Covid Survey David Bowie Style

NO, I AM NOT DAVID BOWIE

Whilst perusing the boundless, skunk-infested garbage dump that is the internet, gas mask firmly strapped on and idly recollecting David Bowie’s career, I encountered a page urging me to participate in a covid survey. Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University. Aside: I have never had the pleasure of purchasing a carnegie melon at the grocery store, but I imagine they’re delicious.

POSSESSED BY THE MODERN SPIRIT

Yes, I clicked on the survey. And, in the modern spirit of being all that you can be, self-identifying, grooving with your internal flow, floating on the subjective breeze of self, I decided to live my life out as a person of Finnish-Urdu extraction, housed with a large extended family of nine in a yurt. Unemployed, but possessing a doctorate in environmental studies, and the beneficiary of considerable monies from the public pocket of Uncle Sam. Also, I identified as being vaccinated four times, boosted twice, and currently suffering from more medical problems than the collective patient population of Mayo Clinic Rochester.

Needless to say, this made the survey much more enjoyable. I do appreciate sharing intimate medical issues with anonymous grad students from Carnegie Mellon. Doubtless, some might take umbrage with me and point out that I’ve skewed the statistics. The statistics? That, somewhere, are part and parcel of our national health defense?

BALDERDASH

The American health statistics, numbers, data, and whatnot available for covid-related matters are paltry and hopscotch. They’re laughable. Particularly in comparison to other countries. You can find rather comprehensive data sets from places like the UK, various Scandinavian countries, Israel, etc.

If you’re skeptical of that, do some research.

GUILTY?

So, no, I don’t feel guilty. After all, I write fantasy. I could’ve claimed I was an elf. Though I imagine there are plenty of people these days claiming such a reality in all earnestness. Blue-haired elves, possessed of many cats.

One of the more intriguing parts of the survey was toward the end. Several questions about whether I thought the pandemic was being secretly orchestrated by a small group of individuals (screenshots included here). What an intriguing question. It made me recollect the scene from So I Married An Axe Murderer. You know, the one where Mike and others are discussing the secret society that the Queen and Colonel Sanders belong to.

This is the stuff that prompts story-writing, furtive conversations and, ultimately, throwing chests of tea in the harbor. I have always disliked tea.

 

Farming in the Dark

One of the advantages of living on a farm (and in this context I’m defining advantage as curse) is that farming often happens in the dark. Such as 4 in the morning, when the harvest prep crew fires up their machines about two hundred feet away from my bedroom window. Which is what happened last night.

EAT MORE BROCCOLI

A field of broccoli is thriving away on the south side of the house. Green, sturdy, healthy–just waiting to be cut, boxed, cooled and shipped off to a Costco near you. But that means time for harvest. And I’m not always at my cheeriest when woken up at 4 in the morning, startled awake by the rumble of a John Deere. At least, this time, the crew considerately did not turn on their ranchito music as well.

I threw on a jacket, glasses and boots, went outside to have a terse word with the crew, but then thought better of it. Perhaps I was calmed by the beauty of the night sky. And it certainly was beautiful, with the moon low down over our roof. I stopped to marvel and take a photo. Of both the moon and the machines. I said nothing to the crew. They probably would’ve been bewildered by me. Everyone on a farm gets up early, they would’ve been thinking. 4 am really isn’t that early.

Just think of all the work you could get done if you got up at 4am every day.

COMPETENCE

A long time ago, I spent some time working in Thailand. One of my housemates was a Thai fellow who got by on three or four hours every night. He told me he’d lived like that for years. Very cheerful, energetic fellow. Seemed to be in good health, as far as I could tell. His eyes didn’t twitch. No tremors. Not that I’m a doctor, but I can usually detect when someone is criminally insane, has broken limbs, or has a sucking chest wound,  so I’m somewhat competent medically.

24-4 is 20. 20 hours of productivity. Think of all the broccoli I could pick in 20 hours. Think of all the broccoli you could pick in 20 hours.

Air and Space Museum

The main Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC is closed for renovations these days. However, their sister museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center next to Dulles Airport, is open. And what a fantastic place it is.

Recently, the family (complete with Super Kids and even Superer Wife) were out in Virginia for a wedding and some sight-seeing (historical, mostly). We went to a great many museums (tax money well-spent, in my estimation). You can’t drive half a mile in Virginia without seeing some sort of historical and/or museum site. Appomatox Courthouse. Monticello. James Madison’s House. Bull Run. The Museum of This. The Museum of That. Upon This Ye Olde Spot Patrick Henry Did Converse With Several Farmers and One Ye Olde Cow.

Etc etc.

Virginia is an amazing place. Plus, coming from California, it is even more amazinger, because: green (not the ideology–I mean trees everywhere), no homeless people (other than wandering around DC, though, some of them might’ve been Congressional staffers after a late night bender), and no trash anywhere. California is cornering the world’s market on outdoor trash.

Back to the Hazy Center (Steve Hazy, by the way, is the CEO of the Air Lease Corporation, a billionaire, and, I imagine, quite a large donor to the Smithsonian). If you have any interest in planes and helicopters of any kind, this is the place for you. It contains the Enola Gay, the Discovery Challenger, a Blackbird, and many, many other fascinating examples of Man’s ingenuity. The place is huge. Free (tax money at work, which means it isn’t free). I could’ve happily wandered around in there for half a day.

One of the interesting things about the flying machines displayed is that they all had their provenance spelled out. Such as: “This F-100D entered service in 1957 and flew 6, 159 hours over a 21-year career. It served during the Cuban Missile Crisis, was later stationed in Japan, and moved to Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam in 1965. Ground fire hit the plane several times during its years in Vietnam. The aircraft is displayed as it appeared during the heaviest fighting of the Tet Offensive of 1968, when it flew for the 90th Tactical Fighter Squadron…”

And so on.

I was particularly fascinated by a series of prototype helicopters invented by one Stanley Hiller, who apparently started his mind-staggering career at 15 years old, when he invented the world’s first, successful coaxial helicopter. I’ve included photos of three of his machines. He did a lot of work for the military (go where the money is, I suppose). The yellow Hiller Copter pictured here  he built while he was at Stanford, at the ripe old age of 19 (suddenly, I feel like a non-achiever). Called the XH-44, it was the first helicopter invented to use all-metal blades. He tested the XH-44 with amphibious floats in his parents’ swimming pool.

One of his odder inventions is the Flying Platform. He built this for the Army in the 1950s, but they never went to mass production with it. Apparently, a non-pilot could fly this thing by simply leaning in the direction he wanted to go. Top speed of 16 mph.

Another bizarre Hiller-machine was Rotorcycle. Hiller built that one for the Marine Corps in the 50s. They wanted a single-person, collapsible helicopter for Spec Ops missions or for dropping to pilots trapped behind enemy lines. Even though the Rotorcycle was a success, the Corps did not bring it to production due to slow speed (52 mph), vulnerability to small arms fire, and the fact that pilots could get spatially disoriented in it if they flew too high above the ground.

Interestingly enough, driving back from San Francisco Airport, I noticed a Hiller Museum off the 101 in San Carlos, near Palo Alto. Never noticed that sign before. Anyway, this Hiller fellow must’ve had quite a brain! It’s encouraging and inspiring to see creativity like that at work.

Creativity is creativity, whether it powers your drawing, your writing, or your helicopter-inventing. Unusual thing, isn’t it?

Love in the Time of Pandemica

My newest album, Love in the Time of Pandemica, has just gone live. These days, I’m mostly recording under the name Inflatable Hippies (which my wife hates), but this album is under the band name UDK (short for Upside Down Kingdom). I’m not going to use this name again; it’s only for this album (and, yes, I realize this is totally a dumb marketing move in terms of [not] building up an entity–but that’s not exactly my goal here).

I didn’t write these songs for my grandmother. My specific audience for them is epic fantasy readers who shop at thrift stores, like Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and are mildly irritated with Jim Butcher for not writing a sequel to the Aeronaut’s Windlass. A very well-written and crafted book.

Anyway, these are all rock/alternative songs, mostly dealing with mortality, meaning in life, fate, providence, totalitarianism (particularly “Time to Run” and “Dark Stories”). “She’s Got Fangs” is in honor of all the excitable people who made themselves greatly known in the last two years of the pandemic/shut down/the great oddity (whatever you want to call 2020 and 2021). “Feel Just Fine” is an old, stripped down, fairly raw version of a song that ended up on the soundtrack of the indie film The Fellows Hip.

I love writing and recording music. The process is intensely creative with almost immediate gratification. At least, it seems immediate in comparison to writing books (several weeks versus months upon months). A regular dose of creativity keeps me sane. I figure on putting together an album’s worth of music at least once a year. Probably do an electronica instrumental album next.

You can hear all the songs in the new album for free at my HearNow site. If you like them, feel free to buy them on Apple or Amazon, or stream them on Spotify, Pandora, etc. The songs are pretty much everywhere digital music is sold.

Backyard Tractors

The backyard on a ranch can look a bit different than other backyards. Such as your backyard in Georgetown, downtown Chicago, Manhattan (may I never live in Manhattan), or Santa Monica. May I never live in any of those places. If there are a high number of tractors in the surrounding fifty square miles, then I will probably be good.

Here’s what is currently living in my backyard. Tractors. Pretty big ones. Not that big by Midwest commodity standards, but big enough for coastal California farming. My boys are pleased, that’s for certain. These New Hollands are pretty cool. They also come in a double-tire version which is great if you need to roll over a large battalion of gophers at one time.

In epic fantasy terms, these tractors are the equivalent of ogres, large trolls, small dragons, or even mid-sized giants.

Gotta love these track Cases. They’re cooler than the Challengers that Caterpillar makes, but people around here tend to use Challengers more.

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