Monday, June 04, 2018

Another Windows Update, a Narrow Escape

Sometimes I long for the simplicity of Windows XP. Once they got that Service Pack 2 online, that was it. They had the closest thing to a perfect operating system businesses had to be forced to give up for the “better” iterations.

Tuesday night, 8 May, as I typed up banter between Derek Grace and his wife Agnes in Chapter 21 of The Wrong Kind of Dead, the fan on my custom-build PC began running hard enough to distract from the music I was playing. 

I run a 64-bit system on an 4 GHz AMD FX-8350 eight-core processor with 16 gigs of RAM. Although I could use more RAM—we can always use more RAM, right?—this is by no means a weak rig. After a few days or so of browsing and watching videos online, however, it does need a reboot. I opened up Start and proceeded to do just that.

Next time I’ll chance printing my galleys before I save. I thought I was losing everything. As you guessed, Windows was downloading its largest update in a while, full of unasked-for bloatware. In my case, the download hadn’t quite finished. This meant several reboots as the cooling fan in my rig built to a near scream trying to keep the processor from melting.


Calculator and Calendar have worked well for decades
without improvement. I suppose there was a crew that
needed something to do to justify its existence —
of which this proves the precise opposite.
I got through this, but for an hour I was resigning myself to having lost everything, including a computer I can scarcely afford to replace. Note to self: Comb through files from MCSA days, see if I can’t find a spare code for Windows 7. Windows 10 really is the disaster most of the Internet has made it out to be. It’s one thing that Microsoft is doing more to invade our privacy in collecting our information. It’s another entirely when it becomes apparent that elegance in design and maintaining continuity of productivity are nowhere in the company’s agenda. 

On 17 May, I opened my SonicStage program to tweak the playlist on a music mini-disc, and noticed the Gracenote add-on wasn’t working, forcing me to manually enter the titles and track listings of the CDs I was ripping. Figuring this likely had something to do with the big devastating update of 8 May, I went into my Update History only to learn that Windows 10 had been updating along the line of every two days. 

Also, the reason my fan was running hard wasn’t because that particular update was making SonicStage work harder. I was already 94% into downloading another update.

My rage burns with my poor overworked processor, forced to download superfluous nonsense like Cortana, Microsoft Edge, and Candy Crush Soda Saga, while inexplicably altering settings in my audio recording program, while installing pages of security patches every two days because they can’t get their architecture right the first 229 times, therefore stressing equipment I cannot afford to replace and putting my productivity on hold for the better part of an hour on their Big Patch days...well, what am I gonna do? 

Indeed, we are very unevenly matched.

For starters, I’ve taken some time off to uninstall the junk, and investigate ways to stem, if not altogether end, this nightmare.  There is a toggle to halt updates for 30 days, but that toggle can only be reset after letting Microsoft install its month’s worth of updates. Knowing the tremendous strain put on my machine letting Microsoft do its thing every two days, I’ve got a couple of weeks to figure a way to get my Windows 10 license declared as “enterprise,” which permits me more leeway in declining updates.

Google is the company you read the most about regarding Big Tech Megacorp Madness, but given the real-life disruptions here in my office, it’s apparent Microsoft has gone full-on throwing-fine-china-at-the-wall gibbering stupid on top of crazy. Something has got to give.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

More Photos of Mountains, Cows, and Things That Bloom Here in May

It’s been quite pretty here in Colorado’s central San Luis Valley these last couple of weeks. Let’s celebrate.

No thanks to the La Niña weather phenomenon out in the Pacific Ocean, winter wasn’t quite winter this season. Although I’m grateful we didn’t suffer much of the bitter subzero cold this high valley is famous for, we got next to nothing in the way of snow or rain.

My attention has been all over the place since before we moved out here, but I don’t recall seeing this much in bloom at once this time last year. Given how dry it’s been, it’s a miracle anything is blooming at all. It’s been gorgeous, though. Welcome to spring in the Colorado high country.

Somewhere along First Ave., just east of Broadway.

The Robinson crabapple tree in my backyard.

Further along First Ave., west of Broadway.

I can do cherry blossoms all day, which is a good thing, because these trees seem to be everywhere in town.

There is no escape.

Organic, temporal beauty upon the blank, indifferent concrete. Yeah, it’s an old story.

I have no idea what this is, but it has bright white petals, with everything else blood red or black. It’s as Goth as a blooming thing gets.

‘Til the cows come home.

Like what you see? Funds for tasty, wholesome beverages accepted via  PayPal! 

Photos Copyright © 2018 by Lawrence Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Slouching Towards Spring, Waiting To Be Born

Another progress report, accompanied by random photos. Blame it on the weather.

It looks more like May in April. Which makes sense, because it’s been more like April in March. I could use the break on the heating fuel bill, so there’s that. Note the tornado icon at top with the temperature. That’s what the widget shows by default when it’s not working. It’s almost as startling as Saturday’s predicted high and low, which are early summer numbers.

My wife and I like to joke (so much as we can joke about it) that this has been the hardest easy winter we’ve ever seen. For all it felt like those post-Christmas, dead-of-winter blues were going to smother us, in terms of general Colorado high country weather, it’s been preternaturally warm.

Even along the Front Range where we used to live, we would have periods of zero degrees Fahrenheit and lower during the winter. Those days can go for weeks at a time here in the San Luis Valley. As for the winter of 2017-18, we may have had a couple of near-zero events, but nothing memorable. The La Niña phenomenon in the North Pacific Ocean tends to affect winters in Colorado this way, though, so don’t expect a screed on “global warming/climate change” here. This is just that kind of year. 

Indeed, I’m grateful for the warmth, if wary of the dry conditions that come with this. I’ve stood at the picture windows at sunset celebrating every extra minute we’re getting with each passing day. It’s great to feel good for a change.
This is like 80°F in north Minnesota in February. Unusual, but that doesn’t mean “never.”

As always, it seems to be two steps forward, one step back, then another step back, then three steps forward, and then something else when it comes to finishing my latest novel. Over the last couple of weeks, it’s been one-half page forward, two pages back.

This is the best development to happen in a long time. 

I’m at a very difficult part of The Wrong Kind of Dead. I’ve transported my main characters from the thick of the flesh-eating undead mobs to a remote sanctuary in the Wyoming mountains, where our heroes learn that even some television sitcoms remain in production for the pleasure of the overclass, for whom the Black Resurrection was merely a matter of inconvenience.

These parts of a zombie story, in which the living protagonists change venue, adjusting to new human antagonists by way of setting up for the final confrontation involving the living dead, are stupid-tricky, for reasons you can see for yourself watching TV’s The Walking Dead. The narrative can bog down in a thick, gray mud of who’s-mad-at-whom, what’s-this-shady-character-up-to? soap opera. The living dead, when they show up, aren’t so much objects of mortal terror, they are a relief.

Thank goodness, you finally made it! They’ve been arguing with each other all season, DO SOMETHING!

Here, I have an separate, alien world to build in the midst of an uncanny valley. I’m already playing with one touchy theme, now I’m playing with some serious metaphorical/ philosophical nerve agents here. The charges must be set just so, and quickly. At the end of the day this is an action-adventure novel set in the zombie post-apocalypse. The audience must never be permitted to forget this.

I had a story bible started for all of my books. I’ve only detailed them so far. It’s time to detail them a little more. All aspects of the three-book narrative arc must harmonize.

Above is the complete guide to Chapter 1. I’m not giving that much away here, but you can see where I set rules regarding portrayals of the zombies, along with initial themes I’m playing with. Each chapter description opens and closes with the opening and closing sections of the chapter. Isolating them thus from the manuscript has enabled many an improvement on these transitions.

This has occasioned yet another reading of the complete manuscript, which has resulted in two pages of it falling away. Striking redundant sentences and punching up the action made for a far more powerful narrative. I’m still combing through the earlier chapters while adding onto the latest. So far, everything is making sense beyond those points where this book and the one before it went off the rails in the past.  

It’s great to feel great about my writing for a change. Everything is up and running at optimum. Best of all, this book, along with the rest of the trilogy, will have legs. For years to come The SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER will be the kind of story by which other zombie stories will be judged. I certainly hope to have people working harder at them. A little effort goes a long way towards keeping things fresh and fun, especially in a limited genre like this one.

Speaking of fun....
This might have been the place to put a photo of me sitting at my desk looking thoughtful, but I’m a mess.

Given the controversies surrounding the Internet-ancient institutions of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, I’ve been looking at expanding to the emergent alternatives. I have a account, but I’ve done very little posting to it. Frankly, I’m still not sure what to do with it. No one I know is there. What do I even talk about among these total strangers? It’s the same problem I have starting a podcast.

I’m grateful these backups are there, though. (Just off the top of my head, see also: Spreaker, Hooktube, Gab, Voat, Bitchute.) I don’t see myself giving up on the Big Three until I’m forced to, although I am making changes to how I do business with them. For instance, Facebook has been too handy for keeping up with people I like keeping tabs on. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a few...I don’t know if I could call them “fans,” or what. They’re good people, though, so I’m not ghosting them. 

It was a week or so ago, however, that I noticed birthdays for people on my Friends list coming up—and I had completely forgotten these people even existed. Going through my list, I found half a dozen deactivated accounts. Many of the rest were simply inactive. That was an easy pruning job.

I did come to wonder why I was still Friends with some people, though. I wondered why I bothered with some groups.

This pruning was not done so cavalierly. However, I did welcome the opportunity to reflect upon whom and what I want in my life. I’ve been through more changes in my general outlook and attitude in this sixth decade of my life than any other time in my existence, most of them in the last two years. This is a spring cleaning years overdue. 

This, too, feels good. So much lighter and freer. 

“There’s a feeling I get/When I look to the West/And my spirit is crying for”...breakfast, as I cross an uncharacteristically empty US 160 in downtown Monte Vista. It’s an early Wednesday morning in April, though. It’ll fill with cross-Valley traffic soon enough. In seven weeks, come Memorial Day Weekend, it’ll be wall-to-wall campers and RVs.


I tried writing scripts for these things. It proved to be a fun exercise in stream-of-consciousness, write-like-you-talk composition for all of two pages before I realized it wasn’t going to work. What might be fun to write would be drudgery to read. 

I might read off some short pieces already here on the blog for added content—provide, provide, as the poet advised—but to script an entire half-hour show is just more than I care to do. Moreover, I’ll need to do 45-minute to hour-long shows if I care to hit to hit the big time with this, which I need to do to pay these bills. That’s a lot of pages of script to be writing when I should be writing my novel, or blogposts.

So, based on a couple of other podcasts I’m studying, I’ve got the sections mapped out. I don’t even have to record the pieces in order. Select a topic, put down the bullet points I need to elaborate upon, and go. It’s more than I ever did when I was in Toastmasters. My best speeches for them, as enjoyable for myself as it was my audience, was when I got up with just the vaguest outline in my head. Honestly, it wasn’t even an outline. I had a couple of ideas, and I simply improvised with what I knew. 

The irony here that almost makes me laugh—it’s more pathetic than funny—is that, if there’s one thing I learned in Toastmasters, I don’t enjoy public speaking as much as I’d thought I did.  Moreover, unlike years past, I don’t feel the urge to share my opinions, even with friends.

It’s taken long decades to come to this blessed state. I can only imagine how much more successful I’d be as a working American citizen if I’d come to this peculiar mental state sooner. Now I have to turn that around. That is, if I want to be successful as an author and, by necessary extension, Internet personality. 

Which I must. I’ve got bills to pay. Time to be a song-and-dance man again. It never was enough to be an author, after all.

Any day now. I have a feeling April 2018 is going to be one of those life-changing affairs.

A long road across flat, dusty, grease-grassed high valley floor to...DESTINY.  Or something.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

TMI Tuesday Motivational Something or Other

This photo was taken around 2 p.m. on Good Friday. I’m buzzing on two 16-oz. energy drinks, low blood sugar (all of one banana and a tangelo to eat all day), and the ever-increasing pain and swelling occasioned by me sitting on a 56-year-old oversize prostate awaking from the Lidocaine and realizing there are six bloody chunks taken from it on each side for the biopsy I endured two and a half hours ago at the Fort Carson hospital. 

I’m grinding up the eastern slope about half a mile from the summit of La Veta Pass (9,413 ft; 2,869 m), where I’ll throw down the camera and ride the steep, twisting road down the other side of the Sangre de Cristos with both hands on the wheel, and Led Zep’s “Achilles Last Stand” blasting from the speakers over my head in the Jeep. 

It sounds so heroic now, but at the time I was running a nonstop monologue on myself, “C’mon, Champ, we got this, only __ miles to go and we’re throwing ourselves into bed, maybe we won’t even bother taking off these boots, how ‘bout that, you like that? C’mon, let’s go, this is NOT where it’s gonna end for me....” 

All the same, I find this a very inspirational shot. I have plans for this month.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Notes on the Current Crisis, Eleven Days into March

Marking the seventh anniversary of a blog I’m still trying to figure out what to do with. 

First, I’d like to say hello to all the new readers from Portugal and Ukraine. Between the landscape photos, the cat pictures, the gruesome zombie fiction excepts, the musings on writing, and the occasional book and movie review, I trust someone has found something they were looking for. 

I honestly don’t mean to be such an all-over-the-place generalist. It’s just how things work out. I don’t do that much to begin with, so whatever it is I do, I like to get it up there. 

Way up there.

I’m still working on putting together my first podcast. It isn’t as easy for me as simply turning on the microphone and just running my mouth. Strange, because it used to be just that easy to get up and talk back in the day when I was faking my way through Toastmasters.

That was in a faraway time when I actually believed I enjoyed getting up in front of people. I used to think I fed on the energy of my audience, and that’s what make it happen when I was up front emceeing an awards ceremony or bluegrass show, etc. I cringe to think of it now.

How The Beatles got mixed up in this is anyone’s guess.

The outline is there, though, and the elements are coming together. Soon. Soon....

The Story Bible for my third novel, as it appears taped to the wall. Bringing this back has helped a lot, and proven to be the Big News of the last couple of weeks in regards to getting my series finished.

A couple of notable things that were notable for being not very notable came up. These were very instructive in terms of blogging and podcasting, namely the once-big awards ceremony of a week ago and...I’m not kidding, I forgot the second thing. The point is that making posts and whatnot of current events simply isn’t worth it anymore, even as basic filler.

It’s fascinating to me how so many things that used to be a big deal are barely worth mentioning now. I like to imagine I’m clever enough to realize that it’s just me. The world has moved on.

“Everything, everyone is hungry and scared.” Whatever you’re feeling now, imagine feeling hungry and scared. My timbers got shivered at “hungry.”

What’s it moving towards? What will we ever talk about? It’s good to feel a healthy curiosity again. That is, as opposed to the morbid kind, which was de riguer so long it was de facto default for me.

Warmer days, longer days ahead.

Here’s to what happens next.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Governors and Negans All the Way Down

A genre writer’s gotta know his limitations. SPOILERS OUT THE YING-YANG, including for the comic book source material, because I have some points to make.

I haven’t seen an episode of The Walking Dead since Tyreese carelessly let himself get bitten at that one kid’s house, hallucinated some dead characters from past episodes, and died. I was morbidly curious to see the end of that kid in a following episode, as he was graphically murdered in a scene the fans on Twitter dubbed “Everyone Ate Chris.”

If you’re not already in on the joke, the actor
playing this doomed character here was the star of
a show called Everyone Hates Chris, whereas here
they’re lovin’ every juicy mouthful. Ha!
I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m reminded why often enough when I check the Twitter hashtag during the course of an episode. The mid-season premiere of 25 February 2018 — the latest episode as of this writing — was no exception. Even knowing a character is going to die, you have to endure much pointless padding in between frequent (very frequent) commercial interruptions.

For my part, if I had to endure another character like Tyreese saying, “We have to talk about this” in relation to the latest fatal calamity, I was going to have a psychotic reaction. For the love of all that’s holy, why can’t people on television shows be more like real life people who understand the need for other people to mourn in silence? If people want to talk, they’ll talk. If they don’t, they shouldn’t have to.

“We have to talk,” of course, is the show writers’ laziness in padding before the big conflict. There are other ways they could build towards the big conflict that takes something and/or someone away from our heroes even as they escape with their lives. One way that would do this, which could make the death of the doomed character all the more poignant due to what we’d learn about said character, is to have everyone working together on a specific project necessary to the group’s survival. 

I’m thinking something along the lines of purifying water—impure water would be a large factor in surviving human fatalities in the post-apocalypse—or organizing a food run, or looking for a defensible place to grow crops. Scouting for a defensible position off the radar of other wandering groups would be a most worthwhile effort.

It’s a tragic waste that, for all the Big Moral Lessons television insists on imparting to us, this show couldn’t show its audience how to survive when the power grid is down. How not just to boil water, but to distill it. How to tell if the canned food is tainted. How safely to deal with waste product. How not to conduct survival activities without attracting the attention of bandits or warlord minions. Useful information that will help people live to be (fashionably) moral another day.

Alas, it is what it is, and, short of making our own media, there is nothing to be done. However, I would like to note a positive development in the series, that may keep the zombie apocalypse genre alive for a little longer on television. 

It’s been a long, long while since I’ve seen this level of enthusiasm for the show.

Everyone knew Carl, the now-grown son of main protagonist Rick, was not long for the world as of the the mid-season finale before Christmas. He’d been bitten, and it was only a matter of time. His imminent death was what kept the audience coming back after the long winter break.

This is a crucial development in the series, for reasons many  critics have yet to grasp. [HERE COME THE SPOILERS. LAST CHANCE TO BAIL.] For one, it diverges in a major way from the comics. In the comics, at least the last I saw from the second volume of The Walking Dead Compendium, (and this was three, maybe four years ago) Carl was still very much alive, and pretty much grown, especially after the year-long time jump following the resolution of the Negan storyline.

There have been many divergences from the comics source material, most of them quite sensible. Perhaps the greatest point of fascination for me about this franchise is how the original comics serve as a brainstorming platform, the ideas of which are reconfigured and refined for the television series. Two of the more extreme divergences are baby Judith’s survival (in the comics, the same bullet that killed her mother tore through her body as well) and the fate of Andrea. In the television show, Andrea is a damaged slut who dies in the Governor’s custody. In the comics, she’s known for her accuracy with a pistol, and as the eventual, and longtime romantic companion with Rick. That we can debate the wisdom of these decisions makes it all the more fun for those who follow the franchise.

Carl’s death is critical because he is Rick’s last link to life before the zombie apocalypse. Aside from satisfying the need for an important death in the series (a curious, if self-limiting feature of this franchise), it had to happen for the simple reason that the show has been on for nearly eight years already. Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl, is too obviously old in a role that should have only aged a couple of years in terms of The Walking Dead’s fictional timeline. We had emotional and rational reasons for this.

This leads me to wonder who has to be next. I’m guessing Daryl Dixon’s time might be up soon, if only because the vast female fan club behind his character and the actor portraying him has ceased all activity on social media. How Norman Reedus went from “Pls follow me back” and “If Daryl dies, I’m out” on Twitter to non-existent over the years is a development I’ve missed out on. My guess it has something to do with the softening of the character that I noticed when it came time to rescue Beth from the work and rape camp run by those former police officers in Atlanta. Daryl’s lame, let’s-not-kill-anyone-if-we-don’t-have-to idea got Beth killed by the merciless psychos they were trying to rescue her from.

Yeah, the psycho woman was “just trying to hold it together” at the Grady Memorial Hospital Slave Labor and Rape Camp. We could have gone with Rick’s idea, but you didn’t have the nerve to hurt slavers and rapists. So Chief Psycho and Rape-Enabler shot Beth.  Shot her good and dead. You should feel bad, son.

Come to think of it, that’s almost exactly when I began to notice the drop-off in Daryl Dixon/Norman Reedus fangirling. That was three seasons ago, during its most highly rated season. If Daryl isn’t the next major character to go, it’s because the network has themselves locked in a term contract with the actor long past his sell-by date.

Used to be the meanest, toughest, fightin’est sumbitch in the group. Then the writers got hold of him. The same ones who think we want to see and hear everyone talk about their feewings after every major zombie attack. Sorry, Daryl, they’ve already long since murdered ya.

For now, Carl is dead, and I expect Rick will be in his Ricktator “These people don’t get to live” mindset, or close enough. Will we see the final defeat of Negan and the Saviors at the end of this season? Or is this conflict going to be dragged out for one more year?

Another major thing that happened was, as Carl was dying, he described what looked to be the communities in the one-year-later time jump after the resolution of the Negan storyline in the comics. Will the series follow the example of the comics, and go with this weak Hail Mary of a narrative pass?

I shouldn’t have to post a spoiler alert to note that the crisis with Negan will eventually be resolved. So who’s the next Worst Living Evil We’ve Encountered Yet?

After a point, about the only way one is going to make this interesting is to provide those warlords with distinctive costumes and gimmicks along the lines of the 1960s Batman TV series. 

“Oh noes, it’s the Sprinkler! He’s got more metal piercings on his body than anyone outside of a traveling circus, and he wants 60 percent of our stuff!”
“Oh noes, it’s Greenface! He has all these tattoos on his face from being the scariest gang warlord ever, and they’ve all turned dark, mossy green with age, making his eyes look really crazy. He wants 70 percent of our stuff!”
“This is the worst ever! It’s Dr. Diarrhea, and he’ll put cholera into our water supply if we don’t give him 80 percent of our stuff!”

Towards the very end, they will have to contend with Satan himself, who not only started the zombie apocalypse, but really, truly, madly, deeply hates these survivors for surviving, and is therefore now sending every undead creature on Earth their way so that he may reap their souls in flesh-rending agonies beyond imagining. Which will be great, because it will be the first time in forever since the living dead stalking the land sleeplessly, relentlessly, ravenously for living flesh will be the central threat. 

For all my exaggeration and general goofing around here, I trust everyone sees the problem. It’s not confined to the characters and setting of The Walking Dead, but an issue baked into the genre itself. The reanimated corpses who brought down civilization—and captured the attention of our audience—become less and less of a threat as our heroes adjust. The largest conflict will be with the Negans and Governors and the worse and even more worse living humans to follow.

My concern with the show now is that, once it’s over, zombie mania passes with it. As someone racing to finish the third and last book in his zombie post-apocalypse series and recoup his investment of time and energy...well.... 

Burnout is inevitable. Don’t be sad it’s almost over. Be glad it’s still happening. And hurry.