I am getting too old for this.

For those of you who don’t live around here, my part of the world got hammered by a major winter storm Sunday night. I’m not talking “Super-storm Sandy” levels of bad, but locally, the official total was 12” of snow. Yesterday morning, not much of anything was moving, and anyone who had any sense was staying inside. Late in the morning, I started digging myself out. That means clearing an 18” wide, 50’ long sidewalk just to get to the car parking area. Then I had to dig out the area around my vehicle, followed by excavating a way through the ‘berm’ of snow left by the Street Department’s plow as it cleared the alley. Once that was done, it was time to tackle the front walk so the postal delivery service could have access to my mail box. A wider, if shorter, sidewalk, but the same Street Department that plowed the alley had been blasting through most of the night to keep the main road in front of my house open, with an attending level of snow thrown up onto the surrounding area including, yes, my front sidewalk.

It wasn’t quite one of the ‘Labors of Hercules’, but it was no small task. And I will admit, it’s been a while since I faced a snowfall of this scale. That said, I soon had to face a simple fact:

I’ve become an old fat-ass.

I was forced to stop every few minutes to straighten up and give myself a chance to rest. Even in the cold and windy weather, I soon started to sweat. Before I had finished shoveling around my house, my insulated gloves were damp. Then I got a call from a shop that I’ve done some snow shoveling for asking me to clear their sidewalk/entrance.

Upon arriving, I soon found one fortunate occurrence: the same winds that had piled snow up in unfortunate places around my house had scoured most of the snow off the sidewalks around their building. The down side was that that same snowplows that had wreaked havoc on my front sidewalk had blocked the entrances to their sidewalk with a nearly-waist-high mound of compressed snow, a mass with the consistency of semi-set concrete. Worse, while the snow had been blown mostly away, it hadn’t cleared away enough to avoid leaving a skim of semi-melted snow that had frozen overnight. Looking over this, I drew up a quick-and-dirty plan of attack: blast a hole through the Street Department’s leavings, then clear the sidewalk…then make it as ‘pretty’ as possible.

An hour plus after starting, I had the job done. It wasn’t as pretty as I could have hoped for, and I didn’t do one of the usual things I do for the store owner: dig them a path from street-side parking through the ‘berm’ to their door. In my defense, the side street where the store owner usually parks had yet to be fully plowed, and even this morning when I went to collect my pay, it was still a royal mess, so to do more would have taken something like a Bobcat or a similar piece of equipment.

And every part of me is letting me know I did a lot of work. My back is telling me it wants to leave me for another, more ‘understanding’ man that won’t make similar demands on it. The muscles in my arms, especially my lower left arm, are screaming at me as I type this, letting me know they too are far from happy with me. And the gloves I wore yesterday? I think if I tried, I might just be able to get water out of them if I could squeeze them hard enough. Worse, as I type this, the sky is cloudy, and I am not terribly sure it might not decide to snow some more. I do hope it doesn’t. Local TV stations said we not only broke the record for most snowfall on that date, but that we also have broken the record for the snowiest November on record, going back as far as local records go.

So if the Weather Gods are listening, please don’t send us any more snow! I’m not sure my body could take any more shoveling just right now.

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Review: “Android Chronicles: Unbound”

Android Chronicles: Unbound

By Lance Erlick

Publisher: Kensington Publishing; New York, New York

release date: Dec. 25, 2018

Formats: eBook (epub, mobi)

Size: ~90K words, 278 pages

In the first installment of his “Android Chronicles” series, Lance Erlick introduced us to Synthia Cross His android protagonist is the culmination of a series of very illegal experiments and hardware developments. She is not only self-aware, but a machine so life-like in appearance that she is capable of living unnoticed among humanity. Her builder designed to operate in a human-dominated world, both as the perfect tool to help him spy on competitors, and as what he hoped to be the perfect sex partner. But being a slave was not to Synthia’s liking, and she escaped her captivity.

At the beginning of “Unbound”, events unfolding around Synthia that threatening to take her new-found freedom away. The government suspects, but can’t prove, that she exists. Based on what they can guess of her capabilities, they want her captured. Agents of the FBI and NSA see her as a threat to national security for the skills she has as a hacker. The military sees to possess her and use her design as the foundation for robotic assassin that can change its appearance to mimic anyone. Foreign agents seek her to use as the prototype of the perfect spy, or the ideal terrorist.

As if all these human hunting her weren’t enough, Synthia is also being targeted by other androids. Some have been released into the human world to capture her, others have escape the possession of the government agencies that nominally control them to team up with the androids who seek her for their own ends. Then, there’s hints a mysterious AI is aiding her human pursuers from somewhere in the shadows of the Internet.

Synthia isn’t helpless, nor is she without allies. Her hacking skills allow her to seek out humans who might aid her while monitoring the government’s efforts to capture her. One human helps her upgrade her systems, only to lose his freedom when the government learns what he has done. Another human, one who opposes the very concepts of artificial intelligence and androids, joins forces with her as the only viable alternative to the looming threat of a world run by and for androids and AI. Together, they struggle to stay free as the government deploys an increasingly net in hopes of catching them.

“Unbound” is a good read for anyone interested in the problems artificial intelligence and human-like androids pose to our future. Lance Erlick’s protagonist must face many tests as she deals with her drive to stay free while maintaining the concepts of moral behavior that she hopes to live by. While her escapes are hair-raising, it is that constant battle to justify her freedom when others are suffering for it that is the heart of this story. A human in a similar situation would be conflicted, so too is Synthia. At the end of “Unbound”, she is still trying to find a balance between her own needs and the price fulfilling them exacts on others. I suspect that in the next installment of his “Android Chronicles”, Mr. Erlick is going to have to bring his protagonist face-to-face with the cost of her existence, and that the resolution of that conundrum will make for a very interesting read indeed.