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I remarked last time on cougars, older women who play with younger men, and MILFs, which I conjectured stands for Mother In Law Figures.  Readers corrected me and introduced me to the Urban Dictionary www.urbandictionary.com, which has such definitions.  It seems that cougars may be so named because they tend to be evasive, hiding their nature until they get a man isolated, or because they hunt and pounce.  Why they should need to evade or hunt or pounce I'm not sure; the average young man is eager to get into any well-stuffed panties he can catch, age no barrier.  And MILF stands for Mom I'd Like (to) Fuck.  Live and learn; I'm still doing both.

 

We finally saw a movie, the first since our daughter died.  We attended with Daughter #2 Cheryl, who I think tracks every movie ever made.  This was 2012, the date deriving from the Maya Calendar, which ends in that year.  No, the Mayas did not predict the end of the world; it was merely the completion of a long cycle that could mean anything, including destruction or a new beginning.  I have reference to their complex calendar in GEODYSSEY #5, Climate of Change, due from TOR in hardcover in Mayhem 2010.  The movie suggests that a burst of radiation from the sun heats the core of the world, and the crust starts to melt and buckle.  The crust we live on.  It's standard formula, following a few individuals or families as they struggle to win their way to giant armored arks that can ride out the deluge when the sea heaves.  Reviews said there was not much plot, but terrific effects.  Well, there was enough story to carry it, and the effects were phenomenal, as they escape in a car with the road buckling behind them and buildings falling before them.  Then in a small airplane as the runway cracks asunder and the ground collapses.  And in a larger plane as the huge quiescent volcano that is the Yellowstone national park revives and spews fire streams into the air.  And a yet larger plane, crossing the world without quite enough fuel.  Evidently the producer lacked the imagination to get more variety of dangers, but still, the scenes are breathtaking.  Just turn off your thinking mind and go with the flow, like a roller coaster.

 

I read I Sing the Body Departed by J R Rain.  A man discovers he is a ghost, without quite remembering the details.  He must figure out who killed him and why, and resolve the mystery of a young boy ghost he encounters.  He can draw limited power from living people or from electric circuits so as to become faintly visible or audible or have some slight physical impact.  A lady medium can see and hear him, and some other living folk can perceive him if they try.  It's a murder mystery with a different kind of protagonist.  I found it easy reading and interesting, if not phenomenal.  He's afraid to move on, in part because he fears it is Hell he is destined for, and he does have some grounds for concern.  This strikes me as a reasonable explanation for the ghosts we know of.

 

I don't pay a lot of attention to scandals of the moment, but do note that Tiger Woods got caught making out with what, a dozen girlfriends?  So they named him athlete of the decade.  I guess he had balls, and found holes to fill.

 

I read Feeling Lucky by Walter Knight.  This is a facile romp, parodying the follies of recent wars and manners.  The protagonist is a gambling addict, constantly getting into debt and trouble, and as constantly wangling his way out of both.  At one point he takes an enlistment bonus, uses it to win big money, then discovers he can't simply repay it.  He's stuck in the military service, fighting spider-like creatures who invaded an Earth colony planet.  He and his men go on a spider-killing spree until they get captured.  Then the spiders put him on trial, and we see things from their side: he was wantonly slaughtering spider men, women, and children.  They do have a case.  As one of his men remarks, “Think about it.  We killed over 300 spiders here today.  Big spiders, little spiders, all kinds of different spiders.  And then, we ate them.  We cooked them and we ate them.  They're going to be real pissed off about that.”  He manages to get out of that and go after an ant empire that was going to attack the human empire.  It's wild, improbable, but great adventure.  Its the first of a ten novel series.  www.PenumbraPublishing.com. They are listed in my Survey of electronic publishers.

 

I set up three main chores for Dismember 2009: spreading more gravel along our long irregular drive, reshelving and properly listing my collection of file copies of all my novels, and setting up a new operating system for my writing computer.  All were problematical in their fashions.  I have a little wagon I use for moving my archery targets and for gravel, and I used it, but a tire went flat, so next day I used the wheelbarrow.  A full load there must weigh around 300 pounds, and I was really straining to lift and push it along.  I got the job done, but then came down with hemorrhoids.  O joy.  That's a pain in the ass, and just in time for Christmas Day.

 

The shelving consisted of taking down all my file copies of my own published novels in their American, British, German, Japanese etc. editions, hardcover, trade paperbacks, mass market paperbacks, several hundred copies in all.  I cleared new shelves to make space, checked the editions off on a bibliography printout, and put them back in order of publication, with series grouped.  Straightforward, I thought.  Ha.  Some copies were missing; it seemed I had never received some author copies from my foreign rights agent.  Too often publishers simply ignore contractual details like author's copies, and the author who makes too much of an issue can get blacklisted.  I have been there, done that.  So I don't make an issue unless they stiff me on payment, as they sometimes do.  So I have missing copies, annoyingly.  Then I reconciled the marked biblio with my Master List, which is my file recording the novels I write, where I sell them, how well they do, etc.  So if a fan asks whether there was ever a French edition of Omnivore, for example, I can look it up and say yes, in 1973, but I have no copy.  Well it had taken me about 11 hours to reshelve the books.  It took longer to reconcile the lists.  But I got it done.

 

And the computer.  T M and Michelle Chandrasekhar very nicely sent me disks with Ubuntu and Kubuntu 9.10, and I installed Kubuntu.  Sigh.  This is supposed to be one of the sharpest distributions of the Linux operating system, but it turned out to be a monster.  It wiped out my modem connection; I can no longer go online.  Oh, there are instructions for how to get back online.  They begin by telling me to go online and download the program I need to do it.  I kid you not; it's Catch 22.  Apparently no one at Ubuntu ever actually tried to do it via dial-up on a new machine.  Then I could not get my keyboard.  I use the original Dvorak, but the computer folk randomly moved the punctuation around so that for example my “don't” comes out “don;t.”  So I substitute my keyboard variant and use that.  What we do is put it in place of the Denmark keyboard, because that abbreviates Dk, which then stands for Dvorak.  But Kubuntu has hidden the keyboard files somewhere inaccessible to we can't access them, and I am stuck using the wrong punctuation, then painstakingly correcting it “by hand,” as I did when editing this column. Obviously I won't be typing a novel that way.  Kubuntu also has no games.  They surely existed, but again, there is no way to access them.  I like to play the card game “Grandfather” to unwind.  Now I can't unwind, as perhaps the ire of this paragraph shows.  I have several macros I like to set up and use, such as for Date, Time, and the degree symbol.  But when I try to assign a macro to a key, such as control D for Date, Kubuntu intercepts with a message that I need Java to do that, then locks up my system including the keyboard, which I have to crash and reset to get out of.  Again, my patience with this sort of thing is limited.  Nobody in Kubuntu has tried to post a macro?  A prior edition of Kubuntu I used several years back did not have that problem: why does it suddenly need Java, and why won't it wait for me to try to get it?  And I normally back up my material several times a day, because when I didn't, my system crashed and cost me irreplaceable material.  But Kubuntu stopped letting me backup to my disk, claiming it was read-only.  So I went to another disk and it worked several times, then locked up similarly. I had to go to a third disk.  Then another day it started allowing me to use the first disk, a few times, before it locked up again.  But you can see how I am loath to use a program that picks and chooses when it will let me back up.  There are lesser nuisances, such as its occasional refusal to let me copy in a file to a particular directory, and its refusal to hold my defaults in the file handler Konqueror, and a very slow Open File facility in OpenOffice that I timed at two minutes and six seconds to open just one file.  There are features I like, and I think it could be a nice system.  But as it stands, it's a nest of scorpions, not at all suitable for serious use by a non-geek.  Yes, we bought huge Ubuntu manuals; no, they didn't help.  I expect to try Ubuntu next, to see if it has similar problems: if it does, I'll have to return to my years-old Xandros, which at least does work, if creakily.  Meanwhile I had to do the Survey update on my wife's Windows computer.  I believe I have remarked before on the folly of Open Source driving serious users back to Microsoft.  I suspect I have fans at Microsoft who are seriously entertained observing my efforts to flee their corral.

 

I also wrote an erotic story, “Medusa,” 10,000 words, to donate to eXcessica, which covers its operating costs by selling anthologies of donated stories.  This publisher seems worthwhile, so I support it in this manner.  “Medusa” is the story of a member of HETA—Humans for the Ethical Treatment of Aliens—who takes a job with the space service to care for and study a captive alien (to us) creature.  She is tiger-like, and has tentacles on her head to hold what she eats, thus the nickname.  She comes to trust him, and reveals more of her nature: she is near-sapient, and she is a versatile shape-changer.  Not instant, but in the course of hours she is remarkably apt.  She assumes the form of a lovely human woman, offering him sex in exchange for his help for her to escape before she gets killed.  He sympathizes, and he knows HETA will be really interested, and she is damned tempting.  But if he enters her cage, will she instead kill him?  There is no fool like a stiff with a stiff penis.  Thus proceeds the story.

 

Mundane incident: we got a flat tire on our Prius, an unrepairable blowout.  I got out the manual and started in to jack up the car and replace the blown tire with the temporary spare kept under the back deck.  The job took an hour and a half, including pumping up the spare, as I felt my way through step by step, and then it was a four hour round trip to the Crystal River dealer to get a new tire and general service on the car.  Ours was not subject to the recall as it did not have the floor mat that could lock the accelerator on.  So the matter consumed much of the last Wednesday of the year.  But, surprise: everything was in order.  The tools were where the manual said they were, the jack worked, and they even had straps to fasten down the blown tire.  The temporary tire worked perfectly.  Once again, Prius showed it was crafted with the user in mind.  Maybe Toyota should set up a school for computer programmers...

 

Last column I remarked on the several hair conditioners I use, now that I have long locks.  Readers sent in suggestions.  I really don't need more brands, but am willing to experiment.  So I tried Mane 'n Tail, which is for horses and for people.  Okay, it makes for a full-bodied mass, yes, like a horse's tail.  I prefer the more controlled look I get with VO5, but there's a case to be made for the horsey look.  So I recommend it for filly fanciers who want to resemble their steeds, or maybe for men who want to attract horsewomen.  It's a huge bottle that will last for a long time.  My daughter also found SMOOTH AS SILK conditioner for me, which you apply and then rinse out.  That's even more fluffy, making me look as if I have three times as much hair as I have.  Well...

 

We have a Kindle Reader, and a Sony Reader.  We bought a third, the Foxit eSlick, to compare.  Well, the Kindle was easy from the start; the Sony was a struggle but finally worked.  The eSlick is a monster that we have yet to tame, complicated and balky.  So my wife reads novels on the Kindle, I read manuscripts on the Sony, and maybe eventually we'll tame the eSlick and find out what it can do.  Meanwhile it seems that five publishing giants are banding together to develop a new electronic reader that will display color and work on a variety of devices, hoping to challenge Kindle.  Well, we'll be interested, when.  But they had better make it easy to set up and operate.  That means they should ban computer programmers.

 

NEW SCIENTIST reviewed a book titled Storms of My Grandchildren: The truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity by James Hansen.  The reviewer says it is the most frightening book he has read.  I can see why.  It says that our overuse of fossil fuels, combined with the brighter sunlight, will trigger a runaway greenhouse effect that will ultimately lead to the oceans boiling away.  This won't happen in our lifetimes, but it does suggest that life on Earth as we know it will inevitably perish.  Our contemporary governments are more responsive to short term special interests than to the common good, and will not halt the deadly process: international efforts are not effective for that reason.  Unless we have a literal green revolution overthrowing the present system, and soon, we are doomed.  Okay, this could be an exaggeration, but the author's prior predictions, such as about the rapid melting of the ice caps, are proving out, and he's probably right this time.  We will continue in denial until it is too late.  I'm glad I am not living in my great-grandchildren's world.

 

Here's something to consider: according to the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change.  It makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined.  Driving a Prius helps (we do), but if we're eating Big Macs (we don't) we're hurting the environment more.  Farmed animals produce 130 times as much waste as the human population, and it is not treated; it is sprayed into the environment.  The livestock industry  consumes 70% of the water in the American West.  If irrigation supports were removed, ground beef would cost $35 a pound.  It takes 26 calories fed to an animal to produce 1 calorie of animal flesh.  So its really a colossal waste of food.  Also, there are health advantages in vegetarian diets.  And, I add, it is no longer necessary to give up the look, feel, and taste of meat: there are vegetable substitutes that seem very similar to the originals.  So there's really not much excuse, is there?  Vegetarianism is the wave of the future—if there is to be a livable future on this planet.

 

And another: a man named Stan Ovshinsky is doing something tangible to help the environment.  He developed the technology and designed the production method that made it possible to produce solar cell material “by the mile.”  In Auburn Hills north of Detroit is a plant with a machine about the length of a football field running continuously, turning out miles of thin, flexible solar energy material from which solar panels can be sliced and shaped.  Affordable power from the sun: this is getting there.  The same man invented the nickel metal hydride battery that hybrid cars use, and he has a hybrid hydrogen prototype car using a safe solid-state hydrogen storage system he invented.  Now there's a car for the future!

 

Item in THE WEEK: Religion today is increasingly a do-it-yourself approach.  Folk pick and choose beliefs regardless of the religions they profess to belong to.  For example, 22% of Christians believe in reincarnation, which is part of Buddhism and Hinduism, not Christianity.

 

According to JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why it Matters, by James W Douglass, President Kennedy was slain as a warning to future presidents and members of congress not to challenge the military-industrial complex.  Kennedy tried to thwart the efforts of top military officers who wanted to make a first nuclear strike on the Soviet union, and he withdrew defense contracts from US steel companies that reneged on their promises not to raise prices, and he made a treaty with the Soviet Union to ban atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.  But his worst sin was secretly reaching out to Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev to explore ways to make peace.  The huge profits are in war.  So Kennedy was killed.  Do I believe this?  I wouldn't put it past the profiteers, but I don't see evidence that they actually did it.  He was killed by a lone gunman.  I'd like to know more, in part because I have a thing about Kennedy: he was the first president I got to vote for, after achieving my US citizenship.  I think it's a shame that he was killed.  There are ways in which President Obama reminds me of Kennedy; I hope the parallel does not extent to his assassination.

 

We're on the University of Florida mailing list (not the only one we're on, dating  from the days when we had more money and donated more generously for projects we supported), so we get their slick magazine EXPLORE featuring their research.  It can be impressive.  Their research on human lice offers insight into the development of clothing.  That's one of my interests, because I believe that clothing was integral to mankind's development of hairlessness: as I have mentioned before, he had to have lost his fur in conjunction with the wearing of clothing.  So what does this have to do with lice?  Well, there are head lice and body/clothing lice.  The latter could not have emerged until clothing existed (duh!), so if we figure out when those lice evolved, we will know when clothing did.  And a study of the mutation rate and DNA of modern lice suggests that the two types diverged about 650,000 years ago.  The accepted figure for clothing has been 100,000 years: so much for that.  It also seems that when Neandertal man diverged from modern man, so did his body lice.  Neandertal is gone, but his lice survive as a subspecies on modern man.  That indicates that the two man-types did interact socially.  Hell, they probably had sex, though they couldn't breed, and the lice transferred when the bodies were in close contact.  The lice reveal the ancient scandal.  Somewhere the ghost of a Neandertal maiden may be blushing.

 

Which may relate: today's youth fashion is Hooking Up.  That is, having casual sex without expectation of any larger commitment.  It seems that about 75% of college students hook up by their senior year, with an average number of 6.9 partners.  Six and nine tenths?  I'd be nervous about having sex with a girl who was only nine-tenths there.  But of course I'm well into old fogeydom and don't understand contemporary ways.  Still, since Neandertals were more solid than Moderns, maybe nine tenths of one of their girls would seem to be all there anyway.  But no, I'm not actually old enough or young enough to know from personal experience.

 

They may be on the verge of developing an effective anti-computer-virus vaccine.  This will intercept any file or attachment that could possible hold a virus and attach a code to it that will disable any virus it contains.  It won't need to know what virus is there; it's a general purpose treatment that will nullify any virus.  Will it work?  I have always felt that the servers could eliminate viruses if they really wanted to.  So they may balk at this.  We'll see.

 

I mentioned having a number of teeth out, to make way for partial dentures.  It turns out that the process will take months, as they do things one at a time.  I have had two root canals in supportive teeth, and one tooth has been prepared for a crown.  I am belatedly realizing that I may have blundered into the most time consuming and expensive option.  I didn't want to sacrifice teeth that were in good order, just take out the bad ones.  My wife say I should have had them all out and gotten full dentures; it would have been faster and cheaper.  Maybe so.  At any rate, now I am chewing on about four teeth, and it takes me 1.5 to 2 hours to complete supper.  Sometimes I start falling asleep before I finish.  I bite my tongue too often; it seems my tongue gets carelessly into those spaces between teeth.  So I supplement with what I call “glop”--nutritive drinks.  Publix had a half price sale on Boost, and Nutrament at a dollar a can, and their store-brand equivalent is relatively cheap, and Sam's Club is cheaper, so we have plenty.  But I look forward to the time, still months distant, when I will have a full set of teeth again and can chew efficiently.

 

We had a quiet Christmas day.  Usually we have had visits and/or calls from the daughters and families, but this time one daughter is dead and the other is in Oregon helping that family.  So we were alone together.  It reminds me of the general course of our marriage, wherein for the first decade or so it was just us, as we suffered miscarriages of our first three babies.  Then we had two decades of family, until the second daughter departed for college.  Then twenty years alone again, but the daughters were in constant touch.  Now it is quiet.  I think of how late in 2008 I had the devastating “Reclast Flu” a non-illness that nevertheless had me in a fever for 18 days and took me months to recover from.  But late in 2009 was worse.  My wife was on the phone, and when I came she passed me a note: PENNY DIED.  And the bottom fell out of that portion of my existence.  We are coping, but that's a wound that will never heal completely.

 

Life continues.  We have assorted plants, and each has its nature and its history.  One was a Christmas Cactus whose pot I set near the back screen door until we decided where to plant it.  But when weeks later I went to pick up the pot, it fell apart.  The plant had rooted to the pavement.  So we left it there, and it has prospered.  This year I counted 115 flower buds forming, and they bloomed profusely in December.  The last one opened on Christmas day, vindicating its name.  We are boarding Chery's cat Stagecoach, so named because she found him lost as a month-old kitten on Stagecoach Road, about a decade ago.  He has come to know and accept us, knowing that Cheryl will return in time.  And the last day of the year I repaired a blown wagon tire.  Little successes like these brighten my dull existence.  Sure, I'd love to have a blockbuster movie made from one of my novels, and become famous again for a few months, but until that happens, plants, cats, and tires are about my mundane speed.

 

My best to all of you for the year 2010.

PIERS
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