Daily Thoughts 176: Refusing to Catch Up

Author's selfie The earth rotates and nothing that I do changes that one bit. It doesn’t matter if I’m busy or not (though I’m usually busy). People talk about ‘falling behind’ and ‘catching up’ as if a race is taking place. There is no race.

I enjoy streaks, accomplishing something day after day. I started doing that when I was a kid. It turned out that my brain liked routine. When I started writing my first novel when I was a teen, I set my sights on six pages per day. Each day I faced the pages in my typewriter (no computer at that point, though it was what they called a word processor at the time and had a tiny one-line screen and could store a few pages of text). That Brother word processor was a big improvement in my mind at the time. It made it easier to catch typos before I told it to type out the page. I enjoyed watching it clatter away, typing up the page. Day after day, I sat down and wrote. I also carried notebooks and wrote stories by hand when I was on breaks at work. I developed that skill early on, making it possible for me to take advantage of a 10-15 minute break, or a 30-60 minute lunch break. I’d sit and scribble quickly across the page.

When you set your goal at something like six pages per day it can be tempting to average that out. “If I do eight pages today, I’ll only have to do four tomorrow.”

The danger lies in the sense that you need to catch up. If you missed a day, suddenly you have twelve pages to write. If your schedule barely covers the six pages, twelve is unlikely to happen. Even if you managed, say eight pages, that leaves you with ten the next day. Eventually, by knocking out a couple extra pages you might ‘catch up’. At the same time, your stress has accumulated over those days of trying to write extra. It’s not sustainable.

Other Examples

This doesn’t happen only with writing. I think it happens with any job. You’re working at capacity and then something happens. Someone is sick or quits. Demand is greater than expected. Expenses higher than expected. Whatever the source, something happens that leaves you ‘behind.’ Bills pile up and so on it goes. If you continue at the same capacity you won’t fall further behind until the next thing happens.

In some of those cases, you don’t have direct control. Your supplier raises prices. If you can’t find another supplier that is willing to sell for less you’ll need to make cuts somewhere.

Don’t do this to yourself!

Why treat yourself that way? Don’t be the bill collector demanding payment. “Well, you know, you’re behind on the words Mr. Williams. And my boss, well, let’s say that she doesn’t take with that sort of thing.”

“I’m good for the words! Really, I am. Give me a chance. The end of the week. I can do it by the end of the week.”

“I’m not unreasonable. It’ll only cost you an extra five hundred. You do that and maybe I can convince her that breaking a finger isn’t necessary this time.”

Be Kind.

I’d like to spend time writing each day, but I don’t have to teach myself a lesson if I don’t make it on a particular day. I can start each day with new eyes, bright, and ready to play. If I’m looking forward to it with enthusiasm and excitement I’m more likely to get writing done.


Creative Commons License
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Love, Androids, and Cargo Bikes

Alex lived to take care of his daughter. Ever since his ex-wife left, Erica came first. He didn’t date. Worked and took care of Erica.

It was enough.

At least until Lisa rode her cargo bike up the hill. A gleaming metal figure sat motionless in the cargo bin. Maybe the future held more for him than he imagined.

🚀

It was July 7th, a Sunday evening, when Alex saw her for the first time. She was riding a front-load cargo bike up the hill, with something bright in the bike’s bin.

It was late and hot, and he had gone out onto the porch to sit on the porch swing. He used to do that with Anne back when they were first married and full of plans. Since Anne left, not so much, but Erica was finally asleep and he had thought that the cool air might help with his headache.

The sun still hadn’t set. Alex pressed his fingers against his temple. The vein throbbed beneath his thumb. The dry air stunk of the fireworks that the idiots one street over persisted in setting off, even as the temperature continued to hover in the mid-nineties. With all the parched lawns it was a miracle that they hadn’t already managed to burn down the neighborhood.

At forty-three, Alex Bell was thin and in relatively good shape. At least his doctor always acted thrilled when he came in for his annual physically. Dr. Steinberg almost waxed poetic about having someone in the office that was in decent shape with no allergies, no chronic health conditions, and no addictions. Not counting dark chocolate and a perfect cup of coffee. Both expensive habits, but common enough in Olympia.

His headache spiked like needles the back of his eyes. Stress, that’s all it was. He kicked against the porch rail, setting the swing rocking again. The water in his glass was still cold, though the ice had melted.

The stress came with being a single-parent barely able to scrape together the money for the bills each month. Before Anne got tired of living one month to the next and left him alone with Erica, it had almost seemed manageable. With two incomes, and two sets of hands and eyes to look after Erica, the world was a little less daunting. They couldn’t do anything about global warming or the wheat blight, but going gluten-free wasn’t that big of a deal.

A loud bang rolled across the neighborhood, loud enough to shake the windows. Erica had only just gone to sleep, so help him, if those fucking idiots woke her up—

He’d what? Go over there and beat the crap out of them?

No. He wouldn’t. Even if he didn’t have Erica to think about, he’d never do something like that. Violence didn’t solve anything. There’d been enough of that in the world already. He sipped his water and rocked the swing.

That was the moment when he saw the woman. Movement on the street drew his eye.

His house was on a quiet street on the east side of Olympia. Older homes, but a good neighborhood. The woman rode a red cargo bike, climbing the hill at the end of the street. She stood on the pedals, each push making one slow revolution. In front of her handlebars was a big bright blue cargo bin filled with something metallic. It caught the late sunlight and sent bright bolts stabbing into Alex’s eyes.

He squinted and turned away, shielding his eyes with his fingers. When she’d come a bit closer the glare had shifted and he could see her a bit. She looked young, at least from this distance. She was short and muscular.  Her blond hair was pulled back from a narrow, attractive face. She wore a dull green tank top, wet with sweat down the front where it clung to her chest.

Despite the obvious effort, and it had to be hard to ride that cargo bike up the steep hill, she was smiling. He couldn’t see any sign of an electric assist motor, but it was hard to see with the clutter on her bike. Well, not clutter, but stuff. It wasn’t only whatever metal thing she had in the bin, but there was a rack on the back of the bike covered with bulging bags. Another bag filled the triangle middle of the frame, and another was attached lengthwise across the front of her handlebars. Two big liter bottles of water caught the evening sun as they hung from the front of the bin.

All of that, and a smile. She was magnificent. She wore brown shorts almost the same color as her tanned, powerful legs. Legs that moved smoothly, with a hypnotic rhythm as she rode closer.

She picked up speed, having crested the hill, and continued on down the street. She was obviously going to pass his house. He hadn’t seen her before. He would have remembered.

Alex couldn’t take his eyes off her. She reached the Coldsmith’s next door and looked right at him, catching his eyes.

Her eyes were dark. Green, brown? It was too far for him to tell but she was lovely. Real, without any artifice. Her face was clean and radiant in the evening sun, which also lit up her golden hair like a halo around her head.

He hadn’t gone out, dated, not since Anne left. Between Erica and work, and his freelance design business, what time was there? His parents and friends kept asking if he was dating. They didn’t get it, that he was okay right now. Being between what had happened with Anne, and whatever the future held, that was okay.

The woman’s bike slowed as she rolled in front of his house. He was still looking at her, staring, really. Her smile widened and she lifted a hand.

Alex blinked and slowly lifted his hand in response. She stopped on the side of the street, where his weedy lawn ended in a courtesy garden of tomatoes, carrots, and radishes. The catchment spout on the drip barrel was yellowed with age.

“Hey there,” she called, smiling.

The cargo bike rolled to a stop and she kicked down a thick stand that braced the bike.

Alex’s breath caught in his throat. “Hi! Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.”

Still smiling, she lightly bit the end of her index finger and studied him.

Alex stood up, rather than seem rude. Up close she had that indefinable something that made his heart hurt. As if in response, his head cleared.

A loud bang exploded in the air. She jerked around, her eyes widening. “What was that?”

Alex pointed down the street. “Neighbors the next street over, still setting off fireworks.”

She twisted on her seat. “It’s loud.”

“I know. I wish they’d stop.”

“Why?”

Why? “Because my daughter is asleep. I hope it doesn’t wake her up.”

The woman nodded, her smile widened. “We’ll ask them to stop.”

She stretched, kicked the kickstand up and shoved the bike. In the same motion, she rose up on the pedals and pushed. Her muscles rippled with the effort and the cargo bike wobbled only a bit as it started moving.

He was watching her, still trying to process what she had said, when he really looked at the blue cargo bin, and at what she was hauling.

A metal torso, sculpted in smooth lines, sat propped in the cargo bin. One arm lay along the side of the bin, a black rubberized hand gripping the side, and the other hung down into the bin. The head was masculine, with stylized lines and bright yellow glowing eyes that almost looked like they were watching him.

A dummy? Movie prop? Gag? She was pedaling harder, picking up speed and almost past his yard already.

“Wait!” Alex ran out onto the dry lawn, crisp stems cracking beneath his bare feet. “Just a sec!”

She didn’t stop, but she twisted around and looked back at him, and chuckled.

“What?”

He put on more speed. He left the lawn and ran across the cracked concrete driveway as he caught up.

“I’m Alex. Alex Bell.”

She smiled wider. Her eyes turned out to be hazel, and her ears were pierced, but she wasn’t wearing any earrings.

“I’m Lisa Rivers.” She pointed at the mechanical dummy. “That’s Clank.”

Then she pulled away and Alex hit the sharp gravel at the edge of the road. He stopped and watched her until she reached the bend in the street, then he walked back up to the house.

Maybe she said something to the neighbors about the fireworks, or maybe not, either way, he didn’t hear any more that night.

🚀

Alex was still thinking about Lisa Rivers the next day when he was at work. His work group was on the fourth floor of the state’s Natural Resources Building, a victim of the “collaborative environment” phase that stripped out any personal spaces in favor of an open floor plan and mobile stations. You only had to look at the dust to see how often people moved the adjustable workstations, or count the number of stools to see what people thought of working standing up.

He didn’t mind standing. At least some of the time. His work stand was near the big windows that stretched around the building and afforded him a view of Olympia. Right next to him was a work stand occupied by Tim McCleary, a fifty-something bald man with a big gut and a scowl cut into his forehead.  When Tim had heard the news that Anne was leaving Alex, Tim’s response was, “It took her this long? I thought she left last year.”

Today Tim was wearing his typical loose hemp shirt and pants, sort of a dirty cream color, and huaraches on his feet decorated with beads. He looked like he was on his way to a yoga class, except the only stretching Tim ever did was filling his gut while getting stoned.

Despite Tim’s less appealing characteristics, he was the closest thing to a friend that Alex had at work.

“I met a woman last night,” Alex ventured. He pictured Lisa’s strong legs pedaling the heavy bike along the street.

Tim grunted and didn’t look away from his tablet. “You bang her?”

“No! Really? That’s your response?”

Tim shrugged. “What do you want me to say? I meet people all the time. Just this morning I met a woman asking for money to ride the bus. I wasn’t going to mention it, but if we’re talking about meeting people, why the hell not?”

“When someone says they met someone, it usually means that they meant someone they were interested in.” And he was. That was a surprise on its own.

“Duh, that’s why I asked if you banged her. I don’t see why you’re making this complicated.” Tim turned. He had little eyes and squinted a lot. “So you didn’t bang her, but you wanted to bang her, is that it?”

“Never mind.” Alex turned back to his tablet, gritting his teeth.

Tim laughed. “Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Tell me about her. Last I heard you didn’t think getting involved with someone would be good for Erica. This woman must have been something if you’re thinking about it.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it. I just keep thinking about her.”

“And?” Tim cupped his hands in front of his chest. “Was she?”

Alex’s tongue froze in his mouth. He couldn’t answer. Finally, he said, “You’re terrible.”

“I’m trying to get a mental image here.”

Alex remembered how her shirt had clung to her chest, wet with sweat. She was busty, especially given her height. Not that he’d say that to Tim. “She was fine, nice. And strong. She was riding a cargo bike up the hill, and passed my house.”

“A cargo bike?” Tim rolled his eyes. “Like with a box or something? What sort of junk was she hauling?”

“I don’t know, really. It was one of those bikes with a big box in front of the handlebars. Blue, in this case. And she had bags on the back and frame. She had this sort of robot mannequin thing in the cargo box.”

Clank, she had called it, he remembered. After she said that she’d talk to the guys setting off the fireworks.

Tom shook his head. “Man, she sounds like one of those Earth Nomads, those weird zero-carbon eco-nuts. You’d better stay away from her.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Come on. How many women do you know that would have been out there riding something like that, with a robot dummy? Would Anne have done that?”

Alex laughed. There was no way that Anne would have ridden a cargo bike. Her idea of being ecologically responsible was paying her carbon tax. That was always her problem, that even with both of them working, they didn’t make enough to have the lifestyle she wanted.

“Look, I know you haven’t been getting any since before Anne dumped you.”

“Thanks.”

“I’m telling you the way it is. You haven’t, not that I and others haven’t tried to set you up. I think it’s fantastic that you thought this weirdo chick was hot. So bang her. It’ll be good for you, and then move on.”

Alex flicked through the reports on his screen without studying them. “I don’t even know how to contact her. I probably won’t see her again.”

Tim shrugged. “No loss then. Pat yourself on the back, stroke off thinking about her, whatever floats your boat. If you’re noticing women, it’s a good thing. It’s a sign that you’re ready to start dating. We should go out sometime, pick up some dates. My sister can watch Erica for you.”

“I don’t think I’m ready for that,” Alex said. “Thanks anyway.”

“Whatever. Let me know when you change your mind. Now can we get back to work?”

“Sure,” Alex said.

Although when he flipped back to the beginning of the report, he  was still thinking about Lisa riding up the street on that cargo bike.

🚀

Alex had his head in the car, reaching into the back seat for Erica’s bag, when she yelled. They’d just gotten home after he had picked her up from day care.

“Daddy! Come look!” Her tone perfectly matched Anne’s impatient tone, except pitched higher.

He straightened up and pulled the bag out. It was light-weight and covered in pink ink splotches like someone had spilled ink all over the bag. It shimmered with embedded photovoltaic scales which powered whatever electronics were carried inside. In Erica’s case that was both a tablet and her phone. Anne had insisted that she have both when many kids got by with a plain school phone.

“What, honey?”

Erica was seven and beautiful. If he looked at her objectively, he’d still say the same thing. She had a modern sense of style already and in addition to her mother’s mannerisms, she had Anne’s bright red hair. Hair which was currently trapped beneath a bright green sun-hat. Erica was pointing toward the hill.

Sunlight splashed across metal as the red and blue cargo bike crawled up to the crest of the hill. Even in the glare Alex recognized Lisa’s silhouette. He shut the door, and walked around the car.

“That’s a cool bike, isn’t it?”

Erica rolled her eyes as she looked up at him from beneath the wide brim of her hat, but she was smiling. Her freckles were dark against her pale skin.

“Cool? How retro.”

“What would you call it, then?”

“It’s completely shiny,” Erica announced. “I want one.”

He had no idea what a bike like that went for, whatever it was it was more than he could afford right now.

“When I get my Moon buggy.” Which is what he always said when they couldn’t afford something.

Erica grinned. “They wouldn’t let you drive a Moon buggy.”

Alex put a hand to his heart, wincing in pretend agony. Lisa was getting closer, and Erica wasn’t showing any interest in going inside. As Lisa’s bike approached the Coldsmith’s, Erica skipped forward to the edge of their courtesy garden. She picked her way through the stone path beside the little library, and stopped at the edge of the street.

He followed Erica. What should he say?

The whole day at work he had kept picturing Lisa until he convinced himself that he had to be making up most of it. Seeing her again, it was clear he hadn’t made it up. She looked the same. She was even dressed the same.

But Clank had moved. The robot dummy now sat in the bin facing forward, with a hand on each side of the box. Lisa smiled and waved cheerfully.

Alex lifted a hand in greeting. Erica turned around, saw him wave and looked quickly back at Lisa. As fast as the sun dried up puddles, her smile faded. She crossed her arms and faced Lisa.

“Hi Alex,” Lisa called.

“Hi.”

Lisa brought her bike to a stop and kicked down the kickstand. She leaned forward on her handlebars, which caused her green shirt to gape and reveal even more of her ample cleavage.

“You know my Dad?” Erica asked flatly.

Alex put a hand on Erica’s shoulder. “This is my daughter, Erica. Erica, this is Lisa Rivers. We met yesterday when she rode past.”

Lisa straightened up, smiling. “Erica, nice to meet you. Did the fireworks bother you last night?”

“Fireworks?”

“The people the next street over were setting them off after you went to bed last night,” Alex said. “Lisa was going to ask them to give it a break.”

Lisa waved her hand. “They had almost finished anyway. Clank convinced them to listen.”

“Clank?” Erica asked.

Alex looked at the robotic dummy. Its head was staring straight down the road.

Lisa leaned forward and lightly stroked the robot’s metal cheek. “This is Clank.”

The metal head turned toward Lisa’s hand, pressing against her palm like a dog seeking attention.

Erica shrieked. Alex pulled her back closer to him.

Lisa looked up, grinning. “Don’t be scared. Clank isn’t going to hurt you.”

Erica moved a small step away from Alex. “It’s a puppet?”

Clank shook its head.

Erica gasped. “It heard me!”

“Of course,” Lisa said. “Clank is an android.”

Clank lifted a hand and waved.

It was amusing. A good show. Obviously, Lisa had programmed the robot with some rudimentary functionality. The cart probably carried its batteries and electronics. She must do street shows. One of the many entertainers that moved around the city.

“That’s clever,” Alex said.

Erica laughed. She took another step forward. “What can it do?”

Clank turned his head away. He brought his arms in and crossed them, hunching away in the cargo bin.

Now that was impressive.

“I’m sorry,” Erica said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Clank turned his head slightly, yellow eyes dull.

“Really,” Erica insisted. “You’re completely shiny.”

Clank’s eyes lit up, growing brighter as he straightened up in the bin.

Clank bent forward, rummaging in the bottom of the bin. His movements disturbingly human-like and fluid. Despite his name, he didn’t clank or clatter. His movements were silent. Was it possible that there was actually someone inside the android? That this was nothing more than a costume?

Sunlight flashed off Clank as he straightened up. He was holding three bright chrome balls in his black hands. Lisa settled back on her seat, grinning, and crossed her arms. If she was doing anything to control the android, Alex couldn’t see it.

Clank tossed the spheres up into the air and began to juggle. The balls made a soft patter as they landed. The chrome spheres spun around and around, the pattern shifted, reversed and then one of the spheres bounced back and forth over the others.

He wasn’t done yet. Clank’s arms crossed and uncrossed, weaving a different pattern with the balls. Then two of the balls were in one hand and Clank moved his fingers, causing the balls to rotate around in his hand.

At last, he stopped, and dropped the balls into the bottom of the bin and bowed at the waist.

Erica clapped and laughed. When Clank straightened up his eyes were glowing brightly.

It was the first time that Alex had seen Erica laugh since Anne left. For a second she wasn’t a closed off young woman, but the bright and open girl that she had been until Anne left.

Alex wanted to say something, invite Lisa to have coffee, something, except Erica was right there. And the android. He still couldn’t shake the feeling of intelligence behind Clank’s glowing eyes. Was it real? Or someone in a costume. Both answers would be disturbing.

“Thank you,” Lisa said into the silence. “We appreciate it. We do shows down on the landing. You should come see some time.”

“Maybe we’ll get a chance to do that,” Alex said.

He tore his gaze away from Clank’s unyielding stare. Lisa was smiling.

Lisa looked away from him to Erica. “It was nice meeting you, Erica. We’ll see you around.”

Then Lisa shoved the cargo bike into motion, kicking up the stand, and Clank’s head swiveled around, looking forward.

Alex watched her muscular legs, shiny with a film of sweat, pumping on the pedals as the bike picked up speed.

“Uh, Dad?”

He blinked and looked down at Erica. She smirked.

“Staring won’t take a picture.”

She pushed past him and headed for the house before he could respond. Her shoulders were pinched inward and she walked fast. Pissed off. Because she caught him looking at Lisa?

Alex swung her bag in his hand and followed. He’d give her space. Let her bring it up if she wanted. If he did start dating again, it was going to impact her too. He had to consider that.

🚀

The next day, at lunch time, he slipped his tablet into his bag and said to Tim, “I’m heading out for lunch.”

Tim rocked back on his stool. “Whoa. You’re going out? What happened to brown bag lunch man?”

“Just thought I’d get out for a change. No big deal.” He wasn’t going to say it was so he could find Lisa on the landing and get a chance to really talk to her.

“Whatever,” Tim said.

Downstairs, Alex walked out of the building. Hot air washed over his body, engulfed him, and drove out the air-conditioned chill. There was a thirty-degree difference between inside and out. Heat shimmered on the roads and sidewalks, creating phantom mirages that evaporated as he got closer.

Even with the heat, there were people walking outside. Only a few at first, but as he moved closer to downtown there were more people. Most wore loose, light UV-protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats. Sunglasses turned their eyes dark. He was dressed much the same, one of the many walking along the sidewalk. while cars and bikes sped along the roads. The crowd smelled of sunscreens and oils. The whole mass of humanity slowly frying beneath the hot sun.

Ten minutes after Alex left work he was down at the landing, walking along the crowded boardwalk along the harbor. The air was thick with salt and the rich odors of food vendors. Seagulls screamed and fought over scraps with crows. Street musicians filled the air with music.

With all of the hats and sunglasses, most of the crowd was faceless and anonymous, but Lisa wouldn’t be. The last times he had seen her she was dressed in shorts and a tank-top. One of those brave or foolish enough to show that much exposed skin. Between that, her big red and blue cargo bike, and Clank, she had to stand out.

Even so, he almost missed her. A crowd had gathered, watching her performance with Clank. It was sunlight sparking off Clank that caught his eye and drew him to the crowd gathered on the park’s dry lawn.

Alex made his way through the crowd. As he got to the front, he pulled off his shades.

Lisa and Clank were dancing. Not a waltz, but a fast, synchronized dance routine. Out of the cargo bin, Clank stood taller than Alex. The android was much taller than Lisa. The music came from a guitarist nearby. He was young, with long blond hair and what looked like a brown leather jacket. It couldn’t be, not in this heat, unless it had one of those internal cooling systems. He played a classic old rock song. Alex recognized the music, but couldn’t place it.

Watching Lisa move was mesmerizing. She threw herself about in wild, athletic movements, and each was mirrored by Clank. Despite his size, the android matched her step for step, but he didn’t copy her. In fact, they alternated who led and who followed. Back and forth they spun.

The crowd started clapping to the beat.

Lisa spun to Clank and he caught her hand, spun her around and then picked her up. He threw her up spinning into the air as easily as he had tossed the metal spheres yesterday.

Lisa came down and Clank caught her, lowering her gently to the ground as the guitarist ended the song. The crowd cheered and clapped as she spun away from Clank. They were still holding hands and bowed together. Then Lisa stepped away and pointed to the guitarist and clapped. The crowd joined in.

With the performance over, the crowd started to disperse, although quite a few people moved forward to toss money into the cargo bike’s bin, and the guitarist’s open case. Quite a few people wanted to talk to Lisa and gathered around Clank admiring him while he stood tall and aloof above the attention.

If there was someone inside that metal shell, he had to be roasting alive. Alex hung back from the crowd and watched. Lisa was polite and friendly to everyone, laughing openly with her admirers, but there was a reserve there. She held back from them just a bit and Clank stood solidly nearby like a tall metallic guardian. Once or twice he caught her looking past her fans at him. Their eyes would meet and there was that connection again between them.

Eventually, she broke free from her fans as they dispersed and she came over to where he stood. She grinned and looked up at him. She touched his arm.

“Hey Alex. You came by, what’d you think of the show?”

Her fingers played with his.

“It was fantastic. You were amazing. And Clank, incredible.”

The android was as still as a statue. Its gaze aimed at the boats out on the water.

Alex lowered his voice. “Is he really an android? I mean, there isn’t some guy roasting in that, is there?”

Lisa laughed. She leaned into his arm, smelling of sun-warmed coconut. “He’s real and has his own built-in AC.”

“Are you hungry?” Alex said. “Want to grab lunch?”

She gazed up at him. “I’d love to, really. But we’ve got more shows to do. Rain check?”

“If we wait for rain, that could be a while. If you’re coming by my place later, you could stop for dinner and something cold to drink.”

“Okay.” She squeezed his hand. “I’m glad you came. I was hoping you would.”

Lisa released him and stepped back with a big smile on her face.

“Okay,” Alex said. He couldn’t help but match her smile.

He kept smiling the whole way back to work.

🚀

For the longest time, Alex had been going through the motions without really knowing what else to do. Go to work, take care of Erica. That was it. He was on the porch swing, kicking softly against the porch.

Erica dropped down into the seat beside him. She crossed her arms and pushed hard against the porch, rocking the swing back faster.

“Why is she coming here?” She kicked again.

“Because I like her,” Alex said. “I thought you did too.”

Erica shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“It’ll be nice to have company for dinner.”

“We never have company.” Another hard kick.

“Maybe we should.”

The swing rocked back and forth.

“Is the android coming too?”

He hadn’t really considered it. “I guess. Is that okay?”

“He was completely shiny,” Erica said. “You saw them dance?”

“Yes. They were good.”

“Would he dance with me?”

“I don’t know. We might find out. If we have them over. That’s the point, to get to know Lisa. You might like her.”

“She’s pretty.” Erica looked up at him. Her mouth quirked. “Weird, but pretty. I think she might like you more than Mom did.”

“You’re okay with that?”

“Sure.” Erica’s arm shot out. “Look! Here they come!”

She was right. Lisa’s bike crested the hill. As she got closer she waved and Alex lifted his hand in response. Clank raised his own hand and waved it back and forth too.

Erica laughed.

Alex put his arm around her as he stood and they walked out together to meet Lisa and Clank. They were moving forward again, into a completely shiny future.

🚀

4,830 words

Author’s Note

This story is the 101st short story release, written in July 2013.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, The Deschutes Sasquatch.


Creative Commons License
This story by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 175: Supporting Libraries

Lately, I’ve focused on one of my library-related projects. It’s actually serving two purposes. On the one hand, I’m using the opportunity to improve my knowledge in skills in designing and creating a website using Dreamweaver. Though I’ve taken several classes that have dealt with websites, I haven’t made that much use of Dreamweaver. I’m enjoying that, using courses from Lynda.com for my guide. Tackling this project is helping me develop and improve skills that I plan to use in other projects.

Buy and Donate

I have a couple different ideas that I plan to implement with this project. The first is a “Buy and Donate” option. Initially, through the website. Later on, I’d add an app and browser extensions (all of which helps me with other projects). This will all be free, of course. I am considering using affiliate links to help with hosting costs.

The basic concept of “Buy and Donate” is that users who don’t want to wait for books and can afford to buy them will be able to order copies of a book and donate it to the library when they’re done reading. The added feature the site brings is in printing both a receipt to include in the book when it is donated to the library and a way to track donations for tax purposes.

Stacy buys the latest Patterson, reads it once over the weekend, and then drops it off at her local library with a slip explaining that it is a donation. The slip also has a link where the library can see data on how many books are provided via the program.

Data, Visualizations, Requests, Sharing

Users can view data and visualizations about their own donations, as well as print receipts—but libraries also benefit.

Anyone can select a library and view what items have been purchased for potential donation, items received by the library (if the library scans the donation slip with the book), and other visualizations of what the community has donated to the library like recently donated, most donated, etc. Librarians or users can post requests for their library, e.g., Joe wants copies of the Seal Team Seven series donated. The requests also make it possible for libraries to share amongst themselves, say if one has extra copies of a particular title and another has something else, they can offer those extra copies.

Timeline?

When will it be done? Never. That is, I’ll keep working on it but I imagine it will always be a process of iterating and improving!


Creative Commons License
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 174: Tackling Overload

I have too much to do. I hear people say this frequently. Sometimes I’m the one saying it. Sometimes someone else says it. It comes up at work. There aren’t enough hours in the day. That’s another phrase uttered with some frequency. The phrase varies, while the sentiment remains. It has powered industries around time management, organization, mindfulness, and every other way to address the perceived scarcity of time.

It is a perception. It is also often shared and passed on from one person to the next. The President of your company wants improved results sooner rather than later. The view runs through the organization as each subsequent supervisor wants results so that they can meet their deadline. It happens in families. When are you going to get that sink fixed? We also do it ourselves by setting our own deadlines. If I’m going to retire at 55, then I need to hurry up and get more done.

Overload

All of this leads to a feeling of overload. We have too much to do. Work, family, and other interests compete for our time. Everything feels unfinished because we never catch up. I’m no exception. The demands on my time continue to multiply.

I don’t worry too much about it anymore. I used to feel much more of a rush. I needed to get everything done right now.

Now I focus on acceptance. I may have many things to do, things I want to do (even as simple as taking a nap), but it doesn’t really matter. I just need to accept what I can do each day and be kind to myself. I have six areas of self-focus that I try to tackle. I don’t get to each every day.

  • Walking. I usually do this one, taking a walk first thing to start my day.
  • Meditation. Likewise, I usually spend 15 minutes on this each day and find it useful.
  • Study. I try to learn something each day.
  • Write. Ideally, I write every day but don’t worry if I don’t.
  • Draw. Same as writing. It’s important, but I don’t do it every day.
  • Code. Third in my creative efforts.

Each day I note which of these I’ve done, trying to do as many as I can each day. If I don’t make it one day, then I try the next. It doesn’t encompass everything that I do. These are inwardly focused activities. And I do other things for entertainment or enjoyment. I’ve been watching House of Cards and 11.22.63 recently. I play games. I read a ton of books. Reading happens each day, but it isn’t on the list. It’s impossible to get through the day without reading something.

Ultimately, this short list helps me deal with overload by reminding me to spend some time for my own health and happiness. Anything more and it’d be too long. I also note my sleep, a few comments on the day, and my primary emotion each day. Instead of being overwhelmed, I recognize the successes I’ve had and accept that as a win.


Creative Commons License
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Egg Hunt

Emmett struggled to live on Autumn, a vibrant planet done in oranges, golds, yellows, and browns.

Unfortunately humans faced severe challenges with surviving, having not adapted to the environment. The other humans survived in the artificial environment of the TerraSphere.

Engineers modified the native Skreeches, changing their eggs to produce enzymes that allowed humanity to digest local vegetation.

Without those eggs Emmett wouldn’t last. The eggs represented his best hope for survival.

🚀

Second Sun hung low above the golden hills to the South when Emmett pulled open the cabin door and walked out onto the dried sponge wood porch rubbing his eyes. It’d be another hour before First Sun rose but he couldn’t wait that long. The weasels hunted this hour. Wait any longer and there’d be no eggs at all and he fancied an omelet. Scrambled eggs. Hard-boiled. It didn’t matter. He’d eat them any way he could get them. Assuming he beat the weasels to the eggs. He didn’t even like the eggs, but without the eggs, he couldn’t digest most of what his crops produced. Without the eggs, he’d starve. And he’d be damned if he let the weasels get them first.

Of course, the weasels weren’t really weasels, not Terran weasels at least, but convergent evolution made them close enough to be called weasels. If weasels grew to twenty pounds and hunted in packs. Emmett lifted the rifle he held and checked it one more time. Loaded. Spare ammunition clip in his belt. Egg case strapped to his back. Water bladder beneath that. Good enough.

Emmett closed the cabin door and pulled the handle to slide the bar into place just in case any weasels came across the cabin. Curious creatures but not the brightest. He’d never seen a weasel that could push the handle up and slide it back to open the door. All the windows were already shuttered. The cabin should be secure while he was out. He walked on out down the steps. Dirt puffed up around his feet and he smelled that ginger scent that came from the microorganisms in the soil. He pulled up his mask and looked out as his land. Right around the cabin was his farmstead. Raised garden beds growing food crops. All oranges, yellows, and reds. Fall colors. Native Autumn plants. Nothing Terran grew on Autumn despite the best genetech attempts. Best they’d been able to do was modify the skreeches to produce eggs full of enzymes that helped humans digest Autumn foods.

He heard the sound of approaching footsteps and turned around to look down the lane that led up towards town. A person ran towards him. Small stature, baseball cap, and an orange hunting vest. Jolene. She’d actually made it. She waved at him. He waited, gun cradled over the crook of his arm.

Jolene came to a stop and bent over, breathing hard through her face mask. “Whew. You haven’t left yet!”

“Heading out now.”

She nodded and straightened up. Her mask covered her mouth and nose but did nothing to hide her smooth tanned skin or gray eyes. “Did you forget that you said I could come along?”

Emmett shook his head. “Nope, but it’s time. I couldn’t wait. If you’re coming, come on.”

He turned and headed out between his garden beds, heading towards the braided fence and the golden fields past his yard. It’d have been better to go without Jolene. But she was right. He did say that she could come along. As Terran biologists went she was better than some. Didn’t try to tell him what to do. He got to the braided fence and climbed over into the field. Snap beetles went off like firecrackers. Each crack of their shells sending them tumbling in small ballistic arcs through the spine grass. Pogo mice, alerted by the snap beetles, twittered as they dived for their burrows.

Jolene climbed over the fence behind him. The first time they’d gone out he’d expected her to say something about the noise and activity that their presence caused, but she hadn’t. She stuck close and didn’t say anything. He appreciated her silence. It helped him hear. Not that he heard anything over the noise but he listened to the pattern of the noise. One large animal moving through the spine grass caused a certain sort of ruckus. Two nearby animals moving caused a different pattern of sound. That’s what he wanted to hear. Anything like a weasel moving off through the spine grass or a skreech. He didn’t expect to find any so close but there were other things to be alert to.

His course took them through the spine grass fields towards the sponge wood groves to the west. He followed the same path he’d taken before to avoid breaking off more of the spines. Spine grass wasn’t really a grass. More of a mossy sort of ground cover that sent up spines that released spores. It took time for the spines to grow back. He kept to the same path to minimize the damage. Jolene stuck right behind him. Not too close, but she didn’t stray.

🚀

They kept going, out past the creek where he’d hung a braided bridge across the gully, all the way up to the sponge wood grove. According to biologists, the trees weren’t trees in the Terran sense, more of a mushroom, but not that either. The whole plant soaked up rainfall and stored it for the dry months when both suns were high in the sky. Dried out and sealed they made a light-weight strong lumber. Living, they looked like giant coral taken from the bottom of a Terran seabed. A two-dimension red-skinned fan that reached up towards the sky, flat edges facing skyward to maximize the area for rain collection.

The grove also happened to be a favored spot for the skreeches to build their communal nest. They’d pick a defensible spot. Something along the ridge with stone to help ward the nest against the weasels. Much of the ground cover in the grove consisted of puff gourds anchored in the trunks of the sponge wood and spreading out like a sickly yellow wedding gown around each tree. Each step sent clouds of spores into the air. Emmett checked his mask. The spores could cause all sorts of respiratory problems if inhaled. Just another one of the hazards in egg collecting. He reached a granite outcrop and stopped for a rest, pulling down his mask so that he could drink. Jolene dropped on a boulder next to him. When she pulled down her mask he saw she was as fine featured as he remembered. Somehow he’d been sure that it’d only been his imagination, but the evidence was clear. She was a beautiful woman. No question about that.

“Do you mind if I ask a question?”

Emmett shook his head. He pulled the hose around from his water bladder and took a long drink. The water was still cool in the bladder. It chilled his parched throat. He drank deeply.

“How come you live off-grid? Why not move into town?”

“And depend on hydroponics? Canned or frozen imports? We do that and we’ll never be part of this world. Our society is always going to be restricted, limited.”

“But the only way you have to live off-grid now are the eggs and the enzymes they contain. Doesn’t that limit growth?”

“I see it as a temporary adaptation.” Emmett looked out at the valley below. From this point, he could see the red slopes of the sponge wood grave, the golden spine grass fields beyond. The spark of reflected light in the distance came from his solar array. “Someday we’ll figure out how to adapt ourselves to this world. It’s only a matter of will. If there was enough interest it would have already happened.”

“But doesn’t that say it, there isn’t enough will? People still aren’t comfortable changing the human genome.”

“It’s the only way we’re going to be able to live on this world, or probably any others. Like any organism, we have to adapt. The early work done with the skreeches answered some of the questions. We just have to follow it up.”

A sound like an over-stressed hull screamed through the morning air. Emmett snapped his water hose back into place. “Skreeches. Come on, the nest is going to be higher up.”

He pulled his mask up into place and climbed up past the boulders back onto the soft covering of the puff gourds. A swarm of sponge hoppers flung themselves from a nearby sponge wood trunk and floated downhill towards another target. Their brilliant blue wings caught the Second Sun’s light as they glided in formation. Jolene caught up with him and followed in his footsteps. He tried not to think about her without her mask. And her talk of going back to town. That wasn’t the way, he knew that. It didn’t mean that he couldn’t be tempted. Except there was a whole world waiting for them and they couldn’t ever claim that by living under domes in artificial Terran environments.

Another skreech call split the air. More answered it and together they sounded like a hull undergoing catastrophic failure. Depressurization. Metal tearing. Air hissing out in a whistling cry.

Emmett pushed back memories and kept climbing. He reached a sponge wood tree leaning out of the slope. He stopped and turned around to Jolene. “Wait here. I’m going up to see if I can spot the nest.”

“Okay.”

He pulled off his pack, setting the egg case and water bladder down at the base of the trunk. He turned and ran at the sponge wood trunk. It gave a little beneath his feet when he hit. He grabbed the sides of the wide surface and climbed up it. He had to hang beneath the first branch and swing his legs up around the branch, then climb up onto the surface. Bit by bit he made his way up as high as he dared. Limbs too small would tear beneath his weight. One of the hazards at the bottom of a gravity well but better than falling free up above. In the dark. Watching as your partner floated just out of reach. Falling in slow motion. Such a small gap. Sometimes the math didn’t work. A fingers-breath could be as fatal as a fall from this height. Just that much.

Better here. He didn’t have to worry about the air running out at least. The skreeches kept producing eggs. Enough to keep him going out here. Free to walk on his own two feet the same way humans had walked for millions of years. Long before they’d ever figured out how to fly.

From his pocket, he took out his binoculars. Flipped them open and slipped them on. Squinting or opening his eyes wider controlled the zoom. It didn’t take him long to find the skreeches. They’d gone back to the split. Higher up on the ridge, just down from the peak. The whole area’d been cleared after a lightning storm fire had burned off the ground cover and boiled the sponge wood, leaving the entire slope covered in hard chunks of blackened sponge wood. Smatterings of red showed where new sponge wood trees were growing up through the debris. There was still so much that he didn’t know about the lifecycle of the trees.

The skreeches had constructed the communal nest in the cleft of two big boulders on the ridge. Right there in the split. He saw their big yellow bodies moving across the debris field. One would run out from the nest, grab a chunk of hard sponge wood in its tiny front arms and then it’d run full tilt back up to the nest. It was like a relay team. While one set its contribution into place in the wall another was running out to grab a new piece. Still others carried back chunks of fresh sponge wood and handed it over to the stompers. It was the job of the stompers to stomp the water out of the sponge wood and mix it with dirt. Daubers gathered the mud and mortared the dried sponge wood into the wall. Squeezed sponge wood got kicked out onto the slope to dry in the light of the suns.

Looked like they’d made a lot of progress on the wall already. Behind the barrier a skreech rose up, yellow-throated neck turned towards the heavens. The scream that split the air signaled another egg laid. Did it hurt? Was that why they screamed? He had no idea.

He noticed movement below him to his left. He looked down, binoculars automatically refocusing on the nearby foreground objects. Jolene climbing up onto the sponge wood. But she’d gone out on an over-extended limb. Wide enough to look safe, but too long. Limbs like that broke off in storms. Or under the weight of biologists that didn’t know better.

Emmett tore off his binoculars. “Stop!”

“They are building a structure,” Jolene said. He saw she was wearing her own binoculars. “It’s amazing –”

“Jolene! Stop! Go back. That branch can’t support you!”

He looked back along its length. He found the pale pink line indicating a tear forming right where he expected. “Hurry up! It’s tearing!”

Emmett started back down the trunk. No way he could get there in time. He saw Jolene moving at least. She’d listened. The branch she’d climbed shook. She wobbled and nearly fell but then caught her balance and sat down on the limb. She scooted down the length. He dropped down onto a solid limb and swung around. Going faster than he’d ordinarily go.

The limb she’d climbed dipped and shook. Outer limbs started to tear from the stresses. He didn’t know if she’d make it. Then she slid past the rapidly growing tear and reached the main trunk. The limb tore with a wet gushing and arterial water sprayed up into the air. The branch fell, tearing itself apart as it crumbled to the ground. Water splashed out from the pieces and ran through the puff gourds. Jolene made it to the ground and Emmett climbed down moments later. Puff gourd dust kicked up by the pieces falling.

“Are you okay?”

Jolene nodded. “I’m fine. Sorry. I didn’t realize I’d overloaded the branch. I hate that I broke it like that.”

“Don’t worry about it. The limbs grow too long and break off sooner or later from their weight. It’s just the way the sponge wood develops. I think it’s also a factor in the reproduction cycle. We should move up the slope, out of the spores and dust.”

“Okay.”

Emmett picked up his gear. Shouldered the egg case and moved out. Jolene kept up with him. It’d take another half-hour at least to get close enough to the skreeches to set the egg raid in motion. So far they’d been lucky with the timing. The nest wasn’t finished and the weasels hadn’t come yet. Once the skreeches finished fortifying the nest neither he or the weasels would be able to get at the eggs. They’d be secure. And he’d starve. Or have to give up his land. That wasn’t really an option.

The place he planned to strike from was downwind of the skreeches, partially sheltered by a couple smaller boulders. Skreeches used it in the past as an egg site but the more exposed position made it more difficult to defend. A knee-high broken wall of dried sponge wood and mud still stood between the boulders in a wide ring on the hillside. Skreeches dug out the floor into a bowl-shape, making it even deeper. A puddle of water filled most of the bowl but he still had enough dry land behind the wall to set up.

Jolene ran her fingers across the old wall. “Look at the craftsmanship, the way the pieces interlock. It’s fascinating.”

“Nothing that birds on Earth haven’t done.”

“But these aren’t birds, despite the feathers and eggs.”

“No, they’re more like feathered dinosaurs,” Emmett said.

Jolene shook her head. “We can’t fall into the trap of thinking that these are Terran organisms. We have to go all the way back to the beginning and really look at what we’re seeing here. Are these walls instinctual or learned? I understand that there have been markings cut into sponge wood pieces at some sites?”

Emmett stared at her. He’d been a fool. Let a pair of pretty eyes cloud his judgment. She was one of those. “The survey team ruled out intelligence in their study of the skreeches. That’s why they were given the go-ahead to work on the eggs.”

“That decision is being reevaluated.”

“Which is why you wanted to come out here with me? To gather information for this reevaluation?”

“Yes.” She said it quickly and looked away.

Emmett crawled up to the wall. He brought up his rifle and looked through the sights at the skreeches new dwelling. They’d gotten the wall up to waist height already. A head rose up above the wall from the center and another awful sound split the air. It couldn’t be long now. The weasels would be coming soon. He needed to get his eggs and get out of the area. The last thing he wanted to do was be caught in the middle of it all.

“Just don’t get in my way,” he said. He brought the rifle up and prepared to shoot.

Jolene’s hand fell on his arm. “Don’t.”

He looked at her hand. “What choice do I have?”

“Is it worth the chance? What if they are intelligent?”

Emmett shook his head.

“I’ve seen dried sponge wood boards with what looks like cuneiform writing. There is an organization to it.”

“They don’t keep anything. They don’t carry anything. The marks they make are nothing but nest decoration.”

“So you’ve seen it?”

Of course he had. He lived out here. He hunted their eggs. He probably knew more about the skreeches than anyone. Enough to know that no matter how clever they seemed they were nothing but big birds with toothy snouts instead of beaks. Weren’t they?

🚀

“If I don’t get those eggs I won’t be able to eat my crops. I’d have to go back to the Terrasphere or starve.”

She still had her hand on his arm. She squeezed gently. “Would it be so bad back in the Terrasphere? With your experience, you could greatly increase our understanding of life on this planet.”

Movement caught his eye. Shit. Too late. And they were too early. “Weasels.”

Emmett scrambled around Jolene and braced the rifle on the remains of the skreeches’ old wall. The weasels came running up the ridge. They were long and covered in slick brown feathers that changed to orange at the ends rather than fur. Four times the size of a Terran weasel. The pack charging up the hill had to number forty to fifty animals.

“Land piranhas.” He clicked off the safety. “When hunting they’ll fall on anything they come across, including us.”

Jolene crouched beside him. “If we got in the water, would it stop them?”

He shook his head. “They’re excellent swimmers.”

Every few seconds one of the charging weasels would stop, stand up and look ahead. Long faces filled with sharp razor-edged teeth. Emmett carried scars from a weasel attack on his leg and that had been a solitary animal. One weasel stood, looked right at him and a clear warbling whistle rang out. The entire pack changed direction like a school of fish and headed towards the old skreech nest.

“What do we do?”

“Fight.” Emmett brought up the rifle to his shoulder. Auto-tracking locked onto the closest weasel. He fired.

The bullet caught the weasel between the eyes. Flipped it back into the back. Shrill whistles like dozens of police whistles rang out from the pack. He’d gotten them angry now. No time to worry about that.

Fired. Another down. Again and again. The shots rang through the air and in answer the weasels whistled back angrily and kept coming on. Every shot hit. Every shot took out another weasel but they had the numbers.

“We have to retreat.” Emmett stood. Sighted on the next weasel and fired.

Jolene got up and moved back. Emmett worked his way backward, still shooting. Seeing them move the weasels sent out several more warbling whistles. The pack split like a river around a boulder and became two arms reaching around the ridge to sweep up everything in its path. He kept shooting but they had to stay out of those arms or the pack would fall on them in a second.

“We have to move up the ridge.”

“But that will take us up to the skreech nest.”

Emmett fired, brought down another weasel. “I know. Maybe the weasels will be more interested in them. If we can get past the skreeches we might get away.”

Fired. “Move!”

Jolene turned and ran up the slope towards the nest. Emmett lowered the rifle and followed. He stopped after a bit, turned and brought another weasel down. Two more. Ran. Stopped to bring more down. Turned to run again.

Up ahead the skreeches gathered about the nest and in the nest. They’d seen what was coming. Emmett turned. Fired. Another weasel tumbled through the puff gourd dust. A piece of dried sponge wood sailed past his ear. Jolene cried out.

He turned, ducked as another piece flew at his head. The skreeches were throwing the dried sponge wood. Another missile hit the ground near his feet. That was a rock! Much more effective than dried sponge wood. It’d hurt. Indeed Jolene rubbed her shoulder.

Emmett dropped to his knees facing downslope and fired. One. Two. Three little dead weasels. He rose and ran at the skreeches. He expected a rain of wood and rocks, but that was better than letting the weasels get closer. Instead, the skreeches held their fire. Jolene slowed. He caught up to her and they ran up to the nest together. He was sure that Jolene had never been so close to living adult skreeches. Up close they stood as tall as he did. Those nearest shuffled their clawed feet nervously but their attention was on the approaching weasels.

“They aren’t attacking us anymore,” Jolene whispered.

“Good for us.” Emmett grabbed her arm and pushed her towards the nest. “Get in.”

Skreeches made gulping noises deep in their throats when they got close to the nest but did nothing to stop them. Jolene walked through the one gap the skreeches had left in the wall. Emmett followed. Dark green eggs, each as large as his fist filled the bowl-shaped floor. A half-dozen fat, egg-laden skreeches crouched around the eggs and hissed at him.

“I’m not going for them right now,” he muttered. He turned back to the wall, braced the rifle.

Auto-lock. Fired. Weasel whistles grew more shrill. The pincers of the pack began closing in on the nest. Skreeches pelted the oncoming weasels with wood and stone. Their aim wasn’t great but given the pack’s close quarters many were hit and injured. He kept firing until his clip ran out. He ejected and reloaded.

Sheer numbers carried the pack right up to the nest even though they’d left a trail of dead and injured weasels behind. Probably twenty healthy weasels reached the nest. In close quarters the skreeches put their powerful legs to work. He watched one catch weasel leaping at the nest wall with one clawed foot. A quick clench of those powerful toes crushed the life from the weasel. Others simply kicked them, shattering their bones. Emmett had a harder time getting a lock in the crowded conditions but he fired when he got the chance.

A weasel made it over the wall until Jolene clubbed it with a piece of sponge wood.

Then a loud shrill whistle cut through the racket and the remaining weasels, no more than a dozen, turned and fled the nest area. Emmett lowered his gun. No need to kill more if they were leaving. He slowly stood and looked at the skreeches. They watched him warily. Did they remember his past raids? No way he could get to the eggs under these conditions. He didn’t even know if he wanted to any more.

“We’re going,” he said softly. He eased towards the gap in the nest wall. Jolene followed. The skreeches parted to let them leave.

He didn’t feel safer until they’d gotten some distance from the nest. Then he broke the silence. “I’m not going to be able to stay out here without those eggs.”

“We could use your help in the Terrasphere,” Jolene said. “After my report the skreeches status will be reevaluated. You could help us.”

Emmett nodded. “I’d like that. I don’t know if they’re intelligent or not, but I want to stick around until we can figure out a way for us to adapt to this planet.”

Jolene took his arm. “I’d like that too.”

He hoped that they’d make it work. There were so many unknowns. Could they adapt or not? Either way, he couldn’t wait to find out.

🚀

5,090 words

Author’s Note

This story is the 100th short story release, written in April 2010.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Love, Androids, and Cargo Bikes.


Creative Commons License
This story by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 173: Tackling the e-Portfolio

It’s time for me to start developing my e-Portfolio for my MLIS course at SJSU.

The culminating experience for our MLIS program requires students to select, document, and assemble evidence of their competence in a series of skill areas the faculty have deemed essential for entry-level professional performance.

Since I’ve got to do this for the program anyway, I thought it might make sense to write about the experience. Share my path through working on the portfolio, decisions made, methods used, and all the other details that will crop up along the way.

SJSU requires students to keep privacy and confidentiality in mind when creating the e-portfolio. It needs to be kept private before graduation, and if made public after graduation then students “must remove the names of students, institutions, and employers and make sure they are not identifiable in your e-Portfolio.” – handbook

That’s okay. The main idea is more about how I go about creating the e-Portfolio.

Why now?

I could wait until the semester starts in August, but I want to work on it before then and have a structure in place. I plan to create the e-Portfolio initially as an offline web site, publishing it as a password-protected site once it is required for the semester. The book will cover the details on the website set up, a calendar and timeline of the process. At the end, once approved, I’ll release the public-facing version of the site along with the completed book.

I plan to release it under a CC BY-SA license. I’ll have print copies for sale and e-book copies for sale via retail platforms (you’re paying in that case for convenience and to support my work). Free copies will be available to download from the site.

I have attended a couple different webinars on the e-Portfolio process. I’ve spoken to fellow students nervous about it. The school does offer the handbook site with information, and advisors during the process. I still think that a book will be of interest, although that isn’t my main motivation.

I could also plan to do interviews, profiles, and case studies of fellow students. Perhaps. That adds complexity to the project. Maybe I’ll just keep it to my work.

Again, I’m not doing it because I expect to make money off the project. I’m doing it because it will help me focus on my process and reflect on the experience. I’ve put a lot of work into this degree. This sounds like an interesting project and it frankly makes the e-Portfolio itself more interesting by adding a dimension I would enjoy.


Creative Commons License
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 172: Small Steps Into the Future

Today I started taking a few small steps into the future. Not much. I started work on a new library-related website. I plan for it to start small and build it over time. It’s one piece, one project out of many projects. It’s fun.

Afternoon Notes

This was written during my afternoon break at work. A few short notes.

I’m sitting on my stool beside the Deschutes River. A large mallard glides upstream along the opposite shore. Here it is the sounds of bird calls. The gentle murmur of the river. And still the constant to and fro of car noises on the not so distant road. Cottonwood seeds drift in the air all around me and the river. I’ve set up my stool just past a pile of rocks above the river below, just off the main gravel trail. Up until now, my break has remained undisturbed by others, but just now I’ve heard voices downstream. I don’t know if they’re heading this way or not.

I wanted to get away from work. Away from the noise of the road out front. To some place a bit more peaceful. This qualifies. I don’t normally go anywhere on my breaks but today I decided to go ahead. Clouds as fluffy as the seeds float overhead, alternating shadow and sunlight.The air is warm without being hot.

My mood today has been a bit subdued. I blame my brain. The depression that lurks in the folds and twists of my gray matter. Most of the time I don’t feel it. I used to. Not often now. It helps to know that it is nothing more than my brain. It isn’t me.

I don’t have a connection here. I’m using Novlr offline to see how that works. If this entry gets lost, that’s fine. It isn’t anything that I need to keep.

I want to start reviewing stories to send out to markets. The stories I’ve written more recently. I want to work on my sites. On all sorts of things. Right now, however, I need to get back to work.


Creative Commons License
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 171: Intellectual Property Value

No ukulele practice today. Unless I practice later. It was raining this morning so I didn’t bother bringing it with me to work. It’s pretty nice now with fluffy cotton ball clouds against the painted blue backdrop of sky outside my window. Almost could be a realistic augmented reality projection.

Value of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) is valuable. Very valuable according to governments around the world.

The Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: 2016 Update reported that IP-intensive industries support “at least 45 million U.S. jobs and contribute more than $5 trillion dollars to, or 38.2 percent of, U.S. gross domestic product.” Copyright-intensive industries account for 5.6 million jobs (as opposed to trademark-intensive or patent-intensive jobs). Copyright-intensive jobs account for over 15 million jobs in the European Union. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Guide on Surveying the Economic Contribution of the Copyright Industries states “Copyright has taken center stage in public debates about access to information, and its relevance to daily life and to business operations has attracted the keen interest of most stakeholders in the creative economy.” (2015, p. 7). According to the WIPO the average contribution to national GDP averages 5.48 percent, and contribution to employment averaging 5.34 percent. – Ryan M. Williams, THE GLOBALIZATION OF COPYRIGHT: IMPACTS AND CHALLENGES

That figure, 38.2% of the GDP is an impressive figure and focuses on IP-intensive industries including those based on the patent, trademark, and copyright (the three methods of controlling IP) industries.

Many companies today seek unencumbered IPs that they can control. Simply having an IP adds to the company’s valuation whether they intend to do anything with the IP. It is an asset. The last thing that any company wants to do is give up an asset.

Back when copyright first was established, in the age of metal set type, printers controlled the system. Copyright shifted control from the printers guilds to the authors and established it as a right of authors to control the reproduction of their work.

A chief concern at the time was limiting the copyright to a reasonable time. The government rejected the call for a perpetual copyright and started out with a 14 year period, with the option of a single 14-year renewal. That expanded to 28 years with a 14-year renewal. The Constitution states the need to limit the period.

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

The establishment of the Berne Convention shifted the period to the author’s life plus 50 years and removed registration and manufacturing requirements. Not that the United States agreed, that took until 1988, because the US easily enjoyed protections under Berne while remaining free to pirate titles.

Since that time, US copyright law has extended the period to the author’s life plus 70 years. The Supreme Court decided that as long as the term isn’t unlimited it is ‘limited.’ This bit of sophistry conveniently ignores the public interest in works entering the public domain. But when the Mouse talks, people listen. The decision opens the door for a functionally unlimited copyright so long as Congress doesn’t call it ‘unlimited,’ ‘forever,’ or ‘perpetual’. Anything short of infinity is limited. Every couple decades Congress can pass a new extension retroactively adding another twenty years. Or fifty years. A hundred years. It makes no difference because you can still point to that so-called limit.

In the meantime, the public interest is overlooked. Works entering the public domain enriches our civilization. It fuels invention, creativity, and new discoveries. By allowing what is essentially a corporate chokehold on IP, the public is denied access to materials that should be freely available.

Intellectual property is valuable. And it’s about time that we address these issues and restore a truly limited copyright that addresses the public interest.


Creative Commons License
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 170: Under Partly Cloudy Skies

I sat outside today beneath the trees under partly cloudy skies. It’d be nicer if there wasn’t all of the car noise from the road (police going by right now with sirens and lights). Mostly it’s the constant rushing noises. You can almost imagine that it’s the sound of waves or water. I still hear the sounds of birds, see squirrels, and feel the breeze. It’s a perfect temperature today. And I’m close enough to the building to still get the Wi-Fi signal.

Ukulele Practice

I’ve wanted to learn to play the ukulele since listening to Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking. It wasn’t the only thing that I took away from the book. It also influenced my thinking in regards to using the CC license on my work. Plus it’s fascinating. Palmer challenges assumptions and makes me think about what I want to do.

And she has fun with the ukulele! It was the “Ukulele Anthem” that convinced me to give it a shot.

“Stop pretending art is hard!”

Lots of fun!


Creative Commons License
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Daily Thoughts 169: Hanging Out in the Library

I headed out to one of our libraries today. The sunny hot days of the weekend have given way to gray clouds hanging in a featureless layer overhead.  A few raindrops pattered down on my way to work but it has been mostly a dry day.

Book cover artLately, I’ve been listening to Mira Grant’s Parasitology series and I’ve started listening to the third book in the series today. I’m enjoying the series. I read the first book quite a while ago and hadn’t had a chance to get back to the series. I didn’t really try that hard, putting it off because the first book annoyed me. I enjoyed the concept of the story more than the story itself on my initial reading. Even so, it stuck with me. Then I decided to give the second book a shot as an audiobook and reengaged with the characters. I think it would have been better if the first and second books were published together. Or if I hadn’t delayed starting the next. Regardless, I’m really enjoying the series!


Creative Commons License
This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.