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Author Archives: ianmdudley

About ianmdudley

Writer, lover, reader, father, taxpayer, husband, and son, though not necessarily in that order.

The Nostalgia Is A Lie OR What Was I Thinking???

I’ve been into retro computing for quite a while. I’m not hardcore, like some folks, but I have a few machines I’ve collected over the years.

The first computer I bought with my own money (after having worked an entire summer to save up enough) was a 286 desktop clone. So when I got into the retro habit, I started with the familiar x86 line: a 286 luggable. But that got old fast (pun only partially intended) and I felt the need to upgrade from 16 bits to 32. That lead to a 386 luggable. Of course, both of those had monochrome displays and I had a sudden hankering for low resolution color graphics, so naturally that led to a Compaq Pentium laptop.

Actually, in the cases of the 286 and Pentium, I bought two machines each, one to use and one for parts.

As a result of (and/or perhaps feeding) this interest, I’ve been enjoying some of the retro computing channels on YouTube – LGR, RMC, and the 8-Bit Guy to name three of the big ones I regularly watch.

But like with all drugs, eventually the initial hit isn’t enough and to get that high, I found I had to not get more of the same, but go further back.

All the way back, it turns out, to my very first computer. A Timex Sinclair 1000, which my parents bought me for Xmas one year.

The Sinclair range was built to be inexpensive and boy did they ever manage to do that. The computer was slow, unstable, and lacking in just about everything (color and sound and memory and a proper keyboard being just a few of the major shortcomings).

But there were peripherals you could get to improve them, along with games, and that’s what I started getting for Xmas( and birthdays. Well, one peripheral, the 16K RAM pack, and a lot of games on tape.

No, not IBM mainframe computer tape. Cassette tapes. The older among you know what I’m talking about.

The games took forever to load and often required more than one (or two or three) attempts before you got them running.

Good times!

One year I got two text adventure and one graphics game as gifts from my parents. The text adventures were Shark’s Treasure and Space Commando. The graphics game was Mazogs.

8-bit adventuring: just as violent as 16-. 32-, and 64-bit adventuring!

The monster is on the right. Or is it? After all, who’s the real monster here?

Mazogs was awesome. By Timex Sinclair standards, anyway. You ran around a maze, searching for treasure and trying to avoid the spider-like monsters. Past adventurers, imprisoned during their failed attempt, could be called upon to help you.

I really liked that game. And so did my kids, when I set it up on an emulator for them.

But I have a distinct memory of complaining to my parents about how crummy the two text adventure games were in comparison.

I think my expectations for computer games in those days were colored by the computers my friends had – Commodore VIC 20s and Commodore 64s, primarily, and the graphics-heavy games those came with. Text adventure just didn’t qualify as a game in my mind.

When my retro itch pushed me further back, I remembered those games and complaining to my parents and, well, I felt guilty. Guilty for dissing a gift from my parents.

So I got it into my head that I would unbox the old TS1000 from storage, hook it up, and finally, properly play those games.

This is where the Retro Computer Industrial Complex rears its ugly head.

First was the games. I went looking for Shark’s Treasure and found it on eBay, sealed in the original packaging, for $150.

WTF?

Turns out that retro games, especially in their original format, is part of a collectables racket and the Retro Computer Industrial Complex is there to cash in!

Now I wanted to play the game, but not part-with-$150-to-do-it wanted to play the game.

Paradoxically, seeing it on sale for $150 only made me want to play it more.

Fortunately, more searching found another seller with the game in a sealed package asking only $20. While still steep, all things considered, it seemed like a bargain compared to $150.

The past is prologue! The future is...a lot better and easier to use than the past, to be brutally honest.

I don’t remember so much cursing when I originally used this, but I’m pretty sure that’s just poor memory.

So I ordered it and turned my attention to the computer itself.

Funny thing about really old computers from the 70s and 80s that hooked up to your TV: they don’t work with modern monitors.

Not to worry! Big Retro is right there to cash in.

I bought an RCA-to-VGA adapter, $20, only to discover the TS1000 has an RF output, not RCA (despite the plugs being similar).

Returned that and ordered an RF-to-VGA adapter, $65. It arrived with the menu system defaulting to Chinese, the ‘manual’ a mish-mash of unrelated, oft-mispelled English words smooshed up against pictures of menu screen shots, and a steeper than expected learning curve.

It took me 5 minutes to figure out how to turn it on, and another hour of randomly changing configuration settings before I was able to get my TS1000 to display on the monitor.

At last, success! Time to load a game!

It's mint in box! At least, until I opened it...

My own personal ‘Rosebud’

Well, my Shark’s Treasure hadn’t arrived yet, but I had a big fat manila envelope containing a number of games I’d gotten as a kid. So I popped it open, dumped out the contents, and there, at the top of the pile?

Shark’s Treasure.

Oops. But it was just the tape and not the packaging or the picture card with instructions that came with it, so I’m still gonna come out ahead.

Right?

Ha! Because when I popped the tape into my Marantz PMD-430 portable tape recorder and hit play, I made another discovery.

The tape recorder didn’t work any more.

So that went off to the specialty repair shop ($85 for an assessment and, oh yeah, a 6-8 week wait time due to other vintage recording devices ahead of mine in the queue!).

I’m telling you, if there was a single stock I could buy to invest in Big Retro, I’d go all in, bet the family life savings.

At this point, I’m getting desperate. My hands are shaking, I’ve got a flop sweat that won’t quit, and I really, really need to play that game. Or any text adventure game for the TS1000.

They have emulators. I’ve used one before (to show my kids Mazogs). But that’s not running on actual hardware, it’s not the same thing.

But I needed my fix so bad I swallowed my pride and downloaded an emulator.

Of course, without a functioning tape player, I couldn’t translate the tapes I had into .wav files that I could ‘play’ into the virtual TS1000.

But no worries. People have already converted a lot of these tapes to a file format that can be loaded by emulators.

Huzzah! I’m saved.

Except no one bothered to do this with Shark’s Treasure.

I looked.

I really, really looked.

Let’s just say that the problem is so bad that once this blog goes live, if someone types “sinclair shark’s treasure” into Google, my site will most likely make the first page.

(Leave out the “sinclair” and you’ll get a bunch of hits about some B movie.)

Think this is hard to read? This is from the emulator, which allows you to turn OFF the RF distortions.

Even the opening screen has a bug in it!

I did, however, find Space Commando. Since I have that tape too, I didn’t feel too guilty downloading a copy of a nearly 40 year old tape-based game published by a long defunct game company.

And I played it.

And that’s how I discovered that the nostalgia is a lie.

The big, fat, back-stabbing mother of all lies.

Now I still enjoy the YouTube channels and playing on my other, slightly more modern vintage computers (because unlike the TS1000, you can actually do things on them).

But the Timex Sinclair 1000 experience? It’s terrible.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew that going in. I remembered how horrible the membrane keyboard was, and the constant crashes when you bumped the computer and the 16K RAM pack slipped, and hunting for the right volume on the tape player when trying to load a game (which took ~5 minutes each try).

I remembered that.

But it seems nostalgia and time take the edge off all bad memories, and I had forgotten just how terrible the experience of using the computer was.

Even when I set the emulator to run at 32x the speed of an actual TS1000, it was glacially slow. The whole screen flashes with each key press, and the computer cannot handle a typing speed greater than about 20 characters per minute.

(This typing speed limitation isn’t quite as apparent when using the original membrane keyboard because three quarters of the time it wouldn’t register the key press.)

But worst of all? The game sucked.

All that guilt about complaining to my parents decades ago?

Totally justified. The game was unplayable. No proper instructions. Horrible text parser. Glaringly obvious bugs. Minimal description…IN A TEXT ADVENTURE GAME! Not to mention the very linear game play: given a choice of two directions in each room, the wrong choice always leads to immediate death. When you could figure out the correct command, you couldn’t help but feel shepherded.

And, in retrospect, all of these shortcomings were entirely predictable. This machine was cheap, so it’s functionality was severely limited. The real miracle is that there were games available at all.

Which doesn’t explain why I still kinda sorta wish I could play Shark’s Treasure…

So I’m over the Timex Sinclair ‘reboot’ though not, sadly, before I ordered a replacement ‘cheapo’ vintage tape recorder while waiting for my original unit to be repaired. And now I’m stuck with an RF-to-VGA converter that I’ll probably never use.

But that’s OK. I’ve been reminiscing about the first printer I ever used, a dot matrix machine that made a lovely grinding sound as it printed, and I’m watching a couple of them on eBay.

The nostalgia may be a lie, but it is extremely addictive.

 
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Posted by on 27 September 2021 in Angst, Life, Retro Computing, Technopocalypse

 

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Of all the times to be happily married!

I just discovered the secret to dating, and damn if I can’t take advantage of it.

Yes, I have learned the key to meeting women, but the Missus will do me grievous bodily harm if I try to take advantage of this knowledge.

Which isn’t to say I want to! I’m quite happy with my current matrimonial state, thank you very much.

But boy is it galling to know this now and not, say, when I was in my late teen / early twenties, miserably lonely, and terrified of (meeting) women.

Now I could turn this into a best-selling self-help book for lonely hearts, but that sounds like a lot of work and frankly, I have enough unfinished writing projects on my plate right now.

So instead, I’ll just tell you for free. If this technique leads to a happily ever after for you, all I ask is you drop me a note thanking me for my advice and maybe put me in your will?

If getting a lawyer involved is too much trouble, I also take cash.

What exactly is this ground-breaking miracle approach to attracting women?

(Sorry, don’t know if this works on men, but if I had to guess, given men are all heartless jerks, probably not.)

Four words:

Wheels on your dog.

Carrying the jack around in case of a flat gets really old

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. Better…stronger…faster.

Unfortunately, I paid a steep price for this knowledge, a discovery precipitated by very personal, very bad news.

My dog can’t walk any more unassisted.

The vet says he’s not in any pain but hobbling along on three legs wasn’t working out too well so we got my ol’ buddy a set of wheels.

To make them cooler, I tried to paint flames on the sides of the frame. But that didn’t work out: my cowardly dog is deathly afraid of fire.

The jerk.

Let me tell you, dorky looking or not, every time I take my dog and his training wheels for a walk, I get stopped at least once by a passing, cooing over how cute he is and asking what’s wrong with him.

Sometimes it’s even, get this, a group of women!

And then I get the watery, sympathetic eyes look.

If ever there was a moment to get all weepy and in-touch-with-your-emotional-side and confess how hard it’s been to deal with your best friend’s failing health and if only you had someone to commiserate with over a coffee at the nearby Starbucks (there’s always one nearby) say this Friday at 7, this is it.

What can I say? He can’t help himself – this bewheeled pooch is a chick magnet.

Now to be clear, I’m not saying that getting a puppy whose breed is predisposed to joint issues in their old age and then waiting for nature to take its course is a winning dating strategy.

Unless you like playing the long game.

But I’m also not telling you to slap a pair of wheels on a healthy dog and then drag him or her around the neighborhood looking for phone numbers. Because if a serious relationship develops from that, well, she’s gonna find out about the fake wheels at some point or you’re going have to start bribing your vet.

Which I guess means you do have to play the long game.

Well crap. I guess my dating secret isn’t all that practical after all, and certainly isn’t going to move a lot of paper in book form.

At least I’m already in a happy, healthy relationship. I guess that’s the silver lining?

Look, I’m not some creepy guy trying to take advantage of his dog’s failing health to meet women.

And I’m not some creepy guy trying to live vicariously through you as you do the above.

No. I’m a good guy. Really, I am.

You see, I’m just trying to be relevant and provide useful advice to folks. It just turns out I’m terrible at it.

So just forget about this post. The sooner, the better.

Unless…

Unless you do already have a dog.

A dog that needs wheels.

That you haven’t been walking regularly.

If that’s the case and you’re looking for love, well…now you know what to do.

I take tips, mentions in wills, and five-star reviews on Amazon.

 
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Posted by on 13 September 2021 in Angst, Life

 

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Treading Carefully: Social media is more mine than field lately

This bellows, like the internet, is filled with a lot of hot air. Rancid, putrid, toxic hot air.

I wouldn’t put my lips on that mouth either

Like political party affiliations, social media isn’t all evil.

However, what evil does exist is hardcore and overwhelming. The amount of good I’ve encountered online has been dwarfed by the deluge of anger, hatred, sanctimony, vigilantism, arrogance, and presumption, to name but a few.

Along with irony. Such as the irony that some will interpret my above view about people on social media as itself being angry, sanctimonious, arrogant, and presumptive. And probably bigoted too.

Most of these people will also be the source of my problem with social media. Eff ’em.

You can no longer have an opinion online unless it’s the ‘right’ opinion. And one person’s ‘right’ opinion is sure as shootin’ another person’s ‘wrong’ opinion.

Where once disagreement was tolerated and maybe even vigorously (but respectfully) debated, now the vast majority of disagreements are treated as proof you’re evil by many who disagree (the “How dare you!” crowd).

Say the ‘wrong’ thing and you can lose friends. If a large enough audience sees it (or is made aware of it via screen cap), you’re barraged with distributed messages of hate. You can end up run off social media (with many smugly saying, “Good riddance”) or, in what are becoming less and less extreme cases, threatened with rape or murder and being doxxed or even swatted.

When did people’s closely held, ‘undeniably true’ beliefs become so fragile they couldn’t withstand frank discussion?

When did a difference of opinion become a hate crime? When did the words “I disagree and here’s why” become hate speech?

When did civility become verböten?

When did “You’re wrong!” literally become equated with “You deserve to die!”?

No matter what I say, I know that speaking my mind will upset someone.

So for a long time now I’ve been keeping my head down and my mouth shut about certain topics because I have no idea who might be offended or how they’ll react.

But lurking on social media doesn’t protect you from seeing what’s happening to others.

People piled onto. Bullied. Threatened. Even driven to suicide.

Angry mobs jumping onto the latest outrage bandwagon without knowing all the facts because the perceived transgression is so antithetical to their belief system that even checking the facts is considered giving too much ground to that damned dirty other side.

It is shockingly easy to think this is OK at first, when your beliefs and the mob’s are aligned.

Until the mob moves into territory you think is hallowed ground, or at least neutral territory.

Then you begin to perceive the danger to yourself. Or possibly experience it directly.

It’s exhausting and disturbing to witness, even when I don’t support the attacked belief or statement.

So I’m stepping back from social media. Have already, in fact. I’ve gone cold turkey for a week now, and so far, my hands are steady and I don’t miss it.

The lunatics are running the asylum. They can have it.

 

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It’s the End of the World and Everyone Is Mad at Me

2020 came and went and somehow, miraculously, against all expectations, the world didn’t end.

At first, I felt relief.

Well, as much relief as anyone surviving 2020 can be expected to muster.

Which is not a whole lot, to be honest.

But then the new year rolled in and, as the weeks and months passed, I realized that 2021 is actually 2020’s way of saying, “Ha ha, you thought the worst was behind you? Eff you, the end is still on, baby, it just wasn’t bad enough by December 31st. But no worries, we’re just about there now!”

2021 has not been a great year. And most of what’s been horrible about it is down to people.

People being angry.

I see what you did there and it upsets me greatly...

Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Livid.

Apoplectic.

Rabid.

About everything.

Long gone are the days of stoic fatalism where people suffered in silence and just got on with life.

Remember those days, when we understood that life is hard, and the universe doesn’t give a crap about being fair?

Ah, so nice and quiet.

But now I can’t go anywhere (online or in the real world) without someone getting in my face about something.

Maskers, anti-maskers.

Vaccers, anti-vaccers.

Left, right.

Serial comma users, non-serial comma users.

Frankly, it makes me kinda hopeful that we’ll return to lockdowns.

(Oh yeah, lockdowners, anti-lockdowners.)

Because at least then I can stay home and avoid the real-world confrontations without people judging me as some sort of crazy recluse.

Crazy recluses, (somewhat less?) crazy extroverts.

Honestly, if there is anything that has contributed to my complete and utter lack of interest in fixing anything, it’s the current climate of universal, mutually exclusive outrage.

There is no dialogue anymore, just screaming matches and doxxing and death threats against those that fail someone else’s purity test.

I’m sick of it.

I’ve got people mad at me for my refusal to be an activist. I’m told I’m not ‘good’ enough and I need to try harder and I owe it to them to be on their side.

By different people who, incidentally, happen to vehemently disagree with each other.

Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

And yes, I’ve lost friends over this.

So congratulations, world. All that screaming and yelling has finally succeeded in normalizing something for me, though probably not what you were hoping:

Indifference.

In today’s social environment, caring is a lose/lose proposition so I did the only rational thing I could:

I stopped caring.

I don’t care about causes I opposed a few years ago.

I don’t care about causes I supported a few years ago.

I don’t care about causes I was already luke-warm to.

I don’t care because I’m exhausted.

With the smug self-righteousness.

The hubris of folks thinking they have the monopoly on ‘Truth’.

The irrational, spitting-mad fervor.

The sheer volume of the noise.

The people on one side of an equation thinking the above critique applies only to the people on the other side of that equation.

So I give up.

I cede the battle for the world to the nut jobs, and I fervently hope they wipe each other out so when the dust settles, the sane people can dig out and go, “Finally, the global temper tantrum is over, the world as we knew it has ended, and now we can rebuild a better, kinder world that recognizes there is no such thing as absolute truth and a difference of opinion isn’t a declaration of war.

Yeah, I’m angry too (clearly). But I’m just venting, not trying to convert anyone. To do that, I’d have to care, and as should be abundantly clear now, I don’t.

In the meantime, I’m going back to what I’ve been doing for months now: retreating into my TBR list and losing myself in a good book.

Turns out I do still care about good books, so maybe there’s hope?

Ha, who am I kidding?

 
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Posted by on 7 August 2021 in Other Blogs

 

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Oh yeah? Well I heard different!

Until recently, I used to think that upon reaching a…ahem…certain age, I would see the evolution of my writing process level off and stabilize, a sort of “We’ve arrived, darling, so you can relax now!” moment where I could rest on my laurels and, at the very least, not get actively worse.

In other words, I would transition from the very rough and immature writing that is the (extremely self-evident) product of my inept youth to the more mature, polished writing that comes with life experience and practice.

Lots and lots of practice.

Ultimately, my expectation was this evolution in my writing would hit ‘peak’ maturity (or as ‘peak’ as my maturity allows) and then I’d be settled in and have very little left to learn or add to my repertoire.

And as with just about everything else I think about life, I was wrong.

Recently I was asked if I’d like to adapt some of my written work into a radio drama. I’d never written a radio drama before, the closest I’d ever come to it being writing a couple of plays in college many years ago.

Many, many years ago.

I remembered listening to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” and “The Empire Strikes Back” radio programs even many more years ago, and I had nothing but fond memories, so naturally I said yes.

I’m glad I did.

Writing for a book (or short story) is a very different process than writing for a radio program. There’s the oft-repeated old saw applied to writing that you must “show, don’t tell,” which is basically an instruction not to dump a lot of boring exposition into your prose when you can describe the events instead.

To wit:

“He was so angry with himself for eating the whole pizza in one sitting.”

vs.

“Reginald stared hard in the mirror, disgusted with the weak-spined man, if ‘man’ was the right word, staring back. Even his internal organs couldn’t hide their disdain at the selfish act of desecration his dining choice represented – his heart burned with the fire of a thousand suns and his stomach quivered and heaved with the sort of restless fury that could only portend a long, violent session on the commode. A commode that, Reginald realized with shame, he didn’t deserve. ‘What was I thinking!? A whole pizza? And with pineapple on it!?’ No, there was a special place in hell for Reginald, and he would make no effort to resist his well-deserved journey there.”

This is also good advice if you are being paid by the word.

But paradoxically, writing for the radio is literally telling, not showing. The medium precludes showing the audience anything.

OK, I know, technically the written word also imposes this same limitation, but you can have picture books and there is an accepted convention that you can describe events and people’s thoughts outside of your characters’ dialogue. So it’s easier to ‘show’ in a short story or novel without sounding all stilted and overbearing.

Yes, you can just have a narrator explain the unspoken bits in your radio drama in-between stretches of dialogue, and there are examples of radio shows that do just that. But I didn’t like it. It felt like taking the easy way out.

Well, I say I didn’t like that approach. Not entirely true. My disdain for the approach wasn’t strong enough to prevent me from trying it (I’m a big fan of the easy way out), but the feedback I got for that draft of the script was, to be blunt, that it flat out doesn’t work. No doubt this reflects more on me and my writing than on the technique itself.

Denied the easy way out, I was forced down the more arduous path of “figuring out what the hell to do to make this damned script work.”

At first, I felt limited by the different requirements for a radio script. But I slowly came to discover that the constraints of radio weren’t limitations at all. In actuality, they opened up new possibilities and pushed me to expand my understanding of storytelling.

It was a journey of self-discovery, and while an unwilling passenger at first (“Wah! I don’t wanna go! I’m already a mature writer! Wah!”), in the end I’m glad I stuck with it.

Where did this journey lead me? To a heretofore unknown-to-me tool to add to my writing arsenal, a skill not just limited to crafting radio dramas, but something which can also be applied and is essential to improving my prose in general:

How to show while telling.

What is showing while telling?

Well, it isn’t flashing your second grade teacher while tattling on a classmate about his nose-picking addiction.

It’s taking into account that a radio story is conveyed through actual sound waves moving through the air and physically striking the listener’s tympanic membranes, not photons bouncing off words on a page and being silently absorbed by the reader’s eyes.

It’s embedding narrative information in dialogue without sounding (too much) like the dreaded ‘info dump.’

(I have to admit, it’s really hard to avoid the ‘info dump’ feel, but I actually like that about some of the older radio dramas. So for me, at least, a little bit of over the top exposition adds to the charm. A little bit.)

It’s revealing needed details via the flow of action and events instead of a character saying it.

(In my case, I turned a letter read by the main character in the book into a barbershop quartet that sang the content while interacting with the main characters (by which I mean they got punched a lot). And I liked the result so much, I fully intend to back-fill that change into the book!)

It’s including audio effects in the script – like the sharp crack of a bullet striking a car windshield followed by squealing and the violent roar of the car crashing into a wall – to further convey information that just can’t be reasonably worked into the dialogue.

(Do you really want to hear, in the heat of the action, a character say, “Oh no! A bullet just hit our car’s windshield and broke it! I can’t see! Oof! We just crashed into a wall!”)? No. You don’t.

It’s also hard and I’m definitely still learning.

I discovered, in other words, that I have a lot more evolving to do.

Can you hear me now?The drama of which I write herein, a chapter from my in-progress novel, Luck Be A SpaceLady, was one of four produced this year by the KFJC Pandemic Players. Social distancing was observed at every stage, which makes the final result all the more impressive. I encourage you to check them out, but especially (because I’m a selfish attention-seeker) their production of my script, found here in MP3 format.

 

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I Have No Life, and I Must Scream

Thanks to the power of image editing, I not only have all my teeth, but they're shiny white too!
The Missus, kiddos, and neighbors 
don’t like it when I scream. 

I burn for something.

Crave it.

Got a fever for it.

But no, not for more cowbell.

It would be easier if I knew exactly what it is I need. But I don’t.

Instead I’ve read at least twelve books in the last month, with another currently in progress.

Binge-watched multiple shows on various streaming services.

Logged into work on off hours and days.

Taken the family on long hikes through the Redwoods.

And done other…more shameful…things to fill the void within me.

(Like stoop to writing…gasp…a radio play, to name but one.)

I think the pandemic has finally gotten to me.

Spending more time at home, enclosed within the same encroaching walls, dealing with exactly the same pets and identical family members day in and day out, I’ve struggled to feel …productive.

Whole.

Relevant.

I started with the streaming services, the gateway vice into maddness. Looking back, I can’t even tell you everything I watched. Despite being within the last thirty days, it’s all faded into a blur.

I mean, yeah, it’s a pandemic month and therefore technically longer than that, but still.

I do remember some Classic Doctor Who, snippets of Marvel movies and shows, and the first season of True Detective (good, but I really wish that was one of the programs I can no longer remember!). There was more, I just know it, but my memories of them remain hidden behind a facemask of inordinate size and opacity.

And I can count off twelve of the books I read (the last four Murderbot books, a Jasper Fforde fantasy series, some on-offs not worth mentioning), but I’m pretty sure there was more than twelve and I just can’t remember the earliest ones.

Like the radio play, the hiking, and working during my time off, they have all been ways to fill the void. Maybe escapism?

Though if the world of True Detective, Season 1, is an escape, how bad must reality be?

Turns out, pretty bad.

I’ve watched as people around me sank lower and lower as the pandemic stretched on and on.

I was doing OK until recently, or so I thought. I chalked up my resilience to being an introvert. Assumed I was handling things so well because I didn’t need or miss the social interaction suddenly yanked from all of us.

And the people I yelled at at home and work? They deserved it. Or so I told myself.

But I was wrong.

I have a problem. I crave input. Stories with, if not happy, at least satisfying endings.

Hello, my name is Ian and I’m a content addict.

A baleen whale trawls for krill and zooplankton by opening its mouth, swimming forward, and hoping. I think I’m doing the same thing, only my mouth is open to scream and my version of moving forward is taking advantage of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and thriftbooks.com.

My biggest problem, of course, is that unlike this pandemic, books, TV shows, movies, and even hikes all come to an end. And while my vices soothe me in the moment, I’m painfully hollow after they conclude.

Leaving me dangerously vulnerable and looking for the next hit. And in that moment, during that profound, bottomless low, I’ll take anything to fill the void and feel whole again.

Cat memes.

Opinion pieces.

Reddit threads.

Anti-vaxxer websites.

Even…[shudder]…fan fic.

So I’m ready to get vaccinated. Ready for herd immunity and parties and writing in coffee shops again. Ready for things to return to some semblance of normal.

Ready to have more in my life than just books.

Read that last sentence again.

One more time, slowly. Really let those words sink in.

Ready to have more in my life than just books.

The fact that I just wrote that sentence speaks volumes (no pun intended) as to the condition of not just my mental state, but our entire world right now.

We need help. All of us.

Though I suppose all of this could be down to flat panel displays. No, really, I read a thread online about this. WFH and binge-watching has resulted in me spending a lot more time in front of screens and the unnatural amount of blue light they expose us to. Maybe the 450-490nm wavelength emissions are what’s leaving me empty inside.

Perhaps the solution to all my woes isn’t a vaccine and hanging with people and coffee shops. Maybe it’s as simple as taping a sheet of transparent red plastic to my monitor and filing a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of said displays.

If nothing else, a lawsuit gives me something to do.

Hmm…

OK, maybe I need just a little bit more help than the rest of you.

 

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Are those nylons pulled over your face or my old underwear?

Trigger warning: you will learn things about my underwear you can never unlearn.

A few days ago, I was putting on a pair of underwear when part of it tore at the seam.

This got me to thinking, because this particular pair of underwear is less than six months old.

Most of my underwear is a lot older.

A lot.

Let’s just say when I casually mentioned how old my underwear was at a doctor’s appointment, the doctor laughed, assuming I was joking, and said, “I hope not…please tell me that’s not true.”

I pretended I’d been joking all along.

But I wasn’t.

This appointment was about six months ago, and the reason I now possess underwear less than six months old.

And what I was thinking was this:

Sure my old underwear was so worn you could see through it, but in all its (many) years of service, it had never split at the seams.

And as an added bonus, it got a “RRrarr!” from the Missus whenever I changed in front of her.

Sadly (for both my tear-free lifestyle and my love life), at my doctor’s urging, I threw them all away. I didn’t even save a pair for special, romantic occasions. 😦

I also have relatively new socks (as young or younger than the new underwear). They developed holes within a couple of months of wearing them.

My old socks? That predate these new socks by years? Worn thin in a few spots (forming more than one window to my sole), but no actual, stick-a-finger-or-toe-through-them holes.

WTF?

I wore an XL cardigan back then because I find loose clothing comfortable

What, you were expecting a picture of my underwear??

And I have a cardigan sweater that is over THIRTY YEARS OLD. It came from Mervyn’s and has a few stains, but no frayed cuffs or split seams!

In comparison, I have jackets and coats that are a few years old that have holes, frays, splits, and even missing buttons.

My trusty cardigan? Original buttons all fully intact and never sewn back on.

I tried to find out who exactly made that cardigan, so I could favor them with my custom again. Clearly I need a better tailor than Hanes. But good look figuring that out for something made before the internet was really a thing. As best I can tell, my only options are eBay and thrift shops.

And based on the prices I’ve seen, those folks know what they’ve got and what it’s worth.

So much for affordable…

And to add to my indignation, they weren’t afraid to use material back in those days. Twenty years ago, a Large fit me just fine. Then ten years ago or so, I guess they decided to cut some corners on fabric usage and I had to start wearing “Xtra Large” to be comfortable. And now they’re skimping so much on material I have wear XXL. All to save what, a few cents?

Outrageous!

All of this has left me wondering what has happened to the quality of affordable, overseas-manufactured clothing. A couple of decades ago, they knew how to make textiles. But now, now the imports seem to be designed and built to require replacement within a year. Or less!

Like a lot of our consumer electronics. Hmm…

This is both wasteful and a shame. As much as it pains me to say something I never thought would cross my lips, I guess it’s true:

They really don’t make underwear like they used to.

 
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Posted by on 26 January 2021 in Angst, Conspiracies Out To Get Me, Life

 

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You don’t just have to listen to me. You MUST listen to me!

(loosely based on a true story)

Trigger warning: not caring about your opinion

Texts between friend and me:  “Oh no, Godzilla!”  That seems immediately relevant, you’ve definitely got my full attention.  “Fire! The theater we’re in is on fire!”  You had me at ‘fire’.  “Asteroid Apophis will impact Earth and end civilization as we know in six months!”  Yeah, that sounds like something I should hear you out on. Please continue.

Texts between friend and me #2:  “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.”  This sounds vaguely entertaining, tell me more.  “Halley’s Comet will impact Earth and end civilization as we know in eighteen months!”  OK, that topic bears discussion, but let me finish binge-watching Friends first.Texts between friend and me #3:  “I’d like to talk to you about these fine Amway products.”  Um, no thanks.  “Can I interest you in a home in this new real estate development in Guyana called Jonestown?”  Not really, I’m happy with my current residence.  “My political beliefs are life-changing, life-affirming, and will move you to both tears and action! I’ve told you about them before, but I need you to set aside an uninterrupted hour to discuss them with me further vis a vis your failure to enthusiastically embrace them.”

Texts between friend and me #4:  Ha ha ha! Oh wait, you’re serious?  “Yes”  Oh. Well, I’ve actually already given that topic considerable thought, and I’m fine with where I’m at.  “No no no, you don’t understand. Anything less than full-throated approval is to be against us, to be on the side of INJUSTICE!”  Um, no it isn’t. Look, we’re both good people and generally aligned on most issues. Let’s just agree to disagree on this one.Texts between friend (?) and me #5:  “I’ve been personally injured by people rejecting this belief system. WE MUST DISCUSS!”  This alleged injury from me?  “No, not that one, but now finding it hurtful to me you won’t let me evangelize you on this topic. Not hearing me violates my boundaries which means YES now you have hurt me :(”  wtf?Texts between friend (?) and me #6:  Politely declining to talk to you about this has injured you and therefore compels me to listen to you? Well, if that’s your position, you’ve violated my boundaries by ignoring my refusal to discuss this with you. Check and mate.  “[rolls eyes]" "[shakes head sadly]" "[sends out thoughts and prays for your conversion]"Texts between friend (?) and me #7:  "[adds you to list of those to go up against the wall when the revolution comes if the thoughts and prayers don’t work]" "You have failed to grasp the severity of the situation. Your close-mindedness saddens (and angers) me. Once you learn the error of your ways, I’ll be here, waiting to forgive you and accept you with open arms into the One True Faith(TM).”Texts between former friend and me #8:  "[adds you to list of those to go up against the wall when the revolution comes if the thoughts and prayers don’t work]" "You have failed to grasp the severity of the situation. Your close-mindedness saddens (and angers) me. Once you learn the error of your ways, I’ll be here, waiting to forgive you and accept you with open arms into the One True Faith(TM).”  [Laughs bitterly, rolls eyes, shakes head sadly, realizes thoughts and prayers are pointless, then clicks ‘Block’.]

Anyone else who has been cornered by someone who insists on lecturing you find these sorts of ordeals … depleting?

No, just me?

Look, don’t misunderstand me. Everyone’s entitled to their (non-violent!) beliefs, regardless of the degree of sanity inherently present in said beliefs. Have at it, good on you. I think it’s super lovely that you’re engaged in whatever process you’re going on about. I might even agree with you on some points. And if I ask you to expound on them, you’re good to go. But.

But.

As controversial as this may be to some folks, I need to be absolutely clear:

* In no way, shape, or form is anyone obligated to listen to your beliefs

* A refusal to do so is not a crime against you

Or think of it this way: if a religious missionary shows up at your door, do you want the right to choose whether or not you close the door on them? Or should you be required to hear them out? And hear out the next person who comes to your door selling something? And the person after that? And after that?

Boundaries, people, boundaries.

I get it. We’re living in divisive times. People are angry.

Scared.

Outraged.

And people have opinions.

Oh yes, we have opinions. Strong ones, no less.

But good grief! The constant flinging of opinions at me is exhausting and everywhere these days!

(Remember, I’m an introvert at heart and just want to be left alone most of the time.)

But you know what? During times like this, does it really pay to drive a wedge between yourself and your friends? Because now instead of not convincing them of your opinion, you’ve not convinced them of your opinion and driven them out of your life.

It’s like losing twice.

Twice!

Sure, “agreeing to disagree” may not feel like a win, but at least you still have a friend. And that’s not a bad thing, right?

Oh no, I just realized that this whole post is me hoisting my opinion upon you! I retroactively apologize unreservedly for inflicting this intrusive burden upon you. Though…you did click on the link, which is tantamount to asking me…

Feel free to agree to disagree.

 
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Posted by on 14 January 2021 in Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Life

 

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The Marital Bed…Of Shame!

Every night, the Missus likes to spoon me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear as I drift off to sleep.

OK, maybe not every night, per se, but most nights.

Well, a lot of the time anyway.

Fine. Occasionally.

When she’s drunk.

The frequency isn’t really the point here, just know it’s more often than you get the same treatment.

From my Missus, anyway.

She’s always here with me.

That’s one of the benefits of the lock-down: I always know where she is and the lawyers can’t call it stalking.

Anymore.

But I digress.

The thing is, recently this whole “turn around so I can spoon you and quietly praise you” went from “Aw yeah, AWESOME” to “Oh crap, no!”

Why, you ask?

Three words:

Home brewed coffee.

I was never a huge coffee drinker before the lock-down. And to be perfectly honest, I’m still not a fan of the stuff. But lock-down, well, this may come as a shock to you, but it’s led to some problems.

The whole not having to drive into work, toil myself down to the bone, and then drive home from work an exhausted, broken, former shadow of a man thing kinda sorta disrupted my sleep schedule.

Oh sure, avoiding the daily commute and a demoralizing work day seems like a good thing, but

1) I still have to be demoralized, I just do it from home now with the added benefit of laggy internet, and

2) I somehow got the idea in my head that since I didn’t have to drive to work, I could stay up later and just roll out of bed right before the start of the workday.

Big mistake, that second one.

I end up staying up WAY too late, rolling out of bed just a hair too close to the start of my first meeting, struggling to make my way to the home office with eyes sealed shut by sleep crust, and desperately trying not to snore during said meeting.

(The Missus says I snore so loud I’m afraid my coworkers will hear even if I’m on mute.)

There was only one solution to this problem.

Coffee.

No, not going to bed earlier and setting a proper alarm.

Coffee.

And for awhile it was going great. The coffee boosted my awareness / consciousness, I got through the day without my soul completely sucked away, and, having stayed awake all day, I was able to go to bed at a reasonable(ish) hour where I would (occasionally) drift off to the dulcet tones of the Missus telling me how wonderful I am while ensconced in her warm, warm embrace.

Except not.

Because now when I crawl into bed, I deliberately face towards the Missus and secretly dread the singsong request to turn around and prepare to be, as the Tick might put it, “Spooned!”

(Spooooooned!)

“Who’s my yummy bummy sweeteekins,” she asks.

“Oh God, not tonight,” I scream (in my head, because I’m not so foolish as to diss the Missus right before entering the helpless sleep state…RIGHT NEXT TO HER FUMING SOUL).

“Who’s a wonder-thunder-dunderkin awesome-sauce tubby hubby,” she breathes into my ear.

“Can’t you just go to sleep and leave me alone, and also, I’m working on the gut!” I retort back (again, just in my head).

“Are you a special, amazing, wonderful human being who is perfect in every way I could possibly hope,” she gushes throatily.

“Not tonight, woman! But yes, yes I am,” I whine back in a pitch carefully calibrated to be inaudible to her ears.

What’s the problem, many of you are asking just about now. Especially those of you who’ve been married as long as the Missus and I have – this sort of fawning attention is UNHEARD OF this many years into marriage.

I’ve already told you the problem:

Home. Brewed. Coffee.

More specifically, home brewed coffee that causes stomach distress such that you desperately, feverishly need to but don’t want to let loose a barrage of avalanche-inducing farts while your beloved Missus is clamped to your back.

(Also, I’m convinced my coworkers will hear these bursts of gas even if I’m on mute and the meeting doesn’t start for hours. They. Are. That. Powerful.)

Think how far back THAT might set your matrimonial relationship!

So I am forced to mumble something about being SOOOO tired, throw in a few fake snores, and then “toss and turn” until the business end of my digestive system is pointed away from the ol’ Missus and then, finally, blissfully, happily, I can safely set the blankets a-flapping.

Unless, like that one time, the Missus is feeling romantic and has sprinkled rose petals all over the floor and bed and covered every non-cushy horizontal surface with lit candles.

Egads, woman! Don’t you know the bedroom is not the place for romance!?

Yeah, that was an interesting insurance claim.

Now, I know it’s been a rough year. I know people are looking for good news instead of bad. And given it’s nearly the end of 2020, I simply can’t go out on such a negative note, leaving you all worried about the status of my marriage and my sensitive digestive system.

That’s right, I actually have some good news, a sense of hope I can impart after this tale of (quite literally) nauseating woe!

J'accuse!

There’s a fish! In the percolator!

It turns out the coffee maker we used to make our home brewed coffee had mold in it.

Yes, if you have one of those single-serving coffee machines with a reusable brew basket and you leave the wet grinds in it, mold starts to grow!

I had no idea.

But once we took the mold out of the equation, the digestive system more active than the volcanoes on Io went into remission.

That’s right. I can now be safely spooned and nuzzled and sweet-nothing’ed every night.

OK, maybe not every night, per se, but most of the time.

Well, a lot of the time anyway.

Fine. Occasionally.

When the Missus is drunk.

Which reminds me. I need to restock the liquor cabinet.

 

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And So, As A Last Resort, We Threw A Farewell Dance Party

2020 has been, to put it mildly, a somewhat sub-optimal year.

A lot of bad things have happened this year, but the worst, as astute readers of my blog would have noticed in my last posting, is that rats have moved into the crawl spaces of my house.

Speaking of bad things – Trigger Warning: Flashing Lights ahead

I tried all the usual remedies:

  • Stomping on the floors, thumping on the ceilings
  • Calmly sitting outside one of the crawlspace vents, patiently and rationally explaining to the rats why they need to let go of their Rodentia Fragilitatem and inclinatum implicita habitant and just vacate the premises, please
  • Installing a high frequency noise generator
  • Yelling obscenities in the hopes of offending their sensibilities (it worked, but just on my kids)
  • Crawling under the house with a fistful of rubber bands and shooting at the little bastards (might have worked, but my aim needs improving (I blame the constrained space))
  • Drenching the crawlspaces with peppermint oil rodent repellent (this did result in a a frenzy of movement the first night, but mostly on the part of the Missus, kiddos, and dogs)

But no matter what I did, they either wouldn’t leave or kept coming back.

So I did what any rational, red-blooded Europhile would do:

The neighbors keep muttering under their breath about what sorcery is afoot at the Dudley abode and whining how it's causing all the nearby house values to depreciate.

The System. Is Down.

I threw a rave.

A 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, silent rave.

I achieved this by installing strobe lights in my crawlspaces. And testing them before installation gave me, the Missus, and the kiddos immediate nausea and stabbing headaches.

The rats don’t stand a chance.

And I have to admit, the nightly noises the rats make now are markedly more frenetic and, dare I say it, irritated, than before. I can’t help but beam with glee (pun absolutely, utterly intended) and derive incalculable pleasure and satisfaction from the skittering sounds that I wholeheartedly choose to interpret as anguished.

It’s the only thing keeping me sane right now.

 

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