So, the gist of Jo Walton's Thessaly trilogy is that Athena gathers a group of scholars and allows them to try to create a society modeled on Plato's Republic on Thera, an island in the Mediterranean. Since humans, and even gods are not perfect there are plenty of bumps in the road. And as time goes on the inhabitants of the Just City come to realize that a lot of Plato's ideas for running things are themselves unjust.
I'm just starting Necessity, the last book in the trilogy, and if it's anything like the first tow books they'll be lots of discussions about the meaning of excellence. I know it sounds kind of boring but it's just what I need at the moment. It's a lot like sitting next to a table of smart people listening to them discuss Greek literature. Granted that's not everybody's idea of a good time but right now, sitting in my office with a bad back, it's my idea of a good time.
So that's what I'm doing tonight. Last week I followed the Republican Convention pretty closely. I just don't have the heart to deal with the Democrats this week.
July 25, 2016
The last episode of Preacher airs next Sunday so this is a piss poor time to talk about it here. But we have cable and on demand, we have the internet. You can, if you want, see this show from the beginning. Last year Mr. Robot was the summer show for me. This year it's Preacher.
So then we've got Jessie Custer, an ex-thug who became a preacher to honor his father, he's not very good at it. We've got Proinsias Cassidy, an Irish vampire who ends up as the church's handy man. We've got Arseface AKA Eugene Root. Eugene tried to kill himself with a shotgun. It didn't go well, he survived and now he eats with a straw.
Oh and we've got Genesis, a half demon half angel thing that's the show's MacGuffin. And if none of that interests you, well you do get to see a vampire take out an angel with a chainsaw.
July 25, 2016
The thing about trilogies is the rereading involved. When the second book arrives I have to reread the first to catch up. Then when volume three is published I have to reread volumes one and two. And so, now that Jo Walton has released the third book in her Thessaly trilogy I'm going back to the first book, The Just City.
Apollo has nearly caught the nymph Daphne, he's planning to rape her. Of course he doesn't consider it rape, to him it's a game. But before he can go through with it his sister Artemis turns Daphne into a tree (at Daphne's request).
Apollo goes to Athena to understand what happened and she introduces him to concepts like consent. As it turns out Athena is setting up a community on the Kallisti several hundred years before a volcano destroys half the island. That way history won't be changed. Athena has gathered philosophers from all ages to run the joint and if her half brother really wants to understand things like volition and consent that's the place to learn. So Apollo incarnates as a mortal to become part of the experiment/
And that's really what the first two books are all about. If you're curious to see how a more benevolent version of Plato's republic might work out, then The Just City is your book. If you like your philosophy with a scoop or two of action then you might want to give the trilogy a pass.
July 23, 2016
I'm five episodes into Stranger Things. It's gotten mediocre reviews and deservedly so, it's a knock off of every 80s movie where a group of brave kids have adventures and thwart evil. It's got the whole early Spielberg vibe going.
At this point I'm curious to see how the whole thing turns out, but I'm not loving it. A lot of people are though. Folks are going through all eight episodes in one sitting. And I think I've figured it out. If you were a kid in the 80s you watched a lot of stuff like Stranger Things. And now you're pushing 40 and it's really cool to find a show that takes you back to when you were ten years old.
And it's probably not an age thing. If you loved things like The Goonies or The Lost Boys then you'll love Stranger Things. I don't love it but I do want to find out what's really going on here.
July 23, 2016
The First Night
I started to watch the Republican Convention on one of the news networks. Ended up turning the television off and I'm watching the thing on YouTube. Damn, CNN and the others are getting annoying.
July 18, 2016
In 1989 I. M. Pei finished the pyramid in front of the main court of the Louvre. The main court is called the Cour Napoléon and Napoleon once went to Egypt and saw the Pyramids so you see the connection, don't you?
I remember there was a lot of huffing and puffing about the thing in 1989 but people seem to have made their peace with it. That's been my character arc too.
That's 23rd century London as imagined by J. J. Abrams in Star Trek: Into Darkness. Everything is suitably futuristic except for St. Paul's in the lower right hand corner. it looks like it was just dropped there by someone who didn't know what do do with an extra piece. But we're looking at the 23rd century from the other end. St Paul's looks just fine, it's the Shard that looks like it's from the wrong set of Legos.
It's always been that way, of course. The Flatiron Building was considered odd in 1902. According to Wikipedia the Times called it a monstrosity.
Now it's quaint.
But cities, or even small towns, are works in progress. I moved into Galloway Township in 1991. There was an abandoned chicken coop on Pitney Road back then, now there's a TD Bank, a CVS and a liquor store on the same spot. I suspect that to very old residents of Galloway, they still look a little wrong, Legos from the wrong set.
July 18, 2016
Microsoft's free upgrade to Windows 10 runs out at the end of this month. After July it will cost you $119. Look at it this way, even if you have no plans to upgrade at least Microsoft's nagging will stop next month.
July 17, 2016
Signs of the Times
As the coup attempt in Turkey was just starting, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan contacted the press via FaceTime. Meanwhile, it's the pre-show segment of This Week in Tech and Leo LaPorte and his three guests are talking about Pokémon Go.
I'm reading Heyday by Ben Wilson. The book is about the 1850s and how the changes in that decade absolutely overwhelmed folks.
I know how they feel.
July 17, 2016
End of Watch
End of Wactch is the last book in Stephen King's trilogy about Bill Hodges, a retired cop turned private investigator, well, a sort of private invstigator. I put off buying the book until I was ready to reread the first two. The first two book are mysteries and while I like mysteries, I rarely remember the details. But rereading the first two followed by the conclusion is a 1,200 page investment.
But 1,200 pages of King goes pretty fast and I've just hit book number three.
And in a tragic sidebar, in Nice on Bastille Day a large truck slammed into a crowd killing 77 people. If you've read Mr. Mercedes that will strike a chord.
July 14, 2016
Pokémon Go is, according to the Wikipedia, is a free-to-play, GPS based augmented reality mobile game. It's also a phenomena that's making a lot of money. What interested me is that people have been trying to make money off augmented reality apps since the introduction of the iPhone. I remember an article in Wired that talked about getting informative overlays in major cities via your phone. So the technique has been around for a bit. What is new is that someone finally successfully made an augmented reality app that went mainstream. So, will others make money off something similar? Will augmented reality games evolve? And will the public embrace a non-gaming augmented reality app? Damned if I know but it's nice that somebody has brought this to everybody's attention.
July 12, 2016
Movie Tie-ins That Backfired
July 10, 2016
Back in the 90s when the Dark Lord reoccupied Barad-dűr there was a program called Napster. It allowed people to share music. When you were connected to the Napster server you could download songs from somebody else's library and they could do the same from yours. It's safe to say this was the largest orgy of theft since the Visigoths sacked Rome. Napster planned to switch to a subscription model and share their profits with the record companies but instead the companies sues and Napster shut down. The record companies figured that would end the problem of illegal file sharing. As we all know, it didn't.
Enter Steve Jobs, who knew that if people could get the tracks they wanted at a fair price they'd purchase them legally. Enter the iPod and iTunes in 2001. And they were successful. One of the things they did was make sure it was very difficult to copy the music you purchased. You can indeed put iTunes on a different computer and use it there. But if you want to leave Apple for an Android phone there are roadblocks.
Now the good people at the Verizon store did indeed transfer the bulk of my songs from my old phone to my new one, but not everything. When you discover a missing song you open iTunes, create a playlist with the songs you want, burn it to a CD then rip the music from the CD as MP3s. Pretty easy, huh?
I have a little program called NoteBurner. You still have to make a playlist but when it comes time to burn it you use NoteBurner. The program makes iTunes think it's a burner program but all it's doing is changing the M4Ps to MP3s that can now be moved to your phone.
Now, Apple has good reasons for trying to lock you in but I don't know if the iPhone is a legitimate premium brand anymore. It might serve them well to let iTunes work with any phone. Make an app for Android that will automate synching. As it stands now, any new music I buy will come from Amazon who sells it to you in MP3 format. I'd use iTunes if I could but I can't and, right now at least, I don't see myself buying another Apple phone two or three years down the road.
So that's my story. I think I'm going to watch season 1 of Mr. Robot on Prime to get ready for season 2.
July 6, 2016
So then, there are four rocky planets closest to the Sun, three of them in the habitable zone. One, Venus, somehow experienced a runaway greenhouse effect and is a hellish wasteland. Earth did rather nicely for itself. Life either developed here or developed elsewhere and was brought here by a stray comet or something. And at this point it would be honest to admit that nobody knows how life developed from a hodge podge of organic molecules. It happened at least once but was it an easily replicable process or was it a one in a billion fluke? That's why we have no real estimate of how common life is in the universe. We can speculate that Jupiter's moon Europa could support life because it has an ocean but that's all it is, speculation.
Mars could have had life. In its early days it had a lot of water and a thick atmosphere. What it didn't have was a magnetic field. Its core cooled off too quickly to produce one and that meant that when solar storms sent charged particles the ones that hit Mars chipped away at its atmosphere. Most scientists think that if life did form on Mars, it didn't last too long.
So much for the habitable zone. After that we've got the asteroid belt, the four giant planets and the Kuiper belt, Pluto is the largest Kuiper belt object.
In 2009 NASA launched the Kepler space telescope, It orbits the Sun and its mission is to find extra solar planets. When a planet passes in front of its star the light from that star dims just bit. That's what Kepler measures. So far it's discovered 2,300 confirmed planets and a bunch of other things waiting to be declared planets. It turns out that most stars have planets. However most solar systems aren't like ours. They have Jupiter sized planets orbiting very close to their star, some of them orbiting in days or even hours. There are stars with rocky planets in the star's habitable zone but they're in the minority.
This may be simply because the Kepler isn't sensitive enough. In 2018 we're going to launch a more sophisticated instrument, the James Webb space telescope. It will be able to take direct pictures of exoplanets. Actually, we have some now but they're not very good, here's a picture of Beta Pictoris b:
I hope that the Webb can do better.
I don't know if the origin of life will be cracked in this century but I suspect our instruments will get good enough to detect the changes life makes on a planet. If you have a spectrometer sensitive enough to read a rocky planet's atmosphere and it detects a lot of oxygen, bingo, you got life. That may happen in my lifetime, it might not.
Short term, this Monday the Juno probe will orbit Jupiter. It's job will be to try to get a handle on what's underneath Jupiter's clouds. Arthur C. Clarke wrote a novella about such an examination of Jupiter called A Meeting with Medusa in 1971. No, Juno won't be dropping a blimp with a cyborg captain into Jupiter's upper atmosphere but it's still pretty cool.
June 30, 2016
So while you we're worrying about the Brexit, I cleared out this place. I never really got used to the Baldur's Gate style of combat and after some 17 years it's hard to pick it up again. But the Care Bear setting, if you remember that term of disapprobation, helps a lot. I cleared out that dungeon, discovered the quest giver was a a bastard, let him go, went on a quest for a potion for a pregnant woman, discovered the potion was just a placebo after killing a bunch of shit to get it and gave it to the woman anyway, it was a psychological thing. I think that's enough for one day. alChandler is now level 4. That's bullshit for most games but the Infinity Engine games hue to the old AD&D standard, level 4 is an accomplishment.
I think I've accomplished enough for one day.
June 28, 2016
Just a Thought
Was watching This Week in Tech and they brought this up, a lot of companies in America viewed Britain as an English speaking gateway to the EU and so they located offices there. Now that Britain had decided it would rather not be in the EU, the other candidate for that position is the Republic of Ireland. And Ireland has a pretty low corporate tax rate to boot. It would be pretty cool to see Dublin as a world financial capitol.
June 26, 2016
There's a story behind that screen shot. When we'd play World of Warcraft Moon complained that I'd always forget to heal. And I did forget, I just would get caught up in the rush of combat and didn't use my healing spells.
I began Pillars of Eternity and wandered a little off the beaten track into that bear cave. The bear himself wasn't too agressive but I decided to take him on and even on story mode he proved to be too much for me. After the third or fourth death I remembered that I was playing a paladin and I have a healing spell. So on the next try I healed myself in battle and the bear went down. And thus my first, and for all I know last, screen shot from Pillars of Eternity.
June 26, 2016
Pillars of Eternity
Back in the day I played Baldur's Gate I found it ridiculously hard and managed to finish it on my second play through. Back in the day I also played Baldur's Gate II I found it even harder and never got more then a few hours into it. In fact, I have few good memories of games made with the infinity engine. But it's summer, the Steam sale is on and I'm sort of looking at Obsidian's RPG Pillars of Eternity for $17.99. I'm tempted it has the same real time pausable combat that I hated in Baldur's Gate. It gives you a fortress to manage, something I despised in Neverwinter Nights 2 and tolerated in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Your party has no combat AI so that if you don't give your wizard orders, she'll just sit there and let herself be killed.
And yet I'm in a gaming mood. I was having a fairly good time in Arkham: Origins until the fight with Deadshot glitched. I'm still in a gaming mood and the next Deus Ex game is eight weeks away.
And Pillars of Eternity got rave reviews. But so did Divinity: Original Sin and Baldur's Gate II for that matter. People loved those games. I didn't. But two weeks is a long time to go without gaming when you're in the mood. And it is only $17.99. And I'm not obligated to finish the damn thing. I'm 60 and alChandler has nothing left to prove to anyone.
Update: Yeah, I pulled the plug, I bought it, I'll probably get two days out of it then uninstall it and hate myself for the next two weeks. alChandler never learns, its one of his endearing qualities.
Update 2: This game has a story time mode! Given my previous experiences with games of this type I'm all over this mode. Here a shot of my party.
Update 3: In fact, this old Penny Arcade comic pretty much sums it up:
June 25, 2016
I'd gotten to the boss fight with Deadshot and my mouse started to act crazy as the game's autosave kicked in. Under normal circumstances I would have loaded an earlier save but I didn't have that option here.
June 25, 2016
Since my phone is now running the Android OS, Google is given a place of honor on its home screen. Google is waiting for my verbal input, all I have to say is, "Ok Google," to wake the app up.
On an intellectual basis, I understand why you need a phrase to wake the app up. Whenever Jim Kirk wanted to use the ship's computer, he simply said, "computer," and it responded by saying, "working." But while Google could have chosen to use the word computer to activate Google, it would lead to accidents. Some of us say computer quite a lot in the course of a day. But few of us have ever said, "Ok Google," in the course of casual conversation.
Never the less something inside of me rebels against using it. I tap the little microphone instead. Perhaps I'm simply making the transition from eccentric to crummdugenly.
By the way, to get that photo on my computer I plugged in the phone and instead of the phone automatically doing its thing with Windows and transferring my latest photos over, I had to tell the phone I wanted to enter its file system, look for the right photo and move it over myself.
I've been doing that with my computer for some time now and I've yet to reduce it to a pile of slag. But doing that with a phone gives me pause. iOS has kept me confined for so long that with Android I'm like a dog that's been taken from a kennel and moved to a house with a big back yard. There will be a period of trepidation before I adjust.
June 23, 2016
Trump Embraces the Internet
Truump has just registered lyingcrookedhillary.com. And I've taken a screenshot of the only thing that's up there right now:
And it gets better, he registered the domain with GoDaddy.
The last time I had to set up my email was in 2011. I got my first iPhone and had to set up my Comcast Account and the alChandler's Halls address. It was a hassle because I hadn't done it in years. An obscure setting in the alChandler's Halls account took two days and a phone call to my web host to resolve. Now, five years later I just finished setting the accounts up on the new phone.
The Comcast account set itself up but I had to redo it manually because the phone defaults to leave messages on server during the automatic set up. I like to use my phone to check my email but don't really deal with the messages until I'm back on Kosh.
aChandler's Halls was a bitch. There was an thing involving authentication that I had to track down and uncheck. But I didn't have to call OLM and I got both accounts up and running the same day I took home the phone, that's pretty fast for me.
I think I've said enough about the damn phone for now.
June 21, 2016
For the last five years I've had an iPhone. Two days ago I dropped my iPhone 5s in the parking lot at the local Shop-rite and last night I discovered that I could no longer make outgoing calls. So I went to the Verizon store on Jimmy Leeds Road and while the guy there tried the usual stuff, my phone was just unable to connect to a cellular tower. Since my cell phone is my only phone it was time for an upgrade.
I've had two iPhones and each time I've purchased last year's model. That meant that instead of paying $600 for
my phone, I paid about $350. This time I went with Android, a Samsung Galaxy S7. I'd grown a bit tired of Apple's walled in garden approach and decided I was going to be bold, daring and adventurous. It didn't hurt that they had a special running and I got the phone for $147 either (that was with a $70 credit for my old phone).
And I'm writing this because I just set up the Tivo app for the phone. The Tivo app was always slow on my iPhone and I pretty much blamed Tivo for that. Boy is it faster on the new phone. I'm liking the phone's speed and the slightly bigger screen, it's 5.1".
So that was today's adventure. The phone is in the bedroom doing its wireless charging thing. I'm pretty happy with it.
June 21, 2016
This August Warners releases the next movie in the DC cinematic universe, Suicide Squad. In the movie Amanda Waller gets Colonel Rick Flagg to form a strike team composed of some of the most dangerous super villains in the world, people like Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang. They take on, um, suicide missions for the government. Warners has a lot riding on this one, Batman vs Superman under performed for the company and they'd really like Suicide Squad to be a hit.
As a fan of comic books I don't have a good take of how much the non comic book reading majority knows about comic book characters. It's a fair bet that everybody knows about Batman, even if they don't know that Bane broke Batman's back a while ago. And I'm guessing it's the same with Captain America and Iron Man, people know about Steve Rogers but don't know that the super serum wore off and he aged 70 years (he got better). But I wonder about characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang, have people heard of them? It strikes me that Suicide Squad is a movie like Ant Man, the type of thing you do after your franchise has been established.
Which is the reason the movie has Batman and the Joker in it. Ben Affleck makes a credible Batman and he did the best with the material he had to work with but Jared Leto as the Joker has Heath Ledger to contend with. Those are some mighty big shoes he's stepping into.
Right now I've no plans to see Suicide Squad. That may change if it gets wildly positive reviews.
June 20, 2016
Guess Who Finally Figured Out the Panorama Feature on His Phone
June 20, 2016
I'm four hours into my second pass at the Batman game and I seem to be doing a lot better then I did last year. I'm not quite sure why but I suspect that part of the reason is that I've finally accepted the fact that age has taken away a portion of my never abundant abilities and I've stopped worrying about it.
I just finished a bit in the Penguin's battle arena. Last year it took me a lot of replays to get through that part. This time I got through it on my first try. I suppose the take away is that when you stop obsessing about declining hand/eye coordination, the coordination you have left works slightly better.
Now that I've written this, I'll probably rage quit by Wednesday.
June 20, 2016
Mom, Dad and Pictures
Last month was Mother's Day. Now I've never tried to hide the fact that I have no good feelings for Mom. But it's been 14 years since her death and while I still don't love her or particularly miss her I'm aware that she was not in control of her emotions. So this year as a kind of gesture to myself, I posted a picture of Mom and me after my high school graduation.
So there you go. of course that meant I was morally obligated to put up a picture of Dad for Father's Day. On graduation day after Dad took the picture of Mom and me he handed off the camera to her and she took this picture.
I look like some kind of smart assed criminal that a detective is escorting to jail.
I posted that picture to Facebook and then got annoyed by the list in the thing. Damn it, it's 2015, there must be something I can do to straighten the thing out. I have a powerful computer, I have software, I'm going to straighten the fuck out of this picture. And one on line tutorial about GIMP later that's what I did.
June 19, 2016
The Road to Rome
Whenever I read a book I try to throw up a picture of its cover on this page. Yesterday I did an image search for The Scarlet Fig and while I found a picture of the book, I also found this picture that, according to Google, was buried somewhere on Amazon:
So, a little history for you. Burial and cremation were forbidden in the city of Rome by the Law of the Twelve Tables. That's not all the Twelve Tables forbade, just one of 'em. So rich Romans built tombs outside the city. Then as now, rich folk want to be noticed and if you want your tomb to really be noticed, the best spot to build it on was somewhere along the Appian Way, the road that connected Rome with Brindisi in southeast Italy. Think I-95 but with tombs instead of billboards and you've got the vibe leaving Rome via the Appian Way.
Now lets talk about Giovanni Battista Piranesi, he was a Venetian artist in the 18th century. His thing was etchings, archaeology and spaced out prisons.
Piranesi was a surrealist before there were surrealists. And I suspect that's why his picture of the Appian Way with its impossible tombs ended up buried on an Amazon page for the Vergil books. And when I saw the picture on Google, I did a little hunting and found a version of the picture big enough to use as wallpaper.
The picture is wonderful but it doesn't really capture a spirit of Davidson's novels. The Vergil books read like a literate 18th century gentleman with no knowledge of history tried to write a novel about Rome using whatever books were in the town library and some paintings on his estate. But that's the effect Davidson was striving for. The drawing does, however, go very nicely with a story by Clark Ashton Smith called The Doom of Antarion. The story is also known as The Planet of the Dead and I think it's highly possible that Smoth encouthered Piranesi's drawing:
Not without reason had Melchior been fascinated by things antique and by things that are far away. For the world wherein he walked as Antarion was incomputably and the ages of its history were too many for remembbrance: and the towering obelisks and piles along the paven road were the high tombs, the proud monuments of its immemorial dead, who had come to outnumber infinitely the living. In more than the pomp of earthly kings, the dead were housed in Phandiom; and their cities loomed insuperably vast, with never-ending streets and prodigious spires, above those lesser abodes wherein the living dwelt. And throughout Phandiom the bygone years were a tangible presence, an air that enveloped all; and the people were steeped in the crepuscular gloom of antiquity; and were wise with all manner of accumulated lore; and were subtle in the practise of strange refinements, of erudite perversities, of all that can shroud with artful opulence and grace and variety the bare uncouth cadaver of life, or hide from mortal vision the leering skull of death. And here, in Saddoth, beyond the domes and terraces and columns of the huge necropolis, a necromantic flower wherein forgotten lilies live again, there bloomed the superb and sorrowful loveliness of Thameera.
Good stuff but I'll admit it's an acquired taste, for that matter, so is Davidson.
June 19, 2016
This has been a Whenpigsfly production.
Any questions or comments can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Logo courtesy of Mrs. Silverman.