Monday, November 18, 2013

The making of an action hero, PT3

I like being prepared. I was a worry wart first and an eagle scout second…but either way I’ve never liked getting caught by the unexpected. My parents pushed me to be self-sufficient from a young age. As I’ve grown older I’ve noticed a growing blasé public attitude when it comes to emergency readiness. You can attribute most of that to the growing urbanization of America. It’s difficult to conceive of a time when you won’t be able to drive five miles and find a fully stocked retail center with everything from home repair essentials to household staples. Police, Fire, and EMTs are but a phone call away. Katrina, Sandy, and the recent Colorado flooding are the exceptions that prove the rule that it’s unlikely citizen Bob will ever have to deal with a FEMA-worthy emergency. Ok, I can imagine such a time, but many of my peers lack my inborn respect for Mr. Murphy. Of course there’s the other side of the coin. The zombie apocalypse meme has well and truly taken root. Many of the boards I read devote thousands of words to the consideration of preparing for a potential doomsday scenario—one in which society collapses and all meaningful infrastructure is lost. I enjoy disasterbating as much as the next guy—postulating how all my sociopolitical views will be validated when X happens and I will be able to scream “I told you so” as I giggle maniacally. “Muhahahahahaha!” Bunkering down with a few tons of guns, food, and like-minded friends sounds great…in theory. The reality of society completely devolving would be terrible left for dead notwithstanding. Does anyone really want to live in the world left after toilet paper runs out? I’ve done a fair dincum of research regarding preparedness challenges. They break down into four categories from the likely to the improbable. First we’ve got the everyday inconvenience. This covers things like minor accidents, quick fix requirements, headaches, getting stuck in traffic, bottles to be opened, packages to be cut, children to be distracted, objects to be found in darkness…etc. You can handle most of these issues by leaving a simple first aid kit in your car/home/desk, keeping a good multi-tool on hand, stashing a few rolls of duct tape, and leaving a flashlight on your keychain. Since I love gadgets, kits, and bespoke panoply, I usually have the required implement for these sorts of issues. My keychain sports a small Swiss army pocket knife and a steel bottle opener. My day pack/lunch bag carries a Swiss army multi-tool, Dug ritter first aid kit, pen, mag light, and combination corkscrew. I swear the bottle opener gets used every time we go to a friends’ gathering. I’m that guy; the one everyone knows will have a bottle opener—to the point where they don’t even bother asking the hosts for one. My multi-tool sees regular use filing sharp edges on toys, opening/assembling various projects, trimming X, cutting Y, punching holes in Z…etc. Whenever MX gets a boo-boo, Beast has a band aid handy. Whenever there’s not enough light to do something, beast has a flashlight. It honestly surprises me that more people don’t have a variant of this set up as often as mine gets used. Second, there’s the short term emergency. This includes things you can’t patch up in five minutes—your car breaking down in the middle of nowhere, a stitch worthy cut requiring immediate attention, your water/power going out for a day, getting lost on a hike, encountering a major accident…etc. Basically this is any situation that isn’t likely to last more than 24-48 hours that you can’t patch over with the normal contents of your pockets. Here your requirements are going to vary by activity and location. Someone hiking in the desert may want an anti venom kit, sunscreen, extra water, and a reflective poncho. Someone walking through the Rocky Mountains will have very different requirements. Generally you’ll want portable nourishment worth at least 2,000 calories, a quantity of water or purification tablets, short term solutions to heat and shelter, first aid, and general purpose survival materials. In addition to previously mentioned items, my day pack carries 50 feet of paracord, a pocket survival pack, duct tape, a disposable lighter, a miler survival blanket, water purification tablets, and a large insolated steel water bottle. That pack goes with me most places. When I’m going to work the main compartment carries my lunch. When I’m going out gaming it carries my dice. When I’m out hiking it carries a snack and sundry essentials. It’s not what I’d call glamorous, but no matter where I go I have the means to deal with a small scale emergency. In future I plan to add high strength cable ties, tissues, hand sanitizer, and a tube of super glue. The beast survival pack™ is always evolving. Next we have the major emergency. Natural disasters, quarantine, and civil unrest come under this heading. The big difference between minor and major emergency is duration. You’re not just trying to endure a day or two of hardship; you’ve got to survive a week or more under adverse conditions. Some people will want to shelter in place—bunkering down at a fixed location. Others will have a plan to evacuate, often called “bugging out.” I prefer to have both options available as you never know what kind of adversity you could face. Here you want enough food for 2,000 calories for at least a week, water and water purification, hygiene products, first aid supplies, and communication. The assumption is that you’re going to have to provide for yourself for a while either waiting for life to get back to normal or while making your way to a fallback position. We keep a couple cases of bottled water, a full stock of canned vegetables, canned soup, and various nonperishable foods on hand. One of the goals for 2014is to use some of our tax return to grab a full kit from: We keep a selection of survival tools and literature on hand as well in case our home becomes the fall back position for friends. The fourth and most disastrous option is the end of the world. This is one where society as we know it is destroyed with no chance of reconstruction. Here surviving for a couple weeks won’t be enough. You’ll need a means of growing/hunting food, low grade industry, replacing consumables with sustainable local products, alternate power sources…etc. If this happens, I’m going to find some like minded people, who aren’t afraid of a little work and steak a claim to an area while prepping like crazy for a long-hard-season of chaos. I don’t ever expect to have to face this situation, but if it happens there’s not much I can do to prepare for it right now. I have to prepare for options 1, 2, and 3 before worrying about doomsday. Astute readers will note that I haven’t mentioned self-defense yet. Defending yourself, your loved ones, and your property may or may not be in your plans. I could spend several thousand words on the subject and barely end up covering the basics. Put simply, your requirements are going to vary depending on which emergency you are preparing for. States have different laws on what one can and can’t own/carry for this purpose. Employers limit what employees can take on premises. A person guarding against bear attack has different needs than someone on a college campus. There’s the question of whether or not to use tools to fill multiple rolls, survival knives, hunting rifles…etc. There’s the question of how much one wants to stand out—walking around like Rambo will likely draw the wrong kind of attention. There’s the question of what you are qualified and willing to use if defense is required. This is one of those areas where careful thought should be applied. Movies, video games, and books teach us that the answer is to have as much iron-mongery on hand as possible. In reality, guns are only a part of a larger preparedness kit—one that may or may not be appropriate for everyone. Weight today=282.6 pounds. Breakfast=A health shake and a cup of coffee. Work Meal=a pepper turkey wrap, an apple, and a bag of trail mix. Dinner=Leftover chicken potpie stew, biscuits, and banana bread.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The making of an action hero pt36

; The holidays are coming. I say that with a measure of bittersweet reflection. My parents made sure that I remember Christmas and Thanksgiving as a magical time. Maturity has taken some of the shine off the season as wondrous experiences are balanced by real-world concerns. Still, I’m looking forward to this holiday season more than others. Something about this year feels different. Maybe it’s because I have a degree of satisfaction with my job. Maybe it’s something to do with the Brunette and I hosting Thanksgiving for our families. For the first time ever, we’re going to spend Christmas with friends. Maybe it’s having most of our gifts lined up already. Maybe it has something to do with our larger friends group turning to crafty gifts as opposed to throwing $20-$50 around in interchangeable presents. I don’t know. Things just feel more like the holidays are coming—in a good way. Who knows, maybe it’s the prospect of all the little kids at our family gatherings. The other side of that coin is that I’m still looking at my normal holiday malaise—diminished but imminent. For all that fall and winter are my favorite seasons; November and December usually see me a bit less motivated, a bit grumpier, a bit darker, and a bit less desirous of company. I’ve been told that I likely have S.A.D.—which is why I have the light box by my computer now. Whatever the reason I’ve started to notice my supply of “cope” and “drive” going down. Things I used to do on reflex now take effort such as making the health shakes the night before, working on my computer conversion, creative writing, exercise, not-going-to-the-work café, and minimizing snackage. I’ve been successful but not without watching the little things start to fray at the edges. Last week I ate at the work Café twice. Normally I’d call this laziness, but in this case I think it’s something different. I’ve been cutting down on my lunch portions from 3-4 moderate items to 2 items. By noon my stomach is ravening. The hunger isn’t the healthy kind—where you feel your body slimming down as your stomach empties. I was just really hungry. So, I’ve added a bag of salted trail mix back into the work meal with an occasional cheese stick for good measure. Today’s test run left me with no cannibalistic urges. So I think this one’s a winner. I don’t need a lot to eat, but I do neat several distinct items spread between 9am-12pm to tame the beast. After that a handful of unsalted almonds and a couple glasses of water suffice. This weekend was not good for the diet. Saturday morning we had breakfast with Squish and Deathquaker. I had a three egg plate with bacon, grits, harvest toast, a glass of orange juice, and coffee. I could have done without the grits—something I’ll remember for next time. This was high quality food with little grease so while it wasn’t truly healthy I don’t feel bad about it. Next we went to a friend’s home to playtest his d20 modern variant system. One of my unspoken rules is that when you’re going into someone else’s home, you should bring something to share with the group—see my previous posts about food as bonding agent. We brought fresh salsa and some upper end corn chips because they were available when we were grabbing breakfast, I love salsa, and I don’t over indulge on said snackage. One of our peers had the same idea and brought a double box of Duncan doughnuts. I haven’t had doughnuts in over a year. After several, seriously who can eat just one?, I don’t feel like I was missing much. Supposedly there’s a gourmet doughnuttery near us called the fractured prune that achieves levels of perfection otherwise inaccessible by mortals. I’ll have to try that out some time, but not any time soon. Dinner was three pieces of pizza. I managed to refrain from going overboard—hot Italian pie has its draw but not in the way it used to. I dunno, looking at the quality of my intake I lost. Looking at the circumstances surrounding that intake I think I did pretty well. We surely didn’t take much convincing, but then we were somewhat forced by circumstance into all of these meals. I’m not going to hide behind excuses, but I do like the fact that in the face of near limitless junk, I kept the damage down. Sunday started with a health shake and coffee. E.V. came over and helped me with my club video. Squish and Corc had done their best in the past, but I needed a more experienced hand. The steel club workout is as much dance as exercise. You need to get the motions right in order to get the most out of it. So, turns out I was working hard, but not doing a very good job at staying true to form. E.V. straightened me out. I’d be pissed about it, but after several months of consistent dedicated exercise, I know I can fix things and up my game. It will take work, but I’m not afraid of a little sweat. I’ve proven to myself that I can learn—that I will succeed. Knowing that I will win makes the prospect of re-learning three month’s worth of labor not quite so daunting. Later I walked up to the grocery store with black trench coat streaming in the fall wind. My boots struck the pavement decisively. I felt stronger and more present. The weekend was a failure diet wise. But I validated some strengths and learned some important limitations. That’s good enough for now. Today’s weight: 282.2 Breakfast=A health shake and coffee. Work meal=a turkey wrap, an apple, and a bag of salted trail mix. Dinner=left over Ethiopian chicken and rice. Dessert=a glass of chocolate mint wine.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Republic of Thieves

The Republic of thieves is the third entry in author Scott Lynch’s gentlemen bastards series. Following in the footsteps of The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas under Red Skies, this volume finds Jean caring for a rapidly deteriorating Locke. The bondsmagi of Karthain offer the two friends a devil’s bargain—keep to their pride and die free or be cured in return for helping them rig an election. If that weren’t enough, the opposing bondsmagi faction has selected Locke’s long lost love as their champion in the upcoming contest Faced with choosing between a horrible death with pride intact or collusion with his sworn enemy, Locke chooses to live, though with grave reservations. Within a few chapters Lamora is cured and the stage is set for a battle of wits the like of which hasn’t been seen since the gentlemen bastards faced down the gray king and the falconer. Lynch weaves a complex story of romance, vengeance, and betrayal. The republic of thieves is really two stories told concurrently. The first recalls teenage Locke and Sabetha as they find romance against the backdrop of a theatrical production. Jean and the Sanza twins play compelling support roles as the bastards’ skills are tested, love flowers in the face of teenage angst, and a cast of colorful characters builds a story worthy of Shakespeare. Of particular note is Lynch’s inspired flowery prose. His grasp of theatre, poetry, and drama is on full display. The use of the theatrical production as a frame device and grace note is masterfully executed. Sabetha is a three dimensional character—sometimes fighting Locke’s gravity and sometimes giving in to attraction. Lynch does a great job of keeping the witty banter, sharp characterizations, and ingenuity which previously marked the gentlemen bastards while clearly distinguishing them as younger less experienced versions of their future selves The second story follows Locke’s efforts to rekindle his relationship with Sabetha while fighting her attempts to secure victory in the upcoming Karthiny election. The juxtaposition of the two plots gives the reader a unique perspective which adds spice to both narratives, ultimately climaxing with a day of politics, ambition, and intrigue. Here the pacing is forced. Critical events are summarized while minor details are drawn out over multiple scenes. Witty dialog and sharp characterization carry the story at the cost of dramatic momentum. Locke and Jean spend a significant amount of time reacting to Sabetha’s gambits rather than seizing the moment. By the end of the book I began to view the present story as the price I had to pay to get to the good bits from the flashbacks. The book ends on a surprisingly indecisive note. Locke and Jean have little to show for their efforts personally or professionally. The book ends on a clear foreshadowed tone that is slightly tarnished by Lynch’s inability to deliver on the promise of his previous offerings. ***Spoilers Ahead*** I love Scott Lynch’s work. I read the first two books in this series back-to-back. When the audio books came out I bought them and re-read them multiple times. Lynch’s dialog has a way of amusing and enthralling by turns without sacrificing drama for comedy. Locke’s schemes were convoluted but ingenious. Each character had moments of greatness and failure. The setting came alive. I could taste the food, feel the alchemical liquor having its way with me, see the monsters in the depths, touch the clockwork devices, smell the scents of life at sea, and immerse myself in the story without reservation. If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, do it, do it right now. My wife and I jumped on this offering intent on devouring it in its entirety. Lynch had set the bar high and I fully expected him to deliver. My interest spiked as Jean and Locke were drawn into what I thought must surely be a contest of titans, for who but a master could convincingly oppose Locke and be worthy of his love? My experience has been that when romance gets added to a perfectly good series, the characters suffer. I was desperately afraid that Locke would fall to pieces under Sabetha’s attentions. Fortunately that didn’t happen. Locke and Sabetha are strong people with their own demons, their own pasts, and their own passions. They strike sparks off each other—fighting the inevitable, their feelings, and change, but always for good and understandable reasons. I was a little worried when the first third of the book wandered through past and present without a goal. The dialog was great. I loved the insights into Locke’s past. Seeing the Sanza twins in rare form was a treat. But it took a damned long time for the plot to get moving. The writing pulled me in but didn’t push me in any particular direction. Once the plot was well and truly under way I kept finding myself yelling at Locke to “Do something!” In the previous books, Locke either has a plan or is on his way toward a moment of brilliance. Even in failure the gentlemen bastards were inspired schemers—always exceeding my expectations. In the Republic of Thieves, they seem merely competent—often overmatched and prone to predictability. Locke rarely takes the lead and never ascends to his previous heights of genius. By the end of the book I came to morn the loss of the scourge of the wealthy, the tamer of pirates, and the slayer of empires. His substitute is just as witty but half as irresistible. The book ended with me scratching my head saying Huh? That was…weird. Three quarters of the way through I was sure that the election was the appetizer before an epic confrontation between bondsmagi factions with an added helping of gentlemen bastard style chaos. I figured that Locke’s lackluster performance was just a lead up to his awakening in the coming crisis. The book ended with Locke and Jean penniless, Sabetha gone without explanation, and the Bondsmagi resolving their issues without any external input. The ending certainly lays a decent foundation for upcoming books, but begs the question what was the point? Besides curing Locke, why did they have to go through all that? Why was Sabetha presented to us and then snatched from under our noses? I loved the flashback plot. It is everything that I have come to expect from Scott Lynch. You can see the beginnings of future heroes. The story is completely self-contained. If the Republic of thieves had been limited to the flashback segments I would be completely satisfied save for the desire to get my hands on the next volume. Unfortunately the imperfect blending of a peerless reminiscence with a mediocre narrative leaves me with mixed feelings. The Republic of thieves is worth reading, but it doesn’t live up to expectation. I can only hope that the promise shown in the first and second books matures with interest in the fourth.