The fire alarm goes off. This is not some dinky smoke detector powered by a 9-volt. We have a booming, loudspeaker-driven alarm system designed to shake the rafters and let the neighbors know you’ve burned dinner again. I am not happy to be hearing this sound right now. I just quit the day and went to bed a few minutes ago.
Oldest daughter Rachel was cooking a snack just before I came in here, and I strongly suspect this alarm is merely the result of a teenager cooking while using the internet. She’s probably scorched her snack. My wife Heather, being the more responsible one, is already out of bed and throwing on clothes. Resigned, I follow her. Might as well give Rachel a stern talking to about this.
Rachel is not cooking. She finished a while ago, without incident. This smoke is real smoke and not singed starch. It’s coming from the living room. Heather and I meet there and try to find the source.
It smells like someone just pumped 1.21 gigawatts through an Apple IIe circuit board. This problem is electrical. There’s no apparent fire, but something made this smoke. There’s not a lot, and it seems to be dissipating quickly, but I would very much like to know what was burned to make this smoke, even if it’s no longer burning.
We check upstairs. We check the basement. Nothing. No smoke. No strange smell. The living room smoke is gone now, but the smell of fried electrical something is powerful. We unplug stuff and feel the walls. We sniff the outlets and devices, but none of them seem to be the source of the burning smell.
Well, there’s no fire, but there is a burning smell. I can’t ignore this. I guess it’s fire department time.
Just to be safe, Heather has the kids pile a few things into the car and pulls the car out of the garage. It’s very interesting to see what our family decides to take with them. Or rather, it’s interesting what we don’t take with us. Family pictures? We’re been using digital camera for about a decade. Documents? No, we do most transactions electronically and we can get copies of anything else. Valuables or heirlooms? Our family doesn’t really go in for that sort of thing. Nobody has any expensive jewelry. Cash? What cash? That’s what debit cards are for.
Everyone just grabs their favorite computer. Only my son, still ten years old, takes anything of sentimental value. He’s got a blanket and stuffed thing he wants to take. I don’t think he’s looked at either item in over a year, but the bond is still there. My “important object” is obviously my computer, which is annoyingly bulky and cumbersome. I don’t want to haul it around unless there’s real danger, or I may end up damaging it trying to save it. I split the difference and unplug it so I can run off with the case if things go sideways.
Heather takes the kids to the grandparents and I stand around in the yard in the freezing rain until the firetrucks begin to arrive. First I give the chief the tour. Then a couple of guys join us. Then a couple more. Then two more. Every time someone enters the house it’s the same reaction, “Wow! Something’s burned! Is it here? Where is it? Here? No… What the heck?” Then they walk around in circles, looking perplexed.
We check the kitchen. The furnace. The upstairs. The circuit breakers. The chimney. The smell is coming from right around the gas fireplace, but nobody can find the source, nothing looks burned, and nothing feels warm.
I’ve gradually gone from being nervous to annoyed. Whatever is going on, I’m pretty sure my house isn’t going to burn down tonight.
Finally one of the firemen finds the source. It’s a lamp. A tiny, unassuming lamp. It’s a simple little thing: A stick with a lightbulb on one end and a base on the other. We unplugged it as soon as we walked into the room when we first began looking for the source of the smoke. It shows no sign whatsoever of damage. No scorching. Nothing fried. It looks just as it always did, except that now it smells like a “Burned Electrical Circuits” brand air freshener. The smell is powerful and it’s not going away.
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The firemen fill out a little paper recording that we were all here and that nothing happened. I carry the lamp out to the trash can and retire it.
Looking back, I think the only other things I’d want to save from the fire are Heather’s paintings. However, there are a lot of them and they’re in glass frames. It would probably be impractical to stack them all up and haul them out of here during anything resembling a real emergency.
Ah well. that was an interesting adventure.
Push the Button!
Scenes from Half-Life 2:Episode 2, showing Gordon Freeman being a jerk.
Why I Hated Resident Evil 4
Ever wonder how seemingly sane people can hate popular games? It can happen!
Juvenile and Proud
Yes, this game is loud, crude, childish, and stupid. But it it knows what it wants to be and nails it. And that's admirable.
The Best of 2015
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2015.
Batman: Arkham City
A look back at one of my favorite games. The gameplay was stellar, but the underlying story was clumsy and oddly constructed.