Daybook of ZorkFox the Laughing Magician

March 16th, 2010

Stewart Mountain Chain Reaction @ 12:18 am

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] overwhelmed
Music: Iron Man by Ramin Djawadi

A year ago I offended a local geocacher with a flagrant display of ignorance. Despite repeated attempts to apologize to her, my messages go unanswered. Most of you know me well enough to understand without me having to tell you that I punish myself quite enough for this kind of error; the added burden of not being able to communicate with the injured person makes it ten times worse.

Since she won't talk to me, I have set myself the task of visiting and logging every single one of her (still active) geocaches. The idea came to me several weeks ago but I hadn't made up my mind to do it yet because I didn't know how it would be received. Then the offended cacher took the time to post a note on my latest hide, deriding it as unsuitable but neglecting to provide any feedback. (Essentially, insulting me rather than attempting to make the caching environment better for everyone.)

This decided me, so I made a start on my project last week, which I will now tell you about in (possibly too much) detail by recreating my logs. If you don't read on through these, I totally understand: there are sixteen of them, all found over the course of a six-hour trip into the woods just outside town. I pushed myself really hard to get to the top of the mountain, and almost made it back to my car without incident before night fell. Not all the caches in this trip belong to the offended cacher: a few belong to one of her friends who naturally has been warned against my shenanigans and responds with that automatic hostility common to those who have been exposed to only one side of a situation. None of that means he can't make fun and interesting hides.

Epic. Hike.Collapse )

And that's it. The tops of my feet felt like someone had replaced them with inflexible metal sleeves. My muscles were OK… until Saturday, when my calves, shins, and butt ached all day at work. But, man… it was an Epic Hike™. Who wants to go back with me? I bet the nettle population will be a real drag in the summer.

February 4th, 2010

Some Recent Fiction @ 09:47 pm

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] creative
Music: Mr & Mrs Smith on the DVD player

I entered a few recent fiction events on Twitter; some with rules, others free-form. Here are some of the results.

Pelzard the Pelgrane Trainer

Hupplebaust the pelgrane woke and found himself in dire straits—by some means he had become tethered by the neck to a rickety cage.

The old sun drenched Earth with red rays, exposing the full depth of his predicament: the cage presided over a tiny village square.

Nearby a man hurriedly erected a pavilion. This Hupplebaust knew to be Pelzard, who fancied himself a trainer of exotic creatures.

The pelgrane tried to stretch his bat-like wings but the cage allowed them no scope. He noticed a tag clipped through one membrane.

Hupplebaust exerted himself to mangle the cage by toppling it; his globular body slumped; neck suspended by the collar, he choked.

Apprehending the ruckus Pelzard hauled on ropes to right the cage. “Be still!” he commanded, “or no breakfast will be forthcoming.”

The man leapt to finish his chores. “Pelzard,” rasped the pelgrane, “release me and we will discuss your notions of the afterlife.”

“By no means!” crowed Pelzard. “My entire professional career has been carefully plotted to arrive at this pinnacle of showmanship!

“Do you think I chose my name heedlessly?” With preparations complete Pelzard regarded his charge. “Now you will play for royalty.”

“Never have I consumed royalty,” Hupplebaust admitted, fitting his beak of black horn through the bars. “They may provide dessert.”

Pelzard chortled. “Your capabilities do not extend so far. Hold your bellicose tendencies in abeyance or I blast you with magic.”

To Duke Orbal’s Grand Exposition did Pelzard bring his captive pelgrane. Many experts agreed his display would win the grand prize.

Flush wish success and hope, Pelzard indulged in ancient vintages and became fabulously sozzled. That night he neglected the cage.

In the afternoon, crowds gathered and Duke Orbal abandoned his high seat to pass among the showpieces. He neared the wicker cage.

Pelzard stood unsteadily beside Hupplebaust. The pelgrane murmured, “I see my dream of a bone-pipe organ comes closer to reality.”

The pelgrane’s beady black gaze found the bloodshot eyes of the pelgrane trainer…and Hupplebaust burst from the cage with a shriek.

Pelzard fell aside, battered by Hupplebaust’s wing. The pelgrane shrugged away the tattered cage and made to excise Pelzard’s head.

The duke’s men, wide-eyed with fear, nevertheless bore forward to abate the menace and Hupplebaust, thwarted, was made to retreat.

He carried Pelzard off into the dark sky. “Release me!” screamed Pelzard; he kicked in panic. “Not so fast,” the pelgrane demurred.

A flurry of arrows inhibited Hupplebaust’s imagination. He lost his grip on Pelzard and the sun went down on his vengeful ambition.
Temporal TuesdayCollapse )CthalloweenCollapse )

November 22nd, 2009

Antecedents: Episode I @ 12:33 pm

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] impressed
Music: Music is Art (podcast)

The other day I was jabbering at a friend in the United Kingdom about how my grandfather immigrated to the U S of A from Scotland, but when she asked which part, I was embarrassed to realize that I had NO idea whatsoever. I knew his name was John, and that he married my grandmother Elsie—whose last name was also Robertson, and no that does not make me an inbred mutant. ;)

But beyond that, I knew only that he'd died before I was born.

So I wrote to my father about the matter and he responded with a quick tidbit that grandpa had been born in Greenock (which I determined to be in Renfrewshire, thanks to Google Maps) and said that he would be happy to write more when he wasn't pressed for time. Then I got this gem....
My dad came to America in 1921 with his friend, Robert (Bobby) Mahan. Both men were journeyman carpenters. When they got to Ellis Island, they were asked what they were going to do in the U.S. When they said they were carpenters here to work for a year or two, they were asked for their union cards, which they presented. They were then asked to lay out their tools. The immigration men knew that a real carpenter (not just pretending to be one or with a phony union card) would have his tools. Upon seeing the tools, Immigration approved them. Other passengers from Great Britain, who could not show that they could make a positive contribution to America, were refused entry and put back on the ship to return to Britain. Different from today's immigration policy.

My dad had an eight year (!) apprenticeship to become a journeyman carpenter. He worked in the shipyards on the Clyde River in Scotland. Before coming to America, dad worked mainly at shipbuilding.

Here is a fact that you can throw out to impress your friends: Your grandfather helped build the Titanic! Being a master carpenter, he was given his choice of where he wanted to work on the ship. Being a gymnast, he chose the gymnasium so that he could use the equipment on his breaks. The ship's officer who was assigned to the gym came to inspect it while dad was working. The officer seemed nervous, so dad asked what was wrong. It turns out that the man had no knowledge of the equipment or how to use it, but he was to instruct the passengers. So, your grandfather taught him what he needed to know.

Dad was offered the opportunity to go on the maiden voyage, but he had already gone on the shakedown cruise and there was another shipbuilding job coming up, so he turned down the offer. That is why you and I are both here today.

In America, Dad & Bobby worked first for Macy's in New York City. When wealthy customers wanted to buy furniture, they called Macy's, who sent men to measure the customer's rooms and note all the details. Then, over night, dad and a crew would literally build an exact replica of the rooms so that the customer could see what the new furniture would look like in their own home. Dad didn't like working nights, but, as he said, he couldn't believe how good the money was!

In the 1920's, wealthy people like the Rockefellers discovered West Palm Beach, Florida. At that time, it was nothing but sand and mosquitoes. Ocean front land was cheap, so they built great winter estates. They needed top quality carpenters, so dad & Bobby went to Florida. They had a beach home too. It was literally on the beach in West Palm. They built it from scrap lumber from their jobs. Somewhere, I have a photo of them at that "shack." They thought it almost unbelievable that coconuts fell from the trees all around them and were free for the taking. They also discovered that large amounts of coconut juice are a very effective laxative.

Dad & Bobby had heard of the Everglades and wanted to see them. A co-worker took them out into the swamp on a weekend. They were impressed. Being from Scotland where all the water is frigid, they decided to go swimming. Their friend sat on the car and watched. The two Scots had a great time swimming and splashing around. They noticed their friend was laughing his head off and hollered back at him, asking what was so funny. He shouted out to them that God must take care of Scotsmen, because the only thing in that water was alligators and water moccasins! Dad said that he and Bobby ran back to shore across the top of the water. They had some unkind words for the guy who let them go in the water.

Mom, whose maiden name was also Robertson, was born in Torrington, Connecticut. Her parents were Thomas and Annie Robertson. They had come to the U.S. some years earlier. Mom remembers playing outside Edison's labs and seeing him on a daily basis. She also remembered Sunday band concerts in the park. The band was the U.S. Marine corps Band under the direction of John Phillip Souza. Mom and her folks moved to Florida, which is where she met dad. There are lots of anecdotes from mom's time in Florida, not the least of which involve her friends who were members of the Klan and the ones who were moonshiners, for whom she held money. While she was still a schoolgirl in Florida, she had a traumatic experience. A teacher beat mom's head against the blackboard for making a mistake. That caused mom's nose to bleed profusely, all over her new white dress. Sadly, mom never progressed academically beyond that grade school level. She was unable to read or write beyond a second grade level the rest of her life. She was, however, quite smart. We presently have on one of our beds, a crocheted bedspread. It is magnificent and mom did it all by looking at the photos of crocheting in a book. Crocheting is what she did as a hobby and to entertain her self. This was before TV and if one could not read the paper or a book, there was little to do, so mom crocheted doilies, table clothes and bedspreads. You should see the bedspread, Jared.

Mom had three sisters: Mary, who married Bobby, Margaret and Martha. Don't ask me why, with all those "M" names mom was named Elsie; I have no idea.

Anyway... I think mom and dad met a Salvation Army meeting. That took the place of a regular church, because there were none in that part of Florida (West Palm Beach) at that time. I have the original Salvation Army Marriage Certificate framed here. It is quite ornate and a real historic document, dated 1923.

Shortly after dad & mom, Bobby & Mary were married, they decided to set out to see the U.S. Dad and Bobby bought new 1924 Ford Touring Cars, loaded their stuff and headed west. There were no interstate roads back then, it was all back roads and many of them were not paved. They took "The Old Spanish Trail" out of Florida and across Louisiana. In Louisiana, they had to stop "every five or ten miles" to repair tires. In La, the trail was "paved" with oyster shells, which cut the tires. Needless to say, they did not stay in Louisiana long. They "camped" by sleeping in their cars. There were no motels back then, except around cities. Dad related that he and Bobby got up in the middle of the night to see what was causing their tires to go flat. They had both heard the hissing sound they thought was air escaping from a tire. When they shone their light around, having not found a flat tire, they saw big yellow eyes staring back at them. They both leapt back into their cars and stayed awake the rest of the night, hoping that alligators couldn't climb into their cars. After that, they made it a point not to stop for the night near a swamp.
So, not only do I owe my life to grandpa not boarding Titanic for her maiden voyage, I also move to within two degrees of THOMAS EDISON. My awesomality quotient totally increased. And when I tweeted about it, almost at once got a reply from someone in Scotland whose father is also a carpenter in the shipyards! She sent me a picture of Greenock:

[ Photograph of Greenock, Scotland from Lyle Hill ]

Clearly, I must add this place to my list of destinations. You know, for when I'm rich and filled with free time.

November 3rd, 2009

Absenteeism @ 09:38 pm

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] weird
Music: Blade Runner by Vangelis

I haven't forgotten you all, and I'm not closing up shop (I have too much invested in LiveJournal to do that without some major problem) but I just haven't had anything to say. Nothing that wouldn't be fantastically whiny, anyway.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and I've even been writing some fiction there, since I find it pretty easy to finish little bursts of story (even on my breaks at work) rather than longer pieces. I've done almost 200 so far, most of them contained in a single tweet, but a few that are longer, linked tweets. I also have a few recurring characters, including Jordan LaMonica. I've been trying to get feedback on them, but generating interest has gone very slowly. A few people here have had a look, but I'm anxious to share them with the rest of you, so please indulge me by having a look at ManxomeFoe. They're very short; a quick read.

Just scroll to the bottom of the page and hit the "more" button a few times until it doesn't appear again and read up. (When did it become normal for new things to be at the head of a list? With the advent of e-mail, I suppose.)

June 22nd, 2009

"Have you brought any fruits of vegetables onto the planet?" @ 11:24 am

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] uncomfortable
Music: Total Recall
Tags: ,


Medical Update!Collapse )


June 17th, 2009

No Wrestling Matches This Week @ 08:23 pm

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] crappy
Music: The Bourne Supremacy by John Powell

Today I finally found myself a new doctor. It's been ages since I saw my last one, and I visited him so infrequently that I didn't even know he had retired until I tried to have some results from a specialist sent to him. My insurance company was absolutely no help: each of the doctors their Web site claimed were accepting new patients weren't doing so. I took a lead from jwyldragon and called the office of her general practitioner and got kind of a runaround because I couldn't tell them "what type" of insurance I had. I could have read them any number of things off my card, but instead of asking for something on there, they just said they couldn't help me if I didn't know.

So I dropped by. It turns out they do accept my insurance, and had four doctors taking new patients. One had just gone on maternity leave, so she was out of the running, and the doctor she partnered with would only be in every other week. Between the other two, I had a look at the information cards about each of them, which told about their schools and residencies, specialties, and so on. Rather than try to read both of them right there in front of the receptionist, and seeing at a glance that both were qualified, I seized on the "favorite quotation" field. One had some fluff about when the spirit is most exalted, and the other talked about kindness and generosity (written on a note found among his grandfather's papers).

I went with the kindness guy.

Cut for TMMI: Too Much Medical InformationCollapse )

I guess I'm just an old man now. Bah.

June 5th, 2009

Housing Schemes @ 10:46 pm

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] optimistic
Music: THX 1138 by Lalo Schifrin

Last Sunday I met a Realtor at a new set of condominiums being finished just up the road from where I live now. Mom and I had been out looking for places to rent and even though she had expressed nothing but disgust for the design of these places, I wanted to take her for a look because I thought they were reasonably cute. The places are tiny in the extreme: the biggest of them is barely fit for habitation by anyone with any possessions in excess of standard furniture. When I first walked into the studio layout, I thought I must have missed a door or a stairwell or something, but the place is so tiny that I mistook the bed area for the foyer. The lofts are a bit better, though stair-infested, and have plenty of light.

But anyway, I was talking about the Realtor. Normally I don't like to talk to people in her position; i.e., salespeople. I'd rather walk around and form my own opinion of something rather than be hounded or pressured to consider something that is patently outside my means. But she didn't give me the hard sell, she just talked, and we discussed other condos in the city. She introduced herself as The Condo Queen, and because Mom had an ice cream cone in one hand, demanded that we bring her similar tribute next time. :)

She revealed that none of the condos were selling, and that they may soon be going on the market as rentals in the range of $650 to $1000. Never mind that those rates are not very different than you could expect in a place like San Francisco. I said I might be able to swing $600 for rent and she promptly wrote that down on the list of people interested in the condos with some contact information for me, along with the verbal note that she would put in a good word with the owner that she had met the nicest young man, who had come to tour the condos with his mother, and could therefore certainly not be a dangerous hell-raiser!

Despite her reassurance to e-mail me later in the week, I hadn't heard from her by Wednesday, so I sent her a message.
To: XXXXX XXXXX, Queen of Condos!
From: Jared Robertson, Knight Errant of the Realm

Your Majesty!

It was great to meet you at the Edge condo project on Sunday with my mother. Normally I like to look around and form my own opinions about a place, but you were very engaging and interesting in conversation and I thank you for taking the time to chat us up about the prospects. You kindly offered to see if the rent could be lowered for me when the units become available, for which I am grateful, but I had another idea that might sweeten the deal for the owner/builder.

I would be very willing to take on maintenance duties at the complex in exchange for a lower (or even non-existent) rent. I'm not MacGyver, but I learn fast and I'm a willing worker. Unless they already have someone in mind for the position, please let them know I'm interested. As I mentioned to you on Sunday, I have a day job at the Community Food Co-op, but it's not a 40-hour position and I could put my spare time to use for the other tenants if a problem arises. I even do pretty well with computers and other technical issue if need be.

Please let me know if this idea strikes you in any way as feasible.

I beg to remain, Madam, your humble and obedient servant,

She wrote back, saying I had totally made her day with my e-mail, and asking if she could print a copy to post on her wall with other queen-themed correspondence from clients. I'm hoping I've made a favorable enough impression with my charm and wit that she'll sing my praises to the owner of the condo block and get me hooked up with some kind of awesome reduction in rent. I'll try to seal the deal on Sunday, assuming she's showing the condos again on that day, by bringing her ice cream.

From where? Why... Dairy Queen, of course.

May 30th, 2009

QuoteFox @ 12:04 am

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] geeky
Music: WALL•E by Thomas Newman
Tags: ,

It's not quite fifteen minutes, but it's as if I can feel fame lurking somewhere across the street, working up the courage to step onto my dragonfly doormat and knock.

Phoenix, the little lander that could near the north pole of Mars, was the reason I got to visit JPL back in January. I started "interacting" with it on Twitter back in April of last year: asking it questions, cheering it on, sharing in its discoveries.

When the mission was coming to a close—six months of total darkness and the formation of carbon dioxide ice will do that to you when you're a solar-powered probe—I started conversations with Phoenix's transcriptionist, the lovely and talented Veronica McGregor over which several of you have already swooned.

Anyway, she still writes the occasional article or blog post about Phoenix because it was largely her effort that got so many people interested in following the lander's progress. The other day (24 May) was the one-year anniversary of Phoenix's touchdown, and so she wrote this piece over on Open NASA to commemorate the event: Tweet Success.

It's a good read, and not too long, but the best part about it for me is I'm quoted in it! It's not the video I wanted to see on the JPL Web site from when I as interviewed at the tweetup, but it'll do. ;)

May 28th, 2009

Tales of the Future @ 04:07 pm

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] discontent
Music: Blade Runner (Custom Edit) by Vangelis, arranged by swashbuckler332
Tags: ,

Among my many plans and dreams for the future is a job that pays me more than I need to live. It doesn't have to be egregiously more, though I wouldn't say no to that, but it should be something that makes me comfortably more than I need so I don't have to live each week, scraping by from one paycheck to the next.

To that end, I recently applied for a job as a junior support programmer at 37signals, the Chicago-based Web application company that invented Ruby on Rails. To me, it looks right up my alley, especially since they don't care where you live if they think you're the right person for the job. I wrote a casual cover letter, since they seem to be a fairly casual company, and fired off my résumé.

I also want to submit an application for a job in spam support at Twitter, which specifically declines telecommuting employees, but I've been to San Francisco a few times and figure I could learn to handle it properly, especially if yeoldesemperfi and his wife remain in residence. But I think this job requires a slightly altered résumé from the one I sent 37signals or Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

I wouldn't say I'm uniquely qualified for either job, but I know I can do either one. In fact, I think I'd be great at either one.

Barring that, what about Antarctica? When I'm having a bad day, or week, or month (as now) I think of the White Continent and wonder what adventure lies in wait for me there. According to an acquaintance I met on Twitter, who has shared some of his experiences with me, it was the best decision he ever made: he started as a janitor, just to get there, and was able to apply for other jobs after that contract was up. He assures me they're always looking for technical people to provide computer support.

It's a scary prospect, but I'm always bitching about having lived my whole life in Bellingham, and Antarctica is just about as far from here as you can get without leaving the planet. (The farthest point, actually, is about 800 miles west of the French Southern & Antarctic Lands, per the nifty Map Tunneling Tool.) I could use the money I save up from that kind of trip to... what? BUY somewhere to live, instead of renting. Start school again to maybe learn photography? Who knows.

May 26th, 2009

Friend Fail @ 07:08 pm

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Mood: [ Mood Icon ] dejected
Music: None.
Tags: ,

Today I pulled out of a deal with drascus and two of our role-playing group to go in on a house rental together. The worst part isn't that I pulled out, but how I did it. At first, I said, "No, what I really want is my own place; I've never had a chance at that before." And they were disappointed about it, but cool.

Then, because I thought better of it, and because I like their company, and because my estimates of what it would cost to live alone were frightening, I changed my mind and said I'd go in on the deal.

Then, because I had a horrible night sleeping, and an even worse day stressing about moving into what amounts to the country, I reneged again. I know this makes me a huge asshole, but damn it: I feel like my life is stagnant, and moving in with other people is not a step on the path to changing that, I'm certain. It may still be a huge mistake, but I have to try.

At first the worst part was dreading talking to drascus, trying to work up the courage to say something. Then the worst part became having to tell the others. Apparently I have enough friend cred with drascus that he wasn't angry (just annoyed) and isn't riding me about it. One of the others called me, in tears, to ask me to reconsider.

But I've changed my mind on this enough and I don't want to do it yet again. I'm sorry to hurt them, but I think I did the right thing.

I still feel like I just broke up with a girlfriend, though, which is an awful state.

Daybook of ZorkFox the Laughing Magician