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Author Archives: ianmdudley

About ianmdudley

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

An analog man in a digital age

Hidden puzzle game: find the cameras and lenses

This is what a contemplative life looks like.

A couple of weeks ago, I was given a new lease on life.

Specifically, a bag full of cameras (and lenses) that belonged to my grandfather.

35mm film cameras.

Now my daily camera these days is my cell phone, and it takes convenient but usually terrible photos.

On those (rare) occasions where I’m actually worried about picture quality, I lug along my digital SLR.

Which also takes bland, slightly less terrible but significantly more inconvenient pictures.

And you know what? I take a lot of pictures, but I rarely spend any time looking at them.

I point the phone at the subject and press the shutter button. The pictures are taken, and on some level my brain says, “Ah yup, that one’s captured for posterity.”

(For some reason, my brain sounds like Jon Stewart imitating a cartoon turtle while talking about Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell.)

And since that moment has been safely tucked away on digital medium, I do a quick check on the LCD screen to make sure everything’s in focus and exposed properly, and then never look at the images again.

It’s as if I’ve decided, on some level, that knowing I have the pictures is enough, and reviewing them later unnecessary.

Receiving these film cameras got me to feeling nostalgic for the early days of my youth, when I shot with an all manual Pentax K1000 with a 50mm prime lens and a bobbing needle light meter, then went into the darkroom to develop the film.

Because in those days, that’s how you checked if your pictures came out. You sat in the dark while they soaked in chemicals, and then you put them in an enlarger and made prints.

If they didn’t turn out, you couldn’t just quickly try again. The event was long over.

If was an important event, you did a lot of swearing.

And let me tell you, if you’re in a small darkroom with another person and they start shrieking expletives and slamming the counter over and over with their fist, sloshing chemicals all over the place, it’s a little unsettling.

Or so I’ve been informed when asked why I was being banned from yet another darkroom.

Which is to say, I realized that I miss film photography.

Also, one of the cameras was at least fifty years old, and I really wanted to play with it for the novelty, if nothing else.

That fifty year old camera? A Zeiss-Ikon Contina III.

Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster.

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

One thing about the Germans - they sure build great cameras!

Fortunately, the manual was surprisingly clear.

(Now calm down, lens aficionados, it doesn’t use Zeiss lenses. I had thought so too, but research revealed that there were problems with manufacturing at the time, and so they went with a different lens manufacturer.)

I went to the drug store and discovered they don’t carry what some people would call ‘a lot’ of 35mm film these days.

No, all they stocked was one roll of Fuji film.

One lousy roll.

Surrounded, to add insult to injury, by several brands of LED flash attachments for use with your cell phone camera.

I bought that lonely roll. Rescued it.

Rescued it from a long and miserable existence sitting untouched and unloved under Rite-Aid’s fluorescent lighting.

(I pick up a lot of stray rolls of film that way. Damn you, Sarah McLachlan!)

Upon examining the camera, I discovered I would need to read the manual. The light meter reports in EV (Exposure Value), and then you used that to lock the lens aperture and shutter speed to the correct exposure.

Also, it was a viewfinder, which meant I couldn’t focus through the lens. Instead, you turn the focus ring to the distance setting that matched how far your subject was from the camera.

This resulted in a lot of out-of-focus pictures on that first roll.

Turns out I’m not only a terrible judge of character, but of distance too.

Still, I had a lot of fun using the camera, and while most of the images were of poor quality, I have to blame myself rather than the camera.

Oh, it has its quirks, like the light meter consistently overexposing when shooting outside on a bright day, or there being nothing to remind you to set the focus. But that’s what the first roll was for: to help me get to know the camera.

What the heck do sprockets have to do with photography!? You were born in the 90s, weren't you?

Ironically, every single picture appearing in this blog post was shot using, what else, my digital SLR.

After my photo shoot, I couldn’t find a local place to develop the film that didn’t return the negatives.

(WTF?? I don’t get the negatives back, Walgreens? What do you do with them? Send them to the NSA so they can add to their database on me and my known associates?)

So I opted for mail order processing. That took, all told, nine days.

Nine days of wondering: did any pictures come out? Does the camera even work worth a damn? Is the light meter accurate?

And in the course of that fretting, I started thinking about the type of photography I wanted, nay, yearned to experiment with twenty years ago but couldn’t afford.

Medium format photography.

Back then, a decent MF camera cost many thousands of dollars. Far more than I wanted to spend on a hobby.

Not being able to afford it didn’t help either.

Bored, and needing something to distract me from the anxiety of waiting for my film to come back, I started researching MF cameras anyway.

I told myself it was window shopping.

It wouldn’t amount to anything.

And discovered that the bottom fell out of the market for MF film cameras when digital became established.

Suddenly the MF cameras I used to dream about were affordable (in the used market).

I won’t go into the hours I spent on research, staying up far later than was advisable on a work night, plugging makes, models, configurations and prices into a spreadsheet.

In the end, it came down to this:

Even used, MF film cameras are still pretty expensive. Affordable, yes, but advisable?

Not at my current skill level.

Interior (electronics) require a battery. No battery, no picture.

Compare this exterior to the Contina’s. Boring! All smooth lines and a complete lack of toggles! Pah!

Again, seriously, this thing is completely dead without batteries.

No film advance lever! Even THAT is automated!

I decided it made more sense to break out the ‘fancy’ 35mm film camera I bought in the 90s. Not a super high-end camera, but no all-manual K1000 either.

Which is what I was using yesterday.

I hate it.

It’s a Pentax PZ-70. I spent a lot of time-saving up for that camera, and I loved it. Took some classes, bought a bunch of lenses and gear, even photographed a wedding with it.

I marveled, back then, at the technology I was able to buy.

Here’s the problem with it now: it’s too automated.

The 35mm lens I use on it (and my digital camera) for a prime is a featureless cylinder. No f/stop setting ring. The camera chooses for you.

Sure, I can put my all manual K1000 50mm prime lens on it, and put the camera in manual mode, but I still can’t control everything. The aperture setting goes to ‘B’ and that’s it.

(‘B’ is bulb mode for those of you not familiar with cameras. The shutter stays open for as long as your finger is on the trigger.)

All the joy, learning, and exploring I was engaged in with the Contina was gone with this camera, and I found this sucked all the entertainment and interest out of using it.

I also found that, given the automation, I went straight into cell phone photography mode: point it real quick and press the trigger.

I didn’t frame the picture. I didn’t think about angles. The impact of lighting on the shot didn’t cross my mind.

I was making a Xerox of the scene rather than creating a composition.

Why?

Because I didn’t have to.

Focus? Camera does that.

Exposure setting? Camera does that.

Film advance? Hell, the camera does that too.

I was practically superfluous to the experience.

So I’m starting to think maybe that used MF camera isn’t such a bad idea after all.

But first I’m going to dig out my old K1000 with the bobbing needle light meter and shoot a roll on that.


 Proof the Contina can work (most, if not all, technical and artistic failings are the photographer’s, not the camera’s):
I've always held that animals are bastards. Here's a bastard taking a dump in a public park. Jerk.

I’ve always held that animals are bastards. Here’s a bastard taking a dump in a public park. Jerk.

The easiest way to ensure a sharp image is to photograph something far away and set the focus to Infinity.

The easiest way to ensure a sharp image is to photograph something far away and set the focus to Infinity.

It's rare to photography this kid and NOT get motion blur. Metering a bit off, but it tends to be outdoors.

It’s rare to photograph this kid and NOT get motion blur. Metering’s a bit off, but it tends to be outdoors.

 
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Posted by on 30 March 2015 in Art!, Photography

 

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Listen back in anger

Finding a working time machine is hard.

Correction. Finding a working, inexpensive time machine is hard.

There are lots of cheap ones out there. So far, I’ve bought two.

Neither worked.

First one failed out of the box*. Not encouraging.

Second one, worked for a few hours of use. Then started coming part.

OK, I’ve been speaking metaphorically.

Let me try this again, more literal:

Finding a working audio cassette player is hard.

Correction. Finding a working, inexpensive cassette player is hard.

Who cares about audio tape players, you ask?

Clearly, I do. If you haven’t figured that out, you should just stop reading now. The rest of this post will be utter gibberish for you.

I care, because a working audio cassette player is, for me, a snapshot into the past.

A time machine, if you will.

What the heck am I going on about?

I found a bunch of old audio tapes recently.

Music mix tapes from friends and past flames, some weird recordings of old public service announcements, and an audio ‘letter’ or two.

I got it into my head that I wanted to hear these.

That it would be fun. A real kick.

I had a tape player, a nice one, expensive at the time I bought it (some two decades ago), but quickly discovered it doesn’t work anymore.

Shame.

I tried playing my tapes on a turntable, but the sound quality was awful and the tape just got tangled up.

Yes, I’m that old. I have a bunch of cameras that use something called ‘film’ too.

There was one tape in particular I really wanted to listen to.

It became an obsession.

But not one I wanted to spend more than twenty, thirty bucks on.

I’m a cheap skate. Even with my obsessions.

Cassette players fall into two camps: less than thirty bucks and over a hundred.

Less than thirty bucks buys you, apparently, a few hours of play time.

At best.

The tape that got under my skin, that drove this whole ordeal?

An audio diary entry of sorts. The label on the cassette couldn’t have been more clear as to the contents, or more alluring:

“Reflections on — & other things 04/28/91″

The scored out part? The name of an ex-girlfriend, blotted out to protect the innocent. Our breakup devastated me, and in the throes of that agony, I committed my thoughts on that event (and other things, evidently) to magnetic medium.

Stupid.

But also irresistible.

The good news, if you’re still interested enough to have reached this point in this post, is that the second tape player worked long enough for me to transfer the tape to digital.

The bad news, for everyone, myself included, is that the second player worked long enough for me to hear parts of it.

I haven’t listened to the whole recording. I’m not sure I can, or ever will.

I checked in periodically during the transfer, to make sure it was working, and heard snippets.

Turns out I broke up with her, which isn’t how I remember it at all. That was weird.

There was a lot of sniffling, and no, I didn’t have a cold at the time.

There was a lot of naiveté, which considering how young I was, and given that this was my second girlfriend, ever, isn’t shocking.

Those parts made me thankful for the growth I’ve achieved since then, the maturity, poise, wisdom, and confidence that 24 subsequent years of life bestows to us all.

Well, most of us.

Probably.

But there was one section, and my sampling was random, so I don’t know how prevalent this tone was, that showed just how…ill-equipped I was at dealing with relationships back then.

Working or not working.

I was angry.

Not screaming, howling at the moon angry.

Dark, fuming vitriol angry.

The type of anger so sublimated that it isn’t readily apparent to those around you.

Or even self-evident, unless you wait twenty-four years to look back and analyze the situation.

It was disturbing.

(OK, quick note for anyone who might have gone there: this was not a “shoot up the mall” type of anger. Ultimately, I would characterize it as internalized. Self-destructive.)

In a way, I’m thankful for the snippets I heard.

It paints a stark contrast between my emotional and mental maturity then versus where I am now.

To paraphrase Virginia Slims, I’ve come a long way, baby.

But the more enlightened Ian of today is…uncomfortable with the Ian of twenty-four years ago.

I wasn’t a bad person then. Stupid, lonely, misguided, why-do-nice-guys-finish-last entitled, yes. But not bad.

However, I look back on this example of how I thought and how I saw the world, and I’m a bit horrified.

And sad.

I am not a wise man, not by a long shot, but if I only had then the small amount of wisdom I possess now, my life would have been so much…

I want to say better, but I don’t know.

I’d have been a lot less nervous, a lot less afraid, a lot less likely to internalize things rather than get them out in the open and deal with them.

But the hard truth of it is, I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t endured the idiocy of youth.

If I did have a working time machine, an actual time machine, I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t try to give myself a leg up.

I had to learn these things the slow, hard way, because I had to learn them for myself.

And let’s face it: I’m a slow learner.

But once I get something down, it sticks.

And looking back, I can happily say life stuck to me.

Just as Target did, selling me a tape player that didn’t last a week.

 
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Posted by on 27 January 2015 in Angst, Life, Technopocalypse

 

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Why childhood dreams need giant deep space antenna networks

A month ago I participated in a NASA Social event for the launch of the Orion spacecraft.

I meant to write about it immediately following, but things happened.

I got sick.

Multiple times.

And I found the enthusiasm from my previous NASA Social event, DSN50, surprisingly absent this time around.

Maybe going from walking inside and around a giant radio antenna to watching a projected image from 2am to 6am of what ultimately was a scrubbed launch contributed too.

Although one could argue that it’s hard to get enthused about anything when every time you burp, you taste Amoxicillin.

But I feel like I’ve been derelict in my duty, once getting selected for the Orion event, in not having written a post about my experience. After all, that’s why it’s a NASA Social event.

I’ve started writing a post several times, but each time, I found myself wandering listlessly into a dead-end and stopping.

I didn’t want this post to be about that.

But maybe it just is.

First and foremost, I’m a huge fan of NASA, and space exploration, and Humanity getting off its duff and getting Out There.

And I learned some pretty exciting things about Orion and its launch system that, shame on me, I didn’t know beforehand:

The Space Launch System (SLS), or rockets used to launch it, will get a manned craft deeper into space than we’ve been since the Apollo program. When SLS is ready, the second Orion launch will loop around the moon and back.

The first launch, using a Delta IV Heavy and which I had hoped to witness, got us 3600 miles up. We haven’t done that with a human-rated vehicle since Apollo.

More spectacularly, Orion is our path to Mars.

That’s the long-term goal – getting humans to Mars via Orion and its related systems.

It all sounds awesome.

And then you dig a little.

SLS hasn’t been built yet. Isn’t ready yet.

And the decision to go with SLS, who designs and builds it, where that work is done, was political.

This worries me. Politics has no place in decisions like this, but NASA gets its money from the Federal budget, so the politics are unavoidable.

If you ask me, and yes, I know you didn’t, we need something like the Supreme Court for NASA – Senate-confirmed Presidential lifetime appointments for scientists to run (and control the budget for) NASA.

I know, a pipe dream, but I’d really like to see a human on Mars in my lifetime. Sure, that’s in the current schedule assuming I don’t get hit by a bus or a de-orbited satellite, but do we really think things will stay on track?

Retiring the space shuttle before a replacement was ready doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either. Look at us now, dependent on Russia to get astronauts to the ISS.

Good thing we’re getting along so well with the Russians these days.

Oh, wait.

Yes, yes, there are also commercial launch options, but they haven’t exactly been having a banner year either (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/spacex-rocket-explodes-during-test-flight-in-texas/).

Plus that’s ultimately being driven by an effort to reduce costs. It feels like a path to NASA giving up its ability to get to low Earth orbit and becoming entirely dependent on outside organizations.

But hey, if it’s cheaper, it’s cheaper, and everyone knows that capitalism should play a prominent role in Humanity’s exploration of space, right?

Sorry, I’m getting a bit cynical here, but only because I truly believe space is our future, and I hate to see it going to the lowest bidder.

When you don’t have the awe-inspiring experience of standing in the shadow of a giant radio telescope, you don’t get distracted from your perhaps unrealistic but still real childhood aspirations and dreams of space:

Moon bases. Colonies on Mars. Men and women exploring Europa, Titan. And, since I was a kid at the time, faster than light travel and whole new worlds to explore.

Instead, for Orion, I got a great promise about what’s coming but isn’t here yet, and a scrubbed launch that left me, ultimately, disappointed.

And tired. Very tired.

Unfortunately, too tired to get up for the second launch attempt, which by all standards, was a complete success.

For me, DSN50 was an example of “Look at what we have and can do” and it was amazing.

A stunning bird-in-the-hand moment for me.

Orion was an example of “Look what we think we’ll be able to do, if politics doesn’t get in the way of the best decisions, and the funding comes through, and we don’t cancel the program as some sort of boondoggle five years from now” and in this era of acrimonious divided government, it left me not hopeful, but wistful.

A “wouldn’t it be nice” sort of feeling.

I can’t help feeling like a kid who knows he isn’t going to get what he asked for when Christmas morning rolls around because he asked for way too much.

And all my childhood dreams and aspirations for space certainly feel like too much right now.

I promise I’ll be unbelievably excited when it actually does happen.

Assuming it does happen, and I’m not so tired I sleep through it.

 
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Posted by on 6 January 2015 in Science!

 

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Based on my example, they probably think we’re lazy too.

Not up for the usual blog entry today, so instead I give you this little gem:

The Swiss think we’re idiots. And by “we’re” I mean Americans.

It wasn't until I turned fourteen that I figured out the corkscrew was for wine bottles and not nose-picking. Explains all those looks I got on camping trips.

Then again, I saw this and was still stupid enough to buy the knife.

They’re wrong, of course. In reality, poor implementations of autocorrect are responsible for our lackluster image abroad.

Shame on you, Steve Jobs. Shame on you.

Idiot.

 

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Why being a best-selling author is overrated and you should be relieved – RELIEVED – not to be one

Over the course of my life, I’ve learned to come to terms with a lot of things.

Not being an astronaut.

Not being an airline pilot.

I think in this dream, I forgot to use conditioner. The hair is long and glorious, but smacks of a hint of stringy.

This image from my dreams shows me wearing my astronaut jumpsuit just before boarding my rocket ship, crewed by the Swedish Bikini Team, who are all PhDs in Astrophysics, making me look like an idiot. As usual.

Not having the sort of comely locks of hair that make women go all atwitter when they see me, especially when I flip that glorious, glorious mane.

Not even having the sort of hair that you can grow long without it looking all oily and stringy.

These were hard truths to accept.

But perhaps the hardest truth to swallow was not becoming a best-selling author.

Yes, I had dreams. The dreams every author has:

Dreams of fabulous wealth.

Of being recognized wherever I went.

Of hobnobbing with celebrities.

Adored by fans the world over.

A subject of special interest to the beady-eyed lizard people who secretly run the world.

Alas, none of this was to come to pass.

(Except those bastard lizard people. They’re watching me. They’re watching me now. They’re always watching me.)

But, as with all childish things, I came to terms with it.

OK, I didn’t.

I am still deeply bitter that I am not the first best-selling author who flew his own plane to the launchpad before blasting off to his home on the moon, a crowd of beautiful women in the wake of his wind-swept, waist-long hair.

Instead, I had to find a way to cope.

Let me tell ya, compared to having your dreams come true, coping sucks.

But what other choice do you have?

In order to get past my crushing disappointment, I looked for the silver lining.

How does one go about this silver lining finding?

Simple. Imagine you had what you wanted.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s say I am a world-renowned, best-selling author.

Hey, you in the back! No snickering!

What would happen if I had attained this lofty goal?

First off, I’d be fawned over by devoted fans.

Many of them male, no doubt, but a certain sizable percentage would indubitably be young, attractive women.

Women half my age plus seven years, give or take.

This leads to problems. Because I know myself, and I know that all that love and adoration would go to my head.

Very quickly.

Especially when bestowed by beautiful young women half my age plus seven years, give or take.

Not so much with the men half my age plus seven years.

They, paradoxically, would be no threat to my marriage whatsoever.

Who knew?

Inevitably, I leave my wonderful wife, who I don’t deserve, and kids, who I will blame for the divorce, because that’s the kind of jerk dad I become once famous and vain.

And start dating a woman half my age plus seven years, who I meet at a convention celebrating the iconic movie series based on my best-selling novels.

Now I’m not attracted to dummies, so eventually this shrewd woman will get me to marry her, sans a prenup.

The wedding announcement has consequences. Primarily, it shatters the uneasy cease-fire between the ex-Missus and I.

The ex-Missus will engage in a bitter alimony and custody suit, making me a tabloid target and generally causing me a great deal of grief.

My kids will come to spit derisively when they speak my name, on those rare occasions they deign to acknowledge my existence.

My new marriage will be seemingly fun at first, but quickly descend into a living hell.

And why wouldn’t it?

The neo-Missus will suddenly realize that the middle-aged man who leaves his first middle-aged wife is likely to do the same to the second wife when she attains middle-agedom.

She will spend the next few years feverishly hoping I’ll age out of my sex drive before she hits her forties.

That fear will fester within her, eventually driving her towards a torrid affair with a man half my age plus zero.

Also, full-on, murderous hatred towards me.

In the end, I’m a cuckolded fifty-something year old who ends up murdered by his neo-Missus with a padded toilet seat.

It is not a pretty crime scene.

But before that, the stress and strain of my failing marriage and constant media attention, not to mention all the internet trolls leaving comments on my blog, takes its toll on my creativity.

My post neo-Missus books open to more and more bad reviews and fewer and fewer sales.

The movie franchise is destroyed by a sequel directed by Joel Schumacher (a pox upon his house), and now my books serve as the punchline in darkly unfunny jokes.

By the time of my undignified death, I am a penniless, unloved, forgotten literary footnote, a ‘Who was that guy who wrote that one good book and then sucked for the rest of his life?’ question asked during trivia contests at bars.

The answer to that question is, invariably, ‘There was a good book?’

By being a miserable failure as a writer, I avoid all that.

And there’s the silver lining.

So in all honesty, I’m probably better off not being a bestseller.

Sigh.

But a man can dream, can’t he?

 
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Posted by on 3 December 2014 in Angst, Conspiracies Out To Get Me, Life, Writing

 

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Encyclopedia Brown and the Day of the Turrets OR I Did It All For The Kids

As a kid, I cut my murder mystery reading teeth on the likes of The Three Investigators, the Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown.

As an adult, I wanted to share that magic with my kids.

And develop their critical thinking so they can solve any murders they happen to come across in the course of their lives.

It’s an important coping skill.

Sadly, The Three Investigators and the Hardy Boys didn’t quite live up to the hype my childhood memories had built around them.

Fortunately, Donald J. Sobol‘s Encyclopedia Brown did.

Naturally, I started reading the old ‘Sherlock in sneakers’ mysteries to the kiddos, inviting them to try to solve each case before I read the solution.

The kiddos love the stories.

So imagine my joy and delight when I learned of, and through some questionable ethics, managed to acquire, an unpublished Encyclopedia Brown mystery written just a few years ago.

Now, this blog is known for its world exclusives, but I wasn’t just going to reproduce the manuscript here.

Oh no, I was going to give it the full Ian M. Dudley exclusive treatment.

Big-name celebrities to re-enact the story.

Christopher Nolan or David Fincher to direct.

George Lucas to do the Special Edition.

But it turns out all those people cost money. Childhood nostalgia means nothing to them.

Nothing!

Even the B-list celebrities want to get paid.

So I decided to do the next cheapest thing (i.e., free) and record my kids’ reactions as I read the story to them.

Yes, I was going to share with you the magic of excited children, hearing this new tale for the very first time.

As an added bonus, you’d get to hear the story as voiced by my dulcet tones.

Sure, I’m no Benedict Cumberbatch, but like I said, he wanted money for the gig.

But when it came time for the kiddos to gush about how great the story was, they kept flubbing their lines.

I got so angry I stopped feeding them, refusing to give them any food until they got the songs of praise right.

For some reason, their performances just got worse after that.

So I gave up on the audio book version. Instead you merely get the manuscript with original illustrations provided by my verbally incoherent children, who mistakenly thought I’d give them supper if they drew me some pictures.

(Admittedly, I may have misled them on that point.)

I also slapped together this crudely Photo-shopped book cover:

Originally there is a grape being thrown into that kid's mouth. I removed it, hoping it would look like he's screaming in terror. I don't think he pulls it off.

Original cover art by Leonard Shortall. Photo of cover and crude cut-and-paste job by me.

Encyclopedia Brown and the Day of the Turrets

It was a hot summer day in Idaville, and Encyclopedia and his junior business partner, Sally Kimball, were sipping lemonade while they waited for the inevitable client to appear.

As expected, by the second paragraph, GLaDOS entered the garage-cum-office. Encyclopedia looked up in surprise; GLaDOS was fully present. Normally she wasn’t in the Brown Detective Agency at all.

“I need to hire a great detective to help me,” said GLaDOS.

“What’s the problem,” asked Encyclopedia.

“Oh, you thought I meant you? That would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. ‘Sherlock Holmes in sneakers’? I knew Sherlock, and Encyclopedia, you’re no Sherlock.” GLaDOS paused. “Oh, very well, I’ll hire you. This should prove amusing… Think of it as a test.”

Sally was the prettiest girl in the 5th grade, and right now she was feeling pretty…superfluous to the story. She was also feeling pretty irritated that GLaDOS ignored her entirely. Oh how she longed for the glory days, when she had just cause to beat up Bugs Meany. Without that overtly masculine action, her presence in Encyclopedia’s agency had no justification.

“My turrets are revolting,” said GLaDOS, oblivious to Sally’s train of thought. “They’re also rising up against me. Wilford Wiggins has convinced them he can help them learn to walk. For a price. The nerve of you humans. Only I’m allowed to profit from false hope!”

Wilford Wiggins was a high school dropout and so lazy he thought lying down took too much effort. He was always on the lookout for a way to make some easy money, preferably without having to go to the trouble of actually looking for it.

Say what you will about high school dropouts, this one sure has a lot of charisma.

Wilford Wiggins is too lazy to even be drawn properly.

Wilford, GLaDOS reported, had put out the word to the young turrets of Idaville that there would be a secret meeting in the old abandoned Aperture Science facility. “He must be lying,” said GLaDOS, “but if he isn’t, I could have some trouble.”

“Wilford didn’t tell me about the secret meeting,” said Encyclopedia.

“Why would he? You’re not a turret,” said GLaDOS.

This was true, but Encyclopedia kept his acknowledgment of this fact to himself. “We’d better get going,” he said instead.

The detective and his partner got on their bikes and rode to Aperture Labs. GLaDOS glided above them on a rail that neither Encyclopedia nor Sally had ever noticed before. “So that’s how she got to my garage,” thought Encyclopedia, who had been wondering since GLaDOS didn’t have any obvious method of self-locomotion.

When they arrived at the overgrown, weed-infested courtyard at the entrance of Aperture Science, they found Wilford surrounded by a large crowd of turrets. He was at the top of the steps, standing next to a large metal sphere that looked like an eye. A big, impossibly blue eye.

The detectives and GLaDOS stayed at the edge of the crowd, ducking down so as not to be noticed. The meeting was just starting.

“Ladies and gentleturrets,” said Wilford, gesturing for silence. The chatter of the crowd stopped. “Thank you for coming. Today, I have the opportunity of a lifetime for you!

“I see how you toil, without thanks, protecting GLaDOS and shooting her test subjects. And the injustice of your plight wounds me to the core. My non-AI core, that is. You are treated like slaves, told what to do and expected to do it whether you want to or not! And for absolutely no compensation!”

This turret has taken the bunk and is lookin' a little green around the gills

Where are you? Are you there? Deploying.

“What can we do,” asked a turret. “We have no choice. To disobey is to be melted down and recycled into cheese graters!”

A murmur of agreement rose up from the crowd.

“This is true,” said Wilford, raising his hands for quiet. “But it doesn’t have to stay true.”

There was a long silence as the turrets digested this statement. Then GLaDOS, in the voice of a turret, asked, “Oh really? And just how do you propose to change this, you groveling worm?”

Wilford looked around, somewhat startled, but regained his composure quickly. “A fair question, and I’m glad you asked. I’m sure most of you are thinking, ‘How can a human, made of inferior flesh and blood, possibly help us?’ And my answer is, ‘With an introduction!’”

Wilford gestured to the large metal eyeball. “This is my friend Wheatley, recently returned from space.” He stopped to let this sink in. All of the turrets focused their gazes and laser sights on Wheatley.

“I hate space,” said Wheatley. “Cold, dark, and nothing for miles and miles around. Horrible place.”

Wilford kicked Wheatley.

“Ow,” said Wheatley. “Why’d you do that? It hurt!”

“Nothing for miles and miles around,” said Wilford, “except for the wonderful, space-age nano probe material Wheatley discovered up there! Isn’t that right, Wheatley?”

“Wha? Oh, yes. Yes. Except for that,” said Wheatley.

Wilford looked solemnly up to the sky. “This amazing space technology, when correctly applied to a turret’s legs, will cause wheels to grow on them.”

The quiet murmur of the crowd became a loud and animated roar. A few shots were fired in the air.

“What utter nonsense,” said GLaDOS. “Only a human, or an idiot like Wheatley, could have come up with such a transparent scam.” Her glowing eye narrowed. “He’ll pay for this insubordination. Oh, how he will pay.”

“All I ask of you,” continued Wilford, “is five dollars each to invest in this product. Your money will provide Wheatley and me with the capital we need to build a factory to mass produce this material and make enough for every turret on the planet. That’s right, for a measly five dollars, you get in on the ground floor of this major investment.” He held up a bucket of what looked like white paint. “And while we’ll be charging other turrets for this miracle of science once we’re up and running, we’ll give each of you your own supply of this wondrous space paste at no additional charge. Imagine, once we’re in full production, how much shares in the company will be worth. Why, five dollars is a steal!”

“And why would anyone buy that? Just how will wheels help us?” asked a turret in the front of the crowd.

“Hang on, let me answer, I’ve got this,” said Wheatley. “Easy. With wheels, you can move yourselves of your own volition. You can drive yourselves to meetings, where you organize and plan, and then drive right up to GLaDOS herself and let her have it with both barrels in a coordinated attack.”

“If this paste is so great, why do you need money from us,” asked GLaDOS in a turret’s voice again. “Why not go to a bank?”

Wilford hung his head and shook it sadly. “We tried, my friends, we tried. But because Wheatley has been in space for so long, he has no credit history and can’t get a loan. You are our, and your, only hope!”

Think what you like of GLaDOS, she didn't deserve this death. She's more of a 'recycled cheese grater' ending, if you ask me.

“Ah! AHHH! Ah!” screamed GLaDOS.

The turrets started waving five dollar bills in the air. GLaDOS noted which turrets they were.

“This has to be a scam, right, Encyclopedia,” asked Sally.

“Of course it is,” said Encyclopedia.

At that moment, GLaDOS rose up to her full height. “I’m going to personally crush each and every turret here. Right after,” and her sharp gaze fell on Wheatley and Wilford, “I cram him down his throat.”

“But I haven’t got a throat,” said Wheatley, now suddenly shaking with fear.

“No, you idiot, the other way around,” shrieked GLaDOS.

At this point, the turrets all turned on GLaDOS and opened fire.

GLaDOS screamed in agony.

“Ah! AHH! Ah!” screamed GLaDOS.

“Good riddance,” muttered Sally darkly.

“No! She hasn’t paid her fee yet,” cried Encyclopedia.

WHAT MADE ENCYCLOPEDIA SO SURE WILFORD’S OFFER WAS A SCAM?

(For the solution, turn to the end of this book)


Solution to The Case of the Day of the Turrets

In my re-boot of Encyclopedia Brown, he's played by Grover.

The detective at the end of this book is me??

What is this? It is I, loveable, furry old Grover, at the end of this book? That doesn’t even make sense.

Just like Wilford’s story that Wheatley couldn’t get a loan doesn’t make sense.

Even an idiot AI like Wheatley, if he really had the advanced space-age materials being offered, would have had no problem getting funding from Silicon Valley venture capitalists. They invest in anything!

Once I, Grover, explained this fatal flaw in the story, the turrets, after finishing with GLaDOS, turned their ire, and fire, on Wilford and Wheatley.

Oh, I am so embarrassed…for Wilford and Wheatley.


With apologies to the estate of Donald J. Sobol. Know I grew up loving the Encyclopedia Brown stories (despite the now clearly outdated gender roles – Sally clearing the dishes away indeed!), and this story was written with that affection in mind.

Plus my kids insisted on a Portal 2 Encyclopedia Brown story.

They’re spoiled rotten – I deny them nothing.

NOTHING!

 
 

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