The Elegant Cephalopod

This past weekend, in spite of my bronchitis, we went down to Monterey for a few days. Well, technically, Castroville (which was where the vacation house was). We left after Jennifer got off work (I had called in sick because of the aforementioned bronchitis), and drove down that night. We arrived at about 9:30 at the house where our friends were already waiting for us.

That first night, we really didn’t do much. We sat around and chatted, then I used my nebulizer (again: bronchitis), and then we went to be.

The next day, we went into Monterey itself. We had breakfast at a place called Caffe Trieste downtown, and I highly recommend this place. I only had a couple of eggs and some coffee while the others had large breakfasts.

Then, because we’re all a bunch of nerds, we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is one of my favorite places in the world. This time there was a special exhibit that really attracted me: Tentacles. I love octopuses, cuttlefish, nautiluses, and other critters like that, so I really wanted to see this. It did not disappoint, though I wished for more — or any, rather — nods to H. P. Lovecraft.

Also, I love penguins. So here’s a picture of some penguins that I took at the Aquarium (click to embiggen):

penguins

It’s nesting season for the penguins, so here’s a too-brief and not-too-high-quality video of penguins moving around. What I wanted to show was a penguin grabbing a pebble in its beak and carrying it up to one of the nesting boxes. We saw several penguins doing that, and, of course, I found it fascinating and adorable.

I took a few other videos at the aquarium, particularly in the jellyfish exhibit (jellyfish are also awesome), but none of them turned out very well, so I won’t share them here. Suffice to say, moon jellies are my favorite jellyfish, and I just love the way a swarm of them move through the water (though I understand blooms of moon jellies can indicate a bloom of algae in the water due to warmth, or even pollution). Sea nettles are also cool.

The sea otter exhibit was fun, of course. Sea otters are the cats of the seas, though they can be vicious little brutes. I also enjoyed the kelp forest exhibit, and was fascinated by the shining swirls of anchovies (or maybe they were sardines — I never figured that one out for sure).

After the aquarium, we went back to the rental house, I nebulized once more while the others went to the beach and wandered around, then we watched Terminator 3. I hate this movie, and none of the others really liked it either, so we had great fun mocking it (she’s got a plasma jet weapon in her hand and she uses a GUN to shoot her targets?!!?). That night, we played two games of Pandemic, a cooperative game where the players attempt to cure diseases before they destroy humanity; I’ve played this game before, but I’ve never played won; this time, we cured all the epidemic diseases, and winning the game was just astounding. Then we played something called Love Letter, and finished the night off with a wonderful — or horrific, depending on your estimation of the game — round of Cards Against Humanity. I nebulized again, the went to bed.

Sunday, we had to be out of the rental house by ten, so we woke up early, showered, packed, and rolled out. We had breakfast at Caffe Trieste again, then wandered a bit around downtown Monterey. We went to Fisherman’s Wharf, ignoring the tourist traps and little shops, and found a place where sea lions were hanging out.

Here’s a picture I took of some sea lions hanging out off Fisherman’s Wharf on Monterey (click to ensealionate):

sealions

After Monterey, we went to Pacific Grove, explored among the rocks, then headed toward home.

That was all this past weekend. Today it’s Monday, and I’m full of thoughts. My bronchitis has improved dramatically (thanks to antibiotics and huge doses of Prednisone), and I had the day off work because of the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. So I spent much of the day working on a short story for an upcoming “Swords V. Cthulhu” anthology, then deleting much of what I wrote because I didn’t like it.

I also spent much of the day pondering past interests. I’ve done this before, when I blogged about The Neverending Symphony, only this time I thought about how when I was in high school, I desperately wanted to go into marine biology, and then later in college, into oceanography. College chemistry classes killed these dreams, of course, but a man can ponder them anyway. So now I’m left thinking about the way the Monterey Bay Aquarium and time near the ocean gets me sad about the horrific things we have done and continue to do to the life-sustaining ecology that keeps us alive. Sometime soon I will blog about this as well.

Long story short: I had a blast with my friends in Monterey, and highly recommend taking time away to do this sort of thing. And the Aquarium, of course, is always worth visiting.

It’s that time of year again…

…where I decide it’s time to refocus, recenter, and generally resolve to be a better person for the new year. Except this time, I’ve decided to do it a little bit earlier. For reasons. I don’t know. If you enjoy reading other people’s New Years resolutions, even if they’re actually December 22 resolutions, read on. If not… then click here to read my story “Night of the Frozen Elf” on Book Country, where it’s a featured manuscript for December, and has a rating of 4 out of 5.

So. I’ve decided that the three keywords for the coming year are (in no particular order) EngagementLearning, and Creativity. All of which, I’m pretty sure, are intertwined with each other.

  • Engagement. By which I mean that I will connect and interact more actively with others, as well as with the world around me. I tend to be a bit of a homebound solitary hermit. I want to make a change.
  • Learning. I enjoy learning new things, but I rarely take the time to actually do so, because I am so busy consuming stuff and vegging out in front of my computer or the television. So I’m going to start looking for new opportunities to learn new things and try to follow up on them.
  • Creativity. I like to think that this one speaks for itself. But in case it doesn’t, I’m going to look for new ways to be creative this year, solving problems and in my writing.

And, as always, I don’t really make resolutions, I just decide to refocus on new and existing areas of my life. And this time around, I want to apply the three principles above to each area of focus.

  • Writing. Write more, finish more, submit more, publish more. Engage with other writers and writing communities such as Book Country. Actively work to learn more about the craft. And participate in some classes or workshops.
  • Friends/Family. Actively engage more with them. I have a lot of friends, both online and off, that I love and would like to engage with more.
  • Geekery. There are activities and what-not that I love and that I like to take part in. So I’m going to take a more active part in these activities, and engage with other people. Among other things, this means simply learning more about the world around me, and engaging with others who are doing the same.
  • Church/Community. This one’s easy: simply get more involved with both. There’s a part of me that thinks I should aim toward becoming a Deacon in my local church, but I’m not sure that’s feasible. But participating in Safe Ground (where my church feeds and shelters poor and homeless people in our community) is definitely doable.
  • Health/Wellness. My asthma has been pretty much out of control over the past few months. I don’t like this. In the past year, I’ve had to take Prednisone three or four times, which is, in my opinion, pretty much unacceptable. I’ve got some new drugs, I’m on allergy shots again, and I’m participating in a clinical trial that tests the effects of dietary L-Arginine, an anti-inflammatory agent, on asthma. So pretty much the only way to improve my asthma is to focus on my overall health, which, at least in part, means losing weight and exercising more. So in addition to all of the above, I’ll be working on this as well.

All in all, I am of the opinion that I’ve done a pretty good job of being Richard over the past year, with some ups and downs. One thing I’m learning is to take those “downs” in stride, and simply ride them out, as it were, rather than let them drag me down completely. I’m getting better at that as well.

In conclusion, allow me to share with you my favorite Christmas song, which I discovered last year. It’s “The Season’s Upon Us” by Dropkick Murphys, my favorite Irish punk band (even though they’re based in Boston). Enjoy!


‘Tis the season for (repetitive) Holidailies!

Slay Ride

When I was a kid, we had this Christmas tradition where my mom would bake a bunch of sugar cookies, and then my sisters and I would decorate them with frosting paint. Occasional we’d attach accessories such as glitter or marshmallows or chocolate chips. It was a grand time, and a neat tradition, and we’d serve the painted cookies at Christmas Eve, along with all the other goodies.

I don’t remember how it happened, but at some point, this tradition took on a macabre turn. Instead of a cheerful Christmas stocking, we ended up with a bloody severed foot. Instead of a jolly reindeer with a shiny red nose, we ended up with a zombie reindeer. And so on.

And I’m not sure what it was that ended the tradition; perhaps it was the beach bunny elf with the strategically placed chocolate chips, or the swarm of zombie snowmen. Or maybe it was just that my sisters and I moved away and ended up with grown-up responsibilities such as jobs and no longer could make it to my mom’s house to paint the cookies.

But the spirit of the tradition lives on! At Thanksgiving this year, my mom gifted both my sisters and I with this:

The Walking GingerdeadYes, a kit for making zombie gingerbread men! How cool is that? How cool is my mom?

Naturally, Jennifer and I were thrilled and couldn’t wait to make these cookies. Last night was the first night that we both had free, so we decided it was time.

So we looked on the back of the box for the instructions. The first thing we noticed was this:

WGD-back-panel

We figure it’s pretty generic text, and probably shows up on the back of each of the different gingerbread kits that the company produces. On the back of this particular kit, though, we thought it was particularly funny.

Anyway. We put together the dough, mixed up the white frosting, baked the cookies (during this part I Tweeted, “The house is full of the smell of baking gingerbread and the screams of the damned’), and decorated them. This is what we ended up with:

WGD-doneNeither Jennifer nor I will be transitioning to a career in decorative baking anytime soon. But I think they turned out quite spiffy anyway. And horrifying. And truly in the spirit of my family’s holiday tradition.

(And you can’t quite tell in this picture, but the three gingerbread men in the middle are normal ones, made with a normal gingerbread man cutter, screaming, because they’re surrounded by zombie hordes.)


‘Tis the season for (undead) Holidailies!

Supplement: My story, “Night of the Frozen Elf”, was selected as an Editor’s Pick at Book Country yesterday. Read it here!

Musical Interlude

Because you need this on a Monday, here is a picture of a Scottish bagpiper serenading a penguin in the Antarctic in 1904 (click to embiggen):

Serenading a penguinThat is all.

 

The Squirrel Wars: An Update

Squirrel with a gun

I’ve written about the squirrel wars twice before, though not since 2007. I see no reason to assume that they have backed off. In fact, the above picture, taken just in my neighborhood, shows quite the opposite. They are, if anything, even more dangerous. Just the other day, in fact, a squirrel in Oregon caused a power outage that affected thousands of people!

Keep an eye out, citizens. The world is full of squirrels, and it is a dangerous place because of them.

National Novel Writing Month and the Night of Writing Dangerously

National Novel Writing Month

Once again, Jennifer and I will be participating in National Novel Writing Month. That is to say, in November we will both commit to writing a 50,000 word original novel. This year I’ll be working on The Book of Jonah, a comedic modern retelling of… well, of the Book of Jonah from the Bible. Jonah has always struck me as the funniest of the Biblical prophets, and, while other writers have taken him on as their subject matter, it’s high time that someone did a modern take, with the sense of humor that marks the original tale.

Jennifer, of course, will be working on something entirely secret and esoteric. She may share some details with you as she goes along. Or she may not. She’s mysterious, that one.

At any rate, this means that once again we’re hoping to attend the Night of Writing Dangerously, an annual event held in San Francisco where hundreds of NaNoWriMo participants gather to spend the night writing. It’s basically a write-a-thon. And, as always, we’re raising money to do so; our goal this year is $375. Donations go straight to National Novel Writing Month’s Young Writers Program, which is a fantastic program aimed at getting kids ages 17 and younger to get writing and get their creative juices flowing. What could be spiffier than that? Our nephew has participated in this program, and we’re both mighty proud of him.

So to make a tax-deductible donation, click on the logo below, or on the “Night of Writing Dangerously” logo in the left navigation bar of my blog. Or you can click here! It’s all good. We would greatly appreciate it! And if you make a donation of $50 or more, I’ll be sure to include your name in The Book of Jonah somehow. Since I plan on putting the novel online as I write it, you’ll get to see your name in pixels. How exciting! No, really!

Anyway. Thanks. We both appreciate it your donation.

 NOWD-2014-Poster

“The Quest” and Clarke’s Third Law

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

-Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

The Quest is a reality show of sorts that runs on Thursday nights on ABC. It’s not a typical reality show like The Biggest Loser or The Bachelor or Survivor XXIV: Pebble Beach. Instead of twelve contestants locked in a gym or on a desert island or in a room with a narcissistic bachelor, the contestants are placed in a pseudo-medieval setting, complete with a queen, a Vizier (whose job is apparently to sneer at everything), mages, monsters, and so on. Challenges involve tasks such as hunting down dragon tears for the antidote to a poison that has been administered to the queen and swordfighting. Really, it’s more like LARPing than like a real reality show. It’s a very silly show, but Jennifer and I are actually enjoying it.

Watching this has made me think of the “Three Laws of Prediction” as formulated by science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the third of which I’ve quoted above (I had to look up the first two laws, which hardly anyone knows, but the third one is pretty famous). In “The Quest” there are a few elements of anachronistic “magic” which are really just commonplace technologies. The “fire orbs” which the participants had to hunt for in a recent episode were magical devices that glowed with an inner light, but in “real life” they were simply glass jars with a fluorescent liquid inside of them. In the Hall of Fates (where the participants must be judged for their actions and one of them voted off the show), the visages of previously banished contestants hover against a high, dark wall; though they are obviously just projections from a hidden source.

I find this use of modern technology to replicate magical effects pretty fascinating. It puts me in mind of an amusing post I saw on Facebook some time back. I wish I could track down the source, but like all things Facebook, the source is sadly lost to history. The post goes something like this:

How would you describe modern technology to a visitor from, say, the 1800s?

“I possess, in my pocket, a device which allows me access to all the world’s knowledge at the touch of a finger. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers.”

When you consider that you can actually speak to Siri in your iPhone, or to Google in your Android device, it becomes even more fantastical. With ChromeCast or AppleTV you can use your phone to control your television or other devices. In short, your pocket device makes you the equivalent of a wizard.

Amazing, isn’t it? I can’t imagine describing modern technology to someone from the 1800s (or even the early to mid 1900s), let alone someone from medieval Europe. If a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then what would such a time traveling visitor think of our times? And what sorts of technology are yet to come that we can’t conceive of, that we would think magical ourselves?

All this, of course, has made me come up with an idea for a new novel. This annoys me, because it’s a very shiny idea, and I am already committed to finishing Code Monkey. No, you cannot have this idea. I’m hoarding it. Someday — probably in 2016 — I’ll be able to write it.

Someday…