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Thursday, January 29, 2015

500 words into Chapter 23

I am writing about the night that I stormed out the door of our apartment without telling my wife where I was going, because not even I knew where I was going. And how I wound up in Raleigh at my best friend's door at 10 at night. God only knows how I made it to the highway without crashing the car at the high speed I was going at.

This is the part of bipolar disorder that I hate the most. Asking God why He let me have something like this when it destroyed my capacity to think clearly or to have empathy to others. When I know that's not the way I really am at all.

Hating the things that I've done to others, mental illness or not.

500 words into Chapter 23. I started it yesterday afternoon.

This is going to take awhile.

Son of ex-slave and Union soldier passes away (you read that right)

It's stuff like this that never ceases to fascinate me.  These things impress upon us that so much of our history... isn't that long ago after all.

Luke Martin, Jr. passed away a few days ago in Raleigh (that's the capital of North Carolina for those who might not know that).  Mr. Martin was 97.

He died 179 years after his father was born.  His father, by the way, was a former slave who escaped to freedom and then fought in the Civil War as a soldier in the Union army.

Fox News has more about the life of Luke Martin, Jr. and his father.

It wasn't all that uncommon for soldiers on both sides of the conflict to, long years later, marry much younger women.  A lot of it was because of the considerable pensions that soldiers received.  But the general consensus is that there was never a lack of true love in such relationships.  Many of which produced offspring such as Mr. Martin.

He died the other day and he was one generation removed from the greatest and most trying  war in American history.  A war that ended 150 years ago this year.

Think about that.

Historian though I be, it honestly astounds me that we could have that kind of connection to the past in our own day and age.

I'm reminded of something else in this kind of vein: Samuel Seymour, who at age 96 appeared on television (along such notables at the time as Lucille Ball) in 1956 to describe how he witnessed John Wilkes Booth assassinate Abraham Lincoln...

Gotta appreciate the pronounced presence of Winston cigarettes and the can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco in that segment, aye?  That's something nobody could get away with on television today.

It's been suggested that some people living today, perhaps even born in the 1960s, could live to ages approaching 200 years old. Can you imagine someone old enough (like myself) telling his great-great-great-great grandchildren about watching on television the destruction of the Challenger (which was 29 years ago yesterday)?

I suppose that anything is possible.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Newly-discovered planet has rings TWO HUNDRED TIMES BIGGER than those of Saturn

I won't apologize for the all-caps there.  I mean, we are talking about something of monstrous proportions here...

Four hundred-some light years away is the recently-discovered exoplanet J1407b.  Its parent star kept blinking in and out of view.  Astro-boffins went to work on the case, doing analysis of light patterns and spectroscopy and all kinds of stuff like that.

What they found is that J1407b, a young planet with about 40-50 Jupiter masses, boasts a massive, MASSIVE ring system.  One that is more than 200 times larger than the one Saturn has.

Here's what it might look like...

See that teeny dot?  That's meant to be J1407b.  Mind you, this is a planet already with 40 times more mass than Jupiter.  See those rings?  They're spread out over 120 million kilometers of diameter's worth of disk.

If J1407b was located where Saturn is in our solar system, not only would the ring system be very easily visible from the Earth, it would be significantly larger than the full Moon.

And yet, it's been calculated that this system of rings is made up of about the same amount of material as the Earth has.  Which is comparably small in the cosmic scheme of things.

Just when you think you can't imagine anything else, here is something confirming that, yes... there are things that we could not have imagined out there.

Mash here for more about J1407b, how it was discovered and all that jazz.

Monday, January 19, 2015

I finally beat Zaxxon!

You might have heard about the Internet Arcade that Internet Archive fired up a few months ago.  All of those arcade games that we (or at least some of us) used to feed quarters into?  Well, almost 700 of them - as in the originals, not home console ports - are available to play for free in your web browser!  Which is a great thing because these games are a considerable part of computer technology history and Internet Archive is preserving them for posterity.

Well anyhoo, last week I visited Internet Arcade for the first time.  And something occurred to me: that maybe I could see if Zaxxon was in the collection.

Bit of info: Zaxxon was a game that Sega came out with in the early Eighties, and it's arguably the first video game to attempt a 3-D feel for the player.  As you fly your fighter jet/spaceship/thingy you can adjust the altitude, which you're gonna have to do because otherwise you'll smash into walls, energy barriers, homing missiles and the like.  The object of the game was to fly across one big space fortress loaded with obstacles, then a segment in space as you take on enemy planes, and then another fortress.  At the end of which is a robot that you have to destroy before it destroys you.

This is what Chris has been obsessed with
for more than thirty years.
The boy needs to get outside more.
That is Zaxxon.  And I had been trying to take out that @%#$ robot since 1983.  Except that I haven't even been able to approach the droid, much less shoot his missile-arm to make him self-destruct.

Well, Zaxxon wasn't very hard to find at all.  After going through the instructions on how to play through the emulator, and a few mis-steps that required restarting the game, I was finally off again.  It's been at least fifteen years since I've found a Zaxxon machine to play on, so I was a little rusty...

...but on my third try, I got through to the robot.  For the first time in my life I got to see it after getting to it with my own efforts.

He destroyed me.  I played through again.  Still got to him, this time he retreated off the screen.

It was on my fourth trip through the fortresses that I blew up the missile before he could fire it.

It had taken more than 31 years but at long last, I beat Zaxxon.

The game re-started after that, with more difficult fortresses to fly through.  More aggressive obstacles like rockets and turrets aiming at me.  But by that point, I didn't care.  I had destroyed the robot and that's all that mattered.

(There was a sequel, Super Zaxxon, that was much more difficult and had the robot replaced with a dragon.  I never found that game anywhere, much less played it.  The original classic is more than enough.)

Maybe this is a sign or an omen.  You remember how Mister Miyagi told Daniel in The Karate Kid that a man who can catch flies with chopsticks can do anything?  Well, that's what Zaxxon has been to me: a fly that I've been doing my darndest to snatch out of the air for more than three decades.  And now I've done it.  Perhaps it's an indicator of things to come.

Or perhaps it just means that I've been sadly obsessed with a video game for all this time...

Book update for mid-January

I think I'm getting back into the full swing of writing my book, at last.

I've completely re-written Chapter 1.  And I seriously hope that I'm not just seeing things but the more I read over it and how it flows into the rest of the manuscript, the better and better it's looking.  It sets up a much better tone for the book that follows.  It's more gripping.  It's more "me" than the original version was.  And that is what this project is about, isn't it?  Reaching deep down and translating my heart and soul and mind onto the printed page.  Being true to myself.  Sometimes that is going to hurt.  But there is also going to be a lot of humor too.

So the new first chapter is something I'm really stoked about more than I had become about the original.

The prologue has been somewhat re-written, but not drastically so.  I'm also looking for quotations to begin each chapter.  That... has proven to be a challenge.  With 21 chapters thus far however and only two of them lacking quotes, I've made progress but I'm also on the lookout for better ones.  Last night I did come across a quote that's perfect: it's a line from the classic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz.  Which is neat because that's one of my all-time favorite works of science-fiction.

Despite the lack of work on the narrative manuscript, I have still been writing the "interludes" as events pertaining to my manic-depression have warranted.  Last weekend was one such situation.  The interlude which resulted from it, if I'm allowed to keep it in the book, will probably disgust some people.  For what it's worth, it disgusted me.  This is a psychiatric illness, and it's not going to be pleasant no matter how much I might try to paint over it.  One of the reasons why I'm doing this book is so that it might evoke understanding about mental illness.  There are things which are extraordinarily rare in being discussed, and I'm going to delve into those.  Anyway, just going to let y'all know that there will be some harsh material in this, if it gets published.

I'm feeling better now.  The past two and a half months have been an experience which I would not wish on anybody.  There is still pain, still grief.  This weekend it was like I felt Dad's presence, encouraging me to continue with the book just as he cheered me on to begin it.  I'm not rushing into this: so many friends have discouraged me from charging headlong into writing it again.  I'm just letting things proceed as they should.  But it really does feel great to be back behind the keyboard again and writing something, for my book.

Last night I wrote two sentences for Chapter 22.  So it's off and running.  I'll try to write more today...

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Reidsville's $30,000 monument to madness

So my hometown of Reidsville, North Carolina has decided to ultimately remove a nationally-recognized statue with more than a hundred years of history, and let it instead be replaced with a horror straight out of H.P. Lovecraft...

"We'll tear your soul apart!"

Brief recap: almost four years ago the Confederate monument in downtown Reidsville was toppled and smashed by an errant driver.  The statue of the Confederate soldier atop the monument fell and broke into pieces.  The damage wasn't irreversible however, and it was determined that the statue and the monument could be repaired and restored to normal.
Reidsville's Confederate Monument
at it's original location

That's how things should have worked in a sane world.

But former dictator mayor James Festerman would have none of that.  On his own, Festerman decreed that the monument would never go back up.  That, despite a huge outpouring of support from the community for the Confederate statue to be repaired and returned to its rightful place.  Hizzoner Festerman declared that the monument was "controversial", nevermind that it had occupied the location sine 1910 and there had been no opposition to it in all of that time.  Festerman was just pulling that out of his [REDACTED].

So the "leadership" of the City of Reidsville had its way, and though the Confederate monument was eventually repaired it was relocated to a nearby cemetery.  In its place at the roundabout on Scales Street the city installed a wretchedly ugly planter and then for the past two years or so it's been a Christmas tree.

And now in place of the Confederate monument, the City of Reidsville has decided it will erect the eldritch abomination that you see above.  Allegedly a water fountain, the creator of which has titled it "The Bud".

More often than not it's being called "The Thing".  Local writers are describing it as something out of the Alien movie franchise (it definitely has that open-egg look going for it).  Or like a prop from a Clive Barker "Hellraiser" film.  I can't print what one person told me it looked like (it's that obscene).  I should recite incantations around it when it goes up and try to summon Cthulhu with it.

Incidentally, this "work of art" which looks like third-rate H.R. Giger is going to cost at least $30,000.

Generations to come should remember it as "Festerman's Fountain": a monument to the most indolent, apathetic, indifferent and tyrannical city government in Reidsville history (and that's saying something).

Seriously: twenty years from now people will be looking at that eyesore and wondering "what the #&@$ were they thinking?!"

Monday, January 05, 2015

Watch it now: the legendary CNN "end of the world" video

One of the things I've always wanted to do with this blog is post interesting stuff.  Or at least those things that are intriguing to me.  Admittedly, that has slacked off a lot in the past several months.  Between writing my book (a project that devoured most of 2014) and then Dad's passing a month and a half ago, this hasn't  been the best of times to even look for neat/odd material, much less post about it.  Maybe I can do better about that in the coming year.

And fortunately good friend Scott Kelly has come to the rescue with something to kick it off with:

Cue James Earl Jones voiceover: "THIS... was CNN."

I first heard weird stories about "the CNN doomsday tape" around the time of the Gulf War in 1991.  Allegedly, CNN founder Ted Turner has made a video that would be the very last thing that his cable news network would broadcast before the end of the world engulfed all of mankind in hellfire, brimstone, plague or zombie apocalypse.  The plan was that when the very last CNN employee was left alive in the building, the "play" button would be hit and this would be the final thing that whatever viewers were left would witness on CNN.

Turns out it's not so much a legend.  And CNN employees have known about it for years.  However, this is the first time that the video itself has found its way into public purview.

Jalopnik has a great write-up about Ted Turner's end-times CNN tape, which is still within the network's video archive listed as "TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO" under strictest orders that it not be broadcast "till end of the world confirmed".  Included in the article is the video itself: of a military band playing "Nearer My God To Thee".

In a really odd way it reminds me of the night of 9/11.  My best friend was working in the CNN Building in Atlanta at the time, and all evening we were talking back and forth on AOL Instant Messenger.  It was really something to be hearing directly from the bowels of what was almost certainly the most-watched news network in the world at that moment.  I've still got the log of that IM session somewhere.

I once heard that Orson Welles had recorded a radio broadcast meant for the end of the world.  But I haven't been able to find anything about that.  Perhaps some reader of this blog will be able to enlighten me more about that.

Anyway, it's a good article.  Well worth reading if you're into matters of technological history.  Which is curious in this matter in that the video is still in 4:3 aspect ratio at standard definition, so if you don't have a high-def set you can still watch CNN cover Armageddon.

EDIT 6:47 p.m. EST:   I've watched this video a few more times and the more I think about it, the less funny it seems.

Consider: this tape was made in 1981.  Kids today don't realize how SCARY things were back then, at the height of the Cold War and the fear that any moment there would be nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviets.  1983 seems especially vivid: when the Russians shot down the South Korean airliner and then not long after when the TV movie The Day After aired.  The policy of mutually-assured destruction meant that both sides understood that an attack by one superpower would mean the destruction of each nation and with that it would almost certainly be the end of all civilization, everywhere.

We lived.  We laughed.  We had babies.  But above it all there was a lingering fear that somehow or another, The Button would be pressed by one side or the other and the biblical end times would be upon us just like that.  I was at a Christian school at the time and with few exceptions there was an air of paranoia among the faculty: as if it had to be drilled into our heads that Russia was the tool of Satan eagerly waiting to unleash an unholy salvo against America so we'd better "get right" with God before it was too late.

That was years before I came to understand that we enter into a relationship with God because we want to, not because we are forced into it by others.  But I digress...

So yeah: we went about our lives.  All the while knowing that nuclear war could erupt and that would be the end of everything.

Bearing that in mind, I could easily envision a scenario where before the bombs hit, a CNN employee might actually get confirmation that the nukes were inbound and that the network really was "signing off" for good.

So that said, this really is a fascinating and legitimate artifact of the 1980s.

EDIT 7:07 p.m. EST:  Maybe I should do something like that for this blog.  Like, have a YouTube video embedded in a post ready to be deployed for when the nukes fall or the undead overwhelm us all.  Or at least a "final post" that friends will unload upon my demise.  What do y'all think?