gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
It's a common theme, almost an accepted fact, that the hardest thing is admitting you have a problem. I beg to differ. For me, the hardest thing is asking for help.

Last Friday I asked for help.

It's no secret to anyone who has known me for more than a few weeks that I've been dealing with severe health problems since 1995. Stage IV-B Hodgkin's Lymphoma, messed up lungs, peripheral neuropathy that makes it hard to walk or stand, and of course the stroke that left me unable to function for more than a few hours at a time.

But through all of this, I soldiered on. Literally, I credit my time in the Army for my will to survive. After all, I could be in the ICU, tubes jammed into every orifice that can take one, and still think that I'm good, because Drill Sergeant Colom wasn't there yelling at me. I really hated that little fucker.

Yes, my sense of humor has helped.

But as I was saying, every time I got knocked down I pulled myself off the mat and went back to work. Even to the point of causing myself more injury, because I saw my intrinsic value as a person as being tied up in what I did for a living. I've always been a blue-collar guy. I was happiest when I was working jobs where I could say at the end of the day "I accomplished something." Getting people to and from airports, hauling PODS containers, and best of all, tackling the longest, hardest route at Lord&Sons and rocking it every single day.

It couldn't last. There was just too much damage from cancer and chemotherapy. My body was like a car that had been in a serious accident, repairs had been made but it will never work right again. So I lost my job at SuperShuttle to my health, lost Lord&Sons to blood clots in my lungs, and lost my last job, as a dispatcher, to the stroke.

That was almost four years ago. Four years of not having that essential part of the American identity. "What do you do?" is a question I can't answer. I'm not retired, saying that I'm disabled invites questions I don't like answering or scornful looks, and the idea of an outwardly healthy looking middle-aged man being disabled is something not a lot of people can accept.

The worst part is most days I feel fine. To quote the next President of the United States, Joe Walsh, "everybody's so different, I haven't changed." I really think that I could climb back into my truck and drive the Livermore Valley route, or dispatch for a limo or share ride service. But then reality crashes down. I can't work, not even as a grave shift cashier in a gas station because I burn out too quickly and can't handle stress very well anymore.

Which leaves me sitting here in my apartment. I have plenty to distract me; books, the internet, a TV with a Roku box attached (the Xbox 360 gave me a Red Ring of Doom a few weeks back, we need to find a replacement) but it can feel like a prison. I do get out for my writing group and the YMCA, but that requires me to be functional. Not a good bet on any given day.

None of this has been good for my mental state. I've found myself in a downward spiral of late. Getting angry and frustrated far too quickly at minor things. Catching myself falling into destructive patterns of thinking. Not at the self-harm level yet, but letting my inner demons take over and convince me that I am worthless, that I'll never be published, that I'm a drag on everyone around me. These feelings aren't constant, but they are there and they are becoming more frequent.

So last Friday I was speaking with my Case Nurse at Anthem Blue Cross. And I summoned the courage to ask about mental health coverage. I'm just waiting for a call from their Behavioral Health unit for a referral. I have no idea what kind of help I need, maybe I just need a person I can scream about the unfairness of life too, or maybe I need a prescription for happy pills to help me keep my head above water. Or both, or neither. I just know that I can't dump all this on Kirsten. She has her own issues to deal with and has already been a saint dealing with my decline.

I am entering unknown lands here. All I know is that I've probably needed this kind of help for years, but it took me this long to ask for it.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
True story: I first heard of Bill Kirchen, and his amazing take on Hot Rod Lincoln while I was still driving for PODS. I had been sent to drop a container in the Santa Cruz Mountains during a raging rainstorm. It would have been a hard drop on a sunny day, and I was doing it in running water up to my ankles.

Driving home, with my shoes on the floor of the passenger side of the cab, and my socks on the dash near the vents, driving my big truck on Highway 9 in a deluge, I was listening to KPIG, and they played this. I was hooked. We've seen him a couple of times, and every time he plays Hot Rod Lincoln it's different.


gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
It's not often that I wake up and remember what it is I've been dreaming, but today was an exception. I frankly had a bad night's sleep, caused mainly by some stomach upset and my legs being their usual awful selves. So I was a bit surprised when I woke up around 0645 with a vivid image of a dream still with me.

Having lost too many good ideas to procrastination, I got dressed and headed out to my computer. I was under a bit of a deadline, as I had an appointment for my regular blood work and after that my writing group, so I had to be out the door by 0830 at the absolute latest.

Even though I'm not at all a fast or accurate typist, and my spelling leaves much to be desired, I was able to flesh out the image in my head into a short, but serviceable, story. Printed it out for the writing group (I did have another piece, a long, pretty much complete story that we didn't get to this week. I'll be reading that one next Monday) and stuffed it in the portfolio and out the door.

My good seemed to be holding. I was the only car in the McDonald's drive-thru, there was an adorable baby at the lab, and everyone loved what I had written. Then I found I had locked my keys in the truck and things went a bit downhill. But I hope you enjoy this thing that has sprung from my head.

The Modern Cassandra

Working in San Francisco has many benefits, one of those being exposure to all sorts of lunatics. At least that's what I thought as I emerged from the depths of the Montgomery Street BART station on that June morning.

He was standing on a wooden crate, with a beatific smile and shiny eyes framed by what we used to call "Jesusbro-fro" back in college. What caught me eye was the silver jacket he was wearing, it looked like the cheesy space jacket we all wanted as kids. Seeing the growing crowd emerging from the station, he began to speak.

"Friends, please hear me out. I know I sound crazy, but I have just returned from . . . the future! And I leave for there tomorrow. Hard to believe, I know, but please hear me out, for I must warn you of something terrible. But first, here's Dave with sports." He subtly shifted his manner and spoke with the rhythm of a long-time broadcaster. For a lunatic, this guy was good.

"Thank you, Dave. Tonight, the Warriors will beat the Cavaliers 108-92, taking the NBA Finals in five games." That got a small cheer from to commuters passing by. "In July, the Giants will go on a record-smashing winning streak, take the NL West and sweep the Yankees to win the World Series. Finally, The 49ers will have a chance to make the playoffs as the Wild Card, but fall just short, finishing the season 9-7. Sadly, that's all the sports news left. Now that I've established my bonafides . . ."

At that point, I had gotten my coffee and muffin from the street cart and was hurrying up the street to my office. So I missed the rest of his rant. Once settled in at my desk, I took a moment to write the guy's predictions down.

That night, the Warriors beat the Cavs 108-92.

Then the Giants won 26 straight games in July. By the time the World Series rolled around, I wasn't even watching the games, I was too busy trying to find the man who had made the predictions. A friend got me access to surveillance camera footage of the plaza at Montgomery Street. There he was, ranting away. He spoke for about ten minutes after I left the scene, looked around, and dejectedly went down the stairs into the Muni/BART station. Those cameras showed him entering a station restroom and never leaving.

By the time the 49ers faltered during a late drive in Week 17 and finished the season 9-7, I was a wreck. The words "all the sports news left" haunted me. I even hired lip readers to try to figure out what he was saying and spent thousands on ads trying to contact anyone who might have heard more of his message.

In legend, Cassandra was cursed to know the future and have no one believe her. This man's curse was to know the future and have no one listen.
gridlore: Photo: Rob Halford on stage from the 1982 "Screaming for Vengeance" tour (Music - Rob Halford)
WHAT IS IT? CAUGHT IN A MOSH!!!
WHAT IS IT? CAUGHT IN A MOSH!!!
WHAT IS IT? CAUGHT IN A MOSH!!!

gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
If you know my current family drama, you'll get this.

gridlore: Photo: penguin chick with its wings outstretched, captioned "Yay!" (Penguin - Yay!)
What does summer mean? No school!



gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
I'm going to mess with the Traveller default setting again. It needs it. This time, I'm looking at the Zhodani, those mind-raping scum! Or not.

The Zhodani might be the oldest official races in the game, first appearing as the "barbarians" defeated at the Battle of Two Suns. Then they earned a name and we began to learn about them. The Zhodani are human, the descendants of the stock taken from Earth 300,000 years ago by the enigmatic Ancients, and scattered across space. Many of those transplants died out, the Zhodani thrived.

Uniquely, they embrace the use of psionic powers and have made them almost the center of their society. The psionically gifted are nobles, everyone else the lower classes. Nobles hold all positions of power in the Consulate, civilian and military. To keep control, the dreaded Tavrchedle' - the Guardians of Our Morality - constantly scan the masses for thoughts or rebellion or anti-social acts.

Or at least that's what the Third Imperium would have you believe. Later remakes of the Zhodani softened the edges a bit, making them less leering villains in black capes and more an alien-human race. The capes stayed, because they are cool.

Here's my first problem. The idea of an entrenched psionic nobility. In Traveller psionic ability is unpredictable and not inherited. So there is no guarantee that a noble's children will have any psionic potential at all, While Zeb, son of a dirt farmer, but be a prodigy. There would be no institutional memory, outside of a true celestial bureaucracy. Even then, what's to stop a non-psionic son of a powerful noble from seizing the reigns of power?

The problem is the writers were in love with feudal autocracies when writing up the setting. The Imperium, the Aslan, the K'kree, the Zhodani, and even the Droyne all had some variant of "rule by tiers of nobility" as their government of choice. Which simply doesn't make sense.

Main;y because life as a member of the psionic nobility is pretty damn awful. Consider the fate of the Tavrchedle' officers. They spend day after endless day inside the minds of the sick and broken. Know any cops or social workers? Imagine their war stories if they had to probe deep into the raw psyche of each and every unhappy person they encounter. Then they have to fix them. I don't know how you say "alcoholic" in Zhedtl, but one thing for sure, there's no Alcoholics Anonymous in Zhodani Space, because the Tavrchedle' handle that as well!

No, being a noble in the Consulate means a lifetime of service. I would imagine that the word the Imperials translate as "noble" actually means "Servant of the People" or something similar. Because there will be a strong "you owe it to the people" push in this society.

Let's look at the life of Zeq Chtilnats/ On the occasion of his Third Olympiad (roughly nine years old) Zeq, like all the other kids his age, is tested for psionic potential. It's a big deal, and Zeq and his classmates have been preparing mentally and emotionally for a year. The tests are odd, but fun.

Several days later, the Chtilnats family gets the fantastic news! Zeq has tested as one of the highest potentials in the District! His family starts planning his big party while he studies his packing list. Because Zeq is leaving home. He's losing his family name. Zeq is now Zeqiepr and will stay that way until he is trained.

Zeqiepr's new school is a huge facility on an important world. Here, the new students both learned the usual lessons (with a lot of political indoctrination) and undergo more and more testing to see what their skills are. Zeqiepr turns out to be wired for teleportation, clairvoyance, and telepathy. Right then his career is chosen for him. Zeqiepr is going to be one of the elite Consular Guards, troops trained to teleport in full combat armor and use their skills to defend the Consulate!

His training shifts. He and the others destined for military careers live in a more regimented way. Endless physical training, weapons training, and learning about the threats facing the Consulate. Much of the time is spent honing his ability to teleport accurately while carrying more and more weight. And always, the reminder that he is a servant of those who have not been blessed with his talents.

Finally, after three Olympiads of training, Zeqatl claims his new rank as a Commissioned Assault Specialist and reports to his Legion. Fast-forward thirty years. General Zeqiashav, commanding the 35th Consular Guards Legion, steps down. But his career isn't over! He's invited to join the Regional Defense Council as a military expert, and help guide the Regional Council on defense matters. His is a life of unending service to the people.

Now being one of the elect doesn't just mean work! They get great perks and universal respect. The turban worn by nearly all Zhodani nobles is both a symbol of rank and of humility. The bind their hair in turbans, because they work too hard to have the time to style it.

A different look, one that makes the Zhodani a little more alien.
gridlore: Photo: penguin chick with its wings outstretched, captioned "Yay!" (Penguin - Yay!)
Iron Maiden - Two Minutes to Midnight.

We get to see them in ONE MONTH!!!!

gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Four names I go by:
1. Douglas
2. Sniper
3. Uncle Bullhorn
4. Traveller

Four places I have lived:
1. Los Gatos, CA
2. Fort Benning, GA
3. Schofield Barracks, HI
4. San Francisco, CA

Four things I love to watch on Tv
1. Baseball
2. Skill competitions like Top Chef or Ink Master
3. Science Fiction
4. Football

Four places I have visited:
1. Istanbul, Turkey
2. Montreal, Quebec
3. Washington, D.C.
4. Black Rock Playa, NV

Four things I love to eat:
1. Burritos
2. Spaghetti in meat sauce
3. Steak
4. Really sharp cheddar cheese

Four Things I love to drink
1. Coca-Cola
2. O'Douls NA Beer
3. Gatorade
4. Water

Four Things I Like For Breakfast
1. Scrambled eggs
2. French toast
3. Sausage
4. Orange Juice
(oddly, bacon is not a favorite of mine)

Four Genres of Music I Like
1. Thrash Metal
2. Punk
3. Grateful Dead
4. Classical
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
I find myself struggling with the central driving force for my planned novel. The research is going fine, and I have the plot roughed out . . . to be honest, I have three plots worked out. Well, two and a half, as one ends rather suddenly early in the book.

But I'm digging for the emotional hooks to bring my characters to life. I know that Battle Captain Singh (I've changed his rank, as after reading the Ancillary Justice series, I think "Fleet Captain" would be seen as derivative if not out-right copying. Besides, this gives me a chance to add a little more detail to the Arjuni Deep Space Fleet. Officers in command slots are ranked as Captain with what class of vessel they are qualified to command. Escort Captain, Frigate Captain, Cruiser Captain, and Battle Captain. When they are not in command roles, those ranks are Lieutenant, Senior Lieutenant, Captain-Lieutenant, and Flag Lieutenant.

I just did a little world building right here. Go me.

But I'm struggling with how to create the drama in the two opposing forces and multiple ships. These are naval forces at war. For the Arjuni, they are running from a colony that cannot be defended and are trying to aid in the war effort by raiding merchant shipping in a cluster that should be lightly defended. The UN squadron has been dispatched to hunt them down. So right there is the main tension. It's a grand game mixing chess and Battleship. Two commanders trying to out think each other. I'm going to try to portray the stress of each emergence into real space, the desperate need to make repairs quickly, and every present knowledge that it has to come to battle at some point.

But along the way, I want to develop tensions based on crew interactions. Even the senior officers aren't always going to be on the same page. Some will doubt the mission, or the crew, or their ships. A few might be cowards, or utterly incompetent but in command because of family ties. The Arjuni force was basically at the ass-end of nowhere, so it is hardly the prime assignment. Meanwhile, the UN fleet is staffed by drafted starmen with minimal training and no real patriotic drive to excel. They live in terror of their brutal petty officers and the Political Affairs Officer and his spies. Some will take pride in having a positive identity for the first time. Others will mutiny at the first opportunity. It is led by an officer who picked the wrong side in a succession fight and has paid for it by being denied advancement. The Navy is all he knows, so he stayed. He sees this command as a chance at redemption.

There, more worldbuilding! I can do this in my sleep! It might be easier that way!

But at Baycon, I attended an intimate panel (seriously, there were ten seats in the room around a table) where I learned how to use the Tarot's Major Arcana to flesh out characters quickly. You can use the suites if you like, but that just muddles things. It's a simple layout that covers the past, present, future, motivations, fears, and a couple of other things. It's great in that it takes the foundation work out of building a character and instead gives you something to build on, creating unique characters for writing or gaming.

When it comes to designing anything, whether a character for D&D or a setting for a story, I use all the tools I can grab. My brain took a shot to the language center, so anything that can help me flesh things out is great. Any tool that helps me with my spelling and grammar is a gift from the Gods of Writing. I feel no shame in submitting my odder sentences to a website that diagrams sentences. Anyone else remember doing that in school? There are websites that do it for you, so you can see where you are screwing up.

So using one of my Tarot decks (I own both the Rider-Waite deck and a Thoth deck) I a going to designate a day when I print out a list of characters, draw cards for them, and note the results. This way, when that character needs to appear, I'll know more about them, and be able to weave them into the story.

At least until the characters begin telling me what they are going to be doing. I hate it when they do that.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
The Grateful Dead - Stella Blue

Possibly my favorite Jerry song. The story is beautiful, and when Jerry was on, it was so powerful.


gridlore: Photo: Rob Halford on stage from the 1982 "Screaming for Vengeance" tour (Music - Rob Halford)
Courtesy of [personal profile] kshandra

  1. A song you like with a color in the title

  2. A song you like with a number in the title

  3. A song that reminds you of summertime

  4. A song that reminds you of someone you'd rather forget

  5. A song that needs to be played loud

  6. A song that makes you want to dance

  7. A song to drive to

  8. A song about drugs or alcohol

  9. A song that makes you happy

  10. A song that makes you sad

  11. A song you never get tired of

  12. A song from your preteen years

  13. A song you like from the 70s

  14. A song you'd love to be played at your wedding

  15. A song you like that's a cover by another artist

  16. A song that's a classic favorite

  17. A song you'd sing a duet with someone on karaoke

  18. A song from the year you were born

  19. A song that makes you think about life

  20. A song that has many meanings to you

  21. A song you like with a person's name in the title

  22. A song that moves you forward

  23. A song you think everybody should listen to

  24. A song by a band you wish were still together

  25. A song you like by an artist no longer living

  26. A song that makes you want to fall in love

  27. A song that breaks your heart

  28. A song by an artist whose voice you love

  29. A song you remember from your childhood

  30. A song that reminds you of yourself
gridlore: The word "Done!" in bold red letters. (Done!)
Dear gods, my feet hurt. But it was a very good day. I like busy Saturdays, mainly because it lets me spend more time with Kirsten that doesn't involve staring at some sort of video device and they recharge my brain.

But damn, do I pay for it. My floor weasels are running wild tonight, setting my feet on fire, pulling off toes, driving spikes through my feet . . . it's not the pain that bothers me so much, although it can be excruciating, it's that my brain has a library of Things That Can Happen To Feet that translates these random bursts of information from dying nerves into specific sensations.

Like right now, where the big toe on my left foot has just been ripped off. Ow.

My morning started with the bi-monthly Dungeons & Dragons game. Playing over Skype with roll20 for the maps and die rolls is fantastic. We have five players and our DM with me out in California and one in Norway, with the rest in or near Michigan. Today we reached the end of our epic side quest to clear the abandoned hold of the Ironaxe Clan of the fiends that possessed it and return the Ironaxe to the clan's last survivor.

Digenis, my pantless (it's a running joke) Half-elf Barbarian was wielding Fred the Greataxe, who was smarter than Digenis and hated the fiends with a passion rarely seen in sharpened hunks of metal. It is a testament to my love of playing my Chaotic Neutral character that not once did I have to make a saving throw to keep Fred from compelling me to fight. No, I waded right in, screaming my battle cry "Safety Third!" and hacking away. Fred and I made a good team.

Sadly, after we defeated the boss demons, Fred's mission was complete. He left my axe. Luckily, In the treasure trove was a shiny +3 Battle Axe. Mine! I've named it Fred, Jr.

But after all this, I had real world work to do. Kirsten had hooked up the trailer and brought ti to her office so we could do some work on it. She came and got me, and headed back over.

The first task was to deal with some of the drips and oversprays from the painting of the red stripes. Kiri did a great job matching the trailer's color, and you can barely see the newer paint over the old. She also painted the small window frame, and we did touch ups here and there. It looks much better now.

The second task was a bit harder. Hell, it was a stone bitch. The platform for the sleeping area is multiple sheets of thick plywood. We had removed them so the interior could be stained and sealed (it looks amazing now) and today was the day to reinstall them.

One little problem. We had forgotten to mark which holes in the supporting frame lined up with which holes in the platform pieces. There was much cursing and setting of things before we finally got the pieces to fit. We are not taking those bloody pieces out again without a very, very good reason.

After a short break, we tackled the third task of the day: our pallet. Since Burning Man requires that you support yourself for a week, you need to bring a great deal of stuff. The Army left me with a compulsive need to organize and make lists. Since we have the Free Trailer Beowulf now, our packing needs have changed. We wanted to get a feel for what we had, what we needed, and what we can get rid of.

I was pleasantly surprised. Because of my broken foot last year I was unable to take part in our unloading process. But everything was well-organized. We realized we don't need our cots, the spare tent, and a couple of other things. We will be taking the big tent and all its support material as someone will be buying it from us on the Playa.

Doing this has allowed me to better see how our loading is going to happen. A small amount of material can be carried in the trailer, not too much due to weight and stability issues, but it gets some of the load out of the truck bed (and out of the cab for that matter.) Having the trailer means less stuff and time needed for set-up and tear down. It's all coming together nicely.

We do still need a few things, a battery for our solar panels, a spare tire for the trailer, a couple of other minor things. And we still need to get the trailer's name up on it. I'm almost tempted to look on Craigslist for a graffiti artist to do the work.

But after all this, it was time to hook the trailer up and take it back to the storage yard. We decided to take 101 to avoid the rather bumpy roads on 87 and 85. Big mistake. The had been a major accident on the other side of the freeway, and the looky-loos were causing a backup.

But we made it, eventually, and got the Beowulf into its assigned bay. A run through the nearby Jack drive through, back to the office where I had forgotten my cane, and then home.

2,700 steps today. Not bad. But dear Halford, my FEET!
gridlore: Army Infantry school shield over crossed infantry rifles (Army Infantry)
It's a pretty hot day here in the Valley of Silicon. Not terrible, that's still to come, but exceeding warm. Call it about 85 degrees right now. It's much warmer in Offhand Manor (our name for the apartment) and will turn into an Easy-Bake Oven as the summer progresses.

But as much as I dislike the extreme heat, and it's worse since all my health problems, hot days like this always trigger a memory for me, one that explains my fascination with storm gods.

Back in 1984-85, I was a stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Home of the Infantry, Benning was situated on a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River valley and the city of Columbus, Ga. It is the largest infantry training base in the world. It is also subject to some extreme weather.

The winters were cold, with rain and snow. Spring and autumn were pretty brief. Then there was summer. Summers in the Deep South have to be experienced to be believed. The heat and humidity are unbearable. Moving into the pine forests was like walking into an oven. The sun beat down like an angry god's hammer in some cosmic forge. Smart people retreated to air-conditioned homes and offices or escaped to Flat Rock Park to spend the day lying in the cool water.

We weren't smart, we were U.S. Army Infantry.

But a couple of times a week, we got a reprieve. An even that cut through the muggy heat and renewed our will to live. We were visited by the storm god.

Picture the scene: a company of infantry moving through one of the vast training areas. You are all dressed in camouflage Battle Dress Uniforms, wearing steel helmets, and carrying up to 60lbs of equipment. Everyone's faces and arms are coated in camouflage paint. The temperature has soared past 90 with no sign of stopping. The humidity is also in the low 90s. The air is thick as molasses, and there isn't a hint of a breeze. You feel as if you stood still, you would use up all the oxygen around you.

Your M-16A1 weighed about eight pounds when you started out. Now it weighs a ton. Your shirt is soaked with sweat, and you can feel your socks squishing in your boots. You're limited in the number of times you can drink from your canteen. Every gulp of air burns your throat.

Then you come to a clearing and looking west, you see that someone has stolen the sky. A wall of black thunderheads, towering like the walls of hell, sliding across Alabama towards your position. Flickers of lightning light portions of the clouds in unearthly shades of green and purple. Beneath the cloud, you can see the shifting curtain of rain. The storm is coming, and coming fast.

Around you, AN/PRC-77 backpack radios come to life with chatter. The order comes down: get into the tree line and stack all metal gear at a designated point. Those who have been through this a few times tie condoms around the muzzles of their weapons. Then we disperse. And still, the storm comes.

The air remains still and lifeless. You take off your BDU blouse and use it as an improvised rain cover. Nobody bothers with the issue ponchos, they are useless and hot.

Suddenly, the wind stirs, quickly rising to a steady wind. The temperature drops like a rock, and where you were near heat exhaustion minutes ago, now you're shivering in your sweat-soaked t-shirt. The air becomes like the finest crystal glass. What was blurred in the distance seconds ago is now in perfect focus.

With almost no warning, the sky goes black and an assault of rain and hail comes down. The sky goes blue-white against the black backdrop of clouds with lightning and the near-constant crash of thunder roars in your ears and shakes your bones. Above you, the clouds boil like a living thing. Lightning flashes from cloud to cloud, and slashes down to strike the proud pines standing on the hills and ridges.

And it keeps coming. The red clay dirt turns to mud and tiny rivulets of water around you swell to small streams. You realize that you are actually sinking into the mud, and shift to a solid root. Then it comes.

For the briefest moment, the entire world turns white. A millisecond later an angry ancient spirit, freed from confinement and hungry for vengeance, bellows a war cry that smashes into your entire body. As you blink away the spots, you hear something over the ringing in your ears and the pounding rain and hail.

Cheering. Every man in your company is yelling at the top of their lungs, and you realize that you are as well. You don't know why. It just feels right, and you go with it.

Soon enough, the front passes. The God of Storms allows the Sun God to return. You're a mess, soaked through and coated in red mud. You retrieve your gear and set to cleaning it. But you know this is Fort Benning in summer.

You know that there are good odds that the Storm God of the South will be back tomorrow.

Yeah, sometimes I miss Georgia.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
History and fantasy literature and filled with tales of lost cities and tribes, people cut off from the main course of events and left to their own devices for centuries, until found by accident. There are still places in the world where tribal people still live in the stone age. The vast Amazon basin in South America potentially has thousands of isolated tribes living in its vast reaches. Papua New Guinea also still hold many mysteries, including constant tales of uncontacted tribes wholly unaware of the modern world. Even in the frozen wastes of Siberia, there are reports of nomadic peoples who run from any contact.

But none of them can hold a candle to the people of North Sentinal Island. More than 745 miles from mainland India and just 87 miles from Sumatra at the nearest, North Sentinel Island is found at the west of the Andaman Islands. It is a mere 27.8 square miles, roughly twenty percent bigger than the area of Manhattan. The island is surrounded by jagged reefs, with only a few openings usable only at high tide. The local climate is stormy, with unpredictable storms and surges. All of which has made the Sentinelese the most isolated people in human history.

How isolated? It wasn't until 1867 that anyone was known to have landed on the island when an Indian ship called the Ninevah was wrecked on its beach. The 106 survivors set up a temporary camp and were attacked a few days later.

They managed to fend off the worst of the onslaught but, if it hadn’t been for a Royal Navy steamer which arrived shortly after to rescue them, it is unlikely the terrified group would have survived. After that, the island was wisely left along for another century. In 1974 a documentary crew from the National Geographic Society accompanied and Indian Navy contact team to North Sentinal.

The team left gifts; coconuts, knives, small tools, and the like, and retreated to their boats to wait. Only after the boats had moved a fair distance into the lagoon did the Sentinelese emerge. The replied to the gifts with aggressive posturing, similar to ritual war dances seen around the globe. When that didn't drive the boats off, they started shooting arrows using their huge longbows. The film director was hit in the leg. The arrow was over 8 feet long.

After a few more attempts at contact, the Indian government placed a ban on visiting or even approaching North Sentinal Island. It was a good plan, until to fisherman who had been poaching in the region drifted too close to the island. The Indian helicopter that tried to retrieve the bodies from where they had been killed was driven off by arrow fire coming from the dense jungle.

Here's the kicker. The tribal people on the other Andaman Islands refer to North Sentinel only as a place of death, they've never gone near it for as far back as their histories go. We know from archeological research and genetic heritage testing that the Andamans were first settled as long as 60,000 years ago. It's possible that the Sentinelese have been living in xenophobic isolation for ten times the length of human recorded history. It is entirely possible that they are the direct descendants of the first humans to move out of Africa.

It's possible. The island is practically a second Garden of Eden. The Andaman chain is home to many wild fruits and berries, and the wide lagoon is filled with fish. Migratory birds make nests on the island, providing a source of meat and eggs. So food isn't an issue. The island is large enough for an estimated population of anywhere between 400 and 1,000. Large enough to prevent inbreeding issues. The reef even provided a natural barrier to the effects of the 2004 Christmas Tsunami.

They've never had to develop the ability to sail the ocean. Never, as far as we can tell, had any need to tame fire. No need for clothing. None of the modern vices, as far as we can tell. They are a people frozen in time, a snapshot of our Neolithic ancestors.

But I can't stop wondering who they are as a people. We know, from the abortive contact programs of the 60s and 70s that they have a language. We saw what appeared to be a social order where one man was given orders. They laughed, told each other things that made them laugh, maybe laughing at their visitors. Then with no warning bows were raised and the threat-dancing began. What did we do?

How do they live? Do they sing tales of their ancestors? Where do they live? Do they build shelters? Who is in charge at home? What do they think of us? Why are they so hostile to outsiders?

Just how long have they been on that island?

All questions I'm never going to learn the answer to in this lifetime. Because the Sentinelese have made it clear that they aren't interested in our world. And as I watch the grainy video of their children playing on the beach under the watchful eyes of family, I have to wonder if maybe they aren't the ones who got it right.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
For a couple of years now I've going to a writing "class" offered by Santa Clara Adult Education. I put class in quotes because the format is more of a writing group, with people reading their works as the rest read along, and then offering comments and suggestions.

It's been amazingly good for me, both in terms of my mental health and in encouraging me to write on a more regular basis. Each session is four weeks, meeting on Monday mornings, with 4-5 sessions a year. There is a core of regulars who come to class after class, some for years. I've made good friends there, and I'm especially proud to call Rafael my friend. He's a 94-year-old retired US Marine who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Never once loaded a weapon, as the Marines realized very early that he could type and had been taking accounting classes. He's an incredible writer, and we have to keep him away from the women, as he remains an incurable flirt.

I am the youngest in the class by at least a decade. Which I don't mind at all, I love listening to the others' stories and memories. I like that my best friend in class is a fellow writer of fantasy and really value the feedback I get from them.

Then there's Ralph. Oh, dear Halford, there's Ralph.

Ralph is a nice enough guy, a retired engineer (like several people in the group) who wants to write fiction. However, there's a slight problem. He can't write to save his life. I wish I was kidding about this, but his work is just jaw dropping.

First of all, he writes like he's still writing engineering papers. Everything is stiff and formal, overloaded with technical details. In a series of stories he wrote about two women rowing across the Atlantic, he detailed every single building they passed while rowing down the East River towards the sea. No emotion about setting out on the trip, no description of the smell of the water, the weather, the sound of the oars in their docks . . . just a monotonous list of places. He does that all the time.

Then there are his characters. Think of the worst-acted movie you've ever seen. That's how his characters speak. Stange declarative sentences that pop out of nowhere, spoken with no emotion. No emotional reactions at all. In his latest masterpiece, a man with his family at the Santa Monica Pier realizes that the Big One is imminent, and races to reach the Mt. Wilson Observatory. At no time in this story do any of the adults question this action. Nor do any of the children react to suddenly pulled from a fun day at the beach in the traditional childish way. No one objects when a near stranger joins them.

It drives me crazy.

But today took the cake. I literally had to keep myself from screaming or writing "YOU ARE A HACK!" in giant letters across his latest. Because in today's installment, the characters, at the conveniently abandoned Mt. Wilson facility, having found the fully equipped arms locker found at all the best observatories, decide to take target practice. Just as two Evil Dudes on horses ride up. Remember, this was happening as target practice was underway. Evil Dudes seem to think that all the gun shots were signs that the people there were easy pickings. Two dead Evil Dudes and a rescued boy.

But afterward, we were confused about how long the Swiss Family Woebegone had been up there. "Oh, several months." Was Ralph's reply.

Several months. Let that roll around your head. He was writing about a quake and tsunami that devastated the Los Angeles basin. WHERE THE FUCK DID HE THINK THE REST OF THE COUNTRY HAD GONE? There would have been National Guard, FEMA, Red Cross, mutual support from fire departments across the state, aid coming in from Mexico. . . he just thought that a big earthquake in L.A. would be ignored.

Niven and Pournelle did it better, dude, and their end of the world novel was a racist, misogynistic mess.

He's no better reading your stuff. He misses the obvious and gets diverted by pointless details. I can't begin to calculate how much time has been wasted explaining to Ralph things that were in the work to begin with. As an example, I wrote a piece about our visit last year to the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul. I included how pleased I was to find a relief of Teshub. I gave his entire history, explaining how the storm god of the Hurrians moved west into Lydia and Greece, becoming Zeus along the way, and giving us the idea of God as a man sitting on a cloud.

Ralph's first comment? "This thing about Teshub, I feel I'd need to know who he is to appreciate it." I almost killed him.

He is the only thing about the group I don't like, and I can tolerate him. But I needed to get this rant out.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
But between weather extremes and the never-ending back troubles, I've been hard-pressed to find the energy to write.

This is a writing experiment to describe the bridge of the battleship Vajra, from Task Force Singh, my proposed National Novel Writing Month Project.

A couple of things. "kps" is kilometers per second, the standard measure of velocity. 1 kps is 2,237 miles per hour. These ships really move!

"mpss" or "mips" is meters per second squared. This a measure of acceleration. The Vajra can accelerate at 50mpss. Earth's gravity is 9.8 meters per second squared, so if it wasn't for the artificial gravity, people on the Vajra would experience over five times Earth's gravity at full acceleration.

"LS" is a light second, a unit of distance, 299,792 km.

--

"Captain, Glaser orbital control has cleared the squadron to depart. We have been cleared to departure area 117 by 230."

From his command chair, Singh nodded. It had been a productive visit, shoring up relations between the empire and the neutral Glaser Republic. But he doubted he could stand one more banquet. "Very well. Set the course and have the squadron set into travel formation."

He consulted his private plot on his repeater. "Engineering, please bring us to 75,000 kps once we clear the planet." Singh shifted his attention to the young officer of the deck. "Commander, set Condition Four and secure for movement. I will be in my office if I'm needed."

Satisfied that the small squadron was moving out according to orders, Singh walked the short distance to his day cabin, just to the rear of the bridge. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he settled at his desk with a sigh. Running a ship seemed to involve never-ending paperwork to keep the Fleet offices happy, and now he had to compile a report for the Foreign Office on the visit to Glaser.

He had barely begun that task when the door buzzer went off. 20 minutes, Singh thought, barely 20 minutes before I'm interrupted. "Come in!" he shouted, trying to hide the irritation in his voice. It was Khan, his executive. And he had a grin on his face.

"Alright, Ahriman, care to share the joke?" Singh said while Commander Khan helped himself to a mug of coffee.

"Did you happen to notice Lt. Metz just now?" Khan said as he settled onto the spartan bunk across from the desk.

"I was a little occupied," Singh admitted, a smile growing on his own face. "Was our favorite a little worse for wear?"

"He looked like the gravity was off. Holding onto a grab rail for dear life. My sources tell me he was half-carried aboard by several fellow officers just shy of curfew."

Singh chuckled. "Oh, dear me! Was it too much drinking? A whirlwind love affair? A blood feud with nefarious characters?"

"All three, if the stories are to be believed. Ah, to be young again! To hit dirtside leave with visions of wine, women, and song!"

"That was you, Ahriman. I don't drink and am a terrible singer. Which left me the women!"

Their laughter was interrupted by a call on the overhead speaker. "Captain to the bridge." Both Singh and Khan quickly returned to the bridge, waving the crew back to their seats as they entered.

The rating manning the Signals console remained standing. "Sir, Glaser Control is monitoring at least four hyperspace bowshocks approaching the system. They are not scheduled, and there isn't a known route to account for their approach vector. Control requests that we divert to meet these ships." The young rating fidgeted for a second, clearly wondering if he had to remain standing after his report, before awkwardly taking his seat.

Singh absent-mindedly stroked his beard as he stared at the large holographic main plot. The tactical officer had already updated the plot with this new data. Commander Khan leaned over to speak in Singh's ear. "It is part of the treaty, and we know there have been some pretty heavy raiding being done in this general area."

Singh nodded. "Absolutely." He raised his voice. "Set Condition Three. All hands prepare for battle stations." He looked to his left at the helm station. "Set a course that brings us to intercept in four hours. Let engineering know we're going to be making the turn. I want to enter the potential battle area at no more than 750 kps. Signals, send confirmations to Glaser control. Alert the squadron that I'm going to want formation Gamma one hour before arrival at the intercept point."

As Singh sat back on his couch, doing the math on intercepts in his head, Commander Khan spoke up. "You heard the Captain, now move! This is a battleship, not a luxury cruise! Get to work!"

Soon the bridge was filling with the battle staff. Every console was now manned. All eight gunnery control officers filled the sunken area known to everyone as the pit. Three ratings and a control officer at Signals. The A crew for the Sensors team. All ready to pass on information and command decisions. Singh allowed himself a slight smile. This was a good crew.

The squadron raced through the empty system, every sensor probing the area where the unknown ships would likely emerge from hyperspace. At one hour out, Commander Khan commanded "Set Condition Two." Klaxons blared across the ship. On the bridge, half the staff hurried out to a nearby ready room, returning in a very short time in combat vacuum gear. Then the other half repeated the act. When everyone else was suited up, Singh retreated to his day cabin to don his own suit, bright white with orange and red recognition panels and the Fleet Captain insignia comically large on his chest.

Once back on the bridge, he double checked that everyone was hooked into the ship's air supply and was ready for action. Captains did have to do that, but it helped morale. Satisfied, Singh returned to his own couch and hooked in.

Mere minutes later, the sensor team sat bolt upright, as if they had been shocked. "Captin, multiple hyperspace emergences at 012 by 362. Evaluate as two Kian-class armored cruisers, one Divad-class battle cruiser, and a large transport, class unknown. Updated to the main plot."

A few scant seconds later, the call came from the tactical officer. "We are being painted, multiple targeting lasers."

"Well, they wish to play? Set Condition One, battle stations." As the klaxon sounded again, Singh leaned forward toward the plot and addressed the chief gunnery officer. "Commander Khatib, you may fire when ready."
gridlore: Army Infantry school shield over crossed infantry rifles (Army Infantry)
Today is Camerone Day.

The French Army was besieging Puebla.

The mission of the Legion was to ensure the movement and safety of the convoys, over an 80 mile distance. On the 29th of April 1863, Colonel Jeanningros was informed that an important convoy was on its way to Puebla, with a load of 3 million francs, and material and munitions for the siege. Captain Danjou, his quartermaster, decided to send a company to escort the convoy. The 3rd company of the Foreign Regiment was assigned to this mission, but had no officers available. So Captain Danjou, himself, took the command and 2nd lieutenants Maudet, company guide, and Vilain, the paymaster, joined him voluntarily.

On the 30th of April, at 1 a.m., the 3rd company was on its way, with its 3 officers and 62 men. At 7 a.m., after a 15 mile march, it stopped at Palo Verde in order to get some rest. At this very moment, the enemy showed up and the battle began. Captain Danjou made the company take up a square formation and, even though retreating, he victoriously drove back several cavalry charges, inflicting the first heavy losses on the enemy .

By the inn of Camerone, a large building with a courtyard protected by a wall 3 meters high, Danjou decided to stay, in order to keep the enemy and so delay for as long as possible, any attacks on the convoy.

While the legionnaires were rapidly setting up the defense of the inn, a Mexican officer demanded that Captain Danjou surrender, pointing out the fact that the Mexican Army was greatly superior in number.

Danjou's answer was: "We have munitions. We will not surrender." Then, he swore to fight to the death and made his men swear the same. It was 10 a.m. Until 6 p.m., these 60 men who had had nothing to eat or drink since the day before, in spite of the extreme heat, of the thirst and hunger, resisted against 2,000 Mexicans: 800 cavalry and 1,200 infantry.

At noon, Captain Danjou was shot in the chest and died. At 2 p.m., 2nd lieutenant Vilain was shot in the head. About this time, the Mexican colonel succeeded in setting the inn on fire.

In spite of the heat and the smoke, the legionnaires resisted, but many of them were killed or injured. By 5 p.m., only 12 men could still fight with 2nd lieutenant Maudet. At this time, the Mexican colonel gathered his soldiers and told them what disgrace it would be if they were unable to defeat such a small number of men. The Mexicans were about to give the general assault through holes opened in the walls of the courtyard, but Colonel Milan, who had previously asked 2nd lieutenant Maudet to surrender, once again gave him the opportunity to. Maudet scornfully refused.

The final charge was given. Soon, only 5 men were left around Maudet; Corporal Maine, legionnaires Catteau, Wensel, Constantin and Leonard. Each had only one bullet left. In a corner of the courtyard, their back against the wall, still facing the enemy, they fixed bayonets. When the signal was given, they opened fire and fought with their bayonets. 2nd lieutenant Maudet and 2 legionnaires fell, mortally wounded. Maine and his 2 remaining companions were about to be slaughtered when a Mexican officer saved them. He shouted: "Surrender!"

"We will only if you promise to allow us to carry and care for our injured men and if you leave us our guns".

"Nothing can be refused to men like you!", answered the officer.

Captain Danjou's men had kept their promise; for 11 hours, they had resisted 2,000 enemy troops. They had killed 300 of them and had injured as many. Their sacrifice had saved the convoy and they had fulfilled their mission.

Emperor Napoleon III decided that the name of Camerone would be written on the flag of the Foreign Regiment and the names of Danjou, Vilain and Maudet would be engraved in golden letters on the walls of the Invalides, in Paris.

Moreover, a monument was built in 1892, at the very place of the fight. The following inscription can be read there:

Ils furent ici moins de soixante
Opposés à toute un armée,
Sa masse les écrasa.
La vie plutôt que le courage
Abandonna ces soldats Français
Le 30 avril 1863.


"Here there were less than sixty opposed to a whole army. Its mass crushed them. Life abandoned these French soldiers before courage. The 30th of April 1863."
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
I really need to thank my old high school friend Bruce Norbeck for pointing me at two great books. Since Task Force Singh is drawing from WWI naval combat, he suggested I read "Dreadnought" and "Castles of Steel," both by Robert K. Massie. The first is an account of the rapid expansion of both the Royal Navy and the Imperial High Seas Fleet in an age where a ten-year-old ship was already hopelessly obsolete. Imagine the tech cycle we experience with computers, but instead of laptops, we're talking about heavily gunned ships carrying close to a thousand crew members.

From that book, I harvested a treasure-trove of characters and background details to set the action. Then I dove into Castles, which more about the conduct of the war at sea, and it was there that I found that one piece I had been missing.

See, what inspired me to write Task Force Singh was the pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau, two German ships sent to bolster the Turkish Navy. This led to a tense hunt across the Mediterranean as ships of the Royal Navy, not yet at war with Germany, tried to track the Germans and prevent them from reaching Constantinople.

Spoiler, they made it. And when the Russian ambassador to the Sublime Porte complained about two German warships in the Bosporus, he was told that these were, in fact, Turkish ships. See the crew in their (hastily issued) fezzes?

So while it's a great story, there's very little action. Beyond a few breakdowns and concerns about coaling, the two forces just watched each other. I was going to have ti invent action. Also, the reason for the Goeben and Breslau to travel to the Ottoman capital makes little sense in space, even with my restrictions on the duration and distance of interstellar flight. Those ships were there to deny passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles to the Russians. I was going to have to stretch to find a local system that would work as such a choke point.

Which brings us to the other great chase I learned about in Castles of Steel. The German East Asia Squadron, based out of Tsingtao in Mainland China (know you know why Tsingtao beer is so good. Germans) found itself, as war loomed, in a very bad spot. Filled with older ships, surrounded by large forces of the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy, and probably facing the fleets of Japan and Russia as well, staying put was an invitation to a quick death.

So they ran. Across the Pacific. Heading for South America to engage in commerce raiding. That is a long way to go in coal-fired ships, so they had to stop to coal at neutral ports, raided French Polynesia, and sent a cruiser to Hawaii to pick up the mail. One cruiser, SMS Emden, was too slow to accompany the squadron, so stayed behind to raid until sunk.

The East Asia Squadron was commanded by Admiral von Spee, who swore that he would fight until he ran out of ammo or was destroyed. Of the coast of Chile, he annihilated one British force before being decimated himself in the Battle of the Falklands.

Which means I can combine the two events. Task Force Singh starts as a small unit assigned to protect a small colony far from home. Upon war breaking out, they are ordered to hit and run, concentrating on merchants whenever possible, and try to make it back home. This gives me several more ships to work with, meaning I get to kill more characters! Yay!

It also gives me two, possibly three big battles. The one where the Vajra and company defeat a Peacekeeper force in detail, the one where he wanders into an ambush, and possibly one near the end, although I'm trying to avoid a death ride. I'm not David bloody Weber.

After the losing battle, the mood shifts to a pursuit, as the battered ships race for safety being pursued by the admiral sent to destroy this threat. Very high tension as the damaged ships see systems fail due to battle damage or the effects of travel in hyperspace, the surviving ships are overcrowded with survivors of lost vessels, and the strain of each entry into every new system rises every time.

I really like how this is shaping up. I just to sketch out some characters for the major ships, and at least name commanders, figure out the composition of the fleets involved, and I'm ready to start outlining!

This may actually happen!

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gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
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