Friday, September 14, 2012

Story: The Cause

I wrote another story this week for one of Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenges.  This one was similar to last week's in that you randomly picked from three buckets of story elements to create your story.  I would have been happy to write in almost any of the genres, and I got cyberpunk.  I love William Gibson, so this pleased me immensely.  For setting, I got Wal-Mart.  Meh, I would have liked any of the other settings, but this would work.  For the element to include, I got a robot.  That would work beautifully with cyberpunk.

My first draft of the story was over 1300 words, which is way over the 1000 word limit.  It was hard to pare down to 1000 words, but I'm coming in at 992 words now.  I had to remove a part of the story that I really liked, but I think that the story is still as good without it.

I hope you enjoy my attempt at cyberpunk, Wal-Mart and robots.


Gibson sat down at a public terminal in the library section of Wal-Mart.  He glanced around to make sure that no security robots were around before plugging his neural adapter into the connector and transferred his consciousness into the terminal.

Inside, he took a moment to get his bearings.  As with most public terminals, viruses and other malware were prevalent.  He ignored those as they couldn't harm him.  He was on the lookout for either an AI or another user connected to this terminal.

Satisfied that he was alone, he began unpacking the tools that he would use for The Cause.  First, he constructed a worker factory.  Workers would free him up for more important tasks.  Then, he built a firewall factory.  The firewall factory would build pieces of firewall code that Gibson had customized to defend this terminal from outside influence while allowing the traffic that he wanted to flow.

Workers started emerging from the factory and he sent them to clean the terminal.  With the firewall factory finished, he began assembling his firewall as his workers began to tear down the terminal's firewall.

Suddenly, several workers were vaporized and Gibson realized he'd forgotten to disable the terminal's antivirus program.  He cursed himself as he couldn't afford any delays.  Antivirus programs were a joke nowadays, but they were still better than leaving a system free to any virus from the 21st century still lurking around.  Also, they could still identify and kill processes trying to overtly seize a machine.  That's what the worker processes would look like to the program.

Gibson left the firewall and went back to his tools.  He pulled out what looked like an tablet computer and punched some keys and told the terminal's OS to disable the antivirus program.  The tablet made the terminal think that he was an administrator, it complied.

He chided himself for forgetting such an easy step and went back to the firewall.  He knew that he had to hurry because the network security AIs would soon detect his firewall and try to retake control of the terminal.  A human couldn't control an AI and they could easily eject him from the machine if he didn't have his defenses up.  An AI wasn't as clever and adaptive as a human, but they made up for that by being faster.

The firewall work was finished before long, which was good, because a moment later a network security AI hit his firewall, trying to access the terminal.  He shored up the port it was trying to access and sent workers to the firewall to maintain it as the AI would start trying to break it down soon.

Gibson took the tablet computer out and opened an unsecured connection to the security terminal of the Wal-Mart.  The security terminal controlled the security robots.  The plan was to destroy every Wal-Mart, worldwide, from the inside in order to try to break the megacorporation's oppressive control of the world's culture and economy.  The security robots would be Wal-Mart's downfall.  If The Cause could break Wal-Mart, it could free the people of the Earth.

He found the security terminal and ordered his workers to start building a secure tunnel to it.  They opened a port in the firewall and began constructing the tunnel as Gibson pinged the security robots.

Panic set in as Gibson realized that one of the security robots was heading his way.  The network security AI must have sent it to physically check out the terminal.  The defenses would have to hold in his absence.

He removed the neural adapter and shoved it into his backpack.  He moved to another terminal as he gripped the EMP gun he had stashed in his backpack.  He pretended to work on the terminal as he waited for the robot.

He didn't have to wait long.  The robot rounded the corner and said, "Greetings, Wal-Mart shopper.  Is there anyone using this terminal?"  The robot was pointing at where Gibson had been sitting before.

"You just missed him," Gibson said, his grip on the EMP tightening.  He used his other hand to point, and said, "He went off towards the bathroom."

The robot looked down at Gibson.  "The security cameras tell me a different story, citizen.  They..."

The robot stopped speaking when Gibson pulled his gun out.  It tried to raise its own weapon, but Gibson had the advantage of being ready.  He fired and the robot crumpled to the ground.  He didn't have much time now, so he quickly plugged back in.

His found that defenses were holding, but there were now three AIs trying to break down the firewall.  He quickly sent all of his workers there and went to complete the tunnel himself.

Once the tunnel was finished, he entered the security terminal.  Luckily, there wasn't an AI there.  They were probably all at his firewall by now.  Soon, it wouldn't matter.  He pulled a small cage out of his tools.  It housed a virus that The Cause wrote just for this occasion.  The virus would take control of the security terminal and order the security robots to destroy the store.

As he released the virus he felt a breach open in his firewall.  He left the virus to its business and hurried back to the tunnel, only to find he was too late.  Two AIs were in the tunnel heading his way.  Trapped, he knew that he was dead.  He couldn't be harmed by an AI if his consciousness was still in the terminal he was physically connected too, but if the tunnel collapsed, his consciousness wouldn't make it back to his brain.

He glanced back to the security terminal and saw that the virus had taken control and had disconnected the terminal from the rest of the network.  The Cause had won in this store.  As the tunnel collapsed around him, Gibson smiled.  He'd done his part to save humanity.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Story: Geology Addiction

Today's story is another one of Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenges.  I started writing this on Friday, but got stuck on the ending.  I finished it up this morning and it ended up being 998 words, just shy of the 1000 word limit.

The trick of this challenge was to randomly select a word from three sets of words that he provided.  I first got Dystopian, which I liked a lot.  Then I got Geology.  That one stumped me quite a bit, at first.  Finally, I got Addiction.  That I was all right with.  I hope you like the results.


Carl could still hear the sounds of voices and motorcycles outside of the dumpster he was hiding in.  Two of the members of the Federal Protection Force had already opened the lid and hadn't spotted him, so he was sure they wouldn't find him today.  Of course, they have been searching for him for over an hour, so they were being admirably persistent.  If you could admire anyone in that organization.

He reflected on how he'd gotten into this situation.  Everyone knew that practicing any sort of earth science was against the law, but Carl couldn't help himself.  He was addicted to geology.  He found it fascinating how the Earth worked and how different minerals were formed.  Living in the Hawaiian Federation would have been a geologist's dream, if you could have been one in the modern world.  He'd gotten careless and went out to Mauna Kea three times this week and had finally been spotted by a patrol.  They'd chased him, but he'd made it to his motorcycle and gotten to Hilo before they could catch him. It was too close of a call, he'd have to be more careful next time.

It struck him, not for the first time, that the government's ban against the earth sciences was an unfair and old fashioned idea.  History wasn't his strong suit, but it had been over one hundred years since the ecological disasters of the early twenty-first century.  People who studied the earth wouldn't make the same mistakes as their counterparts from the century before, would they?

How anyone studying the earth sciences had even caused the disasters in the first place still confused him.  Of course, he was only an amateur scientist, so perhaps he didn't have the insight that his predecessors had.  Before, he'd always assumed that the government had everyone's best interests at heart about this since the laws were enacted during the height of the crises, but now he was doubting that more every day.

Things weren't all bad, though.  News agencies were starting to report that the environment was improving around the world and that people would likely be able to return to the large continents within his lifetime.  It made him wonder what it was like to live on a large landmass.  To have the freedom to roam.  To be somewhere where you knew that there wasn't another human being within kilometers of you.  People were so crowded in Hawaii that you couldn't be alone unless you went up to the volcanoes.  That was part of the appeal of geology to Carl.

Carl realized that the sounds of the patrols had gone away.  Cautiously, he uncovered himself from the trash around him and slowly lifted the lid of the dumpster.  He breathed a sigh of relief, not to mention fresh air, when he saw that the coast was clear.  He crawled out of the dumpster and headed home.

He managed to get home without encountering another patrol, which was good since he was out past curfew.  When he entered his house, he found his wife waiting for him.  She looked angry.  "You were out at the volcano again, weren't you?"  She sniffed him and said, "You almost got caught this time too, didn't you?"

Carl sheepishly replied, "Yes to both questions.  I got away though and hid my bike on the west side of town.  It should be fine until we can go get it in the morning."

Marsha's expression didn't change.  "Did you at least remove the plates?  Or should I be expecting them to break through the door at any moment?"

"No to worry, my dear, we're safe in that regard," he replied.  "If you don't mind, I'd like to remove these smelly clothes and have a shower."

Carl started to step around his wife when he heard the sounds of engines outside.  He froze in a panic as the front door flew in with four Federals right behind it, guns first.  Two of them grabbed Carl, the third pushed Marsha back with his gun at her head and the fourth put a cowl over Carl's head as the first two bound his hands behind his back.

He was pushed outside and into a vehicle before he could say anything.  "What's going on?  Where are you taking me?"

A gruff voice said, "Shut up.  You've violated Federal Laws and will be punished.  Speak again at your own peril."

Carl didn't know what that meant, but everyone heard stories about people who went into Federal custody.  They typically didn't come back.  He was forced to bide his time and see what would happen, since there wasn't much he could do anyway.

After what seemed like hours, the vehicle stopped.  Carl was pulled out of the vehicle and pushed around for a while until he was pushed into a chair.  The cowl was pulled off of his head and he blinked against the bright light that was shining in his face.  A few moments later, his eyes adjusted somewhat.  He sensed, rather than saw, two figures on the other side of the light.  "What's this all about?" he asked.

"Mr. Walters, you've been caught practicing forbidden sciences.  We've found your motorcycle laden with ill-gotten volcanic rock and our search team has found the geology lab you've been hiding in your home," one of the voices said.

The other voice said, "You know that practicing geology is a crime in the Hawaiian Federation.  You are guilty of this crime.  Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"I haven't done anything wrong.  Science helps us understand the Earth better.  Maybe if people had understood the Earth better, we wouldn't have had the..."

Carl suddenly felt an intense pain in his chest and looked down to see the end of a blade sticking out of it.  A man walked around from behind him.  As Carl died, he heard, "You were too smart for your own good, Carl.  Can't have those ideas floating around."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little... Pancake?

I don't often post about my personal life, but I decided that this was too cute and funny not to share.  My daughter, who is now 5, likes me to sing "silly songs" at night for bedtime.  Her favorite song is "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Pancake", though sometimes she suggests different objects for me to sing about.  For example, Benny (her brother), Daddy, Teddy, Miss Fishy (her fish, who is a boy, btw), etc.

Here are the lyrics for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Pancake":
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Pancake
How many can that little man make?
Up above the plate so high
With some syrup in the sky
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Pancake
How many can that little man make?

This song often starts a short discussion about how many the man can actually make.  Most of the time the answer is 10,000; which he sometimes shares with his friends, unless they are dead or he wants to eat them all himself.  When he does eat 10,000 pancakes himself, he will explode, of course.  That many pancakes is too many for one person to eat, obviously.

Just a few of the 10,000 pancakes.
These discussions are very fun and show her creative and storytelling side.  They remind me of "Written By A Kid".  I can imagine the man making 10,000 pancakes and getting ready to deliver them to his friends to either find them dead, or to decide to eat them all himself and explode.  Sometimes her stories vary wildly, too.  He once fed them all to everyone in town, another time he fed them to all the animals.

Her creativity and ability to tell a story about what she's thinking about make me one proud daddy.  I can't wait to see what she's going to come up with next.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Story: The Day the Saucers Came

This is another of Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenges.  I hope that you enjoy it!


Everyone else remembers it as the day the saucers came, but I remember it as the day a man in a suit shot my father.  First, let me back up a couple of days.  It all started Friday afternoon.  My mother was in the kitchen and I was in the living room, reading.  My father came in the front door and I heard him cuss.  This was surprising to me, since he rarely swore.  I looked over and saw a large bird fly into the house through the open door.  My cat, Onyx, jumped off of my lap and started jumping at the bird, trying to catch it.  She chased the bird into the kitchen and I hear several crashing noises, coupled with the shouts of my mother.

I jumped up and ran into the kitchen to see a lot of shattered glass on the floor.  Onyx was on top of the bird, laying amongst the ruined dishes.  I grabbed a nearby kitchen towel and stole Onyx's prize from her.  The bird was badly injured and I carried it towards the front door.  My father saw me coming and said, "Darn bird.  Startled the heck out of me."

I could tell that he was making an effort not to cuss now, which put a smirk on my face.  The smirk faded as I said, "I don't think that the bird is going to make it, Dad.  Can you take care of it?"

He nodded and took the towel from me.  He opened it up a little and I heard him cuss again, under his breath.  "What's wrong now?" I asked.

"This is one of Mr. Trundel's racing pigeons," he said.  "He's not going to be happy about this.  Well, he's out of town until Monday.  I'll leave him a note."

My father left with the towel and bird and I went to go help my mother clean up the mess my cat had made.  She had already broken out the broom and dustpan.  I took them from her with an apologetic smile.  I swept up the broken dishes and tossed the bits into the trash can.  It was full, so I took the trash out.

The rest of that day and the weekend went by without any further incident and I'd totally forgotten about it all until Monday.  That morning was similarly uneventful, and it wasn't until after my father got home from work that things got interesting again.

The excitement started when the UPS man came to the door.  I answered it and signed for the medium sized box he delivered.  The box had my mom's name on it, so I called up the stairs for her.  She was in the kitchen, so I brought her the box.  She was so excited for what was in the box that she called out to my father who was changing into casual clothes after work.

"Simon, they've arrived!  The saucers have come!" she yelled down the hall towards their bedroom.

I rolled my eyes.  At that age, I didn't understand how a little thing like teacup saucers could make someone so happy.  Another knock came at the door, so I went back down to the entry way to answer it.

It was Mr. Trundel, our neighbor, standing on the other side of the door this time.  He must have just gotten home from work, too, as he was wearing a very nice tailored suit.  I knew that he was a business man of some sort.  "Is your father home?" he asked.

I nodded and said, "I'll go let him know you're here."

I ran up the stairs two at a time, as was my habit when I was younger.  My father was in the kitchen with my mother, who was unboxing her saucers.  "Mr. Trundel is here, Dad.  He's waiting at the front door."

My father nodded and walked out of the kitchen.  My mother said, "These are replacements for the saucers that your cat broke a few days ago."

Suddenly, I felt a strong surge of anxiety.  "Oh, no, that's the day that Onyx killed one of Mr. Trundel's birds!"

I heard a funny popping sound coming from the entry way.  I ran to the top of the stairs and saw Mr. Trundel lowering a peculiar looking gun.  I looked in horror at my father who appeared to be covered with strange blue and green spots.  It took me a moment to realize that the gun had been a paintball gun.  "That's for Frenchy," Mr. Trundel said.  Without another word, he turned and walked back towards his house.

My dad turned to me and we both started laughing uncontrollably.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Story: Star Trek: Spock's Dream

It's been a while since I posted anything here, so I figured it was time to post a story that I've been working on for a while.  It's my first attempt at the Star Trek universe (that I'm willing to share, anyway).  I hope you enjoy it!  I will tell you that it is in the "Alternate Timeline" that started with the most recent Star Trek movie, maybe a month or two after the end of the movie.


"Ambassador Spock, you are the most troublesome Vulcan that I've ever had the pleasure of working with," Admiral Pike said to the aging Vulcan standing in front of his desk.  "Why do you insist on doing your own thing when the Federation is doing what's best for what remains of your people?"

"With all due respect, Admiral, I feel that I am acting in the best interests of my people and the Federation.  Unification of my people with the Romulan people has long been a dream of mine, shared with many Romulans and Vulcans," Spock responded.  "Meeting with them to discuss this isn't violating any laws, oaths or orders."

Pike sighed.  The Vulcan from a future that would never happen was undoubtedly a great asset to the Federation, though he was also turning out to be hard to keep reigned in.  "From your debriefing after the Nero incident, you gave us a pretty detailed 'history' of the Federation that was supposed to happen.  You told us that we would eventually ally ourselves with the Klingons, not the Romulans.  In light of our weakened state, we're actively working on forging this alliance right now."

It was Spock's turn to sigh, which surprised Pike.  He said, "Admiral, that alliance wouldn't happen for roughly thirty-five Earth years from now.  The situations of both the Klingon Empire and the Federation were very different than they are now.  They were motivated in that timeline by internal and external forces that simply do not apply now and will not likely develop in this timeline."

"You'll remember that the Klingons experienced significant losses during the Nero incident as well, Ambassador," Pike replied.  "Since they are weakened as well, we're hoping that they will be open to these talks."

Spock shook his head, and said, "Admiral, I have personally known many Klingons and worked closely with their people for many years.  At this point in their history, they are not going to be open to negotiations.  It is far more likely that they have already replaced most of the lost ships and are building up extra forces.  Their purpose in coming to the negotiating table is to appear weakened so that when they strike, it will be from a position of complete advantage and surprise."

Pike grimaced, realizing that what Spock said was also a quite likely scenario.  "What about your Romulan friends, then, Spock?  We've had several reports of incursions into the Neutral Zone over the past few weeks."

"They are doing what Romulans of this era do best, Admiral," Spock said.  "They are testing us, provoking us, and spying on us.  They have no real interest in expansion into Federation territory.  They are still quite isolationist, but in the timeline that I come from, they would soon have a short lived alliance with the Klingons.  I was hoping that an alliance could be forged with the Federation, instead."

Pike checked his notes on Spock's debriefing and said, "Yes, it looks like that alliance gave the Klingons the cloaking device and the Romulans some territory and many starship designs and prototypes."

Spock nodded, "The Federation never really knew the terms of the alliance, but it was clear that it benefited both sides greatly.  If we could negotiate similar terms, the Federation might be put on equal footing with our currently hostile neighbors instead of giving the Klingons yet another advantage."

"Yes, the Breen, Cardassians, Chalnoth, Gorn, Tholians, among others have been raiding our borders ever since the incident.  We've begun rebuilding the fleet, but these things take time and I'm afraid that we don't have enough of it."  Pike looked up at Spock, his jaw clenched.  "At this time, I can't authorize you to continue your negotiations.  However, I am not restricting your movements either.  Do you understand?"

A thin smile showed on Spock's lips.  Pike was again surprised by any expression on a Vulcan's face.  "Of course, I understand, Admiral.  I am also quite familiar with the human ability to, 'bend the rules'."

A smile showed on Pike's face after the Vulcan turned his back to him.  He watched Spock leave his office, then said, "Bend the rules."  Chuckling, he picked up his communicator and dialed in a particular frequency, then said, "Victor Delta Foxtrot."  He then put the communicator down and went back to his normal work routine.

In orbit around Earth, a small Vulcan craft named Surak was preparing to leave orbit.  The ship housed twenty-four young Vulcans who, before the Nero incident, had been living on Romulus keeping the hope of reunification of the two races alive.  "We have unofficial permission to continue with our mission," Spock announced when he arrived on the command deck.

Tal'dek, the oldest of the other Vulcans, seated in the pilot's seat, said, "Unofficial permission?  This is a curious phrase."

Spock sat in the captain's chair and said, "One thing that you will all learn about humans is that although they like to make rules, they also have the knack of knowing when the rules need to be broken."

Tal'dek shook his head and said, "Curious.  Our course is to Romulus, then?"

Spock replied, "Yes, as fast as this ship can take us."

Surak left Earth's orbit and passed by the planet's moon.  As it passed, a ship, painted black and without any markings or light emitting from its surface, left orbit of the satellite and followed the Vulcan ship.  Both ships jumped into warp.

Several hours later, aboard the Surak, Tal'dek took not of the readings on his tactical display.  He said, "Spock, there are four vessels on an intercept course with us."

"Are they in visual range?" Spock asked.

Tal'dek shook his head.  "No, but they are coming from the direction of Klingon space.  Their energy signatures do not match any Klingon design we have on record, but neither do they match any Federation vessel or typical Romulan signatures."

"Let's go to yellow alert, raise our shields and hail them," Spock replied without any hesitation.

Tal'dek keyed in the commands.  A few moments later, he replied, "We are not receiving any response."

"Send our status back to the nearest Federation outpost and forward to the Romulan Star Empire," Spock said.  "We shall also go to red alert and arm our weapons.  Prepare for battle."

Four sleek ships, in formation, approached the small vessel and the lead vessel fired two warning shots at Surak.  Tal'dek said, "They claim to be from the Klingon Empire.  They are demanding our immediate and unconditional surrender.  They have mentioned you by name, Spock."

Spock was silent for a moment, then said, "The only logical course of action is to surrender.  All stop, but keep our weapons and shields at the ready."

The five vessels came out of warp.  The four Klingon vessels remained in formation in front of Surak.  Tal'dek's console beeped at him and he said, "I'm picking up some weapons fire coming from behind the four vessels, but there doesn't seem to be a ship there."

The black vessel that had followed Surak from Earth opened fire on the Klingon vessels from behind them.  It scored several hits on the lead vessel with both phasers and photon torpedoes.  The Klingons' formation quickly dispersed and they circled back to where the weapons fire originated from.  The black vessel, from a different location entirely, fired on the lead vessel again, disabling its engines.  Tel'dak relayed this information to Spock who ordered Surak to join in the fight.

The three remaining Klingon vessels formed a new, loose formation that gave them weapons coverage of much of the space around them, but the black vessel was more agile and kept slipping into and out of the Klingons' blindspots.  It fired repeatedly at the Klingons from locations in the shifting blindspots.  Soon, with the aid of Surak, the shields were disabled on two of the remaining Klingon vessels and the weapons of the third were offline.

Spock ordered Surak to warp, the Klingons did not give pursuit.  Spock said, "Hail the hidden vessel."

Tel'dak did so and said, "They are responding with audio only."

Spock nodded and said, "Unidentified vessel, thank you for your assistance.  I would ask you to identify yourselves."

"I would prefer to keep that information to myself, Ambassador Spock," came the reply.  "You may call me Captain Romulus.  We had hoped that you wouldn't need our assistance, but we couldn't stand by and let you be captured by the Klingon Empire."

"I must ask you, Captain Romulus, do you plan to follow us all the way to Romulus?" Spock asked.

"I must refrain from answering that at this time, Ambassador.  Just know that we are here to help troublesome Vulcans in the event that any plans become unraveled."

Spock smiled and immediately knew who sent these mysterious strangers.  "Very well," he said.  "We will not look for you except in our time of need."

Tal'dek said, "They have cut the transmission, Spock.  Likely because we have entered the Neutral Zone."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

DIY Climbing Wall

In our backyard we have a pretty nice playset that has been estimated to be at least ten years old and maybe even older.  As such, some parts of the playset are in need of repair or replacement.  Last year, we re-stained much of the structure (some of which looked like it hadn't been stained before) and tightened all the bolts.  This year we had our sights much higher.
The old ramp
The ramp into the playset was starting to fall apart.  Years of water and ant damage were starting to get us worried about the safety of the ramp.  Since I've always liked rock walls, we decided to replace the ramp with a rock wall entrance to the playset.  For our kids' birthdays (both in July), my mother-in-law ordered a rock wall from the original manufacturers of our playset.  It cost $600 and didn't quite fit our playset since it's so old.  We decided to return it (the installer took it back instead of installing it) and decided to build our own.  Along the way, I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do.  Hopefully, this helps some of you if you are ever in this situation.

I started with a basic design in mind.  I would have two 4x4 supporting posts and several boards to mount the climbing holds onto.  I bought:

  • 2 - 8' long 4x4 posts
  • 2 - 8' long 2x12 boards
  • 2 - 8" long carriage bolts w/washers, nuts and caps
  • a 1/2" drill bit (I didn't have one that big before)
  • sandpaper for my sander (I had run out)
  • a 4" paintbrush for staining
  • climbing wall hand holds

All of this stuff cost less than $150.  The other supplies I already had were:

  • a circular saw
  • a small sander
  • wood screws
  • a drill (with drill bits)
  • wood stain
  • a hammer
  • a small level

Day 1 - Sunday evening.  First, we went shopping and bought the wood.  When we got home, I started by measuring the opening that the old ramp was waking up and cutting the 2x12 boards to just under that width.  Next, I measured the height that I wanted the posts to be and I cut those out as well.  I started sanding the boards and posts, but ran out of daylight.

Day 2 - Monday evening.  We took my kids to get the bolts and handholds.  Getting the handholds was the hardest part.  First we went to REI because I know someone who built a climbing wall and they had gotten their holds there, but apparently REI recently stopped carrying them in there stores (sold online only).  After that we called: Fleet Farm, Gander Mountain, Home Depot and finally, Menards.  Generally, I'm not a big fan of Menards, but they did save us from having to order the holds online and having to wait to finish building the wall.  So, we bought the hand holds and bolts there and went home.  I finished sanding the boards and put a first coat of stain on the boards and posts.  The stain is very quick to dry, so I got to start assembling the wall.  I used wood glue and wood screws to put attach the boards to the posts.
The wall after the second coat of stain
Day 3 - Tuesday evening.  I started by putting a second coat of stain on the assembled wall.  After that coat dried, I removed the old ramp from the playset.  It was then that I discovered the colony of ants living in the base of the ramp.  After the ramp was out of the way, I dug out some of the rocks where the bottom of the wall would rest and put the wall in the opening.  I drilled the holes for the carriage bolts through the wall's posts and the posts on the playset.  After securing the bolts, my wife and I started deciding where the hand holds would go.  Attaching the handholds was very frustrating.  The screws that came with the holds were the worst quality that I'd ever worked with.  They would strip almost immediately if I put any more than the minimum amount of torque that my drill had.  If you have a choice, avoid climbing wall handholds made by PlayStar, Inc. out of Janesville, WI.  Or, use different screws as they ones provided are horrible.  Once the handholds were attached and secured, I tested each of them by briefly hanging some of my weight on them.  None of them budged, so I okayed a test climb for my daughter who was eagerly waiting to use the wall.  You can see the results, below.

Daughter, Kate, first time climbing wall
Overall, I'm very pleased with how this turned out and very satisfied to have saved $450 over the price of the manufacturer's climbing wall.  Plus, I always enjoy building things myself and getting to use my power tools is always fun.

Attached and awaiting hand holds

Attaching hand holds

After handholds attached

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Random Pictures

In honor of having my best month on the blog ever (in terms of page views), I've decided to post some cool pictures.  If you're not interested in this kind of stuff, feel free to skip it.

The first item isn't a picture, but rather a video of my daughter signing the Mahna Mahna song with me.  Every now and then I hear her signing it, which means that I've raised her right.

Link from Link to the Past
This picture is Link from Link to the Past made out of Perler beads.  I've made quite a few 8-bit characters from them, but this is one of my favorites.

This is a portrait that Kate, my daughter, drew of me.  Pretty accurate, I think.
My wife and I saw this deer in our backyard the other day.  Pretty awesome!
This is a small walking trail near our house.  Kate had just said, "We're on an adventure!"

I was behind this Lotus in traffic the other day.  You don't realize how small they are until you're close to them.  I don't think that I'd even fit inside!

These are my kids looking at the penguins at the Minnesota Zoo.

More Perler bead characters that I've made.
Hope you enjoy these pics.  I'm working on a story that I'll post here in the next few weeks, or, if Chuck Wendig posts another interesting story challenge, maybe you'll see on of those on here soon.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Social Anxiety

If you've read my blog before, you'll realize that I'm a geek, or, if you prefer, a big nerd.  I'm cool with that.  It's who I am.  One of the reasons that I am who I am is because of social anxiety.  In high school, I would escape social situations by playing video games alone at home and only hanging out with the few close friends that I had.  I've always felt anxious in social situations, but only lately have I realized that even though work is obviously a social situation, I don't feel anxiety about going to work or meetings at work.

I started to wonder why this was true.  I thought that if I could figure out why I felt different about work that I could somehow apply that to normal social situations.  So far, the only thing that I can think of is that I don't see the people I work with as social entities.  That's hard to explain; even though I like most of the people around me at work, I guess that I don't feel like I'm there to be social.  I'm there to work.  I'm not a psychologist by any means, so I don't know if that's the right answer or not, but it presents a problem if that's true.  If that's true, it means that I can't apply it to other social situations because I am in those situations specifically to socialize.  I'm also not saying that I don't feel social anxiety while at work.  Running into someone you know just walking down the hall at work is quite an awkward situation for me.  Do I look in their direction?  When should I acknowledge them?  How do I acknowledge them?  I don't know how other people do it so effortlessly.

Just to be clear, the anxiety I feel about social situations isn't just a tiny amount of stress.  It's a nearly crippling, hard to breathe level of stress.  Just yesterday I had a company social event (we bowled at a fancy bowling alley place called Pinstripes).  Before the event, as I was driving there, I was practically in a panicked state.  I was thinking over and over that I didn't have to go and that I should just skip it.  Once I was there, the stress lessened, but I could still feel it in my gut the whole time I was there.

So, what do I do?  I push through the feelings as best I can.  Yesterday, I just forced myself to go inside and talk and bowl and try to have fun.  I still felt terribly awkward the whole time and hope that others didn't pick up on that.  In many social situations (such as parties), I can just stand around and not talk to anyone.  In these situations, I'm afraid that I come off as a pretentious jerk who doesn't want to talk to anyone.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  I would love to talk to people and get to know them, but I'm crippled by anxiety over saying the wrong thing, or not being able to follow social customs.  So, I just stay quiet and out of everyone's way.

Just writing about this is hard.  I don't even know why I decided to write about this at all.  Maybe I'm wondering how other people who have social anxiety handle it.  If you feel like sharing, leave a comment.  Maybe I hope that getting this off my chest will help me deal with the issue.  I don't know.  Sometimes I feel like Raj from The Big Bang Theory, but not as extreme and more general than just not being able to talk to pretty girls.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Story: Crooked Tree

I'm doing another Flash Fiction challenge by Chuck Wendig.  This story totally evolved from what I had first imagined, but I really like where it went and I hope you like it too.

Edit: Added the picture hosted on Chuck's site.  FYI, the image is Copyright Chuck Wendig and I claim no rights to the image.


Crooked TreeMy mother always tells me not to play by the crooked tree, but I can't help myself.  I think that the tree is very interesting to look at and fun to play around and climb on.  She says that the tree is cursed and I don't know what she means by that, but I'm sure that the tree means well.

I know that the tree is dying, but every spring it still grows new leaves and last year a bird had a nest in it.  My father says that the tree will fall all the way down soon.  That makes me sad.  I will miss the tree when it's gone.  The tree is my best friend.

My mother won't go near the tree and refuses to let my father mow that part of the backyard.  She says that the tree is on the edge of our property anyway, so it's fine that the grass is long there.  I like the long grass and shrubs that grow near the tree.  Sometimes I hide in them when I feel like being alone.  My mother is always very cross with me when she finds me hiding from her there.

My father sometimes tries to get mother to let him cut down the tree.  He says that the bad memories will go with the tree.  I don't know what bad memories they are talking about, I only ever remember the tree fondly.  She always refuses, but I don't really know why.  If I didn't like the tree as much as she doesn't, I would let my father take it away.  I'm always happier when he takes the darkness away at night.  I don't like the darkness and he's happy to make it go away for me.  My mother might be happier if she let my father take the tree away.

I'm happy that the tree is still there.  I often wonder why the tree is so crooked, none of the other trees are crooked like that one.  I asked my father about why it was crooked.  He looked very sad and said that something bad happened ten years ago.  I wonder why he is so sad, but I don't ask him about it because I don't like it when people are sad.  I gave him a big hug and that made him happy again.

Yesterday, I heard my parents talking about the tree when they thought I wasn't listening.  They were talking about a ten year old boy named Bobby who got hurt when the tree became crooked.  I felt sad for that boy and wondered if I knew him.  My name is Bobby and it would be nice to know another boy named Bobby.  Maybe he could play with me and my crooked tree.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Story: Lovely Hypocrite?

I've decided to try one of Chuck Wendig's Flash Friday challenges.  This week's challenge was to go to use a random sentence generator to generate your first or last sentence in your story.  I got "Will the company suffer the lovely hypocrite?"  I figured that I could work with that, so I wrote the following story.  I hope that you enjoy it!


"Will the company suffer the lovely hypocrite?" General Mitchell asked. It was clear from his tone that he would not suffer my presence any longer.  Asking the rest of the company showed that he was sure of their answer.  "He has defied my command and has tried to sow dissent into our ranks.  Would you keep him in our honorable company?"

The company responded with growls and many men shouting, "No!"  Their anger didn't intimidate me.  I was in the right and didn't need to fear any immediate violence from them.  The code of conduct amongst the mech companies would prevent anyone from hurting me, for now.  Instead, they would just exile me from the city to roam the wastes.  People survived out there, but just barely.

Mitchell let the growls and yells settle down before speaking again.  "It is decided.  Rex Waters, you will be exiled in the heat of the day tomorrow."  He pointed to two men who grabbed my arms.  "You two take him to his quarters and lock him in.  Stand guard until someone relieves you."

I considered fighting, but I quickly dismissed the idea.  The entirety of the mech company surrounded me and I would be quickly overwhelmed.  They would hurt me, if I started a fight.  I needed to bide my time for an opportunity to escape to present itself.

The men guided me back to my quarters.  Without a word, they pushed me inside.  One of them pulled a pistol out and held me in the corner while the other ransacked my quarters.  Further hope fled as they found my service pistol and the two backups I had hidden.  Smiling at me, they pocketed my guns and left the room.  I heard the door lock.  "At least they didn't take what little money I have," I said to myself.

Knowing that I would need as much rest as I could get, I laid down on my bed.  I must have fallen asleep, as I was awoken by voices in the hallway outside of my room.  I quietly crept close to the door and listened.

"...come to relieve you," one of the voices said.  I recognized the voice of Sergeant Clost, the left gunner of the mech I commanded.

"I doubt the general would send two of Waters' subordinates to relieve us.  Go away before we lock you up with your former commander," one of the guards replied.

Corporal Winters, my right gunner, laughed.  "That bastard is getting what he deserves.  We said as much to the general when he offered us the opportunity to push the traitor out of the gates tomorrow."

Clost chimed in, "I look forward to pushing that backstabber out into the wastes."

The four of them laughed for a moment.  The same guard said, "Welch, you wait here with Clost.  I'll go with Winters to verify that they're legit."

I heard some footsteps, then what sounded like a scuffle and two loud thumps.  A moment later, the door opened.  I saw Winters standing there smiling at me and the bodies of the guards lying in the hallway.

"Move over, Colonel," Winters said, "we need to hide these two before anyone else comes to join them in their fate."

I sidled over so that Winters and Clost could drag the guards into my quarters.  Clost said, "I don't envy the headaches these two will have in the morning."

Winters laughed and added, "Not to mention the beating they'll get from the general when he finds out about this."

They dropped the bodies unceremoniously on the floor, turned to me and saluted sharply.  I smiled for the first time since my confrontation with General Mitchell.  Returning the salute, I said, "So, you're looking forward to pushing me out of the gates?"

The two exchanged amused glances.  Clost said, "The general did offer us that chance, sir."

Winters remarked, "And we did tell him that.  I wish we could see the look on his face when he figures out what happened."

I smiled back at them and said, "Do you two have a plan, or do I have to do everything around here?"

They chuckled.  Winters said, "You are the commanding officer, sir.  We're just a couple of grunts following our commander into battle.  What are your orders, sir?"

I retrieved my weapons from the guards.  Once that was done, I said, "Let's go get our mech and show the general how strong our convictions are.  If the general thinks I'm going let him overthrow the civilian government of the city, he has another think coming."

We raced towards the armory where the mechs were stored.  Since it was night, we didn't run into anyone in the halls and the armory was deserted.  We stopped in front of my mech and I was surprised at how relieved I was to see it.  A mech soldier spends most of his time in his mech.  It was like home to me and I hadn't known if I would see it again.

We mounted up as quickly as possible, but someone came in as we were finishing our pre-mission checklist.  Winters quickly aimed the right arm of the mech and fired one 50 caliber round.  The man's torso exploded into red mist as the round tore through him.

"Well, so much for secrecy," I said as I got the mech moving.  "We'll have company soon, gents, let's get out of here."

I ran the mech through the armory doors and into the same courtyard where I had been condemned earlier.  Clost aimed his arm of the mech back towards the armory and launched a few missiles into the building.  We cheered as I directed the mech to jump the wall of the compound to the sounds of secondary explosions.  The excitement of fighting for a just cause was a welcome change to our previous role of oppressing the people of the city we were supposed to protect.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Javascript TDD/BDD/Unit Testing

I've been doing some pretty cool stuff at work lately and I think it's time for me to share some of the cool things that we're doing.  Web development isn't anything new, I've been writing HTML since I was 12 years old, but it has changed quite a bit since I wrote my first, very simple, web pages.

Another thing that isn't new for me is Javascript, but I never really got that into it or relied on it to do anything powerful.  Since starting at Best Buy, I've really gotten good at Javascript and have realized that it is quite powerful and can do a lot of good for a website.  I've also realized that it can also do a lot of harm to a website.  One thing that a lot of people omit from Javascript development is testing.  A lot of people consider testing their scripts in the browser to be adequate for their purposes.  I disagree.  Coming from back end systems, I know that thorough testing is very important and I think that this is a component of front end systems that has been lacking across the industry.  That being said, there are ways to automatically test your Javascript without using a browser.

One of the goals of the team I'm on is to introduce an automated testing tool to test Javascript automatically when the project is built.  Our build is written using ant, which I hadn't used since college, but since it's well documented, I didn't have any trouble picking it up again.  Also, I'm using Eclipse as my IDE, so it supports ant syntax highlighting and parsing, which is very helpful.  Ant is very powerful, but since it's written like XML, it can be hard to write complicated constructs like looping and conditions, but we've made it work for us, so far.

I was put in charge of incorporating Code Quality tools into our build.  At first, this was a little overwhelming.  I was just starting to get good at Javascript development and didn't have any experience with testing tools for it, but I started doing research on the internet and quickly found some testing frameworks that I didn't think would be hard to incorporate into our build.  We settled on using Jasmine and I worked on finding a way so that we could call our spec scripts from our build.

This started the frustrating part of our journey.  The people who built Jasmine don't support the different ways to launch the tool (like from an ant build), but only the framework itself.  Okay, I can overcome this, there are some open source tools that I can use listed right on their page.  I started with Jasmine-Node since we were using Node.js for our local web server to test our pages.  I quickly realized that this wouldn't work for us since Jasmine-Node doesn't create a DOM and a lot of our Javascript relies on a DOM in one way or another.

My next attempt was to try Node-Jasmine-DOM.  It has DOM support and Jasmine integration, so I thought I was getting close.  I incorporated it in the build and got it to run in the browser, but there's an aspect to Node development that I didn't realize until it was too late.  Node makes it really easy to use other Node tools as dependencies in the tool you are building.  This is great for reuse, but dependencies are called that for a reason.  One of the dependencies that the Node-Jasmine-DOM tool used had a defect in it and that was blocking our scripts from being tested in the build.  I waited patiently for a couple of weeks after submitting the bug to the owners of the dependent tool, and there was initially some good back and forth about it for a while and someone submitted a workaround for the bug.  I was excited and tried it out on my machine, but their workaround didn't work for mem (in Mac OSX), but worked in Windows.  I went back to the forum and they had closed my defect, so I commented that the workaround didn't work for me and I needed another way to make it work for me.  Another week of waiting without a response and I decided to pursue another way to run our tests.

I started my new search by trying to find a tool that would run Javascript straight from a command-line.  I would do myself what Node-Jasmine-DOM was trying to do (create a DOM and insert Jasmine).  Enter Rhino and Env.js.  I found a blog that had done this before and I was all set.  It took me less than a day to incorporate these new tools into the build and I was immediately running our specs from the build.  At the same time that I was ecstatic to be finally done with this, I was very frustrated that I had wasted so much time trying some of these other tools.

For those curious about what exactly I did, read on.  For those who don't want the technical details, thanks for reading this far!  This next part may not be for you as it will be pretty technical.

Our test target in our ant build does a few steps to run the spec scripts.  The first step is to identify the pages that need testing and has some logic built into it for that.  The next step is to convert these pages into spec runners (example), this means that I needed to insert references to our spec.js files and the Jasmine Javascript files.  Since I wanted to test the Javascript on the page, I just copied the page, changed the extension to *.runner.html and inserted the appropriate spec and Jasmine scripts.

The next step that the build does is to get the list of runner files and run them.  I created an ant macro for this step.  The Build-Doctor guy provided the envjs.bootstrap.js file that I started with, but later customized.  His was very simple and was basically just a for loop that told Envjs to load a page.  I found that that wouldn't work for more than one runner, so I changed it a bit to reload Envjs at the beginning of the loop and then load the runner file.  I also added some console.log entries so that the build is more vocal about what it's doing.

Here's where I got a little bold and changed the Jasmine.js and Env.js files to eliminate some extra console.log calls that I didn't feel were required and I added some in a couple of places where I wanted visibility.  In the end, it looks great in the build and it creates JUnit style reports that our Jenkins CI server can interpret.

I was planning on covering the other major aspect of our build, Freemarker, but this post is getting pretty long, so I'll save that for another day.  Below are some examples of what I did in our build.

This is the macro I wrote in our ant build.
<macrodef name="runRunnerList">
 <attribute name="runnerList" />
  <echo message="Running files: @{runnerList}" />
  <exec executable="java">
   <arg line="-jar ${dir.lib}/java/js.jar -opt -1 lib/javascript/envjs.bootstrap.js @{runnerList}" />
This is the results of running a spec in our build as seen in the terminal.
     [exec] Launching runner: /trunk/bin/debug/_slider/_sliderTest.runner.html
     [exec] Runner Started.
     [exec] _slider : should have 100 hundred items after the method addItem is called 100 times ... 
     [exec] Passed.
     [exec] _slider : should have 99 items after the method removeItem is called ... 
     [exec] Passed.
     [exec] _slider : should have zero items after the method removeAllItems is called ... 
     [exec] Passed.
     [exec] _slider : should show slider when content extends past the width of the slider ... 
     [exec] ***FAILED***
     [exec] _slider : should hide slider when content does not extend past the width of the slider ... 
     [exec] Passed.
     [exec] _slider : should remove padding from the left side of the viewport ... 
     [exec] Passed.
     [exec] _slider : should add the class bby-slider-item-first to the first item in the slider ... 
     [exec] Passed.
     [exec] _slider : should recieve the second item out of five and the HTML should match ... 
     [exec] Passed.
     [exec] _slider: 7 of 8 passed.
     [exec] Runner Finished.
     [exec] Done with runner: /trunk/bin/debug/_slider/_sliderTest.runner.html
This is one of our runner files. The highlighted parts are what the build inserts into the file.
<!DOCTYPE HTML><html lang="en"><head>
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
<link href="../css/__common/__common.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="all">
<link href="../css/_slider/_slider.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="all">
<script type="text/javascript" src="../js/__common/libraries.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="../js/_slider/_slider.js"></script>
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="../js/lib/jasmine-1.2.0/jasmine.css" />
<script src="../js/lib/jasmine-1.2.0/jasmine.js"></script>
<script src="../js/lib/jasmine-1.2.0/jasmine-html.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="../js/specs/_slider.spec.js"></script>
<script src="../js/lib/jasmine-dom/jasmine-dom-matchers.js"></script>
<script src="../js/lib/jasmine-dom/jasmine-dom-fixtures.js"></script>
<script src="../js/lib/jasmine.console_reporter.js"></script>
<script src="../js/lib/jasmine.junit_reporter.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
$(function() {
    jasmine.getEnv().addReporter(new jasmine.JUnitXmlReporter());
    jasmine.getEnv() = "__common";
I will note here that most of our runner files have actual content in the body. The specs for this runner insert some test content into the body before the spec is run. The scripts in the body are inserted just before the </body> tag.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Project Euler

I've always had a fondness for math.  I've always been pretty good at solving math problems too.  Today, a friend at work made me aware of Project Euler.  For those of you who don't know (probably most of you), Project Euler is "a series of challenging mathematical/computer programming problems that will require more than just mathematical insights to solve".  Man, solving math problems with programming?  Where do I sign up?

So, I've begun my struggle to get through the 381 problems listed on the site.  Problems 1 and 2 were easy, things that we had to do in college.  Problem 3 is a little tougher, but still pretty easy.  That's how far I've gotten in an hour.  I'm going to keep going though, I'll update the blog with my progress occassionally.

Spoiler alert: I'm posting answers to problems 1 and 2 below.  Don't read if you're going to attempt this.  I'm using Java as my language of choice to solve these problems.

Problem 1:

If we list all the natural numbers below 10 that are multiples of 3 or 5, we get 3, 5, 6 and 9. The sum of these multiples is 23. Find the sum of all the multiples of 3 or 5 below 1000.

I first solved this recursively, but was getting stack overflow errors, so I went to the simpler method of brute force.

private static int MAX = 1000;
private static int calculate() {
int sum = 0;
for(int index = 0; index < MAXindex++)
if(index % 3 == 0 || index % 5 == 0)
sum += index;
return sum;
} //end of calculate method

Problem 2:

Each new term in the Fibonacci sequence is generated by adding the previous two terms. By starting with 1 and 2, the first 10 terms will be: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, ...  By considering the terms in the Fibonacci sequence whose values do not exceed four million, find the sum of the even-valued terms.

private static int MAX = 4000000;
private static int calculate() {
int sum = 0;
int first = 1;
int second = 2;
while(second <= MAX) {
int temp = first + second;
if(second % 2 == 0)
sum += second;
first = second;
second = temp;
} //end of while loop
return sum;
} //end of calculate method

There you have it.  Notice that I haven't posted the results of running these.  Gotta leave something to you guys!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Recent Inactivity

Hello everyone.  As you may have noticed, it's been quite some time since I've posted on the blog.

I'm a creative person.  Creative people have to have creative outlets, or we go insane.  I have several creative outlets: software development (my job), writing (on here), and crafts.  Over the past year or so, I did a lot of writing that I've posted on here and a bit that I haven't.  That, along with work, was my main creative output.  Lately, though, I've been into crafting with Perler or iron beads.

I don't know if you've heard of these beads before, but they're used to create little trinkets.  I've taken the liberty of posting some of my creations below.  My wife and I have opened a joint Etsy shop where I plan to post these and future creations up for sale.

Is this the end of Story a Week?  Yes.  Will I continue to write and post stories up on my blog?  Most definitely.  I will continue to write because I love to do it.  I will just do it in my own time.  After all, I still have at least three storylines that I want to wrap up for you all.  I can't just leave you all hanging like that.  :)

So, enjoy these photos of my little creations.

I've also created a Mega Man, a Yoshi and a Princess Peach, but the camera battery died before I could take those pics.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Story a Week 43 - Foresight

 I know that it's been a while since I've put a story out here.  Oh well.  Gotta push forward and continue writing.  I hope that you all forgive my absence.

Here's a new story.  This might be a standalone, or not.  I'm not sure at this point.


"Who are you and why did your people attack us?"

Jack Freeman sighed.  His interrogator had been yelling the same question at him for hours.  He didn't seem to believe, or want to believe the answer.  Jack repeated himself one more time, "My name is Jack Freeman.  I am an agent of the Nuclear Facility Decommission Agency of the government of the United States.  We are acting within our agency's charter."

The man finally lost his temper.  He yelled, "The United States is dead!  We've been running things in Monticello on our own for over a year without so much a peep from Washington, much less from St. Paul."

Jack just shrugged as a reply.  That didn't seem to improve the interrogator's mood.  He grabbed Jack by the front of his uniform and picked him up out of the chair.  Jack was a little intimidated, but didn't show it.  The man growled in his face, "Let's just say that you're telling the truth.  That the US government is still operating somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.  So what?  You don't have any authority here anymore.  The President was pretty clear about that during his speech on Doomsday."

Jack found that the people scattered around the country had different names for what had happened to the world just over a year ago.  The official government name for it was Day 0.  Everything after has been a day by day struggle to contain the anarchy around the country and to keep the government functioning.  People around the country also had a strangely varying interpretation of the President's Day 0 speech.  The President said, in what Jack saw as direct and clear terms, that the US government would move the capitol to Colorado Springs, with most of the operations run out of Cheyenne Mountain.  He said that the government would suspend most civilian services for an indeterminate period, but that it was not renouncing its authority over the people of the United States.  Apparently, most people didn't see it that way.

The man dropped Jack roughly into the chair.  Jack calmly said, "The President is still alive and still the authority of the entire United States as it was on Day 0.  We have every right to come here and decommission the nuclear plant here."

The man, who had turned his back on Jack, quickly rounded and punched him squarely in the jaw.  "You can't do that!  The nuclear plant is the only thing keeping this town alive!  We sell energy to some of the surrounding communities in exchange for food.  We're one of the biggest towns left in this part of the state."

The man's reaction wasn't uncommon.  When the NFDA ran into resistance at a nuclear power plant, it was often the life blood of the community.  Jack even felt bad about that, but these people didn't have the resources to keep the plant running safely.  The agency was created, with several others, under the National Foresight Act.  The purpose of the act was to try to prevent further ecological and infrastructure harm that would be caused by misused or mistreated facilities.  Nuclear facilities were high on the list for decommissioning since they could cause widespread radiation if something went wrong.

Jack ignored his throbbing chin and said, "Listen, we know that this will be hard for you all, but it would be much, much worse if the plant had a meltdown.  The effects of a meltdown wouldn't be contained to your little town either.  The cloud of radiation would spread all over the Midwest and the jet stream would spread it all the way to the Atlantic coast.  We just can't allow that."

The man's attitude quickly turned from one of anger to desperation.  He was practically pleading when he said, "But we're taking good care of the plant!  Most of the employees that worked here before are still living in town.  We haven't had any trouble with anything at all."

Jack knew that the crisis here was coming to a resolution.  He said, "I've heard that story everywhere I've gone.  Believe me that I know that you all are taking good care of the plant right now.  However, what happens in a year or two when an essential part breaks or an essential computer fails?  You people can't manufacture those parts here locally."

The man sighed and nodded.  "I guess that you are right about that.  But what will we do?  How will our town survive?"

Jack was about to explain how the government compensates towns that cooperate when he heard a quiet, and peculiar sound outside the door.  The man didn't seem to hear it.  Since Jack recognized the sound, he said instead, "Your people will find a way.  People are resourceful.  Unfortunately for you, though, you won't live to see that."

The man didn't seem to understand.  His look of confusion was quickly replaced by fear as the door came flying into the room and three armed men rushed in.  The lead soldier shot the man once in the forehead.

Another soldier pulled out a knife and cut the bonds that were holding Jack's hands together behind his back.  Jack stood and stretched his arms and said, "It's a good thing that you guys came when you did.  I was about to have to give that fool the care package."

The four of them laughed for a moment.  The lead soldier said, "Well, we'll get this one cheap for a change."

Jack nodded and chuckled.  He asked, "Is the rest of the facility secure now?"

The others nodded.  Jack said, "In that case, let's go shutdown and disable the reactor."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Story a Week 42 - Candy Land 8

Man, it's been quite a week for my blog.  My last story has gotten 100+ views!  I'm amazed by all the great feedback that I've gotten on the story.  I hope that you all keep reading.

This week is a return to the Candy Land storyline.  It's wrapping up, with just one or two stories left.


Queen Frostine made me sleep while she ordered her fleet to sail for the Molasses Swamp.  It had been a very long time since I had slept; I immediately fell asleep when I got a chance to lie down.  It only seemed like I was asleep for a moment when I heard Queen Frostine calling my name to wake me.  Drowsily, I stretched and asked, "Are we there already?"

I sensed some alarm in Frostine's voice as she said, "Yes, and there's something you have to see."

She led me to the deck and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the light, but when they did I could see why Queen Frostine was alarmed.  My mouth dropped as I stared out over the ocean to the shore and saw a giant hardened mud wall running the entire length of the shore.  Along the wall I could see square shaped holes that looked like the holes on the gun decks of the ships.

I turned to Queen Frostine and said, "Are those what I think they are?"

She shrugged and said, "We're not sure.  We've never seen cannons in any of their camps."  She paused.  "So far, they've ignored our presence, but who knows how long that will last."

As if on cue, a loud and deep horn like sound came from behind the wall.  Right in front of us, the wall started to split near the bottom and I could see an opening appearing there.  After a few moments, the opening appeared to have completed and a Molasses Monster appeared there with a white flag on a stick.

I looked over to Queen Frostine and said, "Shall we parley with them?"

She nodded and ordered for a dingy and rower to bring us to shore.  A few minutes later, we were standing with the Molasses Monster on the shore.  It was the first time that I had ever met one and I was a little intimidated.  The creatures are at least seven feet tall and probably the same distance around their waists.  Their shape is somewhat fluid and not well defined, but still imposing.

The creature spoke first.  "What are you doing here?" it asked bluntly.

Queen Frostine and I glanced at each other.  She subtly indicated that I should speak, so I did.  "Well...uh, sir, I've heard a rumor that a castle has recently appeared near your swamp and I'd like to request..."

It interrupted me and roared, "What do you know of the castle?"

I fought the urge to look towards Queen Frostine.  I said, "Well, that castle was originally quite a ways away from here.  It was teleported..."

Once again, it interrupted me.  It said to Queen Frostine, "Why have you brought this one here?"

For the first time, I saw Queen Frostine raise her voice.  She was practically yelling when she said, "He wants to go through your swamp to the other side!  There is no reason not to allow this.  I will go with him."

The Molasses Monster looked down at Queen Frostine for a moment.  It looked over to me and blurted, "You may pass, but the ships must leave."

I looked over to the queen and she nodded.  She turned to the sailor who had rowed us to shore and gestured for him to leave.  He saluted and jumped into the boat.

"Follow me," the creature said.

It walked through the opening in the door and I could see that it immediately began to close.  Frostine and I ran through the opening.  "These guys are faster than they look," I said.  Queen Frostine grunted her agreement.

I took a moment to look around.  Behind me, I saw some sort of mud mortars on the walls sticking out the holes.  In front of me, I saw an apparently endless swamp.  Queen Frostine gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder and followed the monster, carefully picking her way through the swamp.  I quickly followed.  Like I said, those Molasses Monsters are quicker than they look.

After a few hours of treading through the swamp, we finally came to the end.  The Molasses Monster stopped at the edge and waited for us to walk out onto the plain before wordlessly turning back.

I turned to Queen Frostine and asked, "So, where do we go from here?"

The question was answered for me when I heard a rumbling behind me.  I cautiously turned around and saw the largest creature that I've ever seen.  It was obviously a Molasses Monster, of sorts.  It was twice the size of the one that had led them out to the plains.  I stared at the creature for a few moments while it made a rumbling sound.  After a few moments, I realized that the creature was laughing.

After another moment of laughing, the creature spoke.  "You are looking for the castle that came out of nowhere?"

I didn't know what to make of this development, so I just mumbled, "Uh, yeah."

The monster laughed again.  "You'll never find it on your own.  The plains are vast."

I glanced over at Queen Frostine and she just shrugged.  I said, "Do you know where it is?"

The creature shook in a way that I took as a nod, but it didn't say anything.  I asked, "Will you tell us, or take us there?"

It shook in a different way that looked more like a no.  "Well, what use are you then?"

The monster laughed again.  "I like you, man.  If you give me a gift, I will take you to the castle.  What say you?"

I looked at Frostine again and shrugged.  I whispered to her, "Do you have anything to give the monster?  I don't..."

Suddenly I remembered what Mr. Mint had given to me.  I reached into my inside pocket and pulled out the Chocolate Peppermint Flute.  I said, "Well, Mr. Monster..."

The monster interrupted me.  "My name is Gloppy!"

I hesitated for a moment, and then continued,"Um... Gloppy, then.  Will you take this flute in exchange for showing us where the castle is?"

Gloppy gasped.  "What a beautiful flute!  That will indeed be sufficient payment for this task."

He strode forward and plucked the flute out of my hand.  He continued moving without a break and walked westward out into the plain.  He went so fast that Frostine and I had trouble keeping up at a walking pace.

We walked for what seemed like hours.  I was having a little trouble keeping up the pace when we came to a steep hill.  Gloppy and Frostine reached the top of the hill first and I heard Frostine gasp.  I shook my exhaustion away and ran to the top of the hill.  The sight I saw was breathtaking.  Candy Land Castle was there on the plain below us.  Beautiful, fertile fields surrounded the castle for as far as the eye could see.

It struck me then that what Lord Licorice had done.  He'd solved one of the kingdom's greatest troubles.  Here in front of us was the vast farmland that our kingdom needed to continue to prosper.  Who would have guessed that the kingdom's greatest villain would ultimately be its savior?  All of the worry and dread of the last few days washed away as I passed Gloppy and Frostine in a sprint down the hill to the castle.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Story a Week 41 - What I've Done

Hello everyone!  This week's Story a Week is a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig.  Basically, you hit shuffle in a media player and take the song title and write a story based on it.  I got "What I've Done" by Linkin Park.  I think that made it easier, since the title is pretty generic and kind of thought provoking in itself.  He put a 500 word limit on it and I'm coming in at 484 words.  I hope that you enjoy it.


"Truth be told, I'm not proud of it.  They say that people do what they need to do to survive, but I don't know if I can live with this.  Sometimes I think that it might have been better to have just lost everything than to do what I've done.  I don't even want to talk about it, but I feel like if I keep it bottled up any longer that I'll explode.

"There are times, of course, that I forget about it.  There are times that, when I look at how my family is thriving after the crisis, that I think that it may have been worth it.  Those times are rare.  When I lay in bed at night, next to my beautiful wife... even the warmth of her body next to me isn't enough to keep those feelings away.

"Sometimes I get so angry at myself for it.  Sometimes, while I'm driving alone in the car, I'll yell, 'You would have lost everything, you fool!  You have to do this to keep your house and your family together!'

"I know that I'm not the only one who has done the same thing that I have.  I know that I'm not alone, but that doesn't console me either.  I don't know that anything can console me.  Being a part of that group shouldn't make anyone proud.

"My family doesn't know about it, of course.  My wife doesn't ask where I go, or where the money comes from.  I don't think that she wants to know.  I'm afraid that if I tell them that they would leave.  I did it for them, to have them leave now would be the end of me.  It would have been all for nothing.  They can't know about this.

"Maybe that's why I'm telling you all of this.  You're a stranger to me.  It can't hurt to have someone else know.  Someone has to know.  I just can't keep it to myself any longer.

"You won't judge me, right?  You can't judge me.  You don't even know me."

The man stood there for a moment.  He just looked at me with desperation, anger and fear in his eyes.  I said, "Um, I just wanted a coffee, man, not your life story."

He looked confused for a moment, then down at his clothes.  He sounded sorrowful as he said, "I still can't believe that I got a second job as a barista."  He sighed, then blurted out, "That will be $4.55."

I handed him a fiver and told him to keep the change.  After I got my coffee, I hurried back to my car.  My wife asked me, "What took you so long?"

I replied, "I just heard the saddest story.  I feel bad for him, but I think he did the right thing."

My wife was obviously confused, but I just shook my head and we drove away.