better offer, but mainly I think it's time for me to move on, maybe do some traveling. Emily can keep things in order for another day or two; she has access to your calendar, and she can email you if anything serious comes up. You may be a bit busy when you get back, but I'm sure you'll survive." She paused, listening. "No, Steve. I'm really quitting. Right now, in fact. It's been nice knowing you."

She hung up the phone before he could reply, and turned to look at Damon. "That's it," she said, and took one last look around the room. It felt strange to be here; the chair was far too large for her, and the phone felt comically oversized in her hand. She hopped down from the chair and came around the desk; her eyes were level with its top. It was very, very strange to look at the world from down here.

Her flesh rippled, a line of darkness running up her arm before she got it back under control.

Damon slipped off his chair and offered her his arm. "Shall we?"

Smiling, she slipped her arm through his and walked with him out the door.

Unreal Estate VI

"The body you burned," he said, "her name was Tisilosh, which is something akin to Amber here in this world. She was part of the search, but we never heard back from her. We never knew what became of her, until now."

"We?" asked Adelle.

Damon Petovich hesitated, then said: "We are travelers, explorers. There was an accident, a very long time ago, and some of us were trapped here. Our people sent a rescue craft, but... it has taken us a very long time to find it. We have had to pretend to be native to this world in order to survive... and we have not always succeeded. You owe many of your darker legends to us."

"This house?" asked Adelle. "It's not haunted? It's a spaceship?"

Damon chuckled. "Not space. Still, broadly speaking, yes." He held up a hand. "It would please me to do this correctly. We will bid on this house, and you will act as our representative. Then, when it is no longer your problem, it will be as if this house was never here."

"All right," said Adelle. "Make me an offer. On behalf of my boss, I'll accept it. It'll take a few days to get everything in order and sign the contract, but if you're buying it outright then that should be fine. More than anything else, Steve wants to be rid of this place."

"And you?" asked Damon Petrovich. "Forgive me for intruding, but you don't seem happy here: in your job, in your life, in this world. You will be honored as our rescuer; you could come with us. It would require some... changes... to your body, but those are things that could be done easily before we leave."

Adelle wavered. "Let's just settle the house, for now."

Damon nodded. "Very well," he said.

Unreal Estate V

The kitchen was everything the ballroom was not: dark, grim, crowded with the hulking shapes of antique stoves and ovens, obscured by hanging racks of cooking utensils. Adelle found the light switch, but half the overheads were burned out, and the other half flickered and buzzed with the complaints of elderly florescent bulbs. They obscured as much as they revealed.

"I'm pretty sure this was where we lost the young couple," she said. "They were the ones I mentioned earlier, the ones who loved the idea of living in a haunted house, and found this one. They stayed the night, and then they... vanished. Didn't call us back, didn't answer their phone, didn't anything. Steven eventually tracked them out California, but they wouldn't say what had happened. Wouldn't speak to us at all, in fact."

"I see," said Damon Petrovich. He was barely tall enough to see over the stoves, but he stood straight and looked around, assessing but not afraid.

"I'm not sure you do," said Adelle. "Steve sent me back out here to see what had become of them. I checked through the house, by myself, and found nobody. There were a few things in one of the bedrooms -- a sleeping bag, a tooth brush, and a battery-powered alarm clock -- but no people. I was absolutely certain they'd left, and I was alone... except for the house, of course. So I kept looking, and I came down here to the kitchen. And right there..." She pointed to one of the islands, not so much a counter as a heavy wooden chopping block with cabinets underneath. "...I found..." She shrugged. "I don't know. Parts of it were covered with black fur. Parts of it were smooth, hard but flexible, like an insect. Chitin. I looked it up, later.

"...My boss wouldn't let me report it. He told me to haul it up to the fire pit out back and burn it." She shook her head. "So there's no record of it. I can't prove what I saw. But it was right there."

Damon Petrovich blinked. "Are you loyal to your boss, Ms. Terfield?"

Adelle shook her head, confused by the change of subject. What was he asking? "Steve... he isn't a nice guy. He thinks he is, but he isn't." That was too honest, but she couldn't seem to stop. She'd committed herself to telling everything about the house, and somehow that had grown into a willingness to tell everything. "He's calculating and manipulative, and I'm sure that that's why he gave me a job eight years ago. My husband had just left me, I didn't have any kids to look after, and I'm sure he took one look at me and knew that I'd throw everything I had into my work." She looked away, into the shadows of the empty kitchen. "I still owe him for it."

Damon Petrovich nodded gravely. "I see. Ms. Terfield, I know this is going to seem a very odd question, but... did you do it? Did you burn the body, here on this ground?"

Still frowning, Adelle met his eyes. Grief, confusion, worry -- she couldn't seem to sort out the tangle of emotions behind her sternum. "Yes," she said. "I did."

Damon Petrovich closed his eyes and lowered his head. "It is well," he said. "It is well."

"What?" asked Adelle. "What is well? What do you know about... about all this?"

"Miss Adelle," he said. "I told you that I was interested in seeing a haunted house. That was... not entirely true. I have been looking for a house -- this house. I have been looking for it for a very long time." He paused considering her for a long moment: she nearly twice his height, with dark skin and black hair carefully and thoroughly tamed to look professional. "Miss Adelle, can you keep a secret? As a condition of my agreement to purchase this place?"

"Of course," she said.

Unreal Estate IV

They climbed the steps together, crossed the wooden porch with only the faintest creak of wood beneath their feet, and stepped into the wide front entry. It was large enough for a game of football, but the floor was polished wood and doubtless had been intended as a ballroom. At the far end, a wide stair climbed to a balcony that overlooked the room and opened onto both wings of the second floor.

Adelle glanced at the ornate stone fireplaces, but saw nothing: no hint of movement, no cooling embers, no ashy footprints leading to or from them. She turned her eyes to the pictures, dark-eyed patriarchs and stern matriarchs, all seated stiffly and regarding the room with a mixture of disapproval and rigid dignity. There was nothing there, either; no hint of movement; not even the usual itchy sense of being watched. She frowned, puzzled.

Her client seemed to share something of her reaction. "You said the place was haunted?" he inquired politely.

She looked at him suspiciously, but he wore politeness like a mask; his stance and expression showed mild curiosity, but she couldn't read anything behind it. "Mr. Petrovich," she said, and then cut herself off. She was not going to tell him what it had been like the last time she was here, or what she'd found when she came to see why the young couple had never called them back. Besides, he'd seen the front doors open on their own; he had to know that there was something unusual about this place. So instead she took a breath, and then said: "Why don't we just look the place over, and see what happens?"

"Of course," he said. "Humor me, though, and tell me why you call the place haunted. We can walk as you explain."

Adelle sighed. "I suppose we can," she said, "but we don't have to go far. Steve -- my boss, who owns the house -- once told me that the first person he brought here turned and ran away not three steps inside the door. When he caught up with her outside, she swore she'd seen a shadowy figure dragging a... a struggling woman up one of the chimneys. She wouldn't go back inside. Those pictures on the walls? People say they feel like the pictures are watching them. I've felt it myself, though I suppose it could be just imagination."

"Go on," said Damon Petrovich. His voice was gentle, coaxing.

Adelle started walking. "Several people reported feeling a... presence," she continued. "Something watching them, something reaching for them. I've felt that myself... just a few minutes ago, in fact. One man insisted that something in the house kept brushing against him, but I haven't ever felt that -- thank God. One time, Steve was trying to show this place, and he kept hearing someone moving in nearby rooms, or overhead. It made him half-crazy -- I think he thought that some vagrant was living here, hiding from him, and spoiling his chances of making the sale. He searched for maybe four hours and never found anyone, or any sign of anyone. Just sounds. Somewhere in there, the clients got freaked out and left. Steve didn't leave until it started getting dark outside." She paused, still walking, remembering what he'd said about that. After a time she asked: "Would you like to see the family rooms, the kitchens, or the servants' quarters first?"

"The kitchens, I think," said Damon Petrovich. He sounded uncertain, but Adelle was committed. She was going to tell him everything she remembered, and he would either buy the place, call her a fraud, or run screaming like everyone else had. For a moment, she was completely, irrationally angry: at Steve, for leaving her saddled with this; at Damon, for taking an interest in it; at herself, for being fool enough to come out here again; at the house itself, for being such an utter, unrelenting, terrifying pain in the ass.

"This way," she said, and led him around the stairs, and through the discreet door towards the back of the house.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Music: Do I Want To Know?

Okay, so... by Herculean efforts last night, I have completed Firstborn's Halloween costume. So colossal were these efforts that I went to bed immediately afterwards. I'm hoping to get the rest of Unreal Estate written tonight, but for the moment, I'm just going to throw up some music.

Arctic Monkeys:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Unreal Estate III

The drive to the front door was what Adelle thought of as a Classic Haunted House Approach: through the high stone pillars, past the heavy iron gates, then up a winding gravel drive between dark, twisted trees whose overhanging branches blotted out the sky and reached down to clutch at the passing cars. She occasionally caught glimpses of the rest of the acreage through the trees: overgrown, but never completely wild; just as the stone wall that surrounded the estate somehow managed to be derelict and run down without ever actually being ruined.

The house was cast from the same mold: despite its decrepit appearance -- a few missing shingles here, a broken window there, the steps and floorboards prone to creaking, and vines crawling over half of it -- it was fundamentally solid, a dark and brooding presence overlooking its environs. Adelle slowed as they reached the circle at the end of the drive, and stopped her car between the broken fountain in the center of the circle and the front steps.

She opened the door and stepped out quickly, scanning the windows. Was that a flash of movement on the second floor? By the time she focused, it was gone. She glanced back, but saw nothing in the fountain (just empty stone, overgrown with the remains of a rose garden), and immediately turned her attention back to the house. She couldn't shake the feeling that she was being watched, that something was approaching, just behind her...

Damon Petrovich stepped out of his car, and the house... went still. Adelle glanced around, startled and confused. The house hadn't been moving, of course it hadn't been moving, but that sense of something lurking had suddenly retreated; and the feeling the house was somehow gathering itself suddenly receded. For a moment, it was just a big, old, somewhat battered house.

Then the doors swung open.

"I'm curious," said Damon Petrovich. "Would you consider than an invitation?"

"I... I don't know," said Adelle, genuinely puzzled. Then her voice turned grim. "If it is, it's a probably an invitation that to some special unpleasantness that it's been saving especially for me."

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cello Wars: The Jedi Music Duels

For this morning, I got nothin'. So, here: have a little slice of somebody else's awesome:

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Music: Heaven Knows

The Pretty Reckless:
(Caution: the video isn't work-safe -- or church-safe, for that matter. Might be better to listen to it without watching the video in any case, but then I think that about a lot of music.)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

In which Secondborn inherits my musical tastes

So, we just came back from the grocery store, and I had my Halloween mix playing in the car, and Secondborn is now roaming around the house singing "Pwiests and cannibals, Pwehistowic animals..."

This, ladies and gentlemen, this is my child.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Math Facts 2

Another homemade worksheet which Firstborn can use for his weekly "Math Facts". Again, if you're a parent in a similar situation (i.e. trying to figure out how to do math facts for thirty minutes a week with your video-game-obsessed third grader) feel free to steal this for your own use.

1. In order to create a Grail Of Bubbly Power, you will need 8 silver ore. You will also need twice that much copper ore, and half that much gold ore. How many total pieces of ore will you need to make this item?

2. Your Claptrap unit has been attacked by 7 Scavs. You activate vaulthunter.exe and receive a buzz axe. The buzz axe will take care of 2 Scavs every second. How many seconds will it take for you to get rid of the scavs?

3. Vexx needs 35 wraith-hearts to open the portal to the shadow world so that he can defeat Dark Yabu. If each realm contains 5 wraith-hearts, how many realms will Vexx need to explore before he can open the portal?

4. Laval fell asleep when he was supposed to be guarding the Lion Temple. While he was sleeping, 2 wolves, 4 ravens, and 3 crocodiles snuck into the temple. Each intruder took 3 balls of chi. How many chi balls are missing because of Laval?

5. Texas has been overrun by a plague of zombie chickens. Fortunately, after reading Professor Egalitan’s Comprehensive Guide to Unlikely Undead Beings (Volume 7), you realize that zombie chickens can be satisfied with stalks of wheat or barley. (Zombie chickens: "Grains. Graaaaains…") There are 36 zombie chickens in your neighborhood. Half of them require 5 grains every night; the other half require four grains every night. How many grains will you need each night to keep the zombie chickens from turning on innocent humans?

6. A vampire moves into an apartment building. Each night, he drinks somebody’s blood, and that person turns into a vampire, who also begins drinking people’s blood and turning them into vampires. (So, on the first night, Dracula drinks Alice’s blood. On the second night, Dracula and Alice go out and drain Bob and Bill, turning them into vampires also. On the third night, Dracula, Alice, Bob, and Bill all go out and drain people. This is called a "geometric progression".) How long will it take before all 32 people in the apartment building are vampires?

Music: Everything Stops For Tea

Professor Elemental:

This could be my theme song.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Being a Grown-Up Sucks, part 576

We put one of the cats down last night. He was fifteen years old (which is a full life for a cat), and he'd been adopted by The Beautiful Woman back when he was a kitten, in the days when we just dating (and still professing that it was just a fling and would never go anywhere). When we took him in to the vet today, he was little more than skin and bones, except for his abdomen; his abdomen was little more than tumor. He was still eating, and still drinking his water, but he'd started having trouble getting up and down from things... or even standing up, sometimes. He'd also started... not quite meowing, but making a sort of puzzled mew that suggested that he was kind of uncomfortable and wasn't entirely sure why.

I never know how to call these things. I don't think anybody does. We could maybe have kept him alive longer than we did (but you never know). On the other hand, I think he would have been sliding from "uncomfortable" to "miserable" by imperceptibly tiny degrees (but you never know). Or he might have gone a few more days and then keeled over on his own (but you never know).

I do know that he spent the last two months eating wet cat food and being fussed over, both of which he very much enjoyed. I know he snuggled with my wife and the boys, and that a lot of what our boys know about how to treat animals they learned through him. For all that cats are supposed to be imperious and indifferent, he was very much an affectionate and involved member of the family. He will definitely be missed.

We've done the best we could for him. I hope we've done right.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gandalf's advice to students

We have these conversations...

Secondborn: {Clicking tongs open and closed: click-click-click-click...}

Me: Secondborn, what are you doing?

Secondborn: Dey are getting weady to eat you.

Me: That's what I was afraid of...

Secondborn: {Chomps my neck with the tongs.} Dey are eating you.

Me: I knew that was coming.

Secondborn: {Runs off clicking the tongs: click-click-click...}

Twenty seconds later...

Me: Secondborn, your sandwich is ready. Get back in here. And stop eating your brother.

Me: (to myself) I knew that was coming, too.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Secondborn has opinions about counting

Someday, when he's a teenager, I will show him this image again. I'm sure he will thank me for it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Unreal Estate II

Damon Petrovich wasn't at all what Adelle had expected. His voice had given the impression of a somewhat older man, probably portly and definitely genteel. In the flesh, Mr. Petrovich turned out to be slender, well-formed, and extremely petite - not much over four feet tall. He climbed out of his car (a black Honda sedan which struck her as studiously anonymous) and stood looking up at her, unabashed by the difference in their heights. "Ms. Terfield?" He wore a black suit, with a patterned tie and a light blue shirt that matched his eyes.

"Call me Adelle," she replied automatically, with her best professional smile. She offered a hand, and he (of course) took it rather than shaking it. His lips didn't quite brush her knuckles.

"Indeed," he said, "and you must call me Damon."

"Yes, well, Damon, I'd like to warn you now that whatever we find in this house, it isn't anything I've done and it isn't any sort of joke that I, or Better Real Estate, are party to." She was watching for his reaction, but his expression didn't change: bright, penetrating curiosity radiated from an angular, adult face.

"If I may ask," he said after a moment, "what is it you expect to find?"

"I wish I knew," said Adelle. "I've only been out here twice before. My boss wound up owning this place early in his career -- he was just making a name for himself, and he was running one of those 'If We Can't Sell It, We'll Buy It' deals. It looked like a great deal, but it's..." She trailed off.

"Haunted?" asked Damon.

"Haunted," Adelle agreed. "Nobody will buy it. The closest we've ever come was a young couple who loved the idea of living in a haunted house. They stayed the night to try it out, and after that... we never heard from them again. Steve -- my boss -- did some checking, and found that they'd decided to move to California instead."

"Interesting," said Damon. He was looking at the gates: heavy black iron, mounted on stone pillars; the high stone wall that surrounded the property disappeared into a tangle of overgrown bushes in both direction. "No tragic history? No murders? No mysterious deaths?"

Okay, maybe he was a writer or an artist, or at least someone with a hobbyist's interest in the supernatural. "Almost no history at all," Adelle admitted. "We couldn't even find a date when it was built. It must be fairly modern -- it has indoor plumbing, running water, and electricity -- but we have no building permits, and no records of when any of that was built, or added on. This area wasn't incorporated until the sixties, but the county should still have records of something. The earliest record Steve could find showed that Alder Campbell inherited the place from someone named Dominique LeClerque, in nineteen fifty-two. Dominique's ownership of the place was either already well established, or taken for granted."

"Well," said Damon Petrovich, "perhaps it's only waiting for the right sort of owner. If you would, Adelle?"

Adelle nodded her consent, and went to unlock the gates.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Firstborn and the Meat Loaf

Me: "I remember everything. I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday. I was barely seventeen, and I once killed a man with a Fender guitar. I don't remember if it was a Telecaster or a Statocaster--"

Firstborn: "Then you don't remember everything."

Me: "Noticed that, did you? Yeah, I don't think Meat Loaf is exactly a reliable narrator."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Math Worksheet for 3rd Grade

One of the things that has been visited upon us as Firstborn makes his way through Third Grade is the concept of "Math Facts". Apparently, we're supposed to spend half an hour each week going over "math facts". I dunno, maybe they think we own flash cards or something. Mostly, we've been trying to do the sorts of things we see in his homework, except on a more ad hoc basis. I, however, am just about as bored with that as Firstborn is. So, in an effort to make things a bit more interesting, I've created a worksheet. If you're a parent in roughly the same position, feel free to nick it for your own use.
1. A Gunzerker, a Commando, and a Siren follow a stolen power core to a bandit camp. The Commando takes care of 9 bandits. The Siren takes care of 14 bandits. The Gunzerker takes care of 12 bandits. The Commando also tosses out 2 turrets. Each turret takes care of the same number of bandits as the Gunzerker did. When they are done, all the bandits are gone. How many bandits were in the camp? Show your work.

2. Your new, Creeper-proof tower is 8 blocks wide and 12 blocks deep. How many blocks will it take to fill in the floor?

3. In Terraria, your Super-Mystic Ebony Blaster-Wand deals 15 damage every time it hits. If the Eye of Cthulhu has 128 hit points, how many times will you have to hit the Eye of Cthulhu in order to defeat it? Show your work.

4. You have finished your homework and done your chores. You now have 35 minutes to watch YouTube videos. If every video on your favorite channel is 7 minutes long, how many videos can you watch before it's time to go to bed?

5. Speaking of YouTube videos, which will take the longest to watch?
‭ 3 videos which each last 11 minutes
‭ 2 videos which each last 15 minutes
‭ 5 videos which each last 7 minutes
‭Show your work.

‭6. Your new life-form in Spore has 4 arms, each of which has 4 claws. How many creatures will you need in order to have 48 claws? Show your work.

I'll let you know how that works out for us.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Just in time for Halloween: Jack

I know I've put this up before, but we're approaching Halloween and it's one of my favorite (extremely short) horror films.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Halloween in the Ancient Days

A small look back at my youth. I can't remember whether I specified "dinosaur" or "Godzilla", but I think the little tangle of yarn was meant to be fire -- so probably Godzilla.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Unreal Estate I

Adelle Terfield picked up the ringing phone and said, with practiced cheerfulness, "Good morning, you've reached Better Real Estate. How can we help you today?"

The voice on the phone was male, gentle, and faintly accented. "Good morning. I'd like to see the haunted house."

Adelle frowned, then smoothed the expression away. "What haunted house?" she asked politely.

"It's an advertisement on Craigslist," the voice said helpfully. "Genuinely haunted house, just an hour outside of town, could be yours for less than half its estimated value. There's a picture -- it looks a bit decrepit and overgrown -- and then it continues: Contact Better Real Estate for details. It ends with this phone number. I do hope it isn't some sort of joke, as I'd very much like to see the place."

Of course it's a joke, thought Adelle. Steve wouldn't... She hesitated. Oh, yes, he would, replied a nasty little voice in the back of her mind. This close to Halloween? While he just happens to be on a two-week vacation in Italy? He absolutely would have placed an ad like this. She sighed. "If it's the house I think it is," she said slowly, "then it isn't exactly a joke. Could you give me a minute or two to check?"

"Certainly, certainly." The voice remained pleasant and courteous.

She found it on her second keyword search. It was the house -- of course it was. Of course Steve would leave her to take care of that house. She punched the button to make herself audible again, and said: "I found it. It's a real property, and it really is for sale, and Better Real Estate really is representing it. More than that, actually -- we're the ones selling it."

"I'd like to see it. Today, if that's possible."

Adelle hesitated. It would serve him right if you closed up the office and took off to show that house to a potential buyer. If you somehow did manage to sell it... "I believe we can manage that. Would this afternoon work for you? Say, 2:00?"

"That would be lovely."

"Then I'll see you there, mister...?"

"Petrovich. Damon Petrovich."

"Adelle Terfield," she returned. She gave him the address and cautioned him to wait until she arrived to open the gates, then hung up the phone. Okay, then... Shaking her head in a mixture of exasperation and disbelief, she went to look for their -- or, for the moment, her -- secretary.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A link, a thought, and a flashback...

A link:

It seems that The Black Book of Children's Bible Stories will be available free for the Kindle on Wednesday and Thursday, so if you missed it last time, I'd (still) highly recommend picking it up. Come to that, I'd recommend picking it up even if you've missed getting it for free -- it's well worth the three bucks.

A thought:

One of the Bible stories touched on in The Black Book is the story of Noah's Ark -- that charming children's tale about how the truly worthy were saved by their hard work and virtue from the horrible cataclysm that wiped out everyone else. If you're somehow unfamiliar with the scriptural version, then you still might have run across one of the modern retellings of the story: Atlas Shrugged, for example. Its appeal is, I think, understandable; we've all had days where it seems like the only way to make things right would be to burn everything down and start over. (I suspect that's a large part of the fantasy appeal of Zombie Apocalypse stories, too.) The problem is... well, a problem is...

A flashback:

The end was near. We all knew it, though some still screamed denials.

I led my family down the center of the street, staying away from the sidewalks and alleys. We kept the children in the center, while the adults encircled them with weapons ready. We'd fought twice already, once with another family and once with a group of men...
Continued here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Wisdom Beyond His Meager Years

Teacher: "Is a hippopotamus a pet?"
Secondborn: "No, it's too big and it won't fit in your house."

I can haz girded loinz nao?

Ever wondered what "girding your loins" actually means? Well, it turns out there's an illustrated guide.

Ye gods, I love the Internet.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Music: Slow Knife

I have nothing for today, so have some Roadkill Ghost Choir - a band that I've taken a liking to:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

While I'm riffing on Carly Rae Jepsen...

...If there's anyone in the world who missed this, here you go. You can thank me later.

My musical genius remains unappreciated

The scene: Firstborn is doing his math homework at the kitchen table. He's in third grade, so the worksheet is focused on subtracting three-digit numbers. So, for example:

...Except that, as with so much of current mathematical teaching, the idea isn't just to get the right answer. The assignment also wants him to estimate the answer first, by rounding the ones column and doing a much simpler approximation of the problem. So:

So, if your estimate comes out to 34, and your final answer is somewhere around 340, you probably did it right. I'd make fun of it, but this is actually a good trick to know. Anyway, Firstborn is working on these problems. I, of course, am helping him out...

...By singing.
Me: "Hey, I just met you,
and this is crazy,
but here's my numbers,
so estimate me!

Just round the ones place,
Let's don't get crazy,
so here's my numbers-
just estimate me!"

Firstborn: "Stop. Just stop."

Me: "Before I knew to estimate,
my math was so hard,
my math was so hard,
Before I knew to estimate my math was so, so hard."

Firstborn: "I will sing the Minecraft version at you. Stampy has a song about his dead dog."

Me: "I'll stop."
Victory to Firstborn. I like to think I was ahead on points, though.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Blurb for a book that will never be written...

This is a story idea that popped into my head last night, and clung to me all through today -- that is, through being nauseatedly sick and into Day Two of the The Ticketing Server Upgrade From Beyond The Grave That Just Wouldn't Die. It will never be written, because I do not have the time or the focus to write books, no matter how much they appeal to me or how much I'd like to see them actually written.

...But just in case I ever do get the chance, here's the blurb -- and enough material that I could chart out the associations that have been playing round in my head all day:
Shanna woke up to find her parents dead, her sister going into shock, and her own heart... not beating. Now she has to hide her death - or fake her life - well enough to take care of her sister, come to terms with her new condition, and navigate the dangerous politics of the hidden places where the dead still walk. Some help would be welcome, but not when it comes from a mysterious benefactor who may very well be the same man who killed her... or anyone else in his household, living or dead.

There are all sorts of dead, you see, and all sorts of ways to be dead when you just aren't ready to lie still.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Am I hurting God by having a relationship with my atheist son?

This question came up in a support group recently. (I'm reproducing it here with permission.) The question was:
I'm so lost. I feel I'm dishonoring my Father in Heaven. I just want to love my son who is a devout atheist. I'd like to know am I hurting God by allowing my son to be in my home and share his feelings? I am desperate to be a good Christian and still have a relationship with him.
Here's my answer - offered, again, in the hope that it might help:

Bear in mind that I am not, myself, a Christian. Also, bear in mind that the answer to this sort of question is going to vary according to denomination, individual church, and quite possibly by whether or not the pastor has had coffee yet. So this isn't going be The Christian Answer; it's just how I look at it, based on the kind of Christianity in which I was raised.

First of all: being a Christian is about following Christ, right? Well, if there's one defining characteristic of Jesus' earthly ministry, it's that he was willing to hang out with inappropriate people. Tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars - he talked with them, ate with them, came to their homes. He didn't avoid them or keep them at a distance. He loved them where they were, and as they were.

Second, I don't think God finds human doubt or disbelief anywhere near as troubling as humans do. Yes, sure, you have the Apostle Paul talking about how God's presence and nature are completely obvious from the world around us, and unbelievers have no excuse... but this is the same guy who had to be struck down by a blast of light and spoken to sharply by the Almighty before he could recognize his Lord and Savior. I'm not sure Paul is the best one to consult on the topic. Instead, let's consider another Apostle: Thomas, Doubting Thomas, who had to touch the wounds before he could believe. Jesus didn't curse him, or rebuke him, or cast him out. He said, "How much more blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe." Thomas gets kind of a bad rap, but as far as I can see Jesus still counted him among the blessed.

Finally, there's the nature of God to consider: all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful. If He is all knowing ("to you all desires are known and from you no secrets are hid") then He understands our failures and our limitations. He understands your son's disbelief, not just the fact of it but the why of it as well. And He understands it with love and with compassion.

So, no: I don't think you're insulting God by sharing a home or maintaining a relationship with your atheist son. If God exists, and if He's anything like I was raised to believe, then I don't see how He could be offended by anything done out of love.