The late Steve Gilliard, of The News Blog fame, once noted that he had been involved for most of his life with "strange, bright people".

What a perfect turn of phrase, I thought.

So... Merry Christmas and best wishes to all the strange, bright people in my own life!



It's  tempting . . .

Usually we host a large dinner for family and friends on Thanksgiving. This year, though, we're going over to my cousin Hal's. This is mostly going to be my side of the family, who I don't see that often. (Most of them live on the other side of the Phoenix metro area, which is an hour's drive, one way.) Tuesday next week, my next day off work, we'll have a smaller TG dinner with Hilde's relatives, some friends, and the rest of the household.

To be honest, it's been a pretty rough year: We lost our close friend Anne, Hilde -- on top of her regular medical problems -- was in the hospital twice, my mother had several mini-strokes (mostly recovered) and her husband Tom had health problems of his own, friends and family members have lost jobs and had hard times finding new ones. Even our Corgi, Madame Mim, has been sick. (Valley Fever, a fungal infection endemic to the Phoenix area; so I'll be putting pills down Mim's throat twice a day for, oh, the next year or so.) And someone we considered a friend stabbed us in the back, financially, for over eight thousand dollars. I'm having difficulty feeling thankful for much.

There are indicators that next year may be better in several regards, particularly financially. (Things actually are better financially already, but the friend responsible for that improvement probably wouldn't want her name mentioned.)

So if I was asked what I'm thankful for, I'd probably say "I'm thankful there's only one more month left in 2009."


Insufficient Information, Drunkards Walks, and Blindfolds

Well, huh.

I have a long, long to-do list, including some pretty urgent stuff... so of course I decided to take a quick look at Undulant Fever instead, maybe make another apologetic post about not posting.

So, browsing the list of old posts, I saw one whose title I didn't remember. But it had more than the usual number of comments. So I click on it, and...

...well, Holy Shit!

A couple years ago, I got into a short dustup on another person's blog. My fault; I should have resisted the impulse to express my surprise that two people I despise and wouldn't trust as dogcatchers had managed to do an adequate job on a major project. Hot blog posts ensued, until the blog's host told all of us to knock it the hell off. Hot e-mails ensued for a while.

What I didn't realize was that in addition to the emails, several of the people involved reacted to the dustup on that other blog by posting comments on this blog.

They posted their comments on the most recent UF entry at that time... which happened to be one of the most frivolous posts I've made, and one I paid little attention to after posting.

My Blogger settings are marked to notify me by email whenever a comment is posted. This sees to work only intermittently. So in this case, I never got the notifications from Blogger, and today's the first time I've seen those comments.

Backtrack to this year's Westercon: One of the people there was someone I had not had a face-to-face conversation with for more than thirty years. That previous conversation hadn't gone so well ("Go to hell" was said, among other things), and I wasn't sure if I was going to slapped, kneed, or presented with a restraining order.

As it turned out, she greeted me warmly, and we had a short but cordial conversation. In the course of which, she said something that surprised me: During that dustup two years ago, one of the people upset with me had sent a copy of an email I'd sent him to this person, I guess to demonstrate what a horrible person I am, and informed me he'd sent it to her and to several other people. (I'd said, in the email, that he was fucked up in the head, needed professional counseling, and was a lousy husband and father. For some reason, he took this personally and got upset.)

I'd never seen a reaction from her about that email and was surprised, when I mentioned it, at what she said: She had no idea what I was talking about. She had never received or read the email in question.

Well, huh.

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened over the years. Letters sent never get received, emails don't arrive in inboxes, words put on public display are never seen by the person they're meant for or about.

I mention this because I had an uncharitable thought when she told me she'd never read the email: Has she really not read the email, or is she just saying that she never got the email? (Saying that she hadn't, even if she had, would give her a lot more control over the direction of our conversation, something she's always been very good at and at which I have no skill whatsoever.)

Finding those never-read comments on an old, unrelated post sets me back a bit. Perhaps an apology is in order for that uncharitable thought.

I'd like to have a tightly plotted narrative to my life. There's be no loose ends, no missed connections, everyone would know their lines in the script: everything would make sense. I want to be my own omniscient narrator.

[Homer Simpson voice]Mmmmmm... omniscience.[/Homer Simpson voice]

*sigh* Doesn't work that way.

Sometimes life is just a Drunkard's Walk. With blindfolds.

I think I'll just leave those old comments in place, and not make a two-years-later response. You could probably find them if you want to make the effort, tho' I suspect the most likely response would be "WTF is that about?")


Snarkaption Nation #8

It's been a while since I did a "Snarkaption Nation":

Brief News: More To Come

After a long illness and hospitalization, our friend and neighbor Anne Braude passed away on August 25, 2009. Hilde and I were at her side. I'll write about Anne at much greater length later; she was a pretty extraordinary person. I'll probably also write some posts about having, and having to use, a medical power of attorney (and, for the last few weeks of Anne's life, a financial power of attorney), and about trying to deal with hospital rules and policies.

Hilde herself ended up in the hospital early the next morning, after experiencing stroke-like symptoms much like what she went thru in May. Like then, this appears not to have been a real stroke, but something caused by another UTI infection turned septic. She was mostly recovered later the same day, but has remained in hospital for tests and antibiotics. The major concern at this point is that her blood pressure has gone high (into the 200's) and stayed there; this is something completely new for her, and she's always tested in the "low" or "too-low" range for her blood pressure before.

Yep, these are the "Golden Years". Your friends get old, they get sick, and they die. Your family gets old, they get sick, and they die. And finally you get old, you get sick, and you die. "Golden Years", my rosy pink ass.


11:59 High

Okay, a short version of why I haven't been posting here lately.

Basically, even at the best of times, I tend to run short on time and on sleep. The last few months have seen a statistical cluster (as in "clusterf***") of additional responsibilities, commitments, and stresses. The result has been even less time available for things like browsing the Internet or posting here. (I've cut way back on the blogs I regularly follow or post on, from about fifteen to three -- Making Light, Supergee, and John Scalzi's Whatever. The political blogs I read have been dropped entirely for the present -- Obama's still president, isn't he?)

The biggest source of stress has been having our neighbor and friend Anne end up in the hospital and having emergency abdominal surgery over five weeks ago, followed by a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, improvements and complications, since then, plus a second bout of surgery two weeks ago. When I took Anne in to the ER last month, she signed over a medical power of attorney to me, and since she's never quite recovered enough to make her own decisions since the first surgery, I've been called on to make some of those decisions regarding her treatment and care. Not fun.

We've known Anne for nearly thirty years, since Ed Meskys introduced us back in the early Eighties. Some readers here may recognize her as Anne Braude, one of the co-editors of Ed's fanzine NIEKAS. Since she discovered the Internet about ten years ago, she's been -- as "Talpianna" -- an active commenter on websites like dictionary.com and others. Back in 2003, she had some major health issues, moved in with us for several months, and ended up buying the house behind ours and has been our neighbor ever since, with a gate installed in the fence between our two backyards.

Anne's prognosis in still uncertain. Even setting aside the surgeon's comment that it was "probably a miracle" that she survived the initial surgery, she's also had to deal with several secondary infections that she's picked up simply by virtue of having been in the hospital as long as she has, and which kicked her back from the progress she'd made up to then. So the uncertainty and stress look likely to continue for a while.

There have been other stresses as well, including a major financial setback that means Hilde and I won't be, except for the house mortgage, debt-free by the end of this year like we expected. I... am... pissed (to put it lightly).

So that's why you probably won't be reading a post about why the winner of the Hugo Logo contest will probably be mediocre at best, or a post about The Worst Nebula-Winner Ever, or about an interesting first novel titled The Dust of 100 Dogs (that I managed to read recently mostly during periods sitting in hospital waiting rooms), or some of the other posts I've been wanting to write recently.

Eventually, tho', I may post some photos from the Making Light party at the recent FiestaCon (which Hilde and I managed to daytrip to, one of the few bright spots lately), and I may make an update on the "Six Characters In Search Of A Plot" post I made a while back. (I was able to do a little more work on the idea during a morning in, yes, a hospital waiting room.) And I'll probably eventually make a post with more details about that financial setback. (Have a plastic raincoat standing by for reading that post, because when I start Naming Names and Giving Details, there'll be blood spatters jumping out of your computer screen. I.. am... REALLY... pissed.)

(The "11:59 High" title on this post is a reference to Twelve O'Clock High, the classic WWII movie with Gregory Peck. Near the end of the movie, Peck's character finally hits his stress limit and is literally unable to climb into his Flying Fortress to accompany the rest of his unit on a bombing mission over Germany. There have been points over the last month or so when I've felt pretty close to that, like a rubber band stretched almost to its limit. Not enough sleep, what sleep I do get tending to be in two or three hour chunks, eating irregularly too much of the time as well, and not just not getting what I want to get done done, but not getting done what I need to get done. This can't last. Well, actually it could, but only until Bruce falls down, goes boom.)


Watch This Space

Too much has been going on, taking up too much time, to post here lately. Plenty to write about ("interesting times", indeed), but... oh, foo, you've heard the excuses before, from me and from innumerable other bloggers. I'll post when I post.


Update: Hilde Comes Home

Hilde came home from the hospital yesterday, five days after the events described in the previous post.

The final diagnosis was a systemic infection. She's off the IV antibiotics she was getting in the hospital, but will be continuing on pills for a while at home.

Things are getting back to normal, or as close as they ever get to normal around here.

One thought that occurred to me: If I hadn't switched to working nights a few months ago, Hilde might have died. If it had been a normal Wednesday when I was working days, I would have given Hilde her morning meds, etc, tucked her back in bed, and gone to work. Instead of my coming back from errands three hours later and calling an ambulance, she probably wouldn't have been checked on by Tabbi, her caregiver, until early afternoon. (Hilde usually sleeps until about two o'clock.) Considering how quickly and viciously that infection went on the rampage, by two o'clock Hilde might have been beyond critical, or already dead. Sometimes even seemingly small changes have big unexpected consequences (the "butterfly effect"); in this case, that change in schedule had a positive consequence, a very BIG positive consequence.

"Thanks", also, to all the friends, family, co-workers, etc, for their concern and best wishes.


So My Day Started Out Pretty Well....

I got up, fed the dog, gave my wife Hilde her morning meds and put her back to bed, went out to a doctor's appointment, picked up a few items at the grocery, dropped off a prescription, got back home, moved a load of wash into the dryer and started another, went into the bedroom...

...and that's when I called the ambulance.

It's... stressful... to find the spouse who'd been fine three hours before gasping for breath, arms and legs jerking spasmodically, unable to respond to you or to speak at all, possibly not even recognize you, covered with sweat and running a burning fever.

The good news is that by the time I got home from the hospital tonight, close to twelve hours after the ambulance took her there, Hilde had made an almost complete recovery. She was focused and coherent again, with no problems speaking or verbalizing. She was even able to speak to our son Chris on the phone and ask what he wanted for his birthday dinner tomorrow. (Though she'll likely still be in the hospital then, either getting tests or waiting for the results of them.)

She remembers going back to sleep before I left for my doctor's appointment, but the next time she was aware of her surroundings was in the early afternoon, when I was giving the ER doctor some further information at her bedside. She drifted in and out for several more hours, but then became more and more awake and aware. By the time a neurologist came in to look at her, she was able to give normal responses to his questions.

We're still not certain what exactly happened. Stroke was the immediate concern, which is why she was taken to the closest hospital with a stroke unit, rather than to Mayo Hospital, which is about ten miles further away, but which she prefers to go to when possible. (Her primary care doctor is with Mayo.)

But the jerking arms and legs seemed more like some kind of seizure. And the high fever and sweats seemed like an infection. (Which it turned out she had, and received several units of IV antibiotics for, but the ER doctor said the bacterial count didn't seem high enough to account for everything happening with her.)

So she's in the hospital tonight, with an MRI and EKG due tomorrow, to try and figure out what was happening, and if there's any sign of permanent damage.

But, oh, man, trying not to panic once I found her in crisis was a struggle. We've been through a number of medical crisis' over the years, but every other time -- even if she was in agonizing pain -- she could still communicate something of what was happening to her to me and/or the medics. This was the first time where it was completely up to me.

And beyond the obvious fear that she might have been dying, there was that other fear, possibly even worse: That she might not come back to a state of awareness; that her body and brain might remain "alive", but that Hilde, the person, the mind inside that brain, might never come back.

We seem to have dodged a very large bullet today.

(It's after midnight here. I'm going to take some anti-anxiety meds of my own and go to bed.)


Six Characters In Search Of a Plot

Over at ConceptArt.org, where I tend to follow the CHOW (CHaracter Of the Week) themed art challenges, they recently had a one-off "Team Chow" throwdown where several of the Chowdowners teamed up to produce a group portrait of six characters, based on short character descriptions.

The descriptions were purposely written to be vague on world and society background, so the teams could produce works widely varied in genre: fantasy, space opera, historical, Old West, cross-over ("Viking Steampunk" was brought up as a possibile interpretation), etc.

The drawback to this idea, from my point of view, is that the competition essentially produced a series of "snapshots" of the characters at a frozen point in time. The story, the dramatic narrative and background behind those snapshots, is largely unrevealed.

So I've decided to take those character descriptions and approach them from a writer's point of view, to try and springboard off them to develop a story arc and an accompanying world and background, and a set of antagonists for the characters to interact with.

How far I'll be able to push this, I don't know. Partially, this is to try and jumpstart myself into working on fiction again. I've never been able to finish any attempts at novels over the years, and it's been more than two years since I even finished a short story. (And that story will probably never be marketed.)

In the meantime, let's see what sort of general brainstorming I can develop as a beginning effort. Here are the character descriptions:


The Hero
- Female, between 20 - 30. Has no memory of anything beyond a year
before present.
- Stubborn to a fault, but unswervingly loyal to those she cares about,
convinced that she could lose her memory of them at any time she makes the most
of every moment.
- Has a tendency to say things before she thinks about them.
- Rumoured to have a second personality that can remember everything from
before, a 'dark' side, as it were, with totally different personality traits.
- A quick learner, but unlikely to pay attention unless something
immediately catches her interest.
- Searching for her past but ultimately easily caught up in the present and
the worries of others, tending to think of other people before herself.
- Found (to her horror) that she is more than capable of handling
herself in a fight, and likely capable of killing.

The Shadow- Male, between 20 - 30 (should be around Hero's age).
- The only person that the hero has any memory of, beyond the last year
(though she can only remember his face), and the only person who might know who
she is. He pretends he doesn't know, or refuses to say.
- Seemingly self-absorbed but actually self-destructive, has a tendency to
take out his insecurities as malicious remarks on other people.
- Isn't well liked, but doesn't care, or pretends he doesn't.
- Doesn't seem to have any friends except the hero, who he would do
anything for, though of course he would never say that. However, though he seems
to actively despise the rest of her friends, he cares for them more than he
- Whether he is helping the hero find her memory, or actively hindering
her, is unclear. She believes he is helping her. He doesn't necessarily believe
that it would help her to find it.
- Often disappears for long periods.

The Protector- Male or Female, between 25 - 50, well-built
- Found the Hero directly after she had lost her memory, and managed to
piece her back together.
- Strong and loyal, but prone to worry. Decided to take hero under wing,
and began to notice the very strange energies* and events that surrounded
- Completely distrusts the Shadow and the Sage and believes they are
actively working against the Hero's interests, but defer's to the Hero's opinion
and trust of them.
- Strengths lie in activities done with the hands - higher concepts either
are not a concern, or are too hard to think about in depth.
- Honest and blunt, so sometimes seems unkind, but never means it.
- Sometimes wonders if accidently stepped in way too deep into something
never meant to be approached.

The Sage- Male or Female, any age
- Does not come from the same country as hero. Came from far away to find
something, and claims that the hero will lead her to it, though will not say
what it is - even whether it is a physical object* or a higher plane*.
- Often seems to be looking through the person that he/she is
speaking to, and just as frequently stares off into space.
- Seems to disappear whenever trouble starts, but has saved the hero and
her companion multiple times to threats that they were completely
obvlivious/unaware of.
- Eats very little and sleeps less, and makes very little noise when he/she

The Technician*- Female, 18 - 28
- Completely in tune with anything mechanical. Takes things apart /
dissects things with disturbing regularity, and while can usually put them back
together again sometimes forgets to do so, to the dismay of her friends whose
objects* she 'borrows'.
- Fascinated by all methods of transport, and has an amazingly large
memory for all vehicles and machines but not for people or places (they are
just not important!)
- Initially hired for one-off job by the Hero and the Protector, but took
an instant liking to them and convinced them of her usefullness.
- Not very good in rough situations like fights, prefers cold logic of
puzzles, as her size tends to work against her. However, pressed into a corner,
she can make her technical* knowledge work to her advantage in place of physical
- wears her heart on her sleeve and is often very cheerful, but takes some
blows very hard (a friend getting hurt, etc). Sometimes flighty.

The Rabble Rouser - Male, 20 - 30 (should be around Hero's age)
- Met Hero + crew rather accidently and they helped out of a bit of trouble
(which he had gotten himself into and was almost entirely his fault).
- Developed instant infatuation with Hero + told her that he would help her
find her memory. Infatuation may or may not be sincere. Hero does not return
- Tends to bring trouble with him, or create it when he gets there, as he
grates people's nerves.
- Charming and seemingly hollow, but in select instances with the Shadow
has shown that he's invested more in the quest than one would think - though
perhaps not for the apparent reasons.
- Has good luck with gambling to match his bad luck with people, and never
is wont for money - it tends to find him as easily as he finds it.
- Has an excellent memory for faces as well as for numbers.- Well groomed,
but not as flamboyant as one might expect - unless it is on purpose as part of a

Okay, where do we start?

First of all, whose story is this going to be? At first glance, one would think it would be the Hero. She's lost something (her memory) and has to find out who she was and where she came from, and why.

But I think the best choice for a main Point-Of-View character would be... the Protector.

The Protector is the one who first finds the lost and damaged Hero, and takes her in. We know from the character descriptions that these two characters have been together for at least a year. What happens during that year?

The Protector is a cautious type, but he takes the risk of taking in this unknown quantity of a person and helping her build a new life. We don't know, yet, why he took that risk. (Which will eventually become even more dangerous than even he expected.)

That new life for the Hero, what will that be like? Well, what's it like for the Protector?

So this is when we have to take our first baby steps towards building a world and society in which this story will take place.

First thoughts: A society with distinct class levels. A wealthy upper class, with the most power and access to the best resources and technology. A middle class that mans and provides the infrastructure supporting that wealthy upper class. And a lower class, with depleted or unaffordable resources, whose members struggle every day.

Let's take "upper class" and make it literal: A planetary ring around the earth, where the wealthy and powerful live. The middle class are those whose maintain and support that mini-Ringworld.

For varying values of "mini". Even a planetary ring is uber-huge, possibly containing tens of thousand of square miles, or even magnitudes more if the construct is built in multiple levels.
(Here's a thought: What if that planetary ring is NOT a human construct? Surmise: Enigmatic aliens entered our solar system at some point and, rather than directly colonize the planets, built planetary rings to occupy. Further surmise: They're not oxygen breathers, so had no reason to occupy Earth's surface. The Earth ring is, from their POV, essentially an outpost; the important rings are those built around the gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. They did, however, strip out a lot of Earth's resources, and offhandedly destroyed a lot of human civilization in the process of contructing their ring. Humanity and their concerns are essentially irrelevant to them. The vast majority of the ring belongs to the aliens, and is forbidden to humans. That upper-class, wealthy society is only a relatively thin strip - -but still huge by human standards -- built on the exterior of the aliens' ring; why they allowed it to be built is still unknown.) (All this paragraph is very tentative and speculative at this point. It might be used; it might be completely discarded. For the moment, we'll give it a spot on the Maybe Shelf.)

Back to our human characters: The Protector would be a member of that middle-class.

Initially, the Hero, freshly amnesial, would be fairly child-like. The Protector would be more of a father-figure to her, as she learns, grows, and begins to fit into the Protector's sector of society. (Thought: Has the Protector lost his own family -- wife & child, perhaps? Is that why he takes the risk of taking in the Hero?) This relationship may change as she becomes more knowledgable, more able to function as an individual. (Would they become lovers? Possibly.)

Time to lob a few hand grenades into the story: Something happens to trigger the Hero's fighting abilities. Holy shit, who IS this dangerous woman?

Next hand-grenade, the Shadow shows up. (Perhaps as a result of the story of the Hero's kick-ass abilities spreading?) The Hero recognizes the Shadow's face, but only his face. Who is this guy? What's his connection to the Hero's past? (A connection he denies.) Does he have connections to that wealthy upper-class? And if he does, what does that imply about the hero's past? And does that make him a threat to the Protector, and the Protector's relationship with the Hero? (This is why I like the Protector as POV character; he has something to lose.)

Let's take our aliens back off the Maybe Shelf and throw in one more hand grenade: The Hero finds her amnesia is not the result of injury. Rather, it was something that was deliberately imposed on her brain. And not by human technology, but by alien technology.

And could that mean that the Shadow not only has connections to the human upper-class, but to the aliens? Is that even possible?

How about our other three characters?

The Sage: Perhaps the Sage is a member of a church that believes the aliens were sent by God. Word of a human affected by alien tech might bring her onto the scene. She may also have connections and resources available across all the human classes.

The Rabble-Rouser and the Technician would, I think, start out as background characters. They become more important when the Rabble-Rouser screws up, and gets the authorities (who essentially work for the upper-class) coming down on the Hero and other characters. The hero and Protector have to go on the run. Rabble-Rouser, feeling guilt, helps them in their escape. (So does the Sage. The Shadow? Perhaps he offers an alternate escape route, one the Hero and Protector are not willing to trust.)

It's the Technician who can provide the vehicle that will let them travel from the Ring down to Earthside in search of sanctuary. (Perhaps literally, provided by the Sage's church?)

But that sanctuary needs to fail. At some point, I see mountain-ripping alien ships in the skies of Earth again. Will they finish off humanity completely this time?

The Hero has to go from the defensive to the offensive. She has to find out who she was, why she was so important, and what she has to do to save her friends and the world.

Stuff happens. Bang! Boom! Wowie and zowie. Stuff blows up real good. Unexpected alliances and tragic betrayals. (Yeah, this part is a little vague at this point.)

Some things to remember: 1) Everyone has a past. 2) Everyone has an agenda. 3) Not everybody lives happily ever after.

I think we have a rough story arc at this point:
- Hero, sick and lost, is taken in by the Protector. Things go smoothly for a while.
- Complications arise. The Hero's fighting abilities are triggered. The Shadow comes on the scene, with a possible connection to the Hero's past. The Protector's chance at happiness is threatened.
- The Technician discovers the alien technology in the Hero's brain. The Sage arrives.
- The Rabble-Rouser knocks over the applecart. Everyone has to go on the run to planetside, with the Technician's assistance. The Sage provides a hiding place on Earth.
- Things go to hell. Not only is the group in jeopardy, but humanity is in jeopardy. The Hero has to go on the offensive.
- Boom, bang, wowie, zowie, et cetera. The Hero discovers and confronts her past. Revelations and resolutions. Not everyone lives happily ever after. The End.

I'll leave things at this point, but I'll try and do a "Six Characters In Search Of A Plot, Part II", developing things in a bit more detail, sometime soon.


Welcome To The Surveillance Society, Mr. Hanes

So the technicians finally finish up their wiring and troubleshooting, and pack up their tools and leave, and, hey, the Security office at the retail/office/hotel development where I've been working finally has access to the over one-hundred fifty security cameras scattered over the property. So this morning I'm spending a couple of hours there, very bored, eyeing the monitors and waiting for something, anything, to happen on camera.

And it does. I pick up the radio mike:

ME: Unit 211, could you go to the bus stop and speak to the man changing his clothes there?"

211: "Uhhh... repeat?"

ME: "There is a man at the bus stop changing his pants. He is standing in his underwear as we speak."

211: "Uhhhh... I am enroute."

ME: "He is putting on shorts, currently. Look for the guy with the yellow t-shirt and no shame."

The bus stop at the development is a small shelter with about a half-dozen hideously uncomfortable concrete seats. The space is about three-quarters enclosed by perforated metal screens, providing a measure of shade and some heat relief for people waiting for a bus. The guy changing his pants apparently thought the screens would keep anyone from seeing him change from pants to shorts.

Nope. On camera, on tape.

But even if there'd been no cameras... what the heck makes someone think, "Hey, I've got a few minutes before the bus gets here. I think I'll change my clothes."?

Get a room, guy.


Look! Up In The Sky!

All my life, I've tended to scratch my head whenever I hear the phrase, "The Man in the Moon"; I've looked at the Moon, and what I've seen is a blotchy circle. Try as I might, I've never been able to interpret those light and dark areas as any kind of a face.

So, a few days -- or, rather, nights -- ago, I'm doing my new late-night security shift on the same night as a full Moon. So I've got that thing hanging up in the sky overhead for hours. And, in the wee hours of the morning, it suddenly hits me that, yeah, it really is possible to see a face in the Moon.

"My God!" I cried. "It's Roy Orbison!"

I can see him. Can't you see him?

(How much of this can be ascribed to sleep deprivation I leave as an exercise for the reader.)



*sigh* Six weeks since the last post?

Not that much exciting or interesting to post about lately, combined with the unexciting or trivial taking up too much time.

1) Hilde is still having trouble with her hearing. She's seen one of the Ear/Nose/Throat specialists at Mayo, and been referred another level up the medical-specialty tree for an appointment next week, where the recommendation is likely to have tiny tubes inserted into her ear canals to relieve the persistent pressure there since her respiratory infection earlier this year.

2) There was something else... interesting... in health concerns recently, but I hadn't mentioned it before because it was one of those matters where "interesting" is equivalent to "terrifying". An MRI on Hilde several months ago showed some indications of pressure on her spinal cord at the top of her spine, where it hooks up to her skull. This was scary because it might have been an indication that the hardware (bolts and screws and cables, and chunks of hipbone to replace shattering cervical vertabrae) holding her neck together since 2000 was starting to fail, and if her cervical spine was starting to fall apart again, it was one of those things that can lead to unpleasant side-effects like, ohhh, quadriplegia, brain damage, and, y'know, dying. (Back in 2000, Hilde was told that without the neck surgery, her life expectancy was about two weeks.)

Further consultation, with the neurosurgeon who performed the 2000 surgery, proved reassuring. The spinal cord constriction showing on the MRI was apparently an artifact of the neck hardware, and the hardware and Hilde's neck are, in fact, still stabilized. (This was particularly reassuring because Hilde has already beaten the odds by a considerable margin. Not only was there a 1-in-7 chance of dying on the operating table in 2000, but the average post-surgical life expectancy among people who've had the surgery is only two years. Hilde's already gone more than eight.)

3) On my own front, I started working night shifts last week, 9PM to 7AM, four nights a week. This was occasioned by a reduction in contracted hours at the worksite, which meant a reduction in hours for almost every employee there, drastic cuts in some instances. I'd been working 45 hours a week, but I'm one of the few employees still getting a full 40 hours a week. Adjusting to a night schedule is an ongoing process, but the four 10-hour shifts also mean I get an additional day off each week. (And just today, because of that extra day off, I finally got the leaky filtered-water spigot by the kitchen sink replaced. Next, replace the worn-out drawer slides in the kitchen cabinetry.)

And that's about it for now. Will try to post an occasional link to interesting stuff elsewhere on the internet, like the customized My Little Ponys in the last post here.


Hilde's Hearing: Update

Since I mentioned, downblog, the major problems Hilde was having with her hearing following a bout with the nasty virus that seems to be hitting everyone...

...there has been some improvement. She can hear me talking to her now if I talk loudly and directly, rather than my having to shout!

But she is still having problems strong enough (she describes the tinnitus as "like being locked in a metal-lined room with cicadas") that she'll be seeing an ENT specialist at the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic in a few weeks.

It's uncertain, at this point, how much of the problem may be from actual damage to the inner ear, and how much comes from the continued congestion and sinus pressure from that virus. The bug, from the anecdotal evidence of both local and online acquaintances, seems to have an acute phase lasting about a week, followed by a long phase where you can function again but still have a diluted version of the acute symptoms. (I still have an occasional light cough in the wake of my own bout with the virus.)


Because Other People's Money Is Never Enough

Over at Boing Boing, there's been spirited discussion of a recent NYT article regarding the proposed $500,000 salary cap for executives of financial institutions who receive Federal bailout money. The NYT piece bemoaned the fact that trying to live on $500,000 a year in New York City is just so difficult for high-powered executives and CEOs. Why, they might have to give up their armed chaffeur!

Among the plethora of helpful suggestions from Boing Boingers in comments, involving such items as lampposts and new ropes, I came up with what I thought was a wonderful solution to the CEO's dilemma.

All they have to do is clear off a corner of their desk, and set up one of these:

Problem solved. Any CEOs reading this, feel free to tip generously for the advice.


But Their Breakfast Cereal Still Sucks

So the Arizona Cardinals lost the Super Bowl.

I must admit to relief. And not just because a Cardinals win is in the Bible's Book of Revelations as a sign of the End Times.

Considering how bizarre people in Arizona have been acting since the Cardinals won the NFC game and earned a Super Bowl slot, I really didn't want to think what might have happened if they'd won the Bowl too.

(Our son Chris was getting ready for his night-shift security job last night, and asked who'd won the game. On learning that Arizona lost, he said, "Oh, great. Angry drunks tonight." Maybe, but nowhere near as many drunks if the Cardinals had won.)

From the online news reportage--

(No, I didn't watch the game. I only hear about these things from social osmosis. Our usual practice on Super Bowl Sunday is to rent a batch of movies and watch them instead. 'Cause, y'know, even if only one television station is broadcasting the actual game, the Super Bowl Cooties might spread to other channels.)

--the Cardinals actually managed to make it a close contest, coming from behind and maintaining a lead for most of the last quarter.

I think this is the football version of the first ROCKY movie. The "win" for the Cardinals lies in that they got the chance to go to the Super Bowl at all, and that they put on a worthwhile effort when they got there, and didn't just get rolled over by the Steelers.

So hey, props to the Cardinals.

Yes, I have actually made a sports-related post. The asteroid will hit the Earth in five minutes.


We're Getting Better (Kinda, Sorta...)

The nasty bug I reported in the last post, which has been bothering both Hilde and me for going on two weeks now, finally seems to be getting to its last stages. After another doctor's appointment Tuesday afternoon, I was able to finally get to CostCo for the shopping that's been piling up while I've been stuck at home. Even a couple of days ago, I would have felt completely wiped out by the time I got home and probably would have had to go back to bed. After the shopping, I felt tired and had a light sweat worked up, but I was still able to function, at least half-assedly. So I should be back to work on Thursday.

Hilde is still having trouble with her hearing, and the doctor has added a major decongestant (both of us are currently taking pills of a size I would ordinarily expect to see only in a large-animal veterinarian's office) to what she was already taking, to try and break the sinus passages loose. There seems to be a little improvement so far, hopefully to be followed by more.

The partial-deafness has been particularly alarming because there does seem to be some correlation between long-term arthritis and deafness, and a certain amount of fear that the pressure from the congestion might have done lasting damage to the inner ear mechanisms. If there's not significant improvement in another week, Hilde may be seeing an ear/nose/throat specialist at our local Mayo Clinic.

For my own personal part, the possibility of Hilde losing part of her hearing is... oh, what's the word?... terrifying. Since I've always tended to speak in varying degrees of Mumble (as I've aged, I've gone from Modern Mumble to Middle Mumble to, nowadays, Olde Mumble), I've always had to repeat myself frequently. But the recent developments mean I've been having to SHOUT! a lot when I've been trying to talk to Hilde. This sets off a mental script in my head that goes something like: "AIEEEEE! I"M SHOUTING AT MY WIFE! AIEEEE! BAD HUSBAND! BAD HUSBAND! AIEEEEEE!!"

And... for the last forty years, the rheumatoid arthritis has been bashing her with a baseball bat, over and over and over and over again. The thought that, now, it might be moving on from bashing knees, elbows, hips, feet, spine and virtually every other joint there is, and start bashing her in the head... that's really hard to accept.

There's a movie from the early 1970's, PETE 'N' TILLIE, starring Carol Burnett and Walter Matthau, based on Peter DeVries' novella "Witches' Milk". Pete and Tillie are two people who get married in middle-age. They manage to have a child, the only child they'll be able to have... and the young boy develops leukemia. There's a scene in the movie where Matthau is horseplaying with the young boy in the living room, just like everything is normal, just like everything is alright. Burnett watches them for several moments, then stands and leaves the room... and leaves the house... and goes into the backyard. Where she looks up into the sky and talks to God. And what she ends up saying to God is: "I spit on you! I spit on you!"

I've been thinking about that scene. I've been thinking about that scene a lot, the last few weeks.

Best case scenario: Hilde's ears clear up, and her hearing goes back to normal. (And there does seem to be some improvement, between the antibiotics and and antihistamines.) But I've always had a tendency to catastrophization, to seeing the worst possible outcome. Sometimes this can be a good thing, because expecting the worst means I can take steps to try and avoid it. But there are some situations where I don't have any control over what's coming... and that makes me nervous (where "nervous" includes scared, depressed, and angry).


We've Been Sick

There's been a bug going around town, and it's been going thru the household the last few weeks. Hilde's turn came last week, and mine started last Saturday. Both of us are still working on recovery.

Hilde's version (it seems to be like the Wild Card virus, in that everyone has a somewhat different set of symptoms) has been mostly upper-respiratory-based, and initially produced truly astounding amounts of phlegm and mucus. Even, at its worst, from -- ewwwww -- around the edges of one eye. (It may be a minor super-power, but even the most powerful villain would hesitate to face someone who can shoot snot-rockets out of her eyes.) She's been on antibiotics since last week, clearing up her phlegm production, but just got switched to a stronger one since her ear canals are still plugged and hindering her hearing.

Me, I haven't had the humonguous amounts of yuck like Hilde, or the nausea or diarrhea other people have reported, but I've had almost constant sinus drainage, resulting in a throat that feels like it has a strep infection (been tested; it's not strep, but damn, it's still sore!), and a headache that's never quite gone away since this all started for me last Saturday, plus feeling enervated and listless all the friggin' time. I've had more hours of sleep per day this last week than I've had in years... and it's still not enough to feel normal.

That last, the lack of energy, is actually the biggest suck of the entire suckapalooza. Not only have I not been able to go to work, meaning someone else will have to work extra hours to cover my assignments, but I haven't had the energy to do anything around the house either. Usually by this point in the week, I'll have finished the laundry, cleaned the kitchen, changed the catboxes and garbage cans, worked on the garden, done the grocery shopping, and about half a dozen other things. None of that's gotten done yet this week. (I've watched a lot of tv, when I've been up... and that's been about it.)

In fact, writing this blog post has been the most energetic thing I've done all week, save for several unavoidable trips to doctors for Hilde and myself... and I'm already feeling pretty pooped. (Hopefully, the fact that I can write this blog post at all is evidence that I'm at least starting to recover.)

(The illustration above comes from the LIFE Photo Archive, hosted by Google.)


You Say You Want A Resolution....

I've never been one to make New Years' resolutions. If I want or need to do something enough, I figure writing it down isn't necessary.

That said, these are resolutions that I should make for 2009, if I made New Years resolutions:

1: Work towards a more satisfying job. (Security work has its rewards, but it's the first job I've ever had where there are long periods of being, essentially, in "standby" mode; this drives me nuts.) Learn Excel, update my resume, keep my eyes open for suitable job openings, etc.

2: Try to do more work, more regularly, on my fiction writing.

3: Market the fiction I've already written.

4: Try to exercise regularly, and to lose some of the excess weight that's crept back on over the last few years.

5: Reduce/eliminate our debt (which isn't bad; not including the mortgage, we have less than $3,000 debt) and try to put more money into savings.

6: Try to get Hilde outfitted (netbook, voice-operated software, etc.) to where she can access the Internet herself.

That's the major stuff I'd like to see myself doing this next year. Some of it I probably will do, some will get partially done, and some may not get done at all.