Monday, May 24, 2010

10 Things You Can Do to Increase Preparedness

Things you can do now or this summer to help prepare you for any emergency, not just a zombie uprising:

Put fresh batteries in your flashlights and emergency radios. 
Make sure that you have a shelter space in case of a storm.
Make sure that your shelter space has fresh water in it. 

Start building up a one-year food stockpile for $5 a week
Create a Bug-Out Bag (or a Z-Kit, if you prefer).

Take a red Cross CPR or First Aid course.
Take a self-defense course. 
Learn how to change a flat tire and add coolant to an overheating radiator.

Go on a diet and/or get in better shape.
Get a map of your county and learn where all the evacuation routes and emergency shelters are.

Now test yourself: Pretend you have 30 minutes to evacuate. See if  you can pack enough clothes and supplies to sustain yourself for 3 days or more. Are you prepared for harsh weather (rain, cold, excessive heat)? How about your family? How about your pets?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Days of Flaming Motorcycles

Oh, man. Working graveyard shift really screws up my sense of time. Like, I go to work on Thursday night, and two hours later it's Friday morning. This makes it pretty damn confusing when I have to sign and date things.

It's situations like this which help illustrate how artificial the nature of time truly is. When the morning shift comes in at 6:30 am and asks me how yesterday was, I get very confused, because the yesterday they're talking about started only 8 hours ago for me; from my perspective, yesterday is what I did before my last sleep cycle, which of course was when they were working their previous shift.

I just want to know which genius it was who decided that the day turned over at midnight. For a diurnal species like ours, this strikes me as utter, arbitrary bullshit. Most normal people wake up around dawn and go to work; this is when their actual workday begins. Why doesn't the actual calendar day start at 6am? To me this is a more natural and logical demarcation of time ("The day starts when the sun rises") than the current system ("The day starts halfway through a period of darkness").

I suspect this shall become fodder for Pellatarrum soon enough.

Anyway, I am still kind of fried as my body adjusts to working through the night. I can do the work, no problem, but after I get home I have about an hour to unwind before my body demands "Sleep now!" and then I'm out until mid-afternoon. Which is cool and all, because I love me some afternoon naps, and I can slowly wake up and get stuff done before having to go to work. My biggest problem is getting the writer part of my brain to cooperate, because it likes to come online hours after I've woken up, which means I have all these great ideas while I'm working but no desire to write them after I've slept the next day.

And speaking of writing and strange demarcations of time, I will smoothly segue into telling you to go read Catherynne Valente's story, "The Days of Flaming Motorcycles," for an interestingly spiritual take on the zombie apocalypse.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Z-Kit Failure

Okay, so, Zombie Week! Here goes! Let's see if I can keep this up tomorrow, after my first 10pm - 7am workday starts tonight!(EDIT: I started this last night but I couldn't finish it, so you get it now, Tuesday afternoon, or as I like to call it, "the next day." Working graveyard isn't bad, because when you guys are struggling with rush hour and getting to work on time, I'm driving in the OTHER direction and going to bed.)

This is a fairly light post, as things go (I'm saving the linkdump for later in the week), and it's more of a cautionary tale than an actual essay.

Back in March, I drove from Daytona Beach to Orlando to meet a friend of mine who was working at Disney World for the summer. While this is a fairly straightforward drive that can be accomplished in approximately an hour under ideal conditions, there is usually a traffic multiplier which doubles that -- more so if there is an accident on the interstate, or if transit is attempted during rush hour. So I was ready for a trip of about 2.5 hours, and I had performed the necessary duties of filling up the car, loading the iPod with audiobooks, emptying the bladder, etc.

Now despite the fact that my Z-Kit philosophy expressly calls for me to bring it with me on car trips of this magnitude, I deliberately chose to leave it behind on the assumption that Orlando is a wretched hive of scum and villainy and if my car gets broken into I don't want to lose my Z-Kit along with everything else. You are free to disagree with me on this point if you want, but the fact remains that I was performing a loss calculation and that at the very least I was thinking about the situation I was about to enter. Situational Awareness is a key (perhaps even THE key) to survival, after all.

The problem arose when I failed to account for the fact that without my Z-Kit, a lot of my strategies would fall apart without a backup. To my credit I still had my Car Kit with me, along with the no-name-brand multi-tool I take everywhere, but I hadn't planned for a communication failure.

Specifically, my friend lived in a gated community guarded by Mouseketeers, and I needed to call her once I arrived at the gate to let her know I was there and to please have the nice heavily armed men let me in. But as I entered the city to give her the customary "Hi, I'm 15 minutes out, now is the time to get out of bed and start getting dressed" phone call, I realized that my cell phone was dead.

This happens all the time. I live in a kinda-sorta dead zone and unless I charge my cell every single night it tends to run out juice fairly quickly due to constantly searching for a disappearing signal. But no problem, right? Because this happens all the time, I have a plan for this sort of thing. I'll just pull over at the nearest gas station, get the solar recharger from my Z-Kit, and....

Well, shit.

Some of you are no doubt asking, "Why don't you have a car charger, Palette?" And the answer is, "I do. It just happens to be for my last cell phone, and wouldn't you know it, the adapter doohickeys are different."

Others may ask, "Why didn't you just call her from a gas station or something?" and I go "I didn't have her cell number memorized, and I didn't know her apartment or building number. And I didn't have my laptop with me so I couldn't leech some wifi and send a quick email. No, literally the only option was to find a way to charge the damn cell phone."

This, my friends, is Z-Kit failure. It wasn't especially catastrophic, as these things go: after about 15 minutes of spinning around Orlando I found an electronics store which was more than happy to sell me a non-returnable phone charger (seriously, the receipt said "No Refunds Ever") at a slightly ridiculous price and soon I was chatting with my friend and making plans for how we were going to tear up Downtown Disney. But still, a lesson was learned that day, and I want to pass that lesson on to you:

The best Z-Kit in the world is worthless if you don't have it with you when you need it. Kits don't fail people; people fail by leaving their kits behind, or stocking them improperly.

You may think I'm making a needlessly large deal about this just to write a blog post, and to a certain extent that is true, but that does not render the fundamental lesson invalid. If I had broken down somewhere along the miles of deserted stretches of I-4 without a working cell, the situation could have been much worse.

Perhaps the real lesson here is "Having a good kit does not absolve you of the need for planning." Keeping and stocking a good kit, though, gets you into the habit of planning ahead, and that is always a Good Thing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Curse/Or, Chapter 4.5: Patch Notes (Complete)

Teresa walked into the bookstore like she owned it, a slow but deliberate saunter which stated she was a predator and that this was her hunting ground, Yarrow obediently following in her wake. "Books," she said to the young man who asked if there was anything he could do to help. "Books on computers. Books on computer networks. Books on programming and artificial intelligence. Even books on people who spend too much time on computers," she said, flashing a vicious smile in Yarrow's direction, "and top it off with the best science-fiction stories of the past twenty years, preferably anthologies."

"That's… quite a lot of books," the salesman explained, holding his palms up in supplication. "I'm not sure if –"

"I have enough money to buy every goddamn book in this store," Teresa said, turning that joyless smile on the salesman, "and I have nothing but time. Now get to it." She dismissed the boy with a wave of her bandaged hand, and he promptly scurried off.

A few minutes later, Teresa was slowly following the harried clerk as he made his way through the stacks, pulling books from shelves and tossing them into a pushcart which Teresa had commandeered from a nearby big-box store. She seemed disinterested in the growing collection, which was already a foot high and rising, paying more attention to the paperback currently in her hand than what the clerk put in the cart.

"I don't understand this dead-tree fetish you have," Yarrow groused as he followed along behind her. "My phone can display any book ever written, at a fraction of the volume displaced here. This is inefficient on a scale beyond comprehension."

Teresa turned and glared at Yarrow over the top of her book. "Three reasons," she said coldly. "One, that phone of yours is practically surgically attached to you, and I don't want to keep wrestling you for it every time I want to read something. Two, the screen is too goddamn small. Three," and with a vicious grin she folded the already-read pages of the paperback book backwards, its spine crackling like boiling fat until the covers were flush and its back broken, "I can mangle 'dead trees' to suit me."

Yarrow shuddered at the casual desecration of information. "Vandal," he accused.

"Damn right," she agreed, "and we sacked Rome itself."

*** *** ***

She left Yarrow in the checkout line to pay for her purchases, claiming she had some "lady business" that needed attending. His naiveté regarding women made him easy to manipulate, and he had taken her nonspecific claim at face value. "Jeez," she thought as she left the air-conditioned relief of the bookstore for the hot Nevada afternoon outside. "I bet if I told him I crapped cigarettes, he'd believe me. Speaking of…"

It had been several hours since the incident at the Denny's, and while she was still riding a nicotine high she could feel it beginning to fade and knew with a junkie's clarity that she would need to score more tobacco soon.

She looked around the parking lot and considered her options. Ahead of her was the gas station where Esther was filling up her station wagon. They sold cigarettes there, but she had no money; the old woman had taken her last pack after their fight in the car and was about as likely to buy her a new pack as she was to return the old one. Yarrow could buy them for her, and she could probably manipulate him into doing so, but Netty would know the instant the transaction went through and one way or another, Esther would find out.

"I'm their bitch," she muttered to herself, a bad habit she'd picked up from her years in jail. "I'm bitch to an old woman and the goddamn Internet. It's time that changed."

She began to pace, the conversation with herself picking up speed. "Crafty," she mused, flexing her fingers, the muscle memory which associated smoking with thinking unconsciously steering her body. "Gotta think crafty. The cigs are out there, after all. They wanna be smoked. Like calls to like…"

She walked towards the newspaper vending machine she'd spotted on her way into the bookstore. Digging in her pockets for loose change, she found none. A burst of anger flared within her stomach, a rising urge to kick at the machine's door until it gave way with a satisfying crunch, but a glimpse of what might have been a police car in the parking lot forced a reconsideration.

She poked around the machine until she found an old, discarded sheet of yesterday's newsprint wedged underneath its stubby legs. "Gotcha, fucker," she grinned, seizing the paper with her nicotine-stained fingers, quickly tearing a page out of the Classified section before rolling it into a long, thin tube.

Her hands seemed to know what to do even before her brain did. An illicit thrill coursed through her body and she felt like a teenager again, sneaking a smoke behind the school gym at lunchtime. If Yarrow or Esther caught her, she would catch such hell. But if this worked…

Just as she had done in front of the church earlier that morning, she concentrated on the end of her improvised cigarette and watched it smoke, then smolder, then burn. She put it to her lips and gave a single, strong pull.

The smoke clawed its way down her throat, sharp and stinging, the burning of rough paper nothing like the smoke of prepared, filtered tobacco. She coughed, the gag reflex making her nearly vomit, but she held the makeshift smoke between clenched teeth. A thick haze formed around her as she deliberately hyperventilated, trying to smoke as much of the burning newspaper as possible.

And then she was doubled over, her hands against the brick bookstore façade to steady herself, as a spasm of violent coughing ripped through her. Bloody phlegm splattered wetly against the wall, each convulsion as agonizing as giving birth to a child made of sandpaper and barbed wire.

She felt Yarrow's hand on her shoulder, and she couldn't hear what he was saying to her over the noise of her tubercular retching. But as the spasms subsided, even through a haze of pain and dizziness, she was able find the answer she had sought.

Running down the wall, painted in her own blood and mucous, was the name and address of a local Indian Casino. She could get money there, and buy cigarettes. It was where the cancer wanted her to go, where it wanted to spread, and it would reward her.

Tobacco from Indians. Her cancer, her Tommy, obviously had a firm sense of irony. She coughed one final time, smiling as the scattershot gobbets of phlegm obliterated her oracle.

*** *** ***

Esther gave a long, low whistle when Teresa's book-laden cart rattled up to the park bench where she was sitting. "Now that is a passel of books," she declared, putting a cross-stitch of an elephant in a green suit into her knitting bag. "How'd you pay for all that, Reecy?"

"Did you know that credit cards these days are verified over the Internet?" Teresa answered with feral glee. "I only found that out myself just a little bit ago." Behind her, Yarrow struggled with maneuvering the cart towards the station wagon's trunk.

Esther sighed exasperatedly "You stole them, then." The lines around her mouth and eyes were quite pronounced as she fixed Teresa with a look of severe disapproval.

"Noooo," protested Teresa, drawing out the word as if she were a small child who had been caught in the act of being naughty. "Yarrow just used the credit card Netty gave him and this ridiculously expensive shopping spree was magically approved. It's a miracle, I tell you, like manna from Internet heaven."

Esther simply crossed her arms and glared.

"Oh goddammit," Teresa swore, "I did not steal these. Our employer paid for them, just like she's paid for our meals and our gas and probably even the doctor you're gonna take me to after this. I don't know if Netty has bank funds stashed somewhere or if she pulls money out of thin air like the Fed, and frankly I don't give a shit because it's not my problem and it's not yours either. So now that you've got gas and I've got something to read in the emergency room, can we please get a move on before my fucking hand falls off?" She climbed into the car, slamming the passenger door behind her for emphasis.

Esther looked at Yarrow, who only shrugged helplessly before closing the trunk of the station wagon. "All right," she said, getting into the car. "But let's get two things straight, Reecy. One, I don't want to hear you taking the Lord's name in vain again. And two, MISTER Netty is a MAN."

*** *** ***

It never fails

The surest way for circumstances to conspire against me doing something is for me to publicly announce I will do it. This is why, despite my post on Monday, I haven't blogged anything all week.

The reason for this is twofold. One, I have been informed that starting Monday, I have a job inputting Census data from 10pm to 7am for the next four to 16 weeks. This schedule actually works for me because I am a night owl anyway, plus I get an additional +10% for a shift differential. The only drawback to is that I will be sleeping when the rest of the world is awake, and therefore this week has been spent doing the stuff I need to get done during daylight hours, like buying new tires for my car, getting new work clothes, etc.

The second reason is that I've had a burst of creativity regarding Curse/Or, and I've been working on it all week. Expect me to post the fruits of that labor tonight for Fiction Friday.

I want to say that Zombie Week has been postponed until the 17th but I really don't know if I'll be getting any writing done with this new job. I honestly don't know how you bloggers with real jobs and real lives manage to do it (you probably have more self-discipline than me, and watch less crappy TV).

Anyway... more Curse/Or tonight! I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tie an Old Gray Ribbon

Like a zombie, I rise from my grave of silence and wangst to once again plague teh intarwebz with my particular brand of lunacy. Which is appropriate, since May is Zombie Awareness Month, even though I am a slack-ass and a week late in announcing it.

Take comfort in the fact that if I were a zombie, I couldn't be arsed to come eat your brains. So I have that going for me, at least.

At any rate, things are returning to normal here at Chateau Palette. Mom has recovered from her surgery quite well, and is out and about. While she isn't back to her full routine of running miles in the morning and doing Shotokan Karate at night (she's a second-degree black belt at 70, y'all), we all know that's just a matter of time as she rebuilds her stamina. So despite the extreme inconvenience of the surgery, everything is much better now.

Regarding the wangsty poetry and video clips of a few weeks ago: don't ask. Just don't. I had a rough patch, but things are looking vaguely better in the long term, and that's really all I care to tell for right now.

I keep meaning to get back to doing some actual writing, and one of these days that's going to happen. I want to make the next installments of Curse/Or and Pellatarrum happen sooner rather than later, but my ability to write is apparently a fickle bitch with ADD on a sugar binge/ The best I can promise folks right now is that I've been going over Octane with a fine toothed comb, and have asked other people to do the same. I think that all of the problems with that story have been worked out and now it's just a matter of implementing the changes and polishing the final product. When that happens I will post it here.

And in honor of the month, as well as in an attempt to wake from my torpor and get back into the habit of writing again, all of this week is Zombie Week. Yes, this is the inevitable return to the obsessive hobby that is my Z-Kit! Expect essays on not only the material components thereof, but also on the theory behind it and the implementation of same.

Grr. Argh. Brains.

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