gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
And here comes the rain again. Ever get something you really need, and then get too bloody much of it? That's California and water this year. After four years of severe, devastating drought, we finally got the good news that the storm doors had opened!

Blown off the hinges, actually. We had the wettest January and February in the state's history. Buckets of rain and, in the higher elevations, snow came crashing down. Joy at the possible end of the drought turned to concern then to fear as water kept deluging our dry hills and valleys. In many places, hillsides stripped of trees by the past few fire seasons gave way, leading to landslides all across the state.

And still the rains came. Reservoirs that had been nearly empty filled with such speed that hydraulic engineers, facing this problem for the first time in decades, had to deal with dams bursting at the seams. At Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States, the main spillway crumbled under the rushing waters, sending multi-ton chunks of concrete tumbling down to the Feather River. The emergency spillway, which had never been used in the dam's 50 year history, was opened up and nearly collapsed itself as the raging waters eroded away decades of growth and top soil.

It was all too much! Everywhere you looked there were streets filled with standing water and blocked storm drains. A fish hatchery had to evacuate over a million baby salmon lest the debris and silt pouring down the Feather River kill them all. All over the state our aging infrastructure gave up the ghost and stopped functioning. At least two levies failed.

There was so much water coming down the various river systems in Northern California, and so much silt and debris in that water, that San Francisco Bay turned brown and was briefly considered to be a freshwater feature. There was a warning issued to all mariners operating in the bay or coming through the Golden Gate to be aware of debris up to and including large trees and portions of buildings.

And still the rains came. Even here in the usually dry Santa Clara County, the waters were causing havoc. Anderson Dam, to the south of us, couldn't be allowed to fill completely due to needed seismic upgrades. Yet as was the case everywhere else, the reservoir was rapidly rising. In a stunning breakdown of communications, water was released into Coyote Creek too quickly, and without evacuation orders going out to residents along the creek banks. The result was the worst flooding seen in the county in a very, very long time.

An amusing side note to the Coyote Creek flood, a gold course grounds manager discovered just how many homeless people were living on his course when he took a boat out to inspect the damages and found 50 people up trees.

Not that funny, I know, but you take it where you can find it.

The sad thing is that even with all the rain we've gotten, and even with the record snow pack up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, we're not out of the woods yet. California has been draining the subterranean water table almost everywhere to fuel our state agricultural juggernaut. It would take several years of weather like this to recharge it. I suggested in all seriousness that the state should have opened levies all across the San Joaquin Valley and in other agricultural areas once the size of the runoff became unmanageable. Flood millions of acres of farmland with water rich in silt and (let's face it) dead biomass. Recharge the soil and the water table a bit. As usual, my voice wasn't heard.

Yeah, I think we're all pretty done with the rain for this year. On the upside, the waterfalls in Yosemite are more stunning than usual, and should remain flowing through August. But that's a minor plus to a series of devastating storms. We now face a race to rebuild and repair not just the Oroville and Anderson dams, but our water infrastructure all around the state. We put it off for far too long.

The real nightmare, though, is that this year was an anomaly. A blip in the weather pattern caused by a series of factors that lined up perfectly, and that next year the rains will stop again. Because despite living in a place where droughts are common, Californians still have goldfish brains when it comes to water conservation. They see a wet winter and immediately go back to wasteful ways, and we can't afford that. Because the next drought is right around the proverbial corner, right behind the storm door that can close any time.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Some spoilers for Iron Fist lie ahead. Be warned.

So I've just binged the first few episodes of Iron Fist on Netflix. Despite the professional reviews dissing it, I'm having fun with the realization of one of my favorite characters from the strange pool of ideas that was Marvel in the 1970s. But that's not to say I don't have some issues.

For those not familiar with the character, Iron Fist is Danny Rand, a young man raised in the mystical city of K'un-L'un. The comics and the TV show differ on how young Danny gets there, but the end result is the same: dead parents and years of training in the martial arts. As Iron Fist, Danny is able to channel his chi into one fist, making it "unto a thing like iron."

Danny returns to New York, where he eventually teams up with Luke Cage in Heroes for Hire, Inc., and later the Defenders. He is very much a street-level hero, better suited for fighting more mundane threats as opposed to the Avengers, who can take on huge threats.

My issues with the series start with them keeping the "scion of a billionaire family who returns from the Mysterious East with amazing abilities" trope. Seriously, this is the biggest cliche in comics. It's the regular attempt to recreate Batman in a different suit. Even on television, we currently have Green Arrow having the exact same background. Chang it up!

Then we have the fact that some of the Netflix shows have a terrible sense of story pacing. Danny arrives in New York shoeless and shaggy. He sleeps in a park while trying to prove that he is in fact this kid who was reported dead 15 years ago. Regaining who he is could have been the first season. It would have given us a longer arc of him becoming a hero for the homeless and ignored. It would have established who Daniel Rand is in our minds, this man who has the values of a mystic warrior monk.

Instead, by the 4th episode, he's already in the corner office with 51% control of his family business. Too quick! I hate that nobody wants to do a striptease with the plot reveals anymore. It took Babylon 5 two full seasons to fully reveal the threat!

I do like that the writers did play a bit with the idea that maybe this "Danny Rand" was crazy, but let's be honest. This is New York City a few years after the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Harlem has been devastated by the Hulk and Abomination, A major tech fair was attacked by flying drones and defeated by Iron Man and War Machine, and an entire alien army led by a Norse God beat the shit out of lower Manhattan! It is publicly accepted that a WWII hero was frozen in ice for 70 years and that one of mankind's greatest defenders is another Norse God!

You would think that mental health professionals at this point would be slightly more accepting of the possibility that the young man in front of them did in fact spend 15 years in a mystic monastery.

But the one thing that has a lot of people talking is the fact that Danny Rand is a white guy. A white guy who uses Chinese martial arts and speaks fluent Mandarin. There have been cries of whitewashing and cultural appropriation leveled at the series. Some have questioned who do this series at all?

First of all, you can't whitewash a character who was originally conceived, written and drawn as a blond white dude. The characters' who point is the place he was trained only opens to the outside world every fifteen years, and was brought in to save his life. Is the idea that this master of the arts and the power of Iron Fist a white guy racist? Possibly. But remember that at the same time Marvel was also riding the martial arts craze with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, a Chinese character. This was also the birth of Luke Cage, Power Man among other more diverse characters. Marvel was trying to be better about race and gender representation in their books.

Cultural appropriation? Where? Again, from the age of about 9 or 10 to 25 Daniel Rand lived in this mystical place. It was his culture! He had no choice, he didn't decide to watch his parents die and become a monk. Ridiculous charge.

Lastly, as I mentioned above, Marvel is planning a Defenders series for Netflix in the future. As many of the comic-book Defenders (and there have been many line-ups and versions of the team) are either tied up in legal problems or wouldn't fit with the lower-budget Netflix projects, it was decided to reunite Iron Fist with Luke Cage for the series. Perfectly reasonable. It took us half a dozen feature films to get to the Avengers, after all.

I'm liking Iron Fist. I just hope the rest of the season is paced better, but I was spoiled by how well Luke Cage was produced.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
This one is going to be difficult to write, as I'm rather disturbed about something that happened today.

Kirsten and I were out running weekend errands like any married couple. Couple of stops for stuff surrounding the Free Trailer Beowulf project, although the trip to Home Depot was just supposed to be dropping off old CFLs, we ended up buying what we needed for the stripe painting. Just a normal day.

We were done, with the groceries and other acquisitions in Darby's bed, and headed home. It's a beautiful day here, so I had my window down as Kirsten drove. There was one right turn we were waiting to make when it happened. An African-American man was crossing the street, and I was suddenly seized by not panic, but a feeling of not knowing what to do. Do I make eye contact? What do I do if he moves towards the truck? Should I lock my door?

All of this in the time it took this guy to walk in front of us in the crosswalk and go on his way. I was deeply shaken by my reaction here, because it is so atypical for me. I've spent so many years working with and living in the same areas as African-Americans and other minority groups that I thought I was past such snap panics.

I grew up in Los Gatos and the Cambrian Park area of San Jose, California. Back then I didn;t know about concepts like white flight and racial boundaries, all I knew is I have one Latino classmate, and my best friend's mom was from Peru. We got a double handful of South-east Asian kids when the Vietnamese boat people were finally granted entry to the United States. But still, mine was a mostly white, suburban experience.

But I was exposed to other cultures in music and in books. I was raised to believe that all men were created equal, and that I should judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. But still, I don't think I ever met an African-American until my late teens. I was the model of white privilege.

Then came the Army. While combat arms like the infantry were disproportionately white, my drill sergeants were an African-American man and a Puerto Rican. Later we got a Chinese Drill Sergeant who loved to tell us to "don't cheat your bodies! Do diamond push-ups!" In my first duty assignment I managed to end up in an entirely African-American squad against all odds. As squad mates live, work, and party together, I became, if not part of, at least accepted as a non-threat in the burgeoning rap scene in Atlanta. I also earned the most un-PC nickname in history when our First Sergeant saw us heading out for a Friday night on Victory Drive, announced, "Berry, you're a worse n___r than the rest of them." It stuck. I wore it with pride.

I've even experienced what it's like to be on the bottom of the social ladder due to your ethnicity myself in Hawaii. Get outside Hotel Street and the beaches of Waikiki, and whites are the hated bottom class. At the 25th Infantry Division, we were told never to go into Wahiawa, the town just outside Schofield Barracks, at night or in the day in groups smaller than six. Because the Samoans who worked the cane fields would beat up soldiers for fun, and the cops would charge the victims with disturbing the peace.

Hell, even in the civilian world I've usually been the palest face on the job. My PODS warehouse was mostly African-American, and at Lord & Sons, the place was heavily Latino with two bonus Russians. I should be good at this by now! I mean, our neighborhood has Mexicans (and a lot of Norteños living down the street from us), folks of various Asian backgrounds, Indians, and even a few women I've seen shopping in a full Niqab.

So why did this guy freak me out so badly? Was it because African-Americans aren't that common in this little corner of Santa Clara? Was there something in his walk that triggered me? After all these years, I would hate to discover that there's a streak of fear-based racism in me somewhere, I really thought that I was getting past that, and had done so early in life when I jump head-first into the Big Green Melting Pot.

To this random guy minding his own business on a Saturday, I apologize. I owe you and everyone more trust. I'll try to do better next time.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
So yesterday I wrote about my on again, off again relationship with comic books. Boiled down, I liked them, but factors like expense and storage space, plus the lack of any real character movement, led me to be a somewhat edge consumer. Now that I've learned just how much infighting and office wars are behind the rather bizarre changes we've seen, I understand a little better why things get so wonky.

But I do love superheroes and physics-defying worlds they live in. For a long time, I've fed my jones through - wait for it - role-playing games like Champions and Villains & Vigilantes. The latter is enjoying a new life with an upcoming third edition headed by some of the original designers. This makes me happy. Iron Horse may yet ride again!

The other outlet was TV and film. Like everyone else my age I was enthralled by the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve as the the Man of Steel, quietly crept out of the theater during the third, and drank heavily when they announced the fourth film. But other than that, and some rather disappointing TV efforts in the early 80s (Greatest American Hero being an exception, and where's the reboot we were promised two years ago, huh?) we had to wait until 1989 for a truly great superhero movie to come along.

Tim Burton's Batman. Dear gods, this movie was great, even if I found many pieces a bit over the top. Great casting, great action pieces. It was a fun film that got the Dark Knight *right.* Then DC proved it couldn't pour piss out of a boot while reading the directions on the heel by releasing a series of increasing horrible sequels. Are you sensing a trend here? But still, most of them were pretty, and I will claim that Jim Carey got screwed by having his Riddler share space with Two-Face and a writing team that didn't know what actually constitutes a riddle.

But we soldiered on. In 2002 we got the first of the three Spider-Man movies starring Tobey McGuire. These films were good for the first two, then fell flat. But then, at the end of the decade, comic book move fans hit the jackpot. Iron Man was released in 2008, and it was something new. There was a plan to release films that worked together in an extended plot that would bring the heroes together in a way that made sense. So we got Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger; all of which led up to The Avengers.

This was good and amazing. We also got the "unfilmable" Watchmen movie, which was very pretty and I like it and you can fuck off with your whiny complaints about the space squid and Tales of the Black Freighter. It was a GOOD MOVIE, a movie with enough glowing blue dick for everyone.

Sorry. I'm a bit passionate about that film.

But that was just Phase 1 of Marvel's three-part plan for their movies. Phase 2 ended with Ant-Man in 2015, and we're well in Phase 3 with many more movies to come! This is reason to keep living! To say that I squeed like a fanboy when Doctor Strange was announced is an understatement. The Sorcerer Supreme has always been a favorite.

Not content with the big screen, Marvel also decided to conquer the small screen. "Agents of SHIELD" has been not only a fun show, but it's been a magnificent way to both set up and continue the story lines from the movies. Netflix has several great shows giving us some of the lesser-known characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones; all of whom tie back into the big meta-plot. I'm curious to see how they handle Iron Fist.

DC, while failing miserably in the movie department, has quietly put out some pretty damn good TV. Green Arrow and Flash were the first, and both have benefited from very strong casts and a willingness to address the logic holes in the superhero business. Supergirl, which started on CBS and migrated to the CW, has been a bit more hit and miss, but is solid. Sadly, Legends of Tomorrow has lost me completely. There's just no chemistry on that set, which makes it look like a bunch of people cosplaying rather than heroes traveling in time.

The one thing all this that make me very, ver sad is that no one has ever made a Fantastic Four movie. Nope, It has never happened. Ever. I will claim this until I die. Claims of FF films are fake news.

gridlore: A pile of a dozen hardback books (Books)
I was just on the phone with my mom, and asked her what I should write about. As I had just been encouraging her to watch the special musical episode of The Flash next week, she suggested comic books. Good topic.

I can still remember what was probably one of the first comics I really read, That was Avengers #160, featuring the Grim Reaper invading Avenger Mansion. There was another comic, probably bought for me on a long car trip or flight to Milwaukee, that was a Spider-Man comic where he was battling in the Museum of Natural History and all the dinosaur skeletons came to life. (It was an illusion.)

Comics were an occasional thing for me as a kid. I never really got into following them mainly because I played role-playing games, and that swallowed my weekly allowance whole. Every week I'd do my chores, walk down to the bus stop to grab Line 27 and a day pass, ride into Los Gatos where I'd pick up either Line 60 or Line 62 and head for Campbell and the legendary Game Table. Where I'd buy something for Traveller or the latest issue of Dragon magazine.

All of this for $10, including a stop at a taco place.

No, for me comics would wait until I was stationed in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks. The on-base recreation sucked, and Honolulu was too expensive, so I was left with Wahiawa - the town just outside Schofield and Wheeler Air Force Base - for my amusement. That's where I found the most amazing comic store ever. Central Oahu is made up of knife-edge ridges and deep ravines. Wahiawa has several ravines running through it. To get to this store, you had to walk down three flights of wooden stairs to a lanai that looked out on lush rainforest with the sound of a stream rushing nearby. There was the store. I went in that first time looking for gaming stuff.

I came out with issue one of The Dark Knight Returns. I was hooked. I began reading more and more, storing what I could and selling back what I couldn't. I gravitated to the best artists; Alex Ross, George Perez, and the like, and loved the so-called Iron Age of grittier heroes. At one point, my weekly order was about 25 books, plus Comic Relief magazine. Boy, we could use that one back these days.

But slowly I began to grow troubled with the comic universes I was reading. There was no consequences to any actions. Death, a fairly serious life event, was temporary even when we had the body. DC cleaned up their messy multiverse with an epic event with their Crisis on Infinite Earths, then immediate started messing it up again. Change was forbidden.

The RPG GURPS even poked fun at this in their Infinite Worlds campaign. There's a timeline where superheroes exist, but every thirty years their stories reset and change slightly. That really accurate.

The straw that broke the camel's back for me was the bullet that broke Tony Stark's back. Stark, the Incredible Iron Man, had been dating a Hollywood starlet who turned out to be a bit deranged. She shot Tony, leaving him paralyzed from the sternum down. I will note that no time did they mention the actual effects of this sort of paralysis, like needing a colostomy bag and assistance breathing. Being dead from the chest down has severe life consequences. Strike one.

"But great," I thought, "Tony is a known alcoholic. This might drive him back into the bottle. Or he might become addicted to the Iron Man suit since it allows him to walk normally! There are all sorts of great story lines we can get from this!" But know, within a year - 12 issues - Tony had magically repaired his own nervous system using an alien nanovirus. Good as new, story never mentioned again. Strike two.

Oh no! The alien nanos are killing Tony! In a moving deathbed scene he leaves everything to longtime pilot and sidekick, James Rhodes. The he dies. The Iron Man is dead, long live Iron Man! "This is really going to be great this time!" I once again thought, "A new Iron Man, a very different character, and the stories about him adjusting to being rich and the owner of Stark's empire will be fascinating!"

Not so fast. Rhodey was Iron Man for the Secret Wars miniseries, and a limited run of the main book, but then it was revealed that Stark had faked his death while he fixed himself again. He's back, and wants all his stuff again. I was waiting for Rhodes to say "No, you lying SOB, it's mine. Get out." But no, he just passes everything back and goes back to being the bloody sidekick! Strike three, and I was out.

I still read selected comics. We both loved Transmetropolitan, and Mike Grell's "Green Arrow: The Long Bow Hunters" remains a classic. But for the most part I ignore comics these days. Expect for in movies and on TV, which will be another post.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Well, it's that time again. March Madness. When America grinds to a screeching stop so we can pretend not to bet on a college basketball tournament. Even though i won't be doing my part by wasting billions of dollars of productivity following the games, I've filled out my brackets.

Two of them, actually. One on ESPN and one on Yahoo, both of which will mark the only time I use those accounts all year. The annual Filling Out Of The Brackets has become a holy ritual, with some people spending more effort determining whether Seton Hall has a better free throw percentage than Xavier than they will on their taxes. Which explain much about this nation.

By the way, I'd totally pay more attention to college basketball if "Xavier" was actually the school from the X-Men comics. I mean, is it traveling if you fly with the ball in your hands? But alas, that dream must stay in the realm of the comic book that I demand be on the shelves pronto.

There's even a term for this national obsession with obscure schools you've never heard of: "Bracketology." If you listen to sports radio in late February you will hear grown mean discussing how to fill out your bracket in the way I was told how to save my life if I was exposed to nerve gas: in great detail and deathly serious. For eight years the President of the United States would host ESPN in the White House so he could reveal not a secret plan to send Rush Limbaugh to Mars, but his picks for the NCAA Tournament. It was a show! And boy do I miss that guy right now.

But I'm not a basketball fan in the least. Despite being a total sports goober basketball never appealed in the least. Even though I grew up in the glory days of Dr. J, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and witnessed the deification of Michael Jordan, I was just never into the game itself. Too many weird fouls, I suppose. It would be action action action *tweet* and everyone marches to the other end of the court.

I also blame my mother. As was required by law, our house had a basketball net mounted on the garage. This was put up despite one kid being legally blind and the other two being sports-adverse. But on warm summer nights we'd dutifully file out for a game of Horse. If you're not familiar with the game, one person shoots a basket. If they make it, the next person has to replicate the shot or get a letter. Spell Horse and you're out.

Which would be fine, except my mom was an undiscovered basketball prodigy! She'd nail hook shots, jumpers through the horrible sap-ridden tree branches, and even from the end of the driveway! And then I'd be handed the ball and told to try my best! Ha! There's a reason I became a dedicated bookworm.

There you go, the reason why basketball and I aren't friends. We just don't get along well, and I think we're both good with that. I cheer for the Warriors when I hear about them, and can name at least three team members; although I have to admit that comes from listening to news radio all day, not actual interest.

But I did fill out my brackets. On both I picked Duke to win because I heard someone say that Duke was the bookmakers' favorite. So of course Duke will be beaten in the first round just to screw up my entire bracket. A more likely scenario is I'll have a good first round, get my hopes up, and then watch the entire thing burn down, fall over, and sink into the swamp.

I know everyone reading this is dying to know my secrets to picking a bracket. Do I compare stats? Check the teams comparative records? Examine the coaching philosophies? Seek out the wisdom of wiser heads and heed their advice?

No, most years I pick almost at random. I usually go for the higher seeded team unless I like the other school more. For example, I always pick Wisconsin to do at least moderately well, due to family ties and the fact that I like badgers. My other method is to play Mascot Deathmatch. Which mascot would win a fight? This is why in the years Stanford has made it to the tournament I've never picked them to win. Their mascot is a tree. Trees are terrible fighters.

Go brackets! Do me proud, and I'd like to apologize to Kirsten for my annual descent into March Madness.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
More novel stuff inspired by the book Dreadnought, by Robert K. Massie. Thanks again to Bruce Norbeck for suggesting it to me. This isn't going to be a major character, but a man moving things behind the scenes.

The Coalition's Foreign Ministry was housed in a chaotic series of buildings known to everyone as the Labyrinth. Office towers, meeting halls, and support structures were placed seemingly at random, leading to much confusion in visitors. A common joke was that the impenetrable layout was a commentary on the often muddled foreign policy issued from its depths.

But to those who worked there, there was one room known to all, even above the office of the Foreign Minister himself. That was H-72, the office of the First Foreign Secretary of the Political Division. For decades the office had been held by Mathura Chheda, a gray man who arrived every day promptly, unlocked his office himself, and sat down to work. He refused all the perks of his office. There was no receptionist, not fawning aides. Chheda worked solidly, reading and commenting on the reports from embassies and agents that came into his office, writing memorandums and policy notes, and sending them out by email or through the messengers that were his only visitors most days.

Chheda was the Grey Eminence of the Foreign Ministry. Even his fellow First Secretaries sought out his approval before submitting plans. Many directors of foreign intelligence complained -- quietly -- that Chheda had better sources both at home and abroad than they did. His reach was so universal that inside the Ministry "72" became the whispered warning that the walls had ears.

From his quiet little office on the 7th floor of Building H, just two floors below the Minister's suite, Chheda had watched a parade of Chancellors, Ministers, Ambassadors, and functionaries come and go. Every day at the noon meal, a tray would be delivered promptly and left on the office's side table. An hour later, the tray would be left outside the door of his office to be collected, usually with a brief note commenting on the quality of the food. Those notes could destroy careers.

The lights in H-72 burned long after most of the other members of the foreign service had left for their homes. Chheda spent long hours making sure that he and he alone held the strings in the Ministry. He had refused promotion many times, he knew exactly where his power lay. Ministers soon learned that to cross the man in H-72 was not worth the trouble, and removing him would be suicide for the Ministry.

His work finally done, Chheda would secure his office, and walk a short distance to (restaurant name) where a private dining room was reserved for him. Every so often, a favored coworker or diplomat would be invited to join Chheda in his evening meal. There they learned that the Grey Eminence had one passion beyond his work, fine foods. It was not uncommon for his suppers to encompass seven courses, and several bottles of wine. But he never showed any signs of being drunk.

Even at these meals, or on the rare occasions he attended a social function (he avoided most of the capital's social calendar by claiming a lack of proper clothing) Chheda was still the spider at the center of his web. People said that he always seemed to be calculating, evaluating everyone in sight and noting the patterns of movement in whatever room he was in. Attempts to engage the First Secretary in conversation usually failed, unless he needed something from the other party.

His meal done the grey little man in his nondescript suit would leave the restaurant by a private exit and make the short walk to his quarters. He refused the open use of Ministry bodyguards, although he knew a handful always lurked nearby when he was in public. Entering his modest, three room suite. Chheda followed the same routine: he would lay out clothing for the next day, shower, read for a short time, and then to bed.

They called him many things at the Foreign Ministry: The Grey Eminence, the man in 72, the shadow minister. But there was one title rarely used. Mathura Chheda may have been the image of a career bureaucrat, but inside he harbored a deep sense of vengeance. Chheda never forgot a wrong, and never forgave. He would destroy careers and lives over the slightest insult. He was rumored to have had failing agents killed out of hand to preserve his place in the bureaucracy. New arrivals at the Foreign Ministry were warned to watch their step and what they said, for this Labyrinth was stalked by a Minotaur.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
What is the goal of a war? Why are you committing your blood and treasure to a machine that will consume both? Unless your leaders and population are mad, wars need to have goals, and a reasonable expectation of achieving them. The problem, of course, is the state you go to war with has it's own ideas about your goals, and will resist them if what you want disagrees with what they want. Such is human history.

In the mid-19th century, Central Europe was in flux. The map had been torn apart by Napoleon I, and glued back together by the Congress of Vienna, and in every state the effects of the Industrial Revolution was being felt. Onto this stage strode one of the true giants of world history, Otto von Bismarck. Son of a minor Junker landowner, and possessed of an iron will, von Bismarck climbed the rungs of the Prussian state until he was the effective head of the nation. But he wasn't satisfied. By winning two wars he had no right to win against the vastly superior Austrian and French Empires, he forged a new united German state.

And then he stopped making wars and turned to diplomacy. Because von Bismarck understood what I stated above, that wars have to have a reason and a goal. The Imperial Chancellor hated wars, as they were something that was out of his control. But he still kept them as a possibility, as an instrument of state policy if needed. But even for this master statesman who created and ran Germany for 40 years, there was one line he would not cross unless forced: Russia.

Speaking to the German Ambassador to Vienna in 1888, Bismarck stated that one would not actually defeat the Russians. “The most brilliant victories would not avail; the indestructible empire of the Russian nation, strong because of its climate, its desert, its frugality, strong also because of the advantage of having only one frontier to defend, would, after its defeat, remain our sworn enemy, desirous of revenge, just as today’s France is in the West."

Which is relevant to my novel, as I'm writing about a massive, multi-sided war out among the stars. But we don't live in deep space, we live on planets. And what von Bismarck had to say about Russia applies ten-fold to taking an entire world. Unless there is only a small colony present, or the inhabited body is incapable of supporting life and can be threatened with destruction of life support facilities, an invading force has only two real options.

The first is the doctrine of total war. Since you can't control the planet, render it useless to the enemy. Destroy orbital facilities, cripple the surface by hurling projectiles at a small fraction of the speed of light at vital points (as energetic as a nuclear device, with no radiation. So your colonists can move in when the dust settles.)

This doctrine is needlessly destructive, and is usually only resorted to by desperate commanders or in reprisal for similar attacks by the enemy. No, if you want to hold a world, exploit it, rule it, you have to put boots on the ground.

But we just established that conquering a planet is impossible! True, but you can control enough of it to maintain effective control of the rest, just like a police officer can neutralize a comabative subject with the right twist of a wrist. This is called nodal warfare. The idea is simple. Control or disrupt the important points that allow a civilization to function (the nodes) and you gain control by proxy over the rest of the planet.

Some nodes are obvious. Government centers, major cities, transportation hubs. Others may be less obvious. Gain control over the communications network, and you not only can make sure the population hears what you want them to hear, but you also make it hard for resistance cells to operate. Control the sources of food and water and rebels face a desperate choice. There are others, but I think the idea is clear.

This invasion and occupation would be supported by one or two orbiting cruisers, or perhaps a small squadron of destroyers. They're they to both coordinate efforts on the ground, and provide retributive fire if needed.

The final key is popular opinion. If the previous government was oppressive, the invaders may be greeted as liberators . . . or not. (See George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq, 2003.) If the occupation is handled well, and a strong propaganda campaign is in place, you might turn popular opinion your way.

But still. Don't invade Russia. It's a bad idea.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
This changed course mid-writing.

I love words. I love their history, their construction, and how a word can cover so many meanings. I love the flow of words in the hands of a master, whether it a Shakespeare sonnet or Vin Scully calling a 5-4-3 double play. I am fascinated by the evolution of languages and how the clash and melding of different tongues created languages as beautiful as French and as confusing as English.

This comes from being the son of an Englishman, and a bit of a wit himself. My dad was determined that we would know our British roots even as we grew in California in the 60s and 70s. So along with Enid Blyton novels, we watched a lot of PBS. See, back then the local Public Broadcast station was the only source for shows imported from the BBC. So we watched Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Two Ronnies and Dave Allen At Large. Later, we watched BBC comedies like Good Neighbors, To The Manor Born, and Are You Being Served. This viewing left many American viewers convinced that there were twelve actors in England at any given time, and three of them were Penelope Keith.

Then there was The World At War. This 26 episode masterpiece from Thames Television ran in 1973-74 and was quickly snatched up by American stations. My father survived the Blitz and the bombing of Coventry, I was an Army-mad ten year old. We spent many Saturdays watching archival footage and interviews as Laurence Oliver narrated.

That was my early exposure to the idea that the same language could diverge from the root. These BBC shows (which grew to include Doctor Who, The Starlost, Blake's 7, and Survivors) were in English, but a very different English. I began to read up a little on how languages worked. It's been a minor passion ever since.

One of my favorite books here on the history shelf is "The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History". It's not a ponderous tome, like so many others (I'm looking at you, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire!) but instead a slim volume that show boundaries not based on states, but by the languages spoken. It's an amazing way to look at the progress of history, and really affected how I look at the world.

Hence one of the things that makes me cringe in fiction and role-playing games. The concept of a "common" language that everyone speaks. Especially in societies lacking things like fast communications and printing presses, linguistic drift is inevitable. English is the "common" language of the United States, but accents and regional variations mean that you could have a hard time getting residents of Alabama and Maine to understand each other. Take away TV, radio, and telephones and the drift speed opens up.

Even past universal tongues faltered. Latin was the official language of Rome, but leave the Italian peninsula and the only people speaking it are military and civil officials, tribal chiefs who had been educated in Rome, and the occasional educated merchant. When Rome faltered, and Constantinople became the center of the empire's power, Latin held on for a time, but eventually Greek became the language of an empire that called itself Roman for a thousand years after the fall of Rome.

Latin ended up a sacred language in the Roman Catholic Church, and the source of torment for generations of English children. French and English have made bids to be universal, but still, they aren't really common. We met dozens of English speakers in Istanbul, but that's a city that's been a center of trade and tourism for almost 2,000 years. I'm sure if we had been Polish, we would have found rug merchants able to cheat us in Polish.

So what do we do about the idea of the common tongue? Throw it in the dustbin. Historically, travelers, soldiers of fortune, explorers, and agents of the state have learned to speak the languages of the people they interact with. That's more interesting, in my opinion. Make your world live with different linguistic families, regional dialects, sacred tongues and secret cants. If you must have a common tongue, it's probably going to be limited in scope of use and utility.

Think of the phrases you find in tourist guide books. Hello, goodbye, please thank you. Where is (blank)?, how much, offer, and other simple words and phrases. That's going to be your trade tongue. If you want to have an in depth conversation, learn the local language!
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
It's about 1800 on Saturday, and already it's been a long weekend. Coming off a long week, I am pretty smoked. But we're getting shit done around here. Which is good, activity keeps my brain and body working. Anything I do to force my brain to keep making connections, and anything that works the decaying nerves in my legs a little harder equals a longer and better life for me.

Spring-like weather has arrived here in the Santa Clara Valley, and that means that sleeping in was possible due to it not being under 40 degrees in the apartment. All of you who live in places where frozen water falls from the skies can roll your eye all you like, I no longer handle cold well. So it was a good morning to snuggle with my Kiri and the mountain of teddy bears.

Firs thing on my agenda was the bi-weekly D&D game. We play on, and use Skype for communication. It's a fun group, with my friend Allen Shock running things. We're on to a new campaign after the Total Party Kill we experienced in Ravenloft a few weeks back. I'm playing a half-elf barbarian named Digenis Akirtas. The name comes from an epic tale written in the 8th century about a hero born of a Byzantine father and an Arab mother. The name literally means "Two Blood Border Lord", and I figured it was a good for a man born of two races. We're starting at 7th level. This time we remembered to bring some clerics along! Fought and killed a Frost Giant, squeezed through some gates, and found treasure. We start exploring this abandoned Dwarfhold in two weeks. Really happy to be gaming again after such a long break.

After that, a nap. Kirsten had gone out for a blood draw, and wanted to lie down for a bit. I joined her. Because bed. I sleep a lot more than I did before the stroke. It's kind of disturbing because it is one of the more subtle changes I've noticed. It's all related to my mental endurance, I'm sure.

But we rose, because we had to go work on the Free Trailer Beowulf! It was still parked inside Kirsten's warehouse. We had a couple of goals for the day: Remove the back pieces of the platform that made up the bed area, inspect for more mold, install two leveling bubbles (little carpenter's levels screwed into the frame of the trailer, so you can adjust for a level interior when you're camping), and mark out where a really nice window we were gifted was going to go.

Well, we found mold. It was pretty dead, due to our leaving a dehumidifier in the trailer for the past few weeks, but it was there. The awesome man who runs the door and window shop next door to Kiri's work told us the best way to get rid of it. Which meant yet another trip to Home Depot. Luckily, it's not far. We found what we needed, along with one of their job buckets. Back to the warehouse.

I mixed the TSP (Trisodium phosphate) in our new bucket, put on some thick rubber gloves, and went to work with a shop towel. Dear gods, you could almost hear the mold shrieking "I'm melting! What a world!" as I swiped.Where has this stuff been all my life? Hopefully, this is the last we'll see of the mold, as Chris, the door guys, has offered to stain and seal the raw wood parts of the interior. And install the window. He's kind of awesome. Even if he is an A's fan.

After some drama with a stuck drill bit, we got the levels installed in a "close enough for rock and roll and Burning Man" way. RVs need to be leveled for pumps and drains to work properly. We just don't want the inside to look like a villains lair in the 1966 Batman TV show. Most;y level works. This was also the day we tested out two of our leveling jacks. We have four, one for each corner, and their rated for far greater loads than we could possibly get into that small space. They are a good thing.

Tomorrow, we're going to do some exterior work. We have red reflective tape that's going down both sides for that "Little Black Book" Traveller feel. We'll also look for signs of more mold, and clean up a little. Nice thing is, we don't have to tow it back to storage tomorrow, it can wait until Monday, as Tony needs to double check the electrical hook ups again.
gridlore: The word "Done!" in bold red letters. (Done!)
What a day! I knew earlier this week it was going to be a busy one, but I'm really surprised at how much we accomplished. Especially considering how fried I was over the whole Facebook meltdown. And having a biopsy. It's been a stressful week.

But we had things to do, so rather than hitting the snooze button several times, we were up and out the door soon after 0700. Our first goal was the storage yard where we keep the Free Trailer Beowulf. For the locals, We live in Santa Clara and the yard is in South San Jose near the 101/85 interchange. So a bit of a drive. After a stop for breakfast at Jack in the Box, we proved to ourselves that we are getting moderately decent at hooking the trailer up to the truck.


Anyway, Kirsten had drive down, so I took the next leg of driving. Back up 101 to her office in Santa Clara. Normally, this freeway is a parking lot at that time of the morning, but I guess a ton of people were taking advantage of the sudden spring weather to head to Tahoe for some skiing. Very little traffic along the way.

Although there was a little odd movement at first, we quickly concluded it was the road surface causing it, and not the trailer fishtailing. It was steady as a rock back there. I'm happy to have spent so many years driving 34' flatbeds . . . my lane-changing instincts are conditioned to expect the need for a wide opening in the lane I'm moving into and I have the habit of signalling long before I move. This pays off. Hell, I signal in parking lots when I'm the only car there. Good habits, people!

Anyway, the main goal of the day was getting the wiring looked at. Remember, the Beowulf was somebody's shop project, and it shows. It's why we got it cheap. The main concern was the wiring from the truck connector to the tail lights looked sloppy, and the 110 volt power cable that ran inside to two power strips was both hanging loose and had a connection held together by electrical tape. Tony, one of Kiri's coworkers and a fellow trailer enthusiast, has been more than happy to take part in the project. In fact, everyone at Earthbaby seems to be pitching in.

Once we had Tony set up, I headed out to do my "job." There's some weird program that if you are disabled and can get a company to pay you $5 a month to do something, it makes keeping you benefits easier. Don't ask me. But my job is collecting recycling from the break room and taking it to the recycling place. I keep the proceeds. Did that and headed back.

When I got back to the warehouse, work was proceeding apace. It was decided that a run to the nearby Home Depot was needed for a few thing, so Tony and I jumped in the truck and headed over there. To say I got my walk in is an understatement. Find what we need, pay, and head back to the office. Where I need to sit. I was frankly becoming burned out at this point, as it was a tough week for me.

But there was more to do, and this is about the time awesome happened. Next to Earthbaby is a custom door and window place. I've met the owner, a really nice guy, and of course Kirsten knows him pretty well. We had been talking about staining the inside of the trailer. He takes one look, and tells us exactly how he's going to do it. For free. Then he looks at our sad little Plexiglas window and says "I got something." Goes back into his warehouse, and comes back out with an actual window and frame, with frosted privacy glass and just leans it up on the trailer. It means cutting into the trailer wall to make a hole big enough, but damn!

Sometimes even a cynic like me has to admit there are good people out there.

I wasn't just an observer and chauffeur. I helped! One of the first jobs done was adding a new metal support bar to the trailer's tongue. Kirsten had sprayed it was black Rustoleum but wasn't sure if he had gotten a good covering. Being skinny, I shimmied under the body to spray the parts that had been missed.

Even though I wanted to stay to the end of the day, I was beginning to show obvious signs of burning out. Kirsten took lunch so we could go back to Home Depot for an exchange, stopped at Subway for lunch, and then dropped me back here at home. Tonight, I sleep the sleep of the accomplished! Tomorrow, Digenis the Barbarian raids the Sword Coast! (D&D game.)
gridlore: Army Infantry school shield over crossed infantry rifles (Army Infantry)
Screw Facebook, screw the internet. We got along JUST FINE without them as I recall from the hazy days of my youth! Hell, let's dump telephones, telegraphs, the printing press and the ability to make paper, and go back to the Roman way of communicating, scrawling graffiti on the walls. It worked in Pompeii, after all.

What brings this Luddite rant on, and yes I appreciate that I'm using another form of social media to spread it, is the last 24 hours of my Facebook account. See, I was quite dim and trusted things to work as designed. Silly me, you think I would have learned my lessons before!

But no, I had to assume that a multi-billion dollar company would have decent tech support, and that a publication vetted by the Departments of Defense and the Army would be careful picking vendors when it came to managing their web content. I laugh now, of course. I can still remember how sloppy their were in vetting the taco truck guys at Fort Benning!

So here's what happened: yesterday, while doing my daily reading of the Book of Faces, I found a story on the Army Times page that was interesting. Even though I've been out for 30-odd years - and some of them were very odd years indeed! - I still follow stories about the Army as an interested veteran. In this case, the article was about a proposal before the Sergeant Major of the Army concerning facial hair.

See, the Army bans beards, unless you need to wear one for religious reasons or have a medical profile stating that you can shave. Even then, those beads need to be tightly trimmed and neat in appearance. Mustaches are allowed, but they can't extend beyond the edge of the mouth and again, must be neatly trimmed.

I think they allow mustaches just for the giggles senior NCOs get watching 19 year old PFCs trying to grow a decent 'stache. Gotta find amusement somewhere!

But I digress. The argument against beards was uniformity of appearance, being able to properly wear protective gear like helmets and protective masks (what we call gas masks), and the usual "why change?" crowd. The pro side was countering with the experience of our NATO allies, who do allow facial hair without problems, the fact that the US Army hasn't been gassed since 1918, and the fact that up through WWI beards were just fine in the service.

Interesting stuff, and there was a poll attached. Three questions on the subject. Being a noisy bastard, I took the poll, and because I have many friends who are veterans or military service all over the world, I posted the link to my Facebook. By Patton's Pistols, that was a mistake.

My initial post was cloning itself every three minutes. Copy after copy. With no way to stop it! At one point last night Kirsten was seeing 54 distinct posts of the same thing. Which meant almost everyone on my friend's list was getting spammed by this damn thing, as horrific a breach of etiquette as you can find in the more polite end of the ol' interwebs.

In between marathon deletions of the offending post, I was trying to wave down someone, anyone, to help me with this nightmare. Apester, the company that was handling to poll software at least got back to me, and I submitted a trouble ticket with them. I emailed the webmaster at the Army Times to tell him that there might be a bad code issue with the poll, and never heard back. And Facebook? I laugh because murderous rampages are really tiring.

Ever needed help with something on Facebook? Good luck. Rather than actual help you are faced with page after page of FAQs on common issues. No human, not even a helpful script to be found. Of course, my issue was decidedly uncommon, so not a single option they had applied. There's no email address for or the like. No toll-free number you can call. Just a sad little web form that still tries to force you back into their self-help pages before admitting you have a problem. No idea if anyone reads those submissions.

I ended up disabling my Facebook account to prevent everyone from getting buried in my opinion about soldierly beards. Which pisses me off now end, as Facebook is my primary way of staying in touch with friends and family. This stupid error also adversely affected my sleep as I was worrying about losing years of photos and information.

The happy ending. Sort of. One of Kirsten's contacts explained the nuclear option of deauthorizing all apps on my page. It worked, and my page is back up. A bit crippled, but it's there.

Now, If y'all will excuse me, I'll be writing a strongly worded letter of complaint in cuneiform on this clay tablet.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
Who built the Batcave?

I love superheroes, and used to have a standing order at my local comics place that would choke a horse. I understand that comics require some suspension of disbelief, but these are questions that I've wondered about for some time.

Take Batman's iconic headquarters. The location came at zero cost, as Wayne Manor has traditionaly been show as being perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. Isolated, and which a ready made huge cave underneath. Batman has a great place to hide from the world and build all his wondrous toys. But there are so many questions!

At it's most basic, the cave has had several elements. Parking and repair for several vehicles (Bat-themed cars, motorcycles, boats, and aircraft), an arsenal, extensive computer banks, and storage for costumes and trophies from notable encounters.

Now I used to work in the construction industry. Just that basic build is months of work for several dozen specialists in iron working, electricians, plumbers, and the IT specialists there to make sure that the Bat-computer works correctly. That's at a minimum. Dozens of trucks, workers, materials deliveries, taco trucks, etc., all coming to build a huge complex under Wayne Manor.

Even with non-disclosure agreements, people will talk, and most contractors are going to ask to see the permits for the work before starting a job for liability reasons. But let's assume that Wayne Industries has the resources needed, and Bruce Wayne pays all the bills. You are still going to have a huge security risk here. All it takes is one mouth delivery driver (me) commenting over dinner at Chili's that he has to drive in to a bloody cave filled with bats every damn day, and the word is on the streets.

Then there's the Batmobile. Almost from his first appearance, Batman has been driving increasingly complex, nigh-invulnerable cars around Gotham. The latest versions are loaded with military-grade sensors, weapon systems, and armored hard enough to stop Superman from punching his way in (at least for a minute.) And everyone has been obviously bat-themed. So, Assuming Bruce Wayne did learn to be a master mechanic and body fabricator when he was off learning to be a ninja, who builds these cars?

I can easily see a couple of shops getting the orders off the books, and paid for in cash, but again, you have people outside the immediate circle around Batman who are in on it. Just one guy owing money to the wrong dudes, and the Penguin knows where Bats buys his wheels.

The Christopher Nolan helmed "Batman Begins" had probably the best explanation for this; in that series 90% of Batman's gear was borrowed from Wayne Enterprises' convenient pile of discarded military prototypes. They even had someone able to put two and two together and guess who Batman was! There's a reason those three films are my favorites. Right after the Lego Batman Movie.

So Batman's secret lair and stash of goodies are hardly secrets. The only logical answer I can come up with is that his suppliers and builders know exactly who Batman is, and keep quiet out of either pride that they are helping the Dark Knight keep Gotham safe, or out of fear that one slip while lead to a dark figure swooping out of the night sky to extract vengeance. Or a combination of both. Hell, all of Gotham has probably figured it out by now, but don't want to spoil the one thing that makes Gotham safe.

I must admit that my all time favorite piece of Batman-related paraphernalia came from the 1960s camp TV show. That Batmobile had an "emergency bat-turn lever" to popped two drag chutes (both with the Bat logo) and put the Batmobile into a 180-degree spin. After Batman raced off back the way he came, a panel van labeled "Batmobile Parachute Pickup Service" would roll out from behind some bushes. I just loved the idea that Bruce Wayne was paying for a fleet of vans to sit around waiting for that lever to get pulled.

The sad thing is that if the Batcave was a real place, it would no longer have bats in it. Bats are incredibly sensitive to heat. A small group of spelunkers in a cave used by bats can raise the temperature enough to disturb the colony. Now imagine the heat put off by the server farm, all the lights, engines, people . . . no more bats in that cave! Which means at least that Alfred doesn't have to clean guano off everything all the time.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
I have no idea what to write. I want to keep my streak alive, but I feel like shit and have no ready subject at hand. Also, I'm on heavy duty pain-killers right now after having yet another growth on my back biopsied. Fun times.

As usual, I've been sent to a new doctor. I had a dermatologist, but she left the area shortly after my first set of skin tumors were pulled off. That was the year the county just decided all on their own that I didn't want health insurance anymore. No that was a fun fuck up to clear up.

But anyway, this is why we need single payer in this country, or failing that, California. A few weeks ago I noticed some rough stops on my back that were painful to the touch. Having had this before, I knew I had to see a dermatologist. But I can't just call a dermatologist. No, first I have to make an appointment with my primary care doctor. So he can look at me for five minutes and agree that I need to see a specialist.

As an aside, almost all my doctors are Asian at this point, from all across the spectrum. This become relevant soon, I swear.

Having done my job in informing the primary care, I wait for an authorization letter from Anthem Blue Cross, who do the paperwork for my version of Medicaid. Now let's recap: I've had benign skin tumors before, but there is no guarantee that this batch will be the same. I, and my doctor, have both said "is cancer? Could be!" to the insurer. Which is why after a long week's wait, I finally called my doctor back to ask where my referral was? Another few days, and I finally get a phone number.

Call that, get an appointment. Place in Milpitas, right along Montague Expressway, where they are building the Bart extenstion. Nice little office block. Find my building and suite, go in, and . . .

It's a clinic that mostly caters to Vietnamese folks getting cosmetic laser surgery. It's an eye-rounding clinic, folks. And I'm in there with my poor-folk insurance. Fuck My Life.

At least the staff speaks English, mostly.

Meet the doctor, who seems a bit brusque. Go over medical history, quick exam, schedule biopsy date. All what I should have been able to do before! In one phone call! This is the part that drives me insane!

Anyway, after several weeks of tumor growth (I'm paranoid about cancer for some reason) I finally go in Monday. Which is when I learn that I really need a new dermatologist. First of all, one of the receptionists, who was very soft-spoken with a HEAVY Vietnamese accent, was trying to get through some insurance providers phone tree. On speaker. Those things don't work in perfect conditions half the time. The better part is I can her the identification numbers the machine is asking for and the numbers she's replying with! This is the equivalent of reading your credit card number out loud on a bus.

Go back, and learn that my skin-care physician isn't brusque, he just has the personality of a bag of wet sand. I'm not kidding. I got nothing close to a human reaction the entire time I was there. Medical robots in Star Wars have better patient skills. The biopsy itself was easy, lidocaine is awesome. But here's where I got mad. After explaining that I'm a stroke survivor and really need instructions written down, he just told me what to do for wound care and sent me out the door. Not even a good-bye.

Luckily, I remembered what he told me. Mainly because it was kind of weird (I've never been given a lesson in how to apply a band-aid before.) Made my appointment for the stitches removal and discussion of what was found, and got the hell out of Dodge.

But I can't help think how much easier it would be with single payer. I'd call Dr. Son and say I need to see a dermatologist, can he recommend anyone? Or just look up a local dermatologist and make an appointment. No fuss with referrals and who is in network and who is out, just calling a doctor when you need one.

Same goes for ER visits and ambulances. If you need to be rushed to the hospital, call 911 and get a cool ride! If you're like me and have a stroke, you shouldn't wake up and immediately wonder how you're paying for it.

We are the only industrialized Western nation that doesn't offer single payer. Let's elect people who want to fix that.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Let's look at my desk.

It's an older Ikea desk, same model as the bookcases. I want to say Laska, but I don't think that's right. all I know is they've stopped making them. I'm glad I got this so the room looks at least mostly cohesive. We have the 4x4 bookcase and the TV shelving unit, all big black cubes, all stuffed to the gills.

The desk itself is just a work area attached to a vertical 4x2 bookcase, which gives me four cubes above the desk and four under. One guess which set of cubes become junk repositories. The black paint is starting to show wear in the places where my right arm rests when I'm using my mouse. I really should get a forearm rest.

The bookcase is up against the wall, and immediately to the left is s smaller cubical storage unit we got at Orchard Supply, this one a 3x2. So I have 14 cubes here, and I still don't have enough room.

On my right, we have my computer tower with two glass penguins and a stack of black DVDs perched on top. In front of the computer is the FATE rule book, the touristy pictures we had done at La Brea tar pits, my medicine box, and a coupon for getting Kirsten's car serviced. Just to the left of that is my phone stand, with the cord waiting forlornly for me to plug the phone it, my copy of Windows 10 For Dummies and the gorgeous hardback compilation edition of "The Illustrated Brief History of Time" and "The Universe in a Nutshell", both help up by one of my speakers.

Directly in front of me is my keyboard, a bottle of nasal medicine I use twice a day, an empty Coke can, the coaster the can should be on, two rolls of quarters and a spare phone charging cord, this one covered in Giants orange fabric. That cord is under my fairly new wire mesh monitor stand. That has a nice slide out draw that holds a lot of junk and two side bins where I keep business cards from various doctors and spare office supplies.

The stand holds my monitor, festooned with voting stickers from multiple elections, along with the cup where I keep my laundry tokens, my 4518th Lift Infantry Regiment challenge coin, the roll of Life Savers I was gifted at my first Burning Man, and little stone bear.

Moving ever farther to the left, we find chaos. My desk lamp, my landline, and the other computer speaker crowd the space behind a desk organizer, which is itself jammed with pens and pencils, a nail clipper, two small flashlights, and some other bric-a-brac. The Chinese ink stone I got as a gift after my dad went to China in the 70s shares spaces with two boxes of Altoids Artic, my Giants Zippo, and a Burning Man shot glass.

Behind this mess rise my books. The top left cube is filled with my writing books, and plays host to several penguins. The other three are filled with histories and science books. My two autographed Judas Priest CDs sit next to my ticket to the Military Museum in Istanbul. On top, there is an old photo of me, my father, and my brother Craig taken decades ago, my Mixie Award, and a photo of Kirsten and Me at AT&T Park.

The smaller storage space is home to my personal medicine shelf, when I store all the damn things I've been told to use along with every day things like band-aids and Pepto. That takes up the upper left cube. The next three are filled with my RPG collection, which is down to the point it actually all fits here. There's junk taking up space here as well, with empty cans and bottle and a compressed air can balanced where ever they fit.

On top of this storage space is my row of impressive books. The cultures of the Ancient Near East collection (Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, and Hittites) followed by the truly impressive Byzantium trilogy by John Jules Norwich. Then come two Ottoman histories, The Odessey, and a few selections from the Penguin Classics imprint.

On top of all that is a copy of the Koran I picked up at the Süleymaniye Mosque held in place by bobbleheas. One is the Giants' Matt Duffy, the other is the San Jose Sabercats' Jame Roe. Neither play for those teams anymore. Hell, the Sabercats don't even exist anymore. Finally, that shelf holds my little radio.

That's my desk, and my 750 words.


5 Mar 2017 18:35
gridlore: Doug with Kirsten, both in nice clothes for a wedding. (Me - with Kirsten)
Just home from seeing "Kedi", a film we've been waiting to see for over a year, a time usually reserved for the next Star Wars or Marvel movie. But this was special. We discovered the existence of the movie while researching our trip to Istanbul in late 2015. That was when we discovered the unique cat culture of the city.

Istanbul, you see, is overrun with cats. Not feral, not house cats, but owned by no one and loved by almost all. The cats come and go as they please, and locals chip in to feed and care for them. The film examines the lives of several cats and the people whose lives have been changed by their interactions with the cats. Kedi is Turkish for cat.

But seeing the film made Kirsten and I only more determined to return to the ancient city we fell in love with about a year ago. We spent a week in the Queen of Cities last April, and were just getting good at it when it was time to leave. We had figured out the food, the taksis (taxis), the local public transit, and of course, the cats. We needed a few more days! Mainly because we discovered that it was insane to think you can do Topkapi Palace and the Archaeological Museum complex in one day. You need three. It's that big.

It's not that we missed a lot, it's that we never got into anything in great depth. We skimmed our way through places that deserved loving attention. Our mistake. But we did see a lot, and more importantly, we experienced the city. It's more than seeing the sites and listening to guides explain which Sultan built which mosque, it's more.

Istanbul, which was Constantinople up until the turn of the 20th century and Byzantium during the early Roman Empire, is an ancient place. The Old City, still mostly protected by the wall of Theodosius and the sea walls built by Constantine has been a city since the 7th century BCE. It was captured by Alexander the Great, absorbed by the Roman Empire and became its capital in 330 CE, before becoming the seat of the newly-forged Ottoman Empire in 1453. Our hotel stood on the street that had been the Silver Road, a Roman road that lead out of the city and headed north into Dalmatia.

Just walking down the street you were immersed in just how immortal this place is. It's a feeling. Almost as if the restless spirits of the city want to share their stories, and show you that the currency exchange with the flashing signs and digital display of exchange rates was doing the exact same job when it was sailors off the galleys and dhows that needed good Roman coin to spend at the wine shops and baths (both of which also still exist.)

The one place that really cemented the feeling of age for me was the Kariye Müzesi, also known as the Chora Church. This is a hilltop church built in the 4th century CE, filled with some spectacular frescoes and mosaics dating from 10th-11th centuries. It's spectacular. Now, when you think of hot tourist spots, you probably think of car parks, and spaces for the buses to offload hordes of camera-packing tourists. Not here! To get to the Chora your taksi driver takes you up a series of increasingly narrow roads, paced in cobblestones, finally stopping at the junction of four alleyways. He them points down one say "Kariye" before driving off. Because this isn't some thing that was built with greatness and access in mind. It's a local church that served the nearby residents . . . 1,700 years ago. Let that sink in.

One funny thing about that place. "Chora" means "in the fields", which made sense because when it was built it was outside the walls erected by Constantine. Barely a century after the church opened, the great walls built under Theodosius II were built, and the church was no firmly inside the walls. But everyone still called it the Chora. People never change, do they?

Yeah, we need to win the lottery and go back. We still have things to see in the Imperial City, and, if money allows, in Cappadocia and the Mediterranean shore as well. We might even learn a little more Turkish for the trip, although my mastery of "thank you" got me many smiles.

So go see Kedi. Marvel at the Queen of Cities, and the cats who rule it.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
This is a possible prelude for Task Force Singh, and is based on something I read in one of the books recommended to me for my research. As part of her Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria witnessed a parading of the fleet, including the new class of battleships, off Portsmouth. I'm taking that and using it to introduce my main antagonist, the UN officer who will command the fleet hunting down Task Force Singh.


The view for the tour ship was stunning. Arrayed in perfect formation to celebrate the 50th year of the Secretary-General's reign was the heart of the United Nation's Peacekeeper fleet, led by the eleven Continent-class battleships. Captain 1st Rank Kosan Gwazi gripped the polished teak railing tightly, knuckles turning white as he fumed. One of those ships should have been his.

Beside him a bland little man was prattling on and on. "Oh, yes, the Continents. Aren't they something? We had no end of trouble with them at the Bureau of Heraldry and Lineage, let me tell you! More ships than names! So many meetings and arguments, I expect every member of the Assembly marched through my door at some point or the other. But I was firm, and brokered a compromise!"

Wonderful, thought Gwazi, award yourself a medal. He made a show of using the viewing controls to get a magnified view of the City of Ravenna, an upgraded missile cruiser that was nearby. But the bureaucrat just kept babbling his tales of red-tape heroism.

"Asia was the hardest part, can't simply name a ship Asia, we'd have riots. I was the one who suggested the deal, you know. rammed it through in a marathon session. It's why we have the Great Russia, the Siberia, the India, and the Indochina. Quite proud of that one, I must say!"

Thankfully, at that moment the bosun at the viewing room blew his whistle. The piercing notes stopped all conversations dead. With everyone silenced, he announced "Ladies and Gentleman, Her Grace Nicole Martin, the Secretary-General of the United Nations!" Bows and curtsies as the Secretary-General strode in, trailing aides and security like debris from a wounded ship. She was wearing her naval uniform, showing that she was commander-in-chief of the Peacekeepers, her chest heavy with medals and orders.

After making some quick greetings, she crossed the room to where Gwazi was still standing by the transparent wall. She took in the view briefly, then turned to speak.

"Captain Gwazi, an honor to meet you." She glanced at the now sputtering bureaucrat. "Donald, a pleasure. May I have a moment with the Captain, please?" It was as polite an order as Gwazi had ever heard. Donald quickly backed away babbling pleasantries all the time.

The Secretary-General watched him go. "That man never shuts up, and now he's going to be bragging that I remembered his name for the next ten years."

"Well, Your Grace, it is something of an honor to have you recall who people are." Gwazi said, dipping in a semi-bow.

"Ha! Captain, if I walk into a room without being briefed on everyone who is inside, my staff has failed me. Information is as valuable to me as it is to you. Are you enjoy the fly-by, Kosan?

Her sudden change in subject and use of his first name threw Gwazi for a moment. "Of course, Your Grace. You've assembled a powerful force here, it's important to see it assembled. For everyone."

For several long seconds the Secretary-General stared out at the fleet slowly sliding by. A waiter brought two glasses of champagne, and Gwazi realized that the security staff had moved most of the crowd out of the room, creating a bubble in which only he, the Secretary-General, and a silent aide were standing.

"Peacekeeper," she finally said, reaching out and running her hand down the front of Gwazi's powder-blue dress jacket, "it's the oldest duty of the UN, even when it was toothless debating society. Keep the peace." She raised her head and looked Gwazi in the eyes. That stare was piercing. "Captain, I have dedicated my life to keeping humanity from tearing itself apart. Just as you have taken your oath, so I have sworn mine. We have both sacrificed much to serve, am I right?"

Gwazi could barely nod, his throat was dry. He took a sip of his champagne before speaking. "Of course, Your Grace. I cannot even begin to imagine the burdens you bear. Of course, Donald made sure I knew every detail of his battles."

The earned a surprisingly loud bout of laughter. She loses twenty years when she laughs, Gwazi thought. Then he remembered that this was a woman who had ordered her own father's execution. Tread carefully, for this chat was a minefield.

"God in Heaven, you have no idea. Kosan, the Secretariat is filled with the little gray mice, and they all pretend to be cats. Every so often, you find a cat disguised as a mouse, and they end up in charge. Donald is a mouse, a very loud mouse, but a mouse."

"I think I prefer grasers and attack drones, Your Grace, at least they are honest and do what they intend." I may have gone too far, he thought, as all the mirth drained from the Secretary-General's face. She took a serious tone.

"You were promised the Africa, yes? A Captain of the 1st Rank, worked on the development of the operational orders for the new fleet, ranked as 'recommended for early promotion and positions of authority' by almost every officer you ever served under. You were promised that command, and I took it from you myself. You wish honesty? There it is. On the advice of Peacekeeper Command and the Security Council, I personally changed your orders. Do you appreciate my honesty, Captain?"

Gwazi swallowed his first angry response, then the second. "I serve at Your Grace's pleasure, and will obey your orders. But may I ask why I was denied command? Did I offend someone?

"No, Captain, not at all." she turned to the still silent aide who handed her a small leather box. "I have spent my life working to maintain the peace, and in that time I've learned to read the tea leaves. It's falling apart. Ten years, maybe fifteen, and all of human space will be at war. It's coming and all we can do is prepare. So to that end . . ." She opened the case, inside were the insignia of a flag officer. "The paperwork will take a few days, but I'm promoting you to Contre-Admiral, and assigning you to head the War Plans office." Gwazi took the box with suddenly numb hands. He tried to say something, but the words caught in his throat. The Secretary-General smiled.

"Don't thank me, Admiral Gwazi, for I've just thrown you into the deep end. War is coming, and you will be in the heart of the fire." With that, she drained her glass and turned to leave, her aides and security forming a phalanx around her.

Holding the box with his new rank loosely in one hand, Gwazi looked again at the fleet still slowly passing by. That fleet will be needed, he thought, and sooner than we had hoped.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
I don't want to write today. I mean, I'm still siuck, I slept like a baby, eaning I woke up every hour and peed a lot (at least I make it to the bathroom for that.) My perpetually sore shoulder is telling me I might just have overdone it at the gym, and I just don't want to write!

Plus I have two huge library books to read, part of my research for Task Force Singh. These are monstrous tomes on both the race to develop the Imperial Germany and Royal Navies in the age of battleships, and the follow-on book about naval operations during WWI. I really should go back to bed and crack those.

I could even finish the three other books I'm reading. My Goodreads account mocks me daily which the static "what I'm reading" column. I really should update that . . . Or I could do the small pile of dishes. I could do a load of laundry, but I'm not really feeling that adventurous.

There's always Civilization VI, or Madden NFL. I haven't played the Grand Theft Auto game I got at Half-Price Books. But do I want to try a new game when my head feels this thick? I foresee rage quitting. I suppose I should clear off the coffee table, for Kirsten has said we're having pizza tonight.

Maybe later.

But I really dreaded opening my 750 words today. I'm watching the word count in the corner willing it to go higher. Just hit 250 words. 500 to go. Sigh. See, normally I have something to say, something for the book or some writing exercise or personal experience to share. I feel motivated to write, even if it's gibberish. I could go the Spider Jerusalem route and write "fuck" 750 times and claim it's a political article about the Trump administration. I could even cut and paste an older piece and just massage it a bit to fill my quota.

Because on March 1st I agreed to the site's monthly challenge. Write everyday. Even when you don't want to write. And anyone who knows me at all know how I am about living up to my pledges, even the silly ones. I won't even be winning anything, other than a couple of site badges. But it's the fact that I did agree to participate that is keeping me here at the keyboard when I'd rather be doing my part to lower the water level in Anderson Lake by taking a very long, very hot, shower. With the space heater blasting in the bathroom. I like things warm, OK?

436 words. Getting there!

I really should vacuum the filters on the air purifiers. But that's work, it can wait until I've have my live steam shower and a nap. Likewise, I could gather up the stray bits of recycling and corral it for a trip to the recycling place next week. But that involves moving. Later. Procrastination is something I'm always very prompt about.

Just had a sneezing fit. I own Sinuses of Holding. It's the only explanation for what just came out of my nose. Aren't all of you happy that I share these little details with you? Anything for my adoring audience. Send burritos.

The sad thing is that it's only when I'm this miserable that my broken brain decides to click on and show me all the things I've been avoiding in terms of house work. Since I am home almost all the time, I do what I can within my limitations. Dishes, laundry, taking the garbage out, whatever cleaning I can handle. But inevitably my brain gets overloaded with the sheer number of tasks needed to accomplish something as simple as vacuuming the living area that I burn out and need to stop. I really need to nuke this place of all the junk, call in a maid service for a one-time cleaning, and set a schedule for maintaining some order.

I also need to continue the purge of stuff that we just carry around with us. Half-Price Books is my new favorite place for losing unwanted clutter. And dear gods, do we have that.

696. Into the home stretch.

The good news is I do feel a bit better this morning, it's just the terrible night's sleep that has me dragging. I have eaten, and taken all my morning medications in the morning for a change. I think I will pull the two Great Tomes in to the bedroom, take a shower, then nap. Notice the word "read" never figured into that.

764 words. The streak continues.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
And I'm sick again. This is not abnormal, for me, a healthy week is the unusual occurrence to be commented on. Odds are, one of the adorable plague rats at the YMCA was carrying some form of Mongolian Death Yuck and the evil plague spirits, seeing a happy, undefended harbor, jumped me while I was sitting for a few minutes before heading home.

It's a little known fact that the Black Death was spread to Europe by a school field trip. True! Take my word on that, I own lots of history books!

So anyway, here I sit with a scratchy throat, sorer than my recent workout should account for, and in a general mood that should make you all happy that I don't have launch codes. Although in the marathon game of Civilization VI I played today, I did reach the point where I had missile-launching submarines and was using them to support my invasion of Egypt for her crime of sending wave after wave of religious units to my shores. If only we could deal with door-to-door religious nuts in the same way: submarine launched guided missiles. It's be hard on the driveway, and I'm sure cleaning up the mess would be a bitch, but I'm pretty sure the local Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses would quickly get the clue.

I do have to admit that I was past-due for a big sick this year. Usually, by this time in the cold and flu season, I've landed in the ER at least once if not endured a lovely night or two of observation and infusions. Traditionally, my ER visit happens close to if not on Christmas Eve. This is part of my rational atheism at work, really. I'm testing the theory that Santa Claus can find you no matter where you are in the world. If this is true, the fat boy and his flying elk should be leaving stuff in the hospital. So far, nothing. I am forced to concede that I may not pass muster for getting gifts from the elf with a thing for breaking and entering.

It seems like I'm always sick. It's either something like my allergies acting up, and opportunistic swarm of viral life forms, or some body part deciding to ignore its duties in favor of freelancing; I'm in a constant state of medical limbo. By that I mean, how low can I go? Seriously, my first oncologist, Dr. Waltuch, asked at one point in all seriousness if he could have a few words with the medical officer when the flying saucers came to take me home. My Hodgkin's was so unusual that bits of my spleen were sent winging around the world for research. My spleen has seen more of the world than I have, although I doubt you get good cabin service in a medical sample case.

A couple of years ago, I even managed to be trendy with my illnesses! I had H1N1 when it was cool! The actual Swine Flu when it was still making headlines. Which is where I ran into the big wall labeled "people are stupid." Once I had the verified diagnosis, I called work to tell they needed to warn *everyone* that they had been exposed. At which point my alleged boss, a man who made three times what I did, whined about this being a HIPAA violation. Even though I was on the phone TELLING him to warn people. I had to fax in a consent letter!

Sheesh. Remember, I was the one dying of hamthrax at that point. Figuring out how to use our fax machine (we owned one, which now lives at Kirsten's office) was far down on my list of things to do, somewhere below "dying" and "no, really, dying now would be great."

Thing is, I really can't be sick right now. For a guy on permanent disability I have a full calendar coming up. Saturday, Kiri and I are going out to pick up some stuff for the Free Trailer Beowulf; Sunday, we're meeting our moms to see "Kedi", a documentary about the cats of Istanbul; Monday I have some writing class and a biopsy on my back. To quote the former Governor of Minnesota, "I ain't got time to bleed."

Not joking. Go find "Predator" on Netflix or something and realize you are watching the future Governors of California and Minnesota fight a guy in a big rubber suit.

Ah, well. Sick again. I have books, hot chocolate, and plenty of burritos. I'll live.

Though I'm pretty sure I won't enjoy it.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
As promised, a look at life aboard ships in the Task Force Singh (TFS) universe. This is mostly going to be about the naval ships that are the center of the book, but I'll branch out a bit. As usual, my inspiration comes from the great "Age of Battleships" era from the 1880s up through the First World War.

To begin with, life on a naval warship is going to be cramped. Warships are going to be filled to the gills with equipment, munitions, supplies, and all the machinery that is needed to complete the mission. On a battle wagon like the Carnivora-class battleship, you'll find large magazines of canisters for the big grasers. A cruiser that is dedicated to using Autonomous Attack Vehicles is going to have launch and recovery bays for the missiles, as well as spaces for their maintenance and reloading. The only large open spaces are likely to be the hangers for small craft.

Crew accommodations are going to be tight. While hot-bunking (two crewmen sharing the same bunk, a practice common in submarines) isn't going to be the usual practice, a navy rating will have little more than a bunk with a privacy screen and a small storage are to call his own. Communal facilities for eating, cleaning, and toilets are the standard. I'm picturing six-man rooms for the crew with a very small space for relaxation. Nobody joins the navy for the luxury! Senior NCOs and junior officers will bunk two to a room, with the more senior officer and top petty officers getting single occupancy staterooms. The captain gets an actual suite, with an office and a room for his personal valet.

Because of the ever-present threat of electrical equipment damage in hyperspace, ships will be over designed in terms of backups and ruggedness. Whenever possible, mechanical systems will be used in place of electrical ones. No automatic sliding doors here, instead you have heavy hatches on the bulkheads and manual doors where needed. And since a warped frame can lock a door shut, there will be numerous places where there will be no door at all, just a curtain is you need to block light.

Expect to find heavy fuse boxes and thick bundles of cables in every corridor. Every mission critical system is going to have multiple redundant control lines with a very efficient fault detection system. All crew will be trained in damage control and how to repair their duty stations. Even the cooks will be qualified in damage control for the kitchens and mess areas. After every emergence from hyperspace, it will be standard to do an immediate fault check on every part of the ship. This is also a sweep for anyone overcome by the terminus shock effect. A well-trained crew can clear their area of responsibility within minutes of emergence into real space.

On civilian ships, especially the high-end liners carrying well-paying passengers from star to star, things will be more open and less draconian. The crew might be stuffed into tiny cabins, but the passengers - those in first class, anyway - will enjoy large staterooms with every convenience, wide open promenades through parks and gardens under artificial sunlight, and wide options of food and entertainment along with lots of alcohol. Lots and lots of booze, it keeps them quiet. You'll still have crew who are cross trained in repair and the like, but nowhere near the level of a military ship will show.

The reality of the dangers of hyperspace, resulting in less automation than used today, means these ships will be over-crewed by our standards. Almost every rating position is going to have a few extra bodies above the actual requirement. Gun turrets will be crowded with crew feeding canisters into the breech and confirming a full seal before firing, the power and engineering spaces will be crawling with men constantly adjusting and fixing every valuable piece of equipment, and even the bridge and combat command center will be over staffed. When you can find upwards of 20% of your crew knocked out for minutes to hours by the terminus shock (which is totally the name of the second book, by the way) having too many crew becomes a literal lifesaver.

Now these ships aren't all big levers and hand-cranked wheels. There are plenty of electronics in use. You couldn't navigate without computers, and the firing of guns and communications demand high quality electronic gear. So the control spaces are going to look like any modern command center. It just that there's going to be a lot of lower-tech back up.


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

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