Thursday, September 11, 2014

The summer that never really arrived sure ended quickly.

It hit a high of 51 degrees here  yesterday.  I had to break out my emergency office sweater, the one I leave there because it's got a zip-up collar and the collar never really sits down even if you leave the zipper at its lowest, so I never wear it unless it's an emergency.

Yes, a zip-up collar.  That sweater designer made some interesting choices.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Scenes From A Helicopter Ride

It was Mr Bunches' and Mr F's 8th birthdays last Friday, and has now become tradition, Mr Bunches' present was "The Gift Of Transportation."  He's a nut for any kind of transportation, especially flying ones, so last year we did a plane ride, and this year, we found a helicopter to take him on:

So about 2 last Saturday, Sweetie and I and Mr Bunches and Mr F went to the Baraboo area airport -- Sweetie and Mr F to watch, with her parents, and me and Mr Bunches to CHALLENGE THE SKY! (TM).

We had to have a "safety briefing" before we got on.  The "safety briefing" amounted to: DO NOT GET CHOPPED IN HALF BY HELICOPTER BLADES, which I was told (by Cracked, so maybe it's not authoritative?) can't happen, but we were warned several times not to go past the doors of the helicopter and to be very careful around the rotors.

As it turns out "Safety Briefing" on a helicopter is sort of irrelevant, since nothing feels less safe than a helicopter, especially one with the pilot's door removed so he can enjoy the air and I can enjoy* feeling like I am going to drop out like a rock.


We got in, and put on our headsets:

One of us is a bold, intrepid pilot who someday will walk on the moon.
He brought his dad.

And then put on our regulation-model 'safety harness,' which is the exact same seatbelt that you would find in a 1985 Plymouth Gran Prix, and felt just as safe and secure.  

Our pilot then started the engine and by way of explaining what all those instruments were, pointed at the yellow light and said something about a clutch.  He was obviously a pro.  My favorite part was where that thing on the right appeared to be saying that the ground was already tilted in relation to us.  
I was also reassured by how often the pilot never seemed to look at his instruments.  

Then we took off.  Unlike airplanes, there's none of that stuff where you taxi and then begin to accelerate and then feel the air pressure lift you and hold you in the air the way God and science and probably Leonardo da Vinci* intended.

*or was it Charles Darwin? Never mind.

Nope. Helicopters rip you right into the air ("We don't need no runways," said our pilot, laughing) and then struggle to stay in the air every goddang second of the ride.  If you've ever been on an airplane, even a small one, you know that airplanes have a feel -- at least when it's not turbulent -- of smoothness.  This is because their wings make it very, very difficult for an airplane to fall out of the sky.

Helicopters, on the other hand, are a giant hunk of metal the weight of several SUVs that are simply yanked into the sky by sheer brute force of engine-ry and then held there -- hopefully!-- by that same brute force.  Helicopters' rotors have to lift them using that same Bernoulli principle but they're not just coasting around using air pressure to hold them up.  They are yanking themselves left and right and up and forward all at the same time and they even need a second rotor -- that deadly back one -- to keep themselves from being flung headlong around like so much flotsam.

And it feels that way.  I have never felt less safe than when I was sitting in that helicopter, and I've been in 7 car accidents.

The views were great, but, then, when you expect to die at any second, everything seems beautiful.

My views on the relative insanity of helicopter flight were not shared by Mr Bunches, who kept saying "WOW!" and "WHOA!" and who convinced our pilot to approach the landing area via a series of S-turns that had us twist so that one side or the other was parallel to the ground.  This is looking out the left side, directly below us at our shadow on the ground:

If you look closely, you can see my shadow gripping the seat shadow for all it's worth.

Mr Bunches loved it, though, and that's what counts.  That and that I didn't have a heart attack, which probably would've put a damper on the day.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Toasters: A Primer.

It occurred to me this morning that I don't really know how toasters work.  I was wondering specifically if they use a timer or simply go until they get just so hot and then shut off.  So I looked them up and learned:

-- In primitive times (1892 and prior) people toasted bread over open flames using grids or forks made for that purpose, but all that changed in 1893 when the first electric toaster was made by Alan Macmasters of Scotland. Even then, it took 17 years for toasters to be commercially successful, in part because of the difficulty in making heating elements and in part because electricity was mostly available only at night.

-- Early toasters cooked only one side of the bread at a time, and the half-toast had to then be hand-flipped to cook both sides.  People's lives became easier when in 1913 an automatic bread-turning toaster was created.

-- It's amazing to me that it seemed easier to rotate the bread than to cook it on both sides simultaneously.

-- Also, why was electricity mostly available only at night?

-- In 1925, the first dual-side toaster became available.

-- The next major innovation in toaster technology (USA USA USA) was automatic lowering-and-raising toasters that required no pushing of levers. Put the toast in, the machine does the rest!

-- That toaster sensed the heat in the center of the bread to determine if the toast was done, so regardless of what temperature the bread was when you started, it always toasted the exact same.  This is WAY better than my toaster, which is never re-set from its current position, that position being the exact one that Mr Bunches wants when cooking his Blueberry Breakfast Treats to the proper ("not too browny!)") texture, but despite us never moving the lever the toaster, which we bought for $10 at a drugstore, cooks everything to a different degree, sometimes barely toasting it, sometimes turning it to charcoal.  My toaster is far less advanced than a toaster a housewife would have used in 1942.

-- Actual sentence from the Wikipedia article I read to compile this list: " For home use, consumers typically choose a toaster type based on their intended use."

-- You can buy a toaster for as much as $399 at some stores but if you do that  you're an awful person.

-- Nowadays, most toasters use heat sensors, apparently, but I believe that mine uses a timer, because in mine the first toast is usually underdone, and that is a mark of a toaster that times things, as the heat elements are not as hot on the first round of toasting, with repeated uses meaning that later toast starts off hotter but cooks the same length of time.

-- Toasters in pop culture include the "flying toasters" screen saver on AfterDark for early computers, as well as a Jefferson Airplane album cover:

And "The Brave Little Toaster,"

which originally was not published as a kids' story because publishers thought the idea of talking appliances was too 'far fetched.'

Monday, September 08, 2014

Look how dark it is outside these windows.

That's because that picture was taken at 5:06 a.m.

By that point, Mr F had been up since 3:00 a.m., sitting in his room tapping and talking to himself. He woke up Mr Bunches (pictured, with castle, ogre and dragon) about 4, and so since 4 a.m. Mr F has been watching "Ice Age" while I tried unsuccessfully to doze on the couch and Mr Bunches played castles.

Meet The Character Blog Tour: Robbie.

The Meet The Character blog tour was created by Laurel Anne Hill (author of Heroes Arise and bronze medalist for book of the year) and sent to me by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, whose newest book, Seasons' Beginnings, is a fantasy tour de force and is available for pre-order now.  In her own post, Sandra let readers know about Kron, a man who has to choose between saving his family or saving the world from gods gone wrong.

My own character for you to meet is Robbie.  Remember yesterday when I mentioned that I'd gotten a book contract? I am going to be promoting the bejeebers out of that book, so you will eventually see it in your dreams.

The book is Find Out Who You Are,
and if it's any consolation,
you'll get 5% off the cover price when you pre-dream it.  

So in addition to walking you through the entire creative process that led me to have The #1 Bestselling Book Of [Insert year of publication here] I will also take opportunities from time to time to do other stuff that will make me as annoying as those "Head On" (TM) ads which you said you hated but by GUM you people bought that stuff.  If I can make my book the "apply directly to the forehead" of sci-fi novels, I will have fulfilled my destiny.

Anyway, my character!  Robbie!   Who is a guy in my sci-fi novel Find Out Who You Are (TM) and who I might add would be best played by [insert name of hot male actor in year in which book comes out].  Let's meet Robbie, shall we?

1. What Is The Name Of Your Character?

Um, Robbie. I said that already.  Weren't you listening?

2. Is he a fictional or historic person?

BOTH actually.  Actually, Robbie is historic because of the role he plays in the book and fictional because he's entirely made up, both in "real life" (i.e. that thing we're all supposed to be livign) and in my book world.

That's because Robbie is a "code" -- a clone of a human being whose identity was created or at least stored for a period of time as a computer program.  Which brings us to question 3:

3. When and where is the story set?

Like any proper sci-fi story*

*not counting Star Wars

, my own book takes place in the future, where science has progressed beyond ours, so one company** can do things like make clones of people and put computer-programmed personalities into those clones, and then sell those clones to other corporations and sports leagues and eventually THE WORLD.

**PS the "company" is not Burger King.  

And Robbie's one of those -- but as the main character of the book, he is a special code, one that is being sought by both the company's operatives and by a shadowy group of people dedicated to stopping the company's program.

Also, I wrote a science fiction book once that took place in the past but people were all like "PFFT. I do not believe that there would EVER be phones that attached to a wall with cords, and that game "Pong" sounds totally unrealistic."

4. What else should we know about him?

Well, start with Robbie doesn't know he's a code.  In that respect, he's not unlike many other codes who go about their business never knowing that their entire life has the exact same basis in reality as, say, Super Mario Brothers.  [NOTE TO SELF: Check to make sure that reference is still relevant to the Youth Of America.  If not, insert "Pac Man.".]

5. What is the main conflict that messes up his life?

I would say the fact that a major corporation and a shadowy network of underground operatives are both searching for him at the same time and more than willing to, say, kidnap him and hang him in a hidden room far below the corporate headquarters where a sexy blonde woman will interrogate him. That, and he's not entirely crazy about his job.

6. What is the personal goal of the character?

To figure out why he occasionally starts having the funny feeling that he's had other lives, and then people start shooting at him.

That's the "Meet The Character!"  The working title for the book, again, is Find Out Who You Are, and you can expect it to be ready to be downloaded directly into your frontal lobe right about Xmas [ ... ] .

Click HERE if you'd like to share the
entire contents of your cerebral cortex
on Twitter (TM).

The next author in this chain is Russ Bickerstaff; I know Russ from the time-travel story he submitted for the First Annual Indie-Pendence Day Anthology; you can read that story ("I Will Be A Jerk") here. Russ will be introducing you to Blake Morely, and you can get a jump on that by going to:

Russ Bickerstaff is a professional theatre critic and aspiring author living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and two daughters. His short fictions have appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Pulp Metal Magazine, Sein und Werden, and Beyond Imagination, among other places. His Internarrational Where Port can be found at:

Meanwhile, in the backyard....

"Dad, can we dig a hole?" Mr Bunches asked when we were just sitting around on the couch yesterday, and I didn't even try to think of reasons to say "no."