Friday, February 20, 2009

Gravity Works...and gravity SUCKS!

I got my first paying gig here in Nebraska.

My client wanted "lifestyle" stuff...sunset over the lake, kids playing, shoppers outside a store...

I knew from last year that there was snow coming, and I wanted to get some of these pictures before everything was frozen and white. So, I went off to shoot the neighborhoods the client suggested...in 35 or so degree weather.

On the seventh, or maybe eighth stop, I saw these two guys in a rowboat, with this brilliant red sunset behind them. Great lifestyle shot, if I could get it, so I leaped out of the car with the tripod in one hand and the camera in the other. Well, you can't adjust a tripod with a hand full of camera, so I decided to loop the strap around my neck.

I missed. The strap passed over my head, and my fingers were so cold I lost my grip on the camera.

It fell...from, oh, head height or so...landed on the (cheap kit) lens...on concrete. I found shattered pieces of plastic inside the camera body from the lens body.

It doesn't work anymore. It doesn't pop the mirror out of the way, so all I get is totally black pictures. Oh, and an "error 99" message.

I haven't shot any new pictures in...um...two months...? Talk about your withdrawal symptoms.

I can't afford to replace the camera any time soon. There's just no room in the budget for the next couple of months. And I would have to lay odds that a replacement Digital Rebel 300d is cheaper than repairing the same model, considering it's seven or eight years old.

Yes, this is all leading up to something. This is all pointing towards the new widget up top right in my blog--the one labeled "The Camera Replacement Fund." That gadget is attached to Redbubble, where you can purchase prints and posters of a variety of my best shots. And the proceeds of every purchase go right into the cute little piggy bank on my desk with the words "Al's New Camera" marked on the side in purple crayon.

Anyway...enjoy the slideshow...and if you'd like to sling a few sheckels into the Camera Replacement Fund, and help bring the withdrawal symptoms to an end, please drop by Redbubble and pick out a good one.

-=ad=-

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pikers and Rikers and Jazz, Oh My...

Note: This post is an entry into the Friday Challenge, which can be found here.



Deep inside the bowels of the Starfleet Personnel Division, Ensign Quackenbush bounces his head in time with the Martian speed metal blasting through his Ipod 2e37. The cybernetically implanted music station allows him to listen to any music he likes, without disturbing his neighbors, and his assignment is so tedious that he needs the jams just to get through the day.

His printer ("printer" was a misnomer, since it didn't actually print anything; what it did was use transporter and replicator technology to create a full blown paper report from raw molecules) spit out a fresh set of orders, and he pulled it to read while another set was printing. Temporary duty assignment, he read, for someone named "Piker."

The music in his head reached a crescendo, and in his chair-dancing escapades, he dumped coffee in his lap. Cursing in Romulan, he dashed off to the head, cleaned up the mess, and returned to his duties. He grabbed Riker's transfer orders off the printer, stamped them with all of the proper military approvals, and delivered the stack to the transporter that would then deliver them to the admiral's desk for a signature.

"Stupid way of doing things," he mumbled. Most would agree with him, but that was "the way things were done" in a military organization, and probably would always be the way they were done.

He then grabbed Piker's paperwork, quashing a sudden sense of deja vu, and stamped the approval for his assignment to the
Rachmaninoff, a deep space research vessel.


William T. Riker strode purposefully through the long curving corridors of Deep Space 17, working his way to the transfer to his temporary post. Lieutenant Schmidts, a short, blonde man from Deneb 3, struggled to keep up while waving a sheaf of important looking papers in the air.

"So, you see, Commander, there's been some kind of mixup..."

"Yeah, I got that part," Riker said, without slowing down. The ship that had gotten him this far has been a rickety Altairian transport, with nothing on the menu except Altairian stew and Klingon chili, and the chili was threatening to make a re-appearance, so Riker was moving at a pretty fast clip.

"You know Starfleet uses a personality test to help staff ships, right?" Schmidts said, dodging around a crowd going the other way.

"Yes," Riker growled. "Since the ships are away from base for so long, finding shipmates with something in common just makes sense. You use the Captain's profile as a starting point, and assign the rest of the crew with that in mind. Basic personnel stuff there."

"Um...yes. Exactly. That's my point. Someone screwed up your results, and you've been assigned to...um..."

"Spit it out. Get to the point."

"Um. Yessir, you're assigned to the Van Halen."

"Van Halen? You mean the guy who found the radiation belts around the Earth?"

"No, sir, um, that's Van Allen." Schmidts dodged around another cluster of people. "You see, this ship, it's...well...it's ROCK MUSICIANS. Plus some Country, they seem to fit in."

Riker came to a dead stop, and gave the man a glare that would have melted the rings off of Saturn. "Excuse me?" Schmidts handed over the stack of paper and swallowed hard.

Looking at the signatures that made everything official, Riker sighed. "I think I'd rather do another month with the Klingons."



Riker's sense of dread increased with each step. The docking bay to the Van Halen was just ahead, and the closer he got, the further away he wanted to be.

ROCK musicians? How in the name of W. Maynard Ferguson was he going to function aboard a ship full of fans of...of...he could barely bring himself to say it.

This was going to be the most miserable month of his life, he knew that.



Captain Simmons met him at the door with a firm handshake, and before Riker could get past the traditional "permission to come aboard, sir" Simmons was already talking about the situation. "You can dispense with the false pleasantries, Commander. Schmidts called ahead; I know you're not where you want to be. Let's get your gear stowed and see if we can make this visit as painless as we can manage."

Two hours later, after making the rounds and eating a light dinner by himself in the mess hall, Riker stretched out on a barely comfortable bed. The Van Halen was an old ship, recently refitted but still with the thin walls of its generation. As Riker closed his eyes and drifted, he was jolted by what sounded like a screaming baby. After a few moments, Riker identified the sound as an over-amplified guitar, screeching and whining like a scalded Tiberian feline.

...then the room on the other side added a discordant bass drum beat to the mix. Riker's com badge bounced a bit closer to the edge of the nightstand with every beat. He reached under the bed for the spare pillow, and clutched it over his head. After three minutes, the main pillow joined it. Still the shrill whine of vibrating strings made his teeth rattle against each other and the heavy drum beat bounced his head from one side to the other.

Finally, he gave up. He threw on civilian clothes and went for a walk.


The New Orleans bar wasn't the same as the one he had customized on the Enterprise, but it would do. He added a small audience and a band, and ordered the computer to change out the bandmembers with historic figures on a frequent basis.

One of his strengths was his ability to "fit in." He had carved a niche for himself on a Klingon cruiser. He would do it again on this ship.

...he had no clue HOW to do that...perhaps he could replicate himself some earplugs...? Or, better yet, a sensory deprivation tank...

There had to be some common ground.

Riker dozed off in a booth, with the computer alerting him an hour before his shift was due to begin.


That became his habit for the first week of his assignment--leaving for the holo New Orleans every time the evening serenades began. There had to be a way find his niche in this...gaggle.

Captain Simmons went out of his way to assign Riker solo tasks--stuff that would allow him to stay away from the general crew. Riker understood the sentiment, but he also knew that this wasn't the way to fit in.


Finally, he ordered the computer to replicate his trombone, a Bach Stradivarius. And, with two minutes to go before his neighbors started their traditional evening noise, Riker started his. He started off with some Miles Davis, drifted into Maynard Ferguson, and threw in some T'Krell flourishes for good measure. Then he paused for a moment or three, and started up again with some blues--straightforward stuff.

After ten minutes of solo playing, Riker noticed the bass beat was keeping time with the blues. And three minutes later, the guitar started improvising on the same beat.


Not once on the entire cruise did Riker ever meet his bandmates, but every night became a blues/jazz improv session among the three of them. And the attitudes from the crewmen around him slowly changed, to the point where Riker almost felt like he might actually be able to fit in there.

...then the Andorrian science officer broke out with the refrain from "I know she's out there somewhere" during dinner, and Riker knew he would never really fit in among this crew.

After his tour was over, he was almost sorry to leave.

Almost.


Riker was back where he belonged, on the Bridge of the Enterprise, right next to Captain Picard.

"Captain," Worf announced, "we are receiving a request for assistance. It's from the Rachmaninoff."

"Yes, Mr. Worf? What's the nature of the emergency?"

Worf's voice was filled with surprise and puzzlement. "Sir, the text of the message is 'come and get this idiot off of my ship before I throw him out the airlock."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Intervention

Note: This post is an entry into The Friday Challenge, which can be found Here.


The retro rockets made for a barely serviceable landing, albeit a rough one. The fuel cut out, completely spent, just a few feet from the surface, and the resulting drop crumpled the landing gear. The scoutship was left stranded on the tarmac, leaning at a drunken angle. Twenty seven missions, all but two without a scratch, only to drop it like an empty beer dispenser on this airless pebble six million light years from nowhere.

Honey, I'm home, Flix thought, as he prepared to leave the ship. He gathered up all of the nutrient bars he could find, his blaster, medkit, and personal bag. He hesitated on the bag, knowing how much it would slow him down--but then slung it over his shoulder. He couldn't bear the thought of leaving it behind, because if something happened to his survival suit, he might never make it back out to the ship.

Everything he could carry was attached to the suit or slung over shoulders. It was time to make the hike--nearly a mile from the ship to the airlock, with nothing to hide behind if Kelmari troops were around. Walking across a long flat plain in a war zone was bad enough, but making that same hike in a bulky space suit, loaded down with gear, in bright sunshine, in vaccuum...his heart was in his throat when he opened the hatch, and he was practically hyperventilating from the halfway point to the moment the interior airlock door opened in front of him, revealing an empty corridor.

Fortunately, he didn't find any evidence of Kelmari inside the station. Unfortunately, he didn't find much evidence of any humans, either. According to his mission briefing, this had been as much a research station as a distant outpost, and sparsely populated; the people may have evacuated the base--and the solar system--when the Kelmari arrived.

Priorities, he thought. Air, water, food, living space. This is going to be home for a while...probably a LONG while...best to see if room service was awake.

He followed the airlock access corridor to a cross-path, one of the main concentric corridors that connected every branch of the station, and turned left, still hauling all of his gear. He refused to let any of it out of his sight until he could find a place to lock it down or hide it away...or until he was satisfied there were no other life forms in the entire station.

He found a workroom that would make a serviceable bedroom, complete with a locking door. All of the gear stacked neatly in a corner, with the bag in another. He thought about the bag and its contents; some relaxation right now would probably help...no, not without securing the station. The bag went into the corner with the rest, with a deep sigh. On his way out, he activated the computerized door lock, and set it to voice authorization only. Blaster in hand, he made a full sweep of the entire ring.

Hydroponics...check. There would be plenty to eat, provided he didn't mind vegetarianism. Air...check. Communications, weapons, crew quarters...no chance. There was hard vaccuum behind that door, and no amount of finagling with the computer could re-pressurize the sector.

...but that gave him an idea.

He went around to each of the 14 corridors that branched off. At each one, he activated the computer terminal nearest the door, sealed off the corridor, and purged the air from the section. Any hidden Kelmari would be suffocated, and the base would be secure. Eight corridors cleared without a hitch.

At the ninth, the computer balked. "Unable to comply," it said. He argued, and tried a dozen times, but the computer absolutely refused to vent that particular sector. Ultimately, he moved on to the next. Thirteen sections cleared, one held up by a computer glitch. Still, the odds were good that he was the only person there.

He returned to his room, opened his personal bag, and totally lost all track of time.


The next day, he started researching the computer issue, and found an old meeting log.

"Status update," one voice asked.

"The logic functions are upgraded, just like I laid out in my proposal," a voice answered.

"What, just like that?"

"Well, yes, just like that. The bulk of the research was done back on Earth, this is just the prototype design."

"You mean to tell me you've programmed morality into a computer?"

"Yes. This computer will recognize life and won't perform an action that will cause the death of a person."

With this, Flix's blood ran cold. He grabbed his blaster and dashed out of the room, cursing in five languages--only two of which were native to his home planet.

The meeting log continued, playing to empty air. "So, how will you know if your program is successful? How will you know if the computer has learned?"

"Well, you can program a computer to NOT do something. It will refuse an order to kill, that's just inaction. But the real test of whether or not a computer has developed sentience is if it acts on its own initiative--if it devises a solution to something in a way it wasn't programmed for."


Flix headed for the section the computer wouldn't space, and accessed the voice controls at that terminal. "Computer, expose this sector to space," he said.

"Unable to comply," the female voice responded, just like yesterday.

"Computer, return number of life forms within sensor range."

"Two life forms detected," it answered almost immediately, but Flix was already moving by the time it finished the sentence.

The warehouse appeared to be deserted, but he still moved cautiously, blaster ready. He was closing and locking doors as he went, trying to narrow down the places someone could hide. The odds of the other being human were vanishingly small; it was much more likely the other life form arrived the same way he did--from a crippled starship.

Laser fire rang out from across the warehouse, stitching a line of burnt carbon against the bulkhead, a foot above his head, a warning shot. Flix returned fire, slinging half a dozen shots randomly in the direction the bolt came from as he ducked behind boxes.

For the next ten minutes, they stalked each other through the deserted warehouse dome. His eyes were burning from the carbonized air and the blaster was tingling in his palm--the warning that he was nearly out of ammunition. He hoped he had one shot left, because he had the Kelmari cornered. Working up his courage, he took a deep breath, broke cover, rolled across the floor, and came up with the blaster pointed at the enemy's face.

Unfortunately, he couldn't see that face, around the blaster it was pointing at him.

He held his breath, and pulled the trigger. The buzzing in his palm stopped, and the blaster emitted a quiet "beep." The Kelmari, too, fired--and his laser went "MERP". Both of them brought their weapons down, and looked at them, Flix with a sheepish look on his face.

The Kelmari screamed at him, and the minor tentacles around it's neck flared with rage. Then it was gone, dashing deep into the station. Damn, that squid is fast, he thought.


Life settled down into a routine after that. Flix and the Kelmari developed a sort of detente--he would hit the hydroponics bay during the morning, and it would gather its' own food in the evening. He made sure to lock every door as he passed through it, but the Kelmari seemed content to stay on that half of the station. Flix would hunt through the warehouse for an ammo pack or comm gear or something, with no luck...and then he would return to his room, and reach for his bag.

"You're addicted," his roommate had told him once.

"Nah, it's not like that," he would say, only half-believing himself.


Somewhere, deep in the circuitry of the station, decisions were being made. Somehow, the situation had to change. And a computer programmed to think for itself finally started to fulfill it's design. One evening, while Flix was lost in his addiction, the computer opened a comm circuit from one end of the station to the other, allowing the Kelmari to hear what was going on in Flix's room.


Flix gave up on another fruitless day of searching, and retired to his room. He opened the bag, and balanced the antique across his knees, making sure it was still tuned. Then, he put his fingers on the strings of the ancient Stratocaster, and launched into some Martian speed metal to get his fingers warmed up. After that, some "Hotel California," smoothly leading into "Pinball Wizard"...he played, lost in the sound...letting his fingers find the music automatically, enjoying the rhythm, feeling the music roll over him...

...the drummer was out of time; that cymbal shot was half a beat behind, they were going to have to practice more...

...drummer...?

His fingers froze on the strings, but the percussion didn't stop; the rhythm kept moving, continuing the Who's beat. He stepped to the doorway, and looked out to see the squid playing...well, with every tentacle. Each of the four "fingers" had a rhythm pad beneath it; the "pinky tentacle" was cranking out something that sounded remarkably like a snare drum, while the "index tentacle" was hammering out a bass beat. The minor neck tentacles each had a bell or cymbal setup going, and all of it was amplified through a set of speakers the alien wore at his throat.

It--he?--continued playing, tilting his head to one side as if to say "hey, you missed your cue."


Two weeks later, Flix and Oxar were best of friends. The squid had introduced him to several versions of alien music, while Flix had tried his best to get the alien to understand twentieth century rock. Stupid squid kept playing bells too loud during "Don't Fear the Reaper," but other than that, he made for a dynamite percussion section. Just maybe, after the fighting stopped, they might find a couple of vocalists, maybe some horns, and go on tour. Hey, stranger things had happened.

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