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Category Archives: Angst

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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Working from home is the bee’s knees

An angry bee, full of ennui due to arthritis in the knee

He’s most upset by the fact he’s missing the rest of his legs.

I don’t know the provenance of the phrase The bee’s knees, and I’m too lazy to use an online search engine to find out, but if my work from home experience is any indication, it obviously is some sort of super villain origin story.

That is, to say I’ve been stung by WfH would be an understatement.

Sure, on paper there’s lots to love:

  • You don’t have to roll out of bed until just before your first meeting
  • You don’t have to shower or get dressed…ever
  • No dealing with traffic
  • Reduced mileage / insurance costs on your commuter vehicle
  • No more being ambushed by colleagues at your desk / in the hall when you’re trying to get actual, real work done
  • Reduced risk of catching/spreading a potentially fatal disease

But like the iPhone, looks aside, you actually have to use it. And like the iPhone, it turns out working from home has significant, painful drawbacks:

  • Your recent lack of good hygiene has left you…less attractive…to your significant other
  • Your commuter vehicle, having sat idle for months, has become home to a colony of wire- and hose-chewing rats that, to be honest, scare the bejeezus out of you what with their sharp needle-like teeth and glowing red eyes and tiny, skittering claws and that glare of intelligent hatred they seem to be directing at you
  • When sleeping at night, you discover that the above-mentioned colony of rats likes to take field trips after dark where they march up and down the crawlspaces directly above and below the room you sleep in
  • When moving to another room in order to escape the sounds of the rats, you discover the field trip isn’t limited to the spaces above and below your bedroom
  • Your kiddos, no matter how far along in brain development, simply don’t understand that you’re working and they aren’t supposed to even look at the door leading to your home office, let alone barge in and start expounding on the virtues of their most recent Minecraft mod, speaking at a volume and speed that prevents you from getting a word in edgewise and leads the leader of your Zoom meeting to mute you
  • Your dogs, no matter how far along in obedience training, simply don’t understand that you’re working and they aren’t supposed to even look at the door leading to your home office, let alone start scratching at the door while barking vociferously just because a fly (or maybe… a bee!?) landed on the tip of the radio aerial on the (idle) commuter vehicle in the driveway, leading the leader of your Zoom meeting to curse the day you were born before muting you
  • No matter how fast and ‘premium’ your internet service is, it isn’t fast or premium enough. Not. Even. Close
  • You are invariably home and have to directly deal with a pipe breaking, a child getting injured, a spouse discovering something bad you did, a fever-impaired driver crashing their car into your home office (warning: that fever-impaired driver just might be you) instead of having a phone and physical distance to serve as a bit of a protective buffer from the tr/drama
  • All the stuff your spouse complains about the house (bad pipes, terrible temperature control, leaky roof, rotting floors, rampant crime in the immediate neighborhood, feverish drivers crashing into things, etc.) that you used to just shrug off and say, “I don’t think it’s as bad as all that” turns out, now that you are directly experiencing it, to oh yes, be all that bad
  • You discover that the people you live with and used to love unconditionally have become around-the-clock irritants who just need to leave you the eff alone for a few hours a day, dammit!
  • The barrier between work time / hours and home time / hours is GONE; you’ve gone from working 40 hours per week to 168 hours per week
  • And by far the worst aspect, you now have plenty of time to follow, in excruciating detail, just how disastrously the election is unfolding

Scientists keep telling me that we need to save the bees. Well, I say, “Screw the bees and the knees they came in on!” Perhaps the dog’s bollocks would be a more accurate descriptor, but this is a family blog…

Though I hear tell traffic isn’t nearly as bad these days as it was in the pre-pandemic days

 

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Let’s Be Honest: There Were Distractions Along The Way

It was a dark and stormy night

The panacea that was, then wasn’t, then was again.

So not that long ago (though with all this sheltering in place and working from home, November sure feels like a previous epoch), I talked about my search for the perfect distraction-free writing instrument. At the time, I announced the results of my search: after much soul-searching, and even more web browsing, I had procured myself a New Old Stock Psion Netbook Pro.

(Fascinating side note: Psion trademarked the Netbook name years before the Eee PC and other makers came out with their generically named “netbooks” and there were several years of litigation involving who owned the name and whether trademark was being infringed upon. But I’ll leave those distracting details for you to look up yourself, should you be so inclined.)

At the time I wrote that blog post of discovery, I had yet to heavily use the PNP. But once I started, I came to calling it the Pain in the Neck Pro. Because, you see, the keyboard fell short of my expectations.

To be clear, I knew it would sport a less-than-standard layout and, given the form factor, would be cramped compared to my IBM Model M. I accepted those…compromises. If fact, it turns out (as will be seen shortly) that I was able to adapt to those particular idiosyncrasies.

No, the problem was the spacebar.

The physical-single-switch-only-at-the-exact-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar, otherwise known as the doesn’t-register-your-keystroke-unless-you-hit-the-dead-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar.

Now as you might suspect, it turns out that most typing of stuff, at least in the English language, makes heavy use of the ‘a’ key, the ‘i’ key, the ‘e’ key, the ‘t’ key, and, oh yeah, the effin’ spacebar!

I was constantly having to arrow back several characters to put in the space that I had typed but which had not registered. This was about 80% of the time I tried to use the spacebar.

If you let your fingers do the walking, have them skip over the spacebar

It’s a QUIRKY layout, not QWERTY.

(But hey, unlike the Freewrite and the Freewrite Traveler, at least the Psion has arrow keys!)

It was more than a little frustrating and after a few false starts, I gave up. I wrote it off as a close to $200 learning experience, but one I was too embarrassed to talk about on my blog because, well, it cost me close to $200.

Actually, significantly more than $200 if you factor in the next thing I did: I didn’t just kinda sorta give up, I whole hog gave up and bought a brand new Windows 10 convertible laptop. The one with all the distractions built in (the horrible OS itself, the web browser you feel compelled to use to look up things like the history of the word “netbook” and all the litigation surrounding it in the early ’00s, the music player you are unable to resist using to listen to the ballads about those “netbook” lawsuits, and the video depositions taken as a part of those lawsuits that you simply must watch on YouTube).

Yes, I had fallen off the wagon of focus and leapt, belly-first (and fully extended), into the packed, unsanitary public pool of distraction.

The Missus was so disgusted she took the kids and moved back in with her parents. For a couple of weeks. While it’s possible she was just visiting them, given the scope of my relapse, that seems unlikely.

Anyway, yes, I had ditched the old laptop running Linux for a fresh piece of kit.

Well, that’s not true – the old Linux machine went into the pile of old computers I’ve irrationally held onto since 1981 (“Why hello there, Timex Sinclair 1000”) because someday, maybe, I will need one of them as a backup when my main computer is hit by a super virus and the only thing preventing the evil villain who wrote said virus from taking over the world is a putty ssh connection into his mainframe from an old computer viewed so obsolete that he failed to make sure the virus could infect it.

This is also the excuse I give for why I have an old 33.6K external modem and parallel port cable.

Hey! It’s a legit excuse!

Now where was I? Oh yes, my new and shamefully distracting computer. With a stylus and touch screen and name-brand speakers and a cool, cool look that draws my attention away from the task at hand even when it is off. It was by using that shiny shiny computer that I may have accidentally searched about the Psion Netbook Pro spacebar problem and found out you can just cut out a piece of card stack, place it directly over the rubber dome under the spacebar, and solve that whole problem.

Well sh*t.

So, because I had so totally given up on and boxed up the ratty-keyboarded Psion and put it in storage and gone ahead and spent even more money on a brand new laptop…well, two things happened:

One, I was super annoyed with myself because if I had stumbled on this bit of info about the spacebar sooner, I either could have fixed the issue or, even better, avoided it entirely by buying my second runner up HPC candidate, the NEC MobilePro 900C. No matter how you looked at it, that would have been WAAAY cheaper than the new laptop.

Two, because I had the new laptop and didn’t care about the Psion anymore, I was willing to take the Psion apart and try to fix it. If I break the keyboard in the process (something I’ve done in the past when removing spacebars from keyboards), who cares? This particular HPC is already junk as far as I’m concerned.

But the spacebar came off fine, the square of card stock went in with little difficulty, and when I was done, the spacebar worked great no matter where on the key you actually struck it.

Which means I finally have my distraction-free writing tool!

And along with it, no more excuses.

Well dr*t.

Of course, the irony that I had to go down a rabbit hole (yet again) to learn about the relatively straightforward fix for my distraction-free writer is not lost on me. A fine $200 learning experience indeed!

I threw a bone up in the air and when it came back down it was a space station. It hit me on the head and knocked me out. When I woke up, this was next to me.

The USB port is on the other side. Allegedly.


This post (and the previous one) was written and edited on a Psion Netbook Pro using TextMaker for Windows CE. I will say this much: it works.

 

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Here’s Looking At Your Privilege, Kid

“Hey, you! Check your privilege!”

Occasionally clients would leave the club with a slab of beef instead of their privilege. It sometimes took a few days for them to notice.

“Don’t leave me!”

I was over the limit that allowed me to hold onto it, so I pulled my privilege from my shoulder holster and plopped it down on the sill of the check booth with a wet thwap. It eyed me reproachfully, a mottled blob of stumpy vestigial appendages shaking anxiously at the unexpected separation. Sure, it was punier than the other privilege already checked, but I still felt a pang of emptiness and sorrow at the parting.

The check person pulled down a meat hook on a tether, twisted it into the quivering mass, and let go with more flourish and relish than was strictly necessary, in my opinion. My privilege whip-snapped at the end of the tether and flew into the darkness of the check booth.

Even with my eyes down at the appropriate angle of obsequience, I could see the check person staring dourly at me presented as a strikingly attractive woman: youthful, flashing eyes, a nose you could only get from a skilled surgeon, and perfectly haphazard hair that telegraphed the impression it always looked this good, even when she had just gotten out of bed.

If I hadn’t been to the club on business, and if I was suicidally clueless, I would have tried to pick her up. Instead, I apologized. “Sorry, forgot I had that.”

“Of course you did,” she snorted, her thin, flawless nostrils flaring as she handed over my ticket. I took it from her and carefully secured it in a hip pocket. Privilege had a shockingly high tendency to wind up with a new and often less deserving owner at places like this. Mine was hardly a tempting target, but it paid to be cautious. When confronted, the clubs always claimed this was the legitimate transfer of debt, that gambling was the great equalizer. I had my doubts.

The good news, given I carried a couple kilos less privilege than the average patron at this particular club, was that checking it actually boosted my standing. Relatively speaking. While still technically part of the hard-working, unwashed masses, I was now entitled to the same treatment as everyone else here.

Which meant the staff still treated me like crap, but they did that to all the patrons.

It was currently quite the thing among the well-off and well-educated to be treated with disdain, but I gave the trend another six months before these clubs found their clientele had migrated elsewhere and demanded a government bail out. Even from the entrance, I could spot the occasional bored yawn from the murmuring crowd.

Of course, the guilty rich, looking to assuage their slightly less guilty consciences, weren’t the only high class people availing themselves of facilities like these. You also had individuals like the one I’d been hired to find, trying to lose themselves in the anonymity of the pseudo-privilegeless.

My mark was Lawrence Peabody, a New Roman Presbyterian on the lam with the not inconsiderable wealth that his church hierarchy had deemed to belong to his now ex-spouse. According to the Senior Bishop overseeing his divorce case, Peabody had seen the writing on the wall and liquidated his assets. Literally. By purchasing an extremely rare bottle of vintage schnapps that was worth just over one hundred percent of the (former) Peabody couple’s net worth and then pulling a runner, he got off smelling like peppermint while the ex-missus got left holding the residual debt.

Your standard booze bail scenario, and my bread and butter. You see, I’m not just a private eye. I’m also a board certified sommelier. Lapsed, but you know what they say: once a sommelier, always a sommelier. If there’s any alcohol within fifty meters, I can smell it. And identify the vintage. I have my parents to thank for that. Family money got me the education and certification, but after a couple of years sniffing and spitting fine wines and the like, I felt I wasn’t contributing to society enough. I switched to the far less lucrative but more guilt-assuaging sniffing out of mysteries.

I haven’t been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner since. Which is fine. The family has fallen on hard times, and the wine they serve is no longer up to snuff.

Now a 1897 (Big Fed calendar) Pimpernel Kuiper Peppermint Schnapps has a distinctive, minty odor that I could normally suss out faster than you can say, “Wager saugt Fledermausbälle!” But Peabody was no pea brain – he’d selected The Virtuous Signal, a club renowned for its cheap yet extremely, overpoweringly fragrant hangover-inducers. My nose didn’t so much recoil at the olfactory assault as go gibberingly insane.

Sammy’s sense of smell wasn’t going to help me today. Instead, I turned the peepers loose on the room, trying to spy anyone who wouldn’t be happy to see me and had a half liter bottle of vintage booze in their pocket.

With all of their privilege checked at the door, the crowd looked decidedly unimpressive. Their designer clothes had a manufactured shabbiness about them, their teeth looked just ever so slightly not quite straight, and their aristocratic accents lacked a sense of…authenticity. All arranged beforehand, no doubt, with the best tailors, dentists, and voice coaches money could buy. Not permanent, of course, just to blend in at the club. They wouldn’t have any work done that couldn’t be reversed with the flash of a Beryllium Card. But not until after they left, because these sorts of clubs only took cash, and only in small denominations and with lacerating looks of disapproval upon receipt.

The job should have been made easier by the fact that there weren’t a lot of people who qualified for this type of club’s services, so the crowd was fairly thin. But they all looked the same to me: mostly old and male, with the occasional glass-ceiling-busting female with, it seemed to me, surprisingly large hands.

The women were easy to dismiss, and not just because the big hands made me oddly uncomfortable. Per the ex, Peabody was and always had been male, so I could safely ignore the women. It was a habit I found came easy. But that still left a crowd of paunchy phallus-bearers to sift through, and I couldn’t be one hundred percent certain Peabody was even at this particular club.

My guess was Lawrence (no doubt ‘Larry’ inside these walls) would try and walk out with someone else’s privilege, hopefully a gob with enough to get him a berth out of town. Maybe to Happyville, Beet City, or if he was truly desperate, Trenton. Talk about checking your privilege: word on the street was that the denizens of Trenton couldn’t afford the vaccine for the latest pandemic! All this meant I needed to add to my search criteria: a down-on-his-luck on-the-lam bounder with half a liter of schnapps on him and trying to pickpocket people’s priv check tickets.

That made the task considerably simpler. With the new parameters, I spotted my mark in a jiffy.

Larry was making nice with a group of geriatrics at the craps table. Smart move, targeting the octagenarians. They, having lived longer, were more likely to have accumulated large amounts of privilege, assuming they hadn’t squandered it all on their offspring. Larry was playing the odds like a professional, and clearly was no dummy. They were having a spirited conversation about equality. It largely involved who could most magnanimously apologize for his success, but in such roundabout terms that it didn’t flag a reprimand from the staff.

I didn’t know which type was worse in these clubs, the sincere grovelers, the insincere grovelers, or the smug staff witnessing the display of self-flagellation. I found all three irritating and for the fleetest of moments, felt sympathy for Peabody, trapped in this no-win social circle. But then I remembered the cover charge to get in.

I put on my most determined (yet privilege-neutral) face and made my way to the craps table. I needed a drink, and it was going to be peppermint schnapps.

 

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Personal Hygiene in the Time of [Insert Current Pandemic Here]

Today I cut my own hair.

It wasn’t easy.

It wasn’t pretty.

It did end in tears.

Like all brutal acts of insanity and self harm, there was a triggering event.

Picture if you will:

The mild-mannered novelist, entering his fifth week of isolation. Laser-focused on his current task, determinedly chasing a particularly vexing fly around the house, his electric fly swatter at the ready, he ignores the terrified screams of his family.

They are of no consequence when a fly is about.

We can’t have flies inside houses. That isn’t normal.

They belong outside.

Yesss. Outside…

And then, tragedy strikes (for our erstwhile hero, that is, not the fly).

His overly long hair swooshes down in front of his eyes and in that terrible blinding moment, the fly…escapes.

ESCAPES, I TELL YOU!

Our hero can be heard to mumble, just above a broken whisper, “He tasks me, he tasks me, and I shall have him!”

So as the above, extremely reasonable anecdote clearly illustrates, the hair simply had to go.

As I stepped out of the bathroom, vision unencumbered by an overly hirsute state, the Missus took one look at me and laughed while simultaneously throwing up.

(You have not experienced true horror until you’ve seen someone vomit-chortle. It’s like a spit-take, but more colorful and far less pleasant smelling.)

The kiddos were more curious once they got through their dry heave-giggle fit. When one could finally speak, he asked, “Dad, have you ever been stupid enough to do this before?”

I’d be lying if I said no, and I raise my kids by example to not be obviously deceitful, so I just gave them an enigmatic wink as if to imply no.

Yes, it was stupid of me, a man who scars his face every time he shaves (with an electric razor, no less!), but I just couldn’t take it anymore. And the only other alternative was a…shudder…man bun.

Clearly that isn’t going to happen.

Honestly, if you had to go a month enduring with what I’ve been dealing with, you’d feel the same way:

  • Previously noted impaired ability to hunt down and punish flies.
  • Confidently running my hand rakishly through my hair to move it out of my eyes.
  • Flipping my full-bodied hair sexily in order to see who I’m flirting with (always turns out to be the Missus, fortunately, except that one time I gave the dog the wrong idea).
  • Facing down angry neighbors every morning after my shower, still dripping wet and with only a towel wrapped around my waist, because they don’t think my vocalizations while shampooing my hair with Herbal Essences is appropriate.

I could go on, but I don’t want to upset the frail among you. (Trigger warning: hair)

And given the present state of the world, clearly I can’t just go out and get a proper haircut.

Personal Grooming Secrets of the (not so) rich and (not so) famous

Even at the best of times, my personal grooming habits aren’t exactly top notch. Just ask my coworkers.

Oh sure, I’ve heard the rumors of the pop-up stealth salons and black market barber shops, clandestinely operating their “non-essential” services in contravention of local health ordinances.

But secretly slouching to one of their shops to partake of their illicit offerings only serves to validate the government claims that they should not be operating. That they aren’t essential. I’ll be damned! If I can’t walk openly into a hair salon to get a trim and a shave, well, I just don’t live in America anymore!

(More like Amerika, amirite?)

Plus, these places charge a lot and really up-sell you hard on hair care products when you try to leave. While I may be privileged, I’m not that privileged!

Instead I’ve been forced to take a long, hard look at myself in the mirror, a pair of scissors in one hand, a fistful of hair in the other, and trying to figure out how to hold those scissors at the right angle to actually snip away some of that pesky growth.

And so it will continue as long as I am locked in my home, sheltering in place.

Or, as my kids are constantly putting it, “We’re not locked in here with you! You’re locked in here with us!”

The Missus tells me I have to love them, and that weeks of forced proximity is not an excuse to turn my electric fly swatter on them. But I tell you true, tomorrow I might start eating my own. And that’s despite being a pescaterian.

Assuming I can see well enough to find them.

 
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Posted by on 17 April 2020 in Angst, Life, Pandemic, Parenting

 

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Every Crisis Has Its Silver Lining, Right?

I'm worried that going to the hospital could expose me to the virus

Dude! You’re sick! Stay away!

So looks like we’re in the grip of another crisis in this country. Not since election night 2016 have things looked so dark…

And I just so happen to be lucky enough to live in one of the more badly impacted regions for this pandemic.

But I find solace in the knowledge that even in the face of this medical, economic, and extroverts’ social interaction disaster, there is always a silver lining to be found.

No, it’s not that I’m an introvert.

(Though I am, thank goodness!)

No, it isn’t the lack of crowds at the store.

(Quite the opposite of late, actually, plus the damned shelves are all empty due to the panic buying that occurred before I got round to panicking myself.)

And no, I’m not talking about the news stories coming out about people offering to get supplies and the like for the more vulnerable so those people can stay safely isolated at home.

(That lining is tarnished by all the stories of greedy capitalists buying up and then re-selling hand sanitizer and toilet paper at a huge mark-up.)

No, it isn’t any of those.

It’s the traffic.

My daily commute has been, at the risk of sounding a tad insensitive, awesome! All the Google and Apple employees are working from home, so I don’t have nearly as many Telsas to navigate around.

(Cars that on a normal day, even with Autopilot engaged, still manage to cut me off regularly.)

But unfortunately, even this silver lining is tenuous at best.

Back in 2008 when the Great Recession struck, I noticed the same thing. People lost their jobs as their companies folded and my commute got really pleasant. I could leave for work later and get home earlier, providing me with just that much more time to spend with my wife, who was pregnant. With twins.

(Fans of clichés can probably guess where this is headed…)

So yes, I enjoyed the lack of traffic even if there was a tinge of survivor’s guilt associated with each uncharacteristically speedy round trip.

Then I lost my job.

And didn’t have a commute at all.

Fast forward to now and as I zip into and out of work, I can’t help but worry about the economy and job security as well as the health of me and mine.

Last time the crisis was economic only, and the worst that could (and did) happen is that my company went bankrupt, screwed us on severance packages, I was unemployed for 13 months, and calls into the Unemployment Office, due to high volume, involved waiting on hold for a couple of hours before maybe, just maybe, you’d get a human.

(And the hold music / prerecorded messages were only about ten minutes long before they looped. Over and over and over again!)

So this time there’s the health concern as well, and knowing my luck, I won’t just get laid off – I’ll get sick too.

Plus Spring came early and along with it my allergies. Which means my eyes and nose have never been itchier or in more need of being touched, rubbed, scratched, and whatever else you aren’t supposed to do to your face during a plague.

And do you have any idea how hard it is to find facial tissues right now? I’d blow my nose in toilet paper, but holy crap, that stuff, gram for gram, is more expensive than gold these days!

So I’m feeling a little down at the moment. But that might also be because I will be working from home for the foreseeable future, which means I won’t get to take advantage of the traffic-free commute.

Some silver lining.

 
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Posted by on 15 March 2020 in Angst, Life, Pandemic

 

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I think Tesla may have been involved in the manufacture of my glass bowls

Ever have one of those days where you break some glassware, and as a result trap your kids in a room that they can’t leave until you sweep up all the glass because they aren’t wearing shoes and when you ask where their shoes are, of course they don’t know, because why would they and you have to sequester the dogs because they never wear shoes and you can’t have them hurting themselves when they come to investigate the source of that loud crashing sound and oh yeah, said dogs chewed up your only dustpan at some point in the past so it doesn’t work well and while you’re looking for the vacuum cleaner the kids suddenly really need to go to the bathroom but they are at that age and size where there is no way on this green Earth you can carry them over the danger zone and then, as the icing on the cake, just as you vacuum up the last remnants of the broken glassware you knock over another one and it crashes to the floor and shatters into a million pieces in a million directions, covering the area you just picked up then swept then vacuumed and all the while the dogs are howling because they want to be let loose and probably need to go to the bathroom too and oh, did I mention that you’re really tired and had been planning to go to bed right after putting away the glassware you’d taken out of the dishwasher but in the process bumped some other glassware causing it to break?

Yeah, me neither.

 
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Posted by on 24 November 2019 in Angst, Life, Parenting

 

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I got distracted trying to find a distraction-free writing tool

Sure the battery life is great and the keyboard has arrow keys. But will it blend?

Writing a haiku? Fine, it might work. But a novel?

So it’s the middle of November and many of you are no doubt participating in Nanowrimo.

I am not.

I should be writing. I should be wrapping up the short story that is almost, unbelievably close to done.

I should be wrapping up the third Marlowe and the Spacewoman novel, the first draft of which is two thirds done.

But I’m not.

Instead, I got lost down the rabbit hole of process.

Not the thought process of writing, but the mechanical process of writing.

As is clear by the sizeable passage of time since I’ve generated any prose, I am prone to distractions. So as I sat down for one writing session, I thought, “Hey, I should Bing* search ‘distraction free writing’ to see what options I have.”

Because obviously I should spend the precious free moments I have for writing doing anything but writing.

Why distraction-free writing? Because I wanted yet another excuse for why I don’t write I wanted something that would force me to write without opening another tab in my browser to look up something inconsequential to getting the story done, such as which font I need to download in order to properly spell “procrastinate” in some weird language like Old or Middle Latin.

(Those are totally languages, so don’t leave any angry comments below!)

And boy, did that search give me some cool results.

First I encountered a lot of apps / programs that, really, are just bare-bones text editors. But not only could I just use Notepad instead for that, but my laptop is 10+ years old and takes forever to boot. So long that I switched from Winblows to Linux, which also, it turns out, takes forever to boot.

Just slightly less forever than Winblows 7 with 10+ years of programs installed on it.

So I realized that apps were out. No, I needed a distraction-free hardware solution that didn’t take until the next ice age to boot.

The Alphasmart gets lots of play during Nanowrimo, but it has a teeny tiny LCD display that is just too small for me.

Enter the Freewrite, which claims you will double your hourly word count.

And exit the Freewrite, when I see that it costs $549, only does one thing (allowing you to type documents), and has no arrow keys because going back to edit is for losers.

But wait, in a shocking surprise substitution, enter the Freewrite Traveler, which also claims you will double your hourly word count.

And exit the Freewrite Traveler, when I see it costs $369 (on sale, normally $599!), has all the same issues as the Freewrite, and, oh yeah, isn’t out yet.

I was starting to lose faith and therefore was forced to redouble my searching efforts.

Which is how I stumbled across the Pomera DM30, a compact, instant-on device with a folding keyboard and E-Ink display.

That can be had now for (as low as) $208, uses a Japanese keyboard layout, has be be imported from Japan, and is also distraction-free since it can’t do anything else.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I sometimes am forced to use a Japanese layout keyboard at the day job, and let me tell you, nothing is more distracting than trying to hit the space bar or figure out where the friggin’ ‘:’ and ‘;’ keys actually are, inaccurate labeling on the keys notwithstanding.

WTF, Japan? WTF?

But these devices (the Freewriti, as the plural for Freewrite is written in Old Latin, and the Pomera) were instant on, and that really appealed to me. There was no way I’d pay $250+ for (yet another) computer/word processor, so I was reluctantly leaning towards the Pomera, even though I knew the keyboard would drive me crazy and the $208 price still felt a bit steep.

That’s when I discovered HPCs.

HPCs are, for those of you who are young or who are old but not nerds, Handheld PCs. Small computers either running proprietary OSes (such as the Psion 7 running Symbian) or Windows CE.Some are tiny and literally fit in the palm of your hand (such as the HP 100LX which runs DOS), and others are slightly larger with nearly full-size keyboards (such as the NEC MobilePro 900C or Psion Netbook Pro).

They also haven’t been made in at least 15 years.

But I found a new old stock (so still in the box, woo-hoo!) Psion Netbook Pro on eBay for ~$130 and, after weeks of searching and researching and viewing YouTube videos of it (and the Pomera and the FreeWriters and the HP 100 and 200 LXes and the older Psion 7 that goes for $450+ on eBay), I ordered it.

It came with Windows CE (duh), Wordpad and a bunch of outdated Microsoft Office viewers.

And nothing else.

Which I found a little…lacking.

So I spent another week or so doing more research, discovered someone selling a CD with a bunch of licensed programs for Win CE, including a more full-featured word processor than Wordpad that could save documents as Microsoft .doc files.

So for another $48 (including shipping), I ordered that.

And waited 18 days for it to show up. The first 13 of which were spent in the originating post office. For some reason.

Some incredibly frustrating, but unknown to me reason.

Side note: the USPS package tracking sucks. That is the scientific term to describe it – I’m too polite to use the informal term that immediately comes to mind.

Now did I use my shiny new (old stock) distraction-free writing computer during all this?

Hell, no! It only has Wordpad! Yeech! I’m no masochist!

(Well, OK, maybe I am, but not when it comes to my writing.)

So if you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the whole distraction-free writing world, I have one word of advice for you:

Don’t.

* I didn’t use Bing. No one does. I used a different, functional search engine. That doesn’t spy on me.

 

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Rabbit holes, unlike their makers, are not cute…or to be trifled with

I have friends who are always going on about getting lost down a rabbit hole on the internet.

This post is for them, assuming you stumble across it in your online queries.

Be careful about rabbit holes. They are dangerous.

Just as an example of the type of peril you may face, take my recent foray into the topic of “rabbit holes” on Wikipedia.

Reading about the warren of twisty little passages, all alike, soon reminded me about Watership Down.

Watership Down is a book (and a subsequent animated movie) about rabbits. Well, it’s about people and society and government, but dressed up in cute fuzzy cotton tail bodies. I saw the movie first, probably around the age of eight or nine.

My parents, with a desperate gleam in their eyes, said, “We need a break from you, even for just an hour and a half. There’s a movie about rabbits on the telly. That’ll be fun, yes?” Which seemed like a good idea all round until the fate of the first warren is revealed.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t. The stuff of nightmares. For young children and, shortly thereafter, the parents who have to deal with those children.

I read the book a few years later, 7th or 8th grade. And loved it. Amazing book. So good I tore through it at a considerably faster pace than the teacher expected us to. Which meant I was so far past the point she would quiz us on every Friday (to prove we’d been reading it) that I failed each and every test.

This of course leads me to the movie Se7en.

Like the book Watership Down, it’s a great movie, amazing. Fincher is one of my favorite directors. Right up there with Wes Anderson.

Like the movie Watership Down, I will never watch it again. Grueling. Soul-crushing. The non-rabbit stuff of nightmares.

Fincher also directed Alien 3, which was maligned at the time by the Alien fans, but which I think is actually the best movie of the bunch. Yes, it had problems: budget overruns, studio interference, and (surprising in a Fincher movie) really bad CGI. But the story is the kind of dark-humored, grisly horror that doesn’t involve a stomach-churning ending with a box that I can get behind.

Speaking of unexpected deliveries, Amazon shipped us an Amazon Fire TV stick with a tablet we bought. We didn’t order it, didn’t really want it, but assumed it was some sort of promotion. Fast forward a couple of years. We decide to use it. Except after considerable effort to set it up, we discover we can’t log in.

Contact Amazon tech support.

What’s the serial number on the box it came in?” Um, don’t have the box any more.

What’s the order number from when you bought it?” Um, we didn’t. You sent it to us for free, with a tablet. Here’s that order #.

Amazon never has, and never will ship Amazon Fire TV sticks for free.” And then, the implication that we’re thieves so thick we can detect it in the chat text, “What is the serial number or order number?

The conversation ended with “You might as well just throw it away.

But aren’t our landfills full enough already? Especially with e-waste? How is that being a responsible steward of the economy, Amazon? China’s not taking that crap any more, so it’s just gonna start piling up and at some point, if we aren’t careful, it’s gonna crush a rabbit warren and wipe out a whole community of cute little bunnies.

So you see what I mean? Rabbit holes aren’t just dangerous…they are downright deadly!

 
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Posted by on 2 September 2019 in Angst, Life, Reading, Technopocalypse, Writing

 

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Oh No, My Kids Are Nerds!

All of my D&D dice are loaded

Guess which of those die rolls was mine. Think “unlucky” if you need a hint.

The other morning, out of nowhere, the kiddos burst into our bedroom, jumping up and down and screaming about playing D&D.

Now when I say morning, I mean “morning” in the sense of “weekend morning when I can sleep in until 10:30am or so without consequence” and when I say “burst into the room” I mean in the sense of “very, very much before 10:30am”.

I’m an ugly man. I need my beauty sleep. But it seems like, ever since I had kids, I keep getting uglier.

(Unlike the Missus. With these early bird spawn, I have no idea how she avoids it.)

But I digress, and will distract you from my unsightly visage by returning to the tale at hand.

My kiddos somehow learned about Dungeons & Dragons and now are extremely anxious to play it.

Like right now. Not five minutes or an hour or a day from now, but five minutes ago now.

I did not play D&D when I was a kid. Not that I didn’t want to. I found the concept intriguing.

Exciting.

Exotic.

But my friends were too cool to play D&D. Or any other role playing game.

No, they wanted to log into BBSes, use a z-modem client to allow for interrupted downloads, play chess, and use numbering schemes involving mega-Hertz and / or baud rates and nothing else.

You know, cool, non-nerdy things.

Or at least the coolest, non-nerdiest things you can do without atheletic prowess and above average hand-eye coordination.

As you can easily imagine, the trauma of being denied D&D games as a child resulted in my psyche forming a protective layer of scar tissue when it comes to all things RPG-related.

It was a purely defensive response that came about shortly after I realized playing D&D by myself just wasn’t cutting it.

Six weeks into that disastrous, sanity loss inducing solo campaign…

The long and the short of it is that I had a miserable childhood full of self-loathing, bitter disappointment, and a lot of shiny, mint-condition dice with a varying number of sides.

I was filled with as much ennui as an overworked and illiterate Parisian barista with dreams of writing the Great French Novel.

Years later, when I became a father, holding two red-faced, howling baby kiddos in my arms (they never liked it when I held them), I had two epiphanies:

One: Holy crap babies can be loud!

And two: I will never let them suffer the way I suffered when it comes to RPGs.

I vowed to raise them in a world without the siren lure of D&D.

The nurses were unimpressed with this vow.

Initially, I planned to go back in time and prevent Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson from ever meeting, let alone creating the game. But I could only figure out how to quantum leap into my own body during that time period, which was, in 1979…well, let’s just leave it at too young to dissuade anyone from becoming friends with or inventing anything.

So time travel was out. I had no choice but to go with Plan B:

Hide it from them.

While the kiddos were very young and not very mobile, it was easy to protect them from the existence of such games. But no growing kiddo is an island, so I knew I could only delay the discovery.

Inevitably, they would learn about role playing games.

Some hooligan on the school playground, furtively beckoning them over and asking if they wanted to try some GURPS. For free.

At first.

Most likely it was the seven year old next door who talks non-stop about Pokemon and My Little Pony and that the Missus and I decided was a bad influence. We banned the kiddos from hanging out with her, but they must have anyway, just to spite us. Her mom probably drove them to the local gaming store in the mall, where they have weekly gaming sessions.

WHY DID I NOT KNOW OF SUCH THINGS WHEN I WAS A KID?! So much pain could have been avoided!

But, availability of weekly mall sessions aside, I’d made up my mind about my kiddos and RPGs, and I wasn’t going to waffle or flip-flop now.

I had a plan. A beautiful plan, which I thought I’d executed flawlessly.

When the kiddos were old enough to understand and start experimenting with nerdy things, I locked them in a closet with a tablet and didn’t let them out until they’d watched all three seasons of Star Trek.

(The original series, since there is no other legitimate Star Trek and you all know it!)

I thought it worked. Not only did they avoid Star Trek, but after that just looking out the window at the night sky gave them fits.

No way they’d want to experiment with anything even remotely nerdly, no matter how “cool” or “da bomb” their friends said it was.

My plan seemed to be working. I put a basketball hoop up in our backyard, and they took to it like tuna to a can. Running, shooting, taunting each other every time they missed.

It was perfect.

Until this recent morning, when, out of nowhere, they dragged us out of bed at the crack of dawn and made us buy the Player’s Handbook 5th Edition.

(Well, wait outside the local bookstore until it opened, then buy it.)

And now I’m crying.

Crying tears of joy.

I’m having the second childhood I always wanted but never had.

For the first time since my age hit double digits, I’m happy.

Inexplicably happy.

Almost happier, even, than the day the kiddos were born, except I just rolled a three on my check initiative, and that kinda takes the edge off the whole thing.

 
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Posted by on 21 July 2019 in Angst, Life

 

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