An automotive addendum

December 23, 2020 1 comment

Since it was fairly warm this afternoon (which meant I didn’t have to worry about my car being sluggish to start due to cold lubricants or whatever), I took that drive I mentioned above, to recharge my car battery and test the GPS on my new phone. Turns out the battery ran dry again even in just the two days since my grocery trip, so said trip was nowhere near long enough to charge the battery. And for a few moments, I was worried that my jump-starter battery pack wasn’t working. The cable bit that plugs into it is supposed to go from flashing red and green to solid green to let you know it’s working, and it wouldn’t go green. It eventually did, though, when I happened to tilt it 90 degrees from the way it naturally rests, though I don’t know if that was cause and effect or coincidence, since it stayed engaged when I tilted it back. Anyway, I started the car and moved on to the next thing.

The USB adapter worked fine, letting me plug in my 6-foot charging cable, and the GPS worked smoothly too. But I’m out of practice at looking down at the screen as the phone rests in the cup holder, or else the angle was less amenable with the new phone somehow, even though it’s a bigger and brighter screen. I’ve never felt particularly safe doing that anyway. What I really need now is some kind of phone mount for my dashboard or dashtop or whatever you call that flattish surface under the windshield. The cable is easily long enough to reach even from the outlet in the back seat (the lighter in the front doesn’t work as a power outlet, I guess because the designers figured only passengers would need one, since the car predates smartphones).

Not that I expect to need it anytime soon, as I said above. I thought about maybe going to some store or other, maybe pick up some food at a drive-thru, but I decided I’d rather not deal with exchanging cash with anyone, and I only have a few bucks in my wallet anyway. I ended up just driving around the neighborhood, including some areas I haven’t been to in years if at all, just so I could experience the change of scenery. I was willing to risk getting a little lost since I had a working GPS again. But I didn’t need it. I still have a fairly good sense of the layout of the area and knew which way I needed to go.

Although the same can’t be said for everyone. As I was coming up along the one-way street leading to my home street, another car was approaching me the wrong way in the same lane! But they were on the other side of an intersection and they turned off before they and I got too close — also going the wrong way into a one-way turn lane. I hope they got back on the right side of the 2-way street they turned onto after that. At least, I didn’t hear any evidence to the contrary.

Given how effective my little pocket-sized jump-starter pack is, I wonder why car batteries need to be so big and heavy anyway. I guess a car battery is meant to hold a greater amount of charge, though, since it’s used for more than just starting the ignition. Isn’t it? Also, the pack always needs at least two tries to start the car. I guess you want a larger charge in the battery to make it more reliable — providing you use the car often enough for the darn thing to hold onto its charge.

I didn’t really think I was using the car that much less frequently than I did before the pandemic. Maybe about half as often, at a guess. But I suppose the distance I drive is much less, just to the neighborhood grocery store and back, which is only about a mile every couple of weeks. That was still my most common destination before, but it wasn’t the only place I drove to.

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Taking stock as life settles down a bit

I think I’m in a pretty good place right now, relative to how things have been for the past few years and especially this year. I just finished that novel manuscript I’ve been working on, more than a week ahead of schedule, so I have time to tweak it and send it to a friend for consultation on his area of expertise. The writing on this one went really smoothly. I really struggled with the Star Trek novel I was working on before then, since I was dealing with depression and anxiety from being broke and isolated, and I had a really hard time overcoming writer’s block. But I guess I was feeling better with this new project, more optimistic, plus I was able to keep up the momentum I finally gained in the last week or so of the Trek novel, and maintained good writing habits so I didn’t lose it, managing to write at least something every single day.

Although I suspect maybe coffee was a factor. During my long period of depression this year, I started to suspect that coffee was giving me anxiety attacks, so I mostly avoided it unless I was really sleepy, and just had tea. But I eventually figured out that coffee was, at worst, amplifying the anxiety I was feeling for other reasons. I resumed having a cup every morning toward the end of my Trek novel to give me an extra boost, and I kept it up throughout this new novel, and I wonder if that made the difference. I remember that I had a similar amazing burst of productivity about five and a half years ago, not long after I first started drinking coffee (see Coming up for air). But it didn’t persist later on, so I started to question if there was any correlation with coffee. Maybe it’s a function of starting to drink coffee regularly after being off it for a while. I gather the body become desensitized to caffeine over time.

Anyway, it also helped that I was really enthusiastic about this new project, which was enormous fun to write. And it helped that it had a big, long, busy climactic sequence; things like that really give me a lot of momentum, as opposed to a more fragmented plot structure with lots of different threads of action happening separately. (Something to keep in mind in the future.) So I wrote a really huge amount, nearly 15,500 words (more than 20% of the total) in the final four days. When I managed to produce more than 4500 words on Thursday, I felt exuberant. But by Sunday, I was more like, “Help! How do I stop myself? My arms are so tired!”

But now I’m done with my first revision pass and have a week left to deadline, plus I’m waiting for my consultant’s comments, so I have time to relax a little and take stock before moving onto the next thing. It’s not easy to get back into that mode, though, after these past few months of having to write as fast as I could to finish two consecutive novels in time to avoid going broke. To paraphrase Doctor Who: “Robot,” I’ve been cultivating a sense of urgency for quite a while now, and it’s weird to think that I can finally relax, at least for a little while.

But it helps that some aspects of my life are starting to stabilize a bit. I have money in the bank again from the Trek manuscript, and once I get the payment for the just-finished novel (which I think will be announced quite soon so I can finally be more specific), I’ll be even better off. I was finally able to buy some stuff that I’ve needed for a while. For one thing, I bought some adaptors so that my Micro-USB charging cables will be compatible with my new phone’s USB-C connector. Which means I can finally use GPS in my car again (not that I’ve needed to anytime this year), and I expect Google Maps to work much more smoothly on the new phone than on the old one, which evidently didn’t have enough RAM for it or wasn’t up-to-date enough and kept crashing on Maps these past couple of years. Indeed, since the new phone came with its own charging cable, that means I can keep my 6-foot cable in the car permanently for keeping the phone charged on long drives — although I still don’t expect to be taking any until at least late next year, given how long it will probably take to get the pandemic under control.

Still, I’m thinking I should try it out with a test drive soon, probably today. I’ve needed to use my battery pack to jumpstart the car the past two times I’ve gone for groceries, which tells me I need to take it for a longer drive to build up a fuller charge. I gather it’s best to drive for at least half an hour every month or so to keep it charged — though I’m starting to suspect the problems with my car’s electrical system might be draining the battery, or maybe it’s just not a great battery, though at least it’s just draining and not dead.

My recent purchase also included a replacement for my old 2-quart water bottle that I kept in the fridge and also used for travel. I’ve been using an empty apple juice bottle as a substitute, but the narrower spout was less than ideal and I wasn’t confident about how safe or durable that plastic was for long-term reuse. It’s a relief to have a new bottle of exactly the same kind as the old, a nice feeling of restored normality.

I was also using an empty juice bottle to store iced tea in. I’d worked out a system where I’d fill the bottle with 3 pints of cold water, then steep two iced-tea bags (making 1 qt each) in a measuring cup with 1 1/2 cups of water, then add sweetener and lemon juice to the concentrated tea, fill the measuring cup with a further 1/2 cup of ice and cold water, let it cool a bit, and then use a funnel to pour it into the juice bottle. But again, I wasn’t confident about using those bottles long-term. So I bought a new pitcher that I thought I’d use for iced tea. But it was too small, with 2 quarts filling it nearly to the brim. But I quickly realized: my orange juice pitcher is larger, and one can of juice concentrate only makes around 1 1/2 quarts. So I’m now using the new pitcher for orange juice and the old pitcher for iced tea. Which is fine except that the new pitcher’s lid is much harder to turn in place or pull out. Still, it’s an improvement over the juice bottles.

So things feel a bit more normal now. I do still have some writing work I need to get to soon, but no firm deadlines on anything yet, so I should take advantage of the respite and give myself a chance to slow down and relax. I’ve been enjoying this burst of productivity and I’m afraid I’ll have trouble getting it back again once I let it lapse, but I can’t keep driving myself this hard indefinitely. Hopefully I can remember the good writing habits I’ve cultivated lately and have an easier time getting back into the groove later on. Being more financially stable and less desperate should help. But for now, I think I’ve earned a rest.

Arachne notes are now up!

I just did that major website update I promised yesterday. Here’s the main Arachne page:

The Arachne Saga

There, you’ll find ordering links, discussion, links to old blog posts about the writing process, as well as links to the annotations and worldbuilding notes for the novel. These include a new gallery page:

Aliens of the Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe

This page contains concept sketches and notes for all the alien species that appear in Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile, as well as the two species featured in my ATU story “Twilight’s Captives.” I figured I should have a central ATU-aliens page that I could expand on in the future. I initially planned to hold off on revealing the Exile species until the book came out (though I already previewed them for my Patreon subscribers several months ago), but I figured it might be out in a few weeks anyway, and revealing the aliens’ appearance doesn’t really give away any major plot spoilers. If anything, hopefully it will spark curiosity about these species and their roles in the novel.

As a teaser, here’s the height comparison chart I whipped up from my pencil sketches and a free downloadable height-chart template I found online, doing some quick-and-dirty coloring or tinting on the black-and-white sketches:

Arachne Saga alien height chart
Height chart for species from ARACHNE’S CRIME (top) and ARACHNE’S EXILE (bottom). Green Blaze (1.67 m) included for scale.

As you can see, it’s a diverse galaxy out there, and humans are fairly small in the grand scheme of things, in more ways than one. Also, aliens usually face left for some reason.

I also did an update to my main Original Fiction index page, streamlining its layout so that it’s mainly just links to the more detailed book and series pages, and organizing it into distinct sections for the ATU, the Hub Universe, and miscellaneous short fiction. I’ve been meaning to do that for quite some time, but I needed to wait until I had at least one Arachne novel cover.

This is a good day

December 14, 2020 5 comments

Look what the UPS guy just dropped off!

(That’s my phone screen reflected in the cover, so technically this is one of those infinity images…)

Yes, I finally have my author copies of Arachne’s Crime! Now I can confirm the page numbers on my annotations, so expect a major website update very soon.

Also today, I finally got my manuscript delivery advance for my next Star Trek novel, which hopefully will be announced before much longer. Once again, I managed to get an advance just in the nick of time before I ran out of money to pay my bills. And this really should be the last time I get that close to the brink, because I’m already working on that other big project I’ve been hinting at, which should be announced later this month. That project, along with my other various, increasingly diverse sources of writing income, should bring me enough over the next year to pay off my debts at last. Beyond that, my long-term goal will be to keep earning enough to accumulate some real savings for the future, and I hope I can continue to gain Patreon subscribers and novel buyers to help me out with that. But I can finally be confident that I’ve broken the cycle of climbing a little way up from the brink and then sliding back again.

Also today, I got a book sent to me as a gift from my cousin, a Harley Quinn graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki, who’s new to me but whom I’ve heard good things about. I’m glad my cousin texted me to remind me, since I was distracted by the whole Arachne thing, and by trying to get my selfie to work. (My new phone is very hard to keep a grip on when it’s out of its makeshift case. Why do they make these things so slippery? Probably to make more money selling phone cases.)

And of course, today is the day the Electoral College makes it official, and the day people start receiving the first COVID vaccines. So it feels like today — Monday, December 14, 2020 — is the official beginning of the end of the bad times, although climbing back up will still take time and work, both for me and for the country.

Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe chronology

Inspired by a similar thread my friend Keith R.A. DeCandido did recently, I figured that with Arachne’s Crime now on sale and Arachne’s Exile about to be released, this would be a good time to make a list of all the stories in what I’m now calling the Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe (since pretty much every story in it connects at least peripherally to either the Troubleshooter series or the Arachne duology) in their narrative chronological order. So here we go, using the era designations from the Historical Overview in Among the Wild Cybers:

Strider Era

November 2083: “The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of” (Footprints in the Stars): Origin of the Troubleshooter Corps

March 2085 – October 2091: Only Superhuman Ch. 3, scenes 1-5: Early childhood of Emerald Blair

February 2092: “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” (Among the Wild Cybers): Key incident in cyber rights

August 2098: Only Superhuman Ch. 3, final scene: Formative tragedy of Emerald Blair

April 2100 – January 2106: Only Superhuman Ch. 6, 10 & 14: Maturation of Emerald Blair

November 2106: “Aspiring to Be Angels” (AtWC): Emerald becomes the Green Blaze

May 2107: “They Also Serve” (Patreon exclusive): Vignette adjacent to Only Superhuman Ch. 1

May – December 2107: Only Superhuman main body: Green Blaze faces the Vanguard crisis

June 2108: “Conventional Powers” (Analog): Green Blaze at Ceres Mod-Con

c. 2112-15: Arachne’s Crime Ch. 1, scene 1 flashbacks: Childhood of Stephen Jacobs-Wong

Early Interstellar Era

2142: “Comfort Zones” (Kickstarter/Patreon exclusive): First meeting of Stephen Jacobs-Wong and Cecilia LoCarno

mid-2140s: Arachne’s Crime subsequent Ch. 1 & 5 flashbacks: Development of Arachne expedition

April – May 2176: Arachne’s Crime Part 1 [replacing “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” (AtWC)]: Arachne destroys Chirrn habitat Lesshchi en route to colonize Cybele; crew put on trial by Chirrn

September – November 2176: Arachne’s Crime Part 2: Arachne crew deals with aftermath of trial

November 2176: Arachne’s Exile: Arachne crew introduced to larger galactic society

2202: “The Weight of Silence” (AtWC): Early FTL research in Sol system

November 2250: “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” (AtWC): Cybele colonists face long-term consequences of Arachne‘s disappearance

Warp Era

2315: “Twilight’s Captives” (AtWC): Madeleine Kamakau negotiates conflict between Planetary Commonwealth and Nocturne League

c. 2480: “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” (AtWC): Love story between two long-lost human refugees in a remote star system

For information on the books and stories, see my Original Fiction page.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – ARACHNE’S CRIME

ARACHNE’S CRIME is on NetGalley in December for reviewers, librarians, and book vendors: https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/210157

For a sample, here’s an excerpt of the opening scenes from the eSpec Books blog.

eSpec Books

I may have already posted this one…or one similar to this, when we were funding the book, but I am giving myself a do-over now that we have a cover for the book!

I give you an excerpt from Christopher L. Bennett’s Arachne’s Crime!


FB-McP-ArachnesCrimeOne

Stephen kept his eyes on the lights in the sky, even as he lay in the mud. The more they tried to beat him down, the more he took comfort in the heights humanity could reach.

“Look up there,” he told them once he’d grown strong enough to defend himself and win the chance to be heard. “Look at what we have the potential to achieve if we use our energies together instead of wasting them against each other.”

At first, Benjamin was his only audience, gazing up with him at the points of light that swept across the heavens. Stephen spoke to inspire…

View original post 1,751 more words

More book news: My X-Men novel is getting an audiobook!

While checking the online bookstores for their Arachne’s Crime listings, I stumbled upon another discovery. Dreamscape Media, which now holds the Marvel Comics audiobook license and reprinted GraphicAudio’s full-cast adaptation of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder a while back, will soon release a more conventional audiobook version of my 2006 novel X-Men: Watchers on the Walls, read by Frankie Corzo. It’s due January 26, 2021, and can be preordered here:

Order from Amazon

Order from Barnes & Noble

X-Men Watchers on the Walls

The audiobook cover isn’t out yet, so here’s the original cover art for now. Here’s the original book description, though I don’t know if Dreamscape will use the same text.

For years, many have believed that the rise of superpowered mutants represents a threat to the survival of ordinary humans. The uncanny X-Men have dedicated their lives to proving that peaceful coexistence is possible. When a refugee spacecraft crashes on Earth, hounded by a warship bent on its destruction, the X-Men race to the rescue — only to learn that it carries beings of an entirely different order whose very existence may jeopardize life as we know it.

Now, facing a direct threat to all life on Earth, the X-Men grapple with an impossible moral dilemma — to defend the aliens whose only crime is being born different . . . or to embrace the methods of those who have long condemned mutantkind, joining forces with their own greatest persecutors to go hunt down their common enemy and end the evolutionary menace, once and for all.

Anyway, the audiobook version has apparently had the title tweaked a little; if the listings are correct, it’s now The X-Men: Watchers on the Walls. So it’s more definite now, I guess. Whatever the title, I’m glad it’s finally getting an audio adaptation and a new lease on life. It only took 15 years!

ARACHNE’S CRIME is out today!

December 1, 2020 1 comment

Today is the day! The story more than 22 years in the making is finally released! Arachne’s Crime has just gone on sale in trade paperback and e-book editions!

Is this a dream… or a nightmare? 

The crew of the interstellar colony vessel Arachne is roused from artificial hibernation to face a horrific reality, as an alien boarding party takes them into custody to answer for the deaths of tens of thousands of sentient beings.

But there is more to their trial than meets the eye, and the threads of intrigue weave a tight web as crewmates and friends are divided between those who feel they owe restitution for the actions of the ship’s AI in their defense, and those who refuse to bow down to a judgment they see as persecution.

What future can they hope to build among aliens who see them as mass murderers… presuming they have a future at all?

Available from:

The Amazon TPB and e-book entries will probably be combined soon. Other vendors’ links will be added on the home page as they become available.

“Vein Glory” on Patreon!

This month’s original story on Patreon has gone live, coincidentally at the same time Arachne’s Crime got its cover reveal (and I’m informed the novel has just gone to press, and Kickstarter backers have received their e-book copies.) It’s the second bonus story I offered with that Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, a short SF/fantasy hybrid called “Vein Glory,” which is one of only two vampire-themed stories I’ve ever written or probably ever will. As always, it’s available to patrons at the $10/month Fiction tier or above, and the story’s annotations are also online at the $12/month Behind the Scenes tier. Here are the links:

Fiction: “Vein Glory”

“Vein Glory” Annotations

COVER REVEAL – ARACHNE’S CRIME

November 26, 2020 1 comment

Here’s the final cover!

eSpec Books

FB-McP-ArachnesCrime

Cover art and design by Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics

Is this a dream… or a nightmare?

The crew of the interstellar colony vessel Arachne is roused from artificial hibernation to face a horrific reality, as an alien boarding party takes them into custody to answer for the deaths of tens of thousands of sentient beings.

But there is more to their trial than meets the eye, and the threads of intrigue weave a tight web as crewmates and friends are divided between those who feel they owe restitution for the actions of the ship’s AI in their defense, and those who refuse to bow down to a judgment they see as persecution.

What future can they hope to build among aliens who see them as mass murderers… presuming they have a future at all?


Christopher L. Bennett

Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a B.S. in Physics…

View original post 188 more words

ARACHNE’S CRIME cover art!

It’s been a while, but it was worth the wait… Here’s Mike McPhail’s cover art to Arachne’s Crime!

Arachne's Crime cover art

Pretty striking, huh? It’s a more symbolic image than I expected, not a scene that literally takes place in the novel — at least, not physically. But what it represents is critical to the story, an excellent choice of focus.

I got to suggest a bit of an in-joke — the “18:11” under “CYBELE” is a nod to Analog Volume CXVIII No. 11, the issue containing my debut story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” of which the first half of this novel is a revised and greatly expanded version.

The folks at eSpec Books are working on the title text and such, and we should have a final cover reveal any day now. Which means the novel should be very close to going on sale at last!

More phone notes

November 10, 2020 5 comments

Still getting to know my new smartphone…

  • I’ve settled on using the vinyl bank book holder as a protective sleeve for my phone. It really works surprisingly well, though it would be perfect if it were about a centimeter shorter. Indeed, it’s easier to grip than the phone’s somewhat slippery case. I have my doubts about its durability, but I definitely prefer it. I did have to cut a hole in the clear plastic to accommodate headphone and power cords; the first time I did that, I subsequently found there were some numbers in ink on the inside of the clear layer, transferred from a bank book or something, and they wouldn’t come out. Luckily the thing’s symmetrical, so once I checked that the other side was clear, I had to cut a hole in that side and use it instead. And then I determined that it’s best not to charge the phone while it’s in the sleeve, since it gets kind of hot. Also I prefer to use the glasses case to hold it when I’m listening to an audiobook. So maybe I didn’t need to cut a hole at all.
  • I discovered that MS Office (Word included) is pre-installed on the phone, so theoretically I could save my prose files on the cloud and write or edit them on the phone. Although they open in read-only mode by default, and it took some research to figure out how to make them editable (you have to save a local copy on the phone). I’m undecided whether to try it. I’m not very practiced at typing on a phone screen — I’m not much of a texter — so it would probably be slow and not very comfortable. But making a change in where and how I write can help against writer’s block, so it might be worth a try. At the very least, it could work as an emergency backup if something happened to my laptop.
  • I found that the phone has a “side screen” that you can open that has various built-in tools like a compass, level, ruler, and flashlight control. Oddly, the directions the compass claims as due north and due south are only 143 degrees apart (I checked with a ruler and protractor). Several attempts with the “Calibrate” button failed to correct the problem. Either the app is inaccurate, or my apartment is a space warp.
  • Followup: I looked into it online, and apparently you’re supposed to calibrate the compass away from magnetic objects. It was a nice day, so I took a (masked) walk up to the local park to get as far out in the open as I could, and my recalibration attempt there was successful. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually need a compass — I never have before, and there was actually a time way back in the day when I did carry a small compass in my backpack just in case — but if I have one anyway, it might as well actually work.
  • I’ve discovered that a number of the New York Times puzzle games are easier to play on a smartphone than a computer screen. I’d wondered, in particular, why the Spelling Bee game was so unwieldy in that you had to click on the letters instead of being able to type out the words. It makes sense if it was designed for a touch screen.
  • This phone’s native weather app doesn’t auto-update when you unlock the phone like my old one did. You have to tap it, or set it to update on a schedule. The weather radar app I use has an alternate widget I could try, but I don’t like its design.
  • I also miss the light on my old phone that blinked to alert me to a new text message, e-mail, voicemail, or whatever. Now I don’t see any notification without turning on my phone. There’s a notification sound when a message arrives, at least if I have it turned on, but that doesn’t help me after the fact if I miss hearing it.
  • Plus it annoys me that the ringtones and notification sounds on modern phones don’t have any nice, simple rings and beeps, just these annoying musical phrases. I did find a ringtone that sounds like an ’80s telephone, which is tolerable. But when I tried using the timer, there were no nice, simple “ding” or “beep” options for the notification sound.
  • I have to retrain my muscle memory for turning the screen on. My old phone had a front button I tended to use for that, but this one only has a side button. It goes on if you tap the front a few times, or if you move it suddenly while touching the screen, but I’m still figuring out its triggers.
  • There’s also an “Always On Screen” that shows the time and charge level and such on the black screen when I tap it once, as well as the temperature from my weather radar app. I wish I could increase its font size, since I often don’t have my glasses on when I want to take a quick look at it. But I checked, and apparently there’s no way to do that. The font can be enlarged elsewhere, but not there.
  • I’m getting more spam calls and texts than before. I think it must be because I failed to back up my old phone’s data, which might have included my block lists.
  • Battery life seems comparable to my old phone. I’m generally charging once a day, and that’s to keep it in what I gather is the recommended charge range for modern phone batteries, between 50 and 80 percent. It charges pretty quickly, at least as fast as the old one did with the newer cord I bought last year.
  • Oh, I’m so glad that I’m now able to have a fully functional Firefox app on my phone with access to all my desktop (or rather laptop) bookmarks. Before, I could only get Chrome to sync bookmarks between devices, but it’s inconvenient to keep importing updated Firefox bookmark lists into a browser I rarely use, so I only occasionally got around to doing that. Now that’s no longer necessary. The Firefox app doesn’t let me access my bookmarks as easily as my laptop browser, but I’ve already found that the phone lets me view a couple of sites that my older, refurbished Windows 7 laptop has trouble with (including FiveThirtyEight’s election update liveblog, which sometimes fails to load on my laptop).
  • I discovered a surprising new quirk of the phone — its calendar widget not only popped up a notification of my upcoming deadline on the phone, but somehow transmitted one to my laptop as well. I didn’t know it could do that and didn’t ask it to. I’m not sure how it did. From the placement of the message’s tab on the bottom bar, it was associated with my e-mail client somehow, evidently through the Gmail account connected to my cell number, but I’ve never seen the client display that ability before. Anyway, I’ll have to try to remember to set it not to do that anymore.
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Hope lives again!

Four years ago, after the horror of seeing the results of the 2016 election come in, I made a post called “What do we do now?”, expressing my fears of what a Trump presidency would mean — all of which subsequently came true, and then some, because all this was incredibly predictable even then — but also trying to find rays of hope for the future. My hopes for the short term failed to materialize. The past four years have been an ongoing disaster, an unprecedented assault on American society and values. I always expected Trump to lead us into an unnecessary war that would cause enormous death and suffering. I never anticipated his war would be waged directly against Americans.

This year, the polls and forecasts gave me hope that we could end this hell. Joe Biden was not my first choice for the nomination (I liked Elizabeth Warren), but he was a good choice, a good and decent human being and a proven, competent statesman — and Kamala Harris struck me as a good choice for VP, and perhaps for the top of the ticket in time. But I was burned four years ago, so I couldn’t let myself grow complacent. I knew that if Trump won again, legitimately or through trickery and theft, it would probably mean the end of democracy, the solidification of fascism and kleptocracy. This might be our last chance.

For much of Wednesday, I feared the worst and despaired for the future. Then the tide started to turn as the absentee votes were slowly counted. By the end of the day, I felt cautiously optimistic. It was a thrill to wake up Thursday morning and see the news on my new phone that Biden had pulled into the lead. For the two days since, I’ve been waiting with everyone else for the expected outcome to be made official. I suspect any normal, rational incumbent who cared more about the stability of the nation than his own ego and power (and fear of prosecution and bankruptcy once he’s out of office) would have conceded by Thursday night.

But now we can say it — President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. In any other year, the fact that we elected a woman to the executive branch for the first time, let alone a woman of color, would be the story. It’s amazing, and long overdue, though still only halfway there. But under the circumstances, it’s just one part of a bigger story — the story of bringing America back from the brink, of preventing the most corrupt, incompetent, and evil chief executive in generations (if not ever) from continuing to entrench fascist rule.

I find that my faith in America’s institutions has been restored. Trump and the GOP did everything they could to sabotage democracy and subvert the will of the people. They stacked the courts with appointees they expected to hand the election to them no matter the outcome. They spent months creating doubt about the integrity of our elections. They sabotaged the post office to try to keep absentee ballots from getting through, restricted the number of drop boxes and polling places to make it harder for people to vote, and did everything they could to disenfranchise voters.

They did manage to come closer than they should have. They probably managed to hold the Senate, which is dangerous. But our laws and institutions withstood the assault better than I feared. The post-election attempts to subvert the count with bogus lawsuits went nowhere, thrown out by those judges who were expected to be rubber stamps. In that and other ways, the mechanisms in place to keep elections fair did their job. Moreover, I’ve heard that a number of attempts by right-wing extremists to commit terrorist acts against Democrats and the electoral process have been quietly thwarted by law enforcement, with multiple arrests happening before the parties in question could inflict any harm. It seems our country’s immune system isn’t as badly impaired as I’d feared.

It’s still going to be a long, hard struggle to rebuild, and there will still be fierce resistance from the faction that’s been radicalized by decades of right-wing media. But we’ve won the first battle now, and I have renewed hope for the future. As I said in my post four years ago, I believe we’re playing out a recurring historical cycle and that eventually the turmoil of the crisis era would be resolved by a new generation that would bring us to a new era of prosperity. But I feared how long it might be and how much more suffering and death we might have to go through before that point could be reached. A second civil war? A resistance movement against a dictatorship? Would a writer like me have to flee the country to escape the anti-intellectual purges? Instead, we’ve managed to avoid that. Hopefully these next couple of months before Inauguration Day will be the worst of it, and then we can begin the slow climb back upward.

I’d really gotten tired of seeing the bad guys win. It’s such a relief that we came through in the climax.

This meme has been going around all over, but I’m going to post it too, because it sums up this feeling so well:

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New phone notes

October 31, 2020 2 comments

This is a collection of discoveries and observations I’ve made about my new phone. I figured I’d let them build up over a few days before I posted them.

  • It turns out that the power cord uses a USB-C plug rather than MicroUSB. The battery pack gizmo I got earlier this year for jumpstarting my car uses the same connector, so I was able to use the phone cord to recharge the battery pack. It looks like you can get Micro/C adaptors online for only pennies more than the cost of shipping, but the cost of shipping is a bit high.
  • As I mentioned in reply to a comment on my previous post, I figured out how to get the music player to display the files in device memory. I had to look it up online. Why don’t electronics come with proper instruction manuals anymore? I guess because we can look it all up online.
  • Well, whaddaya know? The hands on the icon for the clock app actually tell the time! That’s clever, for the icon itself to be a functional source of information. I prefer using the digital clock widget, though. Some people are good at reading analog clock faces by the hand positions, but I prefer having numbers to look at.
  • The screen automatically brightens and dims with the light level. That’s very useful.
  • I got an email from Google Play offering me the chance to reinstall apps from my old phone — including some I’d uninstalled long ago. Anyway, I took the opportunity to do something I was planning to do eventually anyway, and install my bank’s mobile app which wouldn’t work on my old phone. It works on this phone, so now I have the ability to mobile-deposit checks. Of course, most of my publishers pay me by direct deposit now anyway, but it could be handy.
  • I noticed a free compass app on Google Play and tried it out. For some reason, it defined north as whatever direction the phone was pointing when I opened the app. That one got uninstalled quickly.
  • I’ve discovered that the phone fits almost perfectly into an old pouch-style glasses case I have, which would be good for carrying it around outside, except the pouch doesn’t close on top. I’m debating between that and the alternate option of a vinyl bank book holder. The phone is about the size and shape of a checkbook, so it fits perfectly inside the clear plastic sleeves, and I can even work the phone through the plastic cover. That could be very handy for outdoors use, but I’d have to take the phone out to use headphones, charge it, or take outward-facing photos/video.
  • Following up on that, I tried the glasses case when I went out for grocery pickup, and it was a bit awkward to pull the phone out of the case without pulling the case out of my pocket. That’s a point in favor of the bank book holder, although I’m thinking I may need to reinforce its spine with some tape so it holds up to frequent opening and closing. I realized I could also cut a hole in the plastic for the headphones and power cord.
  • I was also finally able to get the Kroger app to work and use it to notify them of my arrival. I had a bit of trouble hitting the buttons, though; I had to hold my finger on them rather than just tap. I wonder, was the app running slow, or was the screen having trouble reading my finger’s heat because it was warm from being in the pouch in my pocket?

Meanwhile, my shopping trip was a bit harrowing in another way. The main reason for my rush to get a new phone this week was because I was running out of my heartburn pills that I take daily, so I needed to get groceries before they ran out. But it turned out they were out of stock at Kroger and I wasn’t offered an alternate option. And I only had one pill left. So I decided to brave the Walgreens across the lot from the Kroger store, reminding myself that the risk is minimal if you’re only inside for a few minutes with proper safeguards. It’s only the second time during the pandemic that I’ve been inside a public building (the first being the post office), and though everyone was masked and distancing, I still wish there had been fewer people.

And yes, I did look into the possibility of curbside pickup at Walgreens, but it looks like they only offer it for certain items, which is weird.

Anyway, I got to use my new credit card’s “tap” payment function, where you just hold it against the scanner. I’d gotten the impression that you just waved the card over it briefly, but you have to hold it against it while it checks and approves the card. Took me a couple of tries to figure that out.

So weird to live in a world where we have such technological advancements and conveniences undreamt of by our forerunners, but have regressed a hundred years when it comes to public health and pandemic response.

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Phoning it in, Part 2

October 29, 2020 2 comments

Predictably, despite my hopes of getting back to work today, I’ve continued to try out my new phone and get to know its features. It’s good to be able to listen to audiobooks again, and a couple of apps that didn’t work well, or at all, on my old phone are now installed and working fine on the new one — including Firefox, which means I can finally consistently have the same bookmarks on both devices’ browsers. Also the Kroger app, which should make it easier to notify the store when I arrive for a pickup. (My impending need for groceries was the main reason I needed to get a new phone before much longer, since you kind of need one to let them know you’ve arrived, unless there already happens to be a clerk outside in the waiting area.)

So mostly this is an improvement so far, but there are some disappointments. I find the phone’s Gmail app more limited in functionality than the old Android mail app. It won’t let me default to showing all mail from both my addresses (my Gmail is secondary), so I have to remember to select that manually each time. And it won’t let me select a whole day’s worth of emails and mark them as read, as far as I can discover. Nor can I scroll from one open email to the next by swiping horizontally. I see there’s also an Outlook app pre-installed, which might be worth looking into as an alternative, but I don’t know if it’ll be any better.

The music player is frustrating. My old one just played the music files I had on my SD card. The one here is YouTube-based and assumes I want to download music from online, which I don’t, at least not now. When I started it for the first time, I briefly saw some option listed for playing files on the device, but it went away before I could select it and I haven’t been able to find it again. I find that, outside of that app, I can just hit the “My Files” icon and navigate to the music folder to select tracks manually, but that only plays one track at a time. What am I missing?

So far, the battery life doesn’t seem any better than my old phone’s. But then, it’s been pretty active what with all the app installations and software updates and such, so maybe the battery won’t run down so fast on normal everyday use. Also, this phone has a dark mode, which could be easier on my eyes as well as on the battery.

And now I’ve lost the whole day on this, and lost track of how late it’s gotten. Hopefully I can refocus on work tomorrow.

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Phoning it in

Well, I decided this morning to go ahead and order a new smartphone. I’d just about settled on the model that charged the least monthly fee, and I called the store this morning to make sure I could keep my current number. So I went to my account page, hit the upgrade button, and picked out that cheap/discounted model.

However, to confirm the order, I had to enter a code that they texted to my old phone. Not a good idea when my old phone barely worked. I still had some charge left, though, so I turned the phone on and waited for the text — although the first two texts I got were spam. It took a long time before their code finally came through, which was a relief. Still, it’s annoying that they didn’t have the option to e-mail the code or something. How do people manage if their phones are broken even worse than mine?

Unfortunately, it turns out there are a couple of up-front fees I’ll need to pay after all. It comes out to roughly 80 extra dollars I’ll have to pay by the end of the year, and I just have to hope that fits within the very, very tight budget I’m operating under until late December at the earliest. (I still welcome Patreon subscriptions or PayPal donations.)

To my surprise, I was told the phone would be delivered to my door within a couple of hours. Again, they said they’d use my mobile phone as the contact number, and it was tricky to find a way to ask them to use my landline instead, but I finally achieved that through e-mailing their help address.

This was supposedly “contactless” delivery, but it took a fair amount of near-contact through my open front door, for they (the guy brought a trainee along) had to install my SIM card and transfer my MicroSD card and so forth to get it set up out in the hallway. Apparently it’s not as easy for the customer to do those things with this model. I don’t think it opens up at all; there’s actually a special pin included that you need to use to eject the SD card, and I didn’t even see how it was done. Anyway, we all had masks on and I had my windows open and the ventilation fans going, and I used hand sanitizer as appropriate.

Annoyingly, they’ve changed the design for the charger plug port. There was a charger included, but the new phone is not compatible with my existing charging cords, including the long one I need if I want to use the phone as GPS in my car, since the outlet is inconveniently placed. Well, it’s not like I was planning a trip anytime soon.

Another inconvenience is that it turns out my old data wasn’t backed up after all. Luckily that was mostly just my contacts list, and I don’t know that many people, so it’s a short list. I wasn’t sure the old phone retained enough charge to let me copy the list manually. But it turns out I still have an older, non-smart phone, and though its soft plastic shell has gotten decayed and sticky, it still functions, and once I charged it, I was able to access its contacts list and copy the numbers manually. I still needed to turn on my old smartphone long enough to add or update newer contact info and double-check the older info, but it reduced the amount of time I needed to have the phone turned on.

One odd loss of function: The new phone only lets me enter one contact number per person, as far as I can tell. Both my old ones let me enter more than one.

Luckily it’s proven easy to set up other things, since my e-mails, Kindle books, library rentals, etc. were stored in their respective clouds and I just needed to install and sign into the apps. So I’m mostly set up now, at least the essential stuff, though there are still some things I need to sort out. For instance, hopefully the new “Notes” widget is downward-compatible with the memos I backed up onto my desktop just in case I couldn’t transfer them directly from my old phone — which I can’t.

The phone is not much wider than my old one, but surprisingly a good deal taller. I was able to fit the old one entirely in my shirt pocket, but this one sticks out of it more and is more likely to fall out. It’s a weird aspect ratio, maybe designed with watching widescreen movies in mind, though I doubt I’ll be doing any of that on the phone. Still, it should be good for reading e-books or Facebook or the like.

The best news (aside from actually having a working phone again) is that I’m once again able to play audiobooks from the Hoopla library service on my phone. I’ve been going through their catalog of Doctor Who audio dramas for a few months now, and I’d come to enjoy listening to them on headphones while I did other stuff around the apartment or stood out on my balcony. But they suddenly stopped working on my phone a while back, and they didn’t always play on my desktop either (I found I had to shut down and restart Firefox to get them to play, and even that didn’t always work). It might’ve been a software compatibility issue, or maybe the first sign of my phone’s recent breakdown. When I contacted tech support, they could only tell me that they didn’t support my old phone anymore, but I wasn’t sure if that was the cause of the failure or just a statement that they couldn’t advise me on the cause. Anyway, it’s a moot point now. I can listen on my phone again! Although for some reason, the headphone jack is on the bottom edge now. I’ll have to keep it in my pocket upside-down.

Another apparent loss of function: My old phone let me scroll through the home screen pages in either direction; I could go forward from page 1 to 2 or backward from page 1 to 3, as needed. This one doesn’t have that “wraparound” capability. If I hit one end, I need to go back the other way. But since it’s a bigger screen, it looks like I’ll be able to fit all the stuff I need on just the first two pages.

So anyway, I’m mostly back in business now, much sooner than I expected. It’s my first real taste of how the retail industry has adapted to COVID — now they make house calls. I wonder if that might persist even once things go back to normal.

And while it’s good to have a new phone, I’ve now lost pretty much the whole day dealing with this instead of writing. At least I’ve sorted most of it out by now, so I can put this behind me and get back to work.

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Phone woes again: Now it’s the OTHER phone!

October 27, 2020 5 comments

This is getting ridiculous. Just weeks after my land phone line (and Internet line) finally got fixed, my mobile phone started acting up. Its apps started crashing randomly, giving me “Unfortunately, X has stopped.” messages whether I was using the apps in question or not. It also started rebooting itself at random, often freezing on the boot-up screen. This got rapidly worse until I could barely use the phone for more than a few moments.

Folks on Facebook suggested that I might have malware or a bad app, which could be purged with a factory reset and restoration from backup, or that I might have a loose connection I could fix by fiddling with the battery and SIM card. The latter didn’t work, and I didn’t feel ready to tackle the former. The timing is bad — I’m two weeks from deadline on a major project and really need to focus on that.

So I set it aside for a couple of days to concentrate on my writing, and it was interesting to realize how little I actually need my smartphone on a day-to-day basis, since I don’t go out often these days. Mainly I use it to play backgammon and other games, and as an e-book reader — and I was using it for audiobooks borrowed from the Hoopla online library, until they suddenly stopped working on my Hoopla app a while back. I couldn’t get any tech support because my phone is 6 1/2 years old and they no longer support its software.

Because of that, and because the case is kind of worn out, I was considering getting a new phone anyway. If this had happened early next year, when my money situation is better, I would’ve just gone ahead and upgraded. Right now, though, money is extremely tight. So I gave some thought to just riding it out for the next couple of months, not using my phone except when I go out to get groceries, and hoping it would at least keep working enough to let me call the store to notify them I’ve arrived.

This afternoon, though, I figured I should turn the phone on just to make sure I hadn’t gotten any voicemails (which are almost always spam anyway). I saw the battery was low, so I decided to plug it in to recharge.

And the plug wouldn’t go in.

I realized I was very stupid the other day. Remember how I fiddled with the battery and SIM card? Well, it’s been so long since I opened the back of my phone that I confused the charging port for the bit where you stick in a screwdriver to pop the back open. When it wouldn’t open, I got kind of aggressive with the screwdriver. And apparently I bent the pins inside the charging port, and now I can’t recharge the phone anymore. Aggghhh!

So me am dumb, and now I have no choice but to replace the phone. Fortunately, it looks like there are a couple of decent upgrade models I can get for only an extra $5-$10 per month on my current bill. I could cope with that for the (probably) 2-3 months remaining before my income begins to improve. However, looking over the terms, it looks like there might be an up-front lump-sum charge as well, and that would be more of a problem. I’ll just have to hope I can weather it somehow.

Ugh, this would also be easier to sort out if I felt free to just drop into the phone dealership a couple of blocks away. They could answer my questions about an upgrade, smooth the process, or maybe even help me fix my existing phone (although I doubt that — my past experience is that the people at those stores are only salespeople rather than repair people). I suppose I could at least call them and ask some questions.

This is rotten timing on a couple of levels. But I guess it could’ve been worse. If I had to have both my phones fail within a month, it’s a good thing they at least took turns.

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Quick movie review: Netflix’s ANON (spoilers)

I recently re-upped my Netflix account, and I watched a movie last night that was interesting but frustrating. Anon (2018) is written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the writer/director of the classic Gattaca and the writer of The Truman Show. It’s a sci-fi noir detective movie set in a future with a ubiquitous information/surveillance environment, where everyone in linked into an augmented reality network with constant heads-up data about the people and things around them projected into their eyes, and where their own first-person visual records can be shared with others or accessed by law enforcement.

The early part of the movie is the most interesting, as the worldbuilding is deftly established through the work of Detective Sal Freiland (Clive Owen), who easily “solves” crime after crime just by watching the eyewitness records of their perpetrators and victims, until he comes upon the rarity of a murder whose perpetrator went unseen. In a brilliant twist, the killer hacked the victim’s eyes so he saw himself through his killer’s POV, and thus recorded no image of the killer’s face, as well as being too disoriented to defend himself.

Sal’s investigation connects to a mysterious woman (Amanda Seyfried) with no accessible ID, a ghost in the system who turns out to be a hacker called “Anon” who helps people erase their subjective records of their misdeeds, and whose clients are getting murdered one by one. Sal and the other cops think she’s the killer, but naturally not all is as it seems. There’s some cool Ghost in the Shell-style stuff as the hacker-killer stymies Sal’s pursuit, at one point trying to kill him by making him hallucinate a stationary subway car so that he almost steps into the path of an oncoming train.

Unfortunately, once my intrigue in the technological futurism wore off, I began to realize the film was a gross failure of futurism in other ways. The cast is overwhelmingly white, with people of color relegated exclusively to minor supporting roles or bit parts. It’s also overwhelmingly male, with Seyfried as the only major female character (literally credited as “The Girl”), aside from Sonya Walger in a small, incidental role as Sal’s ex-wife. Other female characters, and Seyfried to a large extent, are only there to be sex objects. Anon sleeps with Sal midway through the film for no evident reason other than that it’s expected that the grizzled male lead will get to sleep with the hot female lead young enough to be his daughter. Indeed, the plot establishes that she slept with all her murdered clients, though why she does so is unclear; it’s just an excuse to give the real killer a jealousy motive. (I was actually hoping Anon would turn out to be the killer, just to give her more agency in the story.) The film fails the Bechdel Test; the only interaction between two women is a lesbian sex scene where they’re both killed.

Anon‘s futurism is lacking in other ways too. This is a world where people take ubiquitous augmented reality and the ability to see through others’ eyes for granted, so it must be a generation or more in the future, yet the New York City skyline is no different than it is today (except for the parts filmed in Toronto), the cars are intelligent but not self-driving, and attitudes toward same-sex relationships are no different from today. The cars and fashions are vintage, and Sal chain-smokes like a ’40s noir lead. Now, blending retro style with a futuristic setting isn’t intrinsically objectionable; it worked for Max Headroom and Batman: The Animated Series. But embracing a noir style is one thing; perpetuating the gender and racial norms of an earlier era is another. The social regressiveness cancelled out the imaginative futurism and dragged me out of the story.

It’s also very easy to guess who the real killer is, due to there being only one credible suspect. Anon’s introduction is too coincidental, with Sal passing by her in the street in the first scene and noting her lack of ID; he never would’ve caught onto her otherwise, so that’s contrived. And there’s a part that seems to break the logic of the world in order to get Sal away from the cops after he’s been framed for a murder, with little explanation of how he avoided being tracked for so long.

The film tries to say something about the right to privacy in a world of universal information, and about the dangers of a world where people’s very senses can be hacked, but it’s ultimately too superficial. These ideas have been explored better in prose fiction by the likes of David Brin and Alastair Reynolds, and in works like Ghost in the Shell. And I’m sick of seeing science fiction premises damaged by the American feature film industry’s backwardness about gender and racial inclusion — this being one of the most extreme examples I’ve seen in a long time. There’s half of a good worldbuilding exercise in Anon, but this movie about a world where everything and everyone is seen is ultimately dragged down by its lack of vision and perspective about whose viewpoints are worth showing.

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“Comfort Zones” now on Patreon!

This month’s Fiction post on my Patreon page is now up. With the release of Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile coming up quite soon, I’ve decided to release the prequel short story “Comfort Zones,” originally an exclusive for the duology’s Kickstarter backers, on the $10 Fiction tier. The backers got the story months ago, and there are only a couple of overlaps between them and my Patreon donors, so I figured it was okay to go ahead and do that. As usual, annotations for the story will go up tomorrow on the $12 Behind the Scenes tier.

I hope the release of this story will encourage more people to sign up for my Patreon, at least for a month or two. Though the new writing gig I’ve been hinting at should substantially improve my financial situation in 2021, my ability to bridge the gap until then is iffier than I’d expected. I should have enough to scrape by barring emergencies or delays, but the margin is narrow. I’m tired of asking for handouts, but by this point my Patreon features seven original or reprinted short stories, an Arachne’s Crime novel excerpt, dozens of vintage SFTV reviews, a couple of book reviews, exclusive annotations and behind-the-scenes writing notes, some original artwork, and even some cat pictures from my younger days. So there’s plenty you can get in return. Even if you just sign up for one month, you can read everything currently on the site at whatever tier you sign up for. And these next 2-3 months are when I’m going to need Patreon income the most.

Phone/Internet repairs again

Over the weekend, my phone line remained dead and my Internet connection was uneven. On Saturday, it was dropping in and out for much of the day, then stabilized for a few hours, then went spotty again. On Sunday, I had a consistent but very slow connection; in the past, I would’ve tried rebooting my modem in hopes of a faster connection, but this time I didn’t want to risk losing the stability I had, so I lived with the slowness (it was a bit nostalgic, actually). Late in the day, it suddenly got faster again, and worked fine through this morning.

The phone guy came a bit after 9, and as the equipment room downstairs was locked this time, and as the previous maintenance people hadn’t found the solution, I had to let him into my apartment at last. I made sure to wear a mask, to open the balcony doors, and to have the bathroom ventilation fan blowing, and I kept my distance and stayed out on the balcony as much as possible. He was masked too, of course. He fiddled around with my phone jack for 15-20 minutes before determining he needed to be let into the equipment room, so I called the building manager on my cell. Fortunately, she was in, and she came around to unlock the equipment room (though she was not masked, grr).

Before he went downstairs, I asked him if he knew what the problem was that the others couldn’t diagnose. He said there was a short between my phone and DSL lines somewhere, and the others couldn’t find it because I didn’t want them to come in. I would have if they’d told me it was necessary. Anyway, he said it wasn’t my modem’s age at fault, just the short causing the interference between the two lines. Which makes sense.

I hung out on my balcony for a while waiting — not only did I not want to be inside the apartment for long until it had aired out for at least an hour, but the Internet was down so there wasn’t much else I could do. He called on my cell and said he had a problem and had to go out for a while, so I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait. But then, about an hour after he left, I stepped inside for a moment and saw that the modem lights were on again, and the “Check TEL Line” notice was gone from my desk phone. A moment later, he called on my landline and said he’d fixed the short. Hopefully that’s for real this time. The Internet connection is stable and fast for now.

I’m still wearing my mask inside my apartment, and I have the balcony door open and both the bathroom and kitchen vent fans blowing. I even took the spray bottle of diluted detergent that I use to spray gnats (it coats their wings so they can’t flit away from a swat) and squirted it around the room a couple of times, on the theory that the soap might help negate any aerosolized viruses in the air. (I don’t have any disinfectant spray, alas.) I’m sure it’s an excess of caution, and it’s getting kind of chilly in here, but better too much caution than too little, as recent news events have driven home.

Anyway, the disposable surgical masks I bought are too small for my face. I have a long chin, and opening my mouth tends to pull the mask down from my nose. Also, I find that I’m psychosomatically imagining my vision fogging when I exhale in my mask even when I don’t have my glasses on!

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