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and things went downhill from there
(a desperate plea for fish)
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21st-Feb-2019 10:29 pm - So far, so good
Burning Fur Mood
I'm coming close to two months into retirement, and so far it's going well. I had a to-do list of things I want to get done in the first while, but it's a slow process. One of the top things that I am going to start moving on next week is replacing our water heater. Our current one still has one working element, so I haven't been treating it with as much urgency as I would if it was dead. I'd made an abortive effort to fix it myself, but that's a matter for a longer post of its own. The short answer is that after talking to a local guy who fixes and replaces water tanks, he strongly recommended replacing it, with a compelling argument for doing so.

Because I retired early (I went at 55 instead of waiting until 60 or 65), [personal profile] atara gave her blessing as long as "you have dinner on the table by 5". She has done almost all of the cooking so far in our household, but I've been chomping the bit to get my hands on the kitchen. For the most part I have been playing it safe and keeping things in my comfort zone, but I've gone out on a limb with a couple of the meals with mixed success. I made a dish of beans and rice last week that she did not like very much. I think it was a combination of the bacon picking up an off-taste in the freezer, and the amount of smoked paprika in the dish. I like paprika more than she does, I guess.

Every week we try to weave in at least one vegetarian day, and my plan for that had been yesterday. I've been trying to start using up a backlog of things in our downstairs freezer, and to that end I grabbed a bag of shredded zucchini, and a couple bags of frozen pumpkin. The idea was to turn the zucchini into bread for dessert, and to combine the pumpkin with some chard to make a vegetarian lasagne -- though we decided to substitute frozen spinach for the chard since they are very similar, and there is no wasted stems.

I was going to bake the bread first, then turn crank up the heat and put in the lasagne as I took out the bread to cool. The first hiccough was that it took me longer to prepare the bread than I remembered from making it in the past, so it went in a little late. I revised my schedule a bit and estimated that dinner would be closer to 17:15 than the usual 17:00. No problem. The recipe for the bread had instructions for either making two small loaves, or one big one. We usually make small loaves, but I saw no reason why I should wash two bread pans when I could get away with washing one. What I had not counted on was that the bread would take way, way longer to cook in the larger pan.

By the time [personal profile] atara got home from work, the lasagne was still sitting on the counter waiting for its turn in the oven, and the bread was nowhere near done. Since the lasagne did not have meat or eggs in it, I decided that it would probably be safe to just put a lid on it and slap it in the fridge so that I could make it today. Things worked better this afternoon, and it was ready to eat shortly after she got home from work. It was also as good as I remember it being. Yesterday we had shawarma from the place around the corner.

The challenge so far has not been coming up with recipes, nor cooking the meals. Everything I've made so far has turned out well for what it is. The challenge is coming up with a meal plan that we both like. I like to get a little adventurous with my cooking, but [personal profile] atara is a bit more selective about what she likes (rather, she has a definite list of things she strongly dislikes), so that puts a real limit on what I can do. More than once I've had a meal plan all set up for the next week, only to discover that she thoroughly dislikes one of the things on my menu. This week was a results of a last-minute redo as I scratched two of the planned meals and scrambled for a replacement.

Ah well, I'll start building a do and don't list as I go on.

On what might be my last work-related note, I got a call from my ex-boss on Monday to let me know that I'd qualified for a "meet" on my performance profile last year. As a result, I'll be getting a full bonus for the year. Since the company had a banner year, that means I'll be getting a nice bit of money for a send-off. I knew that I was entitled to a bonus, but getting one is not always a given from this company. I think the fact I and the people I worked for genuinely like each other, and that I left on good terms counted in my favour.
Burning Fur Mood
Call it a brain fart, or a senior moment, but I had a minor moment of derp today.

In the aftermath of a significant power outage this morning (and by significant I mean the area it affected more than the time it was out), I started making my way through the house, resetting clocks and setting things back to normalcy.

One of the last things I tackled was the file server in the basement. It's going to need some attention soon because its fans are starting to make alarming sounds when the system first powers up. Once it has reached its operating temperature, it settles into a routine squeak and squeal, but for the first while it's quite a cacophony of disturbing noises. After the scare with the RAID on my main machine the other day, I thought it would not be a bad thing to check on the health of the RAID on our file server, since that is our main backup for everything.

I called up Disk Management in Windows, and was alarmed by what I saw. Below is the results from our file server, juxtaposed above the results from my machine upstairs.

One of these things is not like the other.

RAIDS

The moment I saw it showing as one drive reading as a single, basic partition, my inner alarm bells starting ringing furiously.

OMG! How long has the second drive been dead? Why have I never noticed any errors messages during boot-up?

I booted into the UEFI and things got even more confusing. I just could not resolve the drives it showed to the drives that I knew were in the computer. When I rebooted again to watch the statuses flash past, I noticed that it offered a options for interrupting the boot sequence to change settings.

And then I applied a mental palm to my face. The reason Windows was not seeing the RAID was because I was handling it in hardware; I'd installed a card for it when I built this backup machine because I didn't want to entrust our data to sometimes-flaky software RAID.

To my defence, it has been a few years since I built this machine.
8th-Jan-2019 08:34 am - Drive not found
Burning Fur Mood
My first hint of a problem was when I tried to save an image to Rarity and Windows politely informed me that the drive did not exist. Yes, my various drives are named after ponies.

I noticed that while Explorer showed the drive and all of its folders, all the files were missing. This has happened before, and I was pretty sure that the drive would disappear entirely after a reboot. It did, but after the reboot I also noticed that my RAID mirror had fallen apart. Its component drives were listed under separate letters again, and one had more free space than the other.

The size difference was not especially large, so I don't think the RAID degraded that long ago. I suspect it happened when I installed the last Windows update. There's been some issues with some of the later updates, though this is the first time I've been affected -- assuming it was the update. It's possible the RAID has been broken for longer than that; I don't pay that much attention to my drive letters.

I took my computer apart, blew out the dust, checked all of the cords inside and moved the missing drive over to a different plug. I'm hoping that it was just a loose plug, and that the controller itself is not going because that never ends well for anyone. Once I had it all reassembled, I did some searching for how to non-destructively rebuilt a RAID in Windows 10. It's surprising how tricky it was to find the answer. Search after search would yield results like:

Q: How do I rebuild my RAID in Windows 10 if I have to replace one of the drives?
A: Windows 10 does not support RAID.
Q: What do you mean? I had a RAID before it degraded on me...

Q: How do I rebuild a RAID in Windows 10?
A: Select the Add Mirror... option.
Q: What if I can't select that because it's ghosted on the menu?
A: Windows 10 does not support RAID.

I knew it could be done because we'd had to do it on [personal profile] atara's machine back in the summer. I knew that it was just a matter of telling it to add a mirror, but I needed to know the steps that would make that option available. Eventually dismounting and remounting the drive, and a few other bits of sorcery opened up that option, and I started the long process of rebuilding the mirror.

It took hours. I started the process at around 16:00, and by the time I went to bed it had finally cracked 90% complete. When I got up this morning Pinkie Pie was properly mirrored again and ready to go back to work.

Other than a scare when I re-flashed my BIOS last year, this machine has been very reliable, and has been performing very well. As much as I envy [personal profile] atara for having a machine that can run circles around mine, I'm not feeling constrained enough by its performance to want to endure the headache of rebuilding it all again from scratch.
Burning Fur Mood
The reliability of the windshield washers in the Volkswagen have become spotty over the past couple of messy seasons until they stopped working entirely this winter. Their motor would run, and it would drain the reservoir, but nothing would come out of the nozzles - not even the wan trickle l that I was getting from it in the spring.

I finally traced the problem to a break in the hose at the pivot point just below where it attaches to the base of the hood. The hose seems like it would be a chore to replace, and looking for a quick, temporary solution to hold it until spring, I took [personal profile] atara's suggestion and wrapped it in a couple layers of duct tape. I've tried fixing hoses with duct tape in the past with varying degrees of failure. My thinking was that the pressure is probably quite low in the washer hose, so duct tape might actually hold it for now. It did. With the unusually warm conditions we've been experiencing this winter, I'd have been loathe to take out the car without an operating washer.

In other news, I'm officially retired. My last day of work was January 1. They had a small ceremony for me at the office (about 30 people showed up - though more came through after to help themselves to the meat tray and other spread they'd laid out). On Thursday I stopped by the office to drop off my pass card, company cell phone and corporate credit card. Finally, on Friday we had an off-site celebration at a pub not far from our house.

They've made some noises about trying to get me back for a few months under contract sometime this year, but barring that, I am done with the railroad. I am now gainfully unemployed retired. My former employer will now pay me not to work. They've done that on more occasions than they would be comfortable to know over the years, but now it's under legitimate circumstances.

It hasn't really sunk in yet, and it probably won't for a couple more weeks. Right now it feels like I am on vacation. I think that when I get to the end of January and realize that I don't have to go back to the office - ever - the realization that I am a free agent will finally hit home.
24th-Dec-2018 04:15 pm - Plonqmas 2018
Burning Fur Mood
If you are reading this, then it is already too late to run. This story started off when I envisioned Plonq waking up, hungover on Christmas Eve and wondering, Where am I, and where are my pants?

It grew out from there, and ultimately ties back to a little throw-away bit in last year's story.

8<-------------------------------------

It has been suggested by those who study such things that an average person will awaken at least once in their lifetime, look about themselves, and ask three questions. It is also said that, on average, the questions will be in this order:

"Where am I"?

"How did I get here"?

"Where are my pants"?

Although Plonq had awoken to those questions enough times to skew the average a bit, he started out of his sleep late morning Christmas Eve with other matters dominating his mind. He stirred abruptly from what he would later classify as a disturbing and illucid dream, and lay for a few moments to assess his situation. The first thing he noticed was that he was lying supine on the bed, which undoubtedly exacerbated his apnea and likely played a significant part in the disturbing dreams. The second thing he discovered was that he was entangled with the bedsheets in a manner that he'd have been hard-pressed to do intentionally.

Finally, he was distressingly sober.

Worse yet, he hadn't even a hint of a hangover. The snow leopard lay still and stared at the ceiling while his brain tried to process this information. He clearly remembered stocking up the liquor cabinet in order to facilitate his traditional holiday binge. It seemed inconceivable that he'd somehow managed to make it through the prior evening without actually drinking any of it. Christmas Eve was the traditional start of "hair of the dog" season, after all.

"Mrrw?"

The cat who had treating his fluffy chest as her personal bed stirred and chittered at him in mild annoyance for waking her. Plonq twisted and wrested his right arm free of the sheets so that he could grab her by the chin and lift her head until they were looking muzzle to muzzle.

"How is this possible?" he demanded, staring imploringly into the smaller cat's eyes. "Is this not the eve of Christmas? How is it that I am neither lingeringly drunk from last night, nor sporting an industrial hangover? Indeed, I daresay that I could go for a coffee and tuna pate on a bagel right about now. What is wrong with me?"

The cat responded to his question with a dull-witted stare that seemed to focus about a metre behind the snow leopard's head. If she had been contemplating on his question and formulating an answer, she quickly forgot it when her brain decided that her left hindquarters were her top priority. She abruptly turned her entire attention and brain capacity to cleaning it of dirt that only she could see.
Plonq sighed, and finished the process of disentangling himself from the sheets, discarding both them and the cat to the other side of the bed. He rose and toddled off, scratching and yawning to the kitchen so that he could assess his sad situation over some coffee.

The kitchen was in exactly the state he'd have expected from one seeking a proper drunk the night before; there were open bottles and containers everywhere, and it reeked of stale alcohol and regrettable snack foods.
While he pressed out a cup of coffee, the snow leopard considered the situation in the kitchen. The damage seemed to be fairly minimal, other than a fork or two stuck in the ceiling, and writing on the wall that he hoped was not indelible marker which read, "All work and no play makes Plonq a dull boy." It was written over and over, more sloppily with each iteration, and with more apparent pressure applied to the marker.
He had no memory of any events leading to this state of the kitchen, but that was normal. When he opened the refrigerator for some cream, his other cat jumped out of the open fridge, chirped at him, circled his ankles twice and then made a beeline for her litter box.

Plonq flopped back into a kitchen chair and took a deep sip of coffee, but the delicious, complex brew with just the right splash of cream did little to lighten the dark mood that was settling over him. Being sober on Christmas Eve sucked. Since he'd reached a state of mutual détente with Santa, he had little to keep him busy over the holiday. He'd agreed to stop attacking Santa on social media – regardless of how much of his acerbic indignation the old bastard deserved to have levelled his way on Twitter. In return Saint Nick had agreed to stop sending out a reindeer thug to punch Plonq in the muzzle every Christmas morning - which was a good thing.
Not getting punched in the muzzle was arguably a good thing.

He downed the first coffee, and was settling into a deepening funk midway through the second when the phone jarred him out of his self-pity. Plonq normally ignored the phone when it rang because nobody he knew ever bothered him at home over Christmas, but the number on his call display came up as 666-HELL and he was intrigued. He assumed it was a telemarketer and the thought of being mean to a phone jockey on Christmas Eve appealed to his black mood.

Plonq put down his coffee, swept up the handset with a jaunty flourish and mewled a predatorily polite, "Hello."

"Well hello there, mister woe-is-me-for-being-sober," taunted a familiar, grating voice at the other end. If the feline had not put down his cup before answering the phone, he'd surely have dropped it.

"...dad?" he said weakly.

"That's my boy; clever as ever," said his father. When Plonq did not respond immediately, he continued, "This is the part where you are supposed to remind me that I'm dead."

"But you are," said Plonq angrily. "And you've got no right to be calling me from beyond the grave. Now I'm going to hang up in case there's an important call!"

The snow leopard wondered briefly if perhaps he should be a bit more afraid of the fact that his dead father was calling him from Hell, but before he could dwell on that thought, his father was talking again at the other end of the line.

"Aren't you the least bit curious, or even a touch afraid? But that's your way, isn't it? You just accept every weird thing that drops into your life," scoffed his father. Before Plonq could muster an indignant reply, the dead snow leopard spoke again. "But I'm not calling to tell you about how you disappoint me as much after death as you did in life. I've got important SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

Plonq grimaced and held the phone away from his head. Over the screech he could hear his father yelling to somebody at the other end. "Jesus Christ, not now – I'm trying to talk to my son. You can do your AOL crap later!" Moments later, the screeching stopped and he brought the earpiece back to his head.

"It's bad here, son," his dad said. "Hell is still on dial-up. 56K."

"Ack! Wait, that's not how modems work."

"First smart thing you've said on this call," said his father drily. "Welcome to Hell. Anyway, I'm just calling to let you know that you're going to get visited by some spirits today. Not the cheap ones you were guzzling last night, either."

"Spirits?" demanded Plonq aghast. "Why? What time? How long are they planning to stay - it's raid night, and the guild's doing a drunken achievements run!"

"I dunno," said his dad, verbally shrugging over the phone. "I was just giving you a heads up so that you could clean your pigsty a bit before they arrive. Show some shame, boy. Anyway, I need to run. Good luck with the ghosts."

There was a burst of static and the line went dead. Plonq sat, transfixed with the receiver still pressed to his head while he tried to make sense of what had just happened. He didn't know how long he sat there before his father spoke again at the other end.

"Dummy, that was your cue to hang up. Why do you always make me hang up first?" This time there was a decided click, followed moments later by a dial tone. The snow leopard slowly lowered the phone from his ear and took another deep swig of his coffee. He leaned forward on the table, cradling his chin on his knuckles. The more he thought about what had just happened, the more convinced he became that it had not actually happened. He was familiar with the concept of delirium tremens, though he had never consumed enough alcohol to experience it.

"None of this is real," he said aloud. "This is all just manifestations of a fevered dream while I lie in a mild coma from all the stuff I drank last night." Even if it was just a dream, he decided there was no harm in taking his father's advice to clean the place a bit. He closed the open bottles and arranged them at the end of the table, threw away the empty snack containers, and took a damp sponge to the wall. Fortunately, some dim part of his lizard brain had maintained enough sense to use a water-colour pen.

He was just wringing out the sponge in the sink when there was a polite knock at the back door. He tensed at the memory of his father's warning about ghosts. His greater fear, though, was that it was another Jehovah's Witness. The JWs had become especially aggressive of late, and had taken to wielding children in front of them as shields when they came to the door. To his relief, he discovered that it was only a ghost.
He opened the door to reveal a young, slightly-transparent hyena on his back stoop. The hyena sported an eighties-style feathered mane held in check by a gaudy pink headband and thick, fuzzy leg-warmers. She had a clipboard in one hand, and had her other hand placed sassily on her hip while she smacked noisily on a wad of gum and eyed him up and down critically.

"Yo, spirit of Christmas Past here," she said after a suitably awkward silence. "Are you going to invite me in or what? It's freezing out here." Plonq mutely stepped to one side and held the door open while he waved her in with a sweeping invitation of his other hand.

The hyena brushed past him into the kitchen, looked around with a critical eye and then shrugged as if it met her minimum standards. While Plonq closed the door behind her, she walked over to the table and slapped down the clipboard she'd been carrying. With her other hand, she removed her chewing gum and proffered it to the snow leopard, holding it gingerly between her forefinger and thumb. Without even blinking, Plonq motioned to the kitchen garbage pail with a flick of his muzzle. The hyena rolled her eyes, but obediently walked over and planted the gum on the lid, pressing it down with her thumb.

"Don't worry, baby, I'll be back for you," she said softly. She turned back to the feline and waved him over. "OK, your portfolio is on the table. Let's get through it so that I can get outta here; I got a shitload of other clients this morning." She grabbed the nearest kitchen chair and swung it around so that he could straddle it. She leaned forward against the chair, snagged the clipboard from the table and flipped up the cover sheet.
"Let's do this," she said. "The Christmas in 1989 when you and your family went to Palm Beach is one of your best memories of your whole life. Am I right?"

Plonq pulled out the chair across from the hyena and slowly lowered himself into it. He picked up his coffee and tossed back the last of it in a single gulp before carefully placing the cup in the middle of the table between them. He ran his thumb around the rim in thought before he answered.

"I've never been to Palm Beach."

"Yes you have," said the hyena tartly. She jabbed the sheet with her index finger, giving it a bit of a flip as she lifted the sticky digit from the page. "It was the same year when you got your first period..." her voiced faded out mid-sentence. She licked her thumb, and her jaw tightened as she started flipping through the pages, muttering to herself, "... first Barbie ... pyjamas party ... the year of crack cocaine ..."
The hyena dropped the pages back into place and slowly lowered the clipboard to the table, crossing her hands over it. "Well, fuck me," she said with surprising calm. "It looks like I brought the wrong portfolio. Anyway, you must have had some fun Christmases in the past."

Plonq was resting his chin on his knuckles again while he thought. "Well, I guess there was the one when dad was in prison so he didn't get drunk and beat me up. That Christmas was okay," he said contemplatively, "though mom set herself on fire while baking the turkey."

"Who hasn't done that?" said the hyena with a knowing wink. "There you go then, a happy memory of a Christmas past. I'm done here." She picked up her clipboard and walked over to retrieve her gum from the top of the garbage bin, jabbing it with one of her fore claws. She strode to the back door and stopped, facing it for a moment before she turned back to face the snow leopard.

"Look, I know your childhood Christmases weren't exactly great, but they weren't all terrible either. I read your portfolio. I know your dad liked to drink a bit too much at Christmas, and he even hit you a few times." She popped the gum back into her maw and gave it a couple of noisy chews until she got it back to the right consistency. "He really loved you, though. He saw himself in you, and he was terrified you were going to turn into him, and he didn't know how to deal with it."

"It was a shitty kind of love," said the snow leopard flatly. "But I'm over it."

The hyena stared past Plonq at the bottles on the end of the table, and then glanced back at him with an expression that suggested she was unconvinced.

"I don't really do the psychology stuff," she said. "My job is to remind folks about all the happy, fluffy stuff from their past Christmases. It's there if you look hard enough."

She made eye contact with the cat and shrugged. "I dunno what to tell you. Maybe you need forgive your father before you can start to fix yourself," she said. The hyena motioned to the bottles with her muzzle. "You need to do something, because that shit ain't healthy." Then in a fluid motion she spun and stepped out into the cold, closing the door quietly behind her.

The cat stared at the closed door for a very long time after she had departed while he alternately mulled on her parting words and wondered if she had actually been real. Eventually, he made himself another coffee and fetched a bag of dried anchovies from the cupboard because that seemed like a reasonable course of action.

As morning rolled lazily into afternoon, the snow leopard began to wonder if the next spirit was going to visit, or if he'd just imagined the first. Plonq would need to start his pre-raid drinking soon, but he felt it would be better to be sober when dealing with the next ghost. He was holding one of his cats and watching schadenfreude videos on YouTube when he heard another knock at the door.
Plonq shooed the cat from his lap and speed-toddled out to the kitchen to deal with the impatient knocking. He opened the back door to reveal a tall, gangly moose in a thick parka. Like the Hyena, the moose was slightly transparent, and clutching a clipboard to his chest, but unlike the hyena he immediately extended a big, beefy hand in greeting.

"Hi, I'm Bill and I'll be your ghost of Christmas Present," he said, giving the feline's hand a friendly pump. He released the other's hand and reached into his coat, fishing about until he finally produced a pen. The moose held it between two fingers and flipped through the clip board before turning it to the snow leopard and handing him the pen.

"I'll need you to sign here, where I've put an X," he said. When the snow leopard complied, he flipped to another page. "And here," he said. Once that was done, he flipped to the next page. "And I'll need you to initial here, and here, and sign at the bottom." He tapped the boxes and lines in question as he went. When Plonq had finished signing the last line, he held up the pen and glanced up at the moose.

"So, what am I signing for..." he asked, looking just in time to see a fist flying toward his face.

---

Plonq slowly awoke in bed with a pounding headache. He groaned and flung an arm across his eyes to help dull the pain and block out the bright afternoon sun streaming in the bedroom window. He lost track of how long he spent lying in his bed mewling pathetically and questioning his life choices. In the back of his mind he tried to take an accurate inventory of how much he'd drunk the night before, but his brain kept getting caught in a loop on the memory of, "One more gin and tuna fizz can't hurt, can it?"

Apparently, it could.

Eventually, the pressing need to pee overrode his need to wallow in misery, and the little feline dragged himself reluctantly out of bed. He stumbled toward the kitchen, clutching his brow and squinting against the pain. So strong was his focus on the bottle of Tylenol he'd left on the counter by the sink that he almost passed the table before he noticed the large moose sitting at it, playing on a phone. The other looked up and waved toward the counter. "Please, carry on. I don't want to get between a cat and his pain medicine. Sorry about hitting you so hard – I don't know my own strength sometimes." He patted the clipboard on the table. "Remember that you signed the form waiving us of responsibility if you suffer any concussion-related after-effects."

Plonq dumped two pills into his hand and swallowed them dry.

"I had a deal with the fat guy. No punching this year," said Plonq with a growl of rebuke in his tone.

The moose gave a noncommittal grunt. "I just got it out of the way for you. Be honest with yourself; you were going to get really drunk tonight and violate the agreement." The cat's silence was all the confirmation he needed. "Why do you do it?"

"He started it."

"Not that," said the moose. "I mean why do you sit alone at home every Christmas, drinking yourself into misery?"

Plonq lowered himself unsteadily into the seat across from the moose and rested his hands, palm down on the table to steady himself. "It's my ... thing," he said slowly. "Besides, it's not like I have anything better to do on Christmas – well, except for tonight's guild run of old content, but I'm probably going to skip that now because my head is killing me for some reason." He glowered at the moose and rubbed his temple gingerly.

"It's beneath you," said the moose curtly. "You have lots of other things you could be doing for Christmas that don't involve punishing your own liver, and picking fights with Santa. You have friends who'd be delighted to hang out with you for Christmas."

"I don't want to be that guy," said the snow leopard. "You know what I mean - the single guy who gloms onto his married friends at Christmas so that they can invite him over for a pity dinner with their families." Plonq walked over to the counter as he was talking, and punctuated his last word by turning on the coffee grinder. Whatever retort the moose gave was drowned out by the scream of the burr grinder. When it was done, the cat turned back to the moose. "Can I offer you a coffee?"

The moose stared mutely at the snow leopard with his big, sad eyes before demurring with a slight shake of his head. He drew a breath and his mouth moved as if he was about to speak, but whatever he'd been meaning to say never made it past his initial intent.

"You hate how much you look like your dad," he said finally.

"Can't help how I look," said the cat simply. He grabbed the electric kettle and started filling it without another word. Behind him, he heard the sound of a chair scraping on the floor as his guest stood at the table. He put the kettle back on its base and hit the switch. When he turned back to the table, the moose had already shimmied back into his parka and was towering above him with his clipboard clutched to his chest.

Once again, the moose worked his mouth as if trying to come up with the right words, but eventually he extended his hand again. "Sorry again about hitting you so hard," he said, and then he winked. "Then again, maybe I'm not the cause of your sore head. Perhaps I am just manifestations of a fevered dream while you lie in a mild coma from all the stuff you drank last night."

Like the hyena before him, he paused at the door without opening it. Unlike the hyena, though, he did not turn. "You're not your dad, and you don't have to be him." He opened the door, and was just stepping over the stoop when a fuzzy hand reached in and pulled him forcibly across the threshold, eliciting a surprised yelp from the moose. Almost immediately, the owner of the hand leapt through the door and slammed it shut behind him.

And Plonq found himself face to face with Plonq.

The snow leopard by the door was clearly a little older than he; slimmer, fitter and a little greyer around the muzzle. The two blinked at each other in silence until the older Plonq raised his hands up to chest level, waggled his fingers at the younger Plonq and said, "WoooOOOoooOooo. I'm the ghost of Christmas Future. Bet you weren't expecting that." Before the younger Plonq could answer, he said, "Of course you weren't. I'm you from the future, so I know what you weren't expecting."

Without further ceremony, he walked over to the table, grabbed a bottle of single-malt scotch, popped the cap and took a big swig.

"Hey! I was saving that!"

"Don't get your tail in knots," scolded the older Plonq. "You never actually got around to drinking it." He took another long draw from the bottle and replaced the cap.

"What was all that with the first two ghosts and all that stuff about Dad?" asked the younger Plonq, still glowering with disapproval at his fine scotch in the mitts of his older self. "I mean, he's been dead for years now. I like to think I'm over him by now."

"Kinda you're not," said the older Plonq with a non-committal shrug. "The other spirits are all about that whole true meaning of Christmas bullshit, and they're just looking out for your own good. They think you're following him down the same road by trying to drink him out of your life."

"I'm not trying to drink anyone out of my life," yowled the younger Plonq defensively. "A good Christmas drunk is just my ... thing."

"Damn straight," agreed the older snow leopard. He held up the bottle and gave it a swirl, silently watching the amber contents slosh for a bit. "But you're partly wrong. It's not Dad you're trying to drink away." He popped the cap for another swig of the good scotch, licking every drop from his muzzle as he recapped the bottle. "I really need to splurge for the good stuff now and then." The older Plonq stabbed an index finger in the direction of his younger self. "Dad calls every Christmas now. Apparently it's one of his terms of Purgatory. We've had some real heart-to-hearts and we're good now. "

There was a polite tap at the door.

"Anyway, they haven't given me much time because I apparently have a reputation for bad judgement." He mimed air quotes with his fingers as he spoke the last two words. The older cat fished a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. "I'm supposed to tell you something important, but I've got a list of a couple other things I wanted to cover as well." There was a firmer knock at the door. "Ya, ya, just give me a minute," he called over his shoulder. He rolled his eyes for the benefit of his younger self.

He opened the sheet of paper and began to read.

"First, the cheese log is not still good. Just trust me on this; you'll know the one when you see it. The rug beater is not as sexy as it looks." There was a louder, more insistent pounding on the door. The older Plonq flicked a nervous glance over his shoulder and started reading faster. "No, the bottle rockets won't liven up the party. Ixnay on the ellowya akecay. Remember to drop and roll. Powdered cranberry sauce ... just no."

Suddenly the door burst open, and the older Plonq staggered backward as if he were suddenly caught in a tremendous wind. The slip of paper flew tore free from his hand, and he dropped the bottle when he grabbed for it with his other hand. He staggered back a couple more steps while his jacket flapped frantically in the phantom hurricane. The older cat was leaning forward at an impossible angle with one hand extended toward his younger self.

"Oh ya," he said suddenly, "don't forget the most important thing. Call her." He gave a final, desperate lurch against the wind and managed to wrap his furry fingers around the fallen bottle before the force finally pulled him quickly out the door. "Callll herrrrrr," came his fading, ethereal cry as he disappeared through the door, which slammed forcibly after him.

Plonq blinked blankly at the closed exit.

"That was ... unexpected."

---

It has been suggested by those who study such things that an average person will awaken at least once in their lifetime, look about themselves, and ask three questions. It is also said that, on average, the questions will be in this order:

"Where am I"?

"How did I get here"?

"Where are my pants"?

Although Plonq had awoken to those questions enough times to skew the average a bit, he started out of his sleep late on morning Christmas Eve with other matters dominating his mind. He stirred abruptly from what he would later classify as a disturbing and illucid dream, and lay for a few moments to assess his situation. "I hate myself more than I have in recent memory," he moaned. His head was throbbing fiercely, and his stomach churned with each throb. As he painfully surfaced from sleep, he noticed that he had been lying supine, briefly considering it a miracle that he had not choked on vomit during the night. He fought his way free of the sheets that had apparently cling-wrapped themselves to his body, and gently brushed aside the cat that had been sleeping on his chest.

The snow leopard rose painfully from his bed, and staggered out to the kitchen where he remembered leaving some Tylenol on the counter. He washed down a couple of them with water, and sat at the table and rested his forehead in his palms until the kitchen stopped spinning. In a process that involved far more time - and more dry heaves than it deserved - he finally managed to produce a cup of coffee. He shooed the other cat out of the refrigerator and added a splash of cream to his cup. He did not pause to wonder why the cat was there – these things just happened on Christmas Eve.

He tried reading the news on his phone while he sipped coffee, but the display hurt his eyes and the process made his head spin. By the time he was into his second cup of coffee, the caffeine and Tylenol were starting to have a healing effect.

Call her.

The thought came unbidden, and the idea of it made him flinch. He picked up his phone and flipped through the contacts before putting it down again. He stoically avoided looking at the blinking LED that indicated there were messages waiting.

Call her.

Plonq knew that mixing alcohol with acetaminophen was a bad idea, but sometimes one needed a bad idea to kill a worse one. He reached for his single malt, but it wasn't where he remembered leaving it. In fact, nothing seemed to be where he'd remembered leaving it. The snow leopard noticed for the first time that he'd apparently spent a few minutes cleaning things up a bit before he'd crawled off to bed the night before. Rather than search for the missing scotch, he decided to make a third coffee.

Call her!

It was more of a compulsion than a thought by now. He sighed, picked up his phone again and scrolled down to his sister's number. He took a big, scalding draft of coffee for strength and then hit the connect button.
His sister answered on the fourth ring.

"Hi, uh, it's me," he said awkwardly.

"Plonq?" said a surprised voice at the other end of the line. "Wow, you're alive! We've been trying to call you since Wednesday!" There was no missing the scolding tone in his sister's voice.

"Ya, sorry, my phone was off," he lied, rubbing his temple as he spoke. "So how are things? How is everyone?"

"We're doing well," said his sister. "We're just getting everyone rounded up and dressed so that we can get some breakfast before church." At the mention of breakfast, Plonq glanced at the clock and reminded himself that his sister was two time-zones behind him.

"If you're busy..." he began, but she cut him off before he could finish the thought.

"We've got a few minutes," she said quickly. "There's somebody here who needs to talk to you."

"Wait!" yelped the snow leopard. "Before you put her on, how's she doing? I mean is she... you know..." He waved a hand helplessly to try and force out words he didn't want to say.

"She's having one of her good days," replied his sister. "I know she'd love to hear your voice. Hang on a second and I'll put her on."

Plonq heard a hand cup the microphone at the other end of the call, and he could just make out muffled conversation. He was sure he picked out the word "who?" in the mix. After a moment he heard the phone being
passed off, and a new voice came on the line.

"Hello?" said an older woman at the other end. Plonq swallowed hard, cleared his throat, and swallowed again.

"Hi Mom. It's Plonq."
3rd-Oct-2018 11:09 pm - Pepper Sauce
Burning Fur Mood
We cleaned out our garden beds a the week before last when it was starting to look like our weather was going to transition directly from summer to winter, giving fall a miss. We usually see a slow transition, with at least a few warm days leading into October, but as I type this it is dropping to sub-zero temperatures and snowing outside, so I think we made the right call.

[personal profile] atara cleaned out her garden beds, and I moved all of the potted plants into the garage for the night so that we could deal with them in the morning. That ended up being a very wise move because it unexpectedly dropped below freezing overnight and we got snow in some parts of the city. When we checked on the basil and peppers the next day, they were unhappy, but not dead. The two of us stood out in blustery winds and finger-numbing cold to harvest the majority of the basil (it was a bumper harvest, so we were pickier than usual about the quality of the leaves we kept). We managed to harvest a crazy amount of basil which, once processed, resulted in a surprisingly small quantity of pesto.

Once we had cleaned out the basil, [personal profile] atara went back inside and left me to deal with my Jalapeños. That is, I had five of those and a mystery pepper that was apparently misfiled at the nursery. It produced round peppers that turned yellow when they ripened. They had a bite, but they were sweeter and slightly milder than the Jalapeños. I processed all of the peppers - red, yellow and green - into a batch of hot pepper sauce using a recipe I'd found on the Internet.

This is actually the second sauce I'd made - I harvested many of the ripe peppers about a week and a half earlier and turned them into pepper sauce using the same recipe. The results from the first batch seemed to be turning out OK, so I figured it was worth repeating. The first batch, made with all ripe peppers, ended up an orange-pink colour, and the second batch was a muddy, yellow-brown. Not unsurprisingly, the second batch packs more heat than the first, since the peppers tend to lose some of their heat when they ripen, and most of the peppers in the second batch were green.

When I made the first batch, I did not entirely stick to the recipe and added other ingredients that I'd seen suggested other places. When it was done, I sampled it and found it to be way too vinegar-forward. Vinegar is a key ingredient, but I did not think it should dominate the flavour like that. I partly blamed myself because I'd used 50/50 apple cider vinegar and white vinegar, even through the recipe did not actually call for a specific vinegar. The recipe also suggested letting the sauce age in the fridge for a couple of weeks before trying it, so I put it at the back of the refrigerator and hoped for the best.

I tried it a week later, and the vinegar flavour had definitely mellowed. Another week later the peppers were the dominant flavour, and the vinegar had receded into the background as more of a carrier than a flavour. It is still there, I think in part to the inclusion of the apple cider vinegar. I think my only complaint with the first batch of sauce is that it is sweeter than I'd like. The second sauce (which still needs another week to age) is coming together nicely. I used a lower ratio of apple cider vinegar in it, and coupled with it having more green than red peppers, it is less sweet than the first. When I tasted the second batch on the weekend, I worried that I had not added enough salt, and I considered adding more. When I tasted it again this evening, I was glad that I had not succumbed to the urge. I think it has the right amount of salt.

Overall, the second batch is shaping up to be the hotter, potentially-tastier of the two. So far my only complaint with it is that I ran it through too course of a sieve and it has ... bits in it. When I processed the peppers, I kept the seeds, and there are little seed pieces in this sauce. I imagine I can fix that by running it through a finer sieve when I transfer it to bottles (or whatever final containers I use for it).
15th-Sep-2018 03:43 pm - Head East
Burning Fur Mood
This is the story I entered into the Iron Pen competition at Furry Migration this year. It was good enough for a third place finish - which was higher than I was expecting, given the dark tone of the story. People tend to prefer stories with a lighter, more humorous tone so I knew I was going out on a limb by entering this one.

If I'd had longer to work on this story, there are a few things I'd have changed. I'd initially given the narrator a quirk of speech, which lapsed as the story progressed. I went back after after and tried to undo the quirks, but I missed a couple here and there, which is why there are some odd turns of phrase in the story.

I also think I was too ambitious with this story, and tried to fit too much into the 1000-word limit. Also, the story had to use the "the finish line" thematically at some point, and received bonus points for including migration, and creatures native to Minnesota.

---

We lumbered into the wayhouse in a cloud of bovine sweat, flies and oxen farts. I’d have pushed through, given my druthers, but the beasts were fighting me every step and I knew we’d have to spend the night. It hurt to stop here, so close to my goal, like stopping to retie your shoe with one toe on the finish line, but weren’t nothing for it if the beasts wouldn’t budge further.

Before I left Washton, I bartered away a nice van for this pair of grumpy oxen and an old U-Haul trailer with yokes attached. I named the pair Steak and Chops, and I planned to eat them once I got where I was going. The low roads were no place for a fancy van; nothing here but mud and ruts and nowhere to charge. And I couldn’t take the Electroway; once you get on the Electroway and log your trip, they know who and where you are. The low roads are where bad wolves like me go to disappear. For reasons.

When I entered the wayhouse, the old badger who ran the house ran her eyes over me judgementally, but took my money and barked at me togo sit with the other guests if I wanted to eat. The other “guests” was just a young, clean-cut moose who looked awkwardly out of place. I knew I’d have to watch this one; good men don’t travel the low roads.

I sat a table away from him and pretended he didn’t exist until he broke the silence.

“Which way?” was all he said.

It was none of his business, but I didn’t want to be rude. “Minnesota,”I said.

“Coming from Washton?” he asked in a way I think he hoped made him sound casual.

“Ya.”

“Bad stuff going down there, ya.” He said. “I come from Minnesota originally. Had family there until … you know.”

“Ya,” I replied. “That’s rough. Sorry.”

We were both quiet then until the server lass brought us bowls of watery vegetable stew and bread. I dipped my bread in the broth, and then offered the rest of the stew to the moose who gratefully took it.

“Minnesota,” he said again. “It’s a shame, you stopping the night here when you are so close to the finish line.”

“Ya,” I said. “Leastwise ‘til they move the line again, like they did in Washton.”

“You’re taking quite a load with you,” said the moose. “You moving all your stuff with you?”

“As much as I could put in that trailer, ya” I said cautiously. “I’m migrating, as it were.” It was packed with more medical tech than his life was worth, and I’d rather he glean no hint of that. I didn’t much like needless bloodshed. I took my pardon and retired to my room before he could ask any more awkward questions.

As soon as I got to my room, I slapped a topical stim pad into the bare patch under my armpit and quickly assembled my gun. As I settled into a chair by the window, I grimaced as I felt my heart begin to pound painfully in my chest. Each time you used one of these pads it took a year off your life. I should know, I’m a doctor. Mind you, every year medical science added another five, so at some point it had to balance.

The sun had just set when I saw the moose emerge from the wayhouse with another moose who was a bit shorter and rounder than him. As I feared, I saw them look around before making a beeline toward my trailer. I cracked the window and rested the muzzle of the gun in the opening so that I could get a clear bead if I needed it. I swivelled my ears to try and pick out their words, but they were talking in hushed tones, and I could only pick out key words. “…Washton…Minnesota…heathen…”

Aw fudge it, they were part of that crowd. They were probably on their way to Washton to join the crusade. “Don’t touch my trailer, boys,” I thought. I peered through the gun’s electronic sight and focused it on the back of the taller moose’s head. “Please don’t touch my trailer.”

I didn’t see what I did as wrong, and neither did the folks in Minnesota. Yet. I delivered happiness. I gave people what they want. A beaver boy wanted to be a fox. He had the desire, he had the money, I made him a fox. His folks didn’t take too kindly to that. If God had wanted their boy to be a fox, He’d have made him a fox. It’s also kind of illegal to change up species in Washton, but that just makes it more profitable. It was a don’t ask,don’t tell line of work.

The kid buckled under pressure and told, so now I’m migrating east.

Please don’t touch my trailer!

I couldn’t catch what the two moose were saying, but they laughed a couple of times then lit up a cigarette of some kind that they passed back and forth as they walked back to the wayhouse. I lowered the gun and slid back from the window lest they look up. It looked like a win-win night. I got to keep my trailer unmolested, and they got to keep their brains in their craniums.

I spent the rest of the night watching over my trailer and gathered up my oxen for the road again at first light. As far as I know the moose men were still sleeping when I left.

The oxen grumbled and moved with contemptuous recalcitrance when I tried to coax them up to speed. I tried to encourage the larger one with the crop, but that just elicited its first fart of the day.

“So help me, I’m going to cook you first,” I scowled. “I hope you taste better than you smell.”

Fortunately, it turned out that he did.

8th-Sep-2018 08:01 pm - The one I didn't enter.
Burning Fur Mood
The story I entered in this year's Iron Pen competition as MnFm is q bit of a departure from my usual work. I don't expect it to perform well, but I really can't say too much about it here until it officially loses.

I actually had an idea for a shorter, sillier one first.

Which I've written here so that the idea does not go to waste.

-------
The Big Race

It seemed for the moment that they were at an impasse. The young moose stood with a wheel clutched in his beefy hands, holding it close to his chest while its three aluminium spokes sparkled in the sunlight. The young fox, on the other hand, was sitting in the now-hobbled go-cart with his arms crossed over his chest, a glower on his little pointy face as his eyes darted between the wheel and the big, sad moose eyes of his friend.

"Well this just great," said the fox sourly. "We not even make the start line, let alone the finish line."

"I can fix," said the moose defensively. "Wheel can be put back on!"

"Wheel shouldn't fall off! What if we was on hill? What about other wheels; they gonna fall off too?"

The wheel in question was the rear-left wheel of a wood-framed go-cart that bore the visible hallmarks of a vehicle lovingly built by two inexperienced young friends over the course of the spring in preparation for the big mid-summer race.

The self-same go-cart now sat astride three lanes where the moose had been pushing it to the start line while the fox steered. In addition to blocking three lanes, the go-cart was also sitting with its rear-left axle on the ground, it's front-right wheel in the air, and an angry young fox stubbornly sitting with little orange arms crossed and green eyes burning into his friend.

"It just cotter pin," said the moose. He waggled the selfsame pin that he had pinched between the index finger and thumb of the hand he had poked between the spokes of the wheel he was holding. The moose had been patient until now, but he was clearly starting to lose patience with the fox. "I fix wheel. You get out and hold cart!"

"Not gonna," retorted the fox. "This cart garbage. What we thinking?"

One of the racing officials who had been watching the exchange with some bemusement finally stepped forward to intervene.

"I'm afraid you two going to have to come to agreement and either fix cart, or move cart, or fix and move cart," the badger counted off options on his stubby fingers as he said then. "Or move and then fix cart. Can't leave it there. It blocking lanes between other racers and finish line."

"Agh! Fine!" scowled the fox. He uncrossed his arms and scampered out of the awkwardly-sitting cart. With the help of the badger, he managed to hold the corner of the cart up and keep it from rolling away while the moose rocked and shoved the wheel back over the tapered end of the axle. Once he had the wheel back in place, he pushed the cotter pin back through the hole and bent its ends around with a small multi-tool he pulled from his pocket.

The fox and badger lowered the corner of the cart back to the ground, and the badger held it from rolling away until the fox could climb back in and pull a brake lever. This time the wheel stayed attached while the moose pushed, and the fox steered the cart up against the starting block.

"OK, I think we good," said the moose, nodding to the racing official. He gave the wheel a kick to ensure it remained tight, then climbed up into the seat beside the fox. While the last two racers wheeled their carts into place, the fox and moose donned their racing goggles and started their pre-race check.

"Left brake lever works," said the moose. He gave it a solid tug and felt it grip.

"Steering wheel ain't fall off yet," said the fox glumly.

"Right brake lever works," said the moose, pointedly ignoring the fox's pessimistic report.

"Boys and girls, on your marks!" called the master of the race.

"We gonna die," said the fox matter-of-factly.

"We gonna win!" countered the moose. "Practically already at finish line."

"Die," said the fox plaintively.

"Win!"

"Go!" shouted the master of the race. The badger and his counterpart on the other end of the start line pulled their ropes to remove the start blocks and the carts began to roll.
12th-Aug-2018 09:33 am - Why are you still here?
Burning Fur Mood
I received an email from our Employee Services group on Friday, and it was only by dumb luck that I actually saw it. I was entering the payroill codes and hours that our Project Manager had sent me for all my project work this month, and rather than filing it in the usual "everything that lands in my inbox" PST folder, I decided to file it into a more specific folder for payroll-related things. As I was filing it, I noticed that the folder I was putting it in was flagged as having unread messages. That folder should hot have any unread email because it is literally where manually I file my pay stubs, and emails tangentially related to them after I've read them. Either I had been filing things there in my sleep, or (more likely) Outlook was auto-filing things there. Since I have no scripts set up for filing things to that folder, that struck me as odd.

When I peeked into the folder, I discovered that Outlook has been auto-filing any correspondence from Employee Services into that folder. How ... helpful.

The one that caught my eye was a note that had come in earlier in the afternoon addressed to me and my manager, asking, "Why are you still working?" They were very concerned because my retirement date is set for September 1, and at this point I should be sitting at home using up the rest of my vacation time. The fact that I was still at work was causing their system to kick errors."

I sent back a polite, slightly puzzled reply saying, "I m still at work because I agreed to extend my retirement date to January 1st at the request of my manager."

They did not take that answer with a lot of grace, sending back a panicky email that copied in Pension Services saying that I needed to advise them of such changes because both they and the pension department needed to change the dates and fill out the appropriate forms.

I sent an instant message to the author of the email saying, "You should probably talk to [senior department member] when she comes in on Monday because she is the one who handled this back in early/mid July, and both she and the pension group confirmed that everything was updated to show my last day as January 1, 2019."

He replied with an exasperated, "LOL". It turns out that she was the one who raised the alarm, and was panicking over the fact that I was still working, when I should already be on pre-retirement vacation.

If they want to kick me out early with a full pension, I am not going to argue that hard. My department would find themselves in a rough spot since they had planned on me being around until the new year, but I'll happily take money for sitting at home.
6th-Aug-2018 10:54 am - Does not compute
Burning Fur Mood
I've had "update LJ/DW" on my to-do list since the start of July, but I am both busy and lazy.

I think the last time I posted about it here, the plan was for me to retire on the first of September, so by that schedule I would have been in my pre-retirement vacation time by now.

After much wheedling, negotiating and shameless begging, my director convinced me to stay until the end of the year. On the one hand it would have been nice to start my retirement while it was still summer, but there is a benefit to completing a full year. Even if I don't (and I won't) get a decent bonus this year, the pay raise I got at the start will make this my highest-paid year with the company, and will have a direct impact on my pension (which is based on best-five years).

[personal profile] atara's computer blew up the day before her birthday. When I say it blew up, what I mean is that it went to sleep and never woke up. A mushroom cloud of blue smoke out the top would have been a more satisfying way for it to end, but I guess it decided it was time. That computer had a spotty start, and a bit of mid-life trouble as well, so I am surprised that it lasted for as many years as it did. When I was building it, I let some of the blue smoke out of the motherboard when I accidentally plugged her CPU cooler into one of the USB receptacles (seriously guys, why would you make the plugs the same?). Fortunately she had enough working USB plugs remaining for all external ports, and other than that one presumably no longer working, the machine seemed otherwise fine (other than smelling bad for the first week or so).

Her water pump malfunctioned a couple of weeks shy of its warranty period. Her machine had begun behaving erratically, and occasionally blue-screening for no reason. All of her fans were working, and the water cooler was clearly running, but the behaviour really gave the vibe of a CPU that was overheating. I had her install a program to display the core temperatures, and then I immediately shut off the computer because the CPU's temperature gauge was cranked up to 11. I removed the cooler, cleaned off all the old thermal grease (it looked fine to me) and reapplied a fresh layer. When we fired it back up, the water pump audibly fired up, and the computer overheated again the moment she tried to do anything that stressed it.

We took it in for repairs, and the tech immediately identified that the pump had gone bad based on the sound. Fortunately it still had a few days left on its warranty period, so he replaced it with the closest match they had in stock and it worked fine ever after.

I suspect that my questionable build job, and the overheating took their toll on the machine. The day before her birthday, it refused to wake up from sleep. The status number that the motherboard displayed suggested that it was a memory issue, but no amount of removing/replacing/rearranging the sticks had any effect. The computer simply got itself into a cycle of power-up-down-up-down, displaying the same error most of the time. A few on-line resources suggested that under powering the motherboard could cause that error as well, so we got a new power supply and tried that, but other than half-booting into Windows before blue-screening and lapsing back into the power up-down-up cycle, we saw no appreciable difference.

My suspicion is that the CPU went bad after enduring abuse over the years.

We hadn't really planned on getting [personal profile] atara anything fancy for her birthday, but in the end she got a new computer for her birthday. We drove down to our favourite computer repository, ordered all of the parts, and then paid them to assemble it for us.

And then because I am not one to leave well-enough alone, I decided that I maybe it was time to break my own computer.

The first thing I did was scavenge the memory out of [personal profile] atara's old computer. It won't work in her new one, but it was compatible with mine. It's not the same brand as the memory that I have, but it's the same style and clock speed, so I assumed it would probably work. It did. I figured that while I was doing that, I should probably check on a few other computer issues. I checked the state of all my drivers, removed a few pointless things from the auto-start list, and did some general clean-up. Finally I checked the version of my BIOS...

... and discovered that it was still running on the original version that came with the motherboard back in 2012. I checked with ASUS and discovered that there had been a few dozen revisions over the next couple of years to address a number of issues. I am always a bit nervous about flashing the BIOS, but I've never had it go wrong so I decided to play the odds. I downloaded the most recent stable version, copied it to a USB stick, booted up into the BIOS and followed the instructions from there.

They had repeated warnings as I went along. "Are you sure you want to do this?" "Are you REALLY sure you want to do this?" -- Yes, it actually did that. Naturally I said "Yes" to all prompts, and then things went south from there. It spent a couple of minutes copying up the new BIOS from the USB and then restarted.

That is, it tried to restart, but what it did was come up with a blank screen and sit there with no activity. No lights, no fans, no activity. I left it for a minute or two until I was pretty sure it was genuinely not responding and then I did a forced re-start. Again, it just sat there with no activity. I wondered if maybe it was having a problem with the default monitor, so I swapped plugs with no effect.

On a whim, I powered it down and then unplugged it from the power for a few seconds. When I plugged it back in, it started the power-up process and then finally displayed a message on the main monitor that it was now flashing the BIOS, and that I was strongly advised not to shut it off during that process. I guess a hard power cycle was what it had needed all along.

The fact that I am typing this from that computer lets you know that I got it working again. In fact, at the moment it's working like new. Maybe it's just my imagination, but between the added memory and the new BIOS, it seems more responsive than ever.
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