Barrett Manor

Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Had This Been An Actual Emergency...

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I've been reading that a national EAS test is scheduled for later today. That brings back some memories. I worked in radio in the early-mid 1990s, back before there was digital anything. I was doing an air shift during a national test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This was back in the days of the Civil Defense. I had to open (dun, dun, DUN!) The Red Envelope. It was a direct simulation of what to do in the event of a national emergency. They sent us all instructions ahead of time, and we were all standing around the wire machine waiting for ten bells, which was the signal for a national emergency. They sent the code word, and then I had to grab the envelope, open it, and start the test.


As you would guess, there was a script to follow for a standard test. This one was similar, except we inserted the word "national," which they'll be doing today. Our EBS test announcement was recorded, but I had to read this one live because it was a national test. Hoo, boy. I had never opened one of these envelopes before we had instructions to return them, sealed, to the station manager. I think we got a new one every quarter. I don't know if that was our protocol or that of the CD. The face of the envelope was printed with dire words in all caps proclaiming BAD THINGS might happen if we dared open the envelope except during an emergency. So I opened the envelope and remember reading more dire warnings to double check that the code word was the same as the one we had received over the wire. It was, so I went ahead.


We had to activate the system for a test once a week. There was a little box under the console with a button, a speaker, and a little headset. The button was to activate the tone. We had to watch the clock and push the button for the specified number of seconds. The way this worked was that there was a cascading stream of stations. One station in the area would be a primary (that was KRLD). When they ran a test our box would sound an alarm. That was fun when they ran a test during one of our station breaks! We had to log the test. Sometimes the National Weather Service would ask them to activate the EBS system in the event of a tornado warning. We only had to log that. We were never to activate our own system unless there was a test or an emergency and we were instructed to do so. Yep, that meant opening The Red Envelope. That never happened when I was on the air. And I lived in dread of making a slip-up (even when we passed along a watch or warning that came down the wire) and saying "Godless Tornadoes." As one does, of course.


So you may be wondering about ten bells. Back in the day the wire machines were essentially low-res dot matrix printers connected to a phone line. We had to replace the ribbon once in a while. Ewww. There was a bell (much like a typewriter bell) inside. They'd send a code down the wire to make the bell ring anywhere from 1-5 times. 1-2 rings was "hey, you may want to look at this." It was mostly normal alerts which were anything from the latest stock market numbers to non-critical story updates to announcements ("hey, the president his holding a scheduled press conference today. We'll move details as we get 'em.") Three bells was important stories and updates. Four was breaking news, but not exactly a bulletin. Five was an honest-to-goodness we're-not-kidding-here-you may-want-to-break-into-programming bulletin. I heard one while I was on the air. Ten bells was The Big One. Or a test for same.


Anytime I heard three or four bells that was a signal to check to see what was going on. We had no idea if it was a national or local story until we went and read the copy. Five bells was "holy crap, this ain't good." In this era of breathless reporting of breaking news every time someone farts (I suppose that would be breaking wind news), I'm going to translate this to a Trump scale.


1 bell: Trump is doing nothing. We just wanted to let you know. BTW, here's the latest numbers from Wall Street.


2 bells: The president tweeted again. This time it was about Justin Bieber. Nothing political. Go about your business. BTW, he might tweet something important. We'll let you know.


3 bells: He's at it again. This time he's calling us Fake News because we reported that a cat had been run over on a residential street and it turned out to be a dog instead. BTW, there's a multi-car accident on the freeway which has traffic backed up for miles. And the mayor is making a major announcement about the homeless situation. We also heard Mueller has issued another subpoena.


4 bells: Yes, we've confirmed the subpoena. Also, an old movie star has died. There's been a major earthquake near the old Texas Stadium site. Speculation is that God is upset that His Team got moved and He can no longer watch when they close the dome on the new stadium. Details forthcoming.


5 bells: Alert! Congress has actually done something! Also, a major celebrity or former president has died. That accident on the freeway turns out to be a hazardous spill, and a five mile radius is being evacuated. Someone has declared war or followed through the declaration with an attack.


10 bells: Someone's got their finger on The Button. Or it's just a test. Carry on.

Filed under: Humor            
9/27/2017 8:54:31 AM
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Know Your Enemy

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I'm going to make a confession. 

When I was in high school, I read "Mein Kapmf." I wrote a paper on Adolph Hitler.

There was a reason I did that, and when the teacher understood my reasoning she wholeheartedly approved of my research topic. I wanted to figure out how he got to power in the first place. How good people could let this happen. (The answer is complicated. The paper was long.)

I once came upon a book in German, where, hidden in plain sight among many innocuous things, was the text of one of Hitler's speeches. I laboriously translated the speech. You now what? He was seductive. He told people what they wanted to hear. He - and his speechwriters - knew just the correct words to get the crowd on his side and to his cause. He was passionate, and that passion was infectious. Like the plague. 

I thought we'd never see that here in the United States.

Boy, was I wrong. 

Mark my words, Hitler was not a good person. Nor were the people he surrounded himself with. He was evil. And yet, I'm going to ask you to consider reading "Mein Kampf." And doing some research into that era of history. Because, as has often been said, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. That book is hard to read through the lens of history, and you may want a bath or six when you're finished. But you'll gain insight into his thinking and the thinking of some of his followers today. For they are his followers, no matter how much they disavow it.

This is the very the same reason some very good people who hate racism, who decry fascism, delve into those vile underground web sites that promote these things. History must not repeat itself. As Sun Tzu swrote, "know your enemy."

There are no statues in Germany to honor Hitler or his regime. There are markers that tell stories. There are memorials to those who died fighting his cause, or died just because of his hatred, and the hatred he whipped up among his populace. 

Don't let that happen here. Please. Know your enemy. Know your history so it doesn't repeat. My friends, you are good people. And good people don't let this evil happen again.

Filed under: Politics            
8/17/2017 9:47:46 AM
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Thunderbolt And Lightning, Very Very Frightening

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

We had just settled in to watch some telly Saturday night, when:


If the house itself didn't get hit, something close by certainly did. There was no damage to the house. We have a large tree in the front yard, so that was obviously a worry.

However, we did lose several bits of electronic equipment including the router, the printer, a monitor, the receiver, and the sprinkler timer. The printer had two levels of surge protection, so I was most upset over that one. Turns out that HP has a procedure for resetting the power supply after a power surge, but that didn't work. 

Paul and Ami found some good deals on most of the other equipment, and I set out to look for a new printer. I've always had a multi-function with a paper feeder so I could scan large documents. When the last printer died we ended up with a really sweet deal on a large format printer. I've had a lot of use out of the large scanning bed, so I wanted another if possible. Did a lot of shopping in person and online and found a wide format printer for just $30 more than the regular format one, so I trundled down to MicroCenter to make the purchase. 

I grabbed a cart and went to the printer area, and found they didn't have any boxes on the floor, much less a display model. The web site had indicated two in stock. Maybe they'd sold. A helpful (honest!) salesguy offered to go back and check. "May I follow you with the cart?" (I remembered that the previous one came in a large box and we had used a handcart to get it inside the house.)

"Oh, no. I can get it."

Famous last words. Five minutes later he returned, panting, and asked for the cart. I so wanted to say, "I warned ya, but did you listen to me? Oh, no. It's just a teeny little box, isn't it?"

The box was larger than I had expected. It just barely fit in the cargo area behind the seats in my car. Got it home, and Ami helped me get it on the cart and inside the house. Then I made a quick run to the grocery store for fixins for a fast meal. 

I came home to find Paul had put the printer in place and he was setting it up.

This thing is huge. It's a freaking Death Star.


And that's a harmless little stapler on the desk.

That, the cable box, and the stuffed cat are there for scale. Damn, I should have added a fish. For scale. I'm here all week. ;-)

So it's been Monday here since Saturday night. And how did I celebrate? By stripping the bed down and turning the mattress. I'm such a masochist.

Filed under: Technology   Pictures   Life      
8/14/2017 11:18:56 AM
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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Well. This was our first vacation in a Very Long Time. I think it's been thirteen years. That's a lot of years of schedule conflicts and family emergencies. The planets and the calendars finally aligned, and we decided to get out of town while the gettin' was good.

We went to Canada!

We had a great time, but it was pretty warm up there. However, we got to walk around and explore and see lots of interesting things. One day we we drove out to Hamilton to see where some of the exteriors for Murdoch Mysteries were filmed.

I'm not going to fill this with vacation snaps, but if you want to see more, you can find them here. These pictures were all shot with my DSLR, and I expect we'll add a few cell phone shots to the mix soon.

But now it's back to work!

Filed under: Pictures   Life         
8/7/2017 9:48:47 PM
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Making of the Missy Costume Part 1: The Hat

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

It all started as a joke. I'd volunteered to take on running the Prop Alley for this year's WhoFest, and Roybn (one of the chairs) said, "you can be the Prop MASTER!" After some thought I decided that no, I should be the Prop MISSY. And so a costume was born.

One thing I like about Missy is that she's "a certain age." Well, The Master isn't exactly young, but it's nice to see characters that aren't in the 20-30 age group. Missy is also sassy and outspoken. I like that. So I had to do Missy, even though I'm of oh, a "certain size."

(Image via IMDB.)

Missy is an evil Mary Poppins. Which I also like.

The first thing was the hat: 

(Image via BBC America)

I started with a hat from Amazon:

While the brim is correct, the crown is totally the wrong height. I cut the top off, removed some height from the brim, and sewed it back together. 


I ended up with this, which I steamed and reshaped.


This is a a collection of vintage and new flowers, cherries, and grapes. I ended up not using any of the grapes and added some more flowers.



This is the end result. I'd like to fabricate a better hat pin, but I was running out of time.

Next up: The dress.

Filed under: Missy            
5/27/2017 10:22:17 AM
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Hey, Look! A Story Publication!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Well, this has been on Amazon for a while, but since the press release has hit the virtual street I guess I can officially announce that I will have a story in The Further Crossovers of Sherlock Holmes from Moonstone Books, edited by Richard Dean Starr.

I'm the B-list author in with some serious heavy hitters like David Gerrold and Bill Crider. Also prolific Holmes author, A-lister, and good friend Brad Sinor has a story in this book, and I'm really happy that we get to be in print together.

My contribution, The Lady Detective, crosses Holmes with Loveday Brooke, a lady detective who made her debut in 1894 in stories by Catherine Louisa Pirkis. She is widely considered to be the first female detective written by a female author. Miss Brooke was also rather forward-thinking for her time. She had to be, as an upper-class woman who was left penniless and without friends by "a jerk of Fortune's wheel." At the time there were few career choices for women, so this was a bold move. 

The stories are in the public domain, and you can read them here.

So book cover or it ain't happening, right? The cover artist is Timothy Lantz.


And yes, the eagle-eyed among you have spotted the typo in the listing. I'm told the publisher will fix it.

Filed under: Sherlock Holmes   Writing   Publishing   The Further Crossovers of Sherlock Holmes   
4/17/2017 9:16:42 AM
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Playing With The Camera

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

It's been far too long since I wandered out into the back yard and shot some pictures. I get rusty with the camera if I don't get out once in a while.

Here's the pick of a bad lot:


Roses at the side of the house.


Dead berries.


Two cicada husks. This one may be my favorite of the batch.

Back to real work!

Filed under: Pictures            
4/6/2017 10:08:58 AM
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The Latrine Story

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

I've mentioned this several times on Facebook, and it's buried in a blog post about other stuff, but it deserves its own moment in the ... uh ... sun? At any rate, this story has been on my mind lately, and maybe the metaphor will hit you full in the face like...

Two sacks of shit. 

Yes, this story involves two bags of human waste, a metric crap ton of undeserved guilt, and maybe some metaphorical shit for good measure.

I was the daughter of a Girl Scout Leader. The kid of a Scout Leader is like a preacher's kid: The pressure is on you to be an example. Some parents and kids handle this very well. Others don't. My mom was pretty good about it, and there were some small perks for the pain. One was sitting up at Girl Scout camp to listen to adults swap stories. Oh, they were circumspect, but some of the women had led some very interesting lives when they were younger (a couple were retired) and their stories were funny and inspiring. 

Part of the pain was digging latrines. You wondered when I was going to get around to that, weren't you? The weekend before day camp every year, we would visit the farm and set up the site. Part of this involved helping dig latrines for the younger girls and in the community areas. Older girls would dig their own. Those jobs would be handled mostly by high school girls (Senior Scouts), but a few Cadettes (Jr. High level) would also join in, particularly the daughters of the camp leaders.  Adults would help as well, but someone had to drive loads of supplies around, and there were few older girls who had their licenses who were also at camp to help. These jobs weren't too bad, as far as they went, because everyone was there to work and get out of there as soon as possible. June in Texas. Need I say more?

Day camp was a two-week affair. Seniors got to stay the entire two weeks because they were older. Cadettes to to spend all of week two on site, and the Juniors (4th - 6th grades) got to spend one night. That was our big campout under the stars. It was generally the first Friday. 

All of the units were set up in wooded areas, but the overnight event took place in a big clearing where we raised and lowered the flag (sometimes lowering a pair of underwear before raising the flag), and had other large group gatherings. Because of the sheer number of girls spending the night in one place (and who wanted to go way down a trail in the woods in the dark to find a latrine?) we had to dig some holes.

Of course, the Cadettes got charged with this task. Since I had experience at the ripe old age of 13 or 14, I got placed in charge of the detail. We hung up some burlap sheets for privacy, then set about digging three holes. We were given some post hole diggers and shovels. We had to dig holes in the Texas clay and get them three feet deep if we could. I started the first hole and showed the others where to dig. They just stood there while I dug a hole. I finally finished, then cut the bottom out of a trash bag and lined one of the boxy seat contraptions, placing it over the hole. (It wasn't as bad as it sounds. The box was wooden, and open on the bottom. The removable top had a spot to sit and there was a hinged lid to cover the hole. But you wanted to line those boxes to make cleaning the inside MUCH easier. Trust me on this one.) 

So I finished one latrine and started two more holes. The other girls had barely moved. I tossed my tools and the ground and told them to finish. There were three of them, and they should make short work of two holes, right? I took off to Camp HQ, where I was rewarded with a soft drink for my efforts. In about half an hour, the other three girls trudged up, told us the job was done, and were suitably rewarded.

The big mistake was that we took them at their word.

So the campout began. We cooked food, we had whatever beverages girls were allowed. There were some scary camp fire stories. Fun was being had. Until we heard a bunch of nine  year-olds screaming their heads off. 

They were in the latrine.

I jumped up and joined the adults who were running to the rescue. After all, I'd helped build this thing so I was curious to see what was going on.

Two latrines were full. Of shit. Guess which two? We herded the girls out and got someone to escort those who really needed to go to the nearest latrine where they could relieve themselves. One of the adults gingerly lifted the lid on one of the toilets and pulled out the bag. The bottom hadn't been cut out. Same with the other latrine. We moved the seats and discovered that the holes were just as I'd left them. In other words, a three-inch deep indentation in the clay soil. 

Oh, crap.

Why yes, the latrine I'd labored over was perfectly fine and doing its job as per spec. I may have been blonde, fat, and four-eyed, but I knew how to dig a damn latrine.

The adults dealt with the bags. I volunteered to help, but was told that wasn't my job. I volunteered to make the two latrines right, and I was told THAT wasn't my job, either. They got the girls who were supposed to do the job, and stood over them until they finished.

That should have been the end of it. But the next morning I discovered the other girls had blamed me for not finishing the job. I already had a crapload of guilt for not going and checking up on their work. I'd been put in charge of the crew, so maybe some of the blame should have rightly fallen on me. But not all of it! 

I learned a lesson about trust. I also learned that adults would have your back if you were trustworthy. 

I've tried hard to pass those same lessons along to kids, but as an adult I've worked in one volunteer capacity or another for most of my life, and have found that some adults haven't really grown up. They want the credit, they want the rewards, but aren't keen on doing the hard work necessary to make things happen.

I have to temper that observation by saying that right now I'm working with a couple of really good groups of people who know how to do their jobs. So I lift a virtual glass to you guys. Don't worry. It's not full of shit. ;-)

Filed under: Life            
2/23/2017 12:22:05 PM
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Retched Recipes: Duck!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Place one Cold War-era rubber duck in a pot.


Stew for a half-life of 24,000 years, give or take.

Ponder what future archaeologists will make of the muck.

Filed under: Retched Recipes            
2/22/2017 12:15:47 PM
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Retched Recipes: Alternative Facts Fudge

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

3 cups of the best chocolate money can buy
1 can of condensed milk
1/4 cup butter

Combine ingredients in saucepan and heat until chocolate is melted. Spread in well-greased pan. Top generously with organic walnuts. Cool and serve. Yum!

That's what they swear they told you. Here's what they did:

Start with cheap chocolate dressed up as the good stuff.
Add 2% milk and sweeten with aspartame.
Prop it up with a little lard.
Heat it up, and point to the dog to deflect from the smell.
Spread in a pan generously greased with more lard.
Top with nuts. Washington won't miss a few.
Pour it in a pan and place outdoors on a hot sunny day. Call it winter, and the stuff will cool. Eventually. If the birds don't crap on it first.

Delicious! Honest! The mainstream recipe books lied to you.

Filed under: Retched Recipes            
2/18/2017 11:52:03 AM
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