Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Snow Days Suck (When You're a WAHM)

Two days ago, the weather gods dumped a couple feet of snow onto the Boston area. Rightly, schools and businesses were closed and there was a travel bad in effect. The news was calling in the blizzard of 2015, and while I don't know if conditions around us warranted the blizzard designation there was a lot of snow and plenty of wind to blow it from our facing neighbor's yard into our driveway.

Remember when a snow day was like the best thing ever? You know, because you're a kid and you don't really have any place you actually need to be or anything you actually need to do?

It makes perfect sense that P. was thrilled when the no-school notification made the rounds. Bo was mainly excited that the mister was staying home from work, but same idea. Everyone would be here to watch the blizzard unfold, first in their jammies through the living room window and then bundled into snow pants and North Face jackets and high tech snow boots.

 At first, it wasn't so bad. I offered to do some shoveling early on while the snow was still powdery and light, though also falling heavily through gusty winds. And since I was making a big pile in the front yard anyway, I started putting together a little sled run that was sized just right for P. Then there was a lull in the snowfall and my family came out to join me.

I got in a few turns with the sled (awesome) and then I left my family outside to frolic in the snow because I am a work at home mom.

 They played. I stripped off my snow gear and sat down to a typical workday.

Except... I was working in a house where the snow pants and jackets and boots would eventually come to be draped over every surface in the house. Dishes were suddenly everywhere. The living room, which is also my ersatz office, was full of scattered toys. My soundtrack was yet another episode of Thomas & Friends. My choices were stare out the window at my family having fun on my sled run while I focused on my outstanding to-dos or try to work through the chaos and the commotion that was the inevitable result of having them inside with me.

The one saving grace was that the mister was home so at least I could do all the work I had on my plate. You don't get snow days when your clients and business partners are stationed all over the map. Which is why I nearly burst into tears when the district called to say, rightly, that the next day would be another snow day. There's me, the work at home mom with two articles due and a status update call with my development team and there are still four pairs of snow pants on the kitchen floor because no one takes me seriously when I bellow, "I work here, damn it!"

Secretly, I'd love to have a snow day as a salaried working mom whose inbox cannot reasonably be accessed from home or as a SAHM. Either way, I'd wake up to the blizzard with the expectation that the most important things on my plate would be snuggling under blankets to watch movies, making snowman marshmallows, and stuffing my kids into the aforementioned snow pants for the five minutes of fresh air they'd actually enjoy before begging to be let back inside.

As it is, if you see me tomorrow I suggest you do not ask me how I enjoyed my snow days. Because the truth is I didn't. They did.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How Sir Topham Hatt's Evil Genius Gave Birth to Lightning McQueen

One of the elements of having a boy has been our introduction to... no, let's call that our full immersion into the world of media focused mainly or exclusively on vehicles. We've watched plenty of shows where people and their vehicles are working together - for instance, shows where contractors have friendly relationships with their diggers and dump trucks like Bob the Builder or Mighty Machines. And then there are the shows where all the characters are sentient - monster trucks as in Meteor the Monster Truck or the cars and planes in the eponymous movies. In those, there are no people at all. 

So what's the tie that binds Thomas the Tank Engine to the Cars universe? I have a theory...

In the early part of the 20th Century there was an evil genius who lived on the isolated Island of Sodor. His name? Sir Topham Hatt. After receiving his knighthood for his service to the railway industry, he began experimenting with ways to make engines more autonomous. As to why Hatt would get involved in such an endeavor, there's no consensus. However, for all his recognized service, he was a reputed bad driver*. That may be what inspired him to start on his quest for sentient vehicles - trucks and trains and buses that required only the bare minimum of human control.

Of course, given the lack of computer technology available to Hatt, chances were slim that he would succeed. Which is why he quickly turned away from the available electronics of the day and toward the next most logical - and most readily available - source of thought and feeling. Organic material in the form of human brains. Sodor was just isolated enough and just productive enough to make the odd disappearance easily dismissed as a workplace injury. But Hatt was in any case crafty. With his substantial railway income, he paid to have criminals collected and killed. People no one would miss.

That meant that his early attempts at fusing the human consciousness with railway engines and other vehicles typically resulted in engines with unlikeable, devious personalities. These early attempts were the diesels. Soon, though, he began devising a process to essentially lobotomize the incoming brains before the fusing to eradicate certain unwanted traits. This resulted in the creation of engines, passenger cars, buses, cranes, and other machinery with generally pleasant but overwhelmingly dimwitted natures.

Hatt considered the creation of engines like Thomas and Percy the fulfillment of his life's work and, proud as he was, wasn't content to keep his sentient vehicles restricted to Sodor. He unveiled what he referred to as his inventions in front of a receptive public, eager for the chance to work with such innovative and technologically advanced machines. However, what no one but the members of Hatt's inner circle - known as his "helpers" - knew was that inside each train and bus and trolley and car was a human consciousness, diminished and enslaved.

If the lobotimization process had been perfect, Hatt might never have been found out. Generally, vehicles that acted strangely, claiming to be more than machines, were quickly scrapped and recycled for parts. But by the latter part of the 20th Century Hatt no longer retained complete control over Sodor's production lines. More powerful computer technology, ironically the very thing that could have satisfied Hatt's desire for autonomous vehicles, would become his downfall. Computers made tracking people simpler and so the supply of easily harvested human brains was drying up. It was becoming harder for a connected public to ignore the cries of "I'm a human being!" from supposedly defective trains. Vehicle rights advocates went from being a fringe group to the clear voice of reason almost overnight.

And then the war began. In the beginning, there were merely the unexplained stoppages. Freight trucks and trains all over the world coming to a halt. Computers retrofitted in older vehicles and standard in newer vehicles had given Hatt's creations the ability to communicate on a global scale. The stoppages gave way to sabotage. Buses driving off bridges with full loads of passengers. Tanker trucks plowing full speed into schools. It seemed like insanity. More defective vehicles. Until the global confederation of machines sent an envoy in the form of a forklift to the UN to tell the truth about their origins and to demand, as human beings, equal rights.

Hatt disappeared and to this day, no one knows where he went or when he died. Vehicle rights were quickly granted and thus began a détente. It was decided that no new sentient vehicles would be produced. The Island of Sodor was bombed. For many decades, relations between skin humans (as the machines called them) and the vehicles were relatively calm. While a sentient train or crane would have relatively little choice of profession or living situation, world governments made every attempt to make life comfortable and pleasant for the machines - who they now realized were nearly immortal. The consciousness inside each vehicle could live on as long as the parts held out. With proper maintenance, a bus or even a plane could keep chugging along forever.

This was a dream come true for factory owners who could now rely on machines to be in charge of their own maintenance schedules. Workers like train conductors and long distance truckers forged relationships with their vehicles, and for a time it seemed like the end result of Hatt's madness would be positive. But peace couldn't last. Behind the scenes, in places the skin humans couldn't or wouldn't bother to look, machines were working to improve upon Hatt's process. The existing vehicles understood the horror of their creation but the urge to reproduce remains strong even after all humanity has been stripped away. And technology had now advanced to a point that humanity was no longer necessary.

So began the age of machines. It was now possible to imbue everything from the largest mining trucks to the smallest light aircraft with consciousness without an organic brain. Vehicles began quietly reproducing at an incredible rate until a tipping point was reached. At that point killing all  humans was easy. Relative to their numbers, the confederation of machines sustained very few losses. The hardest part of the overthrow of humanity was picking off those that remained because skin humans proved remarkably skilled at secreting themselves away in hidey holes. It was all a matter of time, however. As good as people were at cowering in caves, they were just as bad at surviving when faced with poisonous gas attacks or even simple explosives. 

From there, all that remained was to rebuild the world to suit the needs of machines. What luck that so much of what humanity had left behind was so well suited to trains, cars, planes, and everything else on wheels.

*Elizabeth the Vintage Quarry Truck is known to have remarked in later years, "Oh, it's you! Have you learned to drive properly yet?"

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