Captain Jack and I went for a little bike ride yesterday, to enjoy the pleasant evening. I found us riding straight into a breathtaking view of a slender, crescent moon, and bright Venus just above it. This picture gives just a hint. (What is it about stunning views of the sky in real life, and what you get on your phone camera—even a good camera?) Let’s zoom in…
What are you watching while you’re cooped up inside, practicing social distancing? Here at the Star Rigger Ranch, we decided to binge on movies about infectious disease outbreaks. What fun!
We started with Outbreak, which was entertaining if totally unconvincing. With Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman, it at least had actors you like to watch. Plus, it had the Star Trek medical-miracle feature: the ability to synthesize a vaccine/cure within about an hour of discovering the secret. You go, Bones! (And I see The Atlantic just published an article about it. Great minds…)
Segue to The Andromeda Strain, which really had that 1960s SF movie vibe going, talky and lecturing. It was mildly entertaining, but reminded me why I’d never bothered to keep a recording of it. In the end, the people do nothing useful; the bug mutates and becomes benign. (Oops—sorry—spoiler alert!)
Next up was The Cassandra Crossing, which had this going for it: It’s a train movie, and I like train movies. Otherwise it’s ludicrous, being based on the idea that if you’ve got a train filled with people infected by a plague, the obvious thing to do is to send it over a failing trestle so that it will plunge with a spectacular crash into an uninhabited ravine. That’ll show those germs! (Dusts off hands.) Next problem?
Finally we come to Contagion, by far the most realistic of the lot. Also educational, terrifying, and depressing. Good if you want to learn how this coronavirus thing could go. Bad if you’re looking for diversion.
For diversionary purposes, Outbreak is the not-very-satisfying winner. But what movies have we forgotten?
With the world basically in lock-down against Covid-19, and the possibility looming of a two-week self-quarantine at a moment’s notice, I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. We now have a freezer stocked with my signature Fantasy Beef Stew*, Space-Time Chicken Stew**, chicken chili, Grillers Crumblies chili, chicken chili, and rat stew***. Not to mention lots of Trader Joe’s frozen foods. And cans of soup and tuna and makings of more chili, should we need it.
That’s the backfire sound my new snowblower made today when I tried to use it in our first snowfall of the winter. The snow was pretty, no denying that. But it was also the kind of wet, hard-to-move snow that we get so often here in New England. I guess we got about a foot or a foot-and-a-half of the stuff. And I should have been ready with the new, gleaming, Ariens snowblower I bought on end-of-season sale last year. (And then sold my 40-year-old Toro, a big mistake.)
The new one ran fine last year! It ran fine every time I started it up during the off season. Until it didn’t, a couple of weeks ago. (I always keep our gas-powered equipment—mopeds, mower, snowblower—fueled with fuel stabilizer added, and run them periodically when they’re out of season. Works great. Until now.) I should have called a dealer right away, but I kept thinking, if I change the gas, run some carb cleaner through it, talk to it nicely, it’ll start working right. (Also, I was a little busy.) Nothing doing.
Also, by the way, this Ariens snowblower is one of the worst-designed machines I’ve ever used. That’s ARIENS, the company that makes ARIENS piece-of-shirt snowblowers with the name ARIENS on them, in case you wondered. Yeah, when it was running, it worked well. But it has no throttle, just one speed. It has no way to add oil without spilling oil all over the place. The dipstick is incredibly awkward to check. It has no provision for draining the gas tank. It has a totally stupid plastic key that you insert to run and pull out to stop, and heaven help you if you drop it in the snow. (Get a big piece of string before you run this bad boy.)
Fortunately, as I thought, I also had my new electric snow shovel that I bought last year to make shoveling off the deck a less cardiac-arrest-inducing task. So I got that out. WHIRRRzzzzzzzz. No. NO. Yes. It’s not working, either. The drive belt is slipping. Nonadjustable. Useless.
The shovel company is sending me new belts. We’ll find out what Ariens will do about a warranty repair on the snowblower, when it gets picked up at the end of the week.
I’m feeling a tad grumpy. And I miss my 40-year-old Toro.
Our beloved cat, Moonlight, has left us, taken by cancer and age. She was 20 years old, almost 21. She was an amazing friend to all of us. Far from the aloof cat of Siamese stereotype, she always wanted to be part of the family, dogs and all. She used to try to come along on dog walks, but we could never get a leash and harness to work right on her. As a young cat, she competed with the dogs for dropped food. (Ask me sometime about the Battle for the Broccoli, wherein Moonlight squares off with a boxer, and the little beagle sees opportunity.) Moonlight was quite vocal, and would “Mwah” whenever stroked. She loved laps, and in response to gentle hugs would go, “Mwah! Mwah!” like a squeezebox. In the last few months, her meow evolved—first into a melodic “Moi?” and then later into a “Honk!” She was the living embodiment of “cat gravity,” which prevents you from getting up with a cat in your lap, and excelled at putting whoever was holding her to sleep.
Over the last couple of years, she came through two surgeries for skin cancer with flying colors. Our vet was amazed at her resilience. “Ordinarily, at her age, we wouldn’t even be having a conversation about surgery,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. Here’s a picture of her, after one of the operations.
I love animals, and Moonlight had a unique place in my heart. I hate this part of loving animals, where your heart is broken at the end. It’s probably going to be hardest on my daughter Jayce, to whom Moonlight has been a special friend for the greater part of her life. We will grieve together.
The timing could hardly be worse, as I’m leaving shortly for a convention in Philadelphia. But the last 24 hours have been telling, with noticeable decline in her strength—and it seemed better to say good-bye now, rather than endure worse scenarios while I’m gone. But there is no good time. At the vet’s, she put up a final fight: Even in her severely weakened state, it took an extra injection to stop that stalwart heart of hers.
Moonlight, I hope you find little Sam the beagle, and Hermione the boxer, and all of your other friends waiting for you on the other side. Peace now, little one. Peace.
It’s been a little over a week now since Allysen’s mom fell and banged herself up enough to need to go to the hospital. (Nothing broken, fortunately.) A few days later, a close family friend had to be hospitalized. So we’re doing double duty on the hospital/rehab visits, and pondering the difficulties of aging. Feh. Not for the faint-of-heart. Difficult decisions lie ahead.
To counter this, I ask you visualize the adorable tableau I encountered today, when I got up. Captain Jack (dog) and Moonlight (cat) were curled up asleep together on the sofa (where, mm, Jack is not supposed to be). Did I have the presence of mind to grab my phone and take a picture? I did not.
This one, from an earlier time, will have to do. The shaggy one is dog-in-law McDuff, who’s staying with us for now.
It’s an old fannish expression from an A.E. Van Vogt novel, but it’s true. Fans are Super Loyal and Not-to-be-under-appreciated! The latest three examples came one right after another. First, longtime fan and correspondent David B (whom until last week I had never met) was visiting the U.S. from Brazil, and he and his lovely wife took a day to ride the train from New York City—where among other things, he had been trying to get bookstores to order my books—to Boston, just to have lunch with me! We spent a wonderful couple of hours hanging out at Legal Seafood and walking along the Charles River near MIT. And I signed a couple of new books for him. It was great. Only a true fan would do that.
A day or two later, I got a package in the mail from Chad H, another longtime fan (whom I hadn’t met until DragonCon). In the package was a totally cool STARRIGGER doorstop, custom created on his personal 3D printer! Who has their own 3D printer, I ask? Fans, that’s who.
Right after that, I got an email from Kitty K, who needed information to help arm her in her efforts to get her local library system to buy The Reefs of Time and Crucible of Time. They were being reluctant, but she was keeping after them. That’s the kind of thing fans do.
So here is a heartfelt tip of the hat to fans everywhere—especially my fans!
Microsoft, the evil empire, has struck back at my efforts to keep my computers running. I have a desktop and a laptop running Windows 10, and both have tried to update to the newest, greatest iteration of Windows, cleverly named 1903, and both crashed and burned due to bugs in the installation software. Microsoft support people actually spent a couple of hours on the phone with me, but they couldn’t solve the problem (though they did acknowledge that there were a lot of people having problems).
I’m back in business, though, with the older version of Windows, thanks to full disk image backups I’d run to external hard drives. Not quite as recently as I’d wished, but recently enough.
If you have a major Windows update coming, do yourself a big favor and get yourself a fat external drive if you don’t already have one, and back up your whole system before the update! You’ll be glad you did.
Microsoft, suspected agent of Morgoth, once more hosed my laptop with a major Windows update. What is with this company? Don’t they test their frickin’ software before they frickin’ release it? Apparently not. But the good rings have saved me! A full disk backup from April restored the usability of my computer, and Dropbox and Microsoft’s own One Drive saved my data. (Let me tell you, though, restoring my inbox to its former glory was no fun. (I still have about 5000 unwanted emails to delete. The backup service on that saved too much.)
Yesterday was my birthday, and I turned 10, in dog years! A big milestone, though I don’t feel a day over 5. If you’re wondering, that translates to forty-nine-plus, which is the age I magically became fixed at, oh, about “plus” number of years ago. It’s great! You never get old. But you can still get the senior discount.
We had a lovely cookout with my family and a few good friends. The weather was great, the margaritas were great, the company was great.
My daughter Lexi painted me a landscape, based on a photo by our cousin Mike Sherrick, of farm country in Wooster, Ohio. This is where my mother, Mildred Sherrick Carver, grew up, though the farm depicted in this painting is, I believe, down the road from the old Sherrick farm.
The other big gift was almost too heavy to lift. My loving wife Allysen, her mom, and her brother and his family, all pitched in to get me this gorgeous 6-inch Celestron telescope. (There’s a story behind why this particular telescope, but that’s for another day.)