Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2014

One of the projects I completed recently was an installment of my mad science advice column “You Oort to Know!” (ostensibly by Dr. Arthur “Oort” Cloud) for publication in the Winter 2014 issue of “Mad Scientist Journal”. The issue is now out and available for purchase as an e-book from Smashwords and Amazon, with availability coming soon from other vendors.

In addition to my invaluable advice, the issue contains 3 months worth of peer-scoffed articles about mad science from, original fiction geared to mad scientists, and other mad tidbits.

Go on. We all go a little mad sometimes!


Stress Break

Over the past month I’ve tried repeatedly to write an essay about the stress I’m under at work. I’ve abandoned multiple attempts on the topic, as each one eventually devolved into whining. I don’t want to write that, and I’m betting that you wouldn’t care to read it.

Also I’m a bit paranoid, so I kept getting nervous that my boss would stumble across my complaints and decide to stop defending me to upper management. So it’s really not about what I think you might want so much as what my animal brain fears. Sorry.

Anyway, here’s what I’m going to do instead. I’m going to write a little bit about some good things that have helped keep me going through this.

First, of course, is the support and understanding of my wife. Whether I need an emergency lunch delivery, some quality down time with a terrible movie, or to spend a little money on shopping therapy, she’s done her best to keep me propped up. We both know that it’s not going to get better any time this year, and it’s vital to my well-being that I know she’s got my back.

On a less pleasant note, it’s also helping that Wyeth has stopped pooping on the bathroom floor every day. Most days still, but it’s an improvement.

I recently turned out a 2-page script on short notice, for a secret comic project being put out by a secret publisher. I’m still amazed at my fortune in being secretly included, and I can’t wait to be able to be less secretive about the whole thing.

Less hush-hush, I’ve been working on a submission for a Lovecraft anthology. I mentioned here quite a while ago that I’d been finding it difficult to ape Lovecraft’s narrative style. Well, that story continued to languish until I supported the Kickstarter for this anthology. When I discovered that there would be open submissions for it, I dusted off the idea and tried it with a different approach. It still wasn’t working. Something about writing a character driven past the edge of sanity was not sitting well with me. I reluctantly decided not to submit a story.

Two days later the open call for submissions was officially announced, and I noticed that there were only two restrictions: stories had to be set in Lovecraft’s New England, and they had to be written in the 1st person. I slept on it, and the next morning I had the germ of an idea. The first draft’s been flowing pretty well, and I’m pretty confidant about making the deadline.

Sleep helps too. Lovely sleep. I feel like I’ll never get enough of it this year.

Beware the Rides of March!

Tuesday tried to kill me on the drive in to work. It didn’t act alone, either. Daylight Savings Time set me up to be completely exhausted and sugar crashing, despite having eaten a normal breakfast. There doesn’t seem to be a clock reset for my gastrointestinal tract, so I just have to keep enforcing the new schedules until we settle on some sort of compromise.

It’s sort of like dealing with the kitten. I pour a glass of water for my pills, and Fischer jumps up on the counter to stick his nose in it. I move the glass to the other side of the crock pot that blocks his way. He jumps over the pot as I fiddle with the safety packaging on my sinus meds. I pick up the glass again and try to move it to the kitchen island. Now Bogart is entwined in my feet, and I’m stuck there with a glass of water in one hand, a half-exposed pair of capsules, and two cats staring at me.

I’m not sure whether my internal clock or I am the kitten in this comparison. That probably means it’s a terrible analogy, but I’m completely exhausted since the time change so it’s just going to have to do the job.

Anyway, Tuesday was trying to kill me.

This was one day before the latest big storm so the roads were clear, the snow was melting, and everything was various shades of drab. I was driving my Ion to work, as Wendi and I had separate plans for the evening.

You know how most accidents happen near home? It’s not just because that’s where you mostly are. A big part of it is that we tend to disengage — run on auto-pilot — when faced with the routine.

So there I was, wiped out and zoning out, driving down a dreary country road. My brain noticed that my eyes had picked up something out-of-place. Blearily, it checked out what seemed to be a patch of dirt that loped across my view. There was something familiar but misplaced…

Deer! I hit the brakes and slowed rapidly as three deer passed in front of me. Down to 20 mph, I barely missed the last one. I’ve never yet hit a deer, and I really don’t want to test my little coupe against one.

But Tuesday was just warming up.

Now I was awake and acutely aware of my surroundings. Too aware, as it turned out, because I then noticed movement in the car. On my steering wheel.

There was a spider on my steering wheel!

For those of you who are newer to Atomic Zombie land, spiders are my natural predator. They have mocked and pursued me since childhood. I don’t care how beneficial they are, the scheming little bastards are vile and filled with tiny, bitey loathing for humanity. And now one sat on my steering wheel, probably considering options for attack.

I withdrew my fingers as much as possible, until I barely had the tips on the wheel. Twist, turn, down the road I went, peering intently at the spider while searching for more deer. Every time the spider moved I flinched. Every time I turned the wheel to follow another curve, the spider moved.

Recipe for disaster: 1 spider, gently resting on the steering column; 1 arachnophobe at the wheel, pre-agitated; Send driver down winding roads at 55 mph for 10 minutes, then dodge potholes on city roads.

I can’t explain how I managed to reach the parking lot without crashing. Nor do I know where the spider landed when it fell off the wheel after a sharp turn. For hours I suspected that the infernal thing had hitched a ride on my jeans.

If it did land on me it must have abandoned its schemes. Maybe it saw all of the scabs from Fischer biting and scratching me and realized it just couldn’t compete with that level of determined attack.

Maybe I Shouldn’t Drive in the Winter

Cars and snow are a bad mix for me. One year I hit a patch of ice on the highway and went snow surfing in the median. In hindsight it was a thrilling ride, but it really wasn’t worth the repair costs.

I’ve had trouble in our own driveway. Coming home from work one snowy night I saw that we had about a foot of snow on our gravel drive. I wanted to eat before I shoveled, so I hit the garage remote and gunned it. In my mind, my little Saturn coupe plowed gracefully through the accumulated snow and settled neatly inside the garage. In reality the poor thing wound up beached on a 3′ drift only a few feet from safety. After shaking my fist at God proved ineffective, I dug my damn car out so I could finish pulling in.

Apropos of nothing, we now have a plow service.

Last Saturday I stuck Wendi’s station wagon in the icy bank of snow alongside our driveway. Our friend George was over, and I’d been trying to back out around his car to go pick up our dinner. The good news is that his car was never in any danger, although it was conscripted for dinner-fetching duties.

The station wagon was caught between two icy bumps, such that the wheels couldn’t get traction. I put it in neutral, and George and I rocked the beast forward until it was clear. Then I put it back in gear and pulled forward to get good and clear.

That makes it sound easy, and it did only take about five minutes. The complicating factor is that the hardest work to which I’m accustomed is hoisting my butt off the couch. By the time the wagon was clear, my heart was attempting to leap straight through my sternum. My arms hung uselessly at my side, and I felt nauseous.

“This is a stupid way to die,” I thought.

I resolved that I would start exercising, but maybe a 4′ towing fee wouldn’t be unreasonable…

Film Diary: March

I’m now at 130 movies for the year. If I keep up this pace I’ll wind up seeing 520, well above my goal of a one per day average. Looks like I can cut back and spend more time writing!

Lots of horror, as usual. Ghosts, werewolves, werespiders, giant radioactive bugs, zombies, bats, and golems. “The Man Who Laughs” and “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” were made in the silent era, although “The Man Who Laughs” was released with an optional soundtrack of incidental music and crowd sounds. They’re impressively made. John Barrymore is simply astounding as Hyde, and despite some peculiar changes from the source it was a good flick. “The Man Who Laughs” was a bit of a mess, I thought, but the dental prosthetic was an astounding effect. Not only did the film inspire the look of Batman’s iconic foe The Joker, but the more expressionist sets established the eerie fable look Universal horror for the next few decades.

I saw a number of movies to further my research for The Web of the Big Damn Spider. Some of these were harder to get ahold of, so it was a thrill to set my greedy eyes on them. “Lunatics: A Love Story” had my favorite giant spider — a fairly good stop-motion effect — as well as scenes of Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi attacking each other. “The Cosmic Monsters” was just a super-imposed close-up, which was frankly disappointing. Hammer’s “The Devil Rides Out” at least had the decency to use a tarantula in its super-imposed effect. It also had the audacity to fix everything with time travel, which was so insulting I had to applaud it for its disdain.

The biggest let-down of the month was “Daisies”, a Czech film from the 60s. I’d seen lots of images from it, and it looked absolutely nuts. It was. It was also determinedly off-putting and amounted to pretty much nothing. The visuals are striking, though. I’m left with a small handful of unmatched movies in the Criterion set that contained it. Like my BBS set I got for “Head”, it might just languish for a while more.

To wrap up on a happier note, I saw all three Shaft movies. “Shaft” was good stuff, and I could see why it made a splash. It’s immediate cash-in “Shaft’s Big Score” was okay but felt very much like a rushed cash-in. The following years “Shaft in Africa” was a goddamn hoot and should earn an honorary Oscar for Badassery. Not only was it a perfect blend of ridiculous fun and action, but it had the political awareness to address topics like female circumcision in the early 70s. Granted it was a set up for Shaft’s offer to show the woman what she’ll be missing, but still…

Anyway, here’s everything I watched. Yes, Lilo & Stitch is a repeat. It’s just a great movie!

Bad Milo! (2013)
Beast Beneath (2011)
Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)
Black Narcissus (1947)
The Blade Master (1984)
Brain Dead (1990)
Buried Alive (2007)
Contracted (2013)
The Cosmic Monsters, aka The Strange World of Planet X (1958)
Crawlspace (2012)
Curse of the Black Widow (1977)
Daisies (1966)
Dark Wolf (2003)
A Dead Calling (2006)
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Do or Die (1991)
Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)
Doghouse (2009)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Evil Remains, aka Trespassing (2004)
Fear Island (2009)
Fingerprints (2006)
Forget Me Not (2009)
The Frankenstein Theory (2013)
Gamera vs. Gyaos, aka Return of the Monsters (1967)
Guns (1990)
Hard Hunted (1992)
Haunter (2013)
House (2008)
In the Electric Mist (2009)
Intruders (2011)
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Lovely Molly (2012)
Lunatics: A Love Story (1991)
The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Munger Road (2011)
Nomads (1986)
The Quatermass Conclusion (1979)
Screamtime (1983)
Shaft (1971)
Shaft’s Big Score (1972)
Shaft in Africa (1973)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Starship Troopers: Invasion (2012)
Times Square (1980)
Vampire Bats (2005)
The Weight of Water (2000)