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The Black Laser

Happy first birthday, Cheeks!

We also got to celebrate Mina’s first birthday this March. She’s proving to be an incredibly pleasant little girl, all smiles and laughs with very little unprovoked freaking out. If she is melting down, something is wrong.

Fortunately, he birthday was free of freak outs. We were also dealing with lingering daycare plague, so we delayed her birthday party until the second half of April. This nice thing about tiny kids is that they have no idea what “time” or “dates” are, so making them wait to celebrate their birthdays until it makes most sense for everyone is totally fine. Parenting!

Enjoy some photos after the jump.

Happy third birthday, ladies!

Hey all! It’s been pretty quiet here on the old Black Laser front for the last few months. And there’s a very good reason for that which I will get into in a later post. For now, let’s rewind the calendar dial way back to January 2024.

Penny and Bea turned three this year and we threw them an age-appropriate party. They had cake and ice cream and got presents. And that’s pretty much it. They had a great time. We took some photos. We made some memories. All in all, a successful third birthday for a couple of little girls.

Enjoy the photos after the jump.

The Black Laser Reads: Episode 5 – In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway

One of the struggles with The Black Laser Reads is to find material that feels modern. It’s really easy to find old-fashioned texts with too many semicolons, but the nature of copyright law means that recent materials are pretty rare. Just the nature of time, I suppose.

To my surprise, the original 1924 version of Ernest Hemingway’s first “novel” In Our Time came into the public domain a few years ago. It’s not really a novel, more of a collection of vignettes. I wouldn’t even call them short stories. They’re at most a couple pages long. But here is a piece of writing with a distinctly modern feel and which presents a new challenge for my narration skills.

I think I gave it a different feel, too. It was nice to read something where I didn’t have to worry about running out of breath mid-sentence. I hope you enjoy listening.

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The text for this episode came from Project Gutenberg. If you are interested in reading In Our Time yourself, you can download a public domain e-book here.

Next time on The Black Laser Reads: something distinctly unmodern.

Some creative thinking for the dawn of 2024

Happy New Year, everyone! I was fumbling around the internet recently and came across a post on Fstoppers that provides a framework about how to process your creative output from last year and your creative goals for this year. I thought it would be fun and interesting to go through this list here to share with you all.

Note that I am going to change some of the photography-specific language in the questions to be broad. I’m a photographer, sure, but I’m also a bunch of other things all lumped together.

Ok? Ok! Cool! Let’s get going.

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 how do you feel about your year as a creator?

    Pretty iffy, overall. I posted 18 times here for the entirety of 2023: 8 were photos of my kids, 4 were TBLR posts, leaving just 6 that were actual writing. Not so great? But I did restart my TBLR project and am pretty happy with how that’s going. There’s been a bit of a lull through the holidays and all that business, but I have one in process that will go up soon. So that’s fun. I also have six more Failure States planned for when I feel like wallowing a bit.

  2. What is one big lesson you learned as an artist this year?

    I wish I could say I learned something, but I am not sure what that would be? I haven’t pushed myself too hard this year. Granted we had a baby which took up a whole lot of time between January and the summer, but that’s not a good excuse. The honest truth is that I just didn’t make much time to be creative this year. Anxiety, depression, shit even just distraction. I’ve been not so good for myself this year as with many other years.

  3. Glance through your calendar for this year, are you happy with how you invested your time? Why or why not?

    Not really. I spent a lot of time in 2023 dicking around and not getting too much done. Not that my value is determined by my output, but there was quite a lot of time that I spent messing around that I could have used better. I log all the time I do professional creative work in a notebook that sits on my desk. For a good part of the year I also logged the time I did personal creative work, but that sort of dropped off. I suppose that I subconsciously felt ashamed or something about how little time I was logging for it. Kind of silly. I should probably start logging it again this year.

  4. What piece or series was the best one you produced this year, and why was it the best?

    I guess we can call this the resurrected The Black Laser Reads. I’ve been thinking about this for years but never felt like I had the technical skill to execute in a way I would have felt good about. But over the last two years or so I’ve been recording a lot of voice over auditions and learning a lot about processing audio for that purpose. Suddenly, this year, I realized I actually do have the skill to execute TBLR v2 in a manner up to my standards. That is pretty satisfying. I have so many books in line. I could fill my entire year just reading for TBLR and do nothing else. A bit of a trap there, actually.

  5. Evaluate your [output]. Are your pieces where you want them to be artistically? Technically?

    Nah, they never are. My work can always be better. I think, for me, that artistic and technical quality go hand-in-hand. If one isn’t in place, then the whole work is a bit of a failure. I always try to accomplish both and consider both in the evaluation of the work after releasing it to the world. And I am not writing nearly enough. Not nearly enough.

  6. What do you like about your [work]? What do you dislike about [it]?

    I like the creation of it. I like the feeling of focusing on a project and doing my best to make sure it comes out well. But I wish it were more varied. I love my kids, but I’d like to take photos of something that’s not just them. I love reading audiobooks, but I also need to be writing for myself. And I have some video work planned that I can’t get off the ground for schedule, childcare, and financial reasons. A lot of things I’d like to have done, but did not do for a lot of reasons that just feel like silly excuses no matter how real they are.

  7. Are you producing great work, mediocre work, expected work, innovative work, or poor work and why?

    Somewhere between good and average. Above average, perhaps?

  8. What did you accomplish this year that you are most proud of?

    I kept my kids alive and they are nice people. That’s it.

  9. What are you most disappointed about from this past year as a creator?

    It’s been a bit of a creative wash. A lot of attempts, a lot of struggle, a lot of effort and thought and learning and support work, but not a lot of results. Frustrating.

  10. What is one thing you want to stop doing (1), start doing (2), and continue doing (3) in 2024?

    First, I’d like to stop sabotaging myself and cutting myself so much slack. Do I need to drink a couple glasses of wine or beers at the end of the night? No, not at all. Do those things affect me? Sure! They definitely allow me to convince myself with excuses and they affect my sleep which makes the early mornings pretty useless. This isn’t even really about alcohol dependence or some feeling that I am an addict. I don’t feel that way. But I do think I could be better about saving that sort of thing for times where it makes sense and not rely on it as a way to blow off steam at the end of the night. Even if I knock out 30 minutes of work that I wouldn’t have done otherwise, that is a positive outcome. This was one of my major takeaways from our most recent Whole30.

    Second, I’d like to start writing fiction again. When we were living in my mother in law’s basement before Sarah gave birth to the triplets, I started a story that I quite liked. I worked on it until Penny and Bea came home from the NICU, but really lost the emotional steam for it when Olive’s health took a downward turn. In fact, that story has opened automatically every time I’ve opened Scrivener since then. That’s like 3 years now. That’s a lot of auto-openings. I need to get back to it. There’s no craft that I enjoy as much as writing stories, but there’s also no craft I feel quite so unsure, so unconfident, so weird about. That feeds into a lot of fear and guilt and other stupid, self-defeating nonsense. I just need to rip off that bandaid and build some momentum.

    I think the best way to do this is to set a real schedule for myself. For the last few weeks I have been deliberately waking up earlier. Trying to retrain my sleep schedule. Once in my younger adulthood, the middle of the night was a fertile creative time. Now, however, in my early forties with three children that just isn’t true anymore. It took me a while to realize this. No, that’s not quite right. It took me a while to admit this to myself. Hence the deliberate schedule shift. My goal is to get to the point where I can wake up early, spend an hour writing, and then engage with my day as a stay at home dad. Because that’s my life. I need to make it work. I want to make it work. The time for it is now.

    I’d also like to take photos of stuff again. I feel like I’ve fallen into glorified snapshot mode, which is fine, but is not creatively rewarding. I am still going to take too many photos of my kids, of course, but I would like to also take photos of stuff that’s not my kids. You get it.

    Third, I’d like to continue with TBLR and Failure State. Those are fun projects that I can work on when I am not fresh. That is, late at night, after a long day of small children screaming for my attention. I can absolutely zone out and edit mouth noises out of my performance of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” while exhausted. No problem at all. What I can’t do in that state is form compelling thoughts and ideas and then translate them into words. Best to use that time of the day for projects that don’t require 100% of my processing power.

So that’s about it. Some optimization for this coming year. Some places I’d like to put more juice. You know what would also be great? Getting a job. Or jobs. I’ve been seriously underemployed since Verdant collapsed and that is driving me nuts. But I’ll save that for Failure State: Verdant Construction whenever I get around to writing that.

A Great Discworld ReRead & Read

I love Discworld. A lot.

I was first introduced to Terry Pratchett through Good Omens in the late 90s. I’d been a big fan of Hitchhiker’s Guide so the humor spoke to teenage me. Good Omens is great. One of very few books I’ve read more than once. But I didn’t really know anything about the Discworld series. Not that there was a good way to learn about things like that besides word of mouth, stumbling on them in a bookstore or library, or maybe some cruddy Geocities website.

I learned about the books from a TA at a summer film program I attended at the Maine Photographic Workshops and it sort of blew my mind. An entire series like the Hitchhiker’s Guide, but longer and about fantasy? Written by one of the guys who wrote Good Omens? Fantastic! Getting the books was a little tougher, though.

This was an era before easily accessible electronic copies of books and most of the older Discworld books were out of print in the US or hard to find. And I certainly wasn’t going to start somewhere in the middle of the series like some insane person with no respect for order. But then Harper Collins started reprinting mass market paperback versions in chronological order.

That meant the time was right. So I dug in! For years, from the reprinting of Color of Magic in 2000 , I’d pick up the next Discworld book as it was reprinted or printed in the US, careful to read them only in original publication order.

If you ask people, they’ll often recommend you start with some of the later books and then only return to the early ones if you find you’ve become a fan. Nonsense. I think the beginning is the best place to start. You really get to see Pratchett come into his own not only as a writer but also as the creator of a world that starts as a sort of send-up of sword and sorcery tropes but becomes a rich, living, satirical thing of its own that is unlike just about anything else in modern fiction.

Discworld is silly. Discworld is exciting. Discworld is profound.

Discworld is great. I love Discworld.

I’ve wanted to start at the beginning again, reread the ones I’ve read already, and finally read the ones I haven’t. About a year ago I had the idea to start collecting Kindle versions as they went on discount and would work my way through as they became available. By the beginning of 2024, I’d collected three books: The Color of Magic (Discworld 1), Hogfather (Discworld 20), and Raising Steam (Discworld 40). Ok. A start. It’s probably going to take me a long time.

And then yesterday I found that Humble Bundle is selling 39 of the 41 Discworld books for the price of a burger and a beer. It might be the universe’s biggest no-brainer. How could I possibly say no to this?

Sure, the books activate on the Kobo store (what?). Sure, it’s missing the graphic novel The Last Hero and Raising Steam (the latter of which I already have). Sure, Humble Bundle is kind of sketchy now. But almost all the books? In one place? For eighteen stupid dollars?


I spent about 2 hours converting the files with Calibre and then sending them off to my Kindle for the sheer convenience of having them all in one place with all my other ebooks. Time consuming, sure, but easy and didn’t require a ton of thought. A little metadata clean up here, find new cover artwork there, and boom! All done.

Now I can reread and read the whole series. So follow along with me as I work my way through forty Discworld books over the next few years. I’ll give each a write up here as a way to stay honest about my progress. Honestly, I am pretty excited about it. If you love Discworld, or are at all curious about it, I encourage you to read along with what is sure to be a wild ride. Should be fun!

The Black Laser Reads: Episode 4 – Dagon by HP Lovecraft

On this episode of The Black Laser Reads we feature the short story Dagon by everyone’s favorite problematic weirdo, HP Lovecraft.

Content warning: Suicide.

This is a classic Lovecraftian story where not very much happens but for some reason the narrator grapples with maintaining his sanity. Really. Dude wakes up on a muddy plane covered in rotting fish, finds a rock that’s carved with fish people, and sees a giant fish monster climbing around. He wakes up in San Francisco and decides to end it.

That’s it!

Light weight, overall, but important for introducing the fish people who would become so important in later Cthulhu mythos tales like Lovercraft’s later The Shadow Over Innsmouth. We’ll get to that one another day. Ultimately, like most of Lovecraft’s work, this story is about the vibe.

Please listen and enjoy, unless you value your sanity.

The text for this episode came from Standard Ebooks. If you are interested in reading “Dagon” or other Lovecraft short fiction yourself, you can download a public domain e-book here.

A Musical Kids’ Remote With An Incredibly Strange Message

Anyone with children will know that kids toys love to make noise, especially cheap electronic noise. The books sing. The tables sing. The chairs sing. Everything sings these horrible, tinny, little songs that you can’t escape. They’re awful. I hate them. They are a one-way ticket on the express train to Headache Town for me.

I hate them so much, in fact, that when they come into the house via some well-meaning gift-giver I make them quietly disappear as soon as the children have wandered away from them. As my sister once said to me, gifts are meant to be given and after that it’s up to you what you do with them. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that’s the gist.

However, one such toy found it’s way into our lives and made an impression on me.

When Penny and Bea were just becoming mobile, they were absolutely obsessed with the television remote. They are still obsessed with it, of course, but now they know what it does. Back then it was just a fun thing to hold on to that was always hanging around and being used by the grown-ups. The obsession got so serious that we had to hide the remotes out of their field of view or they would get upset at not being able to play with them.

Sarah or I—not sure who—had the brilliant idea of getting a couple of toy remotes for them to mess around with so the real remotes might lose their fascination. Sarah found one on Bezo’s store and it arrived shortly thereafter. The girls were happy and the toy became a beloved thing. Here is a photo of it.

The remote features a big 3 stage switch on the side to set it to off, low volume, or high volume. At first, this switch confounded the children. I could set it to off and be sure that I wouldn’t hear the beeping and chirping and music it polluted the room with. Gradually, as their fine motor skills developed, they learned to switch the thing on and had no reservation to set it all the way to high volume. Of course! Things are so much more fun when they are very loud, right?

And so, despite our valiant efforts to keep the thing set to off, we became acquainted with the music it made. At first you try to ignore it, let it fade into the din of two small children. Eventually, though, it starts to cut through the noise, it starts to insert itself into your consciousness, and you become aware of what it’s saying.

Most of the sounds the remote makes are pretty regular. Calling out the numbers. Stating the functions of the buttons. A song about how distressed the singer is that there isn’t more time in the day to watch television. You know, normal stuff.

Fortunately for you, you’re reading this in a multimedia format, so I can share the sounds with you. Here’s a sampling of what I am talking about.

There’s one song, however, that plays any time you turn the remote on. You hear it a lot because the kids are always switching the thing on and off. Then you start to really listen to the words the woman is singing from the remote. And then you realize that the lyrics are pretty weird. Like, seriously weird.

It’s great. And by “great” I mean “distressing”.

Seemingly innocuous, right? But really pay attention to what the words say.

Let’s gather round to pretend We’re going to enjoy some TV shows With our friends

Are we pretending to watch TV shows with our real friends? Or are we pretending to watch TV shows with our imaginary friends? Are we pretending to enjoy TV shows we are actually watching? What’s going on in this song? Is it calling for us to deceive our friends while we watch TV with them?

What adult thought this song was a good idea? Who paid so little attention that this thing is embedded in who knows how many toy remotes floating around the world?

The children will never understand the nuance if they even process the lyrics at all. But I’ve been thinking about this song for like a year and a half now. Maybe longer? I can’t figure it out. I don’t think I ever will figure it out.

But now I have shared it with you so it can take root in your mind. You’re welcome.

Listen to me reading you this post right here.