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WC Brown

William Charles “Charlie” Brown is an American author of Science Fiction stories. His latest work, Daniel Shires and the Multiverse, is a story about a boy with a power that he does not yet understand.


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For Six Months

December 19th, 2019

After reading “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert, I started saying things like “that would make me happy,” and adding after a pause for effect, “for six months.” Gilbert’s book describes a study of lottery winners who self-reported their happiness levels before and after winning. The result was that they reported their happiness as “very high” just after winning (duh.) But that their reported happiness level went right back where it was after only six months.

I don’t believe this for a minute, and the only way you can convince me otherwise is to give me that winning ticket. This “for six months” phrase has joined the ranks of such household memes as “You’ll thank me later” (Tony Shalhoub’s Monk) “God I miss Jack” (European Vacation) and “You shall not pass” (Lord of the Rings.) The commercials for the new iPhone prompt me to say, “that would make me happy for six months.” and I mean it. I really do, but I just can’t accept that a new house and a new car would only make me happy for six months.

Something about this study smells bad. Presumably, they had a pre-lottery happiness level, right? So, how did they know the participants were about to win the lottery? And what is meant by “won the lottery”? Is it retire-today money (7-figures)? Is it f*#k-you money(6-figures)? Or is it, as I suspect, a much more modest amount - the kind that could be reasonably expected to occur in a psychology study of a few hundred gambling addicts. If it’s in the new-car range(5-figures), then yes, I can believe it would fade after a few months. Clearly, this calls for more research.

Searching for Treasure in Miami

November 18th, 2019

I have lately become obsessed with a treasure hunt described in a book called “The Secret” by Byron Preiss (1982)

I’m just the right age to have been very interested in this book when it was published in 1982, but I honestly don’t remember it. It wasn’t until I saw the episode of Expedition Unknown in January of 2018 that it caught my eye.

For those who don’t know, The Secret describes twelve hidden treasures that the author deposited in 1981. Byron Preiss visited twelve parks around the country where, disguised as a utility maintenance worker, he buried what he called casques - small ceramic containers protected by plexiglass cubes. The goal of the reader was to solve the clues and find the casque, inside which is a ceramic key which can be exchanged for gemstone worth about a thousand dollars. They say that he expected these twelve keys to be found fairly quickly - maybe a year or so, and that would pave the way to writing a second book. That didn’t happen, and it wasn’t until 1983 that the first one was found by teenagers in Chicago. After that, no one found anything for decades all the while, grounds-keepers, and the ravages of time have changed the landscape erasing clues. It seems to be a common theme in the search. It gets very exciting for a bit, and then years go by.

A second casque was eventually found in Cleveland in 2004, and then, you guessed it, nothing for many years after that.

Since then, Josh Gates of “Expedition Unknown” has been sucked into this obsession, and he has done(so far) three episodes about The Secret. In the most recent, he went along with a search in Boston, and they actually found it!! I watched it three times!

This brings us to my own obsession: image #6 and verse #9. Everyone agrees that image #6 is in Florida. Everyone also agrees that verse #9 goes with Image #6. By the way, that’s how we are supposed to find the keys. Each of the twelve treasures has an image that hints at a city, and each has a verse that tells you where to dig.

Everyone agrees on those two things, and most sane people believe the city is St. Augustine, and the park(these are all in parks) is The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Although the Florida treasure has not been found yet, this location is so close to being an established fact that it approaches religious dogma, and with good reason. The connections with the verses are amazing. Even some of the things in the image point to the F.O.Y. park

You may have guessed by now that I’m about to propose heresy. So, here goes. What if, what if - it’s not in St. Augustine?

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

The most prominent element in image #6 is a stone man. In 1947 the Everglades National Park was established, and that same year “The Everglades: River of Grass” was published by Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In the lining of the hardback cover of her book, there is a map of South Florida, and the coastline matches the profile in image #6.

So, that’s the good part. The disappointing part is that, while there are two parks named after her, neither of them has anything resembling anything in verse #9 except the green fence and tall trees. In both cases, the fences are steel and not picket, so that’s no match. The smaller of the two is about the size of my front yard, so not a place B.P. would have buried a casque. The larger park is even less interesting, with nothing more than cement sidewalks and grass(not even tall grass).

There is also a statue of her in yet another park, but the plaque says it was created in 2005, so that’s another dead end.

Don Quixote

The character on horseback is assumed to be the conquistador Juan Ponce De Leon because of his connection to the fountain of youth. But look closer, and you’ll see he’s not dressed like a soldier. He’s dressed like a fool. He’s not even wearing shoes. Notice also that he’s looking down, which is a good match for the famous Picasso sketch of Don Quixote.

If it is Don Quixote, then he fits the whimsical mood of The Secret better than a Rape-Pillage-and-Plunder conquistador.

When I think of Don Quixote, I always think of windmills, and the only full-sized Dutch-style windmill in Florida, according to the Wikipedia page of windmills (that’s a thing) is in Miami. Or I should say was in Miami. It’s gone now, destroyed by a fire in ??. I can’t find confirmation of a year. We do know where it was, though. It was an icon of Miami for decades and featured prominently on many postcards. It was built to promote a casino in Miami Beach. I found at least three different names for this hotel/casino: Carl Fisher Casino, Roman Pools Casino, and St John’s Casino. It was somewhere between 22nd and 23rd street and Collins Ave.

What’s there now is interesting and matches a few of the things from verse #9.

The Bass Museum of Art

The interesting things in the lawn in front of the museum are:

• A huge and beautiful tree (tall tree)

• Four bronze busts of men (near men)

• A vertical stack of stones (just like the image)

• A piece of art called The Story of Man (every story has a First Chapter). This piece is ringed by a low pool which reflects the carvings (written in water)

But before we get too excited, there is bad news aplenty. Here are the misses:

• No windmill today. Was it there in 1981?

• No tall grass, bending branches, green picket fence(or fence of any kind)

• No shell, limestone, silver, salt, wind rose, or honking unless you count the traffic (there was quite a bit of that while I was there)

In fact, it really only sorta matches four out of the fifteen lines in verse #9. So there you have it. I had great fun searching Miami but didn’t come up with anything definitive.

Space Opera

August 30th, 2019

I was digging through some older stuff looking for some story snippets and came across this bit from Chapter 8 of Star Charmer. It was too long for what I was looking for, but I really like it, so enjoy!

The only setup you need to know is that Thomas is the spaceship. M is his new companion-in-training, and Thomas’s spiderbots are all named after vice presidents because as he puts it, “they are mostly brainless and can’t do anything without my say-so.” Oh, and he forces them to wear costumes.

Before he could answer his own question, Thomas was interrupted by a sudden thump followed by a high-pitched hiss. M turned to see a tiny hole in the hull behind her and noticed a growing circle of blood soaking her shirt just before everything went black. Several drawers opened from what were previously smooth walls as she slumped to the floor. Spiderbots flooded out of the drawers and began dragging her limp body to the Med-Bay which had also opened out of its place inside the wall. A few spiderbots hurried to repair the holes in the hull caused by the micro-meteor. As the Med-Bay closed, M opened her eyes slightly and let out a few confused syllables.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you,” Thomas said, as she closed her eyes.

* * *

A day and a half later, the Med-Bay opened, and M sat up.

“So this is our Med-Bay,” she slowly swung her legs over the edge. After a moment, she stood, still a bit shaky. “What was that?”

“A micrometeoroid. It happens from time to time. Never went through a passenger before, though. That’s new.”

“Crew,” she corrected. “How long was I in here?”

“Thirty-six hours. Haven’t you ever been in one before?”

“No. My friend was once. She fell out of a tree and broke her arm. It only took a few minutes. Wow, thirty-six hours. That must be some kind of record.”

“Oh no, not even close. One of the other survey ships told me a story about a repair that took a month. Apparently, there were residual skin cells from a previous repair job. The Med-Bay stowed itself away inside the wall, but at some point, the damn thing came on by itself without anyone noticing. It was probably some sort of Single-Upset-Event, perhaps a cosmic ray.”

“Single-Upset-Event?” she asked and yawned.

“That’s what they call it when a bit of radiation affects some electronics. The ship didn’t notice because it’s a completely isolated system. The passenger didn’t notice because the Med-Bay was still inside the wall until it finished and opened up with his clone sitting there looking all dazed.”

“A clone?”

“That’s right. It made a perfect copy from the residue DNA but without any memories. So, it couldn’t even speak. Complete tabula rasa - a blank slate.”

“What did they do with him?”

“Well, they did the only thing you can in a situation like that. They taught it to play cards,” he said as the spiderbots laughed.

M frowned. “More nonsense. Which fallacy is that?”

She walked around to get her balance back and noticed a new spiderbot wearing a silver funnel hat and carrying an oil can.

“I love this one because it’s close to several fallacies. Firstly, our friend number eleven again, Appeal to Authority, where you believe something just because your cousin’s friend from two towns over knows what he’s talking about because he was there. The second one is number twenty-five Ad Nauseum where a story gains credulity through repetition. If you say something often enough, people will believe it. The third fallacy is another one we’ve covered already…”

Don’t Trust Anything Thomas Says,” she repeated with sarcasm.

He laughed, and the spiderbots chittered again.

“The give-away is the Med-Bay being isolated. You should have caught that, M. It’s not a simple Stitcher. It can’t do a thing without me.”

“Whatever. So, we should be at the asteroid by now, right?” she said.

“Well, not exactly.”

“So, where are we?”

“I…pulled out all the reactor safeties and turned back for Earth. We’re nearly there. I suppose we can turn around now that you’re done with your little holiday.”

“You were worried about me,” she accused grinning.

“No, I wasn’t,” he said with indignation, “I simply wanted to be ready for a replacement should that become necessary.”

“Liar. Why the hurry just to drop off a dead body?”

“I have submitted the request for a gravity assist maneuver around Earth so that we can get back on schedule,” he said, ignoring her.

“We have a schedule?”

“No, but I love speed. Speed is goo-ood. Speed is right! This might even be a personal-best for me.”

As they came around the planet in a close arc, Thomas accelerated like a rock in a slingshot.

“No - No - No! Oh, that’s disappointing. Missed it by one percent!”

“It’s over already? I didn’t feel a thing.” M said, surprised.

“Oh, right. Sorry about that. I didn’t mean literally hang on. I keep a constant one gee inside for the comfort of my passengers.”

“Crew,” she corrected, but he ignored her.

“Although,” he laughed, “I discovered through experimentation that I could gradually increase it to one-point-five gees before Dennis noticed.”

“Hey Thomas,” she said in a serious tone, “Thanks - I owe you one.”

The sound of the reply from the committee filled the cabin. It said, “Asteroid Survey Ship Thomas is denied permission to perform gravity assist maneuver,” they both laughed.

Rob Reid

June 28th, 2019

Holy crap! I just finished bingeing on Rob Reid’s amazing podcast ‘After On’

If you have a brain, you need this. If you think of yourself as well-informed, he will disabuse you of that quickly.

The free bag of crack that got me started was his Ted talk. If you haven’t watched that, go now!

The podcast episodes are long; they run about an hour, and they are deep dives with real experts that will scare the buh-jebus out of you. They’re so thick with detail, I’m planning to listen to all of them at least twice because I’m sure I missed things. (When I listen to content that is engaging to this level, my mind wanders off on some nugget, and it’s several minutes before I can get my focus back to the source. That’s when the ‘go back 30 seconds’ button saves my sanity.)

Sorry for the brevity. I’m keeping this short so I can get back to listening!

Seriously, Rob F*#ing Reid!

Ancient Treasure

June 14th, 2019

Well, ancient may be a bit of hyperbole. The Tickencote Treasure was originally published only 116 years ago. This wonderful tale of an English gentleman caught up in the accidental obsession of a treasure caught my attention when I was searching for similar books. The tragedy for anyone who loves treasure stories is that there are so few and searching always yields either ‘Treasure Island,’ picture books for five-year-olds, or non-fiction stories which are entertaining but all too similar to be taken seriously. I’ll have to write another blog article someday about how many stories there are about a dying vagabond who bequeaths a map to a vast treasure to the heroic doctor who made his last hours more pleasant.

I love the self-referential quality of the difficulty in finding good stories about treasure. A treasure hunt to find a book about a treasure hunt is very G.E.B. It’s also a slice of the larger tragedy of finding any book that is “just right” for the tastes of any particular person. My hope is that someday soon, machine learning will be able to give each of us genuinely unbiased recommendations.

For those who like a bit of Victorian fiction, I recommend this treasure about treasure. The Tickencote Treasure is available free in several formats - all a bit awkward to use - from Project Gutenberg. Or, you can listen to the mp3’s I made for myself. These are by no means audio-book quality (‘read’ comes out sounding like ‘red’ instead of ‘reed’) but, they are on par with the Kindle’s text-to-speech. That being said, why didn’t I just have the Kindle do it? The problem I had with the Kindle was that it stopped only a few minutes into my morning walk. I put it in my pocket, and I think it stopped when it went into sleep mode. Another frustration was losing my place, and I really missed the feature of Overcast, the app I use to listen to Podcasts, which lets me go back 15 seconds. This ‘what did he just say?’ feature is so useful I just couldn’t do without it, so I added that to the webpage I made just to listen to this book.

If you have found another old treasure like this one and want to make your own mp3s, check out my previous post Text-To-Speech

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