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Piers the handyman 2007
FeBlueberry 2013

Let's talk about the weather. My wife and I moved to Florida when I finished my two year stint in  the US Army in 1959 because we wanted to be warm. In general backwoods Florida has come through for us; it can even feel a bit too warm in mid summer. But in winter those cold fronts come down from the north, not staying where they belong, and we can even get occasional freezes. Not long ones, just enough to take out our garden flowers and vegetables. As I make it, Jamboree 15 is mid-winter; after that the trend is upward and soon it's spring. Well, this year the center of winter was blotted out by warm weather. We had highs near 80°F for eight consecutive days. Jamboree 30 had a high of over 83° here on the tree farm. Who says global warming blows nobody any good?


But gardening also brings a sad memory. In the 1980s we encouraged our children to do positive things, and Daughter #1 Penny had a little garden. Then one day a neighbor boy fetched something from it and didn't realize that the gate had to be closed after him. Naturally Penny's horse Sky Blue took the open gate as an invitation, and she walked in and ate the garden. Penny was devastated, but there was no one to blame; it was just an unfortunate circumstance. It was too late in the season to replant, but Penny couldn't just let it go. She struggled for something like three hours to chop the turf and prepare the ground, and I just had to let her do it, sick at heart. Later in life she had other gardens that did well enough. But I still grieve for that desolation in her childhood. I hate the very memory of seeing her suffer like that. Now she is dead and that is behind her, but not behind me. It is as if the Grim Reaper found an open gate and consumed our garden, which was Penny herself. Fortunately we still have Daughter #2 Cheryl, the blessing of our later lives, and Granddaughter Logan.


I continued to catch up on backlogged videos. I watched The DaVinci Code, curious what all the commotion was about. It's actually a pretty good thriller type scavenger-hunt movie, complete with an investigator and a pretty girl. It seems that there is a conspiracy to kill anyone who even knows about a special secret: that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene, and they had a daughter born after his crucifixion, and that line continues to this day. So the descendents of Jesus are with us, representing the female aspect of God, the Grail being a female symbol. (Grail = Girl?) The brutal masculine church does not want to be displaced, so is killing those descendents whenever it discovers them. Obviously Christianity would be much improved if the female aspect governed, but the old order will not let go voluntarily. Now I'm agnostic, belonging to no religion, and I do not believe in God or the divinity of Jesus, but I find this absolutely fascinating. It seems to make about as much sense as Christian dogma does, and could bring desperately needed compassion and common sense to Christianity. What about truly trying to do what Jesus would do? Too bad it won't happen. I tried watching the Pink Panther trilogy, six hours, but quit after the first hour because there simply wasn't enough substance there to hold my attention. Can't win them all. My daughter lent me American Horror Story, the complete first season, and I watched it in stages. It is aptly named: horror spatters out all over. A supposedly normal family buys this dirt-cheap mansion, then discovers why its cheap: it is inhabited by the all-too-tangible ghosts of those who have died there. One by one the family members also perish and join the dead cast. It strikes me as a kind of soap opera with horror. I was intrigued by the maid, who looks fortyish and severe to the wife, but twentyish and luscious to the husband, and hell-bent on seduction. She's actually a ghost, but not at all ghostly.


Another class of videos is the DISCOVER series. I caught up on a bunch of them last year, but then got to writing my Xanth novel and they started accumulating again. Now I'm catching up again. They can be fascinating. Iceland shows how that island is a volcanic hotspot coming up through the Mid Atlantic ridge. The ridge is a giant crack being ever widened by tectonic forces, pushing the American continents away from Eurasia. I see it as like the gods having sex: a giant ever-widening female crevice, and the hotspot as a phallic column of molten lava. When the two connect, the resulting orgasm makes for a really hot event with ejaculation into the sky. They don't say what started the hotspot; my theory is that there was a meteor strike that punched deep into the rock and left that hole for the magma to rise up through. Yellowstone, where a hotspot is in the middle of a continent, blowing its top on average every six hundred thousand years. It has been 640,000 years since the last eruption, which was 80 times the size of Krakatoa, and now the land there is rising geologically rapidly; the next one is due. That will be a doozy; the crater of the last one was 45 miles across. Best not to be in north America when it blows; don't say you weren't warned. Then there was Why We Love Cats And Dogs, that showed many loveable pets; it seems that they too have mirror neurons that enable empathy, so we get along with them. And Evolve: Speed, that analyzes the fastest animals, such as the leopard, peregrine falcon, and sailfish, and shows how the maximum velocity is attained via increasing fragility, so that race horses all too often break legs. It shows the race between predator and prey, with the faster one surviving and the slower one going extinct. How a certain shrimp can deliver a punch that can crack concrete. How fast was Tyrannosaurus Rex? Faster than humans are. Fascinating stuff. Remote Control War describes the drones that are taking out al Quida in Afghanistan, which can be guided from rural America; they pretty much fly themselves, observing and firing when directed. Also ground robots that take out IEDs so that American lives are not taken instead. And swarms of mini flying and crawling robot bugs. This is a new kind of war. But it poses the question: what about when these weapons become their own decision makers? What about when they are turned against us? This is scary stuff. There are questions of ethics, but also the certainty that technology can't be undone; as with the gun, you can't un-invent it. The Deepest Place on Earth is the Marianas Trench. What made it? The answer is plate tectonics; it's a subduction zone. Magma shoves up in the ridges, pushing the plates apart at the rate of two or three inches a year (which is supersonic speed, in geologic terms), and then about a hundred and seventy thousand years later they shove back under each other, forming the crease that is in one region seven miles deep. One interesting feature of the process is that there are magnetic zebra stripes as the earth's magnetic poles switch every three hundred thousand years, the cooling magma recording the direction. Um, I'm doing this from memory after viewing the video; at least one of my time periods has to be wrong, and there are dozens of zebra stripes. Maybe the poles switch every three thousand years; that would work. Evolve: Shape may sound dull, but it wasn't; it showed how the odd hammerhead shark evolved to zero in faster on prey, and the remarkable mimic octopus can quickly emulate another creature, like a threatening snake or piece of coral; this is about the weirdest creature I've seen. It's a constant arms race among living things to eat or be eaten. Power Surge describes the problem of ever-growing demand for power, whose generation is polluting the world and pushing us toward disaster. But it can be solved if sensible steps are taken, like doubling the fuel efficiency of cars, developing solar/wind, and building safer nuclear plants.


I read the rest of Fifty Shades of Grey, and note that the author had to struggle to get time to write it, as so many do. In the end the protagonist concludes that she can't be the kind of woman he needs; she loves him but must leave him. Since there are two more volumes coming, obviously she will change her mind. Then I read Skulls—An Exploration of Alan Dudley's Curious Collection, but Simon Winchester, which I received as a Christmas gift. This is a remarkable coffee-table sized volume of animal skulls with related commentary. You might think this would be dull or gruesome, but it is neither; it's fascinating. It represents a pretty good summary of all the creatures on Earth who have skulls, which includes mammals, reptiles, and some others. There are mini pictures of the heads as seen alive, but the big pictures are of the clean skulls.


I proofread Dragon Assassin, my collaboration with R J Rain of Vampire PI fame. This is a short novel about to go on sale electronically about a private eye who gets summoned to the Realm, a magic kingdom whose king has just been assassinated; they need his skills to run down the assassin before he strikes again. Roan, our protagonist, encounters a telepathic dragon who guards the lovely Princess Rose, whose kiss can reduce a man to abject love slavery. But it turns out that Roan himself has the Love Stare, with similar effect on women. So when he and the princess work their magic on each other, it gets interesting. There's a whole lot more, of course, and surprises galore.


I read Flenn's Folly by Brian Clopper, the second novel about Graham Gargoyle. Flenn is Graham's little sister. Something dreadful is afoot, and naturally the adults are slow to catch on, while the children scramble to save Cascade, where the magical and mythological creatures went when belief in them faded on Earth, from a fate worse than death: the oblivion of non belief. There are all types of creatures, including gargoyles, trolls, harpies, and gorgons who stone others, but the feeling is of middle-school kids getting in trouble. There are all manner of imaginative plants and insects that can be real mischief to the unwary stranger. It's a reasonably rousing story. It addresses the problem of bullying, with Graham Gargoyle getting abused and framed so that he is the one punished by the well meaning but ignorant adults. Yet in the end he has to work with the bully to avert the larger disaster. The novel ends somewhat in summary, but does have a good story to tell. However, the author is revising the ending, per my advice, so that weakness may disappear.


 I read Submerged by Cheryl Kay Tardif, billed as a supernatural thriller. A thriller it may be, but supernatural only if you see it that way. One protagonist, Marcus, lost his wife and son six years before and blames himself for their deaths; every so often he sees dead Jane, and sometimes Rebecca, the female protagonist, hears her, faintly. That's it, for ghosts. Jane is just trying to help; she's not a figure of horror. Marcus works at the other end of 911 calls, and when Rebecca is pushed off the road and into a river by a mayhem-minded truck Marcus comes to her rescue personally, because all the regular vehicles are tied up. Rebecca is on the verge of divorce, after suffering an abusive marriage, and there's a question whether her husband is behind the murder attempts. Sequences are compelling as Rebecca narrowly escapes three attempts on her life by the mysterious enemy. At the end Marcus and Rebecca get together romantically.


I believe I have remarked before how my theory is that Open Source computing is populated at least in part by refugees from Macrohard Doors who bring their user-be-damned attitude with them. I am generally satisfied with LibreOffice in Linux, Fedora at present, but remain annoyed by the way it doesn't hold backed-up keystrokes, so that when it takes a few seconds break to background-save something my keystrokes of the moment are lost and a phrase like “I am shipping the file if I can fit it in” becomes “I am shit it in.” That could be awkward in a passage in a novel that maiden aunts might read. Programs in the stone age of computing saved the keystrokes so that did not happen, but Linux doesn't seem to care. When LibreOffice gets a wrong file in its loading lineup it crashes rather than clears it; in fact it won't let me clear it unless I shut down everything and start over. When it restores my array of files from the prior day, that's nice, but it does so half an inch lower than they were, so that in the course of days they gradually descend beyond the bottom of the screen; I have to constantly lift them up again, a nuisance. I am also annoyed by its reluctance to load properly more than a few days in a row; then for no apparent reason, it refuses, and won't let me load it separately (it stalls for thirty second before quitting the effort), and I have to reset, sometimes several times in succession, to get it back, then tediously place my misplaced files. Has no one else complained about this? But my peeve of the day is how it handles directory (folder) making. When I decided to set up my Aliena Directory with its working files so it would be ready for me to write the novel is FeBlueberry (more on that in a moment), I right clicked the Home Directory as listed in the Dolphin file handler, and was reminded that I could not make a sub-directory under it, why I don't know. So I clicked Show Full Path so I could see my formerly unlisted Piers sub-directory (I don't know why it doesn't normally show my main Directory), and right clicked that—and it would not give me the Create New (Directory) entry. Huh? So I checked my Obscures file, which lists the various obscurities that programs have, and it said right clicking was supposed to do it. So why didn't it? I discovered that sometimes it did and sometimes it didn't, the didn'ts limited to the times I actually needed to make a new directory, the dids appearing when I was just checking it. So my Obscures entry was wrong, as I had made that entry when I didn't actually need a new directory. So I wrestled with it for an hour, trying every combination, and finally ran it down: when it doesn't work, hit Escape to get out of it, then right click it again and this time it offers a different menu including Edit. Left click Edit, and it puts you right back where you were when it didn't work. But this time if you right click, it provides a third menu with Create New listed. Usually; not always, but you can keep doing the routine until it gives up and gives you that option. Some programmer must have been chortling when he hid it that way so as to frustrate those of us who use the program for business, not find-where-it's-cleverly-hidden diversion. Great joke. Why am I not amused? Just as I am not amused when the program playfully saves my file to a Directory other than the one I called it up from, unasked. Self-willed machines are fine for science fiction, not so amusing in real life. Ten when I updated my electronic publishing Survey file, converting it to .docx because that compresses it to one fifth the size, it started deleting large segments of my files. Finally turned out that when I have a .docx in Revision Mode and type in a web dot site, you know, www. this or that, it seems to send an end-of-file notice that erases everything following. After an afternoon restoring the material and remaking the same entries I think I have it fixed, but yet again I am not amused.


About Aliena: this is one of the ones I'm doing for love rather than money; I don't actually have to work for money any more. I'm even passing up traditional publishing for Xanth #38, Board Stiff, going to self publishing instead. Don't worry; you'll find that one in stores as well as online, by the end of 2013, and we'll try for simultaneous audio recording, trying to do it right, no longer bound by publisher resistance. So when an idea takes me, I can fly with it if I want to. Aliena is a young woman from far away, as she explains to the young male protagonist who is her neighbor. They are thrown together for a week when a storm takes out the power for the region and she's helpless without her special electric/electronic house. He calls her Aliena because he sees her as an alien immigrant, maybe from far east Asia, with some distinctly odd mannerisms. But in fact she is from a stellar civilization a hundred light years away, destined to be the first truly alien envoy. How does she look human, breathe our alien-to-her air, eat our weird food? Because the body is human, but lost its brain from a rare immune disease, and the alien brain was transplanted into that head. By the time our man learns this, he has fallen in love with her, and she, in her fashion, with him. So this is a love story with a difference, leading into the news revelation of the millennium as Aliena slowly prepares to “come out” and serve as the interface between startlingly different cultures. She originated as something like an ocean starfish, so becoming human has a steep learning curve. We'll see the alien colony ship and its amazing technology, significantly beyond ours. But can there really be love here? Well, yes, and he marries her and they have human children. She truly wants to turn native. But that's only the beginning of a science fiction story that may be my best in some time. As I said, this one is for love rather than the market of the moment, and no editor or publisher will second guess me. I'm doing what's important to me before age depletes my imaginative powers. I do have a certain sympathy for immigrants, having immigrated from England myself.


Each Jamboree the Woman’s Club of Inverness sponsors an event for local writers, the Festival of Books. I was their primary guest two years ago, and Nancy Kennedy was it last year. This year it was newspaper columnist at the TAMPA BAY TIMES Jeff Klinkenberg. He described his early years living at the edge of the Everglades in southern Florida, describing the odd animals and odder people there. His new book is Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators, published by the University of Florida Press. We're not a complete literary backwater, here.


Once a year we have a special event here on the tree farm. Our house in the forest is angled roughly northwest/southeast, and opportunities for sunshine to penetrate far are limited. But once a year, in the last week of Jamboree, a sunbeam gets in, travels the length of our upstairs hall, and splashes against the stairway wall. You will be glad to know it happened again this year, so all remains well with the world. I keep thinking there should be another beam in Dismember when the sun is descending, as it were, but so far there hasn't been. Sometimes it's overcast, so maybe there's a chance for the future.


A reader sent me a link to an article by Dennis Johnson titled “The wrong goodbye of Barnes and Noble.” B&N is shutting down a number of its superstores as it seems to be heading out of the brick and mortar portion of the bookselling business. The columnist says that many book buyers look at them in the stores before then buying them cheaper in their electronic versions, so there will be fewer e-sales because of less print exposure. So the whole bookselling ship is sinking. Interesting wrinkle. The author feels that unfettered killer capitalism is mainly to blame. Maybe so. I believe that Parnassus, the arrogant traditional print establishment, has had its way for a century or so, screwing readers, authors, and independent booksellers, and now that there is an alternative in electronic publication, Parnassus is doomed. I have remarked before how there are ever fewer bookstores, and the grocery store book racks seem dedicated to putting up ever-fewer titles, putting a single bestseller in half a dozen slots instead of offering half a dozen different books there, so that serious paperback readers like my wife have been driven to e-books, where she can get an almost infinitely larger selection. I guess they make more money selling shelf space than they do catering to the readers. I understand that the war between Barnes and Noble and Amazon has destroyed much of the advantage of selling either print or e-books, both sides preferring destruction to sensible cooperation. It's too bad. The Authors Guild says that publisher Conde Nast is seeking to cut itself in on writer's potential film and TV deals, cutting the writers' portion in half. Nothing like screwing the writers to pep up literature. I am leaving print publishers in significant part because of their insistence on taking three quarters of e-money, rather than sharing it evenly; they figure they can continue fucking authors, but there are some they can't, and this resistance should be growing. I was always nervous about art being seen as a business, and this shows why. Then there's the fake reviews, with a deluge of them used to try to destroy a book that was critical of singer Michael Jackson. It's too bad that honest reviews seem hardly to exist any more.


THE WASHINGTOR SPECTATOR, one of the “little” newsletters that specialize in news that the big presses avoid, asks whether an election day lawsuit stopped a Republican vote-rigging scheme in Ohio, and the evidence is that it did. I have felt that the Republican attitude toward recent elections has been “Sure we cheated in 2000; we had to, to win, and we'll do it again. Get over it.” So they stole Florida in 2000 and with it the presidential election, and stole Ohio in 2004 and with it another presidential election. The ruin they brought to the nation was so obvious that they let it go in 2008, trying to blame the hole they had dug on Obama, but they were back at it in 2012. They do it by finessing the voting tally machines, subtly changing their totals just enough. I remember how official vote tallies differed from exit polls, always favoring the Republicans, except where paper trails were available; then they matched the exit polls. People assumed the exit polls were wrong. I doubt they were. I'm sure the Democrats knew what was going on but couldn't quite prove it. Until 2012, when they seem to have stopped it so that the narrow margins all went to Obama. Why was Rove so amazed by Ohio? Because the fix was in there, as in 2004, so the Republicans couldn't lose. “On election night, Rove assumed he was betting into the fix.” Only that time it was stopped. Rove was evidently not pleased. The irony was that Obama didn't even need Ohio to win, so all that sinister effort was wasted.


Odd notes: From a vitamin catalog: “Amazing New Antioxidant—200x the Antioxidant Potential of Resveratrol!” What was it? Xanthohumal. I translate that loosely to be Xanth Humor. There's not much magic in Mundania, but sometimes it shows up potently. The comic strip Zits for Jamboree 19, they are playing music, and the notes are admixed with a skunk, old tin can, garbage, human skull and a dead fish. Not their best day, it seems. Seasonal story in the “Curtis” comic strip tells a Kwanzaa story of love and a witch I find fascinating; its magic is different from western lore. Ad in the AARP Bulletin for the Sinclair Institute, which sells sexual material; I've bought many hot sex videos from them. This one shows a man and a woman in red, and her short-skirted legs are exposed and quite sexy. But I looked in vain for the legs of the man sitting beside her; he seems to be all top and no below. And a nice quote in the Celebrity Cypher in the newspaper, that I remember from long ago: “A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it.” Danielle Steel. I've never read any book by her, but she certainly nailed it on reviews. I have a mental picture of grouchy men walking around with pieces of cake falling off their behinds.


Last year I contributed a short opinion essay to a book on whether religion should be taught in school, and if so, which religion? My answer was to teach them all, including atheism and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, so that properly informed children can make up their minds. I suspect an increasing number would pass up all religion. Now that book is coming closer to publication. The editor's blog site, http://teachnotpreach.com, describes some of the feedback. Some ministers argue that such material is offensive to Christian students. At a meeting one pastor yelled “Why can't you just tell the students what other religions believe, why do you have to make them think!?” What a horror, for a school class to actually makes students think, especially about religion.


The oldest living American is now Elsie Thompson in Clearwater Florida, over 113 years. She's the fifth oldest in the world. It seems that seven people per thousand live to be 100—that's under one percent—and only one in four million makes it to 110. Then the attrition intensifies. Today one man in Japan is 115, two women in Japan are 114, and the rest are 113 down. What's the secret? Good genes, a healthy lifestyle, and good luck. Now you know.


Also in this area is some weird news. Shock jock Todd “MJ” Schnitt  suud Bubba the Love Sponge Clem for defamation. If that's not wild enough, Schnitt's lawyer stopped at a downtown bar for a few drinks to unwind, a pretty girl picked him up, got him to drive her car, and the police pounced and nabbed him for drunk driving. She turned out to be a legal assistant for the firm representing Bubba, which firm seems also to have alerted the police. She also got away with his briefcase full of legal papers. Bubba wanted to have a mistrial declared. Can't think why. It wasn't granted, but Bubba was found not guilty anyway.


I got an ad from NATIONAL REVIEW, the conservative magazine. It promises to tell me the whole truth about Obama's dirty tricks. Sorry, not for me. I actually tried a sample subscription over a decade ago when Republicans were furious at President Clinton. I wanted to be fair minded and see what the other side had to say. I opened the first issue I received randomly and sampled it. It said that all the charges against Newt Gingrich were either false or irrelevant. This was just before his cheating on his second wife was revealed, producing an illegitimate child, the same time as he led the congressional impeachment of Clinton for feeling up Monica. That man was a total hypocrite, yet this magazine could find no fault in him. I sampled it a couple more times, as randomly, finding similar misinformation, and realized that the truth simply was not in it. It was plainly a rightist rag. As for Gingrich himself, I am grateful to him for one thing: I always wondered what the name of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas was, and now I know: Newt. Newt Grinch.


Column in THE WEEK titled “Why I Own Guns,” by Sam Harris. I have had a problem for decades deciding exactly where I stand. In the US army a got training in guns, and actually was a pretty good shot; I was heading for expert when things interfered, such as sand jamming my rifle and only half the target coming up, the other half flapping in the wind. I already had enough score to pass so they didn't worry about it. I wasn't in it for the score anyway; I was satisfied to know that if I ever had to use a rifle for real, I would likely be a crack shot. But I dreaded the thought of ever having to shoot a man, and I never kept a gun of any type myself. The evidence is that the more guns there are in circulation, the more people get killed by them, and America is a perfect and horrible example of that, so it makes sense to reduce them. The National Rifle Association's answer to mass slaughters of innocents is to sell more guns; common sense indicates that this will only worsen the problem. I think the NRA secretly likes those mass slaughters, because gun sales rise after them and the gun dealers make more money. I suspect that if you took the profit out of guns, the NRA would soon fade away. Anyway this article supports all the recommended reforms, such as background checks, mental health screening, a national registry, a ban on assault weapons, checks against a terrorist watch list, etc, but believes they won't make much difference. He feels that more than gun control laws we need a shift in attitude toward public violence. I think he is right, but I also think it won't happen, any more than fiscal reform will rein in the thieving bankers or political reform will cause Congress to actually work for the people. I suspect that if armed nuts got a thing for shooting up gun shops and the NRA headquarters we might see faster reform.


I have a pile of newspaper clippings about things that interest me, such as the effects of aging brains, where the shoreline was last time Earth got really hot, how tablet computers are effectively teaching children in Ethiopia, how compassion rather than cash brings happiness, how we won't become the person we expect to be, a map showing the racial diversity of every county in America—California is highly diverse, Iowa isn't--, how video games are not what is killing people, the likely effects of the tax reform package, how vegetarianism may wipe out more animals than range-fed beef because of what farming does to the natural environment—sorry, I'm remaining a vegetarian-- and the biggest thing in the universe, which is a cluster of 73 quasars four billion light years across, and a discussion of whether material reality is made of particles or waves, the answer being both. But this column is already over-length and I have to stop. I'll mention just one of them: British CNN host Piers Morgan suggested that Americans have tighter gun controls, so the gun nuts are circulating a petition to have him deported from the USA. Of course he has the right of it—how could it be otherwise for anyone named Piers?--but what I notice is how little the Second Amendment advocates care for the First Amendment. They don't seem to believe in freedom of speech. Maybe it's a four legs good, two legs baaad mindset: second amendment good, first amendment bad. They have already gotten more than 25,000 signatures. I suspect that list could be used as a guide to deportation of the signees to improve our democracy.

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