Archive for February, 2009

Pulse

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Frank quickened his stride and took a leaping jump onto the waist-high brick wall separating the sidewalk from the field. Kathy rolled her eyes at him. None of the other students busily hurrying to or from their classes registered a response at all.

“You know, this isn’t the playground at kindergarten,” Kathy teased Frank.

“Yeah, I know,” Frank responded. “If it was, I wouldn’t have made that jump.” He cracked what he hoped was his most winning smile. Arms spread wide, he balanced carefully as he continued walking along the brick wall. Kathy walked along beside him.

Kathy turned away and grunted, trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile. On the other side of the wall, a large group of students – too many on the field at once for a real match – was kicking a soccer ball around on the patchy field. They didn’t look especially coordinated, nor was there even a clear delineation between teams, but at least they looked to be having fun.

The two walked awkwardly in silence for awhile, avoiding each other’s gaze, until Frank grew bored of the novelty of walking along the wall and jumped back onto the sidewalk, nearly tripping in the process. He hoped Kathy hadn’t seen that, but of course, she had.

After several more moments of silence, Frank turned to look at Kathy. “Ready for the exam next Monday?” he asked.

“Not at all,” Kathy said mock-indignantly. “And that was a complete waste,” she continued, gesturing behind her. “How come we’re already learning new material that won’t even be on the exam?”

“He’s trying to teach sadism.” Frank paused for a few instants for effect. “By example.”

Kathy smirked. Then, she quickly side-stepped to the left to avoid an oncoming bicyclist on the sidewalk, bumping into Frank in the process.

“Idiot,” she said angrily, looking over her shoulder at the bicyclist. “The sidewalk is for people.”

A car whizzed by on the road to their right, braking and honking angrily at an absent-minded student who had just started jay-walking across the road.

“So, do you want to study for the exam together?” Frank asked. A slight tremble in his left hand would have betrayed his growing nervousness, had anyone noticed it.

“Oh, come on, you ace all the tests,” Kathy said with a tone of feigned annoyance.

“Well, I could help you.”

“Come on, you have better things to do with your time,” she said, smiling.

“Nope, I really don’t,” he said half-jokingly.

“All right, well I hope you don’t expect you’re getting anything out of this,” she said, her smile widening. Frank felt his heartbeat quickening.

They reached a group of students anxiously waiting on a patchy piece of grass between the sidewalk and street for a break in the steady stream of cars. The real crosswalk was a hundred feet up the road, but it didn’t lead directly to the walkway leading between the Mathematics and Physics buildings back to the dorms.

“So, when do you want to meet up?” Frank asked hopefully. A gap in the cars arrived and the group pushed out into the streeth. Frank stepped off the curb and followed them, Kathy closely behind him.

“How about toni-”

The world turned red in an instant.

Jagged loping arcs of pure white electricity lept between the power lines leading to the Physics building.

The red afterglow faded just as soon as it had come.

Everyone stopped in their tracks. One man fell over himself.

An oncoming car plowed into the students in the road behind Frank at low speed, the panicked driver stomping on the brakes to little effect.

Frank pulled Kathy up onto the opposite sidewalk.

People witnessing the carnage behind them began screaming for help. Others just began screaming.

“What the-” Kathy began saying. A loud boom from elsewhere on campus cut her off. The assembled crowd whipped around and looked in the direction of the presumed explosion, but saw nothing. The screaming ceased as people strained to hear anything further.

More out-of-control cars collided into each other on the roads, followed by bewildered motorists stepping out and staring at their vehicles in exasperation.

“Something happened,” Frank said softly. He was still holding Kathy’s hand, but he was no longer thinking at all about how he could turn a study session into something more. The traffic light up the street was dead.

Frank glanced at his watch. It was blank. “Something big happened.”

Kathy fumbled with her cell phone, but it wouldn’t turn on.

One of the students that had been struck by the car unsteadily got to his feet, clutching his leg. He started yelling at the driver of the car, unaware that larger problems were afoot.

“Nothing works!” Kathy said with increasing exasperation. She threw the cell phone down in disgust. The other students were collecting themselves.

“What happened?” Kathy asked Frank. The silence was deafening, punctuated only by curious and frightened whispers. He didn’t answer her right away. He was staring up in the sky, transfixed. Slowly, Kathy followed his gaze, and was frozen in horror too.

“Remember this moment. The moment that everything changed.”

They stared at the jetliner in the sky several miles out. It continued on its steep downwards trajectory, trailing a contrail of smoke that was too gray to be just water vapor. It developed a list to the left, and then with a chorus of shocked gasps from the attentive crowd, it rolled over entirely, and quickened its meeting with the ground. In the distance, in the direction of the airport, two more jetliners sought a similar fate.

The exam that would now never happen was the last thing on their minds.

I caught the Twitter bug

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Sigh. A lot of other people at work were using Twitter, so now I am too. If I join anything else, I’ll need to think of a good way to organize all of my web presences. I guess this blog can be the mothership, and contain links to everything else.

So far I seem to be using Twitter as a dumping ground for my Google Talk status messages, so they are no longer lost to the mists of the intertubes when I switch to a new one. I don’t ever foresee myself updating it on the go from a mobile phone — I just don’t have that much of a desire to remain connected. Being off the grid can be good sometimes.

A new, fictional direction for this site

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

As you’ve probably figured out by now, the past several months on Cyde Weys Musings have been characterized by my extreme inactivity. That wasn’t unintentional. I just had to make enough of a break from the old direction of the site in order to feel comfortable taking it in a new direction. Apparently, a couple of months’ worth of guilt over writing very little for you all was enough to overcome the threshold of taking this site in a more personal direction.

I’ve finally realized that what I enjoy more than anything else is writing fiction, yet so long as I was writing non-fiction on here quite regularly, that wasn’t going to happen. I might’ve been a bit optimistic when I proclaimed that the secret to getting into the mood to write is by writing, because I clearly wasn’t doing it. I’ve finally turned that corner.

So the new personal direction on here will consist of me writing fiction frequently and publishing all of it. I know that doesn’t sound very personal, especially since I won’t be revealing any sort of intimate details about myself like so many other bloggers, but believe me, it is. It’s a frightening thing putting your writing out there for all to see and critique. While I got over that hump with my non-fiction awhile ago, fiction is still a much more sensitive area. But I’ve finally gotten over it, and I’d rather my work be read and possibly disliked than languish in obscurity on my hard drive. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be critical — but please be kind. Saying someone’s opinion piece sucks is one thing, but saying someone’s fiction sucks is another whole world of authorial insult.

So, keep your eyes peeled. I’m going to keep at this for awhile come hell or high water. I’m not really attempting to become a professional writer or anything (though I wouldn’t mind it if that did end up happening). I’m content to write for a small audience here. That what I write is read by a few people is enough.

For completeness’s sake, here’s a list of all of the works of fiction I’ve published on this site so far that I consider at least passable. I hope to at least double this number of works within a month.

For Want of a Bolt

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

“So much for Her Majesty’s elite unit,” Lieutenant Nottingham said softly as he sank down into the canvas netting of the wall-mounted fold-up bench. The electric lantern above his head drifted lazily to and fro.

“It was a great idea, only suffering from a complete lack of execution,” I responded, trying to find some humor in the situation. We continued hearing the gentle pitter-patter of enemy fire against the outside of our behemoth. It sounded oh so distant.

“And to think, all for want of a bolt,” Nottingham continued morosely.

“A bolt, indeed,” I responded. I gave up on tinkering with the steam relay junction and sat across from Nottingham.

“What do we do now? Surrender?” Nottingham asked. He was leaving the decision up to me, even though he out-ranked me. The death of our commanding officer had shattered the chain of command. I could still picture the tortured look on his face as he sank down from the exposed cupola above the hatch, the fatal rifle shot having turned half of his insides to scrapple.

“And give them use of the behemoth? Never!” My resolve strengthened. I knew victory was no longer within our reach, but we could still avoid absolute defeat.

“Perhaps they’d find more use for it than we,” Nottingham said.

“No, we know what we must do,” I snapped, not in the mood for his attempt at gallows humor. The rain of lead against the outside of our hull abated slightly, passing into a more stochastic, syncopated murmur of clinks. Perhaps they were finally realizing our impenetrability. Perhaps they lost the pressing need for urgency upon realizing the complete hopelessness of our circumstances.

“We’ll die in the explosion too, you know,” he said. I could see a hint of fear in his eyes, which he hurriedly hid by slouching forward even more and resting his forehead on his palm. He was not ready.

“We only have one other choice then – set it in motion dead ahead, right into the river,” I resolved. “It won’t be recoverable after that.”

“Fine,” Nottingham hastily agreed. It was better than the alternative.

We set about the startup process with automaton-like efficiency. I slammed open all the intake relays leading to the boilers, material stresses be damned. The behemoth would find finally be unleashed to discover its maximum capabilities. Nottingham triggered the ignition and a loud whistling overtook us for a spell as the immense boilers began building up pressure. Evidently our enemies could hear it too, because the rate of ineffectual fire increased back into more steady volleys. I could sense their fear even through the two-foot steel armor surrounding us on all sides.

We waited as the indicator needles on the engineering panel slowly rotated to the right. I looked at Nottingham but he averted my gaze, too intent on attempting to discern some pattern from the now just-barely-audible reports of enemy fire.

When the majority of the needles passed the first marked threshold, I threw the main handle forward, and the behemoth roared to life. The control room creaked all around us as the first two locomotive legs began lifting up. The floor turned several degrees from straight down. I fought against the disorientation that proven to be the biggest hardship in finding a driver for the behemoth.

The needles continued rising as the automatic loader worked at full bore, delivering fresh lumber to the fireboxes as quickly as space permitted. The movement of the behemoth settled into a regular swaying motion, not unlike being at sea. I counted the movements across ten strides and satisfyingly noted that our speed was increasing at a brisk pace. I no longer heard any bullets pinging off the outside of our vehicle, but I could not discern whether that was because we had outrun our enemies, or simply because our steam engine was so deafeningly loud. As I reached for my earplugs, Nottingham interrupted me.

“One last word for Major Littlepage!” he shouted.

“Fine,” I shouted back, wincing as the mechanical noises around me grew ever louder.

Nottingham attempted to shout out some kind of eulogy or prayer for the late Major, I did not know which. I could not hear him over the roar of our furious machine. Instead, I pondered on his ill-fated mission, and the absurd flaw in the behemoth’s design. If I ever met the idiot that decided to put the spare parts locker on the outside of this rust bucket, I’d have a few choice words for him. Apparently the possibility of there being a need to make minor repairs to the behemoth in combat had escaped the designer’s mind. The courageous Major had died for want of a bolt, shot down as soon as he lifted himself through the hatch. He’d never even made it within twenty feet of the parts locker.

As soon as Nottingham stopped talking, I reached for my earplugs and jammed them in.

I peered through the periscope. The Rhine was still directly ahead of us, exactly as I had remembered. Except that now we were much, much closer to it, and drawing closer with an accelerating pace. Driving the behemoth deep into the river would guarantee its end just as much as detonating it from within, as no machine would ever be able to drag it out again save another behemoth — and after this travesty, there likely wouldn’t be another. Additionally, it would afford us some attempt at escape.

The pitch of the floor changed again as the behemoth entered the downwards sloping flood plain. It wouldn’t be long now. We picked up even more speed, running across the landscape at a rate I hadn’t even thought our behemoth capable of. She saw her fate before her and charged after it with a head full of steam. I glanced down at the boiler indicators, all of which were pegging against their final redlines so hard that the needles were bending. This would be the behemoth’s final blaze of glory.

I motioned to Nottingham, but he already knew what to do. He raced back to the hatch, stepping gingerly over the Major’s body in the process, and prepared to open it. With a tremendous splash, our first leg entered the edge of the river, throwing up a huge plume of spray. The other legs followed suit. Our forward momentum steadily dropped. The indicators sagged. Shortly enough we were in water up to the bottom of the main body. The boilers choked and died as they flooded with water, that infernal whistling giving its last dying gasp. Water began rushing into the cabin from a thousand different spots in the floor. The legs locked up and the behemoth began pitching forward.

“Now!” I yelled at Nottingham at the top of my lungs. He couldn’t hear me over the din, nor was he even looking at me, but he sensed that the time was right nonetheless, and with a giant push, he heaved the hatch upwards and clambered through it. I took one last look at the flooding cabin, sneering in disgust at the discarded steering wheel bobbing in the water, its sheered-off attachment bolt gleaming brightly in the newfound sunlight, and made to follow after him.

Firefox continues gaining market share, software flaws

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Excellent news! My favorite web browser, Mozilla Firefox, has gained market share yet again and now commands 21.53% of the market. That’s a far cry from several years ago when Firefox was just coming out and Internet Explorer was by far the dominant browser. I still remember all of those sites that only worked in Internet Explorer, and because alternative browsers weren’t very popular, companies got away with it. Now that Internet Explorer “only” has 67.55% of the market, no one dares make a site that requires it, thus alienating a whole third of potential customers. I can’t even remember the last time I saw an IE-only site.

Unfortunately, while Firefox’s market share is gaining, the software itself is gaining more and more problems. Firefox crashing has become a daily occurrence for me. I remember when it used to stay alive for months — barely. At least it now saves the list of open tabs and allows you to resume them upon restarting, but you still lose lots of logged in sessions and it’s just a big hassle. And while it is true that most Firefox crashes can be traced back to Adobe’s Flash plugin, there’s no excuse for Firefox allowing a bug in a plugin to crash the whole application. Google Chrome found a fix for this by running each tab as a separate process. Firefox needs to do the same, or else it won’t keep gaining market share for much longer. As much as I hate to admit it, Firefox has some pretty significant flaws.