Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Social Media Slapstick, July 2018 Edition

Minds losing their minds, but still doing better than Google Plus. A shame we can’t let a thousand flowers bloom, but in some things there can be only the One.

I still don’t have much to do with Minds.com but check the feed from time to time. As I still have no idea what to say with their oft-touted freedom of speech to all these strangers, I make no posts. I’m counting on that to change once the publication of my third and last book in my zombie post-apocalypse adventure series is in sight. 

So far, so good. Last week, I almost gave it up.

It turns out that Minds.com somehow won permission to operate within Vietnam. Hooray for everybody, except that my timeline was flooded with posts in Vietnamese, by Vietnamese, and no doubt interesting to the Vietnamese, but nothing but the Vietnamese. I can’t have been the only Anglosphere lurker wondering what on earth happened to the one and only video guy he was following, now buried beneath pages upon pages of posts in Vietnamese I could neither comprehend, nor care to.

This is what I like to call a “sacred and profane” scene. A big Colorado sky and those gorgeous Sangre de Cristo Mountains serve as a majestic backdrop for these tokens of human settlement and commerce. No, I’m not using any screenshots from Minds because those Vietnamese posts went on forever. I’d rather look at this.

This went on for days. I had to scroll for pages before I found anything in English, and, more often than not, it was that same note from Minds congratulating itself on breaking into the Vietnamese market. 

One day, I clicked on with the idea of wiping my profile and ghosting out when I see my timeline loaded floor to ceiling with back videos of the one guy I follow. As per usual, the timeline would lead with something by someone else that I find interesting that I’ll instinctively start reading before it disappears seconds in, buried under post after repeated post of something else. Although the Old Stupid is preferable to the Recent Stupid, I’ll call this a draw, because it’s still stupid.

On one hand, I can’t help wondering how many members Minds lost to the Great Vietnamese Timeline Flood. On the other hand, as with everything else about this platform, I can’t work up the drive to find out.

I thought this a nice mise en scène de chats. Not that you can stage cats. More like a lucky shot, really.

All that said, it’s still doing better than Google Plus. Remember that? It’s still around, if barely. It was never so bad as there was simply no real reason for anyone to go there.

Another sweet arrangement I was lucky to catch.

Social media tends towards monopoly for the same reason most people in the world use Windows as an operating system—there are times when everyone needs to be on the same page. It’s easier to network and keep up with people when they’re in one place. And if they’re already in one place, they need a really good reason to move. Most people never get that reason. They don’t post anything more controversial than the mildest political meme among the photos of pets and food and travel locales. Getting “zucc’d,” i.e., banned, isn’t an issue.

If more people are migrating over to Instagram, that’s because most people interface with the Internet via their smartphones, and Instagram is darn convenient for those whose primary camera is their phone. Fortunately, the powers that be at Facebook recognized this early on, and purchased Instagram before it could become a direct threat. 

That said, I don’t see Facebook going away anytime soon, or even a few years down the road. From what I’ve observed, younger people and others whose smartphones are an indispensable tool have moved to Instagram. It’s too convenient for smartphone users to ignore. Likewise Still, Facebook is convenient for older folks and those of us who spend their days at regular, honest-to-Babbage computer stations. Instagram users can share their captioned photos to Facebook, so Grandma and Grandpa can still follow their family. 

It’s such a rare and wonderful thing to behold something that actually works. 

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

More Fun with Cancer

My Accelerated Apocalypse, Part 2
(Part 1 here.)

The doctor wanted to schedule a meeting for us to talk about “going forward” with the diagnosis. I say, well, we’re here now, why not talk now? Unfortunately, the in-person meeting was required, part of the process and all that. So I’m told, and what am I going to do? All I can think is, now begins a bunch of three-hour drives across a mountain pass that are sure to kill me before the cancer has a chance.

The appointment was five weeks down the calendar. “Don’t worry, this is a slow cancer,” says the doctor. “We’ll make sure sure to get everything on time.” All I could think was at least I had a while before I had to go over La Veta Pass again. Besides, the Gleeson Scale numbers weren’t that bad. Just bad enough to have to do something about it.

Now I had all this time to walk around with this cancer inside of me to think about it.

No cats, just cars this time. This vehicle and others were racing along the dirt track at Movie Manor just west of town the first weekend in June. On Saturday evening you saw them parked all over as the owners/drivers partook of the Monte Vista restaurant scene.

We were going out to our favorite restaurant in town anyway. Now we had something to celebrate, sort of. My wife nudged me into pulling the trigger on the rib-eye platter. It had been on my bucket list for a while. Now, why not?

Actual photo of the rib eye platter I consumed that evening at the Mountain View in Monte. Yes, it was everything I dreamed of.

So began a series of nights drinking and thinking about my mortality. I’d already been through this once throughout Thanksgiving and Christmas after my friend Steven took ill and died, so I bored quickly. I was assiduous about throwing stuff out and burning off loose ends, but that spasm of activity lasted maybe three days before I gave up. I’d already taken care of more than most. Everyone knows where the will is. (My wife and I had our wills, medical powers-of-attorney, and all that jazz drawn up in the wake of singer/ songwriter/ performer Prince dying in 2016. “My God, he’s as old as we are! We gotta take care of this!” So we did.)

I was somewhat disappointed in myself for how quickly apathetic I became towards so many things. Here in the face of oblivion, and I’m saying, eh, whatever, won’t be my problem anymore, will it? I had to really work for that slight twinge of guilt, too.

Across the street from the first photo. I thought it funny how the drivers parked their cars in the striped, no-parking zones, but then these things are already running around without plates, so why not distance themselves from the common idiots and their careless employment of car doors? So far as I could tell the Monte Vista police essentially shrugged off this potential fine/rent-collecting, much to their credit.

It’s funny. I got the news of my enlarged prostate in January, went up to see the urologist for the first time in March, got news of my cancer in mid-April, and I think I did that follow-up for the going forward or whatever in late April. I know I had another long while until the actual operation in June. It’s just strange to me how quickly the seasons and months of half a year have slid past me. For the longest time, I used to annoy people around me by noting the dates of the most trivial things. Here I am with cancer, and the only dates I can give you are 16 April, the day I learned I had cancer, and 5 June, when I underwent the five-hour operation to have my prostate cut out.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. First, the “going forward” meeting:

The best-looking one of all the ones I saw in town that Saturday. Ironically, it has plates, but is being towed on a flatbed. The rest drove away under their own power.

The urologist spent an inordinate amount of time explaining radiation therapy to us, and the more I heard, the less I liked about it. “You really, really ought to give these people a chance,” he kept saying. And I’m thinking, What part of “three hour ride one-way” are you missing, son? One six-hour round-trip a week for six weeks, and my wife and I would be filing for divorce three weeks in. 

That was not even the worst of it. Basically, my groin area— “They’re very precise with the beams these days” was repeated—would be subjected to doses of radiation until my prostate was essentially killed. The idea of walking around with a dead, irradiated organ wrapped around my urethra just to avoid surgery seemed to be the most insane thing I’d ever heard. I’ll take the surgery, thank you. I’m pretty sure I repeated that more than twice.

“Well, the surgery does leave a door open. If it doesn’t get all the cancer out, you can do the radiation. If you do the radiation first, getting the prostate out will be impossible due to keloid scarring.”

Now we bring this up. Fine. Like it wasn’t already settled.

So when’s my surgery? What do I have to do?

The earliest they could do was 5 June, a Tuesday. Tuesday was Robot-Assisted Surgery Day, a very good day.

Six weeks away. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about making the three-hour ride through the pass again for a while. This is, after all, a slow cancer. Right?

I’m out of cars. We’re back to cats. Hey, I needed a kitty break after that last part.

To be continued on a later post....
Any contributions towards insurance co-pays, incidental expenses (those three hour drive to Colorado Springs), or maybe just a margarita for my long-suffering wife will be greatly appreciated. (Yes, that preceding block of text is the link.)

Meanwhile, I’ll throw in some unrelated, and far more entertaining stuff while I write out the rest of this. I honestly have to fight with myself to even talk about it. Which, I suppose, is something else I’ll have to talk about. Sometime....

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Violence Behind My Silence This Time

A Tale of Accelerated Apocalypse, Part 1

It was quite the plot twist. A friend from way back in college days, whose second wedding I’d attended as best man, who’d given me the advice I followed on my first chapter of Bleeding Kansas that got my first novel off the ground, had taken ill and died in November. It was a completely freak thing. Still, I was nervous enough to schedule my usual physical and cancer screening for before Christmas, instead of waiting past the New Year as is my usual custom.

I was a shuddering wreck when I went in to have my blood drawn five days before Christmas. As the New Year came and became plain old 2018, I became more and more blasé about it. After all, what had happened to Steven was a completely freak thing. Given that my mother died at age 44 from colon cancer, and my father age at 52 from third stage non-Hodgins lymphoma, if anything was killing me it would have done so long before now. Given my record, I saw no reason for me not to live as long as my paternal grandmother, who made it all the way to 91.

When I got the call in mid-January telling me my PSA number was 10, meaning my prostate was three times its normal size, I assumed it was caused by nothing more than my underwear tightening as I gained weight last year. I bought bigger underwear. 

When things threaten to get a little too real, go into the cat photo folder.

Of course, I would have to see a urologist. I was told people have died with lower numbers than mine, and I didn’t doubt it. After a couple of weeks of desultory screwing around, I decided I’d bite the bullet and get an appointment at Fort Carson on the south end of Colorado Springs.

A three-hour ride, the midpoint through a high mountain pass, another hour waiting, and I saw the doctor. I learned nothing I didn’t already know. I had my blood drawn again for another PSA, and set up an appointment for a prostate biopsy, another month down the calendar. One almost had to laugh. If I had anything killing me, it had all the time in the world before we’d even get a look at what it was.

Before the biopsy, I learned that the second PSA number was 7. Now my prostate was only a little over twice as big. Score one for the Too-tight Underwear Theory.

Shot through a window screen, hence the odd visual effect.

March 23 was the day of the biopsy. It was also the day I got the idea that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to make the six-hour round trip alone. I got a brief blogpost out of it. Hard to believe that was more than three months ago already.

Posting is difficult when half your mind is somewhere else.

I had been told repeatedly I’d get a call within the next week, but I likely missed it. I get a lot of junk calls on my burner phone. I often wait to see if the caller leaves a voice message. Even so, since the beginning of this year, I’ve noticed the telemarketers leaving robotic messages, or tripping the voice mail without leaving any message at all.

My wife kept asking if I’d called them back to ask if I’d missed their call, and I was, ah, I’ll get around to it.

Sitting at my desk, Tuesday, 16 April — a day that will go down in infamy — I got the impulse to answer the phone when it rang, instead of looking at the number and clicking the mute button. It was the urologist himself. 

He’d been trying to get in touch with me personally because this was the kind of news a doctor gave personally. My wife broke down as she overheard me saying, “All right, so can I just get the thing cut out?”

To be continued (Part 2 right here if you're interested)....
Any contributions towards insurance co-pays, incidental expenses (those three hour drive to Colorado Springs), or maybe just a margarita for my long-suffering wife will be greatly appreciated. (Yes, that preceding block of text is the link.)

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.

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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 Minds.com 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.