Friday, January 29, 2016

Noises in the Night

I picked up a writing challenge for my Friday Flash this week, because I don't have an existing piece written and wasn't sure where to start. It asked me to find 10 first lines (from an anthology, but I'm using other Friday Flash pieces I found on twitter, and provided links to the originals) and then write a new scene, at least 200 words, using one of those as a starter. Sounds like fun, right?

  1. “Babe, could you please check outside?” (Link)
  2. The days were growing short, and the air turning chill when the visitors came.  (Link)
  3. The door wouldn’t open. (Link)
  4. Night’s candles have burnt out. (Link)
  5. It was the bunny ring on the middle finger of her left hand that caught his attention. (Link)
  6. The large oval mirror in the corner of the dusty study began to glow a brilliant light blue. (Link)
  7. Although I’ve worked as a waiter, off and on, for years, I never wanted to open a restaurant myself... (Link)
  8. The preparation was not ritualized in any manner whatsoever. (Link)
  9. Police are investigating a string of murders across London. (Link)
  10. Who the fuck is playing Joy Division? (Link
So I'm going with... the first one.

"Babe, could you please check outside?"

Mark rolled over, and grunted incoherently. He sat up from their small futon and slid the nearest slippers onto his feet. Bunnies. He grunted again, and then looked back at Jess. "What am I checking for?"

"I heard a noise," she said, "Downstairs. I think it came from the fire escape." Just as she finished, a clank outside confirmed her theory and she squeaked loudly. "Please check and make sure it is just a cat or something?" Eyes wide, sheet pulled up to her neck, Mark couldn't say no. He walked down the spiral stairs from the loft to the main floor and, stumbling across the ottoman cursed softly.
He opened the ottoman and pulled out his old knife, testing the edge quickly on his thumb. "Still sharp," he muttered.

"Mark?" Jess whispered loudly from the top of the stairs. Mark shushed her, and moved to the large window which led out to the fire escape. Even in the dark of night the city was plainly lit, streetlights and skyscrapers polluting the air with a constant glow, making it pretty easy to see outside. Nothing. Just metal. He craned his neck up to see what was above them, but still. Nothing.

"Jess, I don't see anything," he said, talking normally.

"Can you open it and check, please?" She stopped whispering, too. "I've got my phone, so if it isn't a cat we can call the police," she said, her phone illuminating her face.

Rolling his eyes as he turned back to the window, Mark said "Okay. And then we're going back to bed." He unlocked the window and looked out. He checked down below and twisted, looking up. The neighbors upstairs had put planters on their escape - a technical violation, but not one anyone worried about. Still they formed large shadows, so he couldn't see above very well. He watched for a minute, then bent back inside and closed the window.

"There's nothing, sweetheart." Just as he spoke, a resounding clang echoed from the fire escape and a fist pounded on the window.

"Who..." Mark started, but before he could get the words out, the window flung open and a man leapt through. Mark's hand rose instinctively, knife at the ready. "What do you want?"

"Whoa, Mark, fuck. Put that away!" the man yelped.

It took a second for the voice to sink in, knife already moving toward the stranger, but Mark recognized the voice and stopped the blade. "Nate?"  

Jessica's voice rose behind him, "Yes, there's a man who just broke into our house! Please send the police right away!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On Podcast Apps

Dear Hashtag,

So it turns out...

I'm incredibly picky when it comes to my podcast apps. This week I got a new phone, an iPhone, and tragically the podcast app I've been using doesn't exist within the Applesphere. Android Only. So I went shopping. Now, first just let me say: I hate paying for apps. I know, that's a pretty Android User thing to say, but it is the truth. And some apps within Apple cost $20! Or More! It is completely insane, and I don't understand it in the slightest. So when my buddy suggested and app that "only" costs $3.99, I just laughed and went hunting.

First up I looked at Stitcher. I've heard really good things about it, and I must say it is SHINY. If you don't care about bells and whistles and just want the most recent episodes of a few shows along with a Netflixian recommendation algorithm, Stitcher is the way to go. It is pretty impressive. But... the settings suck. Just to be clear, they are absolutely horrendous. Your choices are basically to subscribe or not, and what speed to play at.

I looked at a couple of other free apps, and none of them allowed me the flexibility I was looking for: to select play order, to build queues, to allow me to mark old episodes as already listened to, and to automatically delete played episodes. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Finally I found one, but even it has several downsides. First off, it uses RSS feeds instead of pulling from Apple's store, so the selection of episodes within a single show vary somewhat (as some shows retire episodes faster or slower for RSS than they do within Apple). Some shows are just plain unavailable via RSS (this was a problem when I first switched to using one that sourced from Apple in the first place, so it goes both ways). And finally...

On all my podcast posts in the past, I've been putting some statistics about what my listening time is and stuff... but I'm going to have to change the format slightly, as the information given to me is different.

Overall though? It does the trick.

Now I just have to finish importing all 100+ feeds, update the episodes I've listened to, and start building myself a playlist.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

D&D Background Rough Draft

Dear Hashtag -

I don't post fiction particularly often, but I really enjoyed writing this particular piece, so you can have it anyway. This is the background information for a level one character, a warpriest named Sasha. I don't really have a campaign for her at the moment, which is too bad because she's awesome. On the other hand, I may just flesh her out, make her either an NPC in my world or a character in an actual, like, story. I haven't decided yet. I have decided that this makes me want to write character backgrounds like this for Davor and Alwedd, my current characters. I might work on that at some point.

Mom, this includes some graphic stuff, you may want to just skip this one.

Without Further Ado:

The sunlight glittered across Sasha's shield, displaying the glittering Sword of Justice in all its righteous glory. A paladin for Iomedae, Sasha strode across the clearing, ready and determined for the task at hand. The cult spreads out around her, and are no match for her spinning blade, her sturdy shield, and her divine glory. Having dedicated the past decade to obliterating the forces of evil, Sasha faces no hesitation about destroying these evil demon worshippers, until suddenly the forces in front of her break, and a young boy enters the clearing. Just to make sure, Sasha quickly checks to see if he is evil, and finds to her chagrin that he is not. She hesitates, unsure, and in that moment something heavy slams into her helm, knocking her to the ground. Immediately bound, gagged, and silenced, she watches in horror as the boy is summarily executed in front of her. 

This, it turns out, is only the beginning of the torture. Although the cultists aren't particularly creative, their brutal methods are effective, and Sasha repeatedly finds herself on the brink of despair, mind drifting as her body screams in agony as yet another hot poker finds her tender skin. Her days end in sweet unconsciousness and her mornings begin with prayer, seeking Iomedae's protection. Somehow she manages to shield herself and stays strong, and eventually the cultists give up. 

Finally, days or perhaps weeks later, Sasha is dragged out of her cell. One of the leaders speaks, but she can't make out the words. Her mind drifts again as he drones on, and she doesn't hear his questions, his fury, nor his final condemnation. As her body is carried upward, her mind slowly rejoins it, until she fully realizes her predicament. The chanting in the room is in some demonic language she knows nothing of, and the lewd dance the cultists perform makes her avert her eyes, knowing she will die a martyr on this pathetic altar in their profane fortress they call a temple. Strong and stalwart, she blinks back tears and watches, horrified, as the ritual nears completion. Finally, a woman emerges from the crowd, naked save for a bloody red gemstone set in her forehead. This moment sears into her memory forever. 

The woman walks slowly to the altar, chanting softly and then loudly, volume and cadence alternating in some seemingly random fashion. She takes a knife, and very carefully slices a series of wounds across Sasha's body, until her heart is in the woman's hands, still beating, still a part of her. Somehow she is numb, her body unfeeling, although her mind reels in fear and terror. The heart is placed inside a bowl, her blood used to fill a series of niches along the altar. A circle of blood. Runes of blood. An holy sacrifice inside, strong and unbroken. The ritual completes, and a demon more powerful than any Sasha has ever seen emerges. His fury is palpable, but he stares down at Sasha in amazement. After seconds, minutes, hours, he turns to the woman.

 "Your sacrifice is acceptable. My lieutenant and his army will ally with you, under your command." His voice is deep, and Sasha is horrified to realize that somehow she has understood his vile tongue. The massive demon turns again, places her heart back within her chest, and somehow forces her to use her own divine power to heal herself. He picks her up as though she were a small child, cradling her weak body in his arms, and carries her back through the magic circle, deep into his demonic home. As he walked, she watched an army stream past her, hundreds of demons swarming through circle, and wondered how it was possible she was worth so much. 

She had the opportunity to find out, as the days and weeks passed. Where the cultists had brought her close to breaking with their violent yet effective methods, the demons forced her mind to dance a line of sanity she never thought possible. Creativity was not their problem, and often when her mind drifted she knew that if it weren't for the divine protection, this powerful shield that allowed her to keep some parts of herself separate, everything that made her Sasha would eventually be lost. Her body burned, her mind burned, but somehow a tiny pocket of her soul, a miniscule tidbit of her mind, was kept safe. Secure. Holy. Devout. Whenever she awoke, the demon watched her, laughing, as he placed her hand upon her chest and healed her with her own faith.

She kept Faith. She kept knowledge that she was not this broken body, not this broken mind, but that she was Sasha, a divine warrior of... something. The rest she lost.  Her childhood was burned in a fire that scorched her feet. Her faith healed her. Her first romance was pierced repeatedly with tiny needles inside her belly button. Her devotion healed her.  Her vows and divine order disappeared in the death of a dozen small animals and three infants as she screamed in fury and fear. Her belief healed her. Her time serving Iomedae was driven out as she wept, each tear matched with a drop of blood. Her piety healed her. 

Until one day, the last ounce of strength was gone. The god she once served, she could no longer remember. The honor, faith, peity and devotion had been obliterated in pain and horror. When he placed her hand upon her chest, she no longer healed. Her faith had at last, failed. Laughing, he brought in another man and used his power to bless her, the shining glory of his faith blinding her and awakening something inside. The demon placed a sword in her hand and she stared at it for a long time, until the comfortable familiarity of it awakened something more and she reached out for something. A shield was placed in her hand, and that far corner of her mind awoke, distant, but familiar with sword and board. She stretched for a moment, and then smiling turned toward the demon. 

He smiled in return hideous and vile, and when he spoke she understood nothing that streamed forth from his mouth. She smiled more broadly, stepped forward, and slammed her sword deep into the demons chest. 

He roared. 

He bled. 

He staggered to his knees, confused and furious, and bellowed deeply. A group of demons charged through an entryway, and Sasha fought brutally and mercilessly. She fought for her life, which she had forgotten. She fought for her mind, which she had lost. She fought for her soul, which she had somehow managed to shield. She was nothing but Sword, Shield, and Faith. 

She wasn't enough. Struggling, beaten, shield cast aside and sword broken, she failed. A spear hurtled toward her throat and she prayed, accepting her defeat. 

The demon swatted it out of the air, rage and fury filled his face, and he declared her sentence. "Make her suffer it all, but do not give her the mercy of death." His face twisted into a smile, still full of hate. "Let her drift in misery forever, that her soul may never return to a divine realm." 

The pain lasted an eternity. 

She floated, lost, for eons. 

Sasha knew nothing but pain. 

Slowly it ebbed, and Sasha knew she was Sasha. And pain. 

And the pain ebbed further, and Sasha remembered pain, and her Faith. 

Her pain eased, and Sasha knew her pain. And her Sword. 

The pain faded, and she remembered the pain and her Shield. 

The pain ended, and she floated lost, until her Faith cradled her. Her Sword guided her. Her Shield protected her and finally she no longer felt pain. 

A flash of color sprang across the empty nothingness and a thing emerged, wholly indescribable. It spoke in whispers of color and taste, and she spoke back in sound and pain. Curious, it took her in, restored her body to health, and listened. It listened to her story and spoke in vision and smell and she reeled under the onslaught of flavored syllables and colored smells. Finally it grew bored, and with a grunt of disgust shoved her through a door. 

She fell. 





Until another door opened and she landed in a crumpled heap in a forgotten cottage on the edge of a forest. A small, decrepit old man walked in, shrieked, and fled. A few moments later a young cleric entered. He gave her his cloak and took her to his temple, where he nursed her back to health, back to sanity. He taught her his prayers and she took to them with fierce devotion. He taught her the glory of Bellistor, the teachings of his order, and the simple Faith that served in this crazy world. As they spoke, long conversations over hoeing vegetables and painting blood runes, he knew she was unfit to be a Paladin. 

Her soul was shattered. 

He spoke further of his Clerical duties, his devotion to Bellistor, his order and what their vows meant and as time passed, he knew she could never be a cleric either. 

Her mind was broken. The first he could never fix, the second he could dry.  

He worked with her, prayed with her, slept with her and fought with her, and slowly she healed, but as she healed she grew restless, and he knew she needed more. Eventually he concluded she had potential to serve his god as a great divine knight. Her faith was strong, her sword was mighty and her shield was blessed. She painted his symbol across her shield, donned armor, and marched forth with three goals: 

Kill the Demon. 

Spread the word of Bellistor.

Find out what the fuck that Thing was and thank it properly.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

40 x 40, Habitica, & Dice

Dear Hashtag,

So we have a tradition in our family where we make miniature bucket lists filled with (potentially) achievable goals. The boys are on their 10 by 10 lists (that is, 10 things by age 10) and Holly is on her 30 x 30, but alas... I'm too old for that list. And I found that my 30 x 30 list was... ambitious. Overly so, I think. To be fair, I wrote it when I was 25, thinking graduation was just around the corner and a successful career would spell the end of our financial troubles. While we're getting there, I decided to do things a bit differently for my 40 x 40. I picked 8 sets of things to have as goals/bucket list items, and for each of those sets I have 5 things. Tada, instant list. Needless to say, this was difficult.

My full list is actually on Pinterest, you can find the board here: 40 x 40

Well, technically those are the ones I haven't completed yet. Which is most of them.

So anyway, I'm doing this Habitica thing, which I would highly recommend. It is basically an RPG for your life - you add your own habits, daily tasks, and to-do list items, and you get experience and treasure for completing them. It is a gamification thing, but it actually helps, particularly if your friends join! So if you do decide to join, let me know so we can team up and go questing together. That adds accountability and helps me, at least, try harder.

But I don't want to add my 40 x 40 things here, since they are such huge and lofty goals and would just sit there. Instead, I started this monthly dice challenge where you roll a die and work on that specific thing that month. I think this would be a great way for me to focus in on my list. It is random, fun, and allows me to shift focus from month to month so I don't get bored.

But instead of picking specific goals, I'm going with 6 of the 8 categories, and then I'll select a specific one from that category to work on. My categories are Career, Finances, Experiences, Learning, Self Improvement, Travel, D&D/Gaming, and Sexy Time. I think career and travel are outside the bounds of this particular method, so my six dice categories are:

1. Self Improvement
2. Finances
3. Experiences
4. D&D
5. Sexy Time
6. Learning

Now, it is important to note that I don't actually have to achieve my goal in any given month, just that I have to make an honest effort. And I may end up splitting some of these up in the future and pulling Finances, since right now there isn't much to do in terms of "honest effort" toward purchasing our first home. We're just not there yet.

Anyway, wish me luck!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Top Ten Podcasts (Part two)

Dear Hashtag,

Here's the remainder of my top ten podcasts. But first!

Current Stats:
Total Number of Episodes downloaded:18
Total Playtime of downloaded episodes: 9:40:20
Total Number of Podcasts Subscribed: 111
Total Number of Unlistened Episodes:11127
Estimated Time of Unlistened Episodes: 35 Weeks, 4 Days, 3 Hours, 12 Minutes, and 43 Seconds
Podcast I'm in the middle of: The Story Collider; Fugitive Waves; Hidden Brain - This took me a while to write, so you get a glimpse at my playlist...
Number 6: Gastropod

This delicious podcast is all about food - food science, food history, food facts, food stories... while I don't recommend listening while on an empty stomach, the show is full of delightful tidbits about food. I recently listened to an episode about where "Natural and Artificial Flavors" come from, and the difference between the two (hint: think legal, not scientific), and the episode about cheese was phenomenal. Heading on two years old, this show has skyrocketed to the top of my list since I started listening.

Mom, this show occasionally has fowl language, but never anything foul.

Number 5: Radiolab

This podcast is great, one of my personal favorites for years. Full of sciency stories, this should already be on your list. If you aren't listening to this podcast, get started ASAP. I have found, however, that I particularly enjoy their Shorts, which are one self enclosed story, rather than full episodes which are anywhere from four to ten stories along a theme, but... whatever. I think this is the second or third podcast I ever discovered, and I still listen to it today.

Mom, this show rarely has bad language, and if they do they give a warning. Their full episodes never do - they are prepped for public radio - but the Shorts can occasionally. 

Number 4: We're Alive

 This podcast was recommended to me by a coworker, and it is my favorite (and one of very few) fiction based podcasts. It tells the story of a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse, and I have to say... these guys are way smarter, better developed characters and more terrifying zombies than anything you'll find in Walking Dead. The story is told Radio Show style, with various characters voice-acted by different people, and a shifting narrator from characters writing in "journals." It is deep, evocative, and occasionally sexy (but nothing too risque so far).

Mom, this show does have language. I doubt this is up your alley anyway.

Number 3: Good Job Brain

This is my favorite "Trivia/Game Show" podcast. It is just a group of friends who pick a theme, research trivia around the theme, and then quiz each other. Every fifth episode is an "All Quiz Bonanza" which means there isn't really a theme, but they don't tell stories or background for most of it, just quizzes. Both formats are tons of fun. A few of the segments are annoying - ELVIS in particular gets under my skin. Overall, though, this show has me laughing all the way to work.

Mom, this show doesn't really have bad language, but is full of puns. And poop jokes. So many poop jokes.

Number 2: Revolutions

I can't even begin to express to you how amazing this show is. Mike Duncan, the podcaster, originally worked on the History of Rome Podcast, which is amazing. When he eventually ran out of Rome to History about, he started this project. He first discusses the Glorious Revolution in 17th Century England, then the 18th Century American Revolution, followed by the the French and then Haiti. I'm currently in the middle of the French (ok, the dawn. They just stormed the Bastille) and I must say, this series is phenomenal. The episodes are short, with long arching discussions over each "season," and an impressive amount of research, source material, and simplification. His understanding of the material is magnificent, and he really brings the events to life. I can't say enough good things about it. Anyone with any interest in history, politics, economics, liberty, freedom, America, France, terrorism, humanity or modern social mores should consider listening. And then listen. At the very least to the season which pertains to their country (If/when it is covered, if it hasn't been already). I can't wait to see where else this goes.

Mom, I don't remember any language in this, although I suspect as he moves into modernity some of his sources might be brasher. He'll probably edit though.

Number 1: Hardcore History

You knew my top two would both be History, right? I'll have you know, I left at least half a dozen history podcasts off my top ten. Dan Carlin... is amazing. This podcast is why I listen to podcasts. This podcast inspires me to read, to write, to live a better life. He has a political one too, which is decent, but Hardcore History is the most amazing podcast in existence. The episodes are LONG - hours and hours, and he breaks big topics into multiple episodes - WWI is 6 episodes and clocks in at just under 24 hours. The episodes are complex, and I can't listen to them while doing brain work - coding or difficult issues - but they are perfect for long walks or quiet evenings playing Civilization.

Right now they are available back to the Khans series - he sells the older ones. If you ever want to buy me his complete collection, they aren't too expensive, a buck a show, and considering how long they are that really isn't asking much.

Mom, the language here is pretty safe, but he doesn't squirm away from graphic details, and since his topics often cover war, that can get intense.

So that's my top ten list! Sorry it took me forever!
All my love,

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

10 Things I Can Do that make me Happy

The following is a list of ten things I can do on any particular day that make me happy. This is really for me, so if you don't like them, bugger off.

  1. Play Civilization
  2. Play a board game
  3. Play D&D
  4. Have super hot sex with my lovely wife
  5. Take the boys to a park, museum, or community event
  6. Eat some seriously delicious chocolate
  7. Accomplish something difficult at work
  8. Clear all my dailies on Habitica (yeah, right)
  9. Go to the Beach
  10. Hang out with friends