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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.

Categories: Uncategorized

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

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

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.)

Categories: Uncategorized

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…

View original post 1,157 more words

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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…

View original post 469 more words

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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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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.

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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