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Posts published in “Real Life”

It’s what happens when we’re not working or playing or thinking or doing. That thing we do that doesn’t fit into all the other categories.

Sometimes we call it living.

Instead of a $1000 Monitor, Try a $12 Cable

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three monitors

So, I have this particular type of multi-monitor setup I prefer - with a laptop screen abutting two other monitors, one horizontal, one vertical - but I couldn't quite do that here on my personal setup, at least not at first, because I didn't want to buy any more monitors after buying that Wacom behemoth, and eventually, the perfectly good ones from the old house will get shipped.

But I had a couple of spare old monitors from previous computers, long since retired - so old that only the DVI ports work, though one of them has an HDMI port I don't think I got to work. After lots of flickering, the oldest one of them finally gave up the ghost, but the other was able to slot into the same place. (It's on the left, above, with Roger Moore's mug from my Drawing Every Day session on it.) While can't rotate vertically like the other, it worked, at least, and I could use it.

Then it started flickering too.

Now, three or four things could be happening here. First, it could be a flaky old monitor screen, natch. Second, it could be a problem with the monitor's plug, since jiggling the software cable often fixed it; on the same grounds, I ruled out a device driver issue. Third, since it happened to two monitors attached to the same laptop with the same cable into the same port, it could be the laptop itself giving up the ghost.

So, after putting up with this for weeks, if not months, I finally started to look into new monitors. Apparently, the monitor I want costs roughly a thousand dollars with shipping, but I know I want that monitor because I have one in California waiting to be shipped here.

Then I thought back to my diagnosis.

Two monitors, plugged into the same laptop on the same port ... with the same cable.

Now, for various reasons, I can't swap the ports around much (the Wacom is SUPER finicky about what it wants it's 15,000 cables to attach to, and if you LOOK at it funny the stylus stops working) and I couldn't try a different cable because, THANK YOU, Apple and the rest of the computer industry, for changing the ports on all your laptops so my box of cables from previous setups is now virtually USELESS.

But I could order a $12 dollar USB-C to DVI cable off Amazon.

It arrived today. I plugged it in an hour or so ago.

The ten-year-old monitor? Working just fine.

Moral of the story: make sure to vary all of your variables when you are debugging, or you'll possibly trick yourself into the moral equivalent of spending a lot of unnecessary cash.

-the Centaur

My Review of the Studio Decor 24×36 Picture Frame

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frame, broken

I do not like this picture frame. While the wood border is beautiful and it handsomely frames posters, the attachment is an awkwardly placed pair of hooks, roughly 1/3 of the way down the frame and an inch inside the outer edges, making it almost impossible to hang levelly, or evenly, or at the right height.

In fact, I'd say that the placement is so awkward it actively thwarts "measure twice, cut once" in that on at least three or four different occasions (with two different poster frames, apparently not having learned my lesson trying to level the first one) I have measured the hook placement twice, or more than twice - most recently, using two different rulers, including a t-square - and after double and triple checking it, finding that the hooks are too far apart, or once moved closer, are not quite level, or, once leveled, are a whole inch to the right from where they should be, despite the fact that you measured the center and the hooks both against the sides of the wall upon which it was going, so, what the hell, Danielewski?

poster, damaged

Also, this frame does not well protect posters when thrown across the room. But it does make a very satisfying crashing sound, and the remains of the frame are well suited for pulling a 2001: A Space Odyssey monkey-smashing-the-bones-with-a-club re-enactment.

Sigh. "I don't have an anger management problem, just an anger problem." Sigh. And it's not like it was a great poster, but, hell, it's impossible to replace. And I checked.

Time to find a new frame - with a proper wire or central attachment, either of which enables you to add a single central hook, and to slightly adjust the angle and centering of the picture.

"We call it living."

-the Centaur

 

VAC-CI-NATE! (and Drawing Every Day #103, and Camp Nano …)

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vac-ci-nate

So! I got my first shot today, and other than a little arm soreness, a headache which may or may not be related, and some tiredness which may just be because it's 3:21am, I have not yet had any ill effects. I was totally lied to by my album covers though, and have not been able to hack into Bill Gates' secret global network through the tiny implanted computer chip in the vaccine, maybe because neither exists.

centaur, vaccine 1

Ouch. First picture failed for some reason, so we get this charming shot of the needle coming OUT rather than going in. But it didn't really hurt at all, maybe because I was fiddling with my camera. Our Dalek friend below is proud that he was able to contribute his catchphrase to our cause:

dalek toy

~500 words on Camp Nano, still behind, but I am too wiped to write more.

Drawing, writing, being a good citizen every day.

-the Centaur

As for 2020 …

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My frozen fountain ...

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the year that hell froze over, yes? Well cue the cartoon helicopter noises and ...

Penguins in a helicopter!

SEE YA, 2020! Wouldn't want to be ya.

Ok, OK, it's penguins in a helicopter taking off. Perhaps you had to see the video. Regardless, I am ready to take off and get OUT of here.

Actually, since I couldn't go see a ball drop or have a cocktail at my favorite coffee house or even climb the hill with my wife so we could watch the fireworks, I plopped in the scene from Star Trek: The Motion Picture where the Enterprise goes to warp (FAIR USE! or buy it here, director's cut of course - ask me how I know) and the moment the Big E gave Einstein the finger, I held up my glass and said, "Fuck you, 2020!"

The Enterprise going to warp

So anyway, 2020. Wasn't so bad, by itself. I mean, yes, yes, for the world, but for me personally, 2019 had its own brass knuckles. I lost my mother in 2019 and worked my ass around over the margins of that, so I had kind of hoped 2020 would be an upswing. But, no, I got the zombie apocalypse and an even newer reorg to deal with, and by the end of it I'd lost my uncle Boo. So I'd love to say how horrible 2020 was, but for me personally, it felt like Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones - that is, a repeat, trying too hard, that went on too long. (And remember back when we thought 2016 was bad?)

comic con panel 2020

Still, it wasn't all bad. I got to participate in many conventions online, and to see friends from all over the world that I otherwise wouldn't get to see. And it's the year we saw some truly bizarre things occur in the world of media, such as this little oddity ...

A female Captain Kirk?

Actually, I might sign up to see a show about a gender-swapped Star Trek (oh wait that's Star Trek Discovery OH SNAP I went there), but that's neither here nor there. This was the year almost all responsible church services went online ...

mass online at st. stephens

... and the year when we DID have socially distanced outdoor services, a police chase started in the background behind the priest during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And hey, remember when this graph looked so bad? We didn't know how good we had it!

early in the pandemic

It's the year I learned the pomelo looks like a Lovecraftian monster on the inside ...

Inside of a pomelo, or Azathoth. Not sure.

(You eat it, it doesn't eat you, I promise. Tastes like a sweeter version of a grapefruit.)

And last but not least, it's the year I got this place put together the way I wanted it ...

The Futon Room

... and maybe the way other people wanted it too ...

The Office Room

... only to have circumstances force me to take it apart again ...

Moving boxes

But, in all honesty, they were good circumstances, if a bit bittersweet. Hopefully the new place will start coming together soon ...

The New Office Reference Shelf

So it wasn't all bad. While I really do want to tell 2020 to bleep off because of work and the pandemic, here's hoping that which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Still, what can I say? Hurry up, Aslan, we need you on the East Coast. Bring my wife and cats with you when you come. The other boxes can wait until the next trip.

Aslan in a Harry Potter Sorting Hat

-the Centaur

Day 6

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Tony Francis at Meteor Crater

Tony Francis at Meteor Crater. Sure was windy that day. Oddly, this is one of the best pictures I have taken of my dad.

Guess I enjoyed spending time with him more than taking photos!

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

Day 5

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Uncle Boo, Hand Sketch

Ran out of time unpacking and organizing my library, so no digital sketch today. All I had time to do was a hand sketch of Uncle Boo, which I took on in hopes that I'd do better than the digital one (or at least figure out where I went wrong). Other than imagining connections instead of seeing and drawing them, the number one thing I walked away with was, man, I need to find and unpack my art supplies.

Though the resemblance to my dad is more striking in a drawing ...

Closeup of Dad at Meteor Crater.

Perhaps I've found my next drawing subject ...

Still, drawing every day.

-the Centaur

 

Bleak

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a bleak winter day

Well, today I found out one of my dearest relatives, Uncle Boo, my dad's Mini-Me, so close to him that they took each other's driver's license pictures as a joke - though I could always tell them apart - just died of coronavirus at the age of 90. He hadn't been doing well and this was the final cruel blow.

https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/greenvilleonline/obituary.aspx?n=james-francis-boo&pid=197376995

His pride and joy was his family, and when not spending time with them, he was an avid golfer and sports enthusiast. Boo loved people and never met a stranger. Quick-witted and beloved by many, there was always a story ready to be told. He was a generous, kind-hearted man, and will be dearly missed by his family and all who knew him.

Boo always had stories to tell - some about my dad which made my hair stand on end! I'll always remember the calming presence he had after my dad's funeral, sitting at our breakfast table at the chair Dad always sat at, telling us stories of the Francis family of long ago. We'll miss you, Boo.

I don't even have any good pictures of him.

Thanks, 2020.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a bleak view out our window, all the leaves fallen.

Viiictory … and 1.5 Million Words

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So it's that time of year once again: I've won Nanowrimo, again, by writing 50,000 words in the month of November; by my records, this is 28 straight wins (counting Camp Nano in April and July in the mix) for a total of ... holy cow ... 1.5 million words in successful Nano challenges.

Welp, I'm calling it: Nano is the most successful technique I've ever used to to boost my writing output --- more than morning pages, more than writing workshops, more than the Artist's Way --- with the possible exception of Write to the End, with which Nano is intimately intertwined (for me).

Now I hear my editor calling: How about boosting that editing output, Francis? I hear you. Writing I don't seem to have much trouble with, but between robots and the zombie apocalypse I've found it hard to get the necessary brain juice to edit the 7, no 8 manuscripts I have in the queue.

Come to think of it, why couldn't we have had the zombie apocalypse while I was writing about a zombie apocalypse? Covid would have been really thematically appropriate when I was working on BOT NET (Facebook zombies) or SPIRITUAL GOLD (actual zombie zombies).

But that was not to be. I don't know about you, but I find the whole zombie apocalypse thing wearing, not to mention the whole election thing. Add to that serious realignments at work, which meant basically reinventing everything I'd been doing to come back to the same place, and 2020 has been a full on freight train of suck.

Not that everything's been bad. I finished the bulk of a novel, JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, back in April, and I'm halfway through Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE. We finished our patio here ...

... and started a grand new vegan cooking adventure together ...

And we even found and bought a new house, a very nice new place (it has turkeys) ...

... with a great space for my library and my wife's art studio, which we're in the middle of a slow motion move to while we renovate the old pad. These have been bright lights in an otherwise bad year. By you know how it's been: so stressful that - well, you've seen how much I've been blogging. I feel like this should be the best time ever in my life, yet 2020 has left me feeling a lot like this:

But, we have traditions which can help us through, like Thanksgiving ... oh, dangit Covid! So, ANYWAY, other traditions that do not involve Covid or Zoom, Nano traditions: the stats, and the excerpt. What did this month look like, Nano-wise?

This wasn't the hardest Nano I've handled ... I think the worst was being over 21,000 words behind in 2016 for PHANTOM SILVER, though briefly LIQUID FIRE in 2009 got almost that bad. Nor was it record-breakingly productive, like the astounding 25,000 words ahead finish on BOT NET 2017. This was a middle-of-the-road Nano, helped by really pouring on 12,000 words last weekend:

That was on purpose, so I could coast into Thanksgiving having finished, and spend a very nice dinner with my wife. (We had vegan muffulletas with authentic olive salad filling shipped direct from Central Grocery in New Orleans, which I highly, highly, highly recommend). That left November's work on SPIRAL NEEDLE comfortably in the middle of my previous efforts:a

And so, now, an excerpt ...

Too late, I realized the thickening arms of the octopus mist echoed the ghostly glow of the streetlights. “Teleporter! We’ve got to find a weakness!” I cried, flicking and snapping my wrist to loose a crossbow bolt, a feather from my origami peacock—an analysis spell.

The feather flitted out, replicating itself in the flood of magic, its unfolding structure revealing an intricate, oh so intricate pattern embedded in the misty galaxy. Unfortunately, Nyissa, far older and faster than me, had fired her own analysis glyph.

Our spells collided in a flash of sparks and feathers.

“Damnit,” I cried, flinching. “Only one of us needed to do that—”

“Sorry, was reacting to your idea, not your action,” Nyissa said. “I—”

A long black shaft lanced out—and with a terrific report, blasted Nyissa in the face.

Nyissa flew back. Her mask shattered. It would have been so romantic to scream her name and lunge my hand toward her—but both of us had been in fights so many times before, and I instinctively swung the Waystaff up, its spine catching bayonet and flipping the long gun upwards. The hooked beak hissed, striped cloak flapping, and I saw the thing whole.

Towering. Raptor-beaked. Cloaked in tattered striped cloth, draped over a flaring dark greatcoat. Black leather straps bound a tortuously lean torso seemingly rippled with twitching muscle. But the clawed arms fighting mine held what looked like a musket, the striped cloak looked like the ruins of a flag, and atop the thing’s plague doctor mask was a tricorn hat.

“What are you?” I yelled, shoving against the musket with the Waystaff.

The thing screamed at me, foul smoke erupting from its beak, and I flinched and gagged. It wailed at me with its musket, alternately clubbing aside the Waystaff and jabbing at me with the bayonet, as sparking smoke roiled into what I assumed was the musket’s flintlock—it was preparing to fire! I leapt backward, spinning through a knight’s move version of the Dance of Five and Two, hastily pulling together a spell: “Spirit of flame, act as my shield!

The plague knight screeched and dropped a grimy black ball into its musket—just as my Dragon tattoo uncoiled from my skin and looped around me in a helix of Technicolor scales and feathers. The plague knight fired with a clap of thunder—met by a gout of flame.

Wow! Excitement! Adventure! Tattoo magic versus magical monsters! And while we didn't get to see that much of the costumes in this excerpt, we've got cute vampires wearing sexy clothes fighting alongside our heroine in her long black vest / trenchcoat. What's not to like?

That is all for now. Until next time, please enjoy this picture of a cat.

-the Centaur

Viiictory, A to Z … Plus One

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two hangry cats

Wow, um, pandemics. SO, short story, I've been having a rough one, which is why you haven't seen me on this blog. Perhaps the story of my suffering is a story for another time, because I just found this Camp Nano post back from APRIL which was never published because, wow, um pandemics. Congratulations to you, zombie apocalypse, for throwing me off my game! Yay for you, Miss Rita, I guess?

SO ANYWAY, what I'd like to announce, what I planned to announce at the end of April but forgot to post, and now what I have to doubly announce at the end of July, is that I have completed the Camp Nanowrimo challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of April!

And, um, then, I did it again in July.

Camp Nano Victory Banner

For those who don't know (how long have you been reading this blog?) National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November, and Camp Nanowrimo is a pair of choose-your-own goal sister challenges in April and July. I do 50,000 words each time, for 150,000 words a year. So far, I've done this (successfully) 27 times ... so my April Post was going to be "Viiiictory, A to Z" and there would have been some dang title for July, Plus One. But whatever, here's a graph of Nanos for you; from the dark line, it looks like my output this month (the dark line) was a bit more ahead of the game than normal (the average is the dotted line):

27 National Novel Writing Months

What was I working on?

This April, I mostly finished JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, a "novel" made from a collected set of short stories set in an alternate Victorian era filled with strong women, rayguns, and aliens . The first of these stories, "A Choir of Demons," was published in Aurora Wolf magazine, and collectively, they tell the tale of how Jeremiah grows from a wet-behind-the-ears Lieutenant to the leader we see in THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE. My friend Tony Sarrecchia, creator of the Harry Strange Audio Drama, is helping me adapt these to audio.

This July, I started Dakota Frost Book 7, SPIRAL NEEDLE. Dakota, the best magical tattooist in the Southeast, faces a new challenge when her weretiger daughter Cinnamon gets mixed up in a lycanthrope attack, and Dakota will move Heaven and Earth to make sure Cinnamon is safe ... if she can just figure out who's trying to hurt her, and why? This book actually excites me about writing Dakota Frost again - vampire-werekin medicine, Colonial American plague doctors, and secret societies - even if it is perhaps is distracting me from finishing the editing of DF #4-#6 and Cinnamon #1-#3.

But the pandemic, and all the other business going on in my life, has drained my energy for the very difficult task of editing --- and drained my energy for many other things. (Hence no blog posts since my cats came back from the hospital, though they got sick again; they're fine now). In this crisis, some people have died, some are sick, some have lost loved ones, some have lost jobs, and many just feel like they've lost their minds. Fortunately, I'm on the good end of the spectrum: I have my wife, I have my cats, I have my job, and I'm still able to write. For all of that, I count myself blessed.

As for the rest ... well, I'm picking up the pieces and getting back on an even keel, step by step.

Please bear with me while I am beating off the bears.

-the Centaur

Pictured: two hangry cats. They were both sick, just prior to the pandemic, and that was rough enough that I thought I had real problems. Ha! I guess the coronavirus showed me. At least I'm getting to eat some tasty and delicious vegan food.

Vegan dinner, wife, and cat