Sequel cover reveal

My new cover is ready!

Well, it’s ready except for figuring out the spine and adding the back cover text. I have the image setup with sufficient spine width and bleed, but it can’t be finalized until the text is finalized, and that won’t happen until after my beta readers get back to me. But right now I have the cover components basically all in place, I have a blurb ready to go, and so it’s just down to editing and formatting at this point—and most of the formatting is done, except for some final typography concerns that will be done via a macro at the very last minute.

With the cover ready I’ve gone ahead and added it to my sidebar, and added a book page for it that you can read in the menu above. The Well of Moments is the second book in what is now the Paranormal Curio series, which began with The Affix. Fans of the first book will be pleased to see a number of familiar faces, and even some familiar artifacts. This story continues the frenetic format from the first book by introducing new villains and even more new artifacts that might come into play in a future book—although not quite as many villains as the first book, because that was a lot. Once again we’re bending genres, making this another low/urban/contemporary sci-fantasy paranormal semi-thriller.

I’m already juggling some ideas for a third book in the series, that I’d like to tackle in November.

My plan for this currently is to temporarily make The Affix free when the sequel launches, and likely start the sequel off at a discount.

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The evolution of Valentine’s Day

When I was a kid, I remember Valentine’s Day as a weird interlude between Christmas and Easter. February was always miserable and cold with nothing much else going on, except President’s Day which was a precious day off of school. But V-Day was sort of this innocuous goofy love-themed holiday that had no meaning to me as a kid beyond the candy involved. We’d get a bunch of little cards with puns and sign them for all our classmates, maybe including a little piece of candy there.

But what really stood out to me was not the school stuff but the home stuff. Typically my sister and I would either be the recipients of a box of candy message hearts or we’d have some in a candy dish at home, or my mom would throw a family party and we’d have a bunch of candy hearts there and then a bunch leftover. And every year my mom made a two-layer chocolate heart cake with pink buttercream frosting.

These days I don’t have the same tolerance for sweets I used to, which is a good thing, although I still look wistfully at the candy hearts and think I’d love to eat like three or four of them and no more.

The cake eventually stopped being a thing as I went into adulthood, and that was just one of many reasons the holiday turned ugly for a while. Once you reach an age where the whole love theme of the holiday matters, enduring it while single is a gut punch—unless you’re really cool with where you’re at on that score, and I was not. Throw in a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder when your whole outlook on winter has changed from where it used to be as a kid, and it only gets worse. Suddenly the whole day is about reminding you you’re alone, it’s slushy and cold so there’s nothing to do and even if there was you’d have to go outside in that crap, and football season is over so you don’t even have that as a distraction to fall back on.

But now I’m married, and this will be our 11th Valentine’s Day together as a married couple; but we were together a few years even before that. These days the holiday is defanged, but at the same time we don’t actually do anything special for it ourselves. The first year we were married we tried to do the whole card thing at least, but we both got a horrendous mini-flu that took us completely out of commission for a week and had to get crappy cards at the last minute, which we then promptly forgot to give each other. A few times we’ve gone out to eat, but waiting three hours to be seated gets old really fast, so these days that isn’t so much a priority for us either.

We’re pretty boring about the holiday, actually, and that’s okay. As long as it’s not an object of dread, I’m cool with it. So we low-key it and life goes on, and maybe I’ll buy some cherry gummy hearts if I see them, even though I probably won’t get through the whole package.

But the main point of all this reminiscence, the thing most on my mind right now, is that I could seriously go for a slice of double-layer chocolate heart cake.

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Back aboard the sick train?

This has sure been a fun month-and-change.

At the New Year’s party I caught a cold, which promptly hit me three days later. I tried keeping on top of it at first, using vitamin C and garlic and everything else I could throw at it, but the stupid thing got bad a couple days later and I ended up having a lousy weekend followed by a cough after the congestion went straight to my chest.

And it stayed there, a vicious, persistent bout of chest congestion that would not go away for anything. It was the worst at night, severely impacting my sleep to the point where I went through a lot of the month zombified. I finally went to see my doctor last week—good gads, that was only a week ago?—and he prescribed prednisone to help me get past it by blocking inflammation. The pred worked wonders pretty quickly and I could breathe again.

Then I get a call a couple days later: my potassium is inexplicably low, this in spite of the fact that I’m on medication that should have the opposite effect, so he prescribed a supplement. I started taking that.

Two things promptly happened. First, on Friday my wife had a scratchy throat and developed some congestion in her chest that night, although she never caught the cold I had and this was now more than three weeks later. She had a fever the next day so we went to urgent care. She tested negative for the flu, but because it’s often a false negative that early on they gave her Tamiflu—and on that she’s had a bit of success, which makes me think she does indeed have the flu. This is a bad enough thing for her, but it’s also bad news for me, a high-risk individual who not only just got over a bad cold but is still on a steroid that depresses the immune system. So my doctor put me on a preventative course of Tamiflu too, thank goodness. (I had the flu shot back in October, but fat lot of good that’s done anybody this year. Some years are like that.)

The other major thing that happened was a complete shock. Sunday night after the Superbowl, lying in bed and waiting to fall asleep, I couldn’t fall asleep at all because I had thin, watery saliva trying to sneak down the back of my throat all night. In fact my whole mouth was incredibly wet, which was odd because if anything I’m used to having the exact opposite problem. Falling asleep was darn near impossible without feeling like I was drowning. My mouth felt a little moister the night before, too, so I thought: the most likely culprit has to be the potassium. So my doctor took me off that and told me to try supplementing via diet, but last night I still had this hypersalivation going on. Today I felt different, so hopefully that’s finally behind me—I’ll find out very shortly.

But then there’s today. I woke up with my sinuses a wreck, and part of the reason, I expect, was that I finally used my neti pot yesterday after putting it off, with the goal of trying to flush out some lingering gunk that stayed behind after the cold. I felt maybe the sinus trouble was a contributor to the hypersalivation. Anyway, massive sinus headache today and everything is a wreck up there, but also my throat feels a little bit scratchy and my breathing feels wrong and if I’m being honest with myself, this feels like a new cold not quite catching on.

To make a long story longer, but bring it to a point, I think I might be on the cusp of the flu. With any luck, and a lot of prayer, I hope if that’s the case that having started Tamiflu early will let me ride it out at this level and no worse. If I can avoid developing another debilitating bout of chest congestion for another few years or so, or fifty, that’d be swell.

But the Patriots lost, so there’s that.

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Nice try, Redmond

The Windows lock screen tells me helpfully that: “Microsoft Edge is now available for your Android devices.”

Oh, bless your hearts. That’s adorable.

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Parmesan steak topping solved

So as I mentioned in my previous post on sous vide, I tried to do a melty Parmesan topping for my most recent steak and used a recipe I found online that called for mixing the cheese with about an equal amount of butter. And that didn’t really work out well.

Tonight I figured it out when nuking up the other half of that New York strip.

For this you will need sodium citrate, the patron saint of melting salts which is also, handily enough, an emulsifier. Yay molecular gastronomy!

I took about ¼ cup of shredded Parmesan and put it in a Pyrex custard cup, along with roughly ¼ tsp. of sodium citrate; I did not weigh it. (At first it was more like a heaping 1/8; I added more later.) To that I added somewhere between 1-2 tbsp. of water, and I know that’s really inexact but the heck with it. I figured I’d nuke that for 30 seconds to warm it up, stir it, and take it from there.

The cheese actually melted completely within those 30 seconds, so I didn’t get the benefit of being able to nicely emulsify it. In fact I was concerned it was ruined, because part of it was a big clump and the other part was liquid, and they didn’t want to mix together. As I mentioned, at this stage there was only about 1/8 tsp. of sodium citrate included. I stirred vigorously but nothing much happened. At this point I figured I needed two more things: more sodium citrate and more heat. I added the melting salt and re-nuked for a short time, much less than 30 seconds though, to get the cheese hotter.

After the second nuke and with the added sodium citrate to bring it up around ¼ tsp., the cheese stirred a little better but not 100% where I wanted it to be. However at this point the emulsification appeared to be significantly better than before, and the main impediment was the stubborn solid part being a little too solid. More heat! So the third time was a very short nuke, after which about 30 seconds to a minute of good stirring produced a proper creamy result.

At this point not all my food was ready, so I had to wait to get the steak—which was sliced up and given a liberal dribbling of water for better warming—warm before putting on the cheese. So the cheese ended up needing one more nuke, just to warm it up again, but it didn’t “break” into separate solid and oil phases in the short time it sat there—nor did it after I put it on the steak. It did however solidify quite a bit, the way American cheese will after it’s been melted but the heat goes away; this was not at all a bad thing, but I think a higher water content would have softened it further.

The amount of cheese I used would suffice, I think, to nicely top a big burger. To top a whole strip steak I’d actually use a little more.

This was honestly just an experiment. I had no idea if I’d be able to get something workable without weighing out the sodium citrate and I really had no idea if it would work in the microwave. The answer to that was a huge yes. Which means other cheese sauces are very achievable in the microwave too! For cheddar I’d cut the sodium citrate way down, though.

The main thing to note here is that when the cheese breaks, it can be fixed. It will be a little clumpy at first, but if the sodium citrate content is adequate then more heat should solve it. If you suspect there isn’t enough sodium citrate, adding a little should fix things as long as the heat is enough that the solid parts are mushy enough to try blending.

If you haven’t used sodium citrate yet, get a jar on Amazon and thank me later. And be sure to try a topping of melted Parmesan or Romano on your next steak, because I think you’ll find they bring it to the next level. For that matter, certain burgers would probably rejoice at the prospect of a little something different.

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Clickbait music must die


When I become a supervillain, I will criminalize the use of a ukulele or glockenspiel in the backing track to any new online video or any advertisement. (Exceptions will only be made when thematically justified, e.g. a luau.) Using either one will bring down a hefty fine in the neighborhood of $100K or a public flogging, or both. Using both: death.

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Conversations at Cupertino

The following are conversations I like to imagine actually happened in Apple’s headquarters.

Tim Cook: You know how other phones have those cool edge-to-edge screens? Let’s do that on the iPhone X.
Engineer: Good idea! My team will be excited to—
Tim Cook: Right, but I mean every edge.
Engineer: What about the front-facing camera?
Tim Cook: Cut out a notch.
Engineer: But people will hate—
Tim Cook: NOTCH!
Engineer: Okay, but what about the home button?
Tim Cook: Screw that. Users will use gestures instead.
Engineer: But people will hate—
Engineer: …All right. So you want the fingerprint recognition to unlock the phones done on the screen itself?
Tim Cook: No no no, we’ll use facial recognition!
Engineer: But that’s a million times less secure!

Marketing Goon 1: Hey, have you seen all those awful Google commercials?
Marketing Goon 2: Oh yeah. Those are the worst. What were they thinking with that music?
Marketing Goon 1: Exactly. The music in their ads is so bad it’s memorable!
Marketing Goon 2: But the only message sticking with people is that Google sucks at music. Our ads have always been a little quirky in that department, but people seem to like quirky.
Marketing Goon 1: Right, but Google is out-quirking us. So for the iPhone X spots, we’re ditching quirky and going with craptacular just like Google.
Marketing Goon 2: Isn’t that a little too—
Marketing Goon 1: And we’re gonna push the facial recognition by casting people with really weird looks and showing them in all kinds of goofy makeup.

Engineer: Can we at least talk about making the battery repl—
Tim Cook: NO!

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