Monday, January 28, 2019

Beautiful day at the LLELA!

Family hike to the 1800s cabin out in the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area by... you guessed it!... Lewisville lake!

Beautiful weather. Gorgeous woods and stream.

Here's a pix of the girls next to the cabin and one of a fisherman who snagged this monster catfish just as we got there! And a funny cartoon to top it off!

Have a great week everyone!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Short stories and me...

I'm dipping into the short story realm for awhile, just for the fun of it. I have lots of ideas saved up in my 'Do This Someday' list so I'm going to dust them off and see where it goes.

Here's the first few paragraphs from the one I'm working on now. It's about a young man in the Panhandle of Texas in the 50s whose Grandfather stumbles upon an interesting 'caller' with his jury-rigged ham radio...

The Workshop

Jeff gazes out the side window of the beat-up Ford pickup. The original green paint has long since faded into patches of bone white on the hood and fenders. The tail-gate never stops rattling, threatening to fall off despite the home-made hinges being re-welded a dozen times. Jeff is sweating like a pig in the Texas heat, cooped up in a rusting steel can with no air-conditioning. His Dad called it two by fifty air conditioning. Two open windows and driving fifty miles per hour. Jeff always laughs at the joke even though he’s heard it a million times.
John Luther is a pretty swell father. Jeff just wishes he could be with him more. His dad is a rough neck in the oil fields. It’s a hard, dangerous, dirty job, but it pays well. He does all he can to keep the two of them with clothes on their back and food to eat and he never complains about the work. At fifteen Jeff has had to grow up pretty quickly and help as much as possible.
They lost their shack of a house outside of Levelland when the oil company had to lay off half of its workers. John Luther looked locally for work, but there was none to be found. They were down to their last dollar when a cousin wrote him from Odessa of a new field opening up and looking for experienced rough necks. The problem was there was no housing yet, just trailers for the workers, no family allowed.
John sent a letter to his older brother Dean out in Lone Oak. Jeff’s Uncle Dean farms over fifteen hundred acres between Lone Oak and Miller Grove due east of Dallas. The land is hard-baked and dry as a popcorn fart. It takes everything the Luther family has to keep the farm afloat. In 1952 a large family had to toil all day and some of the night just to get the chores done. If the family had any surplus it went into a road side stand for sale. In Lone Oak the traffic is slight, mostly other farmers moving their crops and livestock to local depots, but they manage to sell some to tourist traveling through the state highway to some other destination. It keeps the youngsters busy for part of the day.
          Jeff is coming to live with Uncle Dean while his father goes to the oil field to start his new job. Jeff visited Uncle Dean once a few years ago when his mother was still alive. It was a good time for the family. There must have been twenty family members running around the farm, mostly cousins his age or younger. Jeff drools a little remembering the platters full of food laid out on church tables. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, three-bean salad, hot rolls with fresh churned butter, fried okra and black-eyed peas enough for a small army.
          That was before the Lone Oak cotton mill had burned down. Before the oil company in Levelland started failing. Before his Mom got sick. Before everything seem to go wrong for them.

--- 11 Jan 2019 more on this story ---

  The company that ran the mill didn’t have insurance to rebuild so the owners just abandoned it. Left the whole thing smoldering and dying outside of town. A burned out carcass of charred wooden bones and rusting wire sinew. 
        The mill had employed half of the town so the effect was devastating. Uncle Dean had been able to help a few families with work on the farm, but most families packed what belongings they had and moved off in all directions, hoping to find work or to move in with distant family. 
John slowed the truck down as he turned off the two-lane road and onto a gravel and dirt path that disappeared off into the east. He looked off into the distance watching the heat waves rise from the parched land. He glances at his son who is staring off in the distance, the hair on the back of his neck plastered down with drying sweat.
“Hey! You awake over there? We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Jeff shakes his head to clear the heat fog from his brain. He sticks his arm out the window and tries to direct some more air in with his hand. It doesn’t really help much since the air is hot as blazes.
“Yeah, sure, Pop. I’m awake. Just thinking about the last time we were here. You think it will be the same?”
John shakes his head and grimaces a little. “No. I expect things will be as lean here as they are everywhere else. But you’ll have a roof over your head and food in your belly until I can get set up in Odessa. Your Uncle Dean is doing ok, but don’t expect too many luxuries out here.”
Jeff laughs, “Luxuries? I’d settle for some of Aunt Mamie’s home-made vanilla ice cream. It sounds like heaven right now.”
It’s John’s turn to laugh. “Oh man, I had forgotten about that! Your memory is better than mine, son.” His mouth waters a little at the thought of the cold creamy goodness that Mamie was famous for in these parts. He’s always wondered if she slipped a little shine in to give it that wonderful smoothness. 
“Well, personally I’d like to shove my face into one of those huge water melons they keep in the water trough. I’ll bet you can still beat your cousins in a seed spitting contest!”
The main house is coming into view on the horizon. Three faded red barns sit like fat hogs around the main farm house. Several ancient oak trees sit like multi-limbed sentinels around the house, huge roots anchoring the trunks into the ground. They spread out their thick, brown arms over the house and yard, giving some much needed shade. Off to the north a ways sits a single, low building with rusting corrugated steel sides and roof. Behind the shop a tall wooden pole with a thirty foot antenna stands slightly off center. The thick antenna wire runs into the back of the shop.

--- 21 Feb 2019 ---

        John points to the metal building. “Looks like your Grandpa’s workshop is still standing. When Dad passed I thought sure Dean would take it down. He never understood Dad’s obsession with all that ham radio stuff.”
        Jeff sits up a little in the battered seat, moving his butt a little to escape an errant spring peeking up through the worn leather. He remembers Grandpa Luther well. For some reason they hit it off from the get go. Everyone else thought Grandpa was a little ‘off’. He would spend days in his ‘work shop’ fiddling with magnets and motors, his ham radios and gizmos, wires and dials everywhere. Jeff loved the shop, it was filled with wonder and things to play with. His Grandpa would show him how electric motors worked and how to wind coils for his home made radios. They would spend hours trying to reach around the world with the short wave radio that Grandpa built from scratch.
        Grandpa and Jeff kept a secret between them. Something that Jeff had never told anyone, mostly because he didn’t believe it and partly because people would probably want to send Grandpa to a home. 
        Jeff found out about Grandpa’s secret the last time they were here, two years ago. Grandpa had taken Jeff into the work shop and sat him down on a tall stool pulled up to a long wooden bench, strewn with wires, lights and god only knows what else.                 Grandpa pulled up another stool and sat next to his grandson. His round glasses were always smudged and dirty, Jeff wondered how he could even see out of them.
        “OK, boy, you listen now. You and me seem to be made from the same mold. You are the only one in this family that gets a kick out of tinkering and experimenting. I see your eyes get big when you come in here. I want to let you in on a little secret. Do you think you can keep a secret, boy?”

--- 15 March 2019 ---

    Jeff remembered how his heart skipped a beat in excitement. “Sure, Grandpa, of course! What kind of secret?”
    “A big one, son, a real doozy!” Grandpa had waved his arms around at the inside of the shop. “Do you know why I built this workshop?”
    “Sure. I thought you just liked to tinker with electricity and your ham radio stuff, sir.”
    “Well, yes, I do like to tinker, boy. But that only started after I found Pip.”
    “Pip? Who’s Pip, Grandpa?”
    Grandpa had chuckled and said. “Well, I don’t rightly know who he is, son. I don’t know much about him at all, really.” He had looked at Jeff and in a low, conspiratorial voice said, “I can tell you he’s not from around here though.” Grandpa had let out a high raspy laugh and slapped the bench. Jeff had wondered what was so funny. “Oh, yeah, definitely not from around here.” 
    Grandpa had wheezed some more and then settled back on his stool. That’s when one of Jeff’s cousins opened the door and stuck his head in. “Grandpa! Aunt Mamie says for you two to quit playing around out here and come in for lunch or she’s going to give your chicken to someone else!” His cousin hadn’t waited to see if they got the message, he just turned and ran out, letting the door slam behind him.
    “Well, hell’s bells, son. I guess you’ll have to wait to meet Pip! I’m not about to miss any of Mamie’s chicken, are you?”
    “No, sir. I can smell it all the way out here. But where is Pip?”
    Grandpa had nodded and looked slowly around the shop. “We’ll come back later and I’ll introduce you if he’s around.”
    Jeff remembers walking out of the shop with his Grandpa to the main house. The rest of the day was a kind of blur of food and chasing cousins around the yard. Uncle Dean put out some irrigation pipes with sprinkler heads and turned on the well pump. The kids spent all day running through the cycling water spouts getting drenched and then sitting on concrete blocks in the back to dry off and warm up. Then it was back to the water again. Jeff remembered how wonderful it felt, like there was no tomorrow, like time had frozen just for them.
    That night, Mamie had pulled out a couple of big hand-cranked ice cream makers and they all sat around taking turns wearing out our arms turning the cranks. Someone would add ice and rock salt to keep the slush at just the right temperature to slowly freeze the delicious milk, eggs, sugar and a dash of white flour mixtures. One was always vanilla, the other would have canned peaches from Grandpa’s food cellar.
    After Jeff’s turn at one of the cranks, Grandpa had grabbed his mason jar of ‘adult tea’ and pulled Jeff away from the mob of kids. They walked to the workshop and closed the door behind them. Grandpa put a hook into the slot so that the door was secure from the inside. He walked back to the work bench and waved Jeff to his stool. The only light came from a couple of naked bulbs hanging down from the rafters over the bench.
    Grandpa reached over the bench to flip a couple of switches on. A dozen vacuum tubes of all sizes started to hum loudly and emit a bright orange, except for a small red one above a speaker. The light brightened quickly and then settled back down to a dark, almost shadowy glow. The thick glass tubes cast a strange aura over the bench and out into the dimness of the small shop. The hum softened into a low, whispering growl in the semi-darkness.
    “Now we have to be careful, boy,” said Grandpa as he started rotating a big, black rheostat. “If you juice up the coil too fast we’ll trip a breaker and have to start all over.” He pointed to a wild mass of intertwined wire coils at the end of the bench. “Slowly bring up the power until the arrow lines up with this white mark.”
    Jeff peered at the basketball-sized jumble of wire coils and tiny magnets. He couldn’t tell where one coil started and the next began. It made his eyes hurt trying to stare into the mass.
    “What is that, Grandpa?” Jeff’s eyes started to widen as a low whine started from somewhere deep in the ball. A faint, dark blue shadow seemed to form around the coils, almost like the heat haze that rises from the parched earth around the farm. Then a bright blue-green glow started to pulse rapidly around the sphere.
    Grandpa adjusted another knob next to the rheostat and the glow slowed it’s throbbing gradually. Grandpa watched a big dial above the coil as the needle moved towards the middle of the dial. When the pointer reached the ‘0’ at the top of the dial he stopped and sat back. “There. See that setting, boy? That’s the frequency we need. You’ll have to watch that dial, sometimes it drifts and you’ll have to adjust it back to ‘0’. Got it?” Grandpa’s wiry eyebrows raised in question.
    “Got it. But what is that thing, Grandpa? It looks like one of Grandma’s knitting balls except it’s made of different kinds of wire!”
    Grandpa chuckled. “That’s my own invention! I call it my ‘Magnetosphere’!” He nudges Jeff with an elbow and says in a low conspiratorial voice, “You almost guessed my secret, young man. I started with a big inductance coil I was wiring for my Ham radio. I messed up something because it wasn’t working. So I started tinkering with adding magnets to see what it would do. I just kept adding wires, coils and magnets to see if I could pick up anything with it! Ha!” He slapped his knee and said, “And damned if I didn’t! I found Pip!”

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Today was great!

Deb and I went for a walk at the LLELA, the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area. It's a great little area that has walking paths, the outlet from the lake and a cool 1850 homestead you can tour.
We got lucky today and there were period characters there to explain the construction of the buildings and other things.
True to form, Debbie knew someone who one of the characters there also knew. What followed was a discussion about bees, water color painting and friends. I stood by and listened. This happens everywhere we go. And it's totally awesome.
Here are some of the pix from the day.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Fall is here and winter is coming!

58 degrees and cloudy! Texas Autumn will be short this year and we could slide right into Winter in a few weeks!

Looks like the monsoon season has finally passed North Texas by and is allowing Autumn's cold breath to arrive. We've had over 25 inches of rain over the normal this year and the year's not over! My grass is SOOO green!!

On the writing front:

Now that 'Arlo and Jake: Deep Cover' is finally out I'm starting to explore some short stories to hopefully sell to Analog, Asimov or some other SciFi/Fantasy magazines.

I just started this one, 'Vicimus', which is Latin for 'We Won' or 'We Conquered'. It's an exploration of what happens when AI's are advanced enough to emulate their human builders. Will they behave 'better' than us, will they have the same strengths and flaws or will they behave in a totally unexpected way?

Artificial or Machine Intelligence is a wonderful concept to think about. Can you have 'intelligence' without the human brain? I my opinion is that all these ads for Microsoft and Google 'AI' are false advertising,  just the desire to be first to use the phrase as a marketing gimmick. Whether the systems pass the Turing test or not, to be 'intelligent' to me means the ability to think independently, to learn on your own and to be creative outside the everyday experience.

I have several other short stories I want to write, we'll see if I can focus enough to pick just one to work and get it published! ;-)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Arlo and Jake Deep Cover has launched!!!

I know you thought it would never happen, but with a great deal of grunting, groaning and tapping of the keyboard I finally got Book #4 of the Adventures of Arlo and Jake published!

Whoo Hoo!

The cover turned out great, due my Creative Director's hard work and inventive mind. Deb thinks it's pretty awesome, too! ;=)

I'm tweeting and posting on FB every few hours to get the word out. I'm getting some good response but still looking for that first sale. This is the hardest part, truth be told. Waiting to see if the book is noticed and if the reviews are positive. A writer wears his heart on his sleeve. He/She wants their baby to be happy and wanted. I'm no exception.

I'm going to promote hard for a week at least before I move on to the next writing project.

Here's a link, I hope you read it and enjoy. Please leave a review and your comments.

Thank you, sincerely.

Arlo and Jake Deep Cover