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A new card for a new year

I can now say something that I haven’t been able to say since college: I have a new library card!

I’ve known for some years that the Kenton County Public library, whose nearest branch is just across the river from Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky, had a fair number of books and comics that the Cincy library system doesn’t have, and vice-versa. But I visited there infrequently over the years, and the route there is a bit tricky. Well, there’s a quick route through Downtown Cincinnati and over the Roebling Suspension Bridge (essentially a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge that John A. Roebling built later), but that bridge has been frequently closed for repairs over the past decade — more often than not, it seems, at least at those times when I’ve gotten around to considering a library visit — and the other routes are kind of complicated. So I never got around to applying for a library card there, since I wasn’t even sure I’d be eligible, as a non-resident.

Lately, though, I found that the KCPL has a number of recent Star Trek novels that the Cincinnati library doesn’t have, and I realized it could be quicker to get them (and other items) from there than to request them through the SearchOhio library loan system. So I finally looked into their library card policies, and it looked like Greater Cincinnati residents were eligible. At least, I was able to apply online by entering my address and putting Hamilton County into the “Other County” box on the form, and a day or two later, I got confirmation that a card account had been created and I’d get my physical card in the mail in a few days.

The card came yesterday, along with a letter saying I’d need to go into the library physically and get it activated for in-library use, as opposed to just online access. I could probably have just requested items through their site and then gotten it activated when I went to pick them up, but just to be sure, I decided I should get it activated first. And the library was still open for a few more hours before its New Year’s closure. Plus, I had a new library card and I was eager to try it out!

I checked first to find out if the Suspension Bridge was open (it’s the only suspension bridge out of the six on the Cincinnati riverfront, so we just call it the Suspension Bridge), and it turned out that it was closed for repairs yet again; indeed, it had been slated to reopen at the end of 2021 but there had been delays. So I had to take the more roundabout route Google Maps recommended, the I-71 route over the Brent Spence Bridge (the one in the foreground of the photo linked above, which a family friend used to call the Bent Springs Bridge due to its reputed effect on car suspensions). Apparently that bridge is overdue for repairs or replacement and there are doubts about its safety, but I didn’t know that until I looked it up just now. Hopefully the infrastructure bill that Congress finally passed last year will bring some much-needed improvements, though it will take a while.

Anyway, that route isn’t fun for other reasons, since I had to do some scary merges from the left onto the freeway, and there were some confusing branches where the Maps voice told me to take the left fork when the signs told me to get in the right lane, that sort of thing (luckily I followed the signs, which was the right thing to do). It’s a route I’ve taken before a few times to get to social gatherings at a friend’s house, but that hasn’t happened since before the pandemic, and I never did it often enough to get familiar with the route. Still, I managed to survive the perilous merges and the antiquated bridge and reach the library intact.

The letter said I needed to show two forms of ID to get my card fully activated, but the library clerk didn’t even ask to see them, just doing a quick setting change on the computer and handing me the card back. I didn’t want to hang around too long indoors, even though I’m vaccine-boosted (a bit over 2 weeks ago, so I should be good) and everyone seemed to be masked (myself included, of course). So I just went over to their science fiction shelf — I remembered roughly where it was from my last, pre-pandemic visit, after interviewing there for a job I didn’t get — and made a few quick picks, then took them to the desk to be checked out. Apparently that’s still done manually there, as opposed to the Cincinnati library where there are automated stations for checkouts. (I have mixed feelings about that, since it’s preferable in pandemic conditions but regrettably impersonal.)

The last time I drove back from Covington, I found the Maps directions confusing and took a wrong turn, getting lost for a few minutes before I found my way back to the route. So this time I selected a different route back on my phone, eastward over the small Licking River into Newport, KY and across one of the bridges there, which I’m more familiar with from trips to the mall and movie theater in Newport in past years. Unfortunately, Google Maps’ directions for how to get out of the library parking lot were confusing; they told me to go north on a certain street, but I didn’t know which way was north or what street it was, and the display on my phone didn’t make it clear (since Maps doesn’t always get your starting point or direction quite right before you begin moving). So I just improvised and let Maps recalculate as I went, and unbeknownst to me, it completely ditched my eastward route and sent me back the way I’d come, something I didn’t realize until I saw signs pointing to I-71. Or really I didn’t quite realize it was the same route until just now, checking routes on Maps as reference for this post. It was much simpler going back the other way, without the harrowing merges and confusing branches, so it didn’t feel the same. Luckily it wasn’t the same confusing route as last time, just straight onto the interstate. Still, I’ll be glad when the Suspension Bridge reopens. It’s narrow and a bit scary to drive over, but at least it’s direct.

For future reference, I’ll have to remember that from the library parking lot, north is toward the library. I probably won’t visit too often, but hopefully my sense of direction in Covington will improve on future visits.

One more difference between libraries, by the way, is that the KCPL’s checkout period is four weeks instead of three. That’s handy. On the other hand, by coincidence, the KCPL’s online catalog just recently upgraded to the same system the Cincinnati library uses, so it’s a familiar interface.

Going forward, I’ll just have to be careful not to get confused about which library to return things to. It shouldn’t be too hard right now, since I currently only have DVDs borrowed from Cincy and books from Covington. But I can be forgetful. Still, that’s a minor concern. I now have access to even more library materials than before, and that’s unambiguously a good thing.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Booster engaged

December 16, 2021 1 comment

I am boosted! I just got back from the hospital, where I got my COVID vaccine booster. I went to the same hospital as last time, but things have changed. The vaccination center was a huge, crowded operation last year, but today it was just in the pharmacy inside the hospital’s little bookstore/souvenir shop, and only a couple of other people were there. I hope that means that most people have already gotten their boosters, or that they’re taking advantage of the free vaccine clinics at the board of health or getting them from their local pharmacies. I tried going to a walk-in vaccination clinic at the board of health a week or two ago, but the parking lot was full so I gave up. A good sign, I guess.

Since it was a relatively warm day, I started to walk to the hospital, which is only a 15 to 20-minute walk from home. But I started out too late, and once I’d gotten a couple of blocks, I decided I wouldn’t make it in time, so I walked back home and took my car after all. As it turned out, what with parking and all, I ended up ten minutes late anyway. I’m not sure I really saved myself any time. Still, that would’ve made more of a difference last year, when so many people were making appointments that a slot might be snatched up between the time you saw it and clicked on it on the hospital’s site. This time, it wasn’t busy at all, so I guess being late didn’t matter.

Another thing that turned out not to matter was the identification number and QR code they e-mailed me and told me to keep on hand. The pharmacist explained that was just a backup if they couldn’t find my name in their system.

Anyway, I got the Pfizer vaccine for my first two shots, but now the hospital only offers Moderna. Apparently the science says it doesn’t really matter which one you get as a booster, and mixing and matching might actually increase immunity a bit. The one cause for concern is that I know I had a mild reaction to the Pfizer vaccine, while Moderna is an unknown quantity. So I might feel kind of bad for the next day or so. No evident symptoms yet, though. My arm isn’t sore, but then, it took some time for the soreness to set in the first time (there was none the second time).

I mentioned before that my first shot hurt significantly (at injection, not later) while the second was so painless that I wasn’t convinced I’d even gotten injected (I never look). I figured the difference was that I was too tense the first time and more relaxed the second. So I made sure to relax my muscles this time too, and I just felt a mild jab and then nothing.

When the pharmacist advised waiting around for 15 minutes, I said, “It’s a good thing I’m in a bookstore, then.” But it turned out to have at least as many of its shelves devoted to tchotchkes, toys, candy, etc. as to books and magazines, I guess for the benefit of patients or visitors buying them gifts. Still, I got to browse through a science magazine, something I don’t do enough anymore.

So now my immune system should be reinforced, which is good, since they’re tentatively planning to hold the Shore Leave Convention in person again in 2022, after going virtual the previous two years. I don’t know if the rise of the omicron variant will force them to change their plans, but for now, I’m hoping to be there if I can. Here’s hoping!

Calculator update (further updated)

This morning, I decided to see if I could find a way to fix the blanked-out row of LCDs on my calculator, after determining that the batteries weren’t the problem. Looking it up online suggested that there was probably a dirty or broken connection in the ribbon of circuits connecting the display to the circuit board, and that it was theoretically possible but extremely difficult to fix.

Taking the long shot, I unscrewed the back of the calculator again — swapping the old batteries back in while I was at it, since they were still good after all — and tried to spot the problem. Seeing nothing, I just generally tried to fiddle with the connecting ribbon and push any loose connections back into place. I have an old irrigation syringe left over from my orthodontic surgery decades ago (since I’m a bit of a pack rat and I often hold onto things just in case they might prove useful someday), and I used it to puff air under the ribbon in hopes of blowing any dust free. But nothing seemed to make any difference. So I figured I’d done all I could and closed the calculator back up again.

Then, just as a last-ditch, token effort since I had nothing left to lose, I resorted to the ultimate fallback — percussive maintenance. I just tried banging the calculator around in hopes of knocking something back into place.

And it worked!!!

I’m not kidding. It actually restored the display to full function, at least for now. Brute force did the job when delicacy failed. I have no idea if it will hold, but at least I have hope that if the problem does recur, I’ll be able to bang it back into place again. Though hopefully there was just a speck of dust or something that’s now gone, and it’ll be fine. Still, I’ll try to remember to be gentle with the calculator lest something get knocked loose again.

That left the question of what to do with the unnecessary replacement batteries I got. Amazon doesn’t let you return batteries, because they’re technically hazardous materials, but it does allow refunds. I didn’t feel right about getting a refund on perfectly good batteries I still had, but if the calculator had proven irreparable, I might’ve done it anyway. As it is, though, since the calculator is still working (for now), I might still have use for the batteries in the future. So no refund — I just put the batteries back in the pouch they were shipped in, taped it back up with a note saying “For calculator” so I wouldn’t forget, and put the pouch in the closet where I keep my other spare batteries. I figure if the original batteries have lasted for so many years (the manual is copyrighted 2003, apparently the last year this model was sold, so it’s probably about 18 years old), the new ones will keep. Though it’s just as possible that the old batteries will last longer than the calculator.

(Also, if I’d remembered earlier that the manual was still in my drawer, instead of just now when I decided to check the copyright date, then I wouldn’t have had to look online for battery replacement instructions. D’oh!)

EDIT: Well, that didn’t last long. I just tried using the calculator, and the LCDs went out again after a few moments. And no amount of banging was able to fix it this time. So basically forget what I just said an hour ago. Yeesh.

UPDATE 12/10: Turns out I can return batteries after all, as long as they aren’t defective. Since the calculator’s busted and the old batteries are still good, I had no reason to keep the new ones. I just had to print out the shipping and hazardous materials labels, tape them onto the return package, and walk them up to the Amazon pickup/drop-off center a few blocks away. I’ve been notified that my refund has been issued — all five bucks and a penny. Whee!

The replacements

Last week, I had trouble getting my electric kettle to go on, and when I fiddled with the cord, the power light on the kettle flickered intermittently… and another light glowed from within the cord, evidently from an electric arc, so I immediately unplugged it. The wire inside must have broken. In retrospect, that must be why the cord kept getting hot there, and I should’ve realized there was a problem. Dodged a bullet there.

So I ordered a replacement online; I couldn’t find an exact match, but I found the most similar one I could. While I was at it, I also ordered a couple of replacement batteries for my calculator, whose display has been fritzing out in places (basically the whole second row of LCDs from the bottom, the ones that make the lower half of the vertical strokes in the numerals).

Anyway, for the past few days I’ve had to microwave water for my coffee and tea, since I don’t have a coffee maker (I use coffee bags that work like tea bags). But the new kettle came yesterday evening at last. It was too late in the day to try it out, and I had to wash it and prep it first according to the instructions. But today I’ve successfully used it to boil water for morning coffee, midmorning tea, and ravioli for lunch. (I like to boil half the water in the pot and half in the electric kettle so it goes faster.) I just have to get used to the power switch being underneath the handle instead of on top of it in easy reach of the thumb, and to the top opening being smaller and not quite as easy to pour water into.

As for the batteries, I’m embarrassed to admit that I forgot they were for my calculator and thought they were for my bathroom scale, which also needs new batteries, though I didn’t think to order any. So I was really confused about how I could’ve ordered the wrong size batteries for the scale, and was planning to go to the local Amazon storefront and return them in the morning — and then I glanced toward my desk drawer and it finally hit me that I’d gotten them for the calculator instead! D’oh.

So I followed the instructions I found online to unscrew the back of the calculator and swap out the batteries, and at first I got no result. Did I get the wrong kind after all? Did I break a connection? I swapped the old batteries back in and they worked, and then I tried again with the new batteries and the calculator turned on. Okay.

But — that lower row of vertical LCDs is still out. So the batteries weren’t the problem after all. The calculator must just be getting old. But I don’t think I can get a refund for the replacement batteries now that I tore open their packs. Can I? If not, then I’ve wasted my money.

I guess there’s not much point in buying a new calculator either, since I can just use my phone app for that. I feel a bit sad about that. (I happen to use the exact same model calculator as the late Grant Imahara of Mythbusters, as I recently learned.)

Categories: Uncategorized

Return of the phone woes

You may recall that last year I had chronic problems with my landline phone and internet connections going out. After they were fixed last October 5th, the connection’s been stable, aside from one brief dropout that fixed itself after a short while and was probably due to some kind of work going on outside somewhere temporarily disrupting the system. So I’d thought the worst was behind me — until last Tuesday morning, when both connections abruptly went dead just after 9:40 AM. Remembering the previous brief outage, I waited about an hour to see if it would fix itself, and when it didn’t, I used my cell phone to call the help line. They thought it might be due to some work being done in the area, and said they’d have someone out to fix it within 24 hours. I figured I could make do without it for that long. I could still access the web through my smartphone, though my phone’s Gmail app is for some reason quite slow in updating mail from my other, primary address, and I’d have to do without streaming video, since the data usage without wi-fi would probably get expensive, if I could even get a good enough signal (I rarely get more than 3 bars out of 5 in my apartment, which is part of why I need to keep my landline). I figured if it were fixed by Wednesday morning, I’d be able to catch the Supergirl series finale just a bit later than I otherwise would have, and things would be fine.

By 10:30 AM Wednesday, it still hadn’t been fixed, so I called again. (I see now in my phone log that I called precisely 24 hours later, to the minute, even though I hadn’t planned to. Wow.) They told me someone would be coming that afternoon… then called back later to say they’d been delayed and would be here later that afternoon, no later than 4:30, I think. The technician finally called at 4:45 to say he was on his way, then showed up at 5:08 PM. He determined that the problem wasn’t in my modem or line and was probably in the electrical room downstairs… but it was after the building manager had gone home for the day (apparently she doesn’t live in the apartment adjacent to the office as previous managers have done, something I didn’t realize until now), so he couldn’t get into the electrical room to fix things. He went on his way, promising to have someone out to fix it first thing in the morning. Okay, then, I’d be a bit more delayed in catching my Arrowverse shows and the new Star Trek: Prodigy episode. Also, I wasn’t able to log onto my Patreon page because it didn’t recognize my phone, and it took hours for the confirmation code it emailed to my main address to show up on my phone, by which time it had long since expired.

Nothing happened all day Thursday. As I surfed on my phone, I was reminded that it was Veteran’s Day, and I realized the phone company was probably closed for the day. (It was later confirmed to me that this had indeed been the case.) Oh, well; I resigned myself to one more day without TV, filling the time by rewatching a couple of my DVDs and trying to get some actual writing done despite my frustration (and I did get some done, though not nearly enough). I figured they’d have someone out early Friday morning instead.

So on Friday morning, I called them again to make sure… only to be told that no appointment had been scheduled and the earliest they could fit me in was Monday. Monday?! I got angry, pointing out emphatically that I’d been promised it would only take 24 hours, and then promised again that it would be fixed first thing in the morning, and it was unacceptable for them to make me wait three more days when it should have been fixed already and it only wasn’t due to their delays and oversights. I ended up demanding to speak to a supervisor, but even then, I couldn’t convince them to get anyone out to me any sooner than Monday. I was left infuriated and unsatisfied, but resigned to three more days of this drought.

So I finally started to think about other options and realized I could take my laptop out to the library or the university to use their wifi. That hadn’t been an option on Tuesday or Wednesday when I was waiting for the repair tech, and I hadn’t realized it would be an option on Thursday until it was already too late (plus, in retrospect, it would’ve been harder to find someplace open on a holiday). But on Friday afternoon, after letting the building manager know about the Monday appointment and confirming she’d be there, I walked over to the library with my laptop, taking the opportunity to return some items and borrow a couple more DVDs to tide me over the weekend. But I didn’t see any good places in that branch where I could watch TV on my laptop (with earphones, of course) without distractions and without risk of patrons tripping over my cord. So I went over to campus instead — only to be unable to log onto their wifi! I figured it wasn’t my laptop that was the problem, since I was able to connect at one point to the university guest network’s access page, but kept timing out when it tried to log on anywhere else; it must have just been that the signal was too weak or something. Tired and frustrated, I gave up and went home, resolving to try again at the library the next day.

On Saturday, I decided to drive to the next-nearest library branch and see what they had to offer. I found a quiet place to sit and log on… and I still couldn’t connect to the wifi! Since it was a completely different service, I realized at last that it was my laptop that was the problem; sometimes the DNS recognition thingummy or whatever just stops working and I have to reboot. So I rebooted, noodling around on my phone while I waited, since rebooting my old laptop takes forever. Finally, finally, I got a connection. I had laptop wifi, for the first time in more than four days! I was able to download my emails at last, and to get my Patreon to recognize my phone, and do a bit of other stuff. But again, enough time had passed that I gave up on trying to watch streaming video and just wanted to go home for the day, since I didn’t want to spend too long in a public building even with a mask on. Luckily this was one of the only library branches open on Sundays, so I resolved to go back again the next day.

Sunday, I found a better place to set up at that library, a reading/study room with a nice empty corner table where I could plug in. And again, I had DNS problems and had to reboot. I’ve never had that happen twice in such quick succession, and it hasn’t happened in months, so I’m guessing it was somehow a function of moving the laptop around between different wifi signals, or something. Still, I finally made a connection and managed to catch up with a couple of shows including last week’s Prodigy. The laptop got a little warm without its cooling-fan platform (which I should’ve brought with me, but that didn’t occur to me, since this is the first time I’ve taken the laptop anywhere since I bought the cooling platform mid-pandemic), but I finally perched its back end on top of the little box that my earphone cord is stored in, which provided enough ventilation. Still, I didn’t want to press my luck with too much TV, and the branch was only open for four hours on Sundays. I regretted that I hadn’t figured things out sooner.

So then came Monday morning, and waiting for an appointment I’ve been let down for twice already is much more nerve-racking when I’m actually in the scheduled window and can’t think about anything except my fear of being disappointed once again. Luckily, at 9:50, I got a call from the tech to say he was 15 minutes away. After about 25 minutes, I got antsy and went out to look for his truck, not finding it. When I got back in, of course, the tech was waiting outside my apartment!

So I told him where to find the electrical room and went to get the manager, who opened it. This time, I stuck around to watch the tech working, and finally got to see inside this mysterious electrical/storage room. (To my annoyance, I noticed a couple of bottles of wasp/hornet spray, which means they could’ve helped me with my car’s wasp infestation a few months ago rather than leaving me to fend for myself. Grr.) It was rather alarming to see that the Internet connection on which so much of my life depends is reliant on a pair of virtually hair-thin wires in a mare’s nest connected to a old circuit box.

Still, the tech determined that the problem wasn’t a short in the wires like it had been the last time. He managed to trace a dead signal all the way to the substation that the lines lead to, and after calling up the staff there and checking some things, he determined that someone on that end had swapped some things around and attached my line to the wrong place, since they were using really old wires with lead insulation (I think) that wasn’t color-coded like the newer plastic. So not only did the phone company keep missing appointments and failing to live up to its obligations, but the problem was their mistake in the first place.

Despite that, though, the tech explained some things that eased my anger. Apparently there aren’t that many techs still working that are qualified to fix the older copper wiring instead of the newer fiber optics. That’s why it was so hard to get one of them here in a timely manner — they’re just spread too thin, especially in bad weather when there’s more damage to repair. My building complex hasn’t been rewired for fiber optics because it’s just too big, and it would be hard to access all the old lines and replace them.

But that might be a tradeoff for something good. I mentioned to the tech that this week’s frustration had made me think about switching to the building’s wifi service, which I think would be added to my rent, but might cost less than what I’m paying for the Cincinnati Bell service. But the tech nodded to the Spectrum wifi router that was attached to the wall and said that it would get really slow when multiple tenants were using it at once. He opined that the lines originally set up for cable TV had gotten a lot slower since all these other services were piled onto them. Although now that I write that, I have to ask why the same thing wouldn’t be true of lines originally set up for telephone conversations. Still, it might have something to do with each apartment having its own separate phone line, to which individual modems would be attached, rather than everyone drawing on the same modem/router/whatever. It occurred to me at the time that the tech had a vested interest in promoting his service over a rival, but as he is on the technical side rather than the business side, I’m more inclined to trust that his assessments come from a practical place, a mindset that’s more about understanding mechanisms and their abilities and weaknesses than about trying to sell people things.

Bottom line, the tech successfully got my phone and internet back on, and he did good work and reassured me about some things, in contrast to the disappointing service I got over the rest of this week. I could finally start getting back to my normal routine, though I spent most of yesterday catching up on the shows I missed last week. I’m probably going to stay nervous about my connection’s reliability for a while, but it helps to know that last week’s outage wasn’t from the same cause as last year’s, so hopefully it was just a fluke. Apparently there are downsides to relying on the old copper wires, but there are advantages too. And at least now I have a better idea of my options for wifi elsewhere if I need it.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Wasp update

August 19, 2021 1 comment

After getting stung by a wasp in my car trunk a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Should I risk dealing with it myself or call an exterminator? I looked online for solutions, and one suggestion was to put a hunk of dry ice in the car and let the carbon dioxide smother the moths overnight. But I’d have to drive somewhere to get dry ice, so that was a Catch-22 of sorts.

It occurred to me that maybe the building maintenance people would have experience dealing with wasp nests and might be able to help me out, or at least recommend an exterminator. But when I asked the building manager, the only advice I got was to buy some wasp spray from the store, since an exterminator would be expensive. Eventually I decided to go ahead and try that, getting it when I walked to the store to get groceries. I was uneasy about all the warnings on the can about how toxic it was and how to avoid letting it get into the drains or on my clothes or skin, but I couldn’t see another option. Anything more environmentally friendly would require searching farther afield, which would require driving.

I had to wait for the right time to use it, though. It had to be early in the morning before the wasps were active, and it had to be on a day without rain in the forecast, since my car was parked fairly close to a storm drain. When the day came, I followed online advice and bundled up to cover my skin as much as possible — a turtleneck and buttoned-up jacket to protect my arms and throat (since getting stung in the throat area and having an allergic reaction could close off the windpipe, apparently), bike straps around my pant cuffs (they recommended boots, but I don’t have any), heavy gloves, a wool hat over my ears, and of course my glasses and a mask. Fortunately it was a cool morning.

The wool hat, by the way, is a gift GraphicAudio sent me after hiring me to write Tangent Knights for them. They sent it last winter, and it was very handy, since it often got cold in my apartment overnight.

I also took the long wooden bar that I’d used to knock away the nest the first time, using it to pry open the trunk from a distance. I spotted the nest after a moment; it was in a different place than before, a bit lower and attached to the body of the car rather than the trunk lid. Making sure the wind wasn’t blowing toward me, I sprayed it liberally with the spray, which was a thick white liquid, not the kind of bug spray I’m used to. I fear that I probably used rather more of it than I needed, since I wanted to make really sure. Once I saw no more wasp activity around the nest, I sprayed other areas around the rim of the trunk and a bit in the wheel wells, and even squirted a bit behind the side mirrors, since I’d seen a wasp crawl into the left mirror cowling (or whatever it’s called) some weeks before.

Then I walked away, since the instructions said to let it sit for at least 24 hours until the poison killed the queen and any returning wasps.  I was concerned that I’d left a significant puddle of the liquid on the pavement behind the car, but I really didn’t know what to do about it; I wasn’t supposed to wash it away or let it go down the drain, and I didn’t know how I could safely clean it up by any other means. The instructions said just to let it sit for a day, and I hoped that meant it would just break down naturally in the environment, and that any animals would avoid it. My car wasn’t parked very close to the building or to other cars, so I hoped it would be okay.

When I got up the next morning, there was light rain earlier than had been predicted, which was of some concern, but I hoped enough time had probably passed for the spray to break down or whatever it did. When I went to the car, though, not only did I see no trace of the puddle, but there was no residue of the liquid anywhere on the car where I’d sprayed it. I’d expected dried encrustations or something, but there was nothing at all. I don’t think the rain that morning was heavy enough to account for that, so I figure it must have evaporated on its own, hopefully well before the rain came.

Anyway, I took the same precautions as the day before, just in case, and pried open the trunk to get rid of the nest. I wasn’t pleased to see that there was still one live wasp on the nest, but it was sluggish and I didn’t see any others. I used the wooden bar to deal with it and scrape off the nest, along with a couple of what looked like eggs stuck next to where the nest had been. Then I used my long-handled ice scraper to try to scrape away any residue of anything around the rest of the trunk, and then I applied a little more wasp spray to various crevices just to play it safe, then walked away for another day — actually a couple of days, as it turned out, since there was more rain the next day.

When I checked back again, I saw no sign of wasps, but I wanted to reduce the chances of a recurrence. So I drove up to the local gas station and used the window-cleaning squeegee and paper towels provided there to try to clean out all the accumulated plant matter around the edges of the trunk under the lid, to make it less inviting as a wasp habitat. (I probably should go to a proper car wash, but I didn’t feel ambitious enough to try that.) And when I came back, I parked in the front lot of the building rather than the rear, in hopes of altering as many variables as possible to prevent a recurrence.

Yesterday I drove to pick up groceries again, still bundling up in my jacket and wool hat just in case, but I saw no wasps around the car even though it was quite warm, so that’s a good sign. (I took off the jacket and hat once I got in the car.) Still, just to play it extra-safe, I asked the clerk to put the groceries in the back seat instead of the trunk. And when I got home (still parking in the front lot, even though that’s a longer schlep for the groceries), I found it’s actually a little easier to collect grocery bags from the back seat than from the trunk. So I may do that regularly from now on, even without wasps to worry about. Maybe some good came of this after all.

I wish I’d at least avoided being stung, though.

Stinging irony

I went out to my car just now to go out for some groceries, and I opened the trunk to double-check that the wasps were gone after I cleared out their nest last week. Guess what — they weren’t gone. In fact, one immediately stung me in the arm before I even realized they were there. So after closing the car back up, I ran back to my apartment to look up online what to do about a wasp sting. It recommended just washing the area, which I’d already done, and putting ice on it and taking an anti-inflammatory, all done. So far, there’s just a bit of skin irritation around the site, but that could be from the scrubbing. I thought my hand was going numb for a moment, but it was just from pressing the ice pack too hard.

It’s been more than ten minutes and I haven’t had an allergic reaction yet, so I’m probably fine. The problem is that anxiety symptoms, like tightness in the throat and tingling in the extremities, can resemble symptoms of an allergic reaction. So I just have to stay calm and focus on breathing normally. I’m pretty sure I’m fine.

Still, I don’t know what I’m going to do about the wasps. I guess I could just put my groceries in the back seat for now, but that’s not a solution. Maybe go to a car wash? Or should I call an exterminator?

Categories: Uncategorized

Workin’ at the car wasp

I went to pick up groceries today, and when the guy came out to put my order in the trunk, he noticed that the milk was close to expiration, so with my permission, he went back in to get a fresher one. He left the trunk lid open, so I got out to shut it while I waited. I was rather shocked to discover there was a wasp’s nest built into the driver’s side rear corner of the trunk lid, with a bunch of wasps swarming around it! (At least I think they were wasps. Hornets are bigger, right?) Apparently the store guy missed it because the corner was up high away from the trunk while the lid was raised. Or maybe trunk wasps are common and he’s used to them. Anyway, I was tempted to ask the guy to move my groceries to the back seat when he returned, but I figured that was too much of an imposition — plus I was worried a wasp or two might get into the car along with the groceries.

So I determined that I’d do something about it once I got home. I decided to try using my long-handled ice scraper (still on the floor in front of the passenger seat, where I usually keep it) to knock the nest away. But when I went to get out my groceries and attempt to do that with the nest, there were just too many swarming wasps and I was afraid to try it. I just gathered up my grocery bags as quickly as I could and hurried inside. Although I did manage to get rid of a smaller, perhaps nascent nest on the opposite side of the trunk lid.

It occurred to me to find out if wasps were active at night, and I did enough web searching to confirm they’re relatively dormant then. So I waited until after sundown, then went out to the car with the long wooden bar that I use to reinforce my sliding balcony doors at night, which I figured would be long and sturdy enough to deal with the nest from a reasonably safe distance. I wore my jacket and gloves for protection just in case. The wasps weren’t completely dormant, but I was still able to knock the nest away with the bar, though not all in one piece, and I managed to avoid getting stung. Then I used my phone flashlight to check the crannies inside the doors and under the wheel wells to see if there were any more nests, not finding any (although I just realized I forgot to check inside the back doors).

In retrospect, I think that nest may have been there for a while, since I’ve had to contend with a few wasps flying around the trunk on my past several grocery trips. I figured they were just flying over from the trees on the edge of the lot, but it makes more sense if the nest was there.

And now I really need to stop writing about wasps, and hopefully get out of the state of mind where I fear that every little itch is a wasp crawling on me. I hope I don’t dream about it.

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STAR TREK: LIVING MEMORY is out today!

Today is the official on-sale date for Star Trek: The Original Series: Living Memory. This is the fifth installment in my ongoing post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture continuity which began way back with my first novel Ex Machina, and the second in as many years, after a long hiatus. It’s the second novel (the third work overall, after Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again and The Higher Frontier) to cover the pre-Wrath of Khan period when Spock commanded the Enterprise and Chekov served on the Reliant, and the first one set entirely in that period.

Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory

TOS_Living_Memory_coverAn all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure!

While attempting to settle in as commandant of Starfleet Academy, Admiral James T. Kirk must suddenly contend with the controversial, turbulent integration of an alien warrior caste into the student body—and quickly becomes embroiled in conflict when the Academy controversy escalates to murder. Meanwhile, Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise and Commander Pavel Chekov of the USS Reliant are investigating a series of powerful cosmic storms seemingly targeting Federation worlds—unstoppable outbursts emitting from the very fabric of space. Endeavoring to predict where the lethal storms will strike next, Spock and Chekov make the shocking discovery that the answer lies in Commander Nyota Uhura’s past—one that she no longer remembers….

™, ®, & © 2021 CBS Studios, Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Available from:

I’ve updated my TOS Motion Picture Era page with general discussion and a link to the annotations:

https://christopherlbennett.wordpress.com/home-page/star-trek-fiction/tos-ex-machina/#LivingMemory

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My first outing of cicada season

Some weeks back, after I got vaccinated, I got a call from my dermatologist to schedule my yearly checkup, which I missed last year due to the lack of a vaccine at the time. I was aware that the time they suggested would be during the once-every-17-years emergence season of the Brood X cicada swarm, but I was in the first flush of post-vaccine eagerness to get out into the world, and maybe a bit embarrassed to admit my phobia, so I accepted the appointment and figured I could just reschedule later if I felt it necessary.

Now, I fully expected to find it necessary. This is the fourth Brood X emergence of my lifetime, though the third I’ve been old enough to remember. The first of those, in 1987, was toward the end of my first year of college, and it was awful for a lifelong entomophobe like me. I particularly resented the cicadas for preventing me from getting closer to a woman I thought I had a chance with romantically, since she was untroubled by them and happy to hang around outside while I was desperate to get indoors as soon as possible. The second time, in 2004, was not long after I moved to my current apartment (yes, I’m still here, since the right opportunity to move elsewhere has never quite come together), and I managed to weather it fairly well by staying mostly indoors and only going out in the mornings before the cicadas became active. I was hoping to repeat that this time, but my dermatologist’s appointment was at 2 PM.

So I figured I’d just reschedule when they called to confirm the appointment. But when they did call, it was an automated “please press one” sort of system, and it was while I was watching a show, so I was distracted. So to avoid having to think about it, I just confirmed the appointment before I could stop myself. (Never ask me to make an important decision on the spur of the moment. I usually choose badly.)

I was thus pretty worried about what I might have to face out in the world today, but I decided I just had to weather it. I’ve spent the past year sheltering indoors as much as possible, and I figured I needed to get some practice at facing my fears and getting out into the world again, reminding myself that cicadas are just a nuisance, not a threat.

As it turned out, it wasn’t so bad. There were a few dead cicadas on the hallway floor of my apartment building, but I wasn’t swarmed by them in the parking lot on the way to my car (just a couple took off from the sidewalk ahead of me), nor in the lot of the medical building (or on the moderately long freeway trip between them). Maybe the rain earlier in the day had delayed their emergence.

So it all went pretty smoothly, to my relief. But once I got back, I decided to stop in at the local pharmacy to see if the prescription from my dermatologist had come in yet. Before I got out of the car, I noticed that there were dozens of cicadas swarming around the parking lot. Either that was a busier area for them, or they’d finally come out in greater force. So I just put my seatbelt back on and drove away without getting out of the car, figuring maybe I could come back in the morning or use the drive-thru or something. (They still haven’t called to confirm the prescription anyway, so I don’t know what’s up there. It’s for a minor irritation, so I don’t even really need it.)

I almost made it back into the building unaccosted, but one cicada flew headlong into me as I had my keys in the lock, coming right between me and the door and bumping into me. My tote bag took the hit, but still, there went my perfect record of avoidance. (Why do they just fly right into people like that? Can’t they see where they’re going?)

But overall, the trip was far less stressful than I feared. I’m not sure it really counts as facing my fears, since I chickened out of going into a visibly cicada-heavy zone, but at least I took the chance of going out in the first place, and it turned out not to be so bad. Although I’m still planning to minimize my trips outdoors until the cicadas are gone.

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My first post-vaccine outing

Yesterday was two weeks since my second COVID-19 vaccine shot, so I’m protected now (at least as much as anyone can be, in conjunction with continued distancing, masks, etc.). Yesterday was rainy, so I waited until today to make my first foray. I decided to start out small and just dropped into Clifton Natural Foods, in hopes of finding some things I haven’t been able to get at the regular grocery store. I didn’t find the vegetarian Italian sausage I was hoping for, but I got some other stuff, including some cookies to give some variety to my dessert options, and some pumpkin butter (a fruit spread like apple butter). I had a nice little chat with a store staffer about how satisfying it was to be able to go places and feel some peace of mind again. This is the first time in 6 months that I’ve been inside a store, and only the second time in the past 12 months (third if you count the post office).

I thought about going to the library too, but I didn’t want to overdo it my first time out. I have a post office trip planned soon, so I can go then, since the two are just a couple of blocks apart.

Speaking of the library, it just now occurred to me that I can resume borrowing DVDs again. So I’ve just put in holds on the most recent season of Doctor Who, which I haven’t managed to see since I don’t have cable TV anymore. I think this was the first time I’ve used the library’s new online catalog format for requesting items, which was instituted within the past year. However, it seems that at some point I already set it to default to my preferred branch as my pickup location, so I don’t have to set it every time. I guess I did that months ago when the new system went online, but forgot about it since it’s been so long since I needed to use it.

Speaking of things returning to a semblance of normality, this is the first time in months that I’ve gone for a drive without bringing my emergency jump-starter power pack with me. (I keep it in my apartment instead of in the car so that I don’t forget to top up the charge every three months as recommended. Although I don’t think I’ve ever managed to go that long between jumpstarts since I got it.) I didn’t need it, but I should try to stay in the habit of bringing it with me just in case.

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Vac-scene two

Well, this past Thursday was the day of my second COVID vaccination appointment. After the first one three weeks ago, my main side effect was my upper arm being quite sore for about a day. The only other effect was that when I undressed for bed that night, I started to shiver uncontrollably until I got in my nightclothes and under the covers, even though I didn’t actually feel cold. I guess that’s what the information sheet called “chills.” But it was only for the first night.

So anyway, I was expecting another painful injection and a worse reaction afterward, though I wasn’t sure how mild or severe it might be. Still, it would be worth it to feel more or less safe again, and to do my part to keep others safe.

I’d been hoping I might take advantage of the decent weather and walk to the hospital this time, but I’d somewhat strained my hip the day before while cleaning the bathroom, so I wasn’t up to it. I made the same drive as last time, but had a bit of trouble getting into a parking space in the garage, since I’m out of practice at it. I kind of held up one or two cars behind me before giving up on that space. Then I found an open space right at the top of the ramp, so I could drive straight into it, which was nice. (Although it proved tricky when I left. To get out required going down the reverse of the way I came up, and I couldn’t turn 180 degrees from where I was, so I had to go up another level or two to find enough open space to turn around.)

For some reason, the vaccination center at the hospital was far less busy than it was the last time. I would’ve thought that all those people getting their first shot the same day as me would’ve been scheduled for their second shot the same day as me also. I hope that doesn’t mean a lot of them skipped out on their second doses, since it won’t last long that way. But I was able to get my shot pretty much immediately after checking in, and the check-in process was easier because I could hand them my vaccine card. I was expecting the shot to hurt again, but instead I barely felt it; indeed, I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d even gotten it. Maybe the nurse this time had a gentler touch, or maybe it was because I made more of an effort to relax my muscles first. Or maybe it was because I’d taken ibuprofen for my hip pain.

On my way out of the clinic, I overheard a couple of hospital staffers chatting about how the Pfizer vaccine had milder side effects than the Moderna one, which was nice to hear as a Pfizer recipient. And that turned out to be entirely true. Not only did I have much less arm pain this time (though just enough kicked in by that evening to reassure me that I had indeed gotten the shot), but I haven’t had any side effects beyond a mild fatigue and a slight dry-ish cough. I was afraid I might lose a day or two of work on the novel I’m writing, but I’ve managed to keep going after all.

So now I’m starting to think about things to do in two weeks’ time once I’m fully vaccinated and can feel safer going into buildings, as long as I stay masked and distanced for others’ benefit. The library will be one of my first stops. I may also drop into the natural-foods store for some groceries I haven’t had in a while. I’m not sure about going to the supermarket, which would have more people in it, but I might stop in for a quick visit, probably to a more distant store than my usual pickup location, in search of items they don’t have in stock there.

I read a day or two ago that it might be necessary to get annual booster shots, but that’s okay; we do that for flu shots anyway, and it makes sense with new variants likely to keep cropping up. The essential thing, as always, is to educate and encourage more people to get vaccinated. Although, sadly, that’s easier said than done in the current climate of ignorance. But at least there’s hope for things to get better now.

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Running pretty smoothly

Well, I’ve now managed to go as many as 10 days between car rides without my battery dying, which is an encouraging sign. I went out for another drive around the neighborhood two days ago to make sure it stayed charged. That may not have been necessary, as I had to go get groceries today anyway, but I didn’t want to take chances.

Anyway, I’m pleased with how much better the car seems to be running since I got maintenance. I haven’t had any problems with the acceleration being sluggish; that’s usually just a problem in cold weather, but the car seems to respond better even than it used to in warm weather, I think. On my drive, I even went up a hill that the car always used to have trouble accelerating on, at least in the first few years after I started driving it (I haven’t needed to go up that hill much in recent years), but the car had no trouble with it. So whatever maintenance and fluid changes the folks at the garage did really seemed to help.

There was a sign on the apartment building’s door the other day warning us not to keep any valuables in our cars due to a rash of break-ins that had the local police overwhelmed. I never keep any valuables in the car anyway, but I was still concerned. When I hit the key fob to unlock the car the other day, the horn beeped three times. I think that means that the alarm had previously been triggered, but the car still seemed to be locked and intact and nothing was missing. I’d guess maybe someone set off the alarm and it scared them off, though I don’t recall hearing it. Or maybe they just realized my car is so decrepit-looking that it’s unlikely to have anything in it worth taking.

As for my COVID vaccination, I’m about halfway between shots now. After my last shot, my upper arm got pretty sore within a few hours and stayed sore for about a day, but then got better. The only other side effect I had was a weird one — when I undressed for bed that night, I started to shiver, even though I didn’t feel cold. It didn’t stop until I was in my nightclothes and under the covers. But I was fine in the morning, and I haven’t had any other symptoms beyond maybe a slight ooginess for a day or two. We’ll see how much worse it is after my second shot.

One side effect I didn’t expect was that I got a bill for the vaccination. Evidently it’s not free if you get it at the hospital. But it’s not an exorbitant fee, and it’s worth it.

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Pfizers on stun!

I’m halfway there! I just got back from the hospital, where I got my first COVID-19 vaccination shot. It’s the Pfizer vaccine, which means I’ll have to go back in 3 weeks for the second dose.

I was naturally nervous about this, not only since I hate getting shots, but since this was the first time in 5 months and only the third time since the first lockdown that I’ve been inside a building other than my residence — and the other two times were brief, a stop in at the post office and a quicker stop at the pharmacy. (Plus I hovered in the doorway of the garage office when I got car repairs last month.) This is the longest time I’ve spent around other people in nearly a year, so I was feeling pretty skittish, even with universal mask-wearing and all the hospital safety precautions. (I’m an introvert with social anxiety anyway. A pandemic requiring social distancing just exacerbates my inherent fears and reflexes.)

The check-in procedure was pretty streamlined. There were signs saying to have my ID ready to confirm my age, but the receptionist didn’t even check it, just asked for my birthdate (although I am in their system from prior visits, so maybe that’s why). I just had to e-sign my name three times and then I was given a ticket and went back to the vaccine clinic, and I only had to wait a couple of minutes for my turn. There was a helpful sign taped up telling me that I’d be getting the Pfizer vaccine, which answered my main question. On the one hand, I would’ve liked to get the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine so I’d be immunized faster, but on the other hand, I’d be neurotically worried that there was a mixup and I got just half of one of the two-shot vaccines instead. But I’m sure they keep careful track of all the doses. My vaccine card had a sticker put on with the lot number of the injection.

Well, anyway, it’s a muscular injection, which means it stung badly for a few seconds, but it passed soon. My main trouble was remembering which pocket I’d stuck the little ticket in, and then finding my jacket sleeve to put it back on afterward. I had to wait around in the waiting area for 15 minutes in case of an adverse reaction, your usual post-vaccination procedure, but I felt fine. The injection site isn’t even sore anymore (at least, not so far), and I’m feeling no symptoms yet. Of course, the flu-like side effects tend to come after the second shot, but they pass after a day or two and they’re just the result of the immune system gearing up its defenses. I guess I’ll see in 3 weeks whether I have that kind of reaction.

The main problem I had is that I still haven’t figured out how to consistently keep my glasses from fogging up when wearing one of the disposable surgical masks I use. I ended up just putting my glasses away and getting by without them (only in the hospital, of course, not in the car), so it’s fortunate I didn’t need to read any signage.

So anyway, after my second shot in 3 weeks, it’ll take about another 2 weeks for full immunity to kick in. So I should be set by the end of April — which is pretty much just in time for the Brood X cicadas to come out of their 17-year slumber and swarm by the gazillions, which means I’m still going to be stuck indoors all summer anyway, because I also have an insect phobia. There’s irony for you. Well… as I recall, they’re only active at certain times of day, so I think going out in the mornings is okay. Still, ugh. Every time the cicadas swarm, I hope that by 17 years later I’ll have moved someplace where they don’t swarm, or at least be able to take a long summer vacation out of town. But here I still am in Cincinnati for the fourth Brood X outbreak of my lifetime, though only the third I will have been old enough to remember.

Speaking of being among other people, my aunt had her 93rd birthday the other day, and various family members and friends thereof got together on a Zoom party to celebrate. It’s a shame Zoom doesn’t have an option for providing cake or pizza, but at least I got to see a few familiar faces. It’s the first time I’ve been on a Zoom call with family instead of fellow writers for a convention panel. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

I’m happy for my aunt and uncle, since they’re fully vaccinated now, so this past weekend they were able to hold their nearly one-year-old great-grandchild for the first time. There is hope of things inching back toward normal, as long as enough people behave intelligently by using masks and social distancing, avoiding large indoor gatherings, and getting vaccinated as soon as feasible. I know that achieving that is going to be an uphill battle against the forces of selfishness and stupidity, which are still ascendant in too much of the country and the world. But I’m doing my part, and I encourage everyone else to do the same. People deserve to be able to hug their great-grandchildren. (Where available.)

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Assorted updates on life

Well, the garage may not have been able to identify and fix the parasitic draw on my car battery, but so far, replacing the battery seems to have helped. I’ve now managed to go up to a week between drives without the battery running out, though I’m trying to make sure I go for a drive at least that often, even if it’s just to dump my recyclables or something. I did that yesterday, then to “exercise” the car and recharge the battery, I drove a few miles to Burnet Woods and strolled around the duck pond for a few minutes, to recharge my battery. The weather was only moderately comfortable, the sky was gloomy, and it’s still a bit early in the year for the woods to look all that great, but I didn’t want to be there when it was crowded anyway. Even outdoors, I prefer to keep as far from other people as possible. So I only hung around a few minutes, but it was nice to get a change of scenery, literally.

It turns out I’m now in an eligible age group to get a COVID vaccine under Ohio policy. I haven’t been in a great hurry, since I figure I’m such a hermit that I’m at low risk, both to myself and to others, so I’m willing to wait my turn until people in greater need get theirs. Still, it’s important to get vaccinated, and it would certainly give me peace of mind, so I’ve started to look into how to go about it. I’ll just have to overcome my timidity about getting shots — and about registering for websites. (At least when I get a shot, I don’t have to go through the hassle of coming up with a password first.)

I had an extended COVID anxiety dream night before last — the kind that’s initially just a normal, old-habits dream of being out in the world, until some recent-memory circuit kicks in and you remember that there’s a pandemic on and you’re outside without a mask. But this was a particularly major instance, because in my dream, I’d taken the bus without a mask and didn’t remember the pandemic until just after I got off in the heart of downtown. So that was quite a lot of potential exposure. To make matters worse, I then ended up being stuck at a fair-sized social gathering indoors where nobody was masked, and it went on quite some time while I tried feebly to keep my face covered with a handkerchief. Then I realized that what people were talking about there was boring and pointless and there was no good reason for me to be there at all, certainly not for such a long time. It was like every source of COVID anxiety at once. I was very relieved when I woke up and realized it was just a dream.

Meanwhile, I just got my taxes done. I was hoping I could go back to my usual tax preparer after missing two years with her, because I tried to do my own taxes two years ago (which turned out poorly) and then last year I took advantage of the 3-month extension to file, and my preparer only works during the regular tax season. But it turns out that this year she’s dealing with a health issue and wasn’t available. I hope she’s okay. Anyway, I ended up with the same fellow who did my taxes last year, and according to him, I was given too low a health insurance subsidy last year, and thus I get a substantial tax credit and owe a lot less than I otherwise would have. Which I initially thought was very good news, although in retrospect it’s kind of bad news, because it means I spent too much last year when I was more broke than I am now. I needed the savings then more than I need them now. Still, it is a relief. Though with my income improving this year, it looks like my taxes will be significantly higher next year.

Nothing much to report on the writing front. I’m working on a Star Trek Adventures project prior to getting back to work on the big new thing that I’ve been hinting at for months and still can’t openly talk about. The work is going more slowly than I’d like, but I’ve got plenty of time. Hopefully I can say more soon.

Categories: Uncategorized

Braving the garage

Last time I reported on my car battery situation at the end of January, I was cautiously optimistic that I might have dealt with the drain on my battery by removing the charger from the power socket. No such luck — the last couple of times I went for groceries, I had to jumpstart it again. Luckily, I still had a few weeks left on my battery’s 18-month free replacement warranty. Still, I waited for the weather to improve a bit (both so the car would be easier to start and because I’d have to walk from and to the garage after dropping off my car). Plus I was hesitant to go to the garage because of COVID and all. Finally I noticed that Google now gives health precaution info for businesses, and it confirmed that my garage had sensible precautions. I was still a little concerned about indoor ventilation, though. People are still preoccupied with disinfecting surfaces, but the scientific consensus now is that surface infection is vanishingly unlikely and the real risk is from being indoors with other people for any length of time, particularly in a poorly ventilated space. But when I thought about it, I figured that an automotive garage would pretty much need to have good ventilation by default. Well, maybe not so much in the office, but it’s a small office and it usually has at least one door open.

As it turned out, there have been some procedural changes as well — when I called, I was told to schedule a dropoff time online, and the online form asked me to describe the issues, so I didn’t have to do it face to face. And I didn’t even have to come inside, as it turned out; I just dropped the car off and left the spare key on the front seat. Picking it up today, I was able to call the guy from outside and he brought the credit card scanner out with him. He offered to take my card info over the phone, but I figured just being outside was enough.

As it turns out, while I did get a new battery, new wiper blades, tire rotation, and other servicing, it turns out that the battery problem is what I feared. The electrical issues the car’s been having for well over a year now, which are beyond the local garage’s ability to address, are evidently causing some kind of “parasitic draw” on the battery. And I don’t see how I can get that taken care of anytime soon. The garage they referred me to is too far away to get back from except by bus, which isn’t an option I’m willing to take in a pandemic. And though my money situation has begun to improve, it’s an incremental improvement and I need to keep my spending relatively constrained until the next big paycheck comes in a few months. So as it stands, my options are either to drive the car more regularly to keep the battery charged (even though I have zero other reasons to drive anywhere besides grocery pickup), or just keep using my jumpstarter pack to start it up like I’ve been doing for the past few months. Hopefully at least the new battery will make some difference, or will drain less as the weather warms. But I have no idea what to do about the problem in the long run.

So my walks from the garage yesterday and to it today are the longest walks I’ve taken in quite a while. I’m glad I was still up to it; my fitness hasn’t deteriorated too much from the lockdown. I even managed to keep my glasses from fogging up too badly with the mask on. Still seeing a lot of people going unmasked, though among those who were masked, I didn’t notice anyone with their noses sticking out.

Oh, speaking of electrical problems, we had a power failure here yesterday afternoon, just after 5 PM. I was able to check the power company’s outage map on my phone, and it gave an estimated repair time of 9:30, which I hoped was just a placeholder and that the power would be restored before the 4-hour safe limit for food in the fridge. I passed the time reading a paperback book by the window before the sun set, and to avoid opening the fridge, I had supper consisting of a peanut butter sandwich (no jam) and potato chips, and cracked open a new, room-temperature bottle of apple juice (then forgot myself and accidentally opened the fridge door for a few seconds to put it away).

I’d just settled down to do some writing work on my laptop (which still had a full battery) when the power came back on, about 2 hours or so into the blackout, so my food was safe. So of course I blew off the work and went online again. I didn’t really feel up to doing much anyway. Although moving my laptop to the table did finally let me brush the dust off the cooling-fan platform it sits on, something I recently realized I should try to do periodically.

Still, it’s frustrating how often the power goes out around here. I wish we could really modernize the power grid — build in more redundancies, give buildings backup generators or batteries, stuff like that.

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eSPEC EXCERPTS – ARACHNE’S EXILE

Here’s a brief excerpt from ARACHNE’S EXILE, from the eSpec blog! The book is available to NetGalley subscribers for the remainder of February.

eSpec Books

This week’s excerpt is from Christopher L. Bennett’s Arachne’s Exile, the sequel to Arachne’s Crime.


Arachne's Exile 6 x 9

Chapter One

Stephen Jacobs-Wong had spent most of the journey from Shilirrlal on autopilot, putting up the front of leadership and charisma that came effortlessly, but not really letting anything outside his ship and crew engage him even as the wonders of the galaxy passed them by. His thoughts were still preoccupied by the series of tragedies for which he blamed himself—and by the schism between himself and Cecilia LoCarno, Arachne’s captain and his dearest friend, over their responsibility for making amends. With the onset of the migration, Stephen and Sita had finally begun to reconnect and heal each other’s grief at the loss of their baby, easing the burdens on his spirit. Yet that effort had required keeping his focus inward.

But in time, the sky became too beautiful to ignore. The…

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I have a new(ish) printer!

February 5, 2021 3 comments

My old printer has been acting up for a while. Something was wrong with the paper feeder that made it feed jerkily so that there were gaps and overlaps in the printout, and that made the printer act as though there were a paper jam when there wasn’t, so that I couldn’t get past the paper jam warning on the printer’s own screen to work the controls. No matter, then; I had software on my computer that let me control the scanner function and keep using it for that purpose, at least. But it turns out that software was dependent on Adobe Flash, so it stopped working at the start of this year. No matter, then; at least I could still control the printer from Word or Acrobat or whatever. Except that when I tried that, it wouldn’t print at all!

If not for the pandemic, I might’ve tried taking the printer in for repairs before replacing it, but I figured it probably wouldn’t cost much more to get a new one. So I went looking online. I hit a snag when I realized that all the modern printers from the makers of my old one require a software app that isn’t compatible with my old refurbished Windows 7 laptop. So I had to look into other brands, and I found an older model that was compatible and not too expensive. I actually thought I’d be able to get it for under 40 bucks from a local store, but then I noticed it didn’t have a “Buy” button, just a “Notify me when it’s available” button. So I ended up getting it through an Amazon vendor for 100-plus. Not great, but at least I’m in a position to afford it now.

So the printer came yesterday, but I didn’t feel like going to the trouble of installing it until today. I almost hit another snag, since I keep my printer up on top of my computer hutch and I wasn’t sure the supplied cords would reach. The power cord turned out to be just long enough, but the USB cord (since it’s not wireless, being old and cheap) was way too short. Luckily, I still have an old USB hub/extension cord thingy that I replaced years ago with a faster one. It seems to work just fine despite the slower data rate. The printer doesn’t seem to work that fast, but I think that’s more of a hardware issue. It’s not like I use my printer much, so it doesn’t need to be great, just functional.

So now I finally have a working printer/scanner again, which is good. The reason I decided I needed to act now was that tax time is coming up and I wanted to be able to scan and upload my tax forms. I should be able to do that now. Although I’ll have to remember that the scanner plate has the reverse orientation from my previous one — the top of the document goes on the left side now. Also the control buttons are on the top instead of the front, which isn’t great for a printer I keep up high.

Also, I think the printer control software slows down my browser after I use it, heaven knows why, but closing and restarting the browser clears it up. Another thing to remember. The software itself is a bit annoying, putting up this whole weird control panel on my screen that it was hard to figure out how to turn off, but at the same time, the controls seem more easily accessible and intuitive than the previous printer’s control software.

Aside from these minor snags, the installation went pretty smoothly. Yet I’m having a weird reaction. Part of the reason I waited a day to install it was because I was worried that it might be difficult and frustrating. I deal poorly with tech going wrong, or just in general with new problems I can’t figure out. I tend to get really flustered by such things. Yet even though the installation went fairly smoothly, with nothing going wrong aside from a couple of setbacks I quickly solved, I find myself feeling emotionally drained and edgy, much as I’d feel if it had been hard and frustrating. I didn’t feel upset or agitated while I was installing the printer, but I’m kind of feeling the aftereffects as if I had. It’s as if my brain and hormones reacted to what I feared would happen instead of what actually happened. Weird.

Meanwhile, as long as I was getting stuff from Amazon, I finally got around to buying a new toilet flapper valve to deal with the “ghost flush” problem I talked about back in August, i.e. the slow leakage through the deteriorating flapper that caused the tank to slowly drain and spontaneously refill every few hours. That problem has come and gone over the past few months, but it’s been fairly steady lately, so I was glad for the chance to fix it at last. I was surprised by how decayed the old flapper had gotten; when I drained the tank and pulled it out, the crumbly rubber stuck to my fingers like I was holding a moist brownie, and there were cloudy wisps of black particulates dislodged into the surrounding water when I moved it. So definitely way, way overdue for replacement. The new one fit perfectly and seems to be working fine now, although it didn’t quite close at one point last night and I realized I’d hooked up the chain a bit too loosely so that it got caught underneath the valve. I realized that was why the previous chain was attached over the top of the lever instead of the bottom, so I adjusted it accordingly.

So bit by bit, things in my household are getting long-overdue fixes. There are still some other fixes needed, like a new desktop keyboard and car repairs. But those can wait until more money comes in over the year ahead.

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COVER REVEAL – THE ARACHNE SERIES

January 1, 2021 1 comment

An auspicious start to the new year — cover reveals for both ARACHNE’S EXILE and THE ARACHNE OMNIBUS, a deluxe volume collecting both novels along with the stories “Comfort Zones” (for the first time in print), “The Weight of Silence,” and “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele.”

eSpec Books

This is exciting. Two books in as many days, and they are both related, so we are featuring both of them in this post. We hope you enjoy the forthcoming releases by Christopher L. Bennett, Arachne’s Exile, and The Arachne Omnibus, which includes not only both books in The Arachne duology, but also the three existing short stories in that timeline and a special rendition of the author’s height chart for the aliens featured in the books.


Arachne's Exile 6 x 9

What a Tangled Web…

When the colony starship Arachne unwittingly destroyed a deep-space habitat of the Chirrn, her crew committed themselves to a lifetime of penance to repay their debt. But a brutal act of vengeance has now forced them into exile in a distant part of the galaxy.

Drawn into a cosmic conspiracy spanning millennia, the colonists learn that the Chirrn’s ancient choices have exacted a terrible toll on human…

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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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