More Knerdy Knits for the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Summer holidays are just about halfway over. Stores have all their backpacks, and lunch bags, and stationary back out on the shelves. We’ve even had a few cool nights. All this, and the fact that my kids are driving me crazy (*drive* me crazy? I’m close enough to walk) has turned my mind to thinking about back to school. I don’t knit that fast, so anything I started now might be done in time for it to get chilly. Here’s a few of the best I found:

From Purl’s Patterns: The knitted Thinking Cap. If you like zombies, or if you just want to show off all that grey (pink?) matter, then this hat is for you. Pretty awesome huh? What nerdlet wouldn’t love to shamble around the schoolyard, arms extended, growling, “Braaiiinnnnsss! Braaiinnnsss!”?

From Anni Laine on Ravelry: Triforce handwarmers! Zelda has been popular in one iteration or other since I was a kid. Maybe your kids will like them enough that they won’t lose one the first time they were them.

For your young Time lord: the TARDIS hat courtesy of Randi Sanders, also at Ravelry.

They’re gloves. They’re mittens. They’re glittens! Triforce glittens! What more do you need to hear? These amazing wonders come again from Ravelry via Tara Yang. Starting to think you need a Ravelry account? Me too.

For your little Star wars fan: the R2D2 Beanie. Give Carissa Knits a break, and knit it yourself.

There you have it: geeky knitting for the little fanboys and -girls in your life. Because back to school is the best thing EVER.

 

 

Flash Friday with Apologies to Ray Bradbury.

I blame Deadmau5. For making this exist. Because then I had to tell my daughter that it was based on a story, who it was by, and what it was about.

Her: “Well, then what happens? To the kids?”

 Me: “Nothing. It’s a short story. It just ends.”

Her: “Oh.”

If you haven’t read The Veldt, you ought to do. Even if I think Ray Bradbury portrays all women as hysterical, simpering simulacra of actual female persons. 

They had to cut the power to the house from the closest transformer box. It cut power to seven of the neighbours: they emerged from their houses frowning and blinking in the late evening light; so many little red ants on the hardbaked grass. The neighbours hadn’t seen the Hadley family for several weeks, but that was normal.

“I can barely keep track of where my own family is. You can’t expect me to keep track of the family next door.”

The Happylife Home’s Televised Answerator announced itself full and suggested calling later: George Hadley’s employer had given up leaving messages. Doctor McClean missed a dozen appointments before his secretary realised that enquiries ought to be made. He wasn’t picking up, but he was easy to track as his mobile phone transmitted his location every time it passed a receiving tower.

Public records showed five mobile devices inside the house, but the infrared cameras showed only two people. No one left the house without at least one connected device. Dr. McClean was in that particular house, and most likely all four of the Hadleys. But only two of them alive.

The Happylife house was supposed to call 911 automatically when something like this happened. But it hadn’t, indicating a pretty monumental failure in the safety system. The Dudley Do-Rights knocked loudly at the door for several minutes, before attempting to access the house’s central processor.  It was locked down tightly. The battery backup generally had eight good hours of life, so do-not-cross-tape was strung out festively around the yard and officers stationed to cautiously sip coffee and grouse about their bad luck.

“There are no criminal masterminds,” said one of the Dudley Do-Rights to the other, and downed the dregs of his coffee, even though it was burnt and bitter.

An hour and an hour and an hour, and the little buzzing house wound down, and slumped to a stop.  Without power, without the fail safes and backups, the house was just a box after all. Inside the box were three sets of bone-bare gnawed remains, and two very live children. The bodies were brought out into the evening and hastily identified using dental records uploaded to the police car’s computer. A fine mist began to fall and hissed threateningly on the still-hot pavement.

The two children, Peter and Wendy, were safely extracted at last. They were taken for evaluation to the local hospital, until someone could find identify and contact any remaining family.  They were by turns coldly clinical in their dealings with the staff, and utterly hysterical.  They screamed for the playroom, for the house to save them. They scratched and punched at the nurses, and ran for the elevator. It was during one of these turns that they were eventually sedated.

Two Dudley Do-Rights came to interview the children. The girl did nothing now but cry and scratch, and they mostly kept her sedated. But the boy, this Peter was a stone, and he sat the long afternoon grey in a blistered plastic chair beside the bed in his room. Peter stared out the window, his mouth set in a line and a furrow on his brow.

“I know you must be very upset ,” she began, “but we need you to tell us what happened in there. To your parents. And Doctor McClean.”

Peter sat silent and impenetrable.

“They tried to take the playroom away,” he said simply

“I see”, she said. She had suspected but was still surprised at his forthrightness.

“But you must have known that someone would notice? That the household credit would run out? That the power would go off?”

“The house was supposed to take care of us. It was supposed to take care of everything.”

“It was just a house, Peter. Just a house.”

Every Happylife home provided constant video surveillance, ostensibly for the busy parent to check on the children from work, or from the supermarket. Once the house’s main processor was extracted and the video record disgorged the Dudley Do-Rights had everything they needed to know. They didn’t need to ask anything more from Peter and Wendy, who were left to the tender mercies of the hospital’s psychiatric ward.

There was no other family to claim the two children. The nurse administrator crossed her arms sternly. Her voice was white and crisp, and she put her questions to the head of the Psychiatric ward directly.

“What do you intend to do with the Hadley children?”

“They’ll be kept here for the time being. The nation’s top psychiatric experts are here. But of course they can’t stay here indefinitely, and they are too young for prison.”

The nurse administrator shuddered. The thought of what those two angel-eyed children had done chilled the entire room. The department head continued.

“My staff is trying to secure places for them at a wilderness program for troubled youth. A few months roughing it in the woods will do them good.”

“And after that?”

“Peter and Wendy are wards of the state now. We’ve arranged for them to be sent to a lovely residential treatment centre here in the city. They’ll get the treatment they need.”

Tuesday on the Fucking Moon

The moon landing happened (actually happened, tinfoil-hatters) 43 years ago as of July 20, but I’m a little late on the draw. I saw this video on Boing Boing, possibly the best website anywhere, ever. It’s not only the funniest thing I’ve seen this week, but possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. If I were one of the Apollo Astronauts, this is exactly what I would have said. The audio apparently comes to us care of delightful strangeoids, the Evolution Control Committee  

You can watch the actual moon landing at NASA’s website, where there is a lovely photo gallery too. Check out NASA’s home page for a nice tribute to Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who passed away yesterday. I’m a little sad that I had no idea what she was doing for science until she died. Go look around over at Sally Ride Science – they sell home school science curricula!

Moon landing humour is definitely the best thing ever.

Flash Friday: The Long Game Part 2

Oh yeah, now I remember why I don’t do much spacey type fiction. It’s a pain in the gears. You have to spell out all the things you get to assume in stories that happen on Earth. Like breathable air, having a sight-based sensory system, whether plants have a gender. Sigh. I wish I could have had more than a week to research this properly.

Also, I will never again post half a story before the other half is written. I had so many ideas for this half, but they all required changes to the first part – foreshadowing, adding characters. I felt really constrained by what I’d already written. Bleh. Lesson learned on that front. On that happy note, here is the second half of The Long Game.

A domed city that holds an entire biosphere

The wind blew over the Dome bringing a chemical message to the Black Lianas.

“It is time.”

Astrid stood at the podium and paused in her speech. She looked out at the Family, and smiled. So many of the faces reminded her of Terse, some had Artifiss’ lopsided smile, and a few even had her own bright blue eyes. At 157, she was the only colonist left of the original landing crew.

“Back on the Golden Arrow,” she continued, “people often lived into their hundreds, so our Great-great grandfather, Jollowen Podlov, was still alive when I was a little girl on the Golden Arrow. There the only sky was the black of space and its hard white stars.”

Out here on the bleeding edge of civilisation people didn’t often live to a single hundred. Accidental deaths were common: the Family had never quite figured out how to handle the native flora. They’d learned that they couldn’t eat it and they couldn’t trust it.

“We’re here today under the orange sky of our new home. Not so new anymore,” she smiled, “for some of you, it’s the only home you’ve ever known. “Our Great-great grandfather told us stories about the cerulean sky of Earth. He said it was the colour of my eyes. I never quite believed him. But my first glimpse of the sky here, on Arrowhead, was an absolute wonder. I knew we’d come to the right place. Even if it didn’t match my eyes.”

There was scattered laughter and enthusiastic clapping.

Unhurriedly, the Lianas flexed and relaxed, slowly contracting through their entire lengths and then releasing again, squeezing the hard shell of the Warren. They were there to breach the Warren, while the warriors eliminated those who scattered from the wreckage.

From above their heads there was a profound creaking. Astrid steadied herself against the podium. She had heard this sound more and more often lately. Her grandson, Jollo, had assured her that the weight of the vines was well within the load capacity of the dome, but it still made her uneasy. A few people looked up.

The Madagascar Tree didn’t have a name, but it did have a theory. If the theory was correct it would change the way they dealt with the vermin. This particular Madagascar Tree was close to the Warren and sensed the vermin as they came and went. The biting beetles and the pterodactyl-monkeys had always been there. They were small annoyances.

But these vermin had appeared out of nowhere, they were big and they were organized, and the Madagascar Tree was convinced that they were intelligent. Maybe not on the order of rooted creatures, but intelligent. The other warriors did not agree. The chemical messages they sent on the wind indicated disbelief and scorn. He was sure that if he could get hold of one, he could prove that they were sentient. But they never stayed still long enough.

Arc was exhausted but mostly unhurt. Zera and Vallon had left him to rest near the Airlock control room. Vallon was leaving to inform the Family about Caron’s death, but Zera pulled him aside.

“I think something is happening. The trees are coming for us,” she said.

“I’ve never trusted the native plants. No one does,” Vallon ran his hand through his hair. “But they are just plants after all.”

“You heard Arc. The Tree tipped him in. But there’s more: the pressure on the Dome is increasing. It looks to me like the vines are trying to crush it.”

Vallon raised his eyebrows. Zera took his hand and lead him over to a display terminal.

“I can show you. I’ve had a lot of uneventful nights monitoring the Airlocks. The pressure on the Dome has been going up. It comes and goes in these crazy-long, slow motion waves, but each wave is stronger.” She pulled up the relevant datagraphic and highlighted the dome integrity data.

“You see? I think there’s a reason no one trusts the flora here. It can’t be just the strangeness – everyone but Astrid was born here. The signs are there, but our rational minds aren’t putting it together.”

Vallon pursed his lips and considered. The deep bass creaking sounded again through the walls of the monitoring room. Zera and Vallon looked up, although they could only see the metal panelled ceiling. Vallon looked back down at Zera, and raced out of the control room out to the open park space where the Family was gathered.

The Tree had wanted a specimen and now he had one. It was nothing like the creeping beetles or the pterodactyl/monkeys. He didn’t intend to kill it, but he had. Its neural structure was apparently housed in its topmost parts, utterly at odds with the rooted intelligences, who kept their nervous systems safely underground. At least many others could be spared by his discovery.

The Madagascar Tree released its message directly to the Grandmother. He feared that the wind wasn’t favourable for it to reach her. But he persisted.

Jollo helped Astrid seat herself at one of the tables. When she was settled he headed over to the food tables to fetch her dinner. Vallon appeared suddenly from behind the Golden Arrow building, running from the west side of the dome. He ran for Astrid. Jollo was the head of the colony, but Astrid commanded respect nevertheless.

“Astrid Podlov, something’s happening,” Vallon began. “Caron has been killed by one of the Madagascar Trees. They’ve gotten very close.”

Astrid kept her voice down, “What do you think is happening?”

Vallon leaned in close and told her Arc’s story, and Zera’s interpretation.

“Go get Jollo,” Astrid ordered. “He’ll probably want to evacuate into the Golden Arrow’s emergency quarters.”

Finally, the Madagascar Tree received confirmation: the Grandmother had released its message to the Madagascar Trees and to their close cousins, the Black Lianas. “These are not witless beasts”, it said (more or less). “These are intelligences. No eradication. Negotiation is appropriate.”

The Lianas unhurriedly released their grip.

Best Thing Ever: NASA Needs Your Help

 Walking in Space
I got this image from NASA’s website: http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/spacewalk-gallery.html.

Y’all wanted to be astronauts when you grew up right? We were promised moon bases and colonies on Mars. I hate to say it, but after that whole moon landing thing it has all been a bit anticlimactic. Space exploration has kind of gone down the tubes.

But get this: NASA still needs your help! And it’s the kind of help that appeals to the nitpicking detail-oriented tendencies of geeks everywhere. After years of successful rover missions and flybys (ack! How do you pluralize flyby? Someone tell me and I’ll edit this) NASA has a metric butt-tonne of data to sift through. But after years of budget cuts NASA doesn’t have the eyeballs to go through it all manually. You can be those eyeballs! You can be part of the dream. It may not be a vacation on the moon, but it’s still pretty darn neat.

Here’s a round-up of some of the programs NASA wants you to help with:

Help Map Mars:

Those skills you used to comb Star Trek episodes for inconsistencies in plot and costuming choices? You can use them to help map Mars. OCD powers activate! The Be a Martian program has several tasks for you. You can help map Mars by matching small chunks (or tiles) of map, to a large scale, lower resolution map of Mars. Eventually, a complete map of the terrain will be built. You can also count craters, or tag landforms in over 250 000 photos.

Verify Cloud Data:

The Ceres S’COOL project needs people to verify data gathered by the CERES satellite with ground-based observations. You register, they send you satellite overpass times, and you record the cloud types observed (preferably with pictures). This is framed as a school project, but you can register as a museum, library, nursing home, or even a home school (i.e. you and your kids).

Find Star Dust:

The Stardust@home project asks you to help locate interstellar particles in a mass of regular particles collected from Comet Wild in 2004. Find one and you not only get to name it (!) but you also get credited as a co-author on any scientific paper announcing it’s discovery. How frikkin’ cool is that?

You can go here for the full list. There’s no minimum time commitment, (though for the S’COOL project you have to be around for the satellite overpasses), and they credit top performers video game style. This is something you could even get your kids to help with. When their teacher asks them what they did over the summer, they can say they helped map Mars! Beats the hell out of summer camp.

 

Who is stupid enough to think this would work? From John Scalzi’s Whatever Blog…

Whatever

Namely, this dude, who uploaded to Amazon Kindle Store under his own name a bunch of science fiction works by others, including myself, CJ Cherryh, and Robert Heinlein. I’d note that in my case, in addition to ripping me off, he’s also ripping off Bob Eggleton, who did the inside art for the story. A bunch of scathing one-star reviews would be nice.

I will of course be filing a DMCA claim against this schmuck with Amazon in short order (as should all the folks or estates affected), but in the meantime mocking this dude for being stupid enough to think he could get away with this is the order of the day.

Also, Amazon: A little more oversight of Kindle submission process would be lovely.

update: Looks like they were taken down by Amazon. Thanks, you wide river, you!

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Flash Friday: The Long Game Part 1

Looking at my past Friday Flashes, I realized I haven’t written much space-type fiction. So I decided to challenge myself with an alien world offering. Again it got away on me, and got longer than I’d like. While I could just kill everyone off and have done with it, I’ve made a decision (anyone who knows me will understand what a momentous thing _that_ is). I’ll post part one this week and part two next week. But I reserve the right to kill everyone off. What’s the fun in creating a world if you can’t just kill everyone? Amirite?

The Warren was unacceptably close to the Grandmother. Her actual name was more like huge/great/distant progenitor of myselves and others, but if anyone had run a translation algorithm on it, it would likely have spit out ‘Grandmother’. She was the Grandmother, and the vermin were getting close. The elite warriors had been dispatched against the skittering, rootless vermin: they were almost in position.

* * * * *

Astrid looked up. The morning light glowed bloody purple through the twining Black Lianas. The slow growing vines looped and twisted up the sides of the city dome. The sky had already cycled through indigo, violet and red. It settled at last into its customary rusty orange. The oxidized light shone down clearly through the top of the dome only, as the native vines had climbed and grasped their way slowly up the sides.

One hundred years ago this had all been jungle. When the colony ship Golden Arrow had landed all those years past and Astrid had climbed out with Artifiss and Terse all their spouses and children, they had stepped out into a planet apparently inhabited by nothing but iridescent plant-eating beetles and tiny razor toothed pterodactyl/monkeys.

Now the great dome was only a part of the habitat complex that made up Arrowhead. The ship itself had converted into the first habitat, and it remained the centrepiece of the main dome where the market, schools, and public areas of the settlement were. On the outer arms of the dome, connected by tunnels, were the gardens, the farms, and the homes of the settlers.

Today was the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Arrowhead. As the oldest living settler, Astrid had been asked to say a few words before the colonists began celebrating in earnest. The children had made paper chains to string from the low bushes around the park and in front of the Golden Arrow, which was now an administrative building and communications hub. A podium had been set up for her speech, along with rows of folding tables and chairs. Astrid watched fondly as food was brought out and the family began to gather.

A dozen youngish children chased and ducked through the grass barefoot and bare-chested. The children were a sort of muddy freckle-splotched grey, their dark hair purplish in the plant shade. Astrid watched as a smiling caretaker came out from the nearby crèche and waved her hands toward the group.

“Terrin! Sol!”

Two heavily freckled girls with frizzled curly hair came out of the crowd and plastered themselves to her. She ruffled their hair.

* * * * *

Arc stumbled into the West Airlock. As the outer door sealed and breathable air poured into the transparent room, he unsealed his helmet and pulled it off. He was still breathing hard and ragged with the effort of running in his heavy gear, and his hair fell in saggy ringlets around his shoulders. He braced himself against the wall with one arm and looked up as the wind gently stirred the purple leaves of the heavily woven Black Liana vines on the dome above.

On the other side of the airlock was a changing room with benches and cleaning facilities.  Zera and Vallon sprang through the hatchway as soon as the lock shooshed open and dragged Arc in by the shoulders. They helped him to a bench. Zera started to undo the pressure snaps on his environmental suit, and Vallon wiped Arc’s hair back out of his eyes.

“Caron’s dead. Madagascar Tree,” Arc panted, starting to rise. “We need to warn. To warn the family.”

“You need to sit down,” Zera replied, pushing him back down. “We need to make sure you aren’t injured. Tell Vallon and he’ll warn the family.”

“About a mile away in the big clearing. I’ve never seen a Madagascar Tree that close. Caron didn’t fall. The tree tipped him right in.”

There had always been accidents with the native plants, especially with the Madagascar Trees. Of course they weren’t really trees, just tree-ish. They had long supple branches tipped with bucket sized leaf cups, filled with digestive enzymes. They could digest anything small enough to fall in. A human was too big to be eaten whole, but lots of unfortunate travelers had stepped in and watched in horror as the leg of their environmental suit dissolved. With the suit breached, the noxious atmosphere poured in and the wearers died fast or slow, depending. An unlucky few had tumbled in headfirst.

There had never been any near Arrowhead. They were concentrated around a gargantuan, ancient stand of Black Liana, over one hundred kilometers away. But several years ago the people had noticed them popping up closer and closer.