For My Next Trick, I’m Going to Purchase Gloves

I think a really cool magic trick would be to ask an audience member to think of a number between one and ten.

When they choose their number (but before they tell it to you), hold up that many fingers.

But that could get old.

So I would make them choose between 1 and 100.


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A Slight Departure in Tone

No matter how much effort they put into keeping up appearances, the kids back then were always looking for love; those who were truly brave would steal away on starless summer nights to MacNeely’s mansion at the top of the hill, slink in through the side door, stand at the foot of the mighty Victorian staircase, and loudly call out Old Man MacNeely’s name exactly eleven times in the hopes that he would use his powers to grant your wish for romance, if he didn’t use them to beat the everliving snot out of you as he threatened to do to all the other misbehavin’ punks that repeatedly broke into his house.

To this day, there are about five different people claiming to have started the tradition. Nobody has been able to provide evidence of having started the tradition, but everyone knows who pushed it out into the street for everyone to gawk at, the day he nearly had his head busted by MacNeely’s three-foot cane.

It was Steve Billings–the boy who nearly broke both his arms trying to shove his way through a solid oak panel, but still managed to outrun MacNeely down the hall to the garden door.  MacNeely wasn’t quite as spry as he always told us he had been “back in his cross-country days,” but he came close to catching Steve that night when Steve completely forgot MacNeely kept the front door locked.

In a mysterious twist, crazy Steve nearly broke Madalyn Barrett’s arms as he ran into her in headlong flight out the side door in the dark. Scared her half to death, and made her forget all about her own plan to summon Old Man MacNeely. She was too busy busting Steve’s head with a stick.

I guess MacNeely got him, in a way.

Madalyn and Steve started going out a week later. Neither went near the house again. I felt sorry for the older man for a few months after that; when the rest of the kids from down by the railroad line saw it had worked for those two, they redoubled their visits. I think he was seeing at least one incident a night for most of the summer, twice as many on the weekends.  I suspect the shouting and the collisions with his front door drove him to hire a butler.

I tried summoning him a few times myself–once before the butler showed up, twice after. It worked–well, the summoning part did. He came flying out of his second-floor study before I got my fifth “CAN YOU HEAR ME MACNEELY? I’M TIRED OF BEING ALONE!” out, his eyes wild with fire and his hands heavy with old shoes. I stuck it out through a couple of loafers, but I never did get to finish all eleven lines; by the sixth he had switched to steel-toed boots.

I had hoped to run into Jenna Hudson on the way out, no such luck. She never had been the type to get pulled into the crowd’s antics. Instead Ted Levitt was forced to dive for cover as I tore through the hallway, the enraged clomping of shoes both worn and thrown behind me.  Ted never considered approaching the stairs. As far as I know, he never went back either. He still stares at the mansion when he passes sometimes.

Actually, since the windows melted, he stares at it more often than not.

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As of this moment book two has eclipsed book one in word count by ~350 words or so.  210,000 total.

For comparison, this is about 550 pages longer than anything I was ever told to write.

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Near as I can tell…


noun – a person who makes jokes about spiders


Where, Oh Where?

Listen First

The night that we met, you said it was true love
Said no one on earth could love me like you.
And little did I know you meant ev’ry last word
But who could have guessed you were talking to you?

You took me out fishing one evening last summer
Said we’d eat what we caught, that we couldn’t lose.
I played the good sport, and sat for eight hours
But it just ain’t the same eating stanky old shoes.

Your hair is as brown as the trees in November
Your eyes are as blue as the lake west of town
That stare is as cold as the depths of December
‘Tween you and the lake I think I’d rather drown.

I look in your eyes and I see confusion
I look in your ears and I see lots of hair
And now that I’m actually paying attention
I’m just about certain that you aren’t my Claire.

Where, oh where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over and thought I found true love,
You met another
You were gone.

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There Are No Data, Only Zuul

NOAA is doing this thing where they revamp their webpages.

The old page had everything that page has.  It also included current temp, wind speed and direction, humidity, cloud cover, and precip information for here and a bunch of random towns and cities nearby, and it was all right smack in the middle of the page.

I’m not mad, I just miss it.  If those numbers are still accessible somewhere, I’d like to know where.

Also–and this is an unrelated issue–the word data has reached the point where nearly everyone uses it as a singular.

Mind you, I’ll freely admit society is rather liberal with its usage of words, but in this case it just makes sense to let it shift.  The data says/This collection of facts/numbers/information says–the exceptions being those who are still trying too hard.  I think my stance stems partially from people’s near-universal treatment of data as a singular up until, I don’t know, about two years ago.  Suddenly it seems like everyone is back on the data train, even though the word datum is completely foreign to everyone except a few geographers who are hoping for a day in the spotlight.

If you actually use the word datum, knock yourself out, I won’t protest.



An Entirely Factual Recounting

Over the past few years I’ve been asked to house and animal-sit for a few families from church.  After one of them left me a note properly explaining the extent of my duties, I took it upon myself to properly explain what happened for the duration of my stay.

This is the result.  Names (both real and made-up) of actual people have been changed to “Doug Jefferson” and “Steve” to protect privacy or something.  I guess if your name is Doug Jefferson this change is probably messing with your privacy.  I’m sorry.


Howdy, hope the trip went well; everything important should be on the countertop next to the large and entirely factual documentation of the events of the last week.

Important notes:

On Wednesday I was arrested at a county fair, but because of my dedication I was able to post bail and successfully made it out here to feed all six horses. (Two have since flown off and one took to calling me ‘That dirty criminal’ whilst I fed him, so I sold him to a Canadian zebra farm under the pretense that he had been reupholstered.)

I still insist the arrest was illegitimate. For the last five years I’ve been bringing my own strawberry-vanilla pie with blueberry-cream topping and a homemade graham-cracker crust to the County Winter Fair bake-off. Because my pie is that good, I’ve won every year, and because of that, last year I was told to either submit a new pie or to not bother showing up. Being the excellent listener that I am, I made two pies for this year’s contest. Sure enough, when I arrived at the table to submit my pies, I was placed in handcuffs and taken down to the station, where they charged me with two counts of baking and entering. I made the mistake of trying to contest the charges just after midnight and saw the addition of one count of resisting a rest.

On Thursday there was a small incident with the cats that was quickly sorted out, though it required turning every computer within a four mile radius off and then on again. At some point at least one of them may have violated Tunisian airspace, but the details are as fuzzy as the cats themselves and I can neither confirm nor deny the culpability of anyone, really. Certainly not myself. Both cats have seemingly adjusted to the change in time zones, though neither will ever regain the ability to swim properly.

Friday also went well. After playing a few uncharacteristically sedate games of extreme checkers with myself (best two out of three) I was visited by two people who have not once been convicted of treason or deliberate arson. One goes by an alias–Joug Defferson, and the other holds the title of High Commander of International and Domestic Capitalist Operations but in the interest of protecting the innocent possibly guilty we’ll give him one of those goofy protective names and just call him “Steve.”

Anyway, █ ██████ █████ ██ roughly .28 █ ████ ██████ ████ ███ █████████ ██████ ███ ███ ██ █ ████ fifteen minutes or so, but ████ ███ █████ ███ ████ █████ ███ █ █████. ████ ███ could work, ████ █████ ███ █ █████ ██ █ ████ █████ ████ ██ ███ ██ ███ █████probably best left to Ms. Frizzle and the rest of the cast of the Magic School ██.

After we put out the fire we realized the situation was probably not quite as bad as it could have been; most of the walls were still in place and the basement had been left largely untouched thanks to the six-inch layer of soot. During the time spent removing the more concentrated radioactive masses, I was also able to interview a passing motorist who had witnessed the entire incident. He said: “But don’t quote me on that.” Fortunately he did allow me to quote him on his decision to not allow me to quote his earlier statement, so all was not lost. As an aside, it’s unlikely (continued on next page) you’ll ever have to worry about insects again, at least not anything that looks like the ones you’re used to seeing around here.

Being well-versed in the art of making the most out of the probably awful, we set to work repairing the damage (after contacting the Canadian embassy). Since the horses out back hadn’t really made any sort of effort to stop the situation from developing in the first place, they were enlisted to help fix it, and were assigned the titles of Task Horse Alpha, Task Horse Bartholomew (I have completely forgotten the phonetic code for the letter Bravo) and Task Horse Three. Task Horses Alpha and Bartholomew performed acceptably, but Three proved to be completely unhelpful, and was relegated to Standing Around Looking Completely Unhelpful Patrol.

Using Steve “Steve’s” engineering ability, Joug’s gator-wrestling-augmented strength, and my powers of seduction sedition standing around looking busy, we were able to repair the house. Joug and “Steve” did most of the repairs; I took the heavy responsibility of giving mildly threatening glares to passing truckers in order to procure lumber and other construction-type goods. This approach failed, but fortunately we were able to raise money through the sale of homemade pies. (Life Tip: Threatening glares are best used sparingly, away from vehicles traveling at interstate speeds.) The house has been restored to Nearly Mint condition; a careful inspection may uncover some flaws, such as heavy water in the plumbing (we were forced to use deuterium instead of hydrogen–you never know when you might need it), the aforementioned changes to insects and arachnids (Don’t talk to the spiders, even if they sound friendly or offer you competitive interest rates), and an intermittent magnetic anomaly in the basement that causes compasses to point left.

I had intended to recount Saturday’s highlights in poetic form (Iambic Pentameter), but I am forbidden from doing so for the next twenty years or until the dissolution of the British Parliament, whichever comes first. I do have the period from 17:15-18:27 in limerick form, however.

Three men on a cruise sang a song,
With a chorus fifteen minutes long.
To the passengers’ glee,
They were thrown in the sea;
Now they sing with the fish near Hong ███.

I explained the risks to the three of them when they told me of their intent to use tubas, a washboard, and a jug band on a cruise ship, but they would hear none of it.

If anyone superficially resembling one or more of your children visits your house during the next three weeks, it is completely possible said being is actually one of your offspring. It is also possible that the batteries on the impostors have not yet worn down completely. If you are uncertain, test said visitor using either a series of relevant questions (In what state were you programmed? How many feelings have you registered today?) If these questions prove insufficient, applying a spray of water to the ear canal will cause the bionic charlatans to enter circuit protection mode.

Sunday was warm, with a high approaching 275°K. Most of the parasitic gopher horde had moved on, following the bears west after I chased them off. If you do happen to see any gopher stragglers, the most helpful tips I can think of are –

#1: Never let them see you panic, and
#2: It is not possible to fire too many shots.

Also, any bags you find in the garage marked “coffee” or “non-reactive materials” should probably be burned away from animals and people, if possible.

I do not want to talk about Monday.

Tuesday can only be described as a “Hearty mixture of each of the preceding days.” If either NASA or the Latvian government shows up outside your house, deny my existence and under no circumstances permit them to go near the barn.
DO NOT burn the bags marked “non-reactive materials.” Also:

#3: Wear heavy boots, and don’t be afraid to use them.

Task Horse Three was able to make up for earlier shortcomings at this point, and any indentations (excluding the craters) in your lawn can be attributed to Three’s outstanding performance against the gopher scourge.

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Of Pirates and Blurred Borders

Have you ever thought about how improbable the global system of air travel is?

Nearly every country on the planet allows fully loaded jets to enter its airspace multiple times a day, and–even more improbably– land before checking the passengers (I don’t know what the alternative would be), trusting the previous country’s TSA to have done the job.   And some of these transfers involve countries who wouldn’t hesitate to stab each other given the chance.

It just strikes me that any country with the desire to do so could stuff a nuclear weapon in the cargo hold of an international flight and set it off upon landing.  Sure, there have been stories (and movies) where said weapon is sent in by container ship (probably easier) but air travel opens up a great multitude of non-coastal/non-port locations.  And finger pointing would be difficult, though I think it’s possible to fingerprint the country of origin by sampling the fallout.  (The whole reason I’m speculating here is because I’m not in the mood to start googling things like “is it possible to trace nuclear weapons” or “what’s stopping governments from sticking nukes on planes.”)

By the way, if you’re paranoid, don’t read the previous three paragraphs.  If you aren’t, carry on.

In other alternate universes, can you imagine if yesterday’s pirates operated on the same principles today’s do?  Near as I can tell, there would be a giant island outside territorial waters filled with gold, food, rum, silver, and what-have-you, where ships would pull in, fill up on all of it, and leave.  The island’s stockpile would remain completely unchanged.

Mind you, if today’s pirates operated on the same principles as yesterday’s, Disney would be forced to spend part of its operating budget combating raiding parties, Paramount would be resting on the bottom of the sea, and Shawn Fanning would be imprisoned, having murdered a great number of musicians.

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Continuing to be Continued

So I haven’t kept up to date on book stuff, but it is still moving.  My guess is ~25k more words, then I’ll print a couple copies of both and ask for opinions while I go back and edit for clunkiness and whatever strikes me as unfit to print… for a second or third time.

Here’s a tiny snippet.  Forgive the formatting; translating from word to wordpress is always slightly goofy.

Scene: Above Omrirr – fringe world, home to a weapon capable of reshaping humanity–and history.

SecRaID – Security, Research, and Interstellar Defense.  Trying to capture or destroy said weapon at all costs.  Foreshock is one of a pair of frontline battleships.  (along with Pretaliatory)

The Archczar – Wishes he controlled said weapon, forced into an uneasy alliance around it instead.  Owns quite a few Arquebus cruisers.

Faribault – Site of the following discussion:


“Aren’t we going to help Foreshock?” Shevine asked. “She’s outgunned nearly three to one!”

“And she will still be outgunned if we charge in with her,” Shea said.  “Faribault is an ex-warship, and would fall to an Arquebus on her best day. Everyone on that ship has been trained for an unwinnable fight; now is their chance to make good on that training. Our priorities are elsewhere until one of those cruisers notices us.”

“Captain, I apologize for the lack of optimism, but what’s our plan when Foreshock does fall?”

“We hope by all the power we have that we’ve done our job; prolonged combat is not our strength, and war has always belonged to SecRaID and its ilk.  Pretaliatory and what other ships they could scrape together are still twelve minutes outside the system, and with them our hope against the Archczar.  We have a date with Omrirr, woe and disfiguring pain unto anyone who gets in our way.
“LeTregeant, Herche, relay for me,” Shea growled. “Hold fire on the ten-slugs unless someone tucks in close; we’ll use them for calibration against our first real target.  I’ve seen what happens when you place all your trust in sensors and it’s an excellent way to get your face bloodied. Same story on the half-meters: anyone making a move to interfere is allowed an approach.  Don’t fire until they commit; if they get down on one knee, you roll all sixteen.  Aim for the junctions and follow every shot with three more. We may not have a drawer full of knives, but we can still plunge them all the way in.”


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A Series of Rather Terrible Decisions

I applied for (and was chosen for) the sugar beet draft this year.

All in all, it’s a very bizarre business seemingly predicated on a whole bunch of people with terrible judgment being allowed to make decisions.

Step one: Someone has to decide to farm.
Farming itself isn’t a terrible idea; it’s a great way to get outdoors and wake up at four and end up tan and fairly well-muscled and the owner of machinery that is either larger than or more expensive than the average house–possibly both.  It’s just–aside from subsidies and all that–your returns are dependent upon the weather.  It can’t be too hot, it can’t be too cold, too wet, too dry, too bugs or hail or tornado.  You’ve probably noticed a theme.

Poor decision Step two: This person must farm sugar beets.  Sugar beets are ugly, occasionally football-sized mutant cousins of regular beets that taste pretty much exactly how you would expect them to taste.  (Yes, I did.  No, it wasn’t a dare.)

Step three, and here is where it gets tricky: Said person must be willing to entrust these rotund little rooted fellows to, in some cases, complete strangers or people who know their friends who may never have driven either a truck or a manual transmission before.  (My secret shame!  But what do you want?  It’s not as if I had a spare car.)

So here’s where I come in, and where we switch perspectives.

Step four:  I show up at a field with a truck, and for reasons that I don’t want to explain, get an unstoppable urge to take beets from someone, letting some poor unsuspecting tractor driver fill the truck up with more beets than I could possibly want or use.  (If you’re keeping count, that’s at least one beet.)

Step five:  After driving about a mile, I begin to regret my actions.

Step six:  What in the name of Pete Sampras am I going to do with 20,000 pounds of beets?

Step seven:  I drive half a dozen miles into town, following antlike beet-truck trails toward the hive, where I and hundreds of other misguided truckers are fortunate enough to find people who will take the world’s ugliest crop off our hands.  In return, I receive a slip of paper.  Some less-fortunate drivers simply give up, cut their losses, head home, and end up with ten tons of awful brown lumps on their lawn.

Step eight:  Leave.  Probably the most rational decision I’ve made all week.

Step nine: Contract Chronic Beetlust again.  Discard rational thought once more.  Repeat steps four through nine for approximately two weeks.

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