Someone’s Messing With Me

Driving yesterday, I had the thought: “Someone has replaced New Mexico with an exact duplicate, except without orange barrels on I-25.”

1

12 Hours and One Minute Until Dawn

I looked at my watch, and that’s what it just told me. Seems like a title for a story.

1

Still Searching for the Electric Roadster

Before I go too far down this rabbit hole, we should all make note of the fact that it is entirely possible that I will never buy another car, and that the roadster I currently own (a 1999 Miata) almost never leaves the garage. I have the battery hooked up to a trickle charger and I use my bike pump to keep the tires from going too flat.

But still, every once in a while, I go looking for the “electric Miata” — a simple and spirited little car made for top-down fun. I want this vehicle to exist. There was a time known as the 1980’s where no one thought there was a market for a fun little two-seater, and then Mazda introduced the Miata and bang the genre was reborn. I’m looking for the company that does the same thing, but electric.

It’s a challenge, to be sure. Batteries are heavy, and weight is the last thing you want if your goal is a nimble little car. That fact alone is probably why my dream has not already been realized. I get that. But I dream.

“What about the Tesla Roadster?” you ask. I will not go into detail here, but the original Roadster has value only as a collector item and the fabled new roadster is a preposterously expensive supercar that isn’t actually a roadster at all. What about Detroit Electric? Audi? BMW? The list goes on. All preposterous supercars and not a ragtop to be found.

Part of this, again, goes back to the weight. If it’s going to be heavy, is has to be powerful, and it has to stay very low to the pavement if it wants to turn corners at any speed. I get that. But I dream.

MG, the famous British company whose name is synonymous with “fun (as long as it isn’t broken)”, is now owned by Chinese giant SAIC, and the badge adorns SUV’s over there. But apparently some guy in that company remembers what MG used to mean, and MG has been working on an electric vehicle to pay homage to that heritage. Here at last, I thought, would be the electric that captured the true roadster feel.

Dubbed (I kid you not) “Cyberster”, the MG concept absolutely does NOT capture that feel. It is just another electric two-seat supercar in a market with about as many offerings as customers.

Mazda has now said they will “electrify” the Miata by 2030. But they probably mean hybrid, because, well, batteries are heavy. I’ve long wondered if the Wankel Rotary is well-suited for turning a generator; maybe we’ll find out.

Perhaps what I want is not possible with current technology. In fact, go back and remove the “Perhaps” from that statement. But I still want it! And let’s face it; a battery-encumbered Miata would still out-corner the 1974 Alfa Romeo I used to love to drive.

And there’s the thing. I get the weight. But the people choosing what cars to build don’t get the feeling of being out on the road on a chilly night, top down, heater blasting, moon washing the landscape. They don’t get the drives across the desert where sunscreen is a constant activity. They don’t get that the vanilla smell of ponderosas is part of the magic of weaving up a mountain road. They have never looked straight up and seen the sun shine through the feathers of a golden eagle coasting over the baking blacktop.

They do not love the road as deeply as I do. The motion, the air, the adventure. Someone should put me in charge of a car company (actually, they really shouldn’t). Then my company could make the car we all want.

For symmetry with the start of this episode, also note that in the unlikely event that I actually buy another car, it better drive itself so I can take a nap before I get where I’m going.

A Very Ordinary Genocidal Sociopath

I thought I’d celebrate the day with a link to an article about Cristopher Columbus over at defector.com: Christopher Columbus And The Replacement-Level Historical Figure. If you’re not a sports fan, you might not have seen the phrase “Replacement Level” that is used in the title. In sports, as statistics become ever-more sophisticated, you come across the question “how much better (or worse) is this athlete compared to a completely average person doing the same job?”

Patrick Wyman likes to ask that same question, but not about athletes, but about political and historical figures. Was Henry VIII exceptional, or was he just another Wealthy Asshole doing Wealthy Asshole stuff? What Wyman has discovered is that it is much more informative to look at the class of person who did something big, rather than to dwell on the name of the particular member of that class who actually did it. If it wasn’t them, it would have been someone else.

Back in the 1480’s, there were dozens of Christopher Columbuses sailing around. The one we remember might have been a little dumber than most of his peers (just about everyone else was correctly certain his estimate for he size of planet Earth was way off the mark), and maybe a bit more consumed with social climbing, but in every significant way he was a perfectly ordinary sociopath getting rich off the suffering and subjugation of others.

He would hang out with other, now forgotten sea captains, trading tips on how to most efficiently destroy civilization in Africa and how best to suck up to the various navies deployed to protect their evil trade.

Chris was just dumb enough to try something his peers hadn’t yet, but it was only a matter of time.

Would anything have been different if another captain had made the voyage? About the only difference is that other captain would have been smart enough to realize he had stumbled on an unknown continent and named it after himself, and the natives in this land would not be called “Indians”.

Other than that, the replacement-level sea captain would have still have been a genocidal racist, willing to kill thousands of people if it meant he could sell dozens. He would have used disease, intimidation, and rape to get what he wanted. Back home, he wold tell outrageous lies.

Yet we have a day in this country named after one slightly-below-average member of this club. We learned in school that he was a hero, now we are learning something closer to the truth. But both these narratives make Columbus someone special. He was not. There was a swarm of flies, and he just happened to be the first fly to land on the new world.

2

The Car in the Camp

There is a homeless camp near the Children’s Museum. I ride through it on my trips that start to the North. The camp is growing, as are all the tent cities along the river. We can all take credit for that.

The city does what it can to limit the harm, providing portable toilets and looking the other way when a chain of extension cords or even a hose reaches from the museum to the camp. In one of the most expensive towns in the world, it doesn’t take much to knock a family out of their home. At least some here are more concerned with protecting people and environment rather than assigning blame.

You see some pretty nice cars in the camps these days, reminders of where these people were before they lost everything. Tricked out rice rockets, European luxo-mobiles, big-ass SUV’s. The cars are memories now, tires going flat. Time, poverty, and desperation inevitably overcome all things, especially cars; decay is accelerated. The minivan parked by the tracks one day is a burned-out hulk the next.

In the camp by the children’s museum, there was a car on a trailer. I am not an expert on antique automobiles. My first guess was a 1950’s MG, but looking at pictures now, this car lacks the signature fender->running board line of the MG’s.

But it is a classic roadster of that form, and at first it was on a trailer. The trailer is gone now.

It is a negotiation I think I understand. Job is gone, home is gone, but there is one thing you hold on to. But even being homeless is expensive, especially if you want to escape it. Fees on everything. Do you keep your phone account or do you eat? The trailer is sacrificed to keep the idea alive that this is just temporary. That on the other side will be a life where the classic car means something again.

I wonder that someone down on their luck can’t find a friend with a garage to hold their car until things get better. But although this car is more conspicuous, as I said above there are many nice automobiles in this place, and the number is growing. And friends are hard to find when you have nothing.

I dread the day I ride past and the accelerated entropy has overcome this vehicle. It’s just a thing, metal and rubber and whatnot, and its only value is what we assign it. But it’s also a dream. It’s hope. It’s a lifeline someone is clinging to. I just wish I shared that hope.

3

Totally NOT a Robo-Call

I got a message on my phone from an unknown number. In a soft alto female voice the message said:

We’re sorry, an application error has occurred. Goodbye.

1

Progress Report on My Mountain

I had a good ride yesterday, 41 miles after I remembered to start the tracking software. It was a good ride through some awesome territory, but that is not the ride I want to tell you about right now. (Except to drop the official tease that 40 miles is about all my left foot is willing to do in my current shoes.)

No, today I want to tell you about a ride I took a couple of weeks ago. It was my most recent assault on Mt. Hamilton, or, as I call it, My Mountain.

My Mountain is a long, steady climb up a twisty-turny road, with an observatory at the top. After the first six miles of climbing (about one-third of the ride), there is a brief respite. My goal that day was to get farther than I had before; my stretch goal for the ride was to get to that 6-mile mini-summit. And I did it! 1500 feet of elevation gain (not counting the climb to reach the official start of the climb), just crunching along. After that point there is a small descent. I didn’t go down there, because I wasn’t sure I’d get back up.

It took me almost an hour to cover those six miles. That’s… not fast. In fact, one of the reasons I made it that far is that I have gotten better at riding very slowly. After the descent and the ride back through town to get home, I was demolished.

When I related the speed of my climb to my buddy John, he said (more or less) “Your goal is to get up there before you’re sixty? You should probably start now.”

Strava, the app I use to track my rides, happily compares my efforts to others who have ridden the same route. Out of curiosity, I checked how I compared to others who have made the same climb. My effort, compared to the best efforts of 14767 other riders is… pretty close to the bottom. I’m a little confused because looking at the numbers tonight I am no longer as close to the bottom as I was (by a long shot), but I’m still way, way, down in the basement.

But Strava compares each person’s fastest times. So of the 14767 other people who have ridden that segment, almost all have better bests than I do. But that doesn’t mean all their efforts were faster than mine.

And you know what? I take a certain perverse pride in crawling up the mountain at 6 mph and not quitting before I got to that point. It was not a sexy ride, but it was a testament to sheer bloody-mindedness. As an athlete, that more than anything else defines me. I am not stronger, or faster, or more graceful, but I am a stubborn SOB.

I just have to find the legs to triple that effort by the time I turn sixty in 31 months. Piece of cake, right?

1

A Helping Hand for Vets

We love the official little dogs of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas — even though Guilfoyle is a pretty major a-hole — and we love the people who have dedicated their lives to helping us keep the ODoMRHBIs healthy, even as their muzzles turn gray and their legs don’t have the spring they once did.

Lady Byng with blep

People who gravitate to that calling do it out of love, and let there be no doubt that the pups in this house are much better off for having a good doctor. And therefore I am better off as well.

I was surprised, and then not surprised, to learn that the suicide rate among veterinarians is awful. That job has some tough, tough, days. In fact, even the easy days are tough. So this month I’m riding at least 400 miles to raise awareness (and cash, of course), for an organization dedicated to giving these kind people some of the mental health resources they need.

If you have a caregiver for your pets whom you appreciate, or if you just think maybe mental health needs a bit more attention, then please consider joining the fundraiser yourself (you can even be on my team!) or simply donating and letting me do the work. Either path can start at my page over there.

My circle of friends is small, and not all y’all are living as comfortably as I am. So I want you to know right from the get-go that while I plan to do more to raise money for causes I believe in, there is no way in hell I expect any of my friends to answer the call every time. We all have to choose our battles. So thank you for reading this far, and if this is not the cause for you, that’s fine. (But if you know someone…)

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Hope It Floats

Today I rode Stevens Creek Trail for the first time, and it’s pretty cool: a tiny jungle wedged between a freeway and suburbs, with lots of engineering to overcome highways and the occasional railroad. As I approached the south end of the bay I passed Moffet field and the NASA Ames Research center. Just past that there was a pair of fancy new buildings going up.

“Huh.” I thought to myself, “I’d have thought that NASA people would know better than to create grand new structures at sea level.”

Ames Research Center and something Big and New

The hue of the image is due to smoke; this is the “new normal”, as the kids say. So – two big buildings with Major Architecture going up (only one pictured here), on land that is almost certain to be under water within the intended lifespan of the buildings.

I wondered how NASA could be so short-sighted, but it turns out they’ve worked a pretty good scam. After I got home I did some research.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to one of Google’s new flagship sites. I imagine the NASA people who leased Google the land are cackling at the prospect of getting anything at all for that doomed real estate. And maybe if Google is there, they will spend their billions to protect their investment, constructing dikes and pumping stations that not only will prolong the agony for Google but also give NASA a few more years in their own facilities next door.

The people who paid for that new fancy building must know that the ocean will soon be taking ownership of that land, right? They must know that clever geothermal piles (which sound pretty cool) will not alter the simple fact that the ocean is rising, and cares not how many dollars you have sunk into your new building.

I have many unflattering things to say about Google, but stupid was not one of them. But if the shoe fits…

Maybe the End of a Story, Maybe the Beginning

She stood naked looking out the window, limbed by the lights of the city. “You people,” she said.

From the deep hotel bed I said, “what people?”

She shook her head and after a moment looked back over her shoulder at me. It seemed, in that light, that maybe her light brown eyes were lit from within, but it was just the way her they caught the glow of the the television, I told myself.

“You people,” she said again. “You need something to fear. It’s wired in your brains.”

“Uh huh,” I said. The night was getting a little weird. I was for sure going to end up paying for the room, I could tell, no matter what she had said.

She snorted. “If you don’t have something concrete to fear, you will invent something.” Her eyes were definitely glowing now.

I pushed myself up against the headboard, pulling the sheets up with me to cover my frailty. My gut told me that there was no need to invent something to be afraid of at that moment. She watched me.

“You’re cute when you’re terrified,” she said, and turned to look back out the window. “It’s an honest fear.” She took a deep breath. “Delicious. Left to yourselves, that fearful instinct, combined with the power you suddenly wield, will certainly destroy you. There’s no doubt. That’s why I’m here.”

“To… help?” I was starting to feel the heat radiating from her body. She didn’t seem like the helpful type.

“Maybe,” she said. “Or maybe just to speed things up. I’ve been sent to simplify things.”

She waited for my obligatory leading question but my throat was dry.

She laughed. “I’m giving you something real to fear. It’s as simple as this: you people learn to work together and kill me, or I will cleanse this planet of life.”

“Simple enough,” I croaked, as I kissed my planet goodbye.

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A Sign of the Times

My local bike shop published a nice intro to indoor bike trainers today, breaking down the different types and the pros and cons of each. There was one section of the article addressing why one might want an indoor trainer, that included this:

You can get a great ride in regardless of rain, wind, smoke, or snow.

Smoke. A new weather condition driving us indoors. One we created all by ourselves.

Almost There

The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings & Half-Baked Ideas cut my hair today. She did a good job, but when done said, “I’m not an expert, and I hope never to be.” Amen to that.

I had gotten pretty shaggy, as the pile of hair in the picture will tell you. We thought, Official Sweetie and I, that my next haircut would be by a trained professional. We were almost there.

But it turns out we weren’t almost there. The groundhog poked his head up, saw rich people exploiting fear of the vaccine for profit and political power, and dove back into his burrow for six more months of plague.

As a result, I got my best home haircut since I was a kid this afternoon. I hope it’s my last.

 

Hmm…

I’m just going to leave this here.

The Beginning of a Fun Space Opera

“Everything will be all right.”

Tommy thought he heard those words, anyway; a soothing alto whispering in his ear. A lie, he was pretty sure. He tied to open his eyes, but he couldn’t, and he became aware that his head was wrapped tightly.

But as he emerged from his sleep he wanted to go right back. He was aware, distantly and intellectually, that half his body was on fire, but it was the other half, the parts he couldn’t feel at all that frightened him.

He had been flying, dodging, cursing, ducking between hulks of weird alien… things, sending the Feds crashing into each other while Mags did what she could with their little popgun, extracting every possible cost to those trying to kill them, but knowing, all along, that there were just too many of the bastards. Knowing all along that he was going to die.

He jerked in the restraints that held him now as he remembered the last hit his little ship had taken, reliving the moment his craft had been vented and Mags had gone cartwheeling into the void.

“Please try to remain still,” the voice said. “I am currently testing your mental function, then you will sleep again. Everything will be all right.”

His mouth was not bound. He worked his jaw, tried to force words through a throat that would not respond.

“The next time you are conscious, you will be able to speak,” the voice said.

He felt sleep return, but now he feared his dreams.

“Do not be afraid. Everything will be all right.”

* * *

The second time up the well, it was a slower climb. The pain was closer now, but still he was shielded from the worst. Out there somewhere his left arm was in agony as it slowly repaired itself. The right arm felt… odd. But it didn’t hurt. Tommy was pretty sure that was worse.

He could feel himself breathing now, he could feel the air passing over scorched and raw tissue in his throat and lungs. He could feel his heart beat. The top of his face was still wrapped tightly, but he could sense the room around him now. He was surrounded by almost-silent machines, machines that no doubt were keeping him alive.

A simple fact: shitbags like him did not get this sort of medical care. Ever.

The voice again, so soothing, but tinged with concern. “Are you able to speak?”

He opened his mouth, closed it, tried again, moving air through his abused throat until noises started coming out. “Huh..hii… is… everything going to be all right?”

She didn’t laugh but her voice sounded like it was colored by a smile when she said, “I believe so, yes.”

“Where am I?”

“You are in a medical bay, undergoing repairs.”

The million-dollar question: “Why?”

Did he hear that smile again? “I like the way you fly. Now sleep. You are safe for now.”

He felt sleep coming to him unbidden, and knew it was sedatives in his bloodstream. “For now?” he whispered.

He was sure he heard a chuckle as he drifted back into the blackness. “As safe as any of us are.”

Somehow he was all right with that.

* * *

Tommy might have been dreaming while he was under, but as his mind was released from the drugs this time the memories came.

Scavengers all lived for the big score; most of them died for it as well. When word filtered down about a new find of Old Tech, probably Gamma, it flashed through his little circle like a supernova. Someone who knew someone said that some of the Old Tech was fully intact. Even if that was an exaggeration, they were talking about El Dorado.

There are two kinds of people in the universe; those who stupidly believe Old Tech is valuable, and those who sell the shit to the first group. The equivalent of selling tunnel drives to cavemen. But some of those cavemen had serious cash, and dreams that they would be the ones to decipher the Old Tech and rule the universe.

Three kinds of people if you count the Feds, but they’re not actually people so much as cogs in a machine that understands that the devices are a source of power, but like cavemen they just hit the things with rocks to see what happens. They are organized cavemen, and what they have that the other cavemen don’t is a navy, and they will to use it to keep all the shiny objects they will never understand to themselves.

This interfered with the desire of the scavengers to sell the Old Tech to stupid rich people.

The ageless artifacts came in distinctive styles, which were named using the Greek alphabet in the order they were identified. Gamma sold the best. “Experts” at hitting mysteries with rocks said Gamma was the most advanced, as if they had any hope of actually understanding any of it. Gamma was bank, but most of it had been thoroughly demolished by weapons of power beyond comprehension. Intact Gamma tech was the Big Score all the scavengers dreamed of.

It was late when the three of them got together to discuss the news. They were drinking, and Mags wanted that loot. She leaned in towards him, her crazy blonde hair flying in every direction as she skewered him with her perceptive squint. “My friends say it’s incredible. Tons of fully intact… stuff.” Stuff. A supercomputer, maybe, or perhaps a sex toy or a recipe book. Ask again in a thousand years. “People will pay out thier dicks for this shit.”

Aggie kicked Tommy under the table to get his attention. She was like the Cheshire Cat in a way; once you saw her eyes, brown and clear and endless, you didn’t see anything else. She could rob a person of their soul with those eyes, and she had stolen Tommy’s, more than once. “We got an image from the site. Big things, small things, in a cluster, orbiting a red giant. Spread out over time, though, so there’s a good chance some of the shit has been knocked out of its original orbit. We find a piece like that, no one is ever the wiser.”

“Counterpoint:” said Mags, “Rather than spend months looking over our shoulders for patrols while we hope to find a stray widget that will fit in our hold, we go in hot, grab something choice, and get the fuck out of there. If anyone can do it, Tommy can.”

Ultimately, as always, Mags got her way. And the Feds got theirs.

* * *

He was awake now, almost as much as he was asleep. The pain gradually crept closer and closer to his mind, until his entire left side was a constant throbbing ache. The right side was a collection of sharp pains here and there, but otherwise nothing.

“My right arm’s gone, isn’t it?” he asked his caretaker.

“It is. I am fashioning a replacement.”

“My legs?”

“The same.”

“My… eyes?”

“The same.”

“Fuck.”

“Do not be too discouraged; the replacements will in some ways be superior to the originals.”

“You said you are fashioning replacements.”

The soft voice paused, as if she knew what the next question would be. “That is correct.”

“You used the singular.”

“That is correct.”

“Are you the only one here?”

“No,” she said. “You are here, too.”

“You’re not with the Feds.”

“I am not.”

“Who are you?”

“I am waiting for a name. But your people call me ‘Gamma’.”

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In It To End It Update

I am participating in an exercise-themed fundraiser in support of a group of organizations working to help end domestic abuse. The short version of the outcome: Miles! Lots of Miles! Dollars… not so much. The goal of the fundraiser is $25,000; as of this writing the amount raised is less than $4,000. Yikes. But there’s time! And now, thanks to our friends, there are PRIZES! Lots of prizes!

Across the country, shelters for victims of domestic abuse have been pushed to the limit, reserves exhausted while trying to do what they could with shelter-in-place restrictions. In some cases this has meant putting people up in hotels, or finding other, more expensive options.

When the shelters run out of resources and can no longer provide help, vulnerable people end up stuck in dangerous, abusive situations — or homeless.

Meanwhile, you, my friends, have already far exceeded my expectations on this fundraiser. You are awesome and I am humbled. Thank you.

But if you have read my posts, and thought maybe you want to pitch in but haven’t yet (believe me, I know all the little obstacles that lead to “I’ll do it later”), maybe right now is the time to click this link: In It to End It — and toss a few bucks to a good cause. It doesn’t have to be much to make a real difference.

Which brings us to PRIZES! To help pump up the fundraiser, the Official Sweetie of MR&HBI tapped into her community of creatives and managed to pull donations of awesome original art and other fun stuff – some even customized just for you! Any donation of $5 or more at the above link will make you eligible for a cool prize! (Those who have already donated are eligible.)

I will be publishing the full list of prizes shortly (I’m really just piggybacking Official Sweetie’s hard work), but that’s no reason to wait. Vulnerable people need your support now. Please help!