All posts by Annette

Before She Was Helen – review

Solid four stars out of five. Warning: there is discussion of rape and a serial rapist, although not graphic.

Clemmie – or, as her neighbors know her, Helen – lives in a sleepy, sort-of retirement community called Sun City. Her next door neighbor Dom texts her every morning to let her know he’s ok. Except today: no text.

Clemmie has a key to Dom’s place – in case of emergency, and something her friends and neighbors do not know. She heads next door into Dom’s place, calling out for him. She doesn’t find him, but she does find a door in the garage that leads to the other attached villa, presumably owned by neighbors who are rarely seen.

Telling herself that she’s just checking for Dom, she enters the third (very empty, almost unlived-in) villa and sees a glass dragon sculpture that she thinks is so beautiful that she takes a picture and texts it to her nephew.

So begins Before She Was Helen, a character-driven mystery set in a limited community area.

Her text puts into a motion a grand mystery: the creator of the dragon is hunting for money stolen from him and tracks down Clemmie/Helen, Dom is missing, no one knows much of anything about the ghost neighbors, Clemmie’s friend Joyce is kicking out her boyfriend (who has been taking money from her checking account in bits and pieces), and all the other neighbors join in the fun when a body is found in Dom’s golf cart, in his garage.

There’s another story as well: Clemmie’s life before she became Helen, as the title suggests, in the 50s. It involves Clemmie being stalked and raped repeatedly by a man, her becoming pregnant tanks to her rapist, and giving up the child to an adoptive couple. When she moves from place to place, trying to escape him, he always finds where she is living and shows up. At one point, he rapes her roommate when he turns up but doesn’t find Clemmie. The rapist is later found dead. The case went cold in the past, and in the present, Clemmie’s nephew texts her that the case is being reopened, adding another worry to her pile.

The book moves fairly seamlessly between the present and the past, both eras containing complex mysteries to be solved: in the present, who among Clemmie’s neighbors are involved in drugs/dealing, and who killed the young man found in Dom’s garage? In the past, how did Clemmie finally escape, and who killed the stalker/rapist?

While none of the characters are very deeply presented beyond Clemmie, I still found it an enjoyable read and was wondering how all the pieces would be tied together, or indeed, if they could be. Answer: yes, they could be, and were.

As noted, this is a character-driven novel: there are no big action sequences or gory scenes beyond some blood in a knife fight that involves the artist and one of Clemmie’s neighbors. If you are looking or gunfights and foot (or golf cart) chases, you won’t find that here. But if you’re looking for a good read of how one woman reinvented herself and how she manages to get through the webs small town communities can weave, this is the book for you.

Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the advance reading copy.

A quarter of cleanup

The first quarter of 2020 is going to be a cleanup quarter. We’ve been busting ass for six months making our changes that are a result of our vendor’s changes, and boy, how I would love to be done with this by the end of Q1.

We’re also rearranging things at the NOC; another batch will be done tomorrow, and then this weekend a biggie (even though it only involves one switch). I can hear it now: the plaintive cries of people wondering what happened because they didn’t read any of the announcements we posted ahead of time.

It’s fine. We’re used to it.

Thus far, my primary exercise in the new year has been hauling servers around and taking inventory – necessary but tedious things. But I know the maxim is: do the hard thing first. This is the hard thing right now, and the sooner it’s done, the sooner we can move along back to our usual, quiet support levels, and the other things we (I) want to do.

I keep thinking about the garden, and growing peppers, and telling myself to just grow some tabascos in buckets. That way, I don’t have an excuse to go hog wild out there, and while we can buy cayenne and paprika powder at the store, my mom is not a fan of the actual Tabasco brand. She says it has a bit of a metallic taste at the end. So, I think I’m going to slow my roll on getting caught up back in the great outdoors and not letting the gardens or myself rest, and just set up a bucket brigade – peppers, versus water.

I do have some bamboo plants I would like to get in the ground this year, though. I could focus on digging some holes and working in some good soil. Maybe that will quench the need to get my hands really dirty in the great outdoors. I got them oh, maybe four months ago? All but one have generated new growth. They grow incredibly fast, which is good, because the house going up on the lot diagonally to us is not just large, but toward the front of the property, and I’d rather not be looking at that when out on my front porch. Every other house in this limited development, including mine, sits back from the road. Not a fan of where they’ve placed it, although I suspect the neighbor to his west (the eastern lot is not yet developed) is even less of one. Who knows, maybe I’ll start a bamboo trend in the neighborhood. It’s clumping bamboo, not spreading, so never fear, dear readers: I am still a good neighbor in that regard. Next up is blocking out the neighbor to my south along that fenceline so I don’t have to look at his heavy timber trucking equipment when I’m out at the bees or in the rear garden.

First things first, though, and that is to get all the tech stuff that needs to be done, done. It’s been a weird six months, but the one good thing is that I had the Big Op a month and a half before that vendor got crazy. If I’d had to deal with this while immediately recovering from that, it would have been a nightmare.

Forward, ho! And until next time, peeps: be well.

Into the Fire (Orphan X)

Into the Fire (Orphan X) by Gregg Hurwitz

A fantastic entry to the Orphan X series.

The Nowhere Man – aka Orphan X, aka Evan Smoak -is having a bit of an existential crisis and is on the outs with Mia, the lovely Assistant DA raising a son alone. But he still picks up the phone when Max Merriweather calls him.

Max’s cousin Grant, an apparent crackerjack forensic accountant, has entrusted Max (who is the schlub of the family) with an envelope to be opened if something happens to him.

It does.

The envelope contains spreadsheets that appear to be the workings of a money laundering organization. And it is, to a certain extent, but it’s also much larger than that.

Evan agrees to help Max, telling himself that this is the last mission. And what a mission it is. After chopping off the head of the operation – or so he thinks – Evan is pulled back in when another head pops up. Then another. And another. Each step he takes is in direct conflict with Mia, for reasons I won’t go into for spoilery reasons.

There are tons of dead bodies along the way, tense moments with Mia, and a bait dog saved from a dogfighting ring Evan gives to Joey, hacker extraordinaire and an able partner for Evan on the back end of things. She also presents some comedic moments as Evan gets drawn more deeply into the giant conspiracy and the higher ups bound to it by the steely woman in charge.

While there are some things IT-related that people who work in IT may roll their eyes at, that isn’t really anything new for this series, and the suspension of disbelief isn’t that difficult to do in favor of everything propelling the story forward.

There’s a surprise at the end that is a true surprise, and one I wasn’t expecting. Assuming the Nowhere Man keeps his boots on, and with the parameters set in place toward the end, but before the surprise, the next book (assuming there is one, and I truly hope there is) should be quite interesting.

Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for the reading copy.

 

In the wee quiet hours

“Nothing good happens at 3 AM.”

Probably not entirely true, but it seems to be the time – thereabouts – when shit happens in IT.

Case in point: yesterday. I was winding down for the day, somewhere around midnight-ish, dealing with some guy who was dithering on a backup restore after one of his developers apparently hosed something. He ultimately decided against it, as whatever it was got worked out. Shortly thereafter, after about 1:15 in the morning, one of the servers just went offline. Poof!

We’ve seen this from time to time over the years, where the primary NIC (that’s network interface card, for those of you who do not speak Geek)  shuts itself off. There are a variety of fixes, or possible fixes for it, as with anything. Usually, rebooting the thing bring it back online. That depends on the PDU (power distribution unit, AKA, fancy power strip that allows remote reboots) working. We have probably six that need to be replaced, as they are errored out and do not work for anything other than just plain old power – hence the fancy power strip moniker I’ve given them. This, alas, was one of them.

So I had to haul myself to the NOC at 1:30 in the morning, only to get there and find that the errored PDU just shut off the outlet. And only that one outlet. Easy enough to fix by swapping it to another, working PDU. Then the drive home. In bed by 4. Up again by 8. Work work work. It really puts a crimp in your day.

Some days are like that in IT. Just so anyone who thinks it’s all glamorous and files transfer in nanoseconds and no one ever makes a typo and who may think IT is just super cool and easy money doesn’t get any wrong ideas about it all.

That’s it for now. Until next time, peeps: be well.

Day two of the rest of your life

Far too much football and stuff going on to post yesterday.

But from today forward, I’ll be posting daily – mainly to get in the habit of doing it, and also to vaguely complain about shit. I’m kidding. Sort of.

I’m anticipating the good outweighing the bad, although the first quarter will still be migration city, like living on the LA freeways during rush hour for three months.

There are half a dozen books lined up for me to read and review, so I’m using that as my break time to get my head out of the servers for just a short while. Since I read so quickly, I’ll also need to line up the next six, as I’ll finish this first batch by midweek, even with work being nutty. I love Kindle Unlimited and ARCs (advance reading copies), There’s something to be said for being a voracious reader and being able to put together 500-ish words in a review with a short turnaround time for books coming out in just a few months. I’ll admit I’m amazed at some of the stuff that gets published, though, in the very same way I’m amazed that Lifetime can make the same movies over and over (and over and over) and get rave commentary from its base. Someone very cynical could likely create their own cottage industry on the formula for those movies. i wonder how much they pay…..

That’s it for now. i have someone’s PHP script to check and books to read. Until next time, peeps: be well.

Intentions: 2020

People ask “What are your resolutions for the new year?”

I stopped making resolutions a long time ago, and for a long, long time now, greeting the new year has not been anything like turning a corner. It’s just more of the same, with a new date stamped on the calendar. For the past four years, I’ve either been sick, or getting over being sick, at the turn of the new year.

This year, thanks to losing my voice (primarily) and sense of smell via a total laryngectomy, I am healthy (mostly) heading into the new year. Since I’ve been relatively healthy since the end of April, when I had the Big Op, and now, I’ve had time to think about what I’d like to do in 2020. I say relatively, as I’ve had a couple of instances of what my docs call minor pulmonary infections, and what I call lung snot. Fortunately, modern medicine has graced us with antibiotics for these things.

As some of you know, I had wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo in November, as I had a brand new, quite exciting idea to write, back in early May, after I got out of the hospital with a hole in my neck. I knew most of the story, and over the next couple of weeks, I fleshed it out in my head and was confidant that a few other things I needed for it would come by the time November rolled around.

Then, the end of June came, and with that, one of our largest vendors announced a complete and total change to their licensing. That in turn required us to make a huge decision: to stay with it, or make a change of our own. Those of you who are clients will know this already, but we chose the latter.  This resulted in an equally huge, and quite sudden amount of work necessary on our part to implement the changes we needed to make.

There is an upside to this, as there is with almost everything: it knocked us out of a bit of complacency, and also resulted in other changes we decided to make in order to make things more efficient and to adjust a couple of our business models.

“What does this have to do with anything, Captain?”

A lot. Because it knocked NaNoWriMo out of the water, and except for a few days’ break here and there, we’ve been steadily implementing the changes we decided to make. When there are hundreds of servers involved, and all the work is hands on to do the migrations and replacements, it means everything else is on hold, because almost every waking hour is devoted to getting this finished. It also means 16-18 hour workdays, every day, with the exception of those few breaks.

Another group of the changes has been at the datacenter level, and we’ve been physically working on those as well – the work is physically demanding (the servers weigh 35-40 pounds each, depending on the model), hot, and dirty – kind of like the gardening I do. It’s interesting how this one change from one vendor has resulted in other changes, like ripples from the boulder they dropped in the water.

While we are still getting through the changes, I expect we’ll be finished by the end of the first quarter 2020. I had decided to not do any gardening in 2020, to give myself and the beds a rest, but I realized that I’d at least need to do tabascos (peppers) as the hot sauce I made back in 2016(?) is almost gone, and the plants I put in back in spring of 2019 were gnawed on by deer and didn’t produce much of anything worthwhile.  That led to the realization that we also need cayenne and paprika powders for culinary use, so I need to grow some of those as well, since we’re almost out.

I may toss a couple of cukes in, just for the fam/friends and their salads. And if I’m doing that, I might as well do a few tomatoes (not not over a hundred of them, as I usually do), as well as a couple of other low maintenance items: lettuce, carrots, and so on.

At the end of the day, I do still need to get exercise, and gardening is good for that. I’m just paring it back a bit instead of going full bore out there. So that’s one intention for the new year.

Next up: the bees. I lost colonies in 2019, some because I wasn’t paying attention to them (laryngectomy and recovering) and others for unknown reasons (they had plenty of bees, food, and so forth). I have four in the beeyard. I know two at least will make it through our “winter” with some feeding, and I have four packages coming in the screen. I am changing how they’re set up, though, and will move the two on the wooden stands to sitting on cinder blocks, as the bees on the blocks have done so much better – all the losses we from hives on the wooden stand. My intention for the bees is to better manage them in 2020, since my major health issues are presumably behind me.

Next up: reading. I’ve read 64 books in 2019, and expect to finish another one today for a total of 65 of the 70 I had planned. I want to read more in 2020, and I’ll be setting a goal of 75 for the coming year – nothing crazy, like going from 70 to 100. When people set these types of goals, they can often set themselves up for failure by setting a new goal that is too far above whatever the previous level was. If you’re a couch potato and set a goal of running three marathons in the coming year, that’s probably not going to be realistic. My advice: set something reasonable, and make it concrete. Don’t say you’re going to “lose weight”. Say you’re going to lose 10 pounds in the next 60 days. That’s more reasonable. So, 75 books for 2020.

Next up: food. My intention is to cook for my mom and brother (and one sister who lives nearby, if she wants to come along) more often in 2020. “But Captain,” you say, “didn’t you just tell us to set concrete goals?” I did, thanks for noticing. This one largely depends on my brother’s schedule, though, so it has to be a little fluid. I’m aiming for at least one meal a week for them. That will get me back into the kitchen, where i love to work, and will also feed them, something I also love to do. Everyone wins.

Next up: mind/body. My intent is to continue doing my heavily modified yoga routine. There are things I cannot physically do and never will be able to do, but I can do a lot, and an increase in flexibility and strength is the goal. I’ve also been half-assededly meditating, and that needs to change into an every day thing as well, and that’s my goal: at least five minutes a day, at some point in the day (probably before I finally throw in the towel and go to bed).

Next up: writing. This is the big one. My intention is to write every day, at least two pages a day (to start). This will be difficult, just as it was in 2019, at least for Q1, minimum, since the work that currently pays the bills will still be taking up a huge amount of time. But I’m hopeful by Q2, with a reduced garden load during the season, and a lessened focus need on “work work”, I’ll be able to actually get time in. At this very low rate of writing, I should be able to finish a book at the standard length for my primary genre (mysteries/thrillers), in about four months – doable, and not terribly stressful since there’s enough stress in my life already.

I’m sure there will be other, transitory, things that pop up – life is like that – but These are the things I’m consciously focusing on for the coming year.

That’s all for now. I hope your holidays were grand and the coming year brings you all you want. Until next time, peeps: be well.

What can I say?

Except that there are people on this planet who, had evolution worked differently, would be eaten by feral bears. And some of them deserve it.

Let me give anyone who stumbles across this site some advice from your friendly tech support people. You are not helping yourself if you become hysterical. You are not helping yourself when you do not answer the questions we’re asking, or make answering those questions a long, drawn out affair, requiring us to ask you the same questions in a slightly different manner so you will shit out another clue for us. You are not helping yourself by claiming you’re losing a billion dollars per nanosecond because the application on your site hasn’t been updated in literally a dozen years and it’s broken – keep in mind that we can see the amount of traffic your site receives, and you’re lying to us, to make it appear your site is insanely popular when it isn’t. If it were, you’d be spending a lot more on it. As it stands, you probably spend more on coffee over the span of two days than you do for your site per month, so let’s try to keep things in perspective here.

You are not helping yourself by pretending you know more than we do about the servers or connections or pretty much any other thing involved in this. Remember: you contacted us for help. If you know so much, why didn’t you fix it yourself, and leave us be to clear the firewall because someone else can’t connect the logic dots of going from “let me pound away, trying to log in over and over when it’s failing” to “I can’t access anything” and who then proceed to inquire as to whether the servers are down or not. Because the likelihood of them understanding things is probably right around the likelihood of you fixing your own stuff, instead of us ignoring everything beyond “I have this error” and fixing whatever it is that’s broken.

There’s a reason people burn out on tech support. That up there is part of it. Don’t do that.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Communing with nature’s denizens

After a weeding session (and filming some discussion about types of weeds and why I don’t do chop and drops here), I went back into the house only to find a hitchhiker on my shirt.

This is not the first time I’ve carried something back in, but it is the first time said something has decided it wanted to be really up close and personal, if only briefly.

Check your person before coming inside!

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Summer slam

Hello, my faithful readers.

So what’s been going on? Recovering from the laryngectomy, Regrouping from yet another lost season in the garden. Finally getting back on the tractor for mowing. Doing other chores like taking care of the bees and cleaning out the mobile chicken coop. The latter is made not quite so onerous by the fact that my sense of smell is gone unless I work at it, so moving around chicken crap and soiled nesting material in the heat is not a “pass out from the odor” moment.

Speaking of mowing, there has been a lone cattle egret hanging around the property on the days I mow. It’s a sound strategy, considering all the grasshoppers and crickets and frogs that get disturbed. It’s practically a drive-through for the winged creatures that are on the property – the chickens, but also this guy/gal:

Swallowed it whole, as they do.

S/he spent awhile wandering around in the beeyard as I moved on to finishe mowing elsewhere. It was a nice visit.

In work-related news, one of our biggest vendors decided to upend their entire licensing scheme, so I’ve been spending a ton of time dealing with that (which irritates me, because I could be spending that time on other, more enjoyabe things, but such is life).

I plan to start updating again regularly, just to get me in the habit of doing it. Hopefully, I can translate that over to my (fiction) writing.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Ten years later….

Today (Thursday as I type this), after ten years, I finally set foot in a theater again.

“Have you not seen a movie in ten years?” one might ask.

I have seen tons of movies – just not on the big screen. The last movie I watched in the theater was Julie & Julia, back in 2009, not terribly long before the second cancer diagnosis in 2010.

Since that time, I have not been in the theater because I didn’t want to be That Person, coughing and hacking and ruining other peoples’ experiences.

So what, you ask, did I see today to break myself back into an actual movie at an actual theater? This one, from John and Molly Chester:

If you have the chance to see this on the big screen, you should. The cinematography is exceptional and the time lapse parts are stunning.

If you have the chance to see this on the big screen, or even if you wait for it on a smaller screen, be sure to have some tissues with you if you’re a crier. There are just enough sad/reality parts to generate some tears if you’re that sort of person, but these parts save the film from being the sort of wide-eyed, hippie “we’ll create a farm and live in harmony with everything!” nonsense that causes people to go into any agricultural pursuit as if nothing bad ever happens. It does.

That said, the film does serve as a kind of call to action, for people brave enough (or foolhardy enough) to get their green thumbs growing, even if not on the scale the Chesters did, and without the investor that made their move possible. The story relies on the hope and (non-religious) sort of faith that it can be done, with some patience and with an acknowledgement that we can’t always control every little thing. We can help, though, and in the end, although nature is what it is – sometimes overwhelming, often confounding, and a tad like a rebellious teen – our dropping of a stone in a small, still lake has just the sort of ripple effect that’s needed for both nature and ourselves.

Five out of five stars.

Until next time peeps: be well.