I’m not sure, but I think I just saw Stephen Hawking in a car commercial. I’m not sure what to make of that, considering he can’t drive. It’s kind of like draping a supermodel over the hood. Nothing much to do with the actual car at all. But… I’m a little proud to live in a world where great intellects can make a few bucks with commercial endorsements.
About a week ago I decided it was best to release episodes on weekdays, so I decided to wait until Monday to unleash Episode 23. Whups. The good news is you won’t have to wait so long for the next one. This episode is more about intrigue than overt action, but Martin does do something he’s likely to regret.
On the writing front, Episode 24 is rolling down the release ramp. The events in that episode were not part of the original plan, but they really help the next few episodes make more sense. It also pushes off for yet another episode that will allow me to release the rest of Bags’ backstory. But it will come, I promise. In other news, I have set aside a chunk of time to whip out the next backstory; I will be reaching out to the Mighty Benefactors to see if they want Kat (as I originally promised) or whether they would prefer someone else.
Please enjoy 23: The Well
Here’s a picture of the first paragraph, to slow Facebook scrollers. This picture is certainly not worth 1000 words.
If you haven’t already figured this out by the thousands of radio stations firing off memes on Facebook, let me spell it out for you. “Likes” are worth money. Here’s the part maybe you didn’t know: Likes can be sold.
My Facebook news feed is clogged with shit like, “LIKE AND SHARE IF YOU DON’T THINK CHILDREN SHOULD BE BEHEADED AND LEFT FOR THE VULTURES.” Or maybe “LITTLE CINDY-LOU IS DYING OF CANCER, LIKE AND SHARE SO SHE CAN SEE SHE IS LOVED ALL OVER THE WORLD. ONLY 2% WILL LIKE AND SHARE. ARE YOU ONE OF THEM?”
It’s always 2%.
Perhaps you say to yourself, “gee, I’m actually kind of against beheading children.” You like and share. Otherwise, you’re implicitly in favor of juvenile decapitation, right?
A few weeks later you get an item in your feed about vacations in Mexico. Not a sponsored item, mind, but a notification from a page you liked. “The heck?” you think to yourself. “I don’t remember liking anything about travel in Mexico.”
And in fact you didn’t. The Travel site bought your like from the child-beheadding page.
Well, to be more exact, they bought the page itself, likes and all, then just switched in their own content. People are making a sound business out of creating pages, getting likes any way possible, then selling the page.
These days, I block almost every item in my Facebook feed thingie that says “like and share”. When you look at the name of the source page, it’s amazing how often page name and content don’t match. Even when they do, I block. Don’t tell me what to like, Chumley, and I share only the good stuff. Which is maybe one thing a month.
I promised a few months ago a more detailed discussion of one of the cornerstones of the American Military arsenal, and with all the candidates saying quite correctly that their opponents are making promises without explaining just how we’re gong to pay for these new programs, I’d like to make a modest proposal.
Let’s start this little talk about the airplane with a parable. Imagine a father taking his kids to the gun store. Katie is a duck hunter, and she’s starting to excel in trap shooting as well. She needs a new shotgun to get to the next level. Young Roger loves deer hunting (he eats what he kills, of course), and needs a new rifle. Little Joey needs a semi-automatic, while Sally needs the rugged dependability of a revolver.
Naturally, they all have to have the best of each weapon.
At the gun store, the clerk helps them make wise choices and then lays the items out on the counter and totals up the price. “Holy moly,” Dad says. “I can’t spend that much. Mom would be pissed.”
“Well,” says the clerk, “If you buy five of the same type of gun, I can give you a discount.” With a smile the shopkeeper pulls out an odd-looking firearm. Shortish, largish barrel, pistol grip. “Here’s the shot-rifle-pistol guaranteed to work for all your kids!”
Dad looks at each of the kids. They’re all glum. None of them want the thing, but each believes that if they say no, they won’t get anything. Dad takes a deep breath and says, “Ok, I’ll take five.”
The shopkeeper then presents him with a bill that’s more than the five specialized guns were! “What the heck?” says Dad.
The shopkeeper heaves a weary sigh and says, “Look, a gun that does all those things is pretty impressive. But if we need to cut costs more, we can special-order ones with plastic barrels. Plastic’s really strong these days. Probably even strong enough for a rifled shotgun barrel*.”
The kids are a little bit stunned when dad says “OK”, and plunks down the credit card, without even looking at the “shipping and handling” charges on the special order, that make it even more expensive.
By now you’ve probably already figured out my little allegory. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the swiss army knife that costs as much as a set of fine cutlery, but does no task well (except cost money). The branches of the military all need planes that can fly and blow stuff up, but the Air Force doesn’t land on aircraft carriers and the Marines don’t mess around with air-to-air combat. They leave that for the guys with the right tools for the job, while they pummel bad guys dug in 1000 yards from where the good guys are. It’s more than just even the planes, it’s the training of the guys flying them.
The plastic barrel? To meet budget targets, the plane was built around a single engine. No plane has ever asked for more thrust from a single engine, and parts keep breaking. Much like the first jets ever built by the Germans, our materials just can’t handle the stress from trying to squeeze so much thrust from a single engine.
And even pushing that engine to the limits of our current abilities, the plane is still woefully underpowered. In part this is because the thing is loaded down with all the gizmos and attachments the different branches need. You could make an extremely capable airplane around that engine if you decided ahead of time what its mission was.
Back to the gun store allegory: The first of the special-order guns arrives, dad pays the bill, and turns around to his kids. “Who wants to the the first?” he asks. He is met with sullen indecision. The gun has no range, no spread, no stopping power, and is cumbersome. “Maybe Joey should try it first,” ventures Katie. “It’s gonna take all my allowance just keeping the thing working.”
Now up to this point, Mom and Dad have been pretty together on this. Save money, get the kids what they need. Mom leave most of these decisions to Dad, however. But Dad knows he has a lemon, so he goes back to the gun shop to cancel the rest of his order.
The gun shop owner is contrite. “Yeah, we’ll fix those things,” he said. “for a very reasonable price.”
“No more!” says Dad. “This deal is off!”
“Is it?” The gun guy says. “Tell you what. I’ve got a thousand dollars in chips at the nearby strip-joint/casino. Go on over there, cool off a bit, have a beer, get your head together, and come back and we’ll talk. Mom doesn’t need to know.”
Eventually Dad comes home and says “Good news, kids! You each get two rifle-shot-pistols! I know you’ll learn to love them when I take your old stuff away.”
And that’s why we have the F-35 Flying Turd.
Full disclosure: I can’t prove that politicians are taking bribes or Citizens United-style payouts to keep the program alive. But I do know that the plane is terrible. And expensive.
Here’s the modest proposal I mentioned way up at the top of this ramble: Let’s right now cut every weapons program that doesn’t work. We can start with the F-35 “Flying Turd”.
Boom! Free college for everyone!
I’m not saying we shouldn’t continue to put the best possible weapons at the disposal of our military. Quite the opposite! I’m saying only put the best possible weapons at their disposal. Maybe Katie gets her new shotgun first (Katie is the Marines). Her new weapon won’t be equalled for a long time; it’ll be a tough airframe, nimble at low speed, that can bring the hurt.
The others will have to wait their turn, but each will get a tool that’s right for their job, and one that will not be obsolete next week.
What will be the legacy of the turd? Will it be a dead-end project that yielded great tangential value by forcing us to find near-impossible engineering solutions? Or will it be the plane that kills pilots and marks the end our our air dominance?
If Dad can’t decide, maybe it’s time for Mom to put her foot down. (We’re Mom.)
* for those without firearms experience, a rifled shotgun barrel is stupid.
And it’s a big’n! For those who started reading when this story was still known as The Fantasy Novel I’ll Likely Never Publish, this passage into the unknown carries extra symbolism.
While rain falls only to be turned to steam, Martin is the first witness to the slaughter at Brewer’s Ford. Nothing remains above ground; any answers that may still exist lie below. Down he goes. When he reaches the bottom, Martin makes a promise. The sort of promise that Martin generally scoffs at.
I delayed publishing this episode a little extra to make sure that commitments I make now will work going forward. Episode 24 is kind of a tipping point, plot-wise, and I need to be careful running up to that. Or maybe I’m just thinking too hard.
Anyway, please enjoy Episode 22: Into the Darkness. In order to suck up to Facebook scanners, I’m including a brief passage, rendered as an image. Because words that aren’t images are, apparently, boring. If this doesn’t work, maybe I’ll superimpose the text over Captain Picard.
On Tuesday I left work early. “I’m too happy to work,” I told my boss.
From a strict cash-for-what-you-do basis, Apple has a reputation for being rather cheap. The unofficial, cultural response is, “if money is your driver, then Google’s right down the highway; you’ll get along nicely there. And there’s always Facebook *snerk*.” There will always be somewhere else I can work that would pay more than I will ever make at Apple. But when other companies ask, I just give an over-the-phone shrug and tell them I’m not interested.
Compensation is about more than cash, and all the other monetary incentives. I work with exceptional people. I have a life outside work. I am challenged every day. I just plain love my job.
But until Tuesday I was underpaid even by Apple standards. My boss for the last year and a half has been steadily pushing that line, however, and Tuesday was a big day. Thanks, boss, I’ll he heading out early!
A little perspective: from a strict cash-for-how-hard-your-job-is standpoint, I’m already at Maximum Plaid. You could offer me twice what I’m making now to dig ditches and I’d scoff at your offer. Scoff! Ditch-digging is hard work! And of course I’d instantly be pushed out of the market by more competent ditch-diggers anyway. But miraculously (for me) what comes easily for me is also highly compensated. Sure I live in a trailer park, but it’s a very nice trailer park. A teacher wouldn’t be able to do nearly as well. Or a cop, or a nurse. Or the EMT who one day will save my life.
When I catch myself thinking about what I “deserve”, I do my best to remember that I already get way more than I deserve, unless I compare myself only to other geeks. But I have to say it’s nice to finally be measuring up on that scale.