Chapter One – Arrival on Tab Kabelac

The skids touched down on the landing pad, engine fans blowing red and brown debris in the air. It wasn’t so much of a landing site as it was a patch of barren ground. Then again, most of the planet was pretty much just that. This particular system had become popular after terraformers were able to create a few large bodies of water and Earth-like weather cycles over one of the northern sections of the planet. Shortly after, hotels and palm trees sprung up over the terraformed section, thrusting Tab Kabelac into the spotlight as the hottest vacation resort in the galaxy.

There was a time when terraformers worked relentlessly to create machines that would change entire planets, but there were too many variables involved. No two planets are alike, as no two areas of a planet are alike, and to create a single machine specific enough and powerful enough to change an entire planet – the effects can be devastating.

Multiple Terra Units were created some 25 years ago, to test on an uninhabited planet in a remote system. Scientists worked to create nine different units, each one designed for a specific geographic region, and more importantly, to work together with the adjacent units. Terra Units create an “umbrella effect” over the area they process, adjusting the specific conditions of that particular area. Because a unit is working with different variables than the adjacent terraformer, the units clash on the edges of the umbrella, creating turbulent effects where umbrellas overlap. When scientists were able to create a system of units that work together, they were sent immediately to a remote, uninhabited planet to be tested.

Interest in this technology had not been limited to humans. Ierki had been monitoring the expansion of Earth colonies for nearly a decade before extending a handshake. This was the first contact mankind had with an intelligent alien life, and mankind, eager and naïve to establish a relationship, embraced them with open arms. That is, until the Ierki learned of the multiple Terra Units and decided they needed them a lot more than the Colonies. The Ierki launched a swift attack on the group of Terra Scientists and their small military escort, and stole the units. It was to their own detriment however, as three months later they were activated on an inhabited Ierki planet, causing catastrophic earthquakes that killed two-thirds of the planet’s population. Somehow the blame fell back on mankind, and the next 15 years were spent in war.

Continue Reading »

Ask Blue Midget

It’s that time again! Email your questions and comments to Ask Blue Midget, and we’ll get them posted here with answers.

Dear Blue Midget,

I need advice on how to make my girlfriend stop spending money on things for the house like STICKS that are “decorative.” I mean, we had an agreement to not spend money on things and to try and save to pay down some debt, but she is buying stuff – clothes, strainers, BLOODY STICKS, frames for photos, expensive shampoos! Does this mean I can buy more Video Games or UPGRADE the PC? DECORATIVE STICKS!!! I asked her if I could toast Marshmallows with them and she didn’t talk to me for an hour! DUMB!!! It’s a stick – a long twig looking thing, like 5 ft long. She bought a million of them! Bloody hell!

STICKS!!!!

Regards,
Decorative Stick Owner

Dear Decorative Stick Owner,

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Dear Blue Midget,

I have a friend who just found out that her sick mother in law will be coming to live with her for at least a year. Her mother in law, though sick, is a control freak and has already sent a list of demands including changes to not only her room but the whole house. My friend is beside herself with anxiety over what hell her life is going to be like for the next year or more. She is afraid she will not be the queen of her castle anymore, and her husband is a momma’s boy so she can expect no backup from him. She asked my advice and I have no idea what to tell her. The first thing I could think to tell her was to put down the phone, open the door, and run like the wind, but that is not very practical. What should my friend do?

Sincerely,
Better Her Than Me

Dear Better Her Than Me,

There is a saying, and it is generally believed to be true, that “the customer is always right.” It is a good general rule to follow, although there are always exceptions. Along with good customers that we want to appreciate and do all that we can for, there is always a person or two who generally believe we should bend over backwards for them, fulfilling all kinds of ridiculous requirements and requests, simply because they are the customer. As a retail manager, I learned early on that there is some business that you just don’t want. And there comes a time, when you need to remember, kindly and respectfully, that some people are more than welcome to take their business elsewhere.

Your friend should not take any of this personally. Instead, she should view it as a manager who runs a business – it is her store to be managed, and she should not feel that it is up to her to fulfill her mother-in-law’s every request. But, be professional. Don’t get personal about it, because emotions can cause the situation to get out of hand. If I were her, I would choose to incorporate the changes that make sense, and the rest I would not do – but be professional about it. She should probably also, professionally, explain her feelings to her husband and the stand she will be making about this. Now, if her husband chooses to bend over backwards for his mother, that’s his choice, and she should respect that. However, your friend should not feel obligated.

I have seen, firsthand, how a person will continually get walked over and taken advantage of by the same person or persons over and over again. And most of the time, this happens because the victim allows it. Some people feel bad about setting boundaries for themselves, allowing others to take advantage of them. However, people will continue to take advantage of you until you tell them that what they are doing is not okay. Until that point, the offender keeps on doing it because your actions tell them that it’s ok. So there comes a point where we need to respectfully, politely and firmly say, “No.” But we don’t, because we aren’t being “nice” and guilt sets in. Thus, we sabotage ourselves. In the same way, the mother-in-law keeps on doing this because the son has never said no. Let me be the first to tell your friend that it is okay to set boundaries for herself. But she should be polite and stand her ground, without letting emotion get in the way. Be professional.

Most importantly, while her mother-in-law is staying there, your friend should schedule regular dates with her husband once a week to get away, just the two of them, over a movie or dinner, or whatever they fancy. If the mother-in-law cannot be left alone, have someone come over to sit with her for a few hours – yes, I’m dead serious. I would also suggest that she schedule at least one other thing for herself – a book club, a church function, whatever – once a week or once every other week for just herself, until her mother-in-law is gone out of the house, even if she ends up staying there for the next year and a half.

The Fifth Question

“CLANG!”

XB-34712 was disappointed to hear the bell that signaled the end of recess. He was watching a car go down the highway far below the hill that the school stood on. The car waded easily through the crowd of horse and people-drawn buggies carrying goods and other people to and from the city. XB-34712 wondered who might be on it. Only mediarites and level 47-V bureaucrats, turquoise grade or higher, could drive cars. XB remembered his mother telling him about the speed of cars and how everything was shipped across the land by truck, at least the bulk goods, and how she once went from Chicago to New York in 16 hours. She showed him a picture of her car, the word “Explorer” on the back of it, and a blue oval with the word “Ford” in the middle. She told him how wonderful cars were, but they were taken away when Congress outlawed the use of gasoline by the general public. A lobbying group formed by actors and internet-based activists had convinced lawmakers that gasoline exhaust was poisoning the Earth and that the only way to keep humanity safe was to stop the use of automobiles. Congress tried shutting down the big automakers, Ford, GM, and all the Japanese plants in the US.

Then Japan threatened war. It had been building its military since the Taiwan occupation began. Once the Chinese nuked Taipei to end the rioting, Japan demanded the right to own a military again. Since then the JAF, or Japanese Automated Forces, had begun building bases throughout the South Pacific, and had the ability to threaten Hawaii and California. Congress buckled immediately, knowing the public would not tolerate casualties after the pullout of Baghdad and the seizure of Iraq by fundamentalist clerics leading a frenzied mob. So then cars were only made by Toyota, Suzuki, Nissan, etc. People complained and got GM and Ford opened back up. They couldn’t come back to speed very quickly though, and the lobbying group came right back before Congress. Finally a solution was reached; without gasoline, cars couldn’t run. Gasoline use was banned throughout the country. Ration tickets were issued for generators and other equipment for a few years, and finally it was banned for use by the general public. Gas could only be acquired by those who showed an absolute need, such as for large pieces of equipment run by corporations. Hydrogen powered cars came to the market, but all it took were a few explosions and several multi-billion dollar lawsuits and no car manufacturer dared to continue. GM and Ford shut down for good, and the Japanese took huge losses in closing their plants in the US.

Hence XB-34712′s amazement. He ran inside, knowing he was late. A buzzer went off as he ran into the class. “XB-34712: Late”. A ticket issued from the slot by the door. He knew it meant twenty minutes spent after school in “Remedial education”. Students were no longer given detention; that was deemed harmful to their self-esteem. Instead they watched videos about the greatness of the Bureaucrat and “The Grand Protectorate”, which watched over them all. Each video ended with the message, “Serve the Protectorate Well”. XB couldn’t understand those videos, what with the conflicting messages his parents gave him. XB took his seat.

“I have your projects graded, class. I must say I’m very pleased with the dioramas you constructed. They will be presented to a local level 34, fuschia-grade bureaucrat! Aren’t we excited?!” The class cheered. Except for XB. He couldn’t see what was so special about the bureaucrats. They kept issuing the same old messages: “Be calm. Be well. The Protectorate will provide.” They seemed like robots to him.

The teacher handed back grades on the assignment. XV-57496, sitting next to him, started crying when she saw hers. The paper read “ABOVE-AVERAGE” in big red ink. The student in front of her almost leaped when he read, “Excellent Job! Below average!” The teacher pulled both of them from their desks and put them in front of the class.

“Cease crying, XV-57496. I’ve told you time and time again to stop trying to be better. Haven’t I class?”

“Yes TH-83055.”

“XV-57496, explain yourself.”

“I wanted to do well! You said the assignment was to show the glory of the bureaucrats outlawing capitalism and seizing private money for the public good. Isn’t that something I should spend extra time on?”

“And ruin the average for your classmates?! How dare you think you are better than them! XQ-17569 knows better. He waits for the Protectorate to educate him to be better, along with the rest of his classmates. He knows that to be part of a whole, carefully moving towards progress, is better than trying to run ahead! Don’t you want the Protectorate to look out for you?!”

“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry. I’ll try to fit in with the class next time. I’ll wait for my education to improve, like everyone else.”

“Apology accepted, XV-57496. It is unfortunate that you had to be shamed in front of the class. Perhaps it was one of those pirate broadcasts that corrupted you; they will surely be processed by the bureaucrats.”

XB turned to his friend when she got back to her desk. “Why did you lie? XQ-17596 only got congratulated because he was lazy! Why keep yourself down?!”

XV-57496 hissed at him. “I’m sick of getting in trouble. This game is stupid! You and your stupid parents telling us to do well. All it does is get us yelled at! Your parents are stupid!”

TH looked up. “What was that? What did your parents say, XB-34712?”

“Nothing ma’am.” XB hoped she would forget about it. She was fairly clueless, which so far had let him and XV-57496 get away with achievement. But she would catch the two every once in a while, and XV-57496 seemed to bear the brunt of it. Probably because the rules were different for girls.

Note: This story will be continued. Further note: I stole the numbers instead of names concept from Ayn Rand.

Reader Submissions

It’s a very exciting thing, when redshift reports that more and more people are visiting the site every day, every week, every month. When he gives us the numbers, I look at him blankly and think, “People are seriously reading this?” Yes, it’s true. We’re even starting to get email submissions with oddball questions. There was one with a quite obscure subject, and I took it upon myself to answer. Coincidentally enough, if you have any questions you’d like to ask us, topics you’d like to see covered, rants, raves or WTF?????’s, please email them in. You can send it to Ask Blue Midget, and I will respond.

Submission of the week: Popcorn.

Dear Blue Midget,

Every time I microwave popcorn, I burn it. It says put three minutes but stop it when the popping stops, but I always get distracted by something and burn it. I tried putting two minutes once, but I ended up with a bag of corn. What can I do?

Sincerely,
Too Pooped To Pop

Dear Poop,

This is, unfortunately, another example of how the people of North America (oh yeah, I’m talking to you too, Canada) sacrifice good taste for fast, cheap crap. I’m not sure what gives people the idea that microwave popcorn was ever a good idea in the first place. After you’ve popped it, the burnt-popcorn-of-death smell has permeated the entire area, contaminating anyone within a 30-yard radius – congratulations, everyone around you smells like burnt death. If the smell wasn’t bad enough, the taste of dry, charred popcorn is anything but pleasing. To top the whole thing off, you now have 1/3 of your corn kernels at the bottom of the bag, like black rat droppings, and no matter what you do with popcorn that survived the microwave, you will always feel that your popcorn is somehow tainted because the un-popped kernels touched the popcorn. And don’t even get me started about the aftertaste.

Forget about the microwave popcorn. It was a doomed relationship to begin with. There’s better popcorn out there, worthy of romance. There are some really good ways to get yourself some great popcorn, at the same level of ease. Remember the air poppers that came out around the 80’s? Just plug it in, put the corn kernels inside, stick a bowl under the spout, and in a few minutes, you can have tasty popcorn. You don’t have to watch it or remember it, and even better, you’ll get less of the annoying un-popped kernels at the bottom of your bowl, since the air flow of the popper isn’t strong enough to shoot them out. This is the method I recommend.

Going back to microwave popcorn for a minute: The other issue with microwave popcorn is that you are pegged into one type of popcorn: Salty, buttery, charred crap. With an air popper, you can make all kinds of popcorn – even chocolate popcorn.

The Recipes:
Peanut Butter Popcorn
1/2 cup light corn syrup (or golden syrup)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 cups popped popcorn

In small pan melt together corn syrup and sugar. Add peanut butter and melt. Be careful not to boil mixture too much, the peanut butter will start to burn. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Stir mixture over popcorn.

Adult Popcorn
1 1/2 ounces parmesan cheese, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch cumin
1 pinch thyme
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup popcorn, unpopped

Combine parmesan, salt, cayenne, cumin, and thyme; this is best done in the processor with the blade, process for 3 minutes so the mix is very fine. Pop the corn. Toss with the butter. Toss with the cheese mix. Best served now, but may be prepared up to 4 hours in advance and served at room temperature.

Much thanks to Recipe Zaar, my favorite recipe site on the web, for these two recipes.

The Trivia: Popcorn pops because of the tiny amount of water inside each kernel. When the water inside turns to steam, the popcorn pops. Coincidentally, the name “popcorn” comes from the Middle English word “poppe,” which means an “explosive sound.”

Also, October is National Popping Month for the U.S., which is strange because National Popcorn Day is January 19, and National Caramel Popcorn Day is April 7. I was unable to locate any sort of Popcorn Day for Canada, so you guys can share our days.