My Goofy Dog

This has become one of Lady Byng’s favorite places to hang out:

Pot dog!

Lady Byng, hanging out in the back yard.


Yep, she’s a pot dog! (Yeah, I know, sorry. I had to do that.) This behavior seems pretty strange until you realize one thing: There’s only one place with sunshine in the whole back yard right now, and if Byng’s going to have to climb into a flower pot to find that sunbeam then by jing that’s what she’s going to do.

1

Different Planet, Same Sky

As I try desperately (and occasionally despairingly) to cross the 50,000-word mark for the thirteenth year, I’ve been pondering the world my story takes place in, and the following question: Is this our Earth or some other Earth? How many stories have you read that take place on a world with completely different geography, but the same moon as ours? Is it Earth or not?

My story takes place on a world that has been blasted to ruin. The civilization before the cataclysm was very different from our own (at least on the surface), but there’s that big ol’ moon lighting the way for Wolf and Joe as they cross the wasteland. Is that riverbed the former course of the Rio Grande? The Vltava? The Nile? Or is this some otherworld that just happens to have a big, fat moon like ours?

Or maybe I should just stop thinking so much and get to typing. I have a lot of words to go.

Parking Postits

I’d like to have a set of post-it-style notes printed up, with a variety of messages for a variety of parking situations. Some of the messages might include:

  • By what definition could this vehicle possibly be considered a compact?
  • This is a nice car! It would be a shame if it was damaged because you never learned to park. Just sayin’.
  • One slot per car, asshole.
  • I don’t care if the Amazon Kindle team is packed into way too small a space. That doesn’t mean you can use our parking garage.

The last one is fairly specific; and honestly if I were in charge I’d cut a deal with Amazon and lease them bottom level of our garage. The others, though, I think you can appreciate.

2

The Usual End-Of-Year Apple Reminder

If anyone out there I know is thinking about buying Apple stuff — we make computers and whatnot — I can get folks a modest discount. I get a set amount of discounts to hand out each year, so if no one uses these discounts by Dec 31st, *poof*, they are gone.

Friends don’t let friends by Apple gizmos for full price.

1

When Phones and Cars DO Mix

I’d heard whispers about it in the shadows, seen the knowing glances between those in the loop, and recently I’ve become one of them. I’m a Wazer.

I am required to be at an office during what we call ‘normal business hours’. That means I’m driving to my office in the morning and home from the office in the evening, along with all the other NBH drones. Some mornings, the 12-mile trip can take an hour. That’s not good.

Along my route are some key decision points. It’s shortest to turn left at Curtner, but that ramp onto the freeway can get massively backed up, to the tune of fifteen minutes. On those mornings it’s better to stay on the surface streets for an extra mile.

But which mornings? How can I tell in advance whether Curtner is a mess? Enter Waze, the social mapping service. Waze takes real-time data from drivers like me and finds the fastest route to work (and, perhaps more importantly, home again). Sometimes those routes use streets I never would have thought of, but I ignore the advice at my peril. (Monday, I thought I knew better than Waze. Boy was I wrong.)

Waze is a bit quirky; right now it tries to steer me around one intersection at all costs — including cutting through a cemetery as an alternative. I have no idea why it developed an allergy to that right turn, and I suppose a true Wazer would log in and fix the map. Even the maps themselves are crowdsourced. It’s pretty cool.

You should be aware, however, that Google just bought Waze for a cool 1.1 Billion, so as I drive I’m telling the Goog where I am. If you use Google maps you’re already doing that, however, and I think this is a case where a voluntary surrender of personal information (with a very short useful shelf-life) actually makes the world better. Perhaps I just think that way because I really hate traffic. I decline to advertise my location on Facebook, and I hope all you have more common sense than to do so.

Another very useful phone-related product I came across recently is actually a gadget/app combo. You may have read recently that I’ve been tinkering with my car so that it will pass the California emissions test. I made some repairs and pulled the fuse that powers the onboard computer and counted thirty seconds, which should reset it. Even if the Check Engine Light is off when I get to the smog place, if there are old error codes in the computer’s memory, I will fail. Again. I know this because that’s why I failed the first time. The Check Engine Light had been on, and that was enough.

So I cleared the computer. Probably. Maybe. After my first round of repairs the light came back on (I had broken a plastic bit during the first operation) so I made my second repair and pulled the fuse for 30 seconds. Once again, there was no way to tell if I had actually cleared the memory. Just in time, help arrived via the U.S. Mail.

You see, during this whole process I was frustrated that I couldn’t just check the damn computer myself. (Once you fail smog, all except a few specially-designated repair places aren’t even allowed to hook you up. Bah!) Then while reading a Miata forum I found a discussion of which OBD tools worked with 1999 Miatas. A light turned on over my head. I could buy my own damn code reader! That had quite truthfully never occurred to me. I went to Amazon and started looking around. There was one hitch that made me hesitate: Units were either a) really expensive; and/or b) not sure to work on my car. Although there is a standard connector, different cars communicate with different protocols. I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money for something that didn’t know my car’s dialect.

Then I came across one that was both cheaper than any of the others AND low-risk! BAM! For $21 bucks I bought the Elm327 WIFI OBD2 Car Scan Tool. There’s a cheaper BlueTooth version, but there was some indication that it might not work on all iOS devices. Why is this one more likely to work with my car? Here’s the thing: The gizmo doesn’t know diddle about protocols. That’s software. So if one phone or computer app can’t talk to my car, another will. And now the UI can be presented on a sophisticated touch-screen computing device, rather than a cryptic LCD readout with arrow buttons for controls.

When the ELM-327 arrived I splurged and got one of the most expensive apps available to talk to it, based on reviewers saying it worked no problem with their ELM-327’s. Ten bucks. For a total outlay of $31, I had a scan tool that not only worked far better than dedicated devices costing hundreds of dollars, it had a better UI, and could even display a host of real-time data as I drove around! Speed, rpm, air volume, battery voltage, and more. Some modern cars provide a ridiculous amount of information through the OBD port. The app I chose, OBD Fusion, can log data and even superimpose that info onto a map. Racers, apparently, love this stuff.

My smog guy was really impressed as well. He actually laughed when I revved my motor and the virtual tach needle swung upwards. He was excited that he could prescreen customers in the parking lot, quick and easy. I expect he owns one of these now.

And in fact I had not successfully cleared my computer by pulling the fuse, but with my gadget and my app I cleared the old codes and ran the car until all tests had come back green.

This tool is a game-changer for even an unsophisticated home mechanic like me. Knowing the code and being able to look up the repair on the Internet literally saved me hundreds of dollars. (I know because I once paid hundreds of dollars only to have the problem return a few months later.) It also confirmed that my speedometer is a wee bit off.

And next road trip I’m totally going to make a map of engine RPM along my route. Because the world needs to know stuff like that.

3

November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo returns, and with it the public airing of my first night’s work. Thanks to all y’all who suggested ideas for me to write this year; it may or may not be obvious which one I chose from the following excerpt. Had a chat with my sweetie after I wrote this bit and I’ll be going back and inserting a fairly disturbing event, but here’s the first two chapters of what I did last night.

The usual disclaimers apply: I haven’t even reread this, so errors likely abound. I’m about to take this setting and try to turn it into a story, but so far I have no story in my head, just a regular superhuman guy and his daughter getting by in a harsh world.

The End

Chapter 1

By mutual consent they paused to rest beneath the tree that separated their dusty fields. Dot leaned the plow against the tree’s rough trunk while Joe shrugged out of the harness, sweat staining his tattered shirt where the straps had lain across his skin. Dot sat carefully, cradling her gravid belly with both hands. She sighed heavily, her cheeks puffing out, and closed her eyes. Beneath a sheen of sweat her face was gray. Her loose tunic blended with the bare earth between the tortured roots of the tree.

They didn’t talk about her sickness. There was a lot of things they didn’t talk about. The race between the malignancy that would destroy her and her unborn child. Who — or rather what — the father was.

Joe stretched his back, flexed his shoulders. On her side of the creek, the dirt was turned and ready for planting, the soil almost white in the unforgiving sun. On his side, stubble from the last crop limp and dry. Beyond the fields, nothing. Poisoned soil dotted with stumps and rocks, impossible to till. It had been a mighty forest, once.

He wondered why they were doing this. Plowing their fields, as if either of them would be around when harvest-time came.

“Water?” he asked.

“Yes, please.”

Joe stepped cautiously down the embankment to the edge of the stream. The water moved sluggishly, weighed down by green scum. The swarms of insects left him alone as opened the pouch on his waist and extracted his water kit. He put the fine mesh filter over one of the cups and scooped water with the other. It took two minutes or more to pour the water from the first cup through the filter and into the second, but there was no reason to hurry. There was never a reason to hurry anymore.

He took the water back to Dot. She drank it down in one go. Joe took the cup back from her and returned to the stream. When he got back, her eyes were closed. He put the water near her, but no so close she might knock it over by accident, and returned to the stream to refill his deerskin water bag.

Fifteen minutes later he returned to find her watching him with haunted eyes, her sandy-brown hair shifting with the listless breeze. He sat facing her, and took a sip.

“How are you going to feed her?” she asked.

Another thing they didn’t talk about. Not until now, apparently. Dot was certain her child was going to be a girl. Joe had no reason to doubt her.

“I’ll find a way,” he said. “Don’t worry.” As if he could say anything else.

She was staring at him now, and he was sure she was going to say something else. Something that demanded an honest response.

“Do you regret it?” she asked.

Joe thought for a while before answering. He almost didn’t answer at all. He wasn’t sure what she was referring to—probably the night they had slept together, after she had learned she was going to die. The night they had created a new life they had no means of sustaining. But she might have meant a thousand other things, large and small. “No,” he said, and it was mostly the truth. “Unless you mean the time I let you cut my hair.”

She smiled, showing gray teeth, then her face went slack again, as if exhausted by the effort. She made a listless effort to push a stray lock of hair away from her face. “That didn’t turn out well, did it?”

He passed a rough hand over his close-shorn scalp. So much easier than the long, black waves of hair he had worn back then. “It turned out OK, in the end.”

“She’s going to be all right.”

Joe nodded, wondering where she had found that confidence and wishing he could share it.

Dot pulled her feet underneath her. Joe jumped up and helped her stand. “That field’s not going to plow itself,” she said.

Joe hefted the plow and harness and stepped carefully over the creek. He went back to help dot across and up the slope, then shrugged into the harness. They probably shouldn’t have rested so long; now they would not be able to finish before nightfall.

Chapter 2

“Wait a second,” Dot said.

Joe relaxed in the harness. He twisted around to look at her, but couldn’t when bound by the hardened leather straps. “You want to take a break?”

“We hit something. Huh.”

Something about the huh made the hair on the back of Joe’s neck stand up. “What is it?”

“I don’t know, but…”

Joe tried harder to turn around, partially shrugging out of the harness. Dot was crouching, knees far apart, one hand under her belly, the other holding a perfectly spherical object.

Joe’s heart tied in a knot, refusing to beat, and his lungs became stone. He dropped to one knee as stars danced at the edge of his vision. “Shit,” he said.

The artifact—there was no doubt, this was an artifact—lay in her palm, the size of an apple (Dot had never seen an apple), black to the point that it was an absence in the world, rather than a presence.

“It’s warm,” Dot said.

“Put it down!” The scream tore from Joe’s throat, edged with hysterical panic.

She flinched and dropped it, pushing it away from her. Joe dodged as it landed right in front of him. Dot was pushing herself away from him, her eyes wide. She stopped when she was about ten feet away. She swallowed and collected herself. “What is it?”

Joe took a ragged breath and regarded the orb. He didn’t recognize it, but that didn’t matter. “Trouble,” he said.

“It’s an artifact?”

Joe nodded.

“What’s it doing here?”

Joe shrugged, hoping he wasn’t betraying the churning in his gut. How far into the future do you have to see to arrive at the blade of a plow here, now? Long ago someone dropped this thing here, and it stayed buried until circumstances suited it. But had the artifact reached its destination or were the two—three—of them just the next step to get it where it wanted to be? “You can never tell with these things,” Joe said.

“What do we do?”

Joe stared at the thing, tried to look through its perfectly-black surface to see what purpose it might conceal. Run away! some prudent part of his mind shouted. “I don’t know,” he said to Dot.

“I—ugh” Dot’s face contorted.

“What’s wrong?”

She smiled, and for a moment her skin flushed pink and healthy. “It’s time,” Dot said. “She’s coming.” Joe had seen that look before, on the faces of soldiers who lay dying after a victorious battle. Dot would not survive childbirth, but her daughter would.

Joe lifted her in his arms and carried her to the hut that served as her home. He laid her on the straw-filled mattress that served as her bed and dripped cool water on her forehead. She was burning up. She clung to his hand. “I’m frightened,” she said. Her face contorted with pain again.

“I am too.”

“You’re supposed to tell me I’ll be all right, you idiot.” Another wave of pain hit her and Joe could hear her teeth grinding together.

“You’ll be all right.”

She was breathing fast and shallow now. “Too… late…”

Joe wanted to stand, to pry her hand off his, to get the hell out of there. To be anywhere else. Dot was about to be dead, and nothing was going to change that.

“Bring it,” Dot said.

“Bring What?”

“The…” she grimaced again. “The thing. Out there.”

“No.”

“It can help her.”

“No.”

“It came to find her.”

“To use her. It might just want her blood. Tomorrow I’m going to dig a very deep pit.”

She contorted as the next spasm tore through her. “Bring it.”

“No.”

“I…” Dot moaned and words were done. In the terrible hours that followed, the baby arrived, Dot departed, and Joe wondered what he might have done differently.