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Tuesday, September 05, 2017 1 comment

RIP, Big V

It happened on eclipse day, but it took me a while to process. Then I keep putting off the post. Still in denial, I guess.

Big V in better times
Up until evening, Eclipse Day was one of the best days I’d had, recently. It had been a pretty good day, by all accounts, for Big V and her family as well—no quarrels, lots of smiles, all was going pretty good for a change. The only problem: she had recently had gone back to home dialysis, after not being able to do it for a while, and the drain cycle wasn’t working well.

So her hubs got out of the shower, and heard her call him. By the time he got to her, she was already on the floor and not breathing. He called 911, started CPR, and kept it up for a heroic 15 minutes until the ambulance got there. They kept working on her until they got her to the hospital… to no avail.

One of the doctors said, “in her condition, 98% of the time, it’s a heart attack.” So we all went with that. Between the diabetes (not controlled well), leukemia, and kidney failure, this was going to happen sooner or later. I expected much later, after a prolonged decline, but maybe it was better for her to go out on a good note.

Since her widower works nights (truck driver), Skylar spends most school nights here and spends afternoons and weekends with his “papa.” Mason’s glad to have him around, even if they argue a lot. Charlie’s always up for another older kid who will play with him.

But I’ll hand it to Big V. She gave it all she could to stay with Skylar. In the end… maybe it was enough.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 4 comments

Totally Eclipsed!

Since I was Mason’s age, I’ve always wanted to see a total eclipse in person. So when I learned that it was going to pass only an hour’s drive from FAR Manor, I was stoked. Then August came in with rain, and more rain… I’ve always considered August an unlucky month.

But then the usual August dryness started moving in. Some things are stronger than bad luck, after all. I checked the maps, and found that US23, the GA/NC border, and the center of the eclipse path all intersected. There's a rest stop a few miles into NC, so I thought maybe I had my plans set.

“They said on the radio that traffic is going to be horrendous,” said the wife. I don’t listen to commercial radio much these days, but the wife does and passes on stuff that really matters. It made sense: a lot of metro Atlanta could make the same daytrip I was thinking about.

But Wednesday, I woke up with the solution. The resort we have a membership at was in the path of totality, it’s an hour from the manor, and there are lots of sunny areas. Woohoo, we’re on! I put in for Monday off, warned Mason’s teacher that I’d be getting him out early, and started making a list of stuff we’d need.

Crude but effective
First thing, I decided to make a pinhole viewer. I did something similar for the annular eclipse in the previous millennium, but got a little fancier since I had time and materials.

I taped a piece of paper in the bottom, cut a square hole in the top, then sacrificed a broken plastic plant pot for the cause. A 1/16" hole in the plastic piece, taped over the hole, projects an image of the sun onto the paper (if you have it aligned properly).

With all that taken care of, all you need is a way to look inside. I cut a slot, hoping maybe I could get decent cellphone shots of the projection. That didn’t turn out so well, but it did the job otherwise.

After going through all that, I learned that the school was going to give all the kids direct-sun viewing glasses. Still, I figured, my efforts were not all in vain. Mason could use his glasses, and I could use my viewer.

With the partial eclipse phase sorted, I Googled for optimal exposure settings for a total eclipse. Google obligingly turned up a chart. The National Weather Service provided times for the eclipse, and I was set. All I needed was a little luck to get there.

Everyone turned out for this one
Luck, in the form of Siri plotting a route over some backroads, was with me that morning. I loaded up the camera, tripod, pinhole viewer, sunscreen, and swim gear (I figured we’d want to cool off in the pool afterwards), picked up Mason from school, and away we went. The backroad route worked better than I expected, and we arrived at the resort almost ten minutes sooner than I’d hoped.

The resort had decided to throw an eclipse party, with hot dogs, drinks, and even a DJ! He never did play “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” but I did LOL when he played “Bad Moon Rising.” I found a place to park in the corner, but there was plenty of space on the grass. One guy thought the pinhole viewer was a pretty neat idea, once he saw how it worked. (I learned to tilt it up until the shadow on the backside just goes away, and that gives you the angle.)

Mason looking cool in the heat
It was a hot day—August on Planet Georgia, duh—and the heat had Mason dashing into the clubhouse a few times to cool off. I got him a hotdog, and water for us both… and then the sun got a chip taken out of it. Over the next hour or so, we alternated looking through the pinhole viewer, taking brief direct peeks through the sun viewers, and I tried in vain to get a decent shot with the phone camera through both the pinhole viewer and using the sun viewers. It cooled off as the coverage increased. I looked for the weird shadows, like I saw during the annular eclipse, but never did catch them. The wife, who stayed closed to home (in the 98% coverage zone), did though.

Of course, I envied the several people who had brought telescopes to the party. None of them, though, matched the rig I saw during the annular eclipse: a sun-scope with motor drive and camera attachment, taking shots at set intervals.

As the crescent sun grew ever thinner, I turned up my own camera and pointed it sunward—then put the lens cap on, loose, until the main event began. I looked at my chart one last time, making sure turning the clickwheel left was what increased exposure times.

Total!
At last, things got really dim. I looked up, saw the corona ring, and got going with the camera. Click click click click I went, working down through the chart from Baily's Beads to the widest corona. Finally, I grabbed up my phone and got a shot of Mason with the eclipse in the background. Being a cellphone camera, it gave me a bright disc instead of a ring, but it was still an interesting shot. The sky looked really weird.

The last two shots, 1sec and 4sec, suffered from camera shake. Had I used the self-timer, I probably could have avoided that, but I might not have had time to get the shots anyway. Had I been closer to the centerline, I would have risked it.

Then things brightened up really fast, and we retreated to the pool. I was already thinking about the 2024 eclipse—Charlie will be 8 by then, and maybe he’d like to see one. It might be too early to book hotels and the like, but not too early to save up for the trip…

Thursday, August 03, 2017 1 comment

Hitting My Stride, and Other Stuff

Sunday morning, I went to get something from the kitchen, when I realized I was walking my like old, pre-knee-issues self—long, brisk strides that covered ground with only the tiniest twinge of discomfort from the Whiny Quadriceps. Hey! I thought, I’m back! That, more than anything, convinced me I’m close to fully recovered. After a week of my feet giving me grief, one or both at a time (while Charlie is cutting molars and wants to be held more than usual, which is a lot), it felt really good to walk instead of limp or shuffle.

I guess cutting those molars is really rough on a baby. Charlie is trying to be his normal happy self, but he’ll start crying at anything or nothing at all. But here’s a pic from a couple weeks ago, when Mason also felt like cutting up:

Just me and the boys… Charlie's trying to grab the phone, of course.

With school starting today(!!), we swapped our Labor Day timeshare week for one in July, and so we escaped FAR Manor last week. We spent a lot of time at the pool, and Charlie loves the water. We have a float he can sit in, with his legs in the water, and he can reach out and splash with his hands. Definitely his happy place. But mid-week was when he started cutting molars, and started getting rundown and moody later in the last few days.

Meanwhile, Mason wanted to try this zipline place near the resort, and Skylar stayed with us for the first half of the week, so we took them over there. The big ziplines were beyond their ability, but they had smaller "adventure" runs over a rope bridge, a rolling platform… and finally, a short zipline:

video


So that’s pretty much the end of summer at FAR Manor, even if we have all of August to get through.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017 No comments

Fireworks, a Day Late

It was bound to happen sooner or later. June and July (so far) have featured thunderstorms pretty much every day. It finally happened Wednesday evening, between 4 and 6 pm, while nobody was home but the dogs. While we were out shopping, Daughter Dearest texted me a picture of the light switches in the foyer, next to the front door:

Blew the ends right off the plate!

She followed up with The DSL box got fried. Or it's not on at all. I had her check the computers and all was well there. Mine’s on a UPS, so is the TV and the DSL box. The phone line, though, doesn't have a surge protector. So… after thanking God the manor didn’t burn down1 and the computers were OK, the wife and I discussed what else we needed to check before calling the insurance company.

Insurance was pretty copacetic about the situation… probably because we have a $1000 deductible. They said my idea of having the wiring inspected was a good one, and said to just keep a list of our expenses. Besides the exploding switches, we checked things out and discovered:

  • Everything connected to a phone line, including the lines themselves, got clobbered (more on that shortly)
  • The TV signal amp was fried
  • We thought the Wii had lost video, but it turned out to be the VCR it was connected through
  • One of the garage door electric eyes is blinded, so we can’t close the garage

The funny thing was, the clock-radio in our bedroom was still keeping time—that means the power didn’t go down for even a fraction of a second. Considering the damage could have been a lot more extensive, I’d say we got off pretty light. Mason (and me, to a lesser extent) was jonesing for Internet access, so I turned on my phone’s personal hotspot and started making a dent in our rollover data.

Thursday morning, I grabbed tools (and an old landline phone I keep for testing) and went out to the network interface box (aka the NID). We had no dialtone inside, as I rather expected, and didn’t have dialtone at the test jack, either. BUT, we had dialtone at the second test jack. I promptly moved all the connections down, but that didn’t help. Armed with some data, I called Windstream (aka Windbeans) and gave them my findings. They promised to have someone out here before a week from Friday. Um… this is a business line, guys? We kind of need this connection to function? “It should be earlier than that.” I’m going to ask them for a 25% reduction on the bill for the month, since they can’t be bothered to get anyone out here for a freekin’ week. If they balk, I’ll see what the PSC has to say. I measured along the walls and came up with an estimate of 14 feet from the NID to my window… meaning a 20-foot phone cord would reach my desk.

We got through the weekend. I continually reminded Mason, no Youtube, no Netflix, and he complained but complied. Still, between us, we chewed through 1GB pretty much daily. I turned off automatic updates to prevent surprises. But I kept thinking about that second line that was giving dialtone…

Monday finally arrived. I took Charlie to daycare, then learned that Mal*Wart no longer carries anything having to do with landlines (you would think, with so much of their clientele coming from the edges of civilization, they would try to help out). Fortunately, Home Depot seems to understand, and I happily bought a 25-foot phone cord from them. This I ran from the NID’s test jack, into the window in front of my computer, and onto my desk. I plugged in the phone and got dialtone, yay! Then, just out of curiosity, I called my cellphone. I don’t recognize this number. I called it back, just to see if anyone out there would answer. My test phone rang, but nobody else answered. Something obviously melted in a pedestal upstream.

Still, desperate times call for desperate measures. I scrounged up the old DSL modem we used before Windbeans gave us one with built-in Wi-Fi, plugged it in, and it connected. Then I found the Linksys router Mom gave me a while ago, and hooked it up. With my computer next to the router, I used Ethernet cables. Let the tablet users share the Wi-Fi, right?

With a temporary DSL lashup in place by Monday afternoon, the electrician showed up Monday evening. Two of the switches had exploded. The third, amazingly, still worked, but he replaced them all. The insulation on one wire was melted, but barely enough to expose the wire, so he wrapped it up. Three new switches and a plate, I wiped up the soot, and he pronounced the wiring otherwise OK.

We still have a few things to fix to get back to completely normal here, but we’re good to go otherwise. I just want to be here to see the look on the phone tech’s face when (s)he realizes we have access to a phone line we shouldn’t. On the other hand, they really need to get people out here sooner, and take care of their plant a little better.


1I don’t want FAR Manor to burn down… just the mortgage.

Saturday, June 03, 2017 4 comments

Saturday Rugrat Roundup, plus a Knee Update

Charlie can’t quite reach him… for now.
School’s out, and that means Mason’s around a lot more. Charlie definitely approves of that, and wants to be in on the action as much as possible. But in the mornings, Mason just wants to have some quiet time watching YouTubes or playing Minecraft… and he goes through some rather odd contortions to keep Charlie from interfering.

I’m still mostly at home, although in the last week I’m now able to get in and out of the van without much discomfort. Wife has decided since I can get around with a cane instead of the walker, she can take off to her dad’s and leave me with the boys… pretty much as if I were 100%. Most of the time when I’m supposed to be working, I have the house to myself, but early mornings and late afternoons are problematic.


I was framed! Framed, I tell ya!
As for Charlie, he’s become a very good crawler. He will go from one end of the manor to the other, and find bits of debris and slobbered-on dog toys that mere mortals just can’t see. We bought a pair of 16-foot enclosures/baby fences to cordon off parts of the living room where he shouldn’t go, although they work very good as a baby pen. Naturally, Charlie doesn’t want to be on a clean rug and surrounded by his own toys—he wants to get into everything else! Still, after a couple minutes of complaining, he’ll often settle down and start playing. There’s more room than the old Pack&Play, and we could always add another panel or two from the second one if we decide he needs more room. Charlie’s therapist took to the new setup right away, and enticed him to walk the entire perimeter of his new cage, following her phone playing an episode of Sesame Street.

As for me, I continue to heal. The in-home therapist is satisfied with my range of motion, and this afternoon he discharged me to start outpatient therapy. I’m supposed to get a call on Monday with the schedule (and presumably anything I need to bring along).


I just happened to have one of my twice-yearly checkups on Tuesday, so I went on in. Wednesday, I get a call from the office—when it begins, “you don’t have to go to the ER, but,” it’s not a call to give you the warm fuzzies. Turns out my platelet counts were through the roof, past a million, and they were worried about me developing blood clots. Seeing as someone I know died of a blood clot in her 20s, my stress levels puffed up like a startled blowfish. Anyway, they prescribed me a powerful blood thinner, and scheduled me with a hematologist on Friday. I calmed myself by figuring if I didn’t have to see the specialist for two days, it couldn’t be that serious… although I did keep a mental list of symptoms.

Fortunately, none of the blood-clot-getting-loose symptoms manifested, and I got to the hematologist in good order. They ran another blood test, which showed my platelets were down to 630,000—still way high, but something like half what they were three days ago. My iron was low, though, perhaps for the first time in my life. She thus suggested I cut back my blood thinner dosage (“as fast as that count came down, I don’t want you getting too low”) and start taking an iron supplement, and come back next Friday to see what to do from there.

The low iron would explain why I’ve wanted to have a nap every early afternoon day this week, although my crappy sleep cycles (I haven’t had a normal night’s sleep since before the surgery) could have explained that as well. But I slept all the way to 6 this morning, so I’m hoping to be mostly normal (health-wise, forget the other kind of normal) in the next few days.

Time for my afternoon exercise routine. May you never have to have a knee replacement!

Friday, June 02, 2017 No comments

Hotwire (a new Skyscraper City story!) #FlashFicFriday

Pulse watched in the rear view mirror as the bus pulled up behind his blue truck. He had removed the Harr Electric signage, easy to do when it was all magnetic, and the traffic surveillance system was used to his coming and going downtown at all hours. Good electricians could stay as busy as they liked, and Pulse’s alter-ego Helmut Harr was one of the best.

Several passengers stepped off the bus, brushing by several others impatient to get on. One of the debarking passengers looked around, saw the blue pickup truck, and ambled that way.

Tap. “Got a cycle?”

“I have sixty,” Pulse replied. “Get in. Say nothing until we arrive.”

“Fine.” DeVine was not what one would call a sparkling conversationalist, anyway. He held a leather bag in his lap and watched out the window.

Pulse drove away in front of the bus, then took an indirect route to one of the many parking decks that studded Skyscraper City’s downtown business district. The lots were never empty, even on weeknights, but the upper levels allowed for some privacy.

“Sonic interference is active,” Pulse said at last. “What is it?”

DeVine said nothing, but opened his bag and took out a small netbook. “Here,” he said, tapping the password on the screen. “I left it up for you.”

Pulse looked at the open terminal window, displaying DeVine’s cracking attempt. “City Loan usually doesn’t... vas ist?” He scrolled to the bottom and paused.

Injection begun...
Injection aborted.
Hot Wire says: Don't do that again.
> inject
Injection begun...
TERMINATED

“Yeah. Looks like someone tapped my connection and inserted that,” said DeVine. “Then they cut me off on the second attempt.”

“Someone, or something,” Pulse replied. “Perhaps this ‘Hot Wire’ is a custom network surveillance program they have installed recently. I'll have to look into it.” He started the truck. “Do you want to go back to the bus stop, or shall I drop you a little closer to home?”

• • •

Pulse always kept his tools close at hand. After dropping off DeVine, he turned—not toward home, but back downtown. Something about that warning made him curious. Warmonger was fond of saying, curiosity killed the cat, but Pulse thought curiosity itself was not dangerous, at least if tempered with caution. Furthermore, sometimes one had to put aside caution to trick the enemy.

Thus, Pulse paused in an unlit parking lot, where a bodega had gone out of business some time back. He slapped a chromatic film over the hood and side panels of the truck—depending on the light, it might look yellow, green, or silver—and changed the license plate for a bogus Pennsylvania one. There were ways to trip up the traffic surveillance system, and Pulse had learned most of them. Passing on such things that Warmonger called “intel” indebted the other villains to him, and he would collect when the time came.

In disguise, he turned into the Chamberlain Two parking deck—adjacent to the City Loan offices. This was a calculated risk, but his calculation gave the potential benefits more weight. The corporate Wi-Fi carried out to the deck, and a ferret sent Pulse the passphrase on a regular schedule. He opened his laptop and connected to the network.

Roughly a fourth of the PCs in the office were compromised, and Pulse connected to one at random. DeVine had used the safer method of a cascade of anonymizing relays instead of a direct connection, but no matter. Pulse uploaded the SQL injector to the victim PC and started it.

Injection begun...
Injection terminated.
Hot Wire says, You need to quit while you're ahead.
>

Pulse swore at the prompt, then typed.

> you are not a bot, are you?
you: command not found
Hot Wire says: Go bot yourself.
TERMINATED

Pulse switched his connection to promiscuous mode, which displayed all traffic on the Wi-Fi. He did not have to wait long for the expected probe to hit his laptop. He turned off the radio, then drove away. Whoever this Hot Wire was, it was not a program. He was sure of that.

• • •

Natalie Strand tossed the last candy wrapper in the wastebasket as the IT morning shift arrived.

“Hey, Nat,” one of the guys said, dropping his bag on the desk. “Anything interesting?”

“Just a couple intrusions.” Her voice was flat, annoyed at the nerdy nickname the rest of the department gave her. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.” She was already taking up her purse and heading for the door.

“Yeah. Later.” Natalie did not hear the last. The morons who had let their computers get infested would be whining to the day shift soon enough. The boys could take care of delousing the PCs in between rounds of Minesweeper. This job was not paying her enough to deal with other people—and even with the supposed boost for working night shift, her pay was lower than any of the men on day shift. Having a look at the payroll systems took no effort and offered no risk, but told her nothing she had not expected.

She walked the four blocks to Republic Tower, where Sonny’s Sky-High Deli stayed busy on the ground floor. “Large coffee, real cream and double sugar,” she told the young woman behind the counter. “And a Mortal Sin.”

The counter woman gave Natalie a look she had seen many times: If I ate that, I'd put on twenty pounds. Sometimes, Natalie wished she could put on twenty pounds, just to see what the big deal was.

Taking her coffee and gigantic cinnamon roll, she consumed both with gusto. Work made her hungry. She knew to expect a carb rush for the next two hours, followed by the inevitable crash. But she could look for another job until then. There had to be something out there better than City Loanshark. The boys in the department called it that, and it was one of the few things they all agreed on.

Maybe she would find it, if she kept looking.



If you enjoyed this story (and more is coming), there’s lots more Skyscraper City action in my new novel, Blink! Stevie Winkler thought being able to teleport was cool… at first. As Blink, he’s not sure whether he wants to be a hero or a villain, but he finds that’s a blurry line. And Skyscraper City is home to other powers with other agendas. Blink has three goals: survive, keep Mom from finding out… and maybe get a girlfriend.

Get it at the major eBook stores now!

Amazon: US UK FR DE IT ES JP CA BR IN MX AU NL
Smashwords iBooks Nook Kobo

Saturday, May 27, 2017 No comments

Family Feud

While Daughter Dearest is now married, she still lives in the free-range insane asylum, in the same trailer she had rented with a roomie back before meeting Sizzle. This has been helpful; with me recovering from knee surgery (going well), wife has been taking Charlie with her… at least until today. I’m mostly being neglected in favor of the father in law, who sits on his butt and demands everyone take care of him, or the endless demands of a farm. At least I haven’t (again, until today) been expected to take care of a baby when I’m just barely out of the walker myself, and that’s supposed to be part-time.

But I digress. One evening this week, Daughter Dearest went down to visit the father in law (mine, aka her grandfather). Mr. Sunshine, who has been living there as well, came in.

“Get outta my chair,” he ordered DD. “I need to sit down.” Now Mr. Sunshine was actually pleasant to be around for about a month after recovering from his stroke, but after that he went back to his old center-of-the-universe self. Maybe even worse.

“You bought this chair?” she sneered, not budging an inch. “Do you have your name embroidered on it somewhere that I can’t see?”

Sunshine, who thinks he’s superior to everyone and especially women, decided to take more direct action—he tried pushing the chair over to tip her out. DD, who is neither tiny nor weak, dug her feet into the carpet and pushed back. At that point, he looked ready to try upping the ante.

“You touch me,” DD warned, “and you’ll have a fight on your hands.”

“You think you’d win? Or you gonna sic your husband on me?”

“Yeah, I’d win, but I’ll save him a little piece after I get through with you.”

DD inherited the axe-murderer glare from her mom, and I think he saw it. So, like any thwarted bully, Sunshine turned to Daddy. “Make her get up!” he barked.

“She was sitting there first,” he replied.

“Well I guess you’re a bitch like your momma,” Sunshine snarled and stormed out.

Now Sizzle has his dander up, of course, but DD can obviously take care of herself. I’m proud of her… and a little bit proud of myself for raising her right. As for Sunshine, he’s slowly getting it hammered into his head that he’s neither king, boss, nor particularly respected around here (or anywhere else). There has been some talk about getting an injunction to get him tossed out of the house he’s not paying any rent for, and as far as I’m concerned it can’t happen soon enough.

Stay tuned… more cRaZy FAR Manor action as it happens!

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