September 26, 2016

Thank You For Your Service

Gather 'round my good and dear, for I have a tale to spin for you.  It is a tale of long and unprecedented attention to duty, a saga of unswerving loyalty, a story of honor and faithfulness.  It is the story of a light bulb.

Not just any light bulb, however.  No, it's the story of a compact fluorescent lamp that put any other CFL to shame.  It began its life in the manufactury of Feit Electric, item number BPESL13T/R, a red party bulb.  It sat on the shelf at a Walgreens here in Duckford, waiting to provide service to whomever purchased it.  And waiting.  And waiting.

In October of 2005, I had a Cardiac Incident that sent me to the hospital, wondering if I was going to live or not.  I did, of course, but I did not escape the incident unscathed.  For a long time after, as I lay in bed trying to sleep, I would unintentionally concentrate on my heartbeat, freaking out slightly with every slight unsteadiness.  I began to worry about what would happen if I had to call the EMTs late at night but couldn't get out of bed.  I decided to leave a light on as I slept, but that was a problem.  I don't sleep well when there's light in the room, but it had to be bright enough for someone unfamiliar with the layout of Pond Central to be able to see the way to my bedroom.  Oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly if you know me, it was the US Navy that gave me an idea.

The Combat Information Center on Navy warships are routinely kept dark, with only dim red lights glowing.  The red light protects night vision while providing enough illumination to see what the heck you're doing... exactly what I was looking for.  Now I just needed to find a red light bulb.

The first one I purchased was a regular incandescent bulb, a little too bright, not really red enough for my purposes, and it stank to high heaven.  Undoubtedly the "dip" on the bulb, cooking from the inside out.  Unacceptable.  I searched the usual Home Improvement places, no joy whatsoever.  I knew there were red bulbs out there somewhere, I just had to find them! 

And then, one night after work, I stopped into my local Walgreens for... something.  I don't remember what anymore.  But what I actually got was that red CFL from Feit Electric.  I got home, put it in the artsy bakelite-like lamp a cousin gave me for Christmas the year before, and turned it on in the dining room.  Perfect.  Bright, but not so bright that it was going to bother my sleep in the next room over.  The rest of the apartment had a nice reddish glow to it, too.  Couldn't have done it better myself.  Leaving the light on, I moved on to other things.

For nearly ELEVEN YEARS that light was left on.  It was off only if the power went out or when I was vacuuming during the summer; the big fan was using the other outlet at that point, and I'd just unplug the light and plug it back in when I was done with the room.  According to the fact sheet for good ol' BPESL13T/R, it was supposed to have a lifespan of 8000 hours.  It passed that mark during the first year.  After eleven years, it would have been on for right around 96000 hours.  A few years ago, I realized just how incredible the performance of this thing was, and I began to wonder which of us would die first.  Until that time came, I let it do its job.  And it did, hour after hour, day after day, never weakening, never flagging, just illuminating the apartment for my entertainment and safety.

This morning, around 3am, I woke up.  Not entirely however... I was in that nice "mostly awake, partially zonked" state.  Rolling over to check the time, I noticed that it was VERY dark.  Not just in my bedroom, but out in the living room as well... and my brain processed that as "power outage."  Never mind that the fan in my bedroom was howling away at full speed and the alarm clock was glowing redly on my desk, the power must be out.  I fell back to sleep almost immediately.

This morning, I got out of bed, verified the power was not, in fact, out, and realized that the time I had long dreaded had finally come.  The seemingly undying red light, the light that has served me so well for so long, had finally ceased its efforts on my behalf. 

Another red CFL has taken its place in the lamp.  But it's not the same.  Nothing will be able to replace that BPESL13T/R.  Thank you for your service, little light.  You will always have a place of honor in my heart, and after I find a suitable ribbon, on my christmas tree.  Thank you.  I was lucky to have you.  Rest now.

You did well.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 07:58 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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September 11, 2016

It's Book Review Time!

A while ago, J Greely of .Clue mentioned that an old series of Star Trek books was available in omnibus form, bringing back fond memories of Ensign Rock and Romulan history and much derring-do from characters other than the bridge crew of the Enterprise.  This reminded me that old novels that I haven't thought about in decades were available at the click of a mouse.  I didn't actually act on that information right away, but it was there. 

Somewhat recently, a NPR report mentioned that "Father Andrew Greeley" passed away in 2013.  I knew the name, but I couldn't place it exactly.  When I got home, I hied myself off to google, and suddenly it all came to me... the Writing Priest from Chicago!  Of course.  And I had even read one of his novels, to boot... and remembered enjoying it, too, a very long time ago.  A few clicks later, and it was on its way here.  It took a few days to get to it, but once I did it went quickly and in a pleasant manner.  I last read God Game (1986) when it was only a few years old and some of it is amusingly dated, but despite that it holds together nicely.  The main character is a Chicago Catholic priest that's asked by a relative to playtest a computer game he's working on.  Duke and Dutchess is big, coming on a whopping eight floppy discs, and the "fast" version is designed to run on computers using the new 286 processor.  It's interactive fiction that the player can control, with at least 50 possible endings., limited animation, and a huge vocabulary of commands available.  And if you hook it up to your TV, it's in color, too!  In a small swords & sorcery world, there's two warring nations, ruled by the game's titular characters... and from there, it's up to the player to decide where the story will go.  The first night he starts in on the game, a big thunderstorm rolls in off Lake Michigan, and as he's playing lightning strikes his C-band satellite dish.  When the power comes back on, he finds that the graphics are now exceedingly lifelike, and that the characters now consider him as their God... or something like it, at least.  Suddenly the game has become all too real... imagine a cross between The Sims, Civilization, and a Visual Novel coming to life.

While God Game is primarily a fantasy novel, as you can imagine the philosophical conundrums of playing God (or being an author, which the narrator equates to being the same thing) play a large part in the story.  While interesting, it's the actions of the game's secondary characters that are of the greatest interest.  Their contact with "God" is quite personal, hearing his commands directly when directed at them, so it comes as no surprise that they talk back.  They consider themselves to be worthy of elevation to main character status, and work to get to that point... or not, depending.  But then they start showing up in the Player's bedroom in late night dreams, to have a talk with their God.  One of them has a fondness for Bailey's Irish Creme, but when the narrator wakes in the morning, there's an empty bottle on the end table...  And why do the secondary characters' events in the game start spilling over into the Real World?

In many ways, God Game is a delivery vehicle for a sermon on the perils of hubris and cause & effect.  However, much the way Robert Heinlein couched his lectures in Starship Troopers in an action novel, Greeley succeeds in masking the preaching (pardon the pun) in an entertaining story.  It's light enough fare to read casually, but you get out of it what you put in to reading the book.  There's quite a bit of meat here, particularly if you're a player of RPGs or so-called "4X" titles.  Actually, I wonder if Sid Meier or Wil Wright have read God Game.  It wouldn't surprise me much if they had.  A very good read on many levels.

Similarly, I was doing some research on Scapa Flow, the Royal Navy base in Scotland, when I came across a reference to the Picts.  That reminded me of another book I had read around the same time as God Game, a rollicking bundle of violence and sex called Calgaich The Swordsman.  Unlike the first book I reviewed in this post, however, there's absolutely no philosophy or introspection in this one... nor should there be: it's not that type of novel. 

Calgaich is a part-Celtic, part-Roman swordsman, raised in one world but due to his Roman side, having served in the Roman Auxilaries.  Exiled for killing a fellow warrior, the book begins with him returning to Scotland for the first time in years.  Blood soon soaks the pages as he hacks, slashes, stabs, chokes, spears, punches and kicks his way through Pictish war bands and tribesmen displeased that he killed the son of the now-chief.  He's soon off to Hadrian's Wall to rescue his elderly father, the prior chief, from the hands of the Romans.  Eventually, he is caught and shipped to Rome to become fodder for the Games.  Along the way, he meets other colorful prisoners, all of them skilled fighters, and he's already making plans to escape...

Gordon D Shirreffs was primarily a writer of Westerns novels, churning out more than 80 of them in a career that spanned some 40 years.   Four of his novels were turned into films, including John Wayne's Rio Bravo.   Unsurprisingly, Calgaich has many similarities to a Western, with showdowns of honor, bravery, revenge, and lots of dead bodies left in the dust.  Surprisingly, the book seems rather well researched, not that I know anything about Scottish history or much about the Romans in Brittania.  Shirreffs was Scottish by birth, moving to America in his youth, so it's unsurprising that he knows enough about the history to make it read convincingly.  In the end however, Calgaich is a Conan knockoff, but an entertaining enough one.  In the long run, the book would be totally forgettable save for the historical footnote of being the first novel released by Playboy Press.  I bought this from a used book store while looking for D&D-style books, so the rather lusty sex scenes came as something of a surprise, as did the tone being more realistic than what I was expecting.  It's not a bad book, honestly, but it's pretty much disposable pulp.  I like it more because of the memories I had of it than any particular qualities it may have.  It's certainly worth the $.25 you're likely to spend online for it... leastwise, that's what I spent for it!

So there you have it!  A couple of old novels from the reading history of Wonderduck... enjoy, won't you?

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:00 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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September 10, 2016

Just For Laffs

I'm working on a couple of reviews, but they're taking longer than I expected to complete.  So, instead of just having the MiniDisc story at the top, I'm going to put some short videos that made me laugh here.

The death of rational discourse in video form.


This edit is almost as good.  Ditto with this one.


Important information we all need to know.

My sense of humor seems to be "low".

Posted by: Wonderduck at 12:26 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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September 06, 2016

Well, I Tell Ya...

A few weeks ago, I had a doctor's appointment.  Mainly it was for the annual drug review... my prescription for the Keep Wonderduck Alive pills had run out... but while I was there, I had a little chat with Dr Red.  I explained to him how I was having problems staying awake at work, how I'd close my eyes and almost immediately almost fall asleep. 

Sure, like most adults in the United States, I don't get enough sleep, but it's not like I'm trying to operate on three hours and a can of Red Bull either.  I don't mind dozing off when I'm at home, but when I could be canned for sleeping on the job, it's kind of a bother.  So Doc Red took a gander down my throat (and how it fit, I'll never know), hemmed and hawed for a short time, then suggested that there's a good chance I have sleep apnea.  Well, that'd explain a lot... if my quality of sleep sucks, the quantity doesn't matter much.

So there's maybe a sleep study in my future sometime... nothing like sleeping in a strange bed while wired for sound with medical-like people watching you.  Actually, there are people who'd pay good money for just that for fun, probably.  Not like I know anything about that or anything.  Nope, not me.  Uh-uh.  But before that, there's something else we're trying: antidepressants.

Yup, I gave up.  I realized that I wasn't getting better mentally, so it was time to start taking the happy pills again.  It's been just over three weeks, and the only effect I've felt so far is the worst case of cottonmouth you can have without being a snake.  But it takes at least that long for it to start taking effect, so... yeah.  There ya go.  The thinking is that if I'm not so depressed, I'll be able to concentrate better and less likely to doze off.  Who knows, it might even work that way!  There is a part of me that feels like I'm a weakling for needing such help, but... well.  Piffle.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:38 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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