Monday, December 19, 2016

PSA - Monday, December 19th

Wish me luck.  Today is the day I go in for a very minor surgery.

The doctor assured me that from the time they wheel me in to when they wheel me out, it will only be 60-90 minutes.  Recovery should be pretty fast as well—two to three weeks total.

In the meantime, I probably won’t be updating this blog much (if at all).

My tweets will still go out automatically, and they’ll post to Facebook the same way.

Other than that, I’m pretty much “off the grid” as far as quick responses.

If you don’t hear from me, Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Burning EKG Daylight

I must break . . . out in SONG!
Yesterday, as part of my pre-op checkboxes, my doctor had me do some lab work and then get an EKG.  I’ve never had an EKG, and I assumed I’d be on one of those treadmill things, strapped with a couple dozen electrode-thingies, forced to run on an increasing incline at faster rates much like Ivan Drago did in Rocky IV.

Kaiser’s lab opens at 7:30am, so I headed off from my house a little before 7:00am.  I was the third or fourth in, and took #6 from the “Wait-UR-Damn-Turn-inator”.  When 7:30 rolled up, the lab check-in process started rolling and I was quickly in a seat, having my blood drawn by an expert phlebotomist.  Almost no pain at all, which I always appreciate and thank!

Then it was up to the fourth floor for the EKG.  I was the second one into the waiting room, and that window didn’t open for check-in until 8:00am, so I had a short ten minute wait.  This is almost never a real problem for me, as I’m always carrying my Kindle with two or three books that I haven’t read, and a slew that I’d be willing to read again. 

Unfortunately, as the receptionist told me, they don’t start doing the EKG until 8:45am.  Well, this is what I’m doing this morning, so that’s what I did.  I settled in to read for the next hour, tearing through the last third of Nick Cole’s The World as We Knew It and then started into Eric Lahti’s Saxton: Yee Naaldlooshii.  The lab tech for the EKG collected me around 9:10am, and we took a short walk down the hall.

EKG tests get your heart going!
“You can set your stuff there,” she told me, and gestured to a chair.  I deposited my messenger bag and sunglasses.

“Lay down and pull up your shirt.”

What’s this?  No disrobing and putting on a hospital gown?  No treadmill set to 95 degree?

The tech put six or so sticky-pads on my chest and attached cords to each one.

“Lay still and breathe normally,” she said.

I did so.  Or at least as much as you can in a cold hospital lying on an uncomfortable bed-thing with my feet hanging a good foot off the end.

“That’s it,” she said a moment later.

Seriously, like thirty seconds.  It took more time for her to take the pads and cords off of me than for the actual test.

I hope I passed!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

We're Fine, We're All Fine Here

Actual picture of my nurse!
I never know how many people actually read, let alone appreciate, my blog posts or various tweets—until yesterday.  I was waiting patiently (no, seriously) at my doctor’s office for a schedule pre-op appointment, I sent out what I thought was a funny, observational tweet:

The nurse had told me twice in the past 45 minutes that the doctor would see me in "five minutes".

This morning, my Facebook page, which Twitter automatically posts to, was filled with comments and some concerns, over my well-being.  It went beyond heart-warming, as I followed what started to become a conversation about me and my status.  Fortunately, one of the concerned folk Tweeted to me directly, and after I responded (non-descript, is the term used), he was able to assure everyone else I was OK.

Or at least as OK as a guy like me can be.

You don’t really know how many lives you touch, and how great that impact can be.  I’m not going to get all sappy in this post, but it did give a lovely morale boost.  It’s great to know that, even people you’ve never met, think you’re a worthwhile human being.

Or else they called dibs on your stereo and cassette collection.

(Hands off, you vultures!  I'm taking them with me!)

Whichever, I thank all of you who saw the post and were even slightly concerned (or just wanted to mock me).  You've warmed the cockles, the sub-cockles and the undercoating of my heart.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Weekend Birthday Madness

When your three boys attack!
We had a great opportunity this past weekend to celebrate a birthday.  It’s hard to believe that four years have gone by so fast!  Tara had a schedule, and despite all the jokes (and there were plenty, I can assure you) it worked.

Tara is truly brilliant.

The picture is what happens when you're the dad with three boys, and they're "working together".

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Letter to My Son

The following was a letter written to my son and his third grade class for some kind of student recognition:

Dear Miss Mendez and Porter’s Third Grade Class:

You’re in the third grade, and that’s amazing!  What’s more amazing is that you’re in Porter’s class.  I wish I’d been in your class.  Porter comes home from school every day excited about what he’s learned, and anxious to tell me about his day.  From the lessons, to what he had for lunch, to what he played at recess—I get the full breakdown of your daily class.  I also hear about all the friends Porter interacts with on a daily basis, and it sounds wonderful.  It is so great that all of you get along well, and I’m thrilled by what you’re learning.

I wish there had been a Porter in my class when I was in third grade.  Porter has always been a responsible child, and he enjoys learning new things.  But most of all, Porter really loves helping and being a friend.  He’s always been a kind child, and has always paid attention to the smaller kids—Porter likes when everyone is included and everyone has fun.  He is especially good, to his two brothers: Tristan and Xavier—even if they do annoy him sometimes.

This makes a lot of sense, because Porter wants to be a game designer.  When he was younger, he invented a game called “Ball-Ball”.  I don’t know the exact rules of Ball Ball (it’s possible only Porter does), but playing it with him was a lot of fun.  Porter will play any game that comes into the house.  While he enjoys single-player video games, he prefers games that allow multiple-players so that everyone can join in with him.

Most of all, I am proud of Porter, and all that he represents for the upcoming generation.  I catch glimpses of his mother and I in Porter, but he is wholly his own person.  Energetic, driven, focused (when he wants to be) with opportunities and experiences that far outstrip my own.  I also catch little visions of what he and his classmates will be like in the future, and it makes me happy to see.

Thank you!

Your Dad—

RobRoy McCandless

Monday, December 12, 2016

Outlook Hazy—Try Again Later

. . . then the nurse said, "The doctor will be with you
in a moment!"
Every couple of years or so I like to throw my holidays into a wild curve by visiting the hospital.  This will be one of those years.  Next Monday, December 19th, I’ll head into surgery.  It’s nothing major—I’m told they remove heads all the time—so I’m not overly concerned.

You should not be concerned either.

If you are worried in any way, just stop, and then be awesome.

If that doesn’t work, I’ve pre-programmed my Twitter to keep sending out all those nuggets of wisdom you’ve come to know, love, respect and cherish.

If you aren’t cherishing them, you can start now.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The New Normal

"It's silly to appeal to people's moral sense."
It was inevitable.  When we allowed Trump to continue as a viable candidate after his first round of lies, we established and validated a pattern that we'll continue to see for at least the next four years.  Trump is no longer accountable to anyone, and we made him that way.

The new normal is:

Trump lies.
He gets caught in the lie.
He lashes on whoever called him out for the lie.
Trump doubles down on the lie.
There are no consequences.

We created the monster, gave him power over us, and now all we can do is watch helplessly from the sidelines.  The next four years will show Trump repeating this cycle.  He’ll malign individuals over perceived slights, and take credit for something he didn’t accomplish, and never mind that the numbers don't work.

Or, to put it more succinctly:

But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.

Hermann Goering

Nuremberg Diary
(The dude in the picture)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Fantasy Bounty Hunters

“Who are those guys?”
Butch Cassidy Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Whaddya mean "no disintegrations"?
Bounty hunters rank right up there with pirates, ninjas and Vikings as one of the coolest jobs every romanticized into mythic proportions.  A recent question about bounty hunters in a Medieval fantasy setting prompted quite the conversation, and pointed out that there are precious few fantasy-genre bounty hunter stories.

There’s a very good, historical reason for this.

Independent individuals who captured criminals for a monetary reward (bounties)—didn’t exist in the Medieval period.


Bounty hunting, as a profession, doesn’t become a thing until the late 1600s and early 1700s.  Before that, there wasn’t a reward system in place that would create and sustain a profession we know as “bounty hunting”.  This isn’t to say that rewards weren’t offered, from time to time, by a government or an authority figure.  Those certainly happened.  But there wasn’t a system of “bounties” that would create enough demand for an individual not attached to the government in some way to make a living, even part-time, hunting them down.

My!  That is a large bounty you have there!
Why wasn’t there an economy of rewards?  There was no need for it.  The agrarian society of the feudal system tied the majority of people to the land.  To survive, they had to work the land, and that just didn’t leave a lot of time for master minding a castle heist.  Wealth was generally in the hands of the aristocracy, whose prime concern was on maintaining and expanding their holdings—meaning walls, forts, and plenty of guards which sharp metal that would leave holes in your favorite liver.  Crimes that did occur, even minor ones, were harshly punished (see the aforementioned guards), which acted as a major deterrent.  Getting your hand cut off for stealing a loaf of bread really puts the kibosh on a reasonable person’s dreams of becoming a master-thief.  Most criminals were of the petty variety and locally sourced—they wouldn't have the means or ability to travel outside of their region to “pull a job” or “make a get away”. Those that did, wouldn't really be worth tracking down in a “bounty hunter” fashion, and they rarely if ever made the radar of the local lord or reeve.

If a criminal, or criminal group, did become a problem, the local authorities would put more effort into capturing or killing them, even to the point of placing a reward—but the enforcement would remain in the hands of the local government.  The rewards were one-offs, and not regular occurrences.

Add to that the relatively small population of the time.  On average, everyone knew everyone
Will work for bounties . . . or noodles!
else and everyone knew what everyone else had—next to nothing.  If your next to nothing was stolen, and Goodman Smith suddenly had slightly more next to nothing, it's a good bet where he got it.  It takes the rise of a merchant class/middle class to spread around the wealth, and see a rise in crime, such that enough criminals become a problem, you need to start putting bounties on their heads to keep the crime rate down. Reward-systems started to come into place in the late 1600s and early 1700s when the merchants were well established, wealth was better distributed, and populations were on the rise.

None of this is to say you can’t have a bounty hunter in your Medieval-based fantasy world.  In fact, you very much can and should!  There appears to be very little bounty hunter fantasy out right now (the aforementioned discussion turned up only a handful of titles).  You don’t even need to explain the economy of your fantasy world to make bounty hunting viable—just get out there and start writing!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Clear and Hold - Flash Fiction by R.A. McCandless

Here, there be . . . stories!
Writing in a genre or a format that is outside your comfort zone can really expand your skill set as an author—at least that’s the hope.  The following was submitted for a contest which encompassed both, and added the restriction of using an image to guide the story.  This piece wasn’t selected as a finalist, but I’m pleased with the attempt and the results.

Please enjoy!

Clear and Hold
I loved search and destroy operations.
 That’s the standing order for the Voll.  Their blood carries diseases and impurities.  They kidnap children to infect them.  They seduce pure men to get pregnant and coerce or rape pure women.  Command says they must be destroyed.
I agreed.
The Voll’s burrow was an old bunker—civilian, abandoned, and in ruins.  Dark and dank—the kind of thing they like.  Drones were useless in the confined space, so it was limited sat-comm with heat signatures on IR for the op.  The LT sent four of us.
We went in by the numbers.
I curled my fingers around the hard composite of my MTAR-33 assault rifle and found the biometric studs.  ARES chirped phys-chem recognition and overlays leapt into view.  A targeting reticle—gray to indicate no active target—floated while ARES scanned the bunker.  A 3D map bounced in front of me.  ARES estimated two hostiles.
We were ninety meters in when all hell broke loose.  Heat sign went off the scale around us. They had a boiler working and flooded steam through the piping.  Smokers went off and IR became useless.  ARES switched to full VR of the bunker.
A light blue wireframe overlayed the flowing white smoke and outlined the corridor, doorways, rooms and service access.  Two glowing semi-circles gave me estimated distance and time to contact from my current position.  I peered past the blue VR lines through the smoke and strained to make out the enemy.
ARES was wrong.  Four or five Volls came out of the walls, and they came fast.  They used some kind of heat shields—insulation or something.  Private Stinson got it first—goddamn axe handle to the back of the head.
Barry crumpled to the ground without a sound.  It wasn’t how a soldier should go down.
Bell and Greengar managed to open fire, but in the smoke and heat and confusion—the Voll had the advantage.
ARES finally caught up to the action.  The system painted the four hostiles with red chevrons to mark their position and yellow targeting reticles.
They came at me, screeching and clicking, chittering like bugs.
I lined up my MTAR with the first targeting reticle.  The crosshair circle changed from yellow to green and I squeezed the trigger five times.  My rifle thumped softly against my shoulder while ARES muted the gunfire sounds to small pops.  Two Voll dropped to the ground.
I swung to the next reticle.
There was too many.
ARES pulsed a red proximity alert over everything to warn me.  The second Voll swung a club at me.  I dropped the Voll at point blank range with two hasty shots, but the club bounced against my helmet and cheek with a dull thud.  I was momentarily blinded as pain blossomed through my face and eye.
The next Voll swung a broken pipe that tore my MTAR from my grip.  The weapon clattered across the floor.  I drew my sidearm and ARES switched the targeting reticles and ranges.  The Voll swung again.  I jumped back and fired.  The first two shots pinged off the concrete floor.  The third caught the Voll in the abdomen.  ARES confirmed the kill.
Too many.
ARES pulsed the red proximity warning faster.  I got off a hasty shot at the last Voll with the axe handle.  The Voll screamed, smashed the thick wood into my hands twice and knocked the sidearm free.  I drew my KA-BAR.  ARES painted pink splashes to adapt to the tactical knife.
The Voll swung the axe handle at my head.  I stepped into the creature and used my left arm to catch the strike near the Voll’s hands.  It stung, but the block did what was needed.  I stabbed toward the pink splash target, but wasn’t fast enough.  The Voll punched me in the face.  ARES registered the hit, and flowed quick calculations for damage, fatigue and chance of recovery.
I caught the next two punches with quick blocks.  I ducked down, spun and kicked the Voll’s legs out from under him.  The Voll fell backward and I lunged with my knife.  The blade slid into his left shoulder.  He screamed and hissed, grabbed my hand and trapped it against the knife handle.  ARES streamed information about the Voll’s wound—debilitating but not fatal.
The axe handle careened off my helmet in a series of wild blows.  My cheek broke under the barrage as I fought to free my hand from the knife.  The Voll dropped the handle and punched me.  Inky black flared in front of me from each blow.  ARES fritzed—the words and numbers froze, vibrated and hissed with static.  The red pulse of the proximity warning missed a beat, and then another.  It picked up again on my right side, but not the left.  I had a split-world view.  On the right, ARES functioned normally, but my left was stripped of the overlays.
The Voll chittered and hissed—underneath a voice spoke.
“Jesus Christ!  Please don’t kill me!  Jesuschristplease!”
I looked down and froze.  On the right, I saw the Voll as they’d always been—a hideous, hairless creature with a deformed head, melted features and dark, mottled skin.  My left eye showed a human.  A man.  He was emaciated by hunger and streaked with dirt from living in a bunker, but he was a man.  His clothes might have fit him a year ago, but now they hung off his frame.  The man’s face was contorted in fear and pain.  Tears streamed down his face and drew tracks across his cheeks.  It was a brutal contrast to the alien anger and rage my right eye showed me.
I scrambled back from the man.  ARES helpfully pointed out where my rifle and sidearm were, easy to reach.  I ignored the information.  The downed Volls were identified by ARES as dead.
To my left eye, all of them were human, bleeding red blood, looks of horror and pain carved on their faces.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Don't Silence Me!

Silent, but not too silent.
Silencers do not silence a firearm.  Silencers are better named “suppressors” as in “noise suppressor”.  Despite what we’ve been taught by movies and television—who rarely, if ever, get anything wrong—a suppressor will not change a gunshot to a sound like popcorn popping, or make that cool “fftt” noise.  Depending on the ammunition and the suppressor used, it will only reduce the sound by around 30dB.  Most guns crack off at around 160dB or better.  So a “silenced” gun will still sound like a gun shooting, just a little quieter.

On the other hand, modern suppressors no longer use the wipes (physical barriers of any number of materials meant to trap the exploding gasses) which would physically touch the bullet and effect the velocity.  Reducing the velocity of the bullet will reduce the range and accuracy—not a lot, but it should be noted.  Suppressors now use baffles and spacers which are machined with such great precision that they tend to no longer have these drawbacks.  In some cases, suppressors can actually increase muzzle velocity, although it’s not very much.

Proper hearing protection!
So, if you’re not getting James Bond-levels of assassination silence, what do you get with a suppressor?  First, dropping the dB from 160 (which is dangerous) down to 130dB definitely saves wear and tear on the eardrums, especially if they're unprotected.  It also cuts down on noise pollution for those areas around gun clubs and hunting areas where gunshots are more likely to be heard.  Aside from the noise, suppressors also cut down on the recoil as the lighter mass of the gas is slowed and expelled over a longer period of time.  Finally, you increase your ability to communicate if your ears and theirs aren’t ringing from the sonic boom of a gunshot, and your voice isn’t being drowned out by louder-than-a-rock-concert noises.  For military operations, this is incredibly desirable for obvious reasons of tactics and on-the-fly orders.

One final note is that suppressors wear out over time.  If we’re talking about an older unit, which uses the wipes, they wear out pretty quickly as the bullet is literally tearing through them.  But even more modern suppressors are worn down by the corrosive gasses and the passage of the bullet over time.  Automatic weapons are generally never suppressed for this reason, as the suppressors simply can’t stand up to the wear and tear.  Some of the highest quality suppressors may last over 30,000 rounds.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Don't Forget to Cover It!

Goggles? Airship? Female protagonist?
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover—but you do.  Everyone does.  This is why marketing exists in the first place.  There are literally (see what I did there) millions of books, all clamoring for a reader’s attention.  That cleverly engaging first line/first page of your work may not even be seen if you a reader is unwilling to pick up the title because the cover is unappealing.

The cover, for the reader, could easily be considered the true first page of the story.  It sits right there for Thor and everyone to see, and it gives an immediate first glimpse into the story.  Images of a goggle-wearing protagonist with a crashing airship reflected in one lens immediately tells your reader what kind of story this is likely to be.  If the cover is dull or drab (unless you’re writing in a dull and drab genre) readers are less likely to be interested.

More, the cover helps convey the quality of the work to the reader.  If you're asking people to pay money for something, you owe them a certain amount of value.  The cover can provide one assurance that the work about to be read meets some basic requirements of story and editing.  A professional cover lets readers know that they aren’t paying for a rough, first draft of the story.

Good cover designs, like the first line/first page of your story, draw the reader’s attention.  The artwork can take hold of them emotionally, and make them want to turn the pages—which is ultimately any writer’s goal.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Flashiest of Flash Fiction

Flash, goes the lightning!
The last two weeks, from a writing perspective, have flown past and not in a good way.  Deadlines are Eighth Circle of Hell.  Mix that with a science fiction theme and a flash-fiction maximum limit of 1,000 words and it’s like scrubbing with a cheese grater in a lemon-juice shower.

Until that brief, shining moment when all the random threads come together in a story that makes you salivate with wonder and hope.  Finalists will be announced November 28th, but whatever the outcome, a new story is a new story.  Here’s the opening:

I loved search and destroy operations.

That’s the standing order for the Voll.  Their blood carries diseases and impurities.  They kidnap children to infect them.  They seduce pure men to get pregnant and coerce or rape pure women.  Command says they must be destroyed.

I agreed.

The Voll’s burrow was an old bunker—civilian, abandoned, and in ruins.  Dark and dank—the kind of thing they like.  Drones were useless in the confined space, so it was limited sat-comm with heat signatures on IR for the op.  The LT sent four of us.

We went in by the numbers.

Pretty light stuff, huh?

Thanks goes out to all the folks who participated as beta readers or offered advice!

If this doesn’t make the finalists, the entirely will be posted up for your reading enjoyment.  It may be posted up anyhow.  It’s also possible this is the start of a new novel . . . but time will tell.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hunting Monsters by Allen Currier

In a sleepy, little town, a seasoned detective and a killer, the likes of which no one has ever seen, match wits.

Detective Steve Belcher has his work cut out for him. But how do you find a killer who leaves no clues? A killer who has the police lost at every turn?

How many bodies will stack up until Detective Belcher can find the monster committing these unspeakable crimes? How many monsters will he have to chase down to find the one behind the murders?

Can Steve find the monster before the monster finds him?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Arguments, Arguments Everywhere

I have three off case positions, two Ts and a K.
A friend of mine was asking for “solid argument topics” and of course, as a speech and debate coach of some years now, I was prepared:

The Electoral College—bad or so evil that you must say it's eeeee-vil?
Stop and Frisk in Schools—necessary or a good way to meet friends?
Nuclear Power—safe resource or our best chance for mutant powers?
Immunity for Police Officers—why or why?
Civil Disobedience—morally justified in a democracy, or a great way to get that flatscreen you've been eyeing?

Feel free to argue any, all, or your own topic in the comments section.  You will be graded on evidence, analysis, logical conclusion and the number of times you manage to site Breitbart without cracking up.

Also, bonus points for anyone who understood the caption without resorting to Google or Google-like options.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What? Me? Worry!?

Jokes on us!
I am of the sneaking and growing suspicion that what Trump actually meant when he said "We'll build a wall!" is "I want to be president and will say anything to do so regardless of how asinine it is, and once I'm in you'll look really foolish for electing me to do these implausible and impossible things!"

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016

Out of respect.
Veterans suffuse my life.  Granddad McCandless served, and so did my dad, Robert.  Uncles and cousins, countless friends and associates have taken an oath, shouldered a weapon and stood a watch.

I've thanked most of them throughout the years—or at least meant to.

Two of my closest friends served in three armed services.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Whatever their other faults, this is very much their day, when they are recognized for their actions, no matter how mundane, in service to their country and specifically to me. 

They continue to challenge, support, cajole, mock and laugh at and with me.

Thanks lads.  FAOBM!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

About Last Night

Say hello to my small-handed friend.
Last night totally happened.

It’s a thing now, and we have to face the consequences.

This morning, some of us felt scared or angry or frustrated.  Some of us were elated and excited and pumped up.  This morning, the Earth continued its rotation and the sun “came up”.  The air was still breathable, water was still wet, and basic laws of gravity and motion remained in effect.  My boys were cute.

The fundamental truth is that we all woke up in the same United States of America.

For those who “won,” congratulations.  I mean that sincerely, and I hope that the country and the world sees but prosperity and hope through your win.  For those who “lost,” I’m deeply sorry.  I sincerely hope that you will continue working to try to make the country, and the world, a better place.  America works as long as we make it work.

These are not the end times, or the start of a golden Utopia.  There is no movement the likes of which the world has never seen.  It’s only through a very narrow lens that history appears to be an inexorable march from event to event.  Nothing was meant to happen.  It required hard work, effort and investment of time and thought.

Win or lose, that’s the America we were in yesterday and 24 hours hasn’t changed it.

It will be OK.

Now, a word from our Founding Father:

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, — if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.

Benjamin Franklin

Speech to the Constitutional Convention, September 17, 1787

Monday, November 7, 2016

And, Shockingly, I'm Sick

The Writer, formerly known as Well.
Whatever my middle son decided to pick up as this seasons illness has finally hit me.  I had high hopes that when everyone had it but me and my oldest son, I was going to be safe.  Alas, no such luck.  I went to sleep last night with a tickle in my throat, and woke up this morning coughing, sore everywhere, and with far lower energy.

All this on the first Monday after the evil, vile, terrible, icky, smelly Daylight Stupid Time has finally ended.

I can barely work up a meaningful huzzah.


See?  I can’t even get up to exclamation point level, and this is an internet blog.

Have a great day.  I’m thinking I may head home.