Friday, August 29, 2014

Music: Silent Hill Intro

Thought I was better, so I tried to do too much - and wound up sick again. ::sigh:: Apparently I need to take it easy for a while. So, instead of a real post, here's some more music: the introduction to the original Silent Hill. (If you've never played it, it was one of the spookier games of its time.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Real Parenting Conversations: What Kind of Screaming?

The scene: our house, evening. The pervasive sound of screaming and cries of woe echo from Firstborn's room. My wife calls out from the living room:

Mommy: "Firstborn! Are you in actual pain, or are you just being melodramatic?"

Firstborn: "MELODRAMATIC!"

Mommy: "Okay! Thanks!"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ah, the joys of contacting tech support

You are now chatting with 'Adobe Rep '

Adobe Rep : Hi Welcome to Adobe support. How may I help you?

Michael Mock: Is there any way to get a *complete* install file for Creative Cloud? I can't get any of it to install, and I suspect it's because our firewall is blocking some remote sites that the install package is trying to pull from.

Adobe Rep : Certainly

Adobe Rep :

Michael Mock: Is that different from the download file I have already?

Michael Mock: 'Cause I'm having a hard time believing that the entire suite can unpack from a 600 kb file without accessing remote servers.

Adobe Rep : No

Adobe Rep : CC should be downloaded and installed locally

Michael Mock: Okay, here's what happens: I download that file. I run it. I get a little window that says "Creative Cloud". Nothing shows up on the Home tab. I go over to the Apps tab, and it lists a variety of programs. I try to install one. I get an error message saying that Installation Failed.

Adobe Rep : Go To Apps

Michael Mock: Yes...

Adobe Rep : Please close all the adobe and cc Processes from the task manager if you are windows

Adobe Rep : And Activity Monitor if you are on mac

Adobe Rep : And try afgain

Adobe Rep : again*

Michael Mock: AdobeIPCBrker and Adobe CEF Helper keep restarting themselves.

Michael Mock: Ah, wait.

Michael Mock: Shutting down Creative Cloud process did it.

Adobe Rep : Ok

Adobe Rep : Now try again

Michael Mock: All right. Ran the new copy I just downloaded. Still not seeing anything but the spinning wheel on the homepage.

Michael Mock: Moving to Apps.

Adobe Rep : Ok

Michael Mock: Hitting "Install" for Photoshop CC.

Michael Mock: 0%

Michael Mock: Still 0%.

Adobe Rep : It will take time

Michael Mock: Installation Failed - Learn More.

Adobe Rep : Are you windows?

Michael Mock: "The download appears corrupted. Please try again after a few minutes. (-60)"

Michael Mock: Yes, Windows 7 - I don't think Windows is the problem, though.

Michael Mock: I think it's the firewall for our network. I think when Creative Cloud tries to go out and get install files for the apps, something is keeping it from getting the necessary files.

Michael Mock: Which brings me back to my original question: is there a way to download the entire package onto my PC, so I can install it without having to get through the firewall?

Adobe Rep : Let me get you tech support

Michael Mock: Sounds good.

Please wait while I transfer the chat to the appropriate group.

You are not currently connected to a chat representative.

Two hours. Two hours of trying to talk to these guys, while they walked through their flow chart -- which, if we'd had time to complete it, would have ended with all my Adobe CS6 programs removed, and no Adobe Creative Cloud programs to replace them.

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day of Third Grade

So, today was Firstborn's first day of school. He's now officially a Third Grader. How did this year compare with previous ones? Well, in a word, it was mellow. It was a massive struggle to get everyone going for the first day of Kindergarten. (And, man, it was still rough even a few days later.) Starting First Grade was easier, but still some work. (And, a day later, it was considerably more enthusiastic.) The first day of Second Grade was even easier, and included yet another obligatory picture.

Reading back through those entries, I'm noticing a trend: I tend to be sick and/or exhausted at this time of year. I seem to remember promising myself, somewhere around this time last year, that I'd put in for a week of vacation during the first week of school. In fact, I seem to remember making myself that promise several years in a row, and the forgetting about it every time.

Anyway, this year? Mellow. Firstborn woke himself up, so he was already up and about:

He also got himself dressed. My wife is starting her very first semester as a full-time college professor (she's been an adjunct for years), so once again she and Secondborn were able to come along and see Firstborn off.

Firstborn likes to walk on top of high things.
I don't know where he gets it from.
It's very mysterious.

Secondborn followed along; as far as I can tell, he's actually disappointed that he didn't get to start school this year.

Secondborn, also with a very mysterious love of high places.

We took the obligatory In Front Of The School shot:

...And then did one just like it with Secondborn:

He's just sure he's ready to start school.

And then the Beautiful Woman went off to drop Secondborn at his preschool/day care thing, and I went back home to be massively sick. Which, again, seems to be par for the course for this time of year.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

No Writing Progress

Bah. I'm now so thoroughly distracted from the story that I'm actually going to have to sit down and re-read everything I have so far, just in order to have any shot at continuing. (Two or three nights of solid, unbroken sleep would probably help, too.) Unfortunately, I've just finished wrestling the boys into their beds, Secondborn is sobbing loudly at the prospect of having to go to sleep, and I seriously doubt my concentration is sufficient to ignore him. Also, tomorrow morning Firstborn starts school again (so I may have pictures at some point) and my boss comes back from his conference, which means he'll want to spend an hour or so catching up on everything that he missed, and then leap into a flurry of new activities. (In his defense, at least one of those activities is a major software upgrade which we've been putting off for months now, while we waited for the software company to get something approximating a stable version of it out there.) My wife is currently in the back room, where she has spent the entire day; she's still getting her syllabi and other preparations ready for her first week of classes as a full-time professor, which starts tomorrow.

I am not looking forward to this week.

So here's the plan. I'm going to read. I'm going to attempt to write. And if that doesn't work, I'm going to set myself on fire and hit things with my buzz axe.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Okay, this is satisfying.

Here. Go read this news story. It's charming.

Still writing, I hope...

Incidentally, for anyone who's wondering what happened to the Great Weapons story, I'm still working on it. Or trying to, anyway -- like I said, this week has been a beating. I had to back up a little bit - much as I liked the flying horse-demon, the more I thought about it, the less sense it made to me. So the story is taking a slightly different turn, and I hope to get more of it up next week.

Music: And I Believe

Barely conscious. How 'bout some Cruxshadows?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Music: Roses are Red

Man, this week has been a beating. I've resolved one problem on the server upgrade, but another issue has (on further inspection) turned out to be even weirder and less consistent than it originally seemed. The Beautiful Woman is getting ready to start teaching next week, and we've started Secondborn into his preschool/daycare thing just so she can have time to get everything (orientation, syllabi, etc.) finished before classes start. I'd love to tell you that Firstborn is also getting ready to start school, but he's pretty much just floating through his week. He's been staying with his Nana or some of our friends, depending on the day. On top of that, my allergies are going insane.

So, um, music.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recommendation: Derelict Book 1

One of the online comics (over on the sidebar on the right side of blog, there) that I particularly enjoy is Derelict. I'm not sure how much I can say about it without giving away spoilers, and I really don't want to do that, because one of the things that the comic does extremely well is not over-explain its world. The characters who live there take most of the strangeness for granted; they're used to it, after all. That said... well, it's a world that, if not exactly post-apocalyptic, has undergone some very radical (and vaguely Lovecraftian) changes from the world we know. The writing is good, the art is excellent, the setting is fascinating, and the whole thing is well worth a read.

However, if you're not a big fan of reading comics online (and personally, there are plenty of times when I prefer to do my reading from actual paper books) there is now an alternative: Derelict, Book One: Deluge is now available as a graphic novel. If you'd prefer to read a complete story arc all at once, rather than following along on a page-by-page basis online, well... now you can. (I'm still waiting on my copy of the graphic novel, but I really enjoyed following along online and have no reservations about recommending it sight-unseen.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Vacation Adventures: Family Picture

Okay, one last one: on the way back into Sewanee from the valley, we stopped at The Giant Rock On The Side Of The Road. (I'm sure it has a proper name, but I have no idea what that might be.) On the highway side, it's maybe twelve feet high. On the far side, of course, it's a sixty foot cliff. The boys went up it immediately.

On the top, we found a couple of Harley-riding Good Ol' Boys, who'd come up from Alabama. (We may have interrupted them in mid-cannabis, but I'm not sure; I only caught the vaguest whiff of something.) They were kind enough to take a picture for us, so here's our family photo from the top of a sixty foot cliff looking out over the valley. I've run it through a filter for artistic effect.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Vacation Adventures: On The Rocks

So, for my last installment of vacation pictures, here are various places where we took the boys hiking and exploring. Shortly after we arrived, we had the opportunity to go and listen to a performance on the Sewanee Carillon. (For a link that actually gives you some feel for the experience, watch this video.) Afterwards, we got to go up in the bell tower itself. It's... quite an experience:

Giant bell, with faces at the top.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Music: Closer to the Truth (only different)

This one's from the band called Trout Fishing In America:

Music: Closer to the Truth

I still have some pictures to put up from the hiking-and-scrambling parts of the vacation, but I haven't had time to do anything with them. So, instead, here's som Cryoshell:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Schell Elementary

It has come to my attention that there exists (in the bustling suburban metropolis of Plano, Texas) a place known as the A.R. Schell Jr. Elementary School.

This means that if the signs for the school were designed correctly, they could simply read "Schell School". Students could then, hypothetically, decide for themselves whether it made more sense to pronounce it as "Shell Shool" or "Skell Skool", as the actual pronunciation in correct modern English makes no sense whatsoever, and in fact seems deliberately designed to thumb its nose at consistency. ("Hooked On Phonics worked for me," my fat fanny...)

I also note from their website that their school mascot is the Coyote. Honestly, who is running this shool district - excuse me, this school district? How could anyone in their right mind resist the allure of naming themselves the Schell Snails? What is this country coming to?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vacation Adventures: It's A Good Beginner Cave!

The second cave on our itinerary was Monteagle Saltpeter Cave. As the name suggests, it was used during the civil war to gather saltpeter (one of the primary ingredients of gunpowder). The cave itself is a dry, winding, two-level labyrinth. It's not complicated enough that there's any danger of getting really lost, it's dry enough that staying warm is easy, and the main passages are large enough for adults to walk comfortably. In other words, it would have been an ideal follow-up to Dry Cave, and in theory we wouldn't even need to hike to get to it.

Unfortunately, well... the cave itself is on public land. The easiest ways to get to the cave, however, require crossing private land. The route we used in my youth has been closed for years (the landowner doesn't want people hiking through his place), but there's an alternate route just a little ways away that involves driving through a quarry. Our plan was to stop at the quarry, get their permission to drive up to the cave, and go. This proved unexpectedly problematic, because the fellow who runs the quarry no longer owns the land -- as of fairly recently, he's just leasing it. As a result, the workers and the company owners don't have the authority to give people permission to drive through. The actual landowner does, though, and he has a little place just a bit further back up the road... only he wasn't home when we tried to find him, and he still wasn't home when we came back after going to get lunch.

During this time, we'd been texting and telephoning with people from various local outing clubs, and one of them suggested that we try Bible Springs Cave, instead. Bible Springs Cave wasn't one I'd been in before (or even heard of, for that matter) but it was widely considered "a good beginner cave", it didn't require any hiking to get to, and it wasn't all that far from where we were.

Now, my brother and I had spent most of the middle of the day scouting for a way to get to Monteagle Saltpeter Cave, while our wives and parents had stayed up at the house with the boys. By the time we'd decided to switch over to Bible Springs Cave, Secondborn had gone into full meltdown mode. (He's four, and he has molars coming in, so his moods are... erratic.) My wife ended up staying behind with him, while my brother's wife came down with the two older boys and their grandfather. Once we had everyone together, we caravaned over and (with only a little searching) found the entrance to Bible Springs Cave.

It's a crack in the rock. I suspect, at a less... August... time of year, that it usually has water flowing out of it. We took a quick survey, and decided to go for it. My father and my brother squeezed down through the crack, and we passed the two boys down to them. They immediately found themselves knee deep in fifty-four degree water, with a strong breeze blowing out of the cave. "Beginner cave my left buttock," observed my brother.

To be fair, it probably is a good beginner cave... for a group of fit, outdoorsy twenty-somethings with the proper equipment. Our group consisted of a grandfather in his seventies, three parents in their late thirties/early forties, and a pair of boys aged seven and eight; and we'd come equipped for a dry, winding cave. We forged boldly ahead anyway.

On the plus side, it was basically impossible to get lost. There was only one side passage that we encountered, and it reached a dead end almost immediately. Also, if there was any doubt, you could follow the wind towards the entrance: it was a constant, steady presence. On the minus side, after slogging through the cold water, we hit a waterfall about twenty feet in. The only way to go was up. It wasn't terribly high - maybe six feet, six and a half feet to the point where it started to level out again. So we sent my brother up to the top, and then I positioned myself so that my back was against the far wall and my foot was planted beside the waterfall, and we passed the two boys up to my brother. His wife went next, I followed, and Granddaddy came up behind us on his own.

This section of the cave was kind of a tight scrabble, and went to a crawl just beyond that. My brother's wife considered this, and said that with her claustrophobia she didn't want to try going any farther unless it opened up further ahead. So my brother went forward to scout, and found that while it did open up from a crawl, it was still a fairly constricted tunnel; there didn't seem to be any open rooms coming up any time soon. So his wife waited, and the rest of us went on.

Bible Springs Cave had one interesting feature that I don't think I'd run into before: rather than stalactites or stalagmites, it had bridges:

The boys were intrepid, undaunted by the cold water, the steady breeze, or the relatively tight confines. (Admittedly, it was a lot less tight for them...) So, while we were snaking our way back, I made them stop so I could get a picture:

Cousins. Intrepid. Undaunted.

We continued on, passing the boys around a corner which happened to feature a deeper spot of water, and then continued a bit further... to the point where the water got really deep. By then we were a bit out of our original marching order, so my son ended up lying on my brother's back, while my nephew ended up riding on mine. The idea was that we, the adults, would do the cold, wet slogging, while the boys would remain reasonably warm and dry by riding on top of us.

So there I was, hunched over in waist-deep water (at fifty-four degrees fahrenheit, mind you) with a steady breeze blowing into my face and a seven-year-old on my back, following my brother. (He apologized for the view.) I had a mess of glow sticks in the side pocket of my cargo pants; now that they were two feet underwater, they promptly floated out. My nephew had a good time grabbing them out of the water. My camera, by the way, was a gift from my brother and his wife. They bought it after my original camera died a horrible death on a playground, and it was designed to be impact resistant and waterproof to a depth of sixteen feet. I don't know about the "sixteen feet" part, but it survived a decent trek under a good eight inches of water.

Then, perhaps inevitably, the cave narrowed again. We could probably have gotten through it, but not without getting the boys (and ourselves) all the way into the water. I could already feel the water sucking away my body heat and my energy, so there was no way we were going to put the boys into that. I have a lot more... um... padding... Well, okay, fat... than either of those boys do; if the water was doing this to me, they'd have been shivering and miserable immediately. So, instead, we turned back. Well, not turned, exactly. We more sort of backed up until we finally could turn around.

Then we retraced our steps, lowered everyone back down the waterfall, and squeezed back out the entrance. At that point, we declared victory and went back to the house.

So at this point, all three boys have been inside a large cavern with no running water, and the older two have been in a tight, twisty, crawly cave with a stream running through it. That was, quite frankly, a bit more of an Authentic Caving Experience than I'd had in mind for them, but they handled it beautifully.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vacation Adventures: Dry Cave

Last week was a family vacation - out of town, with essentially no Internet connection. So, basically, we took three families and stayed at a house in the Monteagle/Sewanee area of Tennessee, about halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. Our crowd (myself, the Beautiful Wife, and the two boys) had one bedroom; my brother's crowd (brother, his wife, their son, and their dog) had another; and our parents had the third. One of the goals for the trip was to introduce the boys to caving, the way my brother and I had grown up with it -- and, not incidentally, do some spelunking ourselves.

The Entrance to Dry Cave.

This was the first cave we tried on this trip; it's called Dry Cave, presumably to distinguish it from Wet Cave, which is just down the road a bit (and currently not open to visitors). Basically, you start in Sewanee, drive down to the foot of the mountain, and then hike back up a ways until you come to a massive sinkhole; the entrance to the cave is off on one side of the sinkhole.

Dry Cave is basically one big room, with a high ceiling and only a single side-passage (and that not terribly long). It's a good beginner cave: a reasonably larger entrance, plenty of room so you can stand up straight, and (of course) dry, so it's easy to stay warm enough. The most difficult part of it was the hike, which was fairly steeply uphill on the way in. I went around the walls leaving glow sticks (chemical lights) at regular intervals; then we had everybody stand in the middle and turn their lights off for a minute. (Then, on the way out, I had to go back around the walls and collect all the glow sticks -- don't want to trash up the cave, after all.) The boys all seemed to enjoy the experience; so did their grandfather.

My father, sitting on a stalagmite, because he can.

My two boys in the middle of the cave.

Also my two boys in the middle of the cave.

After that, we went back outside...

My nephew emerging from the cave.

Firstborn emerging from the cave.

Our second attempt was going to be Monteagle Saltpeter Cave, a site where they'd gathered saltpeter for gunpowder during the civil war. That one... didn't go quite as expected.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Vacation Adventures: The Bathroom Of TERROR!

This will be the first in a series of vignettes from our recent vacation. For those coming in late, we just spent a week on the Cumberland Plateau, in and around Monteagle and Sewanee, Tennessee. This particular event occurred on Saturday, on the drive back home, as we were crossing ::melodramatic shudder:: Arkansas...

The parking lot was in poor shape: worn, patched, then eroded further. Its pitted, uneven surface jounced the car as we rolled across it, and puddles from the recent rain splashed as we drove through them. The gas pumps were deserted, and the only vehicles in sight were a tractor-trailer rig parked way off at one edge of the lot, and two or three smaller vehicles around the back. The sign in the window said "OPEN", but there was nobody in sight. If it hadn't been an emergency, we would never have stopped here; it looked like the opening scene to every horror movie ever made.

Unfortunately, when you get on the highway and your eight-year-old says, "I know my timing is really bad..." Well, you stop at the next available toilet, no matter how it looks. It had taken six miles -- six full minutes -- to get here. I didn't know how much time we had left.

So my beautiful wife edged the car into one of the spaces beside the door, and Firstborn and I got out. We made for the nearest door, which had a sign on it: "This is a SMOKING FACILITY. No one under age 21 is allowed inside." I opened the door and motioned for Firstborn to follow me in.

It wasn't a gas station; it was a dive bar that shared the same building, and it was dark, smoky, and warm. The sign wasn't kidding; the air inside was positively soaked in cigarette smoke. The only occupants were a couple sitting at a table in the back, smoking. If they were the sole source of the smoke in the room, they must have been at it for hours -- or possibly days. I said, "Y'all got a restroom we could use?"

The man nodded towards the door which connected the bar to the gas station store. "In there. It's kinda dark, though. We're having trouble with the power."

"Dark, we can handle," I said. "Thanks."

Me and my big mouth.

So we crossed into the store, and obviously they were having power trouble. The overhead fluorescents were on... but only barely. They were faint glowing beams on the ceiling; most of the light came from the windows. I wondered about the drinks in the refrigerated cases, but I didn't stop to look. We crossed to the hallway that led back to the restrooms; it was darker than the main area, but we could still see well enough to pick out the door for the men's room.

It was almost completely dark inside. There was somebody coming out just as we came in; he'd been using the screen of his phone as flashlight. I decided to follow his example, and we stepped inside. Firstborn wasn't visibly perturbed by the idea of stepping into very-nearly-pitch blackness; possibly he was too desperate for a toilet to care. We let the door swing shut behind us.

The only light was the overhead fluorescents, and they were just faint glowing streaks on the ceiling. If we stood there long enough, our eyes would probably adjust enough to see by their light, but for the moment they were essentially the only things visible. I couldn't even tell what size of room we were in. I raised the lighted screen, and Firstborn said: "That looks like a potty."

We opened the stall door, and I took a moment to make sure that the seat was clean and the dispenser had toilet paper in it. Then I let the door swing mostly shut, and stood outside it with my arm stuck through the opening so Firstborn could see. He went about his business, and I waited. After a moment, something rattled, and Firstborn said: "The toilet paper isn't attached too well."

This didn't surprise me at all. "It's okay," I told him. "Just finish up." I still couldn't see anything around me, and I was having flashes of both the Silent Hill bathroom scene and the elevator ghost prank video.

Finally, he comes back out of the stall... but, just as we've taught him, he has to wash his hands. Our eyes have kind of adjusted (though not nearly enough, yet) and we can see the sinks. I take a moment to wave the screen around the room: two stalls, two urinals, some sad-looking walls, the two sinks, and a pair of mirrors with indecipherable script written along the bottom edges. It looks like the stuff that taggers leave behind.

So we step back out into the hallway, and find the paper towel dispenser on the far wall. Once his hands are dry, we head for the car... only there are probably three guys standing in the store, and even out here it's dark enough that I can't really make out their features. They're all smoking, of course; I speculate that probably do it just for the momentary relief provided by their lighters against the darkness, but I don't say anything out loud. Firstborn navigates between them fearlessly, heading back the way we came in: through the bar. "This way, Firstborn," I tell him. I indicate the door that leads directly outside. "Go towards the light."

One of the guys chuckles. "Go towards the light," he repeats -- not mockingly, but like it struck him funny. Probably just a bunch of perfectly ordinary guys... you know, the kind who enjoy hanging around in extremely dark and smoky buildings in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the day. I grin at him, radiating friendliness like it was some sort of social armor.

Firstborn and I go outside, and get in the car.

"So, how was it?" asks my wife.

I make a little comme ci comme ça gesture. "Eh."

She puts a hand on her seatbelt. "Can I go in now?" she asks.

"No," say Firstborn and I, in concert.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

I'm Back!

So, I'm back in town after a week in Tennessee with essentially no Internet. How's everybody doing? Did you miss me?

See? No Internet. And yes, that's exactly as precarious as it looks.
Also, the reason there's very little visible background? It's a big, big cave.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Writing Prompt: The New Pet

Here's another writing prompt for anyone who wants to play with it. I'm still out of town (this post was written days ago) so I won't be able to respond until I get back, but have fun anyway.

The Prompt: They found it under the hood of the car: something small and furry that shrieked when the motor started.
The Limit: 300 Words

As with the last one, feel free to post your writing here, or put it on your own site and link back to it.

Music: Tam Lin

"Hold me tight and fear me not..."

Friday, August 1, 2014

Writing Prompt: Lost in the Underground

I really enjoyed writing up The Creepy Doll Story in response to Lilith Saintcrow's writing prompt the other day. So, since I really don't have any material for today, (or all of next week, for that matter) I thought I'd throw out a writing prompt of my own and see if anybody wanted to run with with it:

The Prompt: The tunnels stretched on for miles, winding and twisting, diverging and reconnecting.
The limit: 400 Words

Post your story in the comments, or post it on your own site and drop a link in the comments. Go!

Note: I'm on vacation -- I know, I find it a little hard to believe myself -- so I may not be able to respond until after next week. I'm trying to set some entries to auto-post while I'm out of town.

Music: Diablo Rojo

Rodrigo y Gabriela: