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Category Archives: Technopocalypse

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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I’m not getting older, dammit! The world is just getting darker!

So I have a problem. One that requires more than a little blue pill to resolve.

Oh, if only a pill could solve this problem!

Or, for that matter, even a suppository.

I am deeply saddened to report that when it gets dark, and I mean very, very dark, I can’t see.

This is particularly disturbing because I do my best work at night. When it’s, you know, dark.

Yes, when my body most desperately needs to rest and rejuvenate itself, my brain is all, “Hold my beer.”

But in a good, non-alcoholic, non-electoral sort of way.

As you might be starting to suspect, I wrote this entry during the day. But I had no choice, given I can’t see at night.

You see, since everyone else in my household have brains that listen to their bodies, they’re all asleep at night.

Or should be. Get back to bed right now, Kiddo!

Sorry about that. Because of this (nearly) mass slumber, I can’t just flip on all the lights, crank up the volume on my .mod files, and take care of business.

Oh no. Everyone else in my household gets cranky when I turn the productivity up to 11 past, well, eleven. Suddenly the Missus and the one kiddo who actually does sleep at night are making snide remarks about needing rest and don’t I have work in the morning and look you’re making the dogs bark and oh my gawd what is that racket you are listening to it should be illegal to distribute it!

(My hearing is fine. Spider by They Might Be Giants is meant to be listened to loud.)

In order to appease the Missus, I turn everything off, go to bed, and when dawn’s surly light finally returns, make yet another medical appointment.

My doctor always sort of wilts and sighs when he walks into the exam room and sees me, like a blow-up punching bag suddenly deflating after one punch too many, then mutters “Oh no, not again.”

While most people would see this reaction and think, “Uh oh, I must be really sick!” I’m not worried. I’ve been here before. Seen the doc about this many times. And after the poorly hidden but inevitable eye roll, he always tells me the same thing:

“Still not getting more exercise? I really think you should focus more on that. Not being able to see in the dark? That’s nothing to worry about. You’re just getting old. Try turning on the lights.”

I am not getting old!

And turn on the lights?? Did he not read the above paragraph about other people in the house wanting it dark so they can sleep?

Since modern medical science has cast me aside despite my numerous co-pays, I was forced to do my own research.

My own experiments.

And I figured it out.

(So start writing up those Nobel Prize nominations, in case they won’t accept my self-nomination.)

I’m not getting older. Nope.

The world…is getting darker.

Hear me out. Once you see the evidence you will drop your jaws in amazement.

(Or disbelief. But if you stay silent, I can still imagine it’s amazement. So hush.)

Here’s a modern-day keyboard. Notice anything about it, aside from the dirt?

Peek-a-boo, I can't see you, goddammit!

Who uses this? Members of the band Disaster Area?

That’s right. It’s super dark.

Here’s what it looks like at night with all the lights in the house in the mandated OFF position:

I see London, I see France, I do not see this freakin' keyboard

The real reason schools started mandating touch typing classes…

Now you can see my problem (or more specifically, can’t).

And don’t tell me to get a back-lit keyboard! I’ve tried that! They require you to press a key combo to turn on the back-lighting.

Can you see any of the keys in the dark on the above keyboard? Can you? Then how the hell am I supposed to see them, hmm?

Think about it. Their design solution when you can’t see the keyboard is to require you to hit specific keys on the keyboard so you can see the keys. On the keyboard! It’s Kafkaesque!

They’ll be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes, let me tell you!

But, I perceive you mumbling as you nervously edge away, what do keyboards have to do with my supposition that the world is getting darker?

Well, aside from black reflecting back less light into the environment (ergo, making the surrounding environment darker), we once had, long ago, better keyboards.

And by better I don’t mean clickier (though that was better too). I mean beige:

Seriously, does it get any better than an IBM mechanical keyboard?

If my sunglasses were handy, I’d put them on before using this keyboard

See what this pinnacle of keyboard engineering looks like in normal lighting? Compare that to yet another modern keyboard (this time grey):

The Great Computer Compromise of 1995 between IBM and Apple solved nothing and only punted down the road the final, disastrous decision to switch to black for computers and accessories that future generations would lament for all time.

“We think beige is too bright. Waa waa. If black is too dark, how about we meet in the middle and try gray?” No. Just no.

But check it out what happened when I photographed my, if the Keyboard Industrial Complex PR hacks are to be believed, “old, tired, and passé” vintage keyboard in the dark.

WTFtl;dr! It actually got brighter:

OK, even I agree that white is too bright. Turn it up to beige AND THEN STOP!

CAPS LOCK on because DAMN IT, YES, I’M EXCITED ABOUT THIS KEYBOARD! AND NO COLLUSION! TOTALLY NO COLLUSION! COVFEFE!

Beige is a color I can type on in the dark. Because with beige, the cold encroachment of darkness is stopped in its sneaky, disabling tracks. I can look down and see the damn keys I need to press and then press them.

Presto! No back-light, front-light, or side-light required.

And it’s not just the keyboard. Tell me, how am I going to find that black CD eject button, cleverly placed, of course, right next to the black power button, on this particular, recently manufactured computer?

Stephen King's got nothin' on this scary beast

Hell, in this photo I have a spotlight on the chassis and I’m using a flash, and you still can’t see anything (except the dust bunny residue)!

But take away the above modern, fancy-pants, 1080p, USB 3.0, multi-core and multi-threaded (guess the color of the thread – hint: it’s BLACK) super computer and replace it with a late-80s, early-90s computer, and what do you get?

You get this, a right proper computing machine:

This. This I can effin' see.

The IBM “Just Try And Make The Room This Is In Dark” PS/2 P70. They don’t build ’em like this any more. Can’t afford to. Too much lead needed for the chassis.

That’s right. I closed the curtains, turned off the lights, and then tented the entire house (due to termites) before taking this picture, and it still looks like I’m standing outside on a bright summer day.

That’s how much frickin’ light beige computers give off!

Now it might be the termiticide talking, but I think I’d be able to use my computer at night just fine…if it were made out of beige. But sadly, as amazing as the above computer is, it does lack one feature deemed unnecessary in the 1980s and 1990s:

WiFi.


Do you have tales of horror trying to use an albedo-challenged computer in the wee hours? Share them in the comments so we can commiserate together and maybe put together a kickstarter to make a modern beige computer!

(Please comment. The Missus thinks I’m nuts and I need you to help me prove her wrong.)
 

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For Whom Does the Doorbell Toll? It Tolls For Thee, Fool Using a Vintage Word Processor

My next sign will read

This is the nice warning sign. Before the cops made me take it down, I had a rig that dumped concentrated skunk venom on you. It wasn’t the dumping on salespeople the cops objected to, it was the unavoidably omnipresent smell.

“Hello, my name is Ian and I’m a vintage-aholic. My last purchase of vintage electronics was three days ago. But on the positive side, it was an old Brother word processor with a working built-in CRT and printer!”

Now if you’re anything like my wife, you’re rolling your eyes and snickering about my tendency to lust after (and occasionally buy) electronics from the 80s and 90s. But when the apocalypse comes and the only thing that will save you is a 1987 Compaq Portable III connected via null modem to a 1989 IBM PS/2 P70 running an old DOS program that controls a weather satellite, well, we’ll see who’s laughing then.

(And enjoying the blistering hot sun, jerk. You won’t be getting rain any time soon once I control the weather!)

It also comes with a built-in printer, only adding 10 pounds to the weight!

All right, you primitive screwheads, listen up. See this? This is my WORDSTICK! It’s a 5″ x 9″ amber CRT with a built-in spelling and grammar checker, Brother’s top-of-the-line.

But until such time, I have to prove to myself (and, to a (much) larger extent, the Missus) that the cash outlay for said type of machines is worth it. Which means, in the case of my Brother WP-95 word processor, I need to use it.

At least once.

My sponsor has asked for photographic evidence of its use. I think this is because she wants proof it works before she steals it from me. (Yes, vintage-aholic sponsors are quite cutthroat when they fall off the wagon. If it wasn’t for eBay, the streets would be awash in blood. Awash!)

So sure, modern computers can do a lot more than a single-function device like this word processor.

And yes, modern displays are brighter, crisper, and larger.

To be sure, a modern laptop weighs only a fraction of the 22 pounds this thing weighs. And can run on a battery. And can save files, do fancy formatting, get you on the internet, and allow you to email yourself a backup of your file.

But where’s the fun in that? When you lug a 22 pound dedicated word processor like this to a coffee shop, plug the electric cord into an extension cord so you can reach the wall outlet, and then write something, you feel a sense of accomplishment!

When’s the last time you felt a sense of accomplishment writing something on a mamby-pamby modern computer using software that practically writes the story for you?

(I’m looking at you, Scrivener users!)

Trenchcoats are surprisingly comfortable when worn en masse

What kind of fashion statement is this?

But not only do you get a cardio workout along with that satisfaction, you also get the added bonus of irritating all those bloody hipsters sipping espressos when you hit the PRINT button. Because when this thing prints out, you are magically transported back to a news room with a teletype in a time that predates decibel-levels-in-the-workplace regulations.

Fireworks freak out your dog? Nothing compared to this printer.

So I recommend getting your butt to the coffee shop, plugging this thing in, and if the line for coffee is too long, fire off a page to the printer. Those beatniks in line will flee in terror, convinced North Korea has finally made good on its threats, and you won’t have to wait in line for coffee.

It’s a win-win.

(If you need a vintage word processor, the Missus informs me that I would be happy to sell you mine…)

Here’s my justification for spending $40. Was it worth it? Let me know in the comments.

This was going to be an actual episode of Murder: She Wrote, but then the producers served me with a cease and desist letter regarding unsolicited manuscripts.

If you think this is tt;dr (too tiny, didn’t read), you should know I modified the word processor to print for microfiche.

 
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Posted by on 20 August 2017 in Art!, Life, Technopocalypse, Writing

 

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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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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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Think of the children! (Instead of ignoring them in favor of social media)

Walking past the kiddos’ room one recent evening, I heard crying.

“Daddy,” my son said, when he was still sobbing twenty minutes later so I relented and went in, “I don’t want to grow up, because if I do, I won’t be able to fit in your lap any more.”

I asked him to repeat that, because all I heard after “because if I do” was “I couldn’t be a Toys R Us kid.”

After he repeated himself, I sat down, forming a lap, and patted him over.

“Don’t worry,” I said as he plopped down on my legs, cutting off all circulation. “As you grow, I’ll just eat lots and lots of food so I get bigger.”

My son considered these words for a moment, and then burst into a new round of tears. “But Daddy,” he objected, “if you get bigger, you’ll break the house!”

This. My son fearing I’ll expand beyond the capacity of my house walls due to overeating.

This is why I have given up on social media.

Or at least dialed it way, way back.

Now a lot of folks who are going off-line or getting off the grid these days whine and drone on and on about corporate snooping and unconstitutional government surveillance.

Well, they can keep their tin foil hats. Those things are not my style.

And they’re utterly ineffective against government mind control rays.

If you want to properly shield your brain, you need to go lead or gold foil. Which is expensive and uncomfortable.

Not to mention, it gets you strange looks walking down the street.

(And mugged, more often than not, when it comes to the gold foil hats.)

But for me, social media had become an addiction that distracted me from family time and writing/editing time.

Also, work time, but that was more of a benefit than a disadvantage, in my view.

So, over the recent holiday weekend, I quit the internet cold turkey.

Just for the weekend, mind you, as an experiment to see how I fared. I’m not crazy.

The results?

The biggest benefit was that, with the mobile data setting on my phone off, my battery life went way up. Like 10% improvement up.

I know. Impressive.

The secondary benefit was I became aware of this strange, seemingly-but-actually-not intangible aura surrounding me.

The Missus, upon my commenting on this dawning awareness, snorted and said it was called ‘reality’.

I like reality. There are people and places and things that I can actually touch, feel, taste, and smell.

OK, the smell aspect isn’t always a winner, especially with kiddos still in diapers, but overall, a very worthwhile experience. Especially kissing. It feels way nicer to kiss real lips than displayed lips during a Skype session.

Last but not least, I must point out that during my 72 hours of disconnect, I didn’t miss the internet.

Considering how obsessive I am when it comes to checking for likes on Facebook, retweets on twitter, and visits on my blog, this came as quite a surprise.

How much of a surprise?

Well, usually when writing a blog post, I pause six or seven times during the writing to see if any of my other posts have gotten a hit since I last checked.

This post? Haven’t checked once.

Well, more than once.

Or twice.

The point is, I’m getting better. I’ve proven to myself that I don’t need it as much as I need things like food, water, and oxygen.

Even though it used to feel like I did need it, and in this order of priority:

  • Internet access
  • Oxygen
  • Ice cream
  • Soda
  • Food
  • Water
  • Hot baths with scented candles and Tangerine Dream playing in the background

The long weekend is over now, and obviously, since this blog entry exists, I have not given up on the internet entirely.

But I have scaled way back.

And in doing so, I’ve found I have more time and, more importantly, more patience around my family, friends, and coworkers.

(Since my boss told me I had to develop more patience over my probationary period, this is a double win for me!)

No longer do I view these ‘reality’ interactions as annoying but apparently mandatory distractions from being on-line and getting the latest status updates on people I’ve never met.

You know what else I did with this additional free time?

I  got back to editing my next book, Balloons of the Apocalypse. The sequel I’d originally planned to release this May, but which sat ignored on my computer for months. Why?

Because after I’d gritted my teeth through my work day, and then endured the dull agony of family time, I only had enough energy for one more thing. And when forced to choose between my indie writing career and on-line friends’ social updates, I chose the latter.

The latter plus watching that video of a wombat improbably attired in a Speedo wrestling with, and then eating, a python wearing a fedora.

I miss that video. It is awesome, but I’ve lost the link. Anyone have it?

But I digress. The point is, until completing this off-line experiment, I had no idea the former option, or any non-social media option, for that matter, was even a viable choice.

Turns out it is a viable choice.

The more you know.

You’re welcome.

Need a breakdown to decide if quitting social media is for you? Happy to oblige, because I’m a public service kinda guy.

Pros of internet and social media

  • That guy you follow on twitter because he’s a writer too? See exactly what he had for lunch today
  • Find out the horoscope for Libra even though you aren’t a Libra, or believe in horoscopes, because that very nice lady in Cleveland, Ohio (or so her profile claims) shares hers. Every. Day.
  • Discover the dinosaur-murdering truth about Steven Spielberg (that a-hole!)
  • Develop a deep and abiding hatred for family and friends because they are constantly interrupting your attempts to catch up on Facebook
  • Have a faceless, uncaring government build a detailed dossier on you based on where you surf, what you post, and what you buy, solely so they can predict your every behaviour, and when democracy is overthrown, know exactly where to send the shock troops to arrest you
  • Have a faceless, uncaring corporation build a detailed dossier on you based on where you surf, what you post, and what you buy so that they can make money off you without compensating you. Also, so they can predict when someone in your household is pregnant and send you coupons for baby formula. Actually, that one might be kinda handy…
  • The warm, cozy, but totally unwarranted belief that every time you tweet a link to buy your book on Amazon, it’s clicked on by thousands of eager fans-to-be. Or hundreds. Or even one

Cons of internet and social media

  • Incensed hatred of anyone, especially young children, who want you to forsake the internet in order to meet their social interaction needs
  • Lower productivity
  • Can cause Repetitive Motion Injuries and/or flare-ups
  • If a lot of the people you follow are female writers of a certain age, they have this thing called Beefcake Friday, where they barrage your feed with unwanted pictures of muscular, shirtless, well-oiled men, often fire fighters, which, coupled with the lower productivity already mentioned above, makes you feel even more inadequate as a man. Also, wouldn’t being slathered in oil make a fire fighter more flammable? Is that wise?
  • Cancer

I’ve done the math, and I didn’t even need a calculator! I will be doing a lot less internetting going forward. Which is good news for my family, coworkers, and anyone waiting for my next book.

But it’s very bad news for my oncologist. My poor, poor oncologist.

 

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