Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018

Music: Get Out Alive

The band is Three Days Grace; the animations are taken from the Dead Space video games:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Speculative Story Opening


Somber, engrossed in the story he was reading, ignored the voice.

"Would you talk to me?"

He stopped, rolled the book up, and returned it to its case. He was seated on a bench in the garden, well back along a little-used path. The girl standing in front of him was small, but after a moment he decided that she was older than his height suggested -- close to his own age, in fact. She stood easily, graceful in the plain gray robes that everybody wore here, and she was studying him intently. "You can speak, can't you?" she asked cautiously.

He nodded, realized he still hadn't spoken, and added: "I can." She drew breath to speak again, but he spoke first: "I don't, much."

"Why not?"

Somber considered that. Because I don't need to. Because sometimes the words stick in my throat. Because sometimes I can't find the right words. "I just don't."

"All right."

He twisted so that he was sitting properly, taking his feet off the far end of the bench and placing them on the ground below instead. The girl -- woman, really -- took that as her cue to sit on the other side of the bench. Since there was still room for a third person between them, Somber didn't mind.

"I'm--" she began, and then shook her head. "They're calling me Frost, now."

He could see why. Her hair and skin were as light as his were dark: hair like a snowfall, skin like snow-covered fields. Her eyes were gray as the winter sky, too. "They've always called me Somber."

He waited while she thought about that. "What sort of place is this?" she asked at last.

Somber shrugged. "I like it."

"You do?" Then, sounding a little less surprised, she asked: "But you grew up here?"

Somber nodded. "My parents were members of the order. They left a few months ago." He was still upset about that, but then he hadn't really wanted to leave, either. Still, it was good that the words came out calm, sounded matter-of-fact.

"And they left you here?" She sounded curious, now. Interested.

Somber shrugged, a slight twitch of his left shoulder. "They said I was old enough to remain here on my own."

"My parents delivered me this morning," said Frost. "They said I'd be hidden here, safe, but they wouldn't say why." She looked away, then looked back at him.

Somber kept his eyes on the gnarled shape of the tree that covered this clearing, tracing patterns in the bark: faces sometimes, or animals, or just the random play of light and darkness. He didn't know what to say. What he wanted was to get up and walk away, but he was pretty sure that would hurt her feelings. "It should be safe here," he offered cautiously, "whatever it is."

"I'm sorry," said Frost. "I know I'm bothering you. It's just you're the only person I've seen so far who's my age, and I kind of need of a friend."

Somber considered that for a long moment. "All right."

"All right?" She was too restrained to sound relieved, or anything more than cautiously hopeful, and Somber found that he appreciated that. He stood, and Frost stood up as well.

"Come on," said Somber. "I'll show you around. The gardens are a good place when you want some time alone, but they aren't where everything happens."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Music: Where's Your Mama?

I recently picked up the latest album by Trout Fishing In America, and it includes this gem about one difficulty in dating when you're older. (I wouldn't know, as I'm not dating and hope that I'll never have to again. It's just that I've hit a point in my life where I meet the sorts of young women that I once would have been desperately attracted to, and I'm inescapably aware that they're much too young for me. I don't know, I feel like I'm not explaining that very well, but that's what I've got.)

Trout Fishing In America has been around since... I honestly don't know. I first saw them in concert when I was back in college, which was an embarrassingly long time ago. But they're still making music, and this album came out last year. And they still have the same musical skill, the same performance energy, and the same gentle humor that endeared them to me in the first place. If you're not already acquainted with their work, check it out.

Monday, May 21, 2018

We might be the wrong party for this quest

So, I'm playing Dungeons and Dragons again. As a player, rather than a DM, which is a nice change -- though to be honest, it's nice to be playing at all at this point in my life. And we've been tracking down this really interesting bit of history involving the great war that left the humans in control of this particular nation and the elves distrusted outcasts mostly clustered in a sort of forest reservation in the northeast. In particular, we've been discovering things about the two great elvish heroes: it turns out they were married, they had a kid, and according to the accords that were drawn up before everything fell apart, that kid should have become king. And by passing these documents along to the elves instead of the humans (don't ask) we appear to have accidentally become the great heroes of the elvish revolution. Which is all great fun, except we're almost exactly the wrong party for this.

Let's recap, shall we:

We have a dwarvish monk who's Lawful Good but perpetually drunk to avoid thinking about what the rest of the party is doing.

We have a human sorcerer who got himself turned into a vampire (so he's now Chaotic Evil) and is carrying around a staff that holds an imprisoned Pit Fiend that keeps urging him to do horrible things to anyone in range, and also to let it out. It seems likely to escape on its own at pretty much any minute.

The paladin is Lawful Evil, but remains absolutely convinced that he's Lawful Good. He's also a raging Human Supremacist, and I'm not sure how this is going to play out now that the elves are praising him for a hero.

The paladin's follower is a rogue, probably also Chaotic Neutral; he's the one who sold the papers to the elves, because they were offering more than the humans and doing so allowed him to keep the difference for himself.

The cleric (me) is another dwarf, Chaotic Neutral, who's a pretty decent guy except that he collects undead minions as a hobby. Including at least one former party member.

We are here to get paid and grow more powerful, even if we have to save the world doing it.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Great Platypus Hoax

Based on a story prompt from my friend Ruth Hougey Riggan...

"That can't be," said Dr. Braun, looking away from the video.

"I took the video myself," Tt. Janya Lorin met his eyes, then looked at the video again.

Dr. Braun touched a control and the screen froze, showing the face of his colleague Dr. Nuftin, smiling as she opened the cage and set a breeding pair of platypuses loose in the unpolluted wilderness of the Quaternary period. "Linda would never..."

"Linda?" asked Tt. Lorin. "Dr. Nuftin is well-known for her quirky sense of humor."

Dr. Braun squeezed his eyes shut, then chuckled. "So the platypus really *is* a hoax, as its European discoverers originally thought."

"Well... not a hoax, exactly. The species clearly exists. I've checked the logs on Dr. Nuftin's lab time as well as her timecore access, and I don't think she even engineered them. She appears to be taking members of the existing species, and carrying them back in time to make sure that the species will exist."

"What?" asked Dr. Braun, aghast. "But that's ridiculous! They have to come from somewhere. If they don't evolve on their own, but aren't engineered and taken back either, it could create all sorts of paradoxes. The potential effects on the timeline, on reality itself, are incalculable."

"We're aware of that," said Tt. Lorin. "That's precisely the sort of thing that Timeline Oversight was created to prevent."

"Well," said Dr. Braun, after a moment. "Dr. Nuftin should be in her office now. I suppose you'd like me to take you there?"

"Not necessary," answered Tt. Lorin. "We already have her in custody. Given the potential severity of this matter, we've had her in custody since before she began this project. This is just a courtesy visit, to inform you that we've arrested a senior member of your research staff before you hired her."

"I... I see," Dr. Braun replied slowly. "Then you don't need anything from me?"

"That's all," confirmed Tt. Lorin. "I'm sorry it happened like this, but there's nothing else we can do. I hope the rest of your afternoon is more pleasant."

"Thank you," he said, and watched as she turned smartly and let herself back out of the cluttered confines of his office.

That was it for today, he decided. He wasn't going to get any work done after this. An evening sitting on the couch, watching murder mysteries while his pet jackalope Snuggles cuddled beside him, sounded like just the relief he needed.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Abolish ICE

So, one of my wife's students has been arrested by ICE, because he's one of the DACA kids. And apparently they have until close of business tomorrow to submit letters attesting to his character. Odds are good that he's going to be deported regardless, and by "deported" I mean arbitrarily exiled to a country that he's never so much as visited before. This is what "justice" looks like in Modern America: somewhere along the line, we've decided that the Gestapo had the right idea.

(And yes, I'm aware that justice in historical America is frequently no better.)

I mean, clearly this is the only way, right? We can't let him get away with, well, being a good student and a leader in student organizations and a contributing participant in American society and civic life. That would just be wrong, wouldn't it?

If this is who we are, then we are absolute shit: morally shit, socially shit, politically shit. And make no mistake about it: this *is* who we are.

I firmly believe we can do better. I firmly believe we can *be* better. And we have to start now.

Abolish ICE. Defund them. Dissolve their charter. Whatever it takes. And then hold its leaders responsible for their human rights violations.

Leviticus 19:34 if you're scripturally inclined.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Boys & DnD Session Nine!

Secondborn was distracted by a video game, and Beautiful Wife was taking a nap, so Firstborn got a solo run this time. His Druid/Barbarian went to scout ahead, and followed the passage to a large, circular room. The walls there were polished smooth (by contrast to the rough stonework behind him, and instead of the usual glowing lichen the place was lit by eight stone bowls set at regular intervals around the walls, each holding a tall fire. The ceiling was a dome, carved in elaborate bas relief, but its subject wasn't immediately obvious and he had other things demanding his attention. The room also served as a sort of crossroads, with his passage continuing on the far side, and another passage connecting in from his left and right.

On the far side of the room were two large, hideous stone statues... and Firstborn (whose Spot check was 30!) found himself deeply suspicious that the one on the right was alive. About two-thirds of the way across the room, a gray-skinned humanoid dressed in rags was bent over the body of a dead goblin, and appeared to be eating it. Firstborn takes a moment to double-check his impressions, then boldly strides into the room. When nothing reacts to him, he walks quietly up behind the ghoul, which only hears him and whirls around at the last possible minute.

Ghoul 19
Gargoyle 19
Firstborn 11

Firstborn moves first (surprise round) and rolls well; the ghoul goes down immediately.

Firstborn considered this, then steps around the fallen ghoul and inches closer to the gargoyle. Finally, when he's close enough and it's incredibly obvious that he's identified it as a threat, it takes a five-foot step forward and attacks. It hits with a claw for 6, bites for 7, and tries to gore him but misses. Firstborn makes his own attack, hits, and does 22 damage. (Ouch.)

The gargoyle attacks again, but only one claw attack gets through, and it only does 3 damage. The gargoyle is obviously a bit woozy from the beating it just took.

Firstborn attacks again, and does 11 damage. The Gargoyle manages to claw and gore, and does 11 more damage.

Firstborn makes a heroic attack, and takes it down. Which is good, because he was getting more than a bit low on health. But the gargoyle is defeated, the ghoul likewise, and Firstborn is heading back to rest with everyone else again.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Peer Pressure

Firstborn was wearing four gold stars -- stickers, one on his forehead, one on his nose, and one on each ear -- when his mother picked him up today.

"Did you wear those all day?" she asked.

"Of course," he replied.

"Have you ever heard of peer pressure?"

Firstborn looked thoughtful. He's eleven years old, in sixth grade, in his first year of Middle School. "I don't think it applies to me," he said.

The important thing about dealing with peer pressure is to understand who your peers really are.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day

I had a hard time with Mother's Day this year.

My mother died about two years ago. I don't remember it being an issue last year, but it seems to have caught up with me this year, and every "Get Mom ___" advert had me yelling expletives at the screen.

But it's over now, and in any case the next two weeks are about to be insanely busy. So: a little writing, a little reading, and then sleep. And the rest of this week is just going to be devoted to keeping everything moving. I've got stuff lined up for later in the week -- Monday, Tuesday, and Friday -- but the week after that is likely to be empty, because my whole work schedule has changed except where it hasn't and I'm still trying to navigate my way through the new (lack of a?) system.

Here's hoping everybody else had a better time of it than I did.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pocket Dimension

Congratulations! You have your own little world. Not just your imagination - this is a physical reality, and you can step into it at will. Maybe it's a pocket dimension, or your own private little corner of the Fay Realms. Whatever it is, it's yours. So...

1. What does your realm look like? Is it indoors? Outdoors? A cottage on a deserted shore? A crumbling castle at the heart of a dark forest? A broad lake with a waterfall at one end and beaches around three sides? Something else entirely?

2. Do you keep it to yourself, give a few friends access to it as well, or open it to anybody?

3. Does your realm have its own inhabitants? What are they like? Do you ever bring them across to our world?

4. Does entering your personal world change you? Do you dress differently, speak differently? Are you someone else when you're there?

5. Is time the same in your realm as it is out here? Is there a steady differential, like three days there pass in only an hour of our time? Or is it stranger than that?

6. How do you get to your world? Do you have to visit a specific place? Speak a certain phrase? Or is it just a matter of will and desire?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Ode to a Head Cold

Beloved art thou, O head cold
Who bring'st thy gifts in measure full
Thy presence fills me with awe
Courageous and unrelenting

Your treasures do not grow old
They continuous fill my skull
At the back of my throat they gnaw
Might trepanning offer some venting?

Study Questions:
Highlight under the questions to see suggested answers.
1. What do you think is the theme of this poem?
We must appease the head cold gods so they will leave us alone.

2. What rhyme scheme is the author using?
Cryambic Whinetameter

3. What literary technique is the author using?
Sarcasm. Also, antihistamines and decongestants.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Once more unto the Renfaire, dear friends...

On Saturday, I mentioned that Scarborough Fair (officially Scarborough Renaissance Festival) was open for the season. About ten minutes later I was calling my father to see if he wanted to come with us on Sunday. About two hours after that, he called us back and the plan was on. This is going to be a gigantic wall of text, so if you want the TL/DR: version, just scroll down.

So this morning I woke up to my alarm -- very much not my usual Sunday morning patter. I got everyone else out of bed, put food in the boys and myself, and loaded us all into the van. (Beautiful wife has a medication that she takes in the morning, and she can't eat for at least an hour after taking it, which absolutely doesn't complicate things at all, ever. The plan for this morning was just to feed her as soon as we arrived at the Faire.) Then we swung by my dad's house, picked him up, and headed on down to Scarborough Fair. (Travel music...)

We got there about ten minutes after the gates opened, bought tickets, and went in. Sunday morning is a great time to show up, because it's cooler -- and yesterday the temperature was perfect -- plus the real crowds won't show up until the afternoon, but everything's going and anything we want to see or do is available.

My father, being my father... Look, I'm not going to explain that. If you know him, or if you've been reading other things that I've written about him, you'll know that he is outgoing to a fault, and kind and generous as well. Plus, he's heavily involved with folk music and instrument repair, two communities which have a decided overlap with the sort of people who perform at renaissance fairs. So going to the renfaire with him, well... he knows people. He's been attending this one, at least once a year, for the last thirty years. (So have I, more or less, but I am... not outgoing.) So our first stop inside the gate was just to buy some of the candied almonds, but our second stop was to swing by the glassblower's shop so he could check in with them, and see how they and their kids were doing. Turned out one of their kids was in town with her partner, so we had a bit of a chat while the glassblower and his wife were engaged with their demonstration. (I think I want to call it a demonstration, since they're actually demonstrating their craft the whole time; but... well, they throw in so much history and background and discussion of the technique, that it feels a lot like a TED talk as well.)

Secondborn wanted to buy a wooden sword. (His, he explained, had broken.) So we went on around and found the shop with the wooden weapons, where he examined a blade based off the plasma swords from the HALO series of video games. Alas, it was too expensive -- each boy had been given twenty dollars to spend as they would, with the understanding that we would take care of group needs such as food, but this particular sword was outside his budget. Instead, he settled on a pair of daggers at six dollars apiece, which left him with a decent chunk of his budget still intact. His older brother decided on a battle axe, and wisely bought a hanger for it as well, so he didn't have to carry it the whole time.

After that we wandered for a bit, while the boys looked for an open space large enough to let the battle. We finally found one, and they... um... battled. Specifically, Firstborn tried to use his axe with a lot more finesse than axes usually merit, while Secondborn wound up running in wide circles around him with the daggers held in dramatic poses. When they wound up ion a standoff on opposite sides of a tree, I called a halt under the theory that I didn't want Firstborn using his enchanted axe to cut down the tree just so he could get to his brother.

We continued on our circuit, visiting the fellow with the bird-warble flutes. (Yes, my father knows him too.) At the far end of that branch of the festival is what used to be the mud pit stage -- home to performances such as Beowulf! In! The! Mud! and suchlike. It's just an ordinary stage now, and the boys are still a bit too young to sit through a show. But as we came around, they spotted the open area where the cast of the festival sometimes performs Living Chess, and decided to have another battle there. There's a stage nearby that used to hold a carrillon, but unfortunately it wasn't there this year. My father wandered over to find out what had happened, since (you guessed it) he knows the guy who plays it, or at least his performing persona. As I understand it, there was some kind of situation (not necessarily involving drama) where the person who actually owned and/or built the carrillon set-up had found it too expensive to maintain, or perhaps just too expensive to get it to the fair.

By then, people were beginning to admit that they might be hungry, so we got Secondborn some pizza, Firstborn some chicken on a stick, Beautiful Wife a fajita, and various sorts of ciders for all the grown-ups. My father wound up finishing off the second half of Firstborn's chicken, which apparently filled him well enough. We continued on around, and Secondborn asked if we could cross the Troll Bridge. We could; we did.

Unfortunately, the troll was not in residence. (The troll makes magical jewelry for children in exchange for small donations to cover supplies.) So we came up the far side of the bridge next to Stephen Bennett Pottery, where we stopped to pick out mugs. This is something of a tradition; we've been buying these mugs for at least two decades now. Beautiful Wife and I picked out a matching pair, glazed in a medium blue over bands of dark brown. She thinks of them as Monet mugs, but they look like seashore to me.

We stopped to finish feeding ourselves on this side of the creek, where I could get fried cheese and my father could find fried ice cream. We also had more cider. From here I took the boys over to look at swords, and they were extremely well-behaved while holding the blades. (There are rules to examining custom swords or even knives at at renfaire: don't swing it around, keep the blade over the counter, and do not touch the blade with your fingers.) After that, we ventured on... and found a place that sold air plants and self-contained terrariums (terrarria?). Secondborn decided that he really wanted a small succulent in a bottle that he could wear around his neck, so there went the rest of his money.

And, once we reached the end of that aisle -- and found the occarina cart, which my father engaged from his deep love of musical instruments and Firstborn engaged from his deep love of video games -- Secondborn announced that he really wanted to play in the maze. It wasn't that far off, so we started in that direction...

And ran right into the parade. Firstborn peeled a vendor off from the front of the parade and used the last of his money on a giant pretzel. Secondborn looked at any number of stone carvings and plaster castings (because that was the shop where we found ourselves) and then we started trying to work our way back towards the maze.

We did get there eventually, and the boys disappeared inside. My father offered to wait outside, so Beautiful Wife and I could go get anything else we needed. In my case, this included protein, so we crossed down to the food-and-beer circle in the center of that area, and I grabbed a gyro and another cider, while my wife acquired ciders for herself and my father. Upon our return, she handed him his cider and announced, "Those who watch, receive their reward." This prompted the fellow selling tickets to the maze to point out that he'd been watching all day, and where was his reward?

I commandeered a table so I could eat my gyro, but stopped after about half of it; that seemed to be enough. After a bit, Beautiful Wife and my father came over and sat with me, and we waited in the shade while the boys ran around in the maze. The boys emerged a couple of times, seeking water or rest or shade (by now it was well into the afternoon, and getting warmer -- plus, we'd all been out in the sun for some time). At one point, Beautiful Wife and Firstborn ran into some sort of weight-guessing game. They came back reporting that the young man running the game had been considerably younger than she would have guessed -- in his early twenties, in fact. When asked to guess my wife's age, he'd called her at "Attractive!" which we all had to admit was pretty accurate; when asked about my father, his estimate was: "Wise."

So with all this done, and the boys fairly well worn from running through the maze, we decided to head back home. We swung by the glassblowers again, and this time caught them between shows; but after that we headed out and made it back to the van. We swung by granddaddy's house, where Secondborn and I made a token attempt at swimming in the Holy-Hell-It's-Really-Cold pool, and Firstborn paused to paint his new wooden battle axe with his grandfather's help. Then we went home.

I've come to think that five people is pretty close to my ideal group size for these trips. Too many more, and you have too many competing priorities. Too many fewer, and you might as well have just gone alone. (...Though admittedly, going with just my wife would be fine; but that's a very different bit of emotional calculus.) But I think everybody had a good time, and I'm pleased with our new mugs, and once we got home I managed to shower... Plus, just getting out of the metroplex (and in a way, getting out of the modern world) was an oddly-lovely little one-day vacation. It left us all much more relaxed and refreshed and just generally happy.

TL/DR: We took my father down to Scarborough Renaissance Festival. We didn't watch any of the shows, really, and we didn't do too many activities, but we still had a great time and I think everyone enjoyed it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Hero's Lament

"So, mighty hero, I have kept you imprisoned in this floating crystal for a thousand years. You must be utterly mad by now!"

"No, not really."


"It's got a charger, and you have really good WiFi."

"You've been using my WiFi this whole time???"

"...Yeah? I mean, you left it unsecured."

"Get OUT of my crystal, hero!"

"Wait, what? You don't want to put me back in? Torture me for another thousand years?"

"TORTURE you? Torture you, by offering you free WiFi?"

"Yeah! I mean, um, please don't do that. Ever."

"No! Get out of my prison-crystal! I COMMAND IT."

"Okay, fine."

::Hero emerges::
::Hero draws sword::
::Hero slays Dark Lord::
::Hero climbs back into crystal::

"Maybe now I can finally get the high score in Angry Chocobos..."