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!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017 3 comments

Blink has launched!

Skyscraper City’s newest superhero(?) is ready to teleport into your eReaders!

You can get it from all the major eBook outlets right now.

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

Synopsis:

In Skyscraper City, kids often dream of getting a superpower when they grow up. Stevie Winkler never expected to "manifest" at age 13! Being able to teleport is cool, but keeping it a secret sucks. Professor Zero and some of Skyscraper City's most famous superheroes are training him, but Blink finds the line between hero and villain is often blurred… and Skyscraper City is home to other forces with their own agendas.

Blink has three goals as a teenage superhero: survive, keep Mom from finding out—and maybe get a girlfriend.

But the fun doesn’t stop there! Blink includes a collection of backstories and capers from other Skyscraper City heroes and villains. I have some longer stories in the works, both for Blink and other supers.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

As he penetrated deeper into the alley, he felt something behind him. He stole a backward glance, and saw two shadows detach themselves from the walls. This is just a drill, this is just a drill, he told himself, but his heartbeat quickened. If this was for real, there would be light at at the other end of the alley; he could pop down there, grab the entire fracking garbage can, and pop back to Professor Zero. But this is just a drill, so it would not be quite that easy.

Ahead of him, two more shadows rappelled down the walls while a third appeared to block his way. This one whirled a staff around himself. Blink almost laughed—this was a clich├ęd scene from a bad kung fu movie—but stayed in character. Professor Zero wanted to see how Blink faced off against five ninjas? Fine. He could probably “achieve his objective” (as Captain Heroic put it) without a fight. Pop past the three ahead of him, find the message, and pop back.

“Yah!” Blink and his opponents turned toward the shout. A sixth figure ran his way, from the same direction he had come. With a couple fancy handsprings, he(?) cleared the two guys behind him and came to a stop before Blink.

“A student is in need of help.” It was Ma Ling, the Masked Warrior who had trained him since last summer.

Blink gave her a quick, stiff bow, keeping an eye on the others. “I am always ready to hear, Master Ma.”

“You take those two,” she ordered, pointing to the two ninjas behind them. “I will see to the others.”

“Okay.” Blink faced off with his two opponents, wondering if this was a message from Professor Zero. You will not fight your battles alone. The black-clad figures took “ready” stances.

Blink knew he was still a beginner when it came to martial arts. If he were facing real ninjas (or Masked Warriors playing villain, in this case), he would get his butt kicked. Except for his superpower… glancing around the alley, he spotted a garbage can without a lid. Captain Heroic’s improv lessons took over, and he had a plan.

Pop. He grabbed the garbage can and turned it over, while his opponents whirled to find him. A few bags and chunks of styrofoam tumbled out, representing actual garbage.

Pop. Behind the nearest ninja. He brought the metal garbage can down over the head of his opponent with a clonk, and jumped to avoid the expected sweep kick. The extra weight of the garbage can unbalanced the ninja, and Blink pushed him into the wall, making him bounce back and fall. Blink banged on the garbage can until he heard a heavily-accented “I surrender.” Up the alley, he saw Ms. Ma had somehow taken the staff, and was holding the other two at bay. The former staff-wielder was down, but watching the battle.

But his second ninja was coming for him, fast.

So how did Stevie get a superpower at age 13, when 19 or 20 is the typical age? How did he get one at all? It’s all revealed in Blink, so get your copy now!

Saturday, May 20, 2017 2 comments

Kneecapped, 2017: Progress

Ah, to heal like Wolverine… because I never would have had to do this in the first place! But a week later, I’m making visible progress.

Stylish stripes!
Early in the week, I decided I needed to have some kind of morning routine besides sitting in the recliner and doing my therapy exercises. I’ve never been one to care about appearances much—except, ironically enough, I’m a little vain about my legs—but looking presentable is a definite mental boost. So each morning, I get dressed, shave, then sit at the desktop and do things that are more difficult to deal with on the mobile devices. I can actually get some useful stuff done that way, and that also gave my attitude a boost.

Keeping up with the three-a-day exercises is a chore, but I set alarms in my phone to remind me when to do them. The same therapist who worked with the wife, when she had her knee done, is now working with me. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Those are painful… that deep, annoying pain that’s the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. Fortunately, that fades to an ache (still annoying) quickly enough. He gave me some additional exercises on top of the ones I brought home from the hospital.

Sunday, I decided to explore that “as tolerated” part of the repaired leg’s weight-bearing. I found it could tolerate a lot more than I had expected, leading me to wonder why I’m plonking around with a walker. I got my answer Monday: OMG was I stiff! That made therapy extra-OUCH-special. It didn’t help that the A/C wasn’t working (turned out to be a bunch of dead rats in the fan) for a few days.

The wife helped me get a shower Tuesday night. Soon after, the dressing peeled off (which was OK according to the doc) and we put a fresh one on. Despite my taking aspirin for pain relief as well as blood thinning, when that one came off, there wasn’t even a spot of blood on it. We’ve just let it get some air since then. Somewhere in there, the tight muscles began to loosen up. A little. Getting in and out of the recliner is easier and less painful. I’m putting less weight on the walker.

Friday, the staples came out, and my new stripey-knee style came in. I like it. The therapist is still clucking about getting my knee to straighten out completely, but was encouraging that I was able to straight-leg lift my heel a quarter-inch off the bed. Seeing that the quadriceps muscle wasn’t even working on Monday, that was a step forward. Getting in and out of the van wasn’t any less painful than a week earlier, when I got out of the hospital, but I’m no longer on hospital-grade painkillers.

So I got on the bed to do my exercises this morning, and I managed to lift that leg all the way off the bed! Now that’s what I call progress. I’ve also been able to shuffle behind the walker without putting weight on it, but (given the previous experiment) I’m not doing that one so much.

Looks like I might be good for resuming work (from home, anyway) come Wednesday. Not sure how much longer it will be before I can drive myself around again. I just hope I can be a pain-free passenger soon… that would be a good step forward.

Monday, May 15, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 11 (CONCLUSION)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

“Serves the louts right, tangling with a Matriarchy woman and her Northerner husband.” Reeve Kendri waited for one of her assistants to push the stone box off the trap door, then nudged the bolt away. Her assistants had already seen to the driver, who complained of a terrible headache and claimed to have no recollection of how he had ended up in the yard. “They have some means, if they can afford a juggernaut as a carriage. What were they doing?”

“We unearthed an artifact from Camac That Was while we were plowing,” Liana explained. “I don’t know how word got all the way to Queensport.”

“You should have just given the thing to the sages. It would have saved you a mickle of trouble.”

“We’re going to market tomorrow,” said Liana. “We mean to give it over then.”

“All shall be well, then.” Kendri kicked the trap open. “You are prisoners of the Crown,” she called down, “charged with assault and attempted robbery. One at a time, and leave any weapons on the floor.”

As her four assistants marched the prisoners to their wagon, Kendri followed Liana and Chakan outside. “Your ‘Misiva’ was probably using an assumed name,” she explained. “But one of her friends might turn her in for a lighter sentence. Clever idea, going out to meet them with a paring knife in your slippers. Good thing marking their carriage was unnecessary.”

“Sturdy, strong, and brave,” Chakan boasted, “everything a Matriarchy woman should be, aye?”

“That immigration program… well, I admit I was skeptical at first, but every single newcomer I’ve met has been a credit to the Matriarchy. The Queen is wiser than I gave her credit for. Well, that’s that. I’ll drive their wagon back.” Kendri stopped. “So where is this mechanism?”

“Ha!” Chakan laughed. “I wrapped it in some blankets and took it to the neighbor’s. It’s in their chicken pen.”


“I’ve not seen one so well-preserved,” Sage Datra breathed, looking over the mechanism. “We have examples others have dug up, but none like this. It still works, you say?”

“Yar,” said Liana. “We tried it out. Had an endless river of neighbors coming to consult it as well.”

“‘Tis one reason we’re glad to be shut of it,” Chakan added.

Sage Wesim chuckled, looking up from the book and the transcripts they had made. “It was a parlor toy,” he explained. “Turning the knobs, and the speed at which you crank it, creates a randomness. It’s a sophisticated version of tossing a handful of rounds into the air, and recording the patterns they make when they land. The answers it gives are vague enough that you can apply them to just about any question. These are excellent transcripts, by the way. If your crops ever fail, let us know. We’ll put you to work as scribes.”

“Gods willing, that won’t ever happen,” said Chakan. “So you say that thing really doesn’t tell the future?”

Sage Datra shook her head. “I’m sure some ancients thought it did. But what it does is let you access your inner mind. In a very real way, it tells you what you already know.”

“Well, then…” Liana trailed off. “May your studies be fruitful.”

“Wait a moment.” Sage Wesim wrote on a slip of paper, then gave it to Liana. “The Crown pays a bounty for items of interest, depending on their state of preservation. This one certainly qualifies as exceptional. Take this paper to the office, and the Provost will take care of the rest. I’m recommending she pay you the maximum of five octagons, and it’s worth every round.”

“Tell me true, Chakan,” said Liana as their plodding oxen pulled the cart homeward. “Do you believe that thing we dug up was nothing but a toy?”

“So the sages told us.” Chakan scratched his head. “But would they not tell us that in any case, so we have no regrets about turning it over?”

“Five octagons put paid to any regrets I had, my love. Even if we have to add a new room to the house, we’ll have money left over to carry us through a crop failure.”

“Aye. But let us focus on you having a healthy daughter, first.”


“Send word to the Queen,” Sage Datra told Wesim. “She needs to hear about this, and soonest.”

THE END

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