Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Happy (Star Wars) Holidays

Wow... I thought my childhood memories of this were painful enough... then I had to go watch it as an adult!

Alright, I'll be honest. I didn't watch the whole thing. It just hurt too much. That and ::yikes:: Mark Hamill is a bit too scary in that much stage makeup. Besides, if I show my son, he'll want to watch the whole thing and I don't want to go through this more than necessary.

I still love Star Wars, but this... this... is something else.

NaNoWriMo, pt X

National Novel Writing Month. Yeah, that "thing" that happens every November.

For the past several years I have signed up and started writing. For the past several years the fates have conspired against me, plunking some huge project or life-changing event in my lap, effectively killing my novel writing efforts. This year was no different.

Next year, I won't participate. No offense or slight meant to those who participate, the event, or to the great organization behind it. I wish everyone the best of luck!

As for me, I think I can find the time to write what I want when I want to. NaNoWriMo was probably an excuse for me to spend more time sitting and writing. My life simply doesn't let me do that right now. I can find time for a creative outlet every now and then. When I do, it seems to quiet the nagging Muse within my head. Right now? Sure, she's screaming like a banshee, but I have found a way to filter out her wailing until we can spend some proper time together.

Does this mean I won't get back to the writings I have started for NaNoWriMo? Not at all. I will continue posting them here, albeit sporadically.

At least I will be writing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo, pt 1

My Fake Family History: Fictional People and Events that Shaped My Life

[Author's Note: this entry is first part of my National Novel Writing Month novel project in what I endeavor to be 50,000 words by month's end. The project, "My Fake Family History: Fictional People and Events that Shaped My Life", is truly a "Random Musing" where I am taking nuggets of factual events from my family's history and weaving them into fictional stories while exploring different writing styles. I may reveal to you, the reader, the truth now and then, but don't expect it all the time.]

~ 1 ~

A Steampunk's Time Machine

There I was, sitting in the studio over the garage the other evening, looking over the myriad of projects in their varying stages of completion, when my eyes lingered upon the roll-top desk that once sat in my grandfather's house. Why had my eyes picked that moment to stare at the desk? Why did they linger? Perhaps some deeper part of my consciousness desired to start yet another project? The rest of me shuddered at the thought; I'm busy enough at present for two or three people.

To slake the thirst of project beast within, I walked to the desk, seeking the thing that drew my attention and held it fast. The desk, its outer shell a once-varnished thing of oaken beauty, was now coated in what I remember—from a few different conversations about the desk—to be World War II surplus gray paint from the naval shipyards of 32nd Street.

My grandfather was the master recycler, “repurposer”, and “upcycler”, and this desk symbolizes those aspects of his manner and personality to me. Thinking back to conversations about the desk with my mother, she did not know from where it was purchased, nor did she quite remember when it entered her family. All she could recall was that the desk always seemed to sit in the garage-shop of her childhood house on Church Avenue, serving the role of cash register in her parents' businesses: first for her father's welding business and later her mother's toy shop. Sometime in its history, my grandfather repainted it with the gray paint he had obtained while welding ships' hulls in the shipyards, covering the oak surface in a dull coat.

No. The lure of another project wasn't what the inner me was reaching for. My eyes took a quick inventory of the many little things are scattered across its top: miniatures… Victorian corner-shelves I had yet to hang in the corner of some room in our house… (etc.) Not one of the nigh-countless curiosities in sight had held my interest like the room-breadth stare had. There was something else calling to me.

Taking a seat in the old wooden office chair, the contents of cubbies and slots passed under my visual scan without a second glance. I leaned back seeking a different perspective. Crossing my legs under the desk, to gain some comfort while maintaining the critical counterbalance to my deeply reclined posture, my foot bumped the center drawer.

“That’s it!” my awareness urged, “Open the drawer!”

I had nearly forgotten it was there. Reaching far back under the desktop, I found the bottom lip of the cash drawer with my fingertips, my knuckles brushing against the pulls of the alarm till’s finger lock mechanism. Oh yes, I had nearly forgotten about that mechanism too. Indeed. This is what was tugging at me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Kymera Magic Wand

A few weeks ago I found the need to seek out a universal remote. Looking for a good list of remotes with comparisons and ratings proved to be... boring... and tedious. Just as I was about to give up for the afternoon, I stumbled across just what I was looking for. The review had five or six remotes listed, with pros and cons to each device. Then, it listed a remote with no buttons in the form of a "magic wand". They didn't have too much to say about it, because it wasn't a traditional universal remote, but they did say it was fun. It sounded just like the kind of device I needed.

Curious, I visited the website to check this "wand" thing out. (The site is worth a peek... take a look... this page won't go anywhere while you're checking it out... back already? Let's press on.) I was definitely intrigued by the web site's presentation of the device. Overall, it called to the science fiction/fantasy geek that is a big part of me. Magic. Technology. Both of them in one cool package. How do I buy... bah! The wand was still being produced in the "Orient" and would arrive in the UK and US soon. I could reserve one and decide if I was still interested when they notified me of the impending availability.

Last week I got the email. The shipment had arrived! I took the rest of the week and weekend to think it over. Yes, it was cool. Yes, it was very, very geeky. But it was fun. My wife asked why I hadn't gotten it already. I guess that was answer enough. Tuesday at lunch, I ordered the Kymera (its proper name) and looked forward to its arrival. Today, when I got back from lunch, it was sitting on my office chair bundled in a FedEx package. I opened it, shared it with a few coworkers, and put it away, knowing I wouldn't be able to really mess with it for several more hours.

Several more hours have passed. I opened it up again and really took a good look at it. This thing is cool. Sure, the body is plastic, but it's not that bad. I was hoping for wood, but this'll do. I quickly read the instructions. Andie and Ethan got a look at it, Ethan grinning like a gnome (or, better yet, a kender) who'd found a Wand of Wizardry in his closet. He's off to bed. She's watching some vampire show. I'm in the studio waving a magic wand around. After a bit, I'm really ready to try this thing out.

With a "big swish", the electronic beast that is the Onkyo rack turns on. Industrial/electronica music thumps from the speakers. I grin and chuckle. Another "big swish" and it turns off. I check to see if the beer I've popped open was inadvertently consumed and I am merely experiencing some alcohol-induced delusion. Nope, I've only had a swallow or two. This wand is cool and fun. Yet another "big swish", the music continues, and I try some other gestures. A twist of my wrist "anticlockwise" and the volume drops. "Clockwise" and it goes up. I've got ten more gestures to associate to other functions and/or devices. Muwahahahaahaaaaaaa!!!

One word here... awe-sommme!!! This wand is a brilliant addition to my neo-Victorian, Steampunk-ish, Tolkien-esque, Medieval-influenced, 100% "geek cave".

I think I just had a nerdgasm.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Project: Fish Pond, pt 4

One of the things the pond needs is a respectable "spitter" to go over the PVC pipes sticking out of the back wall. I've seen countless Green Man sculptures over the years, many of which would be perfect for such a job. Of course, when I actually make the effort to find one out there on the web, I can't find many that look good, are worth the price, or are the right size for the job.

It took a while, but I found the web site of Walter S. Arnold ( with a few Green Man faces and even gargoyles that could work. This guy is an amazing stone carver! Ultimately, Andie and I chose "Mirth", a Green Man, from his collection.

Of course, once we decided on "Mirth", we realized we probably couldn't get it shipped in time for it to arrive before the vacation we had planned. Then, as things play out, I got a bit busy and didn't order them for another week or so. I did finally place the order. There's a saying that is something like "you can't rush art", so I waited. Not long, but I was anxious to keep the project rolling along. The confirmation email came from Walter, where he answered my questions. A few days later, he sent another email letting me know that he had shipped our "Mirth" castings, thus starting the "where is the package" game with the freight carrier.

It took about a week, but "Mirth" arrived two nights ago, complete with signatures, certificates of authenticity, mounting holes, and drilled out mouths. The "antique white" color as a hopeful match to the light cement walls was a guess, but Walter said they should look fine. He was right. The size of the Green Man faces is slightly smaller than ideal, but all the other attributes more than make up for it. Wonderful. Now all I have to do is mount them on the wall and hook up the water lines to their mouths... but that's another post.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Project: Cold Box

The other project I have going on right now is a "cold box"... or at least that's what we call them at work. It's really a large refrigerator built out of insulated panels.

Around noon on the Saturday before Memorial Day, I decided to have a beer in the studio. I grabbed a Stone IPA and kicked back in my favorite desk chair. While it wasn't extremely warm outside, it was definitely a bit too warm in the studio. Well, too warm for the ten cases of beer I have stored out in the open up there. My wife was busy, my son was more than occupied with his Legos, and I had nothing planned, so naturally a "project" started poking at me. I resisted the urge for as long as I could—perhaps a whole five or ten minutes elapsed before I buckled under the pressure—and then dove into the project with full force. I moved the makeshift bar, emptied the closet, and tore out the wall... then the ceiling. As I got down to the studs, I was amazed at the poor construction. hardly any ceiling structure, but four 2x4s on one side of the doorway!

"Mini-me" came up during the deconstruction and totally got into it, banging holes in the drywall and laughing maniacally... the same way he does when he plays a driving arcade game while crashig into everything. Perhaps we "parental units" should worry about that a bit.

Anyway, once I had the space cleared out, the first couple of insulated panels went up quickly. Then everything slowed down as I figured out how to fit the remaining pieces in place of the wall, ceiling, and cold box door. The most important "trick" I needed to remember was no metal outside of the box can come in contact with the metal inside the box. If it does happen, I will have a big condensation problem. On the off chance I still ended up with condensation, I put in a PVC underlayment and shower drain. I covered over the insulated panel wall with drywall... which makes it completely boring to look at in a photo, which is why there isn't one of that phase here.

After much delay (heh, go figure!), I finally got back to the project. I used some more of those insulated panels--the same kind that make up the walls--as doors. An online order supplied the wire racking. A trip to Home Depot netted me the much needed strap hinges, foam-in-a-can, box o' self-tapping screws, and ducting for the cooling system. Currently, my cooling system is a salvaged window-mount air conditioning unit, but hopefully some day I will be able to swap it out for a Breez-Aire (or similar) cellar cooling system. Everything but the cooling system got put together during the spare moments I found here and there. I decided to hang two doors instead of one because it was "easier" and I didn't have an insulated panel big enough to act as the "single door". As I thought out this hare-brained scheme a bit more, it actually works in my favor: the bottom door will be for the kegs and coldest beers I don't access that often, while the upper door will cover the beer archive and "in-the-clear" (and already represented in the archive) interesting beers I have. Andie suggested I sheath the door in some luan "doorskin" to make it match the door adjacent to it. That awesome suggestion will be incorporated as soon as I tweak the doors so the don't rub each other and split the black insulating tape on the seams.

Ultimately, I found a little more time this weekend to burrow through the insulated panel ceiling to insert the supply for the cooling system. The cooling system is happily humming away as it chills my beer archive to cellar temperatures and below. After transferring most of the beer out of the old "beer 'fridge" into the new "cold box" I realized that... um... okay, don't tell anyone this... no, really, I'd be a bit embarassed if this got out... I have too much beer. Okay, there, I said it. I've got a problem that I think can only be solved by an "Open Bar" kinda party. I have to figure out when it could... wait a second. Septoberfest. Heck yeah! This might be the answer to my "problem". Until then, I have to whittle down the cellar a bit... one 22oz bottle at a time.

When everything was all said and done, I wondered "how much beer can this thing hold?" After a quick count of all the stuff I found energy to put in there tonight, the total is currently three 5-gallon kegs, twenty cases of 22-ounce bottles (that's 12 x 20 22oz bottles equalling 240 bottles), and an uncounted quantity of 750ml "laid-down" bottles, loose 22oz bottles, and 12oz (or less) bottles that are either "drink now" or "don't touch 'cause I'm aging 'em" beers.

::sheesh:: I've got to free up some room for the wine that is supposed to go in here. This was, after all, supposed to house not only beer, but wine as well. Sure, the bar just on the other side of the wall will have a small fridge for white wines (and maybe a cold 6-pack if it'll fit), but this thing has to be able to hold some laid-down reds. Well, there's only one thing left to do...

So... when does Septober arrive again?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Travel: Vermont / New Hampshire, day 3

Day three found us slowly moving about... that French toast was good, but it takes a couple more cups of coffee to work through it to my bloodstream so I can get on with the day. Since I wasn't about to make them give me another pot "to go" and we just "happened" to be down the road from Green Mountain Coffee, we all thought it was a good idea to visit them... okay, so they were already on the agenda, but given the time of day, it totally made sense. They have some interesting business ideas and some great ethics. I will suggest "Stone-like" variations to the powers that be.

Further down the road was a visit to Cold Hollow Cider Mill. Since we had gotten a small sample of their cider while at the Grunberg Haus, we were anticipating their famous cider and apparently even more famous cider donuts. We got free samples and savored every drop. This stuff completely blows away anything I have ever (yeah, "eh-ver") had in Julian. It's $13 a gallon, and about $12 to ship it home, but I'm still considering getting some around the holidays. The donuts were good, but not as good as the cider itself (in my opinion).

From there, it was back on the road to get to our next stop, with a little side trek through Montpelier. Don't blink or you might miss the nation's smallest state capital! It was during this leg of the road trip when I developed a little used skill: something I now like to call "kung-fu photography"! Simply put, you find yourself in a situation where you know a good picture can be had if you could somehow separate yourself from whatever it is you're doing and shoot the photo, say, blindly out the window while you're concentrating on driving. Everyone in the car is saying "wow" and "look at that" and you're stuck with few options: look and risk crashing; pull over and lose time toward the next destination; handing the camera to someone else and not get "wow" photos, or put the camera in your own hand, point it where you think the "wow" is, and shoot, hoping to look at the photos later. So far, I've even started using the technique in other situations. Yes, that's a "kung-fu photo" to the right. Maybe my name for the technique is bad, but how good is your kung-fu (photography)? :)

The Cabot Creamery was next on the itinerary, so we jumped on the road once again. Like the other factories, this one has lots of stainless steel tubing and big tanks. The difference was the "cooking" troughs. They heat the milk and other ingredients in the troughs and it is mixed. When done, it is dumped out of the tough into an augered pipe that moves the cheese to the press where it is formed into a somewhat large block (or round) of cheese. Most cheese they make is supposed to be eaten before a relatively short time has passed, but some is aged for up to two years (and cave aged for much longer). We threw down some cash and picked up some cheeses for a lunch "on the road" in the White Mountains.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are... well... green, but the Green Mountains are in Vermont, so I guess they had to come up with some name. Whatever the name, they are gorgeous! Even more spectacular was the Flume Gorge at Franconia Notch! I'm familiar with "flume" when it is used to refer to logging, but I never really thought about other uses. Now I can see where they got the name (thought I don't know which usage came first). Since we arrived late, we took the bus up to the "base station", bypassing a quarter of our hike, but driving through one of New Hampshire's oldest covered bridges (by trip's end, we had crossed four and saw two others). The hike to the flume was quick and the cantilevered walkway through the flume itself was a little dicey in spots (while watching a 5 year old), but I'd do it again without hesitation. The flume and surrounding woods were breathtaking. Aside from the falls at the top, I really liked the countless trees growing atop boulders with their roots stretching across them to the ground. It was like a forest on another world!

We had dinner that night at the Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery. As usual, I got the sampler tray of beers. (I'll have to fill in the details soon). The food, beer, drink, service, and atmosphere were all good.

Back at the hotel, that night's beverage was a 750-ml bottle of Farnum Hill Extra-Dry Cider I split with Andie. Very good cider, with some funky smells and notes. Perhaps there is some bret in thier cider.

(I'll probably update this entry with some more information, but for now... mmm... sleep)
(I'll also deal with my feelings about toll roads in a more appropriate entry... but I don't hate them quite as much as I first did.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Travel: Vermont / New Hampshire, days 1 & 2

[Please keep this in mind while reading... as of posting, I have taken over 450 photos (and some short videos) attempting to capture the various interesting and cool things we've seen.]

What a wild ride this vacation has been. The first day was spent travelling... no big surprise there, as we're in Vermont and New Hampshire (with a house/cat sitter of sorts back home keeping things cared for... thanks Gary). We got delayed by a rain storm while we were sitting the tarmack at JFK. "This is the captain. We've got about 25-30 planes ahead of us waiting to take off. We'll be here for a while as we wait for our turn." We finally arrived in Burlington about an hour and a half (or more) late. Throwing our luggage in the rental car, we dashed south to our hotel and then to dinner at Lake View House. I also grabbed a pint of Switchback Unfiltered Pale to go with the grilled-cheese panini dinner (dinner and beer were both quite good). I also took the car on a quick detour to see where Magic Hat Brewing Co. was located for the next day... about four blocks away from our hotel.

Day two, I dropped Andie and Ethan off at the waterfront in Burlington so I could spend an hour or so at Magic Hat. I got quite the tour and tasting (thanks Matt!). That brewery is worth the visit if you like beer and are in the area. Even if you can't go on a guided tour, you can walk up to the brewery overlook to get an idea of what is going on. Their attitude and way of doing things is awesome... they are cutting their own path, but are definitely cool like Stone. (I'll have to create a Flickr account just to share the best photos.)

Leaving Magic Hat just before Andie called (good timing there), I got on the main thoroughfare and arrived at the Burlington waterfront just in time to join her and Ethan for a luncheon cruise on Lake Champlain. (food: meh, beer: FYB). Andie and Ethan shared the photos of the places they visited while I was at the brewery... we'd have to visit the highlights after the cruse! Ethan had spotted a statue of Champ, the region's lake monster. Andie had found the gorgeous downtown area. The cruise itself was quite picturesque and informative; as we gazed at the amazing landscape around us, the boat's "disembaudio" told us about the historical significance of the lake.

After docking, we hit the streets in search of all the cool things Andie and Ethan had found, including our "ritual" Christmas ornament souveniers we purchase on all vacations. The square (with a clever name that escapes me at the moment) was filled with cool shops, great architecture, and a busker every half block or so. Musicans, singers, bluegrass punks, and even "that guy" performing as the one man band (he wasn't bad... but the bluegrass punks were really good, even if I am biased)

Once we were "done with" downtown Burlington, we set our four-wheeled mule* for Ethan Allen's Homestead Museum. It was a quick sidetrek worth the few bucks we spent. It's good to see a bit of our history while on vacation, and each day this trip was no exception. Like most of the buildings we are seeing during this trip, the architecture is amazing, given the period and a geek's love for history. Like all vacationing, I get inspired by this and take reference photos, or simply photos to help me recapture the moment (if I can help it, without anyone but family in them, if that much at times (meant in the best way)).

We had another stop for the day, so after wandering around Ethan Allen's farmstead, we made a beeline for some sweet nectar of another kind: ice cream. Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory & Tour was on our list! The tour was photo-less and like most food manufacturing these days--filled with stainless steel pipes and tanks. The cool part (pun intended) was the ice cream tasing at the end. The flavor presented to us was Oatmeal Raisen Cookie Dough. Awesome! Well, awesome if you like all the things that would go into the cookie, including the cinnamon ice cream. In the adjacent store, they were also serving a flavor that was in the "Flavor Graveyard", which had me guessing a bit. The most intersting flavor in the graveyard (in my opinion and that of several other visitors) was "Economic Crunch" from the late '80s. I say, let's bring it back... but perhaps it should be somewhat bitter. Maybe just a little.

We found our lodging at the Grunberg Haus, a wonderful bed and breakfast not too far away. The innkeepers were nice, the food was good, and the building was filled with character. I took numerous reference photos, as this was the quintisential D&D style inn to me, complete with the extremely warped floor requiring "sea legs" to safely find your way from one room to another. We stayed on the third floor, with the balcony seen in this photo. The deck wrapped around the second floor and was accessible from the rooms or from a couple of precarious "stairways" that looked more like ladders. Simply wonderful. Speaking of wonderful, if you like custard-style French toast, they serve a good dish of it. That night, we ate at Arvad's Grill & Pub (good food, good beer) as the wait at the Alchemy Brewery & Pub was at least 45 minutes (and it was already 7:30pm). It was a surprising pleasure to have a beer-geek waitress who knew everything about the beer they server (as well as that at Alchemy a few doors down, plus all the awesome craft beers available in nearby liquor stores.

Beer that night was Otter Creek Imperial Series Russian Imperial Stout. It was decent, though the mouthfeel was a little thin... but I'm spoiled by Stone's IRS.

* A note about our car. It's a Pontiac G6. I'm unimpressed to say the least. Not only do we keep hearing about the great deeds of the Subaru Outback in this region, but we have to hear about it while driving this "clunker". First, the door locks are not even slightly intuitive. When I pull the handle from the inside, don't keep me locked in! The lights and radio are the same. Why do the lights sometimes automatically turn on during broad daylight, but turn off when it gets dark? Why do I have to turn on the crappy Monsoon radio and switch it to XM1 every time I start the car. Why does it lose traction when the traction control is turned on? Reverse is gutless and the car always rolls backwards down a hill if you take your foot off the brake... and it's an automatic! This car, I hates it more than toll roads precious (see next post). It is made of concetrated suck. Give me a crappy PT Cruiser (a previous junky vacation rental) over this thing any day!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Project: Fish Pond, pt 3

Just another progress report on the fish pond project... it may not look that different from the last picture, but trust me, there is progress. The coolest change is the contour of the arch "supporting" the shelf between the walls. Another other cool thing? The finishes. They are nearly done! The finish coat is on the upper wall and the outer portion of the lower wall. The triple-layer sealant is on the inner portion of the pond area. There are a few more finish items that need to be addressed, such as the tiles along the waterline, and the Green Man water spitters.

There are still plenty of mechanicals to deal with, like the "return" water line going to the pump and filter, the "supply" lines going to the spitters, fountain-heads, and the electrical lines for the pump(s) and underwater lighting. I put together a test of the lighting tonight and I think it looks pretty good. It can only look better when the water is pouring across the arch and the pond and walls are illuminated by the radiant light filtered and warped by the water. Well, when the time comes, I will have to invite family, friends, and co-workers over to see it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Project: Fish Pond, pt 2

The fish pond project is coming along nicely. It's really cool to see the design I put down on paper being built in the real world. It's also really cool to have this project finally approaching completion. Andie says it's also good to have the big hole filled.

As you can see, the design is very geometric, with squares and circles dominating the design. I had someone ask me the other day "how big is the fountain?" Each leg of the "L" is eight feet long, with the half-circles being about six feet in diameter.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Randomness: Oingo Boingo on the Gong Show

For some strange reason, while watching a recorded show on the mathematics of networks (Connected: The Real Matrix) dealing with the whole "six degrees of separation" thing, I had the impulse to "challenge" my wife to look something up on YouTube (she says she hasn't found anything she's looking for on the site). I tried to clear my mind and then she said "I don't know, something funny." Well... coming from nowhere... almost like some form of primal, childhood memories, I dug up "The Gong Show". That was the "I don't know" factor. Then the "something funny" demanded that I dig up... hmm... yeah, the "Unknown Comic" for a brief laugh. Yep. YouTube had it. (You can dig that one up yourself.)

It was my turn. I riffed the Gong Show idea--still wondering what cobweb-filled depths of my brain that idea came from--remembering that Oingo Boingo was on the show. Yes. It's on there. Check it out for yourself and... wow... revel in the randomness that was the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Project: Fish Pond

I finally conceded defeat a couple of weeks ago and agreed to get a masonry contractor to finish my fish pond / water feature for the back yard. Andie will be much happier to have this project completed. Like the bookcase for indoor projects, this is the bottleneck for outdoor projects.

When the pond that was originally in this location sprung a leak two summers ago, due to some strange tropical tree growing up right next to it, I was forced to drain it. Rather than completely demolish the pond, we decided to rebuild it and merge the two fish ponds into one. Not only would this consolidate the fish into a single pond, it also has reduced the potential water evaporation... just in time for level 2 water restrictions.

According to what I've read in the newspaper, ornamental water features that do not recirculate their water are banned during level 2 restrictions. So, for the moment, our project is safe. Not only does this pond serve an ornamental function, but it recirculates its water and provides a safe habitat for our fish which we've had for almost nine years. Take a look... and yes, those older fish are over a foot long!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Car Wars... on TV?

Anyone else watch "Weaponizers" on the Discovery Channel? It's like a game of Steve Jackson's Car Wars made real! Two teams each mod a vehicle with armor and weapons and then put them head to head in a "last car rolling" match.

It makes me want to blow a Saturday in the Hammer Downs Arena with a tricked out car on the verge of a D3 turn. If not Car Wars, then perhaps Crimson Skies.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

YouTube: Elephants Dream & A Gentleman's Duel

If you haven't seen this short YouTube film, you should take a few moments out to watch it and wonder...

... wonder several things... like is this a strange Matrix derivation? Why is Emo annoying? (Wait, that's a whole other topic:) )

And while you're at it, check out A Gentleman's Duel

Woodworking: Bookcase Magazine

Quite a while ago, Steven asked where I got the plans for the bookcase I want to build. It is from the December/January 2006 issue of "The Family Handyman".

The website isn't as robust as I had hoped, but they do offer back issues for $5 (includes shipping).

If you're in the market for some bookcases, this magazine has some interesting sets of plans.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tasting Notes: Beer-Geekin' Out

[old unposted notes from 03/28/09]

There I was, sitting at my desk, wrapping up my day and week (I'm taking a couple days off), and I decided to cap off the day at work by heading downstairs to the Bistro. It's not like I didn't know we were going to have some special beers available for the evening. On Tuesday, I heard about the plan for Stone release five "pilot beers" on Thursday night ( ). I arranged with the family to have a late evening so I could drop by the Bistro and taste them. I had no idea what I was heading into.

I got downstairs before the crowd had rushed in and ordered up a "flight" of "tasters". Here's what the bartender handed over:

  • Pilot #1 Stone Imperial Red Ale
  • Pilot #2 Imperial Porter (a strong porter)
  • Pilot #3 Belgian Porter with Vanilla Bean and Tangerine Peel
  • Pilot #4 Peated Scotch Ale
  • Pilot #5 Everything but the Kitchen Sink Stout

I took a seat near the brewery windows with some coworkers. I proceded to enjoy what I was thinking was the only beer I would have that night, sharing a few sips here or there with a friend. With the last beer in hand (Pilot #5), I decided to step out to the patio for some fresh air and to see what was going on at the outside bar.

Things got more interesting when I realized that this was the eve of the next big collaboration beer we were brewing. So this was the "Pilot-palooza" and "Collaboraton Eve" that was blogged about earlier in the day. I saw Will Meyers from Cambridge Brewing Co.--we had met briefly near the coffee pot that morning--talking with Mitch Steele (our head brewer). I walked over and said "hi" and listened in on the "shop talk". A short while into the conversation, Dr. Bill came over and handed us all glasses of something that looked rather murky. "The pilot" he said and jumped back behind the bar to get a few more glasses worth as realization dawned on me. This was the pilot for the Juxtaposition Black Lager! Excellent! I took a deep smell. Interesting aromas. The flavor was just as interesting even if the beer looked a bit "milky".

A few guys from Production and Distribution were working out the kinks in a mobile draft system... Will brought along a pair of kegs to share! The keg system was fixed and Will started pulling tasters off the system:

What an evening it was turning out to be.

James Watt of BrewDog was also in the crowd, easy to distinguish with his Scottish accent and a collection of the local beer community around him. He too was sharing a few beers he brought along from Scotland... here's what I think he shared:

The event and beers were awesome... simply freakin' awesome. It was an incredible evening.

Oh, and there was a video shot during the two days surrounding the brew:

In case you don't know:

  • A "pilot beer" is a small batch of beer brewed up by professional brewers to test out a recipe.
  • A "flight" is a series of beers to be tasted, sometimes lined up in a particular order
  • A "taster" is about 4oz or less served in an equally small glass... not to be confused with...
  • A "sampler" which can be as much as 8oz per serving
  • (

but these are my observations... your mileage may vary.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

AFK... Again!

Geez... it seems that I am struggling to find time to do many things lately, and posting new blog entries is one of them. Well, posting and responding to email are two of them. Okay, posting, email, and getting delayed projects back up and running are... Bah! Chief among the things I need to find time to do are blogging, emailing, working on projects, and writing.

I guess I need to step back and address things one at a time, in an orderly fashion, perhaps even micro-manage myself for a while until I get back on track.

I'll post soon. Really. No, seriously, I will.

[apologies to Monty Python]

Friday, April 3, 2009

Music: A Deep Breath

For those of you having one of those kind of days, here's a quick list of some mood music...

If you need something hopeful, uplifting, and happy, take try this Midge Ure track. (Using that wikipedia site again...) He was in bands including Slik, Thin Lizzy, The Rich Kids, Visage, and most notably as frontman of Ultravox. Ure co-wrote and produced the charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and co-organised both Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 with Bob Geldof. How's that for a flashback to the '80s?

Next up on the list is a "chill out session" with "Little Fluffy Clouds" by The Orb (with bandmate and legendary producer "Youth", previously of Killing Joke):

...or if you'd rather wallow in despair, here's SPK with "In Flagrante Delicto":

By the way, SPK worked with William S. Burroughs for a while. Graeme Revell, their most notable member, has gone on to do numerous solo project and score numerous films and tv shows. More on SPK and their varicolored work later. Enjoy!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Music (for): I'm a Steampunk, pt 1

Here's some steampunk music for your Friday (and to go with my first "I'm a Steampunk post from last night/today at lunch).

By the way... I think I have to go to the Edison someday. Everything I've seen about it is awesome. I just hope they have high-quality craft beer. It seems a little cheap to "dump and run" on this post, but there's more steampunk stuff coming soon.

(really only 4:07 long, so you can stop watching at that point)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'm a Steampunk, pt 1

Have you heard of steampunk? If you haven't, I'd say now is your chance!

To me, it's a lifestyle that pays homage to an era that never was but should have been (and could have in many respects). There's this part of me that is absolutely obsessed with steampunk. It's in my blood and comes out in subtle ways every day. I don't dress the part like many a steampunk cosplay afficianado--though the thought has crossed my mind for certain "special" events or holidays. There's something more elegant about the Victorian industrial design motif, especially when compared to the smooth and sleek modern design with all the mechanicals hidden behind a faux metal skin of simplicity.

I think my mindset has a lot to do with my father and his father (and by extension, both sides of the whole family). They are complete train nuts... or perhaps steam technology nuts... to the extent that they both have built multiple fully functional 1/8th scale live steam engines (that's a separate post). I also grew up around large steam tractors at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in nearby Vista. In fact, my father and grandfather did the initial restoration of this 75-horsepower Case steam tractor. At the AG&SEM, we worked with several other club members and volunteers to restore all kinds of steam engines, equipment, and tractors.

Heck, my "first car" was an 1889 Advance steam tractor (60 horsepower)... well before I drove a car. This is the one (right), from an old mid-80's photo I found on the web. How odd is that? I bet I even parked it next to the sawmill and Case (in background to the left and right respectively) just before this photo was taken. I suppose the photo could also be from the time period when I shared the engineer/fireman duties with Randy Chase (great guy), but I can't tell.

An odd note about the "mere" 75 or 60 horsepower--back in those days, that meant these were equivalent to hitching up 75 or 60 draft horses to one piece of farm equipment. The horsepower of a draft horse was recently calculated at 14.9 horsepower for a short peak period (declining to less than 1 over prolonged periods (for the math geeks, I suppose that would be jerk, acceleration, velocity, and inertia all playing together). This means these two steam-beasts theoretically generate an estimated 1,117 and 894 h.p. if I understand the "then versus now" calculations correctly. Even if I misunderstand them, I've seen these things rip a barn off it's foundation, so I know they have more power than the measly two-digit numbers imply.

So, in a way, there's actual "steam" experience flowing in my veins.
To be continued...

Monday, March 16, 2009

All a-twitter-ed

So there I was today, working with Mike (the Art Director/Webmaster) and Bill (the Web Programmer) on inserting some RSS feeds onto the company website ( and I was having some difficulties... mainly with the feeds from twitter and WordPress blog not... well, feeding into the Google AJAX feed API ( It was coded, it just wasn't working right. The feeds were there, but the window was blank. What the heck?

"How hard could this be?" I asked myself. "I mean, really? This should work." So I get the source code and host it on the web server a couple of meters* away from my desk. "There, that should eliminate some variables." Right?

Wrong! The same problem. The window is there, but the message says "waiting for feed" So... I'll look into the possible sources of the problem... the feeds. Well, the WordPress blog is working fine (again, on said server in the server room). Let me double check that somehow... aha! Feedburner is reading everything fine. Maybe the other feed is somehow breaking the JavaScript or Google's aggregator. Who knows?

Off to the next problem feed: twitter. So I Google the issue and find a document on twitter's site. I click the link and... ::RRRRNNNNNNTTTTTT:: (in my best Dr. Steel buzzer impression) Wrong answer! Thanks for playing. I got a crappy copy of the login screen game! You have to be a member of twitter to look at twitter content. That includes any solutions to tech issues you might have. Seriously? W... T... F, huh?

"Sherman, set the WABAC machine to two weeks ago."*** I am quite sure I stated at the time that I didn't have a use for twitter. Furthermore, if I could get into twitter to see what was there, I would find my suspicions confirmed, by a bunch of "ooo, me too" and "::giggle-giggle:: he's a q-t." chatting, texting, googly-eyed, teen-ager nonsense. I'm too old for this new "digital note passing" part of the social web. I didn't like it in high school and I don't like the idea of it now.

On the other hand, people say I should be more social and not "hate people" so much. As I've explained to many people along the way, "I don't hate people. I hate stupid people." For clarification's sake, when I say stupid, I am referring not to someone with less... um... "processing power" in their "CPU". I mean people who know something, choose to ignore it, and do what they want anyway. I digress... where was I? Ah, twitter and work.

For business purposes, what could possibly be there that doesn't show up on a company's main web site?

Well, as I've learned in the ensuing two weeks, a lot. It's essentially "micro blogging", something even I could get into because I don't always have time to write or read a blog in depth like this. I've seen everything from CNN and other news agencies talking about their twitter pages and (wherever) blogs. Heck, I even found out about a name change to a book I'm looking out for via a web page link to a blog that referred to a twitter account. That name change happened quite a while ago and I could have known about it if I was I twitter.

::sigh:: "Am I the last computer/web techie to use twitter or what?"

So... I was sitting there, staring at a twitter join/login screen separating me from an answer to my RSS feed difficulty. "Alright, alright, alrightalrightALRIGHT. Fine. I'll do it. I'll do it.I'll do it.I'll do it!"**** I created an account.

It didn't even hurt.

I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I will now have access to all kinds of information, delivered in short bursts.

Oh, and Mike found a better looking twitter RSS feeder anyway. Now we just need to get one for the WordPress feed.

* Hey, why not use the metric system in this case? I like the system, though I sometimes have to do a little conversion in my head to really 'get' how far away something is.

** Dr. Steel. He's better than Dr. Horrible any day! I'll share... just not today. Or, you can look him up yourself. It's worth your time.

*** If you don't understand the reference, I'm sorry. You're too young to read this blog. Oh, all right... here's the requsit wiki link:

**** That's one heck of an obtuse and bastardized "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" reference.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Writing: Distracted by distracting distractions

It's one of those nights...

I'm trying to be productive, yet everything is standing in my way, drawing my attention this way and that. A few nights ago I moved from the studio over the garage to the library in the house. Yeah... that photo to the right is essentially what it looks like right now. Me hunched over a folding table. My glass is currently empty though... no tasty barley wine left to enjoy. As far as my choice of fine furnishings goes, I won't intrude upon Andie's desk in here... I've got the oak rolltop desk in the studio which will someday find its way in here below the the tapestry to my right (out of frame) or perhaps in the corner behind me and to the left. All that happens after I complete my bookcase... after I complete the bench seat for the breakfast nook. ::sigh::

Oh, by the way, the color/hue of that photo above was achieved purely by accident, taking a picture in very underlit conditions. In normal circumstances, I'd delete it for the "garbage" it is. However, in this case, the photo exudes the right mood.

Anyway, someday the library bookcases might look something like this, if I ever get the chance to work on them:

(by the way, I have no idea why the photo is turned sideways at the moment... it's correct on my computer... I even resave the photo and it comes out like this... dunno... not wasting any more time on it tonight.)

Hey, there's a strange noise outside. An owl or bat? Hmm...

What was that about being distracted?

Good night everyone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Music: Chiptune Music

Select people used to get an email from me about the music I was listening to at the time. I had to stop sending it though... something about needing to "practice what I preach", or something like that. Lately, I've had a few people tell me they miss the "Friday Music" email, with my brief story, comments about music, narratives about the experience (perhaps watching Babyland at the Poway Rodeo Grounds way back when), and even what the artist is up to today (especially if they were big in the '80s, but aren't really noticed anymore).

Fast forward to today. That fiesty muse is pestering me again. She's grabbed a rolled up newspaper and is thumping over the head and shoulders with it. Fine, fine, fineFineFINE! I'll write something like I used to... except things are easier to link to on the web nowadays. So now I can show people as well tell them about it!

Chris walked by my desk at work one day and heard me listening to Beck. Specifically, he heard Ghettochip Malfunction (Hell Yes 8-bit remix) from the EP "GameBoy Variations":

He asked if I like the Atari/Gameboy/Nintendo "chiptune" sound. I told him "yeah, if it's done right"... or that's how I remember the conversation going. He told me to about a few bands and said I should definitely check out Crystal Castles.

So I did. Now I have the album... and now I'm sharing them with you:

There's a slightly different version of the song on their MySpace page I hope you enjoy the songs. Let me know.

Oh, by the way, speaking of "chips" and "tunes", did you know that Daft Punk is doing the soundtrack to Tron 2.0? Check the info out for yourself.


Tasting Notes: '05 Old Guardian

Okay, so I'm not sure if this completely qualifies as a "tasting notes" entry... let's go down the list:

Q: Good beer?
A: Yep, Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine 2005 vintage

Q: Beer:30?
A: Er... nope.

Q: Special guest(s)?
A: No. Just me.

I had just finished a dinner with the family (at the dinner table no less!), and I thought "Hey, I want a beer. Let's see what I have." Wandering up to the studio, I stood next to the bar. "Hmm... well, there's that case of IPA I forgot to put in the 'fridge. Nope, not gonna drink one of those. How about something cold? Well, this bottle has volunteered itself. What is it? Ahhh... OG... an old one... 2005! That'll do nicely."

So there I was, holding a bottle of beer I would normally share with friends, heading back downstairs to the house. I don't really know why I grabbed it, but I did. Here are my notes.

This beer is an amber color, a bit redder than a whiskey

(bear with me on this one... my nose never works right, the weather is changing, and I just ate a garlic-bombed broccoli dinner... excuses, excuses!) Hoppy! I am actually somewhat surprised at the amount of hops still left in this beer after four years. I think they have dropped off a bit, but they are there in the foreground, with some malty sweetness backing them up.

That hoppy character--flavor and bitter in equal parts--is the first thing I notice, but it is quickly balanced out by the malt flavor. Wait... the hoppy flavor lingers nicely. Perhaps the flavor of grapefruit.

The mouthfeel is nice, with a silky-syrupy feel. Not fizzy, nor champagne-like. Simply good carbonation.

This is good. In a way, I wish I hadn't opened it, as I think it would age nicely for a year or three more. Maybe I have a few more bottles.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Metapost: A Post About Posts

I have several topics I want to blog about, but just as I can't do them all in any given day, I also can't post about them as fast as I want to. In no particular order, they are:
  • Writing - not about the blog itself, althought it fits the description, but actually about the other writing projects I am working on
  • Beer Tastings - as they happen, rather than days or weeks later
  • Music - akin to the Friday email I used to send at work, and nods to the old Bryonics tapes I made ages ago
  • Woodworking - hopefully I can finish the breakfast nook bench and get on with the library bookcase and window seat
  • Green Efforts - I've looked into this one a bit. Living in SoCal requires that I conserve water and I have a few ideas about that. I also think I can make other "green" strides.
  • Travel - though infrequent, the little outings here and there fill things in nicely
  • New Year's Resolution Progress - hey... I don't want to forget this one!
As strange as it might sound, I would also like some feedback from you all about what I should post about. What do you want to hear about on this blog?

Quiet, but not forgotten

For the countless masses of... alright, who am I kidding? For the small handful of you who read the blog, I haven't forgotten about it. I have been busy on another writing project that has sucked away my free time. Since it's "on spec" and "unofficial" (and I don't want to jinx the thing), I won't discuss it here yet. I'll post something else here soon. I promise.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tasting Notes: Lost Abbey, round 1

Like I mentioned previously, Gary, Kevin, Trent, and I shared some beers a Friday night not too long ago in a "beer-thirty"* session... a session that found us talking well past 2am! Times like that are... well, priceless. Knowing that we'd eventually get around to drinking the beers, I buy one or two of the special beers I find and save them for the next beer-thirty.

This time, the Lost Abbey line up consisted of Witch's Wit, Carnivale Ale, Inferno Ale, and Serpent's Stout (and then we topped it off with a pull or two off the keg of Stone Imperial Russian Stout).

Let's begin.

The Witch's Wit was cracked open first because I thought it would go best with the food Trent was eating (roasted chicken) and it would also taste okay after the meal I made for the family and my brother Gary (a simple non-Oriental stir fry). That, and I had heard it was not a great beers (not bad, just not great). Many of those wheat and malt notes in the nose and flavor. The yeast contributed a spicy character. The beer was good, yet not as impressive as other Lost Abbey beers, but I bet it was a nice complement to the chicken. (RateBeer's entry - 75 pts)

Beer two was Carnevale Ale, a nice saison. As a "rule", it seems that saisons defy classification and rules. I guess this beer is really "how the Belgians brew at home", in short. I can totally see this beer as being made in a rustic Belgian farmhouse brewery (not that I've been to Belgium... yet). I enjoyed this beer, with its citrus nose, yeasty spiciness, and good mouthfeel. (RateBeer's entry - 93 pts)

It took us a while to get to beer three--Infernal Ale--as we were savoring the beer and really caught up in conversation. Nice name. This one's a Belgian strong ale, so the flavors were less rustic and more focused on the malt and the yeast. This beer was nestled comfortably in the midst of other Belgian strongs... pretty good, but not great. I'll reserve great for Angel's Share (mentioned below). (RateBeer's entry - 92 pts)

The penultimate beer for the evening was Serpent's Stout. Wow. Okay, so maybe I was mistaken and should have allowed for this beer to be called great. It was. Excellent chocolatey, coffee-like roastiness nose that carried through to the flavor. The richness of flavor slowed us down a bit more as we carried on talking and enjoying this beer. Go get a bottle or two. Wait, make that just one... leave more for us. (RateBeer's entry - 99 pts)

The final beer of the evening was Stone Imperial Russian Stout 2008, which I had on draft from a 1/6 bbl hanging out on the balcony. Everyone got at least a pint of this one--the tap was open for the night! As the preceeding 750ml bottles were split four ways, I needed something to cap off the evening. Since I'm not done building that kegerator yet, it was a little warm from being exposed to the Escondido winter air that evening, but this beer is great at cellar temperature and gets better as it warms and opens up. All the flavors of my second favorite Stone beer were there... present and accounted for. Perhaps I'm a bit jaded, but I grew used to the keg of "IRS" being there through Christmas, New Year's and into February (just blew the keg last weekend). (RateBeer's entry - 100 pts)

In conclusion, I must doff my hat to Tomme Arthur and the brew crew at Lost Abbey (aka Port Brewing). They brew some damn fine beers. Between them and the brewers at Stone, I don't know what the hell I'm going to brew at home. They make what I like!

A future Lost Abbey round or two will include Amazing Grace Ale (2007), Angel's Share Ale (2007), Red Poppy Ale (late 2007), Cuvee de Tomme (late 2007), and a vintage Cuvee de Tomme (2004 or 2005?)... at the very least. I'm not sure if I want to open those all in one night though. Beers of this caliber deserve to be savored, not pounded or even consumed without a bit of consideration. If we get too distracted in conversation, or perhaps a little drunk, our palattes will miss all the finer details... all the subtle flavors of the beers... but we'll have the memories.

Afterall, that is what a real beer-thirty is about. I'm looking forward to the next one... for the conversation and the beer.

* for those of you who don't know what a beer-thirty is, it is that special time when you gather with friends to drink good beer and discuss what is on your mind. Some people like to go to a happy hour at their favorite bar/restaurant/dive. I prefer to have them in the studio at my house. Low stress, excellent beer, and a place for everyone to crash if they feel they've had too much to drink. Good all the way around.

Tivanico - The Black Pontiff

[Just a little something I'm toying with... a militant "pope" who prefers to wear black to connect with his beginnings in a small chapel in the wilderlands of Tivanico (think Spain). This is set in the same world as the other fiction I share in my blog... just a different country.]

The blackness rippled and snapped.

Grasping the edges of his robe the Black Pontiff spun toward the doorway and the corridor beyond, his robe whipping through the familiar, practiced flourish behind him with a quick twitch of his hands. His escort fell in around him silently, searching and scanning their course with grim anticipation of the assassin they all knew would someday come.

The gathered bishops stared after him, faces aghast at such a stark declaration. Whisperings of unanswered questions “had they heard his pronouncement correctly”, and “were they going to live through this” echoed after the Primate.

Gorika - Empire Building

[This is a "fan fiction" piece set in Steven's world... before he went and changed things and I decided I wanted to keep going my direction. It doesn't exactly fit in either world now, but I'll probably change it when I get the chance. This is set in the same world as the other fiction I share in my blog... just a different country.]

The setting sun turned the distant mountains a deep purple-red, and the air in the broad valley a pale gold. The sun-lit dust billowed up from the thousands of tromping feet on the plateau carried by a breeze to the small troupe of onlookers standing on the hillock. The clatter of broken rocks filled the air, overpowering the grunted cadence and groaning complaints of the workers below. Like ants streaming from their nest, they climbed from a pit quarry in the valley, struggling under the weight of baskets filled with rock shards, and made their way to the hill a half-mile distant.

“Nitrell!” Gorruck bellowed, “You’re nearly on schedule. Maybe when I die you will be done? Eh?”

Nitrell nodded, bowing slightly, to his king. “Yes, Clanmaster. The workers were eager to impress you with their progress these last two months. Even today, they are inspired by your presence and work harder than ever.”

“You lie Nitrell.” He turned to face the barrel-chested human. “I have eyes watching the site from afar, and I know that they work because you beat them and withhold food. That is good.” Talen, the priest of Narimoran serving Nitrell, smirked.

“Thank you, noble one.” Nitrell responded, snapping to a crisp attentive posture.

Gorruck let the compliment rest in the gritty air and looked back to the bustling activity. The mound of stone shards ringing the hill rose steadily, a mirror of the young Gorruck’s growing power in Gorika. The precarious slopes of the tomb were their thickest on the northern side of the hill, tapering to a scant five-pace wide oval footprint on the southern face adjacent to his nearly complete redoubt-temple. He grinned a tusk-filled smile as the he surveyed the scene, pleased by his architect’s progress.

Raising his voice so it could be heard by those further down the hillock. “They should also know that I will send the laziest workers to the front lines. The clumsy troop holding up the other workers there can spend four tours on the Tivanican front!” He pointed to the nearby quarry road with humans and kelshay scurrying to right a wagon. “If they live, and have proven their loyalty by slaying twice their number, then maybe they will be worthy of returning to working on my tomb!”

The response of “By your order Scourgelord” echoed up the incline.

Gorruck knew the workers had built up the shattered rock construction faster than anyone expected in such a short time. He had commissioned the tomb on the eve of the feast of Ghamus, the War God, a scant season ago. Scouts went into the borderlands looking for a suitable site the next morning and one had returned with information including this grassy valley. The hill had stood out from the surrounding fields, and now, due to the clearing of trees, it dominated the dismal landscape. Today, the precarious slopes of fist-sized jagged rocks climbed nearly two hundred strides up the small mountain, not more than an eighth of the way up, but soon, the architect would need priests of the Fortifier to add forcewalls to shore up imminent rockslides.

“Nitrell, I trust your progress will be more pronounced next time I visit.” Gorruck added with a smirk. He looked to his counsel “Talen, gather the guards. We leave!” He strode down toward his horse.

“By your order, Clanmaster.” Nitrell replied, bowing. Talen whistled and made a circular motion with his raised hand. The six swordsmen handpicked by the king for these journeys jumped to their feet and mounted their warhorses. Once mounted, Talen repeated the gesture accompanied with a longer and shriller whistle, and the escort gathered around the king already riding toward the eastern hills. He watched as the King and his guards disappeared into the tree line a few miles distant, and nodded at some silent thought.


The ride was brisk, and the horses seemed to enjoy the fast ride into the edge of the hills. The trail veered into a small valley and followed a dry creek bed to a water-carved cavern. Horses whickered and neighed as King Gorruck of Lhuranal slowed the pace of the riders to navigate the low ceiling of the cavern. The group stopped in a chamber that was cramped by the seven riders and their horses.

“Guards, remain mounted, weapons ready. Prepare for any Tivanican hostiles at Altida.” Gorruck looked at the faces of his men dimly lit by the sunlight reflected off the cavern walls.

“I can’t abide using these waypoints, sire. It’s just not safe.”

“Pomax aaren Altidaes. Kori genay Lhuranes”


The mosaic on the floor of the cavernous room shimmered and Gorruck saw the room’s details come into focus. His gaze fell upon Verad, Imperial advisor and priest of Narimoran. Verad was frowning. Gorruck walked past him into his private rooms.

“Majesty, I trust your inspection of the construction went well?” Gorruck nodded, and motioned toward his suite, urging Verad to follow and continue. “Then I must tell you that I have gotten word that a clutch of Loyalists and Imperium mages will be here tomorrow morning to inquire about your motivations surrounding it’s construction. It seems someone was speaking of you to the wrong ears in Imperium chambers.”

“Verad, why is it that every time you meet me here it’s bad news? Just once I’d like you to have a tankard of ale waiting for me. Better still. Have a slave girl and ale with you. Close the door.”

Verad, pushing the door shut without moving his eyes from the king, responded stoically “Majesty, you know I have little time for worrying about such pleasures for myself. I…”

“Really, Verad, you should take the time. You may find it stimulating.” Gorruck sighed. He removed his belt, unbuckled the clasp that held the cloak to his armor, lifted the heavy crimson cloth from his shoulders, and started unstrapping his armor. “Who do you suspect?”

“I don’t have anyone specific in mind at this moment, sire. due to the seriousness of our impending visit, I suspect the information came from someone with privileged access and Imperium influence.”

“Thank you Verad,” Gorruck sneered, removing his chest armor. “I don’t think that I could have figured that out for myself. Tell me something of interest… something insightful. Surely, all that Loyalist training should give you some clue as to who has the influence to get a contingent of Imperium inquisitors here.”

“I’m sorry your Majesty. I have no ideas. Perhaps it would be best if we can draw what we can from the questioning and use that to sniff out our traitor. Trust me, sire, this reflects worse on me than it does on you.”

“You better find out what they are up to, Verad. That’s all I can say.” Gorruck grew silent. Yes, he thought, that is an interesting observation. There is hardly a reason for Verad to betray himself to the church.

Talidon - Reassignment

[This story is set in the central country for the fiction stories I share in my blog... how the other countries border this one is an interesting question I haven't answered yet. It is written to be read aloud to players in my Dungeons & Dragons game, hence the main character being the "reader".]

"Soldiers, to your feet for you are in the presence of Her Royal Majesty the Queen, Radiance of Talidon, Eyes of the Dragon Talid, Keeper of the Claw, Exalted Seeker of the Lost Orb."

The Queen appears before you.

"Soldiers and war bands of Our Armed Forces, We have called you here in Our presence to announce a reorganization of Our military to a structure used before the Slaughtering, a branched military hierarchy with ranks and rewards. As with other reforms in Our Majestic Lands of Talidon, these changes will help bring us closer to the lost greatness we all desire.

"The ranks are based on merit as are the rewards. The ranks are only used within the military forces, though they carry honor among the common people. The rewards are not entirely exclusive to the armed forces, though some can only be achieved through military service. Among the usual rewards of ribbons, medals, cords, and chains, are appointments in Orders, royal charters, noble titles, land grants, and even royal entitlement. With the multitude of rewards and the honor they impart, We see this as the beginning of a new era in Majestic Lands of Talidon.

"This reorganization marks a distinct departure from the mercenary groups that have pillaged Our nation’s lost treasures for the benefit of a highest bidder. This heralds a clean break from the warlords with their war-bands and in-fighting over who controls Our lands and marches. From this point forward, Our nation will benefit from such expeditions, rather than suffer loss.

"As the first reward for your proven excellence in service, We have entrusted your new officers to reassign you into one of three branches of Our new military. Army, Navy, Police. To initiate the reassignments, We will personally appoint the Arch General of Our Armed Forces."

The Royal Herald calls out "Grand Prince Temor of House Volodin, approach and be recognized."
A man who you presume is the Grand Prince climbs the steps of the stand. When he reaches the red-draped planks of the stand, he gracefully bows to the Queen, walks to two arm’s lengths away from her left hand, and kneels on both knees.

The Queen turns slightly away from the Grand Prince and says "Master of the Armories, the Sword of State.

" A man, garbed quite similarly to the royal herald approaches the Queen holding a golden-sheathed, bejeweled sword by the scabbard. He bows the hilt to the Queen and she draws sword. The Queen turns her back to the man and faces the Grand Prince with the sword in her right hand. The Master of the Armories steps back and another man in less ornate trappings steps to take his place

"Grand Prince Temor Volodin, We challenge you to defend Talidon from all threats, foreign and domestic. Do you accept this challenge?"

"I swear to defend Talidon and accept this challenge."

The Queen nods and plunges the sword through his chest. The Grand Prince jerks backwards at the shock of what his body is enduring. He looks back up into the Queen’s face. She nods again and pulls the sword from the Grand Prince. He nearly falls forward, following the sword’s quick withdrawal. The Queen swings the sword backwards, its tip sending an arc of his blood’s droplets across the first few rows of those in audience.

As the Grand Prince steadies himself without touching his hands to the carpet, the Queen continues her arm’s movement until the sword comes into the grasp of the Master of the Armories’ attendant behind her. She releases the sword and the attendant wraps the blade in a white cloth, bows, and retreats behind his Master who steps forward with a large tray between his hands. Beside him a third similarly garbed man steps forward also bearing a tray.

"The Claw of Talid sees the truth in your heart. The Claw of Talid tastes the strength in your blood. The Claw of Talid knows your bond. Rise, Grand Prince Temor and meet your charges." The Queen turns to the Master of the Armories and removes a shining footman’s mace from the tray with both hands.

Surprisingly, the Grand Prince does rise, steadily and purposefully, almost slowly, first raising one knee to place his right foot on the carpet, then following it with his left.

"Grand Prince Temor, you are charged to command the Police and defend the throne and people of Talidon. Do you accept this charge?" The Queen extends the mace to the Grand Prince.

"I accept the charge." He replies in a strained voice, taking the mace with both hands and bowing.

"I hereby grant you the commission of Grand Marshall of the Police." He twists slightly to his right hanging the mace from his belt. As he does so, you think you see a red stain on the back of his jacket. He faces the Queen stiffly and snaps his arms to his sides.

While you were looking at the Grand Prince’s jacket, you heard the Queen say "Master of Arms". She must have also removed an ornate golden chain from his tray because she was holding it now. Two of the Master of Arms’ attendants moved in unison to positions behind the Grand Prince.

"With your charge, I appoint you First Link of the Most Noble Order of the Chain." The Queen reaches out with her hands, extending the chain toward the Grand Prince and over his head as he bows again slightly. The Master of Arms’ attendants each take the chain carefully from the Queen’s hand nearest them and button its links into the Grand Prince’s epaulets. The Queen turns again to the Master of the Armories and removes a golden-sheathed short sword from his tray.

"Grand Prince Temor, you are charged to command the Royal Navies and defend the waters and skies of Talidon. Do you accept this charge?" The Queen extends the short sword to the Grand Prince.

"I accept the charge." He replies again, taking the short sword with both hands and bowing.

"I hereby grant you the commission of Admiral of the Seas of the Navy." As before, he arms himself with the newly gifted weapon at his left hip. Your eyes catch another glimpse of blood, this time as a stain on the front of his jacket. Again, the Queen turns to the Master of Arms and removes something from his tray, this time a sash. Spreading the gold-trimmed sky blue sash with her hands, she speaks.

"With your charge, I appoint you Helm of the Most Honorable Order of the Sash." As before, the Grand Prince bowed so the Queen could bring the honor over his head, and again the attendants gently lifted it from her hands and brought it down to affix it to the Grand Prince’s uniform. The sash was buttoned in his right epaulet under the Chain, and brought down to buckle to his sword of office at his left hip.

The Queen turns again to the Master of the Armories and lifts a familiar long sword from the tray. It is the Sword of State, the Claw of Talid, the very weapon that moments ago was run through the Grand Princes’ torso.

"Grand Prince Temor, you are charged to command the Armies of the Crown and defend the lands and interests of Talidon. Do you accept this charge?" The Queen extends the ornate sword to the Grand Prince in both hands.

"I accept the charge." He replies, taking the Sword of State with both of his hands and bowing.

"I hereby grant you the commission of General of the Armies of Talidon." The Queen pronounces as the attendant to the left of the Grand Prince quickly helps him buckle the sword to his hip with the sash and Sword of the Navy. As he does so, you see the bloodstain has spread further across the left breast of his jacket and down his side. His face slightly pale, he faces the Queen stiffly and keeping his arms rigid and to his sides.

"With your charge, I appoint you to the Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Claw and bequeath unto you the office of Bearer of the Claw and all the duties it entails. Face your forces and be recognized." The Queen turns in unison with the Grand Prince to face you.

The Royal Herald announces loudly, "Presenting His Royal Highness, the Grand Prince Temor of House Volodin, Arch General of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, General of the Armies of Talidon, Admiral of the Seas, Grand Marshall of the Police, Bearer of the Claw for the Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Claw, Helm of the Most Honorable Order of the Sash, First Link of the Most Noble Order of the Chain!"

A cheer rises up from the crowd, though many people look around and whisper to one another, seeming somewhat confused at the pomp of this ceremony.

The Queen adds "With these three branches of our military, three offices installed, three orders of honor appointed, and three awards bestowed, We wish to ignite within you the fires to forge magnificent deeds of your own and wield them to propel our nation to greater heights." The crowd applauds and cheers more loudly this time as she steps back from her position at the front of the platform.

The Grand Prince, more importantly to you it seems, the Arch-General, stands alone near the front of the platform. He seems steady, having regained the color in his face despite the size of the blood-soaked wetness on the breast of his jacket. "Soldiers," he says, his voice strong, "over the next few days each of you will be called before your commanding officers and reassigned to a new unit within one of the three new branches; Army, Navy, and Police. I will now appoint the branch commanders."

The Royal Herald calls out "Archduke Makaris, approach and be recognized. Duchess Anfis, approach and be recognized. Earl Khariton, approach and be recognized."

Each of those summoned to the platform climb the stairs and take up positions to the Arch-General’s left as he had just done with the Queen. The Master of the Armories moves beside the Arch-General and the Master of Arms beside the Queen, each with a tray. A similar ceremony to the Grand Prince’s commissioning ensues for the newly appointed commanding officers of each military branch.

The Royal Herald announces "Presenting His Highness General Makaris, Archduke of Mischa, the Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Claw! Presenting Her Highness Admiral Anfis, Duchess of Melorin, the Most Honorable Order of the Sash! Presenting Marshall Khariton, Earl of Tarentum, the Most Noble Order of the Chain." They all stand proudly, the Archduke with his gold long sword and Claw medallion, the Duchess with her golden naval short sword and gold-trimmed sky blue sash, and the Earl with his mace and gold chain.

The Grand Prince turns to the Queen, bows, turns back to you and shouts "Dismissed!"

As the assembled soldiers disperse, you hear everything from excited talk about the future of the armed forces to the seditious mutterings and oaths of possible separatists. It is going to be an interesting couple of days.

Within a day you all receive your first orders from your commanding officer: you are to move into your new quarters before high noon tomorrow and wait there for further orders. You are given directions to your new lodging and get your gear set to move.

Late afternoon arrives in your new quarters and you hear a knock. Answering your door, you see no one nearby who could have knocked. You close the door and turn around to find a man standing beside a trapdoor near the foot of your rack.

"This is your first assignment from your new commander - Follow me." He turns to descend the wooden ladder into the lamp-lit tunnel below your quarters.

The tunnel is carved from the earth and supported by bricks, rocks, plaster and occasional wooden beams. Though haphazard in construction, it appears sound. You follow your guide until you come to a junction of tunnels where you meet four others; two soldiers each with their own lamp-bearing escorts. A short while later you meet up with eight more people - half soldiers, half guides. One speaks up.

"Good, we’re all here. Let’s get moving. Our commander awaits." He peels off down another corridor. In a few minutes the corridor widens into a small chamber with a door in the back wall.

The guide who spoke in the junction speaks again "Through the door and have a seat. I will let our commander know you are here. He will be with you in a moment." He goes through the door and into another in the room. The sound of squeaking metal and creaking wood fills the space beyond the door and falls quiet as suddenly as it started.

Lurking about in tunnels. Secret meetings in underground rooms. Hopefully your new commander will reasonably answer all of your questions.

The room is made of the same construction as the corridors that brought you here, but more wood resembling wainscoting is used on the lower half of the walls, and more red brick and white plaster are used throughout, both giving you a forced sense you are in a tavern above ground. A large rectangular table dominates the room, surrounded by a random collection of chairs. A high-backed chair sits on the left middle of the table with its back to a door, obviously the one the guide went through. Warmth emanates from a small iron stove in the near left corner of the room. The sound of almost boiling water comes from a small kettle on the stovetop. A small cupboard sits in the near right corner, with a large and random collection of clay, wood, and ceramic dishes. Small cabinets, a sideboard, and a stack of chairs sit in the remaining far corners. The table is illuminated by a four oil lanterns, their flames turned down to a low flicker.

Some of you take a seat while others walk slowly around the room, all anticipating the arrival of your new commander. You do not wait long as the sound of squeaking and creaking beyond the door returns. The noise stops with a thud and the door rattles open. You see the guide holding the door open for someone stepping out of what looks like a gated horse stall. The person lifts his head and you think he is the Arch-General!

"Attention! Presenting Arch-General Volodin" the guide says, eyeing those who were seated.

The Arch-General looks at you all, pulls out the high-backed chair and sits down. "Be seated." He pauses as he scans everyone’s faces again. "Soren, dark tea with lemon and some hard cheese. Enough for all."

"Yes sir." The guide says. He steps through the door once more and returns with a wheel of cheese on a plank and two lemons.

The Arch-General reaches forward to the two lanterns nearest him and raises their flames. "You are probably wondering at the covert nature of our meeting. The short answer is this. You came to the attention of my cadre, and one of them noticed a aptitude among you all. He brought it to my attention and presented a plan I must say is quite devious. We discussed our options and decided to make you into a special unit dedicated to serving the unique needs of the Queen, the branch commanders, and myself. The work will be hard. For now, you will live your lives in secret, and will not discuss the details of your missions with anyone without my permission."

Soren placed a small plate of cheese in front of the Arch-General. He then put a small stack of mismatched saucers and the plank of cheese on the table, with some wedges already cut from the wheel. "Your tea will be ready in a moment sir."

"If you will join me" the Arch-General’s manner softens slightly and he says "I have spent much of my life at war, so most of the pleasantries enjoyed by those of even a lesser station are lost on me. I do, however, enjoy a few niceties. The tea is from Tivanico, a gift from the Black Pontiff, and the cheese is from some small goats Soren...ahem...acquired from Gorika." He smiles, hoping you catch his humor "I think it quite humorous our two comestibles are sharing the same table being that their countries of origin are at war." His smile grows wide, then quickly fades away as if it was never there. "So, now you know a little about me. Let us continue."

Soren’s hand moves in beside the Arch-General, setting a saucer and cup beside him. Soren pours steaming tea into the cup, floating a thin slice of lemon to the surface.

"Thank you Soren. Make sure to give some to the lads." Looking back to you all, his face darkening, the Arch-General continues grimly "Do you accept this charge? Yes? Good. Well then, now that you have been strong-armed into service, let us set some more rules and expectations.”

“You are now members a Police company I have, ah, borrowed from Earl Khariton. Hydra Battalion, E Company, Second Platoon, Second Squad. The battalion has numerous tasks associated with rooting out subversives, putting down rebellions, and the like—a splendid cover for the rest of our activities. Among the Police forces, only he knows about this, ah, shall we say, this extracurricular arrangement, so your role in this, and by extension everyone else’s, is safe as long as you follow protocol.”

“Your orders will normally be delivered to your quarters by courier. On rare occasions, we will contact you as we did tonight, by messenger via the tunnels. There are only certain people with access to these tunnels, so you will not be contacted in this manner unless it is authorized and necessary.”

“When on assignment, you must leave and enter your quarters via the tunnels you used this evening. When leaving the Police compound, you will move by night, exiting the tunnel system via a special building dedicated to our purposes. When leaving, you will be masked.” His mouth twists into a dark smile for a moment.

“You will be issued some standard equipment required to complete your tasks. Among these items is a magical mask you will wear during all missions. This mask will conceal your identity and protect you from any later retaliation by witnesses. You will be issued uniforms to be used while on all missions. They are to be stored down here. Another set will be issued for daily use. You will not always have special equipment you may need, and in such cases you will contact Soren’s team via this meeting room.”