Along for the ride

Sun shone through the shifting leaves and dappled the stony path ahead.  That same breeze pushed against us, inconstant, cooling rather than cool.  I had dressed for chillier weather than this, had already shed my undershirt back at the car, and the wind through the trees did a perfect job of keeping me balanced, neither not nor cold.

Babe was recalcitrant.  Ten feet ahead of us, she balked again, stopping in the middle of the path.  I pulled gently on the reins, said “whoa” in a low voice.  Unsure as to whether Echo responded more to the sound or the motion.  My cousin kicked once, twice, on the sides of the large brown horse, which was enough to get her moving again.  I had already lowered my hands, and after a moment Echo stepped forward, continuing our slow progress through the forest.

A thing I had noticed: Echo wasn’t fond of mud.  The lead horse–I never caught its name–tromped through the soft patches that regularly crossed the stony path with no particular regard.  Babe seemed to follow it precisely; I never quite figured out whether that was the horse’s doing or my cousin’s, although I suspect the former.  Echo, though.  Echo wasn’t fond of mud.  She nosed around, looking for a different way through the patch.  Horses don’t mince, really, but she clearly preferred ways around the muck that involved getting less dirty than her compatriots.

I approved.  I’m not big on mud either.

A thing I had noticed: Echo wanted to be in the lead.  Or, at least, ahead of Babe.  Whenever the other horse stopped in the middle of the path–which was depressingly often, usually halfway up a mild slope–I had to pull back on the reins to keep Echo from passing the large brown horse (and my cousin) up.  We had been told to keep a horse-length between us, and to stay in the same order, and I was doing my best to follow those instructions.  My ride would come to a halt after a moment, waiting patiently while my cousin kicked Babe’s sides once, twice, to get her moving again.  This happened at least ten times over the course of the ride.

A thing I had noticed: Echo never needed to be kicked.  Not once.  Whenever Babe decided to actually move along, Echo would start again as well after a moment.  After the first ten minutes or so, her desire to be in the lead had mostly quieted down, and she kept herself at a distance from my cousin’s horse without me having to guide her.  The same happened whenever we made our way across one of the several streams on the trail.  I would bring Echo to a halt, and she would wait patiently until Babe crossed, and then would make her own way across without my guidance, without me goading her to move.

A thing I had noticed: I was, in effect, completely superfluous.  The horses knew the route, knew the process, knew how to behave.  The stony sloped path would occasionally shift under their feet, but it was clear that it bothered me and my cousin way more than it troubled the horses.  This was well-trod ground for them, literally and figuratively, and I was there merely as an overweight accoutrement, tolerated by the tan mare rather more than being needed by her.  Every time I tugged her head left or right to return to the center of the path–which was not often–it was because of a low-hanging branch, or a tree on the side of the trail that I might rub up against.  None of these affected Echo, only the gangly lump sitting inexpertly on top of her.

She did want to stop and eat grass, though, and I had been explicitly told to not allow that, to pull up on the reins and keep her moving.  That happened twice in the hour-long ride.  That was the sum total of my contributions to the process: stopping a horse from feeding itself.  Twice.

We saw a fawn, nibbling on the underbrush.  It eyed us warily but did not flee.  The horses, after all, were a regular occurrence there.  This surprised my cousin.  It did not surprise me.

I could barely hear the guide when she spoke–Cara?  It was only yesterday, and already the name slips from memory–thanks to distance and my troublesome hearing.  I didn’t mind.  What could she be saying that was very important?  Well, one thing: I wasn’t letting the reins down far enough for Echo to drink easily from the water when we crossed.  I finally figured that out, leaning far down the horse’s neck as she lapped at the burbling stream.  But the ride was the sort of thing better passed in silence, in the non-silence of any living forest, birds and animals chittering in the distance, the rustle of the canopy overhead as the wind swirled around us, the steady clop-clop-clop of the horses on the stones a contrapunto to the white noise of nature.

I had never ridden a horse before.  Cara (if that was her name) complimented me on how well I did, and I silently replied: how could I not do well?  I barely did anything.  Echo knew the way.  I was just along for the ride.

Weekly status update [0036/????]

This morning was the first time this fall that the temperature dropped in my house overnight below my AC settings.  I have never been so prepared for autumn.

  • The mad reads continue.  I did a rare re-read of a library book this week, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, because I had also checked out the sequel.  To be fair, I didn’t know for sure it was a reread until the first page, when I went “this seems strangely familiar,” sending me digging through my library history.  It was worth re-reading, though; it’s basically a more comic (and less cosmic) take on the premise of The Laundry Files, which is one of my favorite series of all time.  The sequel was good, too.  That said, the real star of this week is the book I finished about twenty minutes ago, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.  It was very, very good.  I cried a lot.
  • Quite a few puzzles, too, although the pace slowed down during the week as I realized that I have a lot of reading to do if I want to be done with the stacks before November starts.  That’s almost certainly not gonna happen, but I have to try the best I can.
  • The same goes for television; I’ve managed to watch an episode of Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine most days, but it’s been a while since I watched one of Luke Cage, and I haven’t picked up another dramatic show either.  That’s fine, though; I’m never going to feel bad about minimizing my time spent watching TV.
  • The only real event this week: there was a Hallowe’en shindig at my old workplace this Friday evening, and I finagled a +1 from someone.  It was nice to see folks–particularly the kitchen staff, who I miss like hell–even if I kept getting asked when I was coming back.  I’m glad I went, though.  It gave me an opportunity to taste a cherry-flavored Hint water as well.  They’re great.

Next week will be quite eventful; I have a cousin coming into the area for vacation, and we’ll be doing touristy stuff while she’s around.  Should be fun!  And then NaNoWriMo’s right around the corner…

Baby Bear brain

I’ve recently been working on getting one of my cousins into puzzles.

It all started back in March, when I was visiting back home.  I showed her the basics of sudoku with a kids’ book I had bought for my Mom.  (Would I put money on Mom having not touched that book since I left?  Yes.  Yes, I would.)  The ones that really grabbed her, though, were Fill-Ins; she told me later that she had bought a magazine of them and regularly worked on them in the evenings.

Cue me spending something close to $100 on various magazines and books for her, covering a wide gamut of puzzle types.  What can I say?  When someone seems to share a passion of mine, I want to make the most of it.  She’s actually coming to nearby Asheville next week on vacation, and I’ll be bringing her the second wave of puzzle books in person.

Teaching someone how to do puzzles “from scratch” has been an interesting experience for me.  I’ve been doing them since I was a kid; I used to walk around with a big brown tote full of puzzle magazines when I was seven or eight, and am still pretty bitter that my Mom threw them away sometime in the early nineties.  I only managed to save a single magazine from that apocalypse, a Dell Crosswords Spectacular from 1991.  It happens to have one of my favorite puzzles of all time, one I transcribed over a decade ago.  Here it is.  (The rules: make a single, Nikoli-style loop in the puzzle through the centers of the squares.  The numbers represent how many boxes in that row or column are part of the loop.)

That puzzle used to be the hardest one I had ever solved, and it took me years as a kid.  I’ve done tougher since, but going back to basics–as is necessary when you’re teaching someone who hasn’t been steeped in puzzles for the vast majority of their life–has been enlightening.  I get to experience the “a-ha!” moment of understanding, internalizing the ways that a good puzzle design works through someone else’s eyes.

I’ve also come to realize that, if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t really like very hard puzzles.  This was made crystal-clear by a particular puzzle that I recently worked on from a Japanese magazine called 超難問ナンプレ&頭脳全開数理パズル, which roughly translates to “Super Difficult Sudoku & Math Puzzles.”  It’s not lying.  The magazine contains a section of Slitherlinks, my favorite puzzle type, but even though I’ve solved literally hundreds of them the ones in this magazine regularly cause me to fail miserably.  You can actually play the breaking-point puzzle here, thanks to the Javascript version of Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection and my fastidious transcription.  I don’t recommend it, though.

Put simply, the puzzle is brutally hard, and at the end requires what amounts to “guessing wildly and see what happens.”  This sort of arbitrary “what-if?” logic sets my teeth on edge in puzzles of all types.  In fact, I personally see it as a kind of failing.  If your puzzle can’t be reasoned out from first principles, then I just don’t think it’s very good.  I did eventually solve the puzzle, with some help on a couple of deductions from an online acquaintance, but it wasn’t satisfying at all.  I didn’t get to the end with a feeling of accomplishment; I got to it with a feeling of defeat.

The problem is that a lot of very hard puzzles end up making me feel that way, whether I manage to actually solve them or not.  And so: yeah, they’re just not for me.  I can accept that, although it pains me to admit that there are entire swaths of puzzles that I’ll never like or enjoy because of simply being too hard for me to enjoy.

Puzzles that are too easy have a different sort of problem: they feel rote, mechanical, like I’m doing the pencil-and-paper equivalent of writing lines.  Which, uh, I guess is just writing lines?  I still do them on occasion–most Fill-Ins are like this for me nowadays, actually–and there is some satisfaction to be gained from the process, from taking a disorganized list of words or an empty grid and putting it all together the right way based on the rules of the puzzle; we humans crave making order out of chaos, after all.  But they’re like over-sweet candy: nice every once in a while, but not really meal material.

So, like Goldilocks, I suppose I like my puzzles neither too hard nor too easy, but just right.  Fortunately for me, the majority of Nikoli’s publications fit into that spot.  They have a couple of harder-than-average puzzle types (Heyawake being the biggest outlier), but most of their stuff is eminently doable even at the highest difficulty level.

I’ll still buy my every-other-month copy of 超難問ナンプレ&頭脳全開数理パズル, but it’ll mostly be to gawk at the ridiculous puzzles.  And then I’ll turn back to Baby Bear’s books and magazines, the ones filled with not-too-easy, not-too-hard challenges, and actually enjoy myself.

Weekly status update [0035/????]

This’ll be a short one; it was a very quiet week.

  • Reading continues apace, although I got “stuck” for a bit on The Two Georges, an alt-history novel by Richard Dreyfuss (yes, the actor) and Harry Turtledove, who I assume did all the actual writing.  It was a just-fine book, honestly; the real problem was that it was a 1000+ page book in a 450-page binding, which meant the font was tiny and single spaced.  It took a lot of energy to read.
  • Continued watching The Last Man on EarthBrooklyn Nine-Nine, and Luke Cage.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch another episode of OITNB.
  • More puzzles, including a ridiculously hard Slitherlink that, I think, has permanently turned me off of the ones in the Gakken publications.  There’s “interestingly hard” and then there’s “requires flat-out guessing or psychic powers,” and a few too many of their puzzles are of the latter type.  It’s a shame, because I find even the hardest ones by Nikoli pretty trivial at this point, but I’m not willing to beat my head against those crazy-hard ones, so…
  • Nothing meaningful on the videogame front.  I did learn that Zen got the license for Bally/Williams tables after The Pinball Arcade lost it, which has me very excited; I much prefer the polish of the Zen tables, so seeing them do real pinball rather than the fantasy tables they usually do will be very interesting.

Like I said, a very quiet week indeed, perhaps the most “just the usual” week I’ve had since I retired.  No complaints here, though!  Other than that there’s no way I’m gonna get through my stack of books before NaNoWriMo starts in a few weeks…

Plink-plink-plonk down the Memory Hole

A friend of mine was DJing on Twitch last night, a set mostly composed of chiptunes and music from the demoscene.  I asked if he had played satell.s3m yet, one of my favorite tracker tunes dating from when I first heard it back in the early ’90s.  (Well, actually, I asked him to play “satell.m3u”, because I got my mid-’90s formats with a ‘3’ in the middle confused.  Mea culpa.)  He had to download it–he was using someone else’s computer–but download he did, and a few tracks later: bam.

That got me to thinking of other excellent music I knew, which triggered a memory: at some point I had snarfed all of the MP3s off of some Japanese chiptune musician’s website; his specialty was taking music made for one chipset (say, the MSX) and transporting it to some other platform (say, the NES with the additional VRC6 chip).  Sometimes, like that example, that meant the new track had a bunch of additional instrumentation, but sometimes the conversions went the other way, a “demake” of sorts where a track had to be distilled to its bare essence.  Given that this was Inverse Phase DJing, he of Pretty Eight Machine Internet fame, I figured such demakes would appeal to him.

So I set about exploring the labyrinthine corners of my hard drive via find, at the same time trying to poke around on the ‘net to find this musician’s website.  I had success with the former well before the latter.

In fact, said website doesn’t exist at all any more.

This made me pretty despondent.  I immediately set about uploading the MP3s to Google Drive to give to Brendan, at the same time poking around furiously online in an attempt to find just where the hell these tracks had disappeared to.  I mean, there were literally hundreds of them; surely they hadn’t just evaporated into the ether?  (Spoiler: yes, and no.)

My late night searches proved fruitless, but at least my local copies finished uploading, and so I shared the link with Inverse Phase and a few friends on IRC, saying that I wanted the files spread around to keep them from falling into the Memory Hole.

A relevant digression: I used to have an account on the premier private music tracker on the Internet.  It was encyclopedic, overwhelming, enthralling; rumor had it that all the big-name electronic musicians had accounts on the site, scouring it for rarities.  Some artists uploaded their own music there to beat the promo-copy rippers to the punch.  And it had a wealth of rare CDs, up to and including albums that had never been officially released, uploaded by friends or family or the artist, just to help them get out there.  The site is no more, data trashed before the French authorities could get hold of the servers.

This isn’t a story about piracy, although I freely admit that said site definitely facilitated that.  It’s about the persistence of memory.  We will never know the contents of the Library of Alexandria.  We have lost forever untold masterpieces, art and music and writing, because they perished in flame or flood or mold in the back corner of a forgotten closet.

And yet, if we are not careful, in this age where we have enough storage to hold it all, we will still lose things due to a lack of diligence, or a company’s overzealous reach, or simply because no one knew there was something that needed saving.  Some day I’ll write about what we’ve already lost in terms of online-only games, but that’s another article.  But: we have already lost so much.  So much.

I woke up before 6am this morning due to a frankly hilarious dream–I won’t bore you with the details, because the details of other people’s dreams are the worst, except to say that apparently my subconscious knows the vocal harmony bits of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash even though I had to spend a half-hour searching frantically for the song, finally humming the “doot doo doo doo doo” bit into Midomi and having it actually succeed, my prior hard drive search an utter failure because for some reason I was convinced the dream-song was by Simon and Garfunkel–to find that a friend had downloaded the tracks from the Drive folder… but there were problems with several of them.  I looked, and sure enough: what were supposed to be MP3s were actually HTML files telling me that, sorry, that file wasn’t found.

Augh.  I hadn’t even rescued this from the Memory Hole.

So I set out with a bit more ferocity than the night before to track these down.  I realized that what looked like garbage in the ID3 tags in my terminal was probably Shift JIS encoded, and sure enough, that got me to an artist: 白亜R.  Oh ho!  Some Googling found me the old URL for the website, which no longer existed, but isn’t that what the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is for?

And, lo and behold, not only did I find the site in the Machine, but if I clicked the links for the missing files, the real MP3s played!  Turns out they had been crawled and stored in 2005 or thereabouts, before I managed to save the files myself.  Extracting them from the Wayback Machine required some mild shenanigans, but they were shenanigans I pulled off with ease.  I informed my friends that, hey, I had found the missing tracks to go along with the rest, and that they should download those too.

And so, even if just for a few people, I managed to keep at least one more thing from slipping down into the Memory Hole forever.

Speaking of which: here you go.  Enjoy–they really are excellent tunes–and share them around.  It’s just a tiny bit of media rescued from oblivion, but sometimes that’s all we can hope for.

Weekly status update [0034/????]

This is another hell of a week, but at least (mostly) not for me?  Thin comfort.

  • The trilogy that started with Ninefox Gambit stayed mostly excellent, although I wasn’t completely enamored with the conclusion.  Still, worth a read.  I also read a bunch of other books too.
  • Other book notes the first: I actually quite liked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is apparently Not The In Thing, but whatever.  (I’ll freely admit that its core “schtick” is one I’ve thought a lot about, which alters my judgment.)
  • Other book notes the second: Fortune Smiles is a fantastic short story collection by Adam Johnson.  One of the stories is very dark, but it warns you pretty close to the start, and if you read the book in chronological order you’ll be warned earlier anyhow.  This was another one of those “pick it up at random in the library” books that I almost certainly wouldn’t have ever picked on my own, so: yay library displays!
  • Other book notes the third: I’m in the middle of reading Harlan Ellison’s seminal sf collection Dangerous Visions; I can see how it would have been pretty damn transgressive in the late Sixties, although with the benefit of hindsight it occasionally has a whiff of Trying Too Hard.  Most of the stories are excellent, though, and as a whole it holds up impressively well.  My favorite bit so far isn’t one of the stories at all, but Ellison’s introduction where he tears into the whiny Old Guard and their complaints about how the new sf just isn’t the same as the old.  The fact that it could be taken almost verbatim as a tear-down of the modern “crisis” in sf that, for a while, centered around the whole Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy/etc. thing is delightful.  Everything old is new again, kids.
  • Despite continuing to read at a rapid pace, I also continue to check out library books at an even more rapid rate.  Half of my couch is covered in them.  I have thirty-five checked out right now, many of them huge tomes full of short stories that will take me forever to finish.  what am I doing
  • We had an extended game night Tuesday.  We played Concordia, one of my favorite games, and I did very poorly, coming in last.  Part of that was an idiotic play on my part in one of the final turns that cost me something like fifteen points.  I acted like a complete jerk at the end, though, so… I’m afraid I’m not a lot better about that whole situation than I was when I wrote about it last.  Ugh.  I’m not happy with myself about that.
  • Finished up Bojack Horseman season 5, which was amazing, and Jessica Jones season 2, which was… fine… I guess.  Started on Luke Cage season 2 and Orange is the New Black season 5.  I may actually drop that last one, which is veering dangerously close to the sort of “everything is miserable and you get to watch” modern take on TV that I just can’t handle.
  • I weighed myself on Thursday for the first time in, uh, almost a year, I guess?  I’m at 271 pounds; my best guess for how much I weighed when I started on this diet in late April is somewhere between 330 and 360 pounds, so I’ve lost something in the 60-90 pound range over a bit more than five months.  (In case you’re wondering, my goal weight is 180, which is technically overweight from a BMI standpoint but is actually on the line where I go from looking healthy to looking less so.)  That’s pretty damn good progress, even though I’ve got a long way to go.  I was also reminded that I should never, ever own a scale.  They ruin my  will with the irregular ups-and-downs.
  • Lots of puzzles, too; I’m finally getting to a point where I’m relatively confident in my Kakuro solving, and I continue to work on several other books and magazines on a one-off basis.
  • No prose, although I did finish up my Guide to the Cardpocalypse series.
  • I also came up with the core idea for my NaNoWriMo novel.  My current plan is to share that here as I write it (although probably not as body text, which would be overwhelming).  We’ll see if I still feel that way come November.
  • Mostly just the usual on the videogame front, although the launch of Hollow Knight on the PS4 made me buy it (again) and play it, since I find that sort of game way more suited to a big TV and recliner than my computer.  If you like Metroidvanias, I strongly recommend it.

Well, that was excessively long, so, uh… until next time!

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part six: Solitaire (and the end)

What if the Cardpocalypse is so bad that you are the last person on Earth?  Will there still be a use for that fancy-schmancy pristine Kem deck you pilfered from my house because, well, you knew I had one and I’m no longer around to fight you for it?

Well… yes.

But don’t play Klondike

Klondike is the game most people think of when they think of solitaire.  It’s the one that was built into Windows since 3.1.  It’s also a terrible game.

The problem with Klondike is that the majority of deals are impossible.  I do mean majority; some estimates put the win-rate of a perfect player at something close to 4%.  Those are awful odds, and you should never play Klondike again.

You will, because it’s the one solitaire you’re pretty much guaranteed to already know, but you shouldn’t.

If you want that Klondike feel but also want to win on the regular, try Westcliff; it has 10 piles of 3 as the starting layout, allows any card to be moved to an empty column rather than just kings, and is otherwise identical to Klondike.  It also comes out something like 90% of the time with intelligent play.

The (first) other Windows solitaire is great, though

Unlike Klondike, Freecell is absolutely worth your time.  It’s a high-strategy game with very few unwinnable deals.  But just because only one in ten thousand or so deals can’t be won doesn’t mean that you will win them all; there’s a lot of tactical nuance to Freecell that means it will take some serious effort to get good at the game.  It’s time well-spent, though.  This is one of those cases where the really popular thing is also a thing that should be really popular.

(Spider is a fine game too, but it’s a bit of a mess to play with physical cards, given that it requires two decks and involves a whole lot of shifting cards around.  If you want something good in that vein, Spiderette combines Spider and Klondike into a game that’s probably better than the former and definitely better than the latter.  It comes out about 15% of the time, which is low, so be forewarned.)

File this one under “pretty good”

Bisley is a neat, simple one-deck solitaire that allows you to build on a pair of foundations for each suit rather than the typical one.  It’s pretty high-skill with a reasonably high solvable probability (probably in the one-in-four range), and it also happens to be really easy to intuit if you’ve played other solitaires before, something that takes a while in a game like Freecell.

An appropriate, kablooey-ey ending

David Parlett is a fascinating man, having invented quite a few excellent games (such as Ninety-Nine, seen here earlier.  He also edited an excellent book on solitaires, which I keep handy because I’m a huge nerd.  It includes several games of his own devising.  One of the better ones is Black Hole, a game all about eliminating cards by bobbing up and down… or something like that.  Someone did the math and determined that almost 90 percent of the deals are winnable, so, y’know, that’s on you if you don’t succeed.  (He also has a Freecell variant called Penguin that’s supposedly pretty good, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t just play Freecell instead.)

And, as with the utter end of a bright shining star that a black hole represents–yes, I know it was probably a red giant and not actually that bright beforehand, you shush you–we also come to the utter end of this Guide to the Cardpocalypse.  Hopefully you’ve learned a few new games to break out at the table, or at least have some pointers to explore when you’re wondering what else you can do with that thin stack of pasteboard… or plastic, of course, if you’re doing it right.  I love cards, and I hope you do, or will, too.

Weekly status update [0033/????]

What a week.

  • Saturday, Sunday, and Monday: the storm that didn’t really hit us.  I had thoughts.
  • Most of my weekend time–and, actually, most of my time during the week as well–was spent reading.  I think I read something like twelve novels in the last seven days; I know for a fact that I read three just yesterday.  It was nice.  I particularly want to note the three Seanan McGuire novellas that start with Every Heart a Doorway and the three Ben H. Winters novels that start with The Last Policeman.  They were all particularly pleasant reads.  I’m currently in the middle of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, the first in another trilogy.  It had a bit of an impenetrable start, but I’m over halfway through it and enjoying it thoroughly now.
  • I also got back (at least temporarily) into watching television.  It’s Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine in the morning, then the just-released season of Bojack Horseman and season two of Jessica Jones in the afternoon.  Both of those are almost done, though; I’ll move onto Luke Cage for sure, and probably finally start the second season of Fargo as well.
  • Several of my old coworkers (and some that would be new, were I still working) were in town this week, and I was invited to a pair of group events.  Those were nice, but honestly the best evening was Tuesday, which involved just three of us having a long conversation about science fiction over dinner at the best local Tex-Mex place.  It’s always nice to catch up with folks, but I do much better in small groups than I do in large ones, and I’m delighted that someone reached out to plan that dinner.  (Thanks, Mike!)
  • The downside of said dinner: despite getting through a dozen novels this week, my library stack actually grew (in word count, if not volumes) thanks to suggestions-slash-recommendations from that extended conversation. Sigh.
  • Puzzles provided a nice series of interrupts over the course of the week.  Not just for me, too; I had Amazon ship a fat stack of puzzle books to one of my cousins back home, who had expressed interest in them back when I visited in April, and spent a couple of hours on the phone over the course of the week helping her work through some of them.  She seems pretty hooked, which gives me a good feeling.  Puzzles are awesome.
  • Nothing exciting on the video game front, though; I’m mostly taking a break after the heavy Creeper World action from the past few weeks, just maintaining my dailies in the handful of free-to-play games I still muck around with.  I really, really need to put Let It Die to bed.

I’ll finish up my Cardpocalypse series this coming week.  I know my tiny readership isn’t big on commenting, but: this is your final chance to get me to cover anything you think I’ve missed.  So, uh, get on that, I guess?

The warm equations

[Warning: This entry is darker than my usual fare.  It also makes heavier use of expletives.]

I fucking hate hurricanes.

That seems like a pointlessly true statement: who, exactly, likes them?  Jim Cantore, maybe (but probably not).  It keeps part of the NOAA in business.  Sociopath televangelists who “believe” that hurricanes are messages from God to repent our sins… much like the message that insists you call the 1-800 number emblazoned at the bottom of the screen to help fund their war against gays and the IRS.

It’s all well and good to wish (or pray, if that’s your thing) that a hurricane not make landfall at all, that it spin out over the ocean and mostly wish ill on pods of whales, but the moment they near the shore and start their unwieldy, unpredictable devestation, everyone’s plea becames: not me.

There’s the rub, though: isn’t everyone making that plea?  Everyone except Jim Cantore, of course, who has to go drive out into the middle of the damn thing, who is probably just going let’s get this over with so I can get dry for a goddamn change.

Hurricane Florence came aground this weekend; I spent a large portion of last week doing preparatory work for the event.  The fridge was filled, the shelf overflowed with Essential Hurricane Snax™, the spare bathtub used for the first time in several years in case I needed to bail water into the toilets so I could flush like a normal human being.  Stacks of books teetered on my couch, my Kindle Paperwhite charged back to full, crappy knockoff Yankee Candles squatted on the vanity in case the power went out and I had to take a leak in the middle of the night.

In the end, it was a non-event here in Lenoir.  Lots of wind–at times it felt like my house was about to take flight, a puddle-jumper take on The Wizard of Oz–and sporadic bursts of fine-drop rain that ended as abruptly as they started.  It’s easy to feel happy, even weirdly put-out: I did all that work for this?  Summer afternoon cloudbursts have been scarier than this shit.

But: New Bern.  A mother and child dead in Wilmington because of a tree that crushed their house.  In many places, the rivers continue to rise.  The flooding’s not over yet.

Not me, them.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m actually a competent human being, that I was actually as well-prepared for the situation as I could be.  I mean, it’s not that far-fetched; I’m from Louisiana.  I have memories of sitting wrapped up in a blanket on the covered porch of the house where I grew up, wet and getting wetter by the moment, while Hurricane Andrew dumped its trillions of gallons of water over southern Louisiana after it had decided that destroying most of south Florida was just not quite enough death and destruction.  This wasn’t my first major storm.

What if I could have, somehow, made the storm come this way?

What about everyone else in the area?  The people who weren’t as well-prepared, due to lack of diligence, lack of knowledge, lack of money?  How is that fair to them, just because I can handle it?

So: not me.  Let it be someone else, let the next town over have the long thin scar of the tornado, let the catastrophe be cozily distant, abstract and on the other side of an OLED display.  There is no such thing as a fair share of misery, so let mine be smaller, let my wishes be granted more often than those of the people sixty miles down the road, wishing just as fervently.  The equation is there; lives will be lost, homes destroyed, families shattered.  Just: not me.

I fucking hate hurricanes.

Weekly status update [0032/????]

I’m writing this one early, since it’s entirely possible that by the end of today I’ll be without power for a week or so.  That’s what I get for thinking that western North Carolina is all that different from Louisiana…

  • Speaking of which, a non-trivial amount of time this week was spent on preparations for Florence.  I bought a bunch of low-carb snacks, along with a lot of liquids (read: Coke Zero and, as an even bigger treat, Ginger Lime Diet Coke) to add thermal mass to my fridge, which is usually almost completely bare.  Charged spare phones and, vitally, my Kindle Paperwhite; checked out a metric ton of books from the library, washed every scrap of clothing I have, et cetera.  I’m as prepped as I’m likely to get.  Now it’s just a matter of lasting through the storm.
  • My reading binge continued, albeit at a bit of a slower pace.  Noir wasn’t as good as The Serpent of Venice (both by Christopher Moore); I actually really liked the latter, although I have no particular attachment to either The Merchant of Venice or Othello.  I thought it was quite a bit better than Fool, even.  Now I’m working on The Black Opera by Mary Gentle, which is good if dense… and glancing over at the 25 (!) other books I have checked out.  Woof.
  • I also played quite a bit on the computer.  Specifically, I finished off Creeper World 2 and its free Flash sequel CW2: Academy.  I really liked it, although the time pressures in a couple of the levels were very non-traditional for the series.  If you’re a fan of tower-defense-y RTS-y turtle-y indie-y games, the series will provide many hours of fun for not a lot of money.  It’s available on Steam.  Now to see if I can get Particle Fleet: Emergence working…
  • Still haven’t touched the code for Dudes.  Life got a little more hectic slash stressful than I like for jumping into something with that level of complexity.
  • I did find time to watch a couple more episodes of Jessica Jones, which seems to finally be picking up steam halfway through the season.  And the new episodes of BoJack Horseman dropped just this morning.  I watched the first one and see no reason to believe it won’t continue to be, for my money, the best show currently “on television” (whatever that means in the streaming era).
  • My order of puzzle books from Turkey finally came in after spending over a week in Customs.  I’m super-stoked about them; there seem to be lots of neat, interesting puzzles inside, even if some of them (like the traditional logic problems) will be forever cut off to me since I don’t read Turkish.  It’s every issue of the magazine ever published, and they only cost me $2 apiece even with shipping halfway around the planet, which goes to show just how big a price disparity there is on these sorts of things.

Right now I’m sitting in my comfy recliner, watching the wind steadily pick up in speed outside while I prepare to curl up with a book for a while.  I’ll post again here later this weekend, assuming I can.  See you on the other side!