Contents

Caty and Cara's Page

Our Computers

Snapshots with Text

Essays for Fun

Ken Burch's Tales

Ken's Neocron Tales

More Neocron Tales

Secret Wars

Tales of the Walker Clan

Our Cast

Why Kevin Doesn't Dance

Writing of Mine That Doesn't Totally Suck

Stuff dl Thinks Is Cool

The Old, Old Grandma Story

The Final Battle

James' Photos

James Meyer's Birds:

Introduction

Photos 1 through 25

Photos 26 through 50

Photos 51 through 75

Photos 76 through 100

Reading

a book cover

Playing





alChandler's Halls

Serving dozens since 1999!


Styx

Styx has just paid for itself. That's because I got to drop a chandelier on a bunch of guys. I've played a lot of games where you had the option of dropping chandeliers on people but by the time I discovered I there was a chandelier I could drop, everyone was already dead. This is the first time I actually was able to use one as a weapon. And it was glorious.

By the way, people aren't going on about the level design in Styx but I don't think I've seen a game make better use of vertical space. The game is using the Unreal 3 engine and while that engine is 10 years old it still has some life left in it.

November 25, 2014


Just an Observation

So, Dragon Age: Inquisition is downloading in the background. It's like this, imagine a person who likes Quentin Tarantino but hates westerns, sooner or later that person is going to get around to watching Django Unchained. In my case, I like RPGs, I like Bioware games but I dislike the decisions Bioware made with Dragon Age: Inquisition. What does that matter, inevitably I'm going to buy it so get it over with and Give EA my $60.

While I was downloading the game I fired up Styx to play a little. Origin and Steam do not like to be running simultaneously and my video card started beeping angrily at me. Just to check, I edited Origin, EA's online store, and restarted Styx. The game ran smoothly and my rapidly aging card hadn't a care in the world. So go figure.

By the way, Origin is offering Crusader: No Remorse as a free download. I played the game when it first came out, back in 1995. Don't know how the graphics look today but it was fun 20 years ago and you can't beat the price. Just throwing that out there.

November 25, 2014


Best RPG Year

I admire Janicki as a critic. And pretty much everyone seems to agree with him, 2014 has been the best year for RPGs in some time. But my personal experience is rather different. I got bored with Divinity: Original Sin and walked away. I never played the South Park game although I might if I find it on a Steam sale and Dark Souls 2 is too punishingly difficult to even consider.

I was psyched for Wasteland 2 but after Divinity: Original Sin I didn't want to play anther old school role playing game. Once again, I'll probably pick it up during a Steam sale. I went back to Diablo 3 and loved the changes Blizzard made and that leaves Dragon Age Inquisition. I've absolutely no desire to lead a faction, I despised that part of Neverwinter Nights 2 but this is such a huge game that I'll probably pick it up sooner or later. Maybe when it's on sale. Of course Dragon Age Inquisition is Origin, not Steam so the odds of it going on sale are pretty poor.

Yeah, I'm probably going to have to buy the goddam thing, aren't I? But right now I don't have to face that decision, I'm just a backstabbing goblin, happily killing guards.

November 23, 2014


So, How To Get Into the Embassy...

...when the entrance is patrolled by three guards? Simple, take out one guard with a thrown knife, take out the second guard with a second knife when he comes to investigate. Hide when the third guard comes, wait for him to turn his back and execute a muffled kill. Then walk right in.

I think alChandler's gaming drought is over.

November 23, 2014


Christopher Tolkien

Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien's son and literary executor turned 91 today. Tolkien the younger gets a bad rap for disliking Peter Jackson's movies but as far as I'm concerned he has a place in literary Valhalla for cobbling together The Silmarillion from the vast amount of material his father left and getting it published. Yes, I'd like a movie about Beren and Luthien but I sincerely wish Christopher Tolkien a life as long as Bilbo's. And if that means no more movies in my lifetime (Bilbo lived to be 131) so be it.

November 22, 2014


Gaming

Ins Dishonored and Thief you were encouraged to deal with your enemies nonviolently. Instead of killing them you'd sneak up behind them and knock them out with a blackjack. I know that in the real world that would indeed be considered a violent act, but not so in the worlds of Garrett and Corvo Attano.

Styx dispenses with such moral ambiguity. Yo sneak up behind a person and your choice is a muffled kill or just a kill. Since the victim doesn't scream with a muffled kill, that's the one you use. You end up with a lot of corpses.

And you might have heard that an expansion arrived for World of Warcraft. Among other things it adds a garrison, WoW's version of player housing:

The whole idea is that a disgraced orc warlord goes back in time, prevents the Horde from being corrupted by a demon and invades Azeroth in the present day, pouring through the dark portal. The Horde and the Alliance put aside their differences and go back in time to destroy the dark portal, preventing the invasion from ever happening:

Finally, I may put Shadows of Mordor back on my system just to play as this woman:

She's Lithariel, the Warrior Commander of the Tribesmen of Nurn. The cut scenes will still show Talion the asshole ranger but you can't have everything.

Update: Nope, I still dislike the gameplay.

November 22, 2014


Success

If nothing else I finally finished The Island of the Day Before. It took me 20 damn years but it's been read. Now, as a reward, Stephen King's latest, Revival.

November 19, 2014


It's Shit Like This

The picture comes from Boing Boing and it captures Cory Doctorow's over the top reaction to the failure of the Senate to take up a bill that would have restricted the NSA's ability to just root through our phone records like a hog looking for truffles.

One of the things I dislike about some on the right, such as Fox News, is the way they demonize folks on the left. But it's just as despicable when people I agree with do it. Mitch McConnell isn't a traitor, he just has different ideas about national security then Doctorow, or for that matter I have.

I suppose it comes down to this, you can't babble on about Republican fear mongering and then post shit like that. Well, you can but it's not logically consistent. And it's cheap.

November 19, 2014


Philae Strikes Carbon

The Philae probe ended up in a relatively shady spot on Comet 67P. It's solar panels can't get enough sunlight and the probe is powered down. But before it went into hibernation it detected carbon on the comet. One of Philae's goals was to determine if comets could have delivered organic molecules to Earth. Now that scientists know that Comet 67P is carrying carbon they're going to pour over the rest of the data Philae sent of before its hibernation to see if carrying other compounds. Stuff like methane would be cool to find and finding amino acids would be awesome.

November 18, 2014


Gaming

The Second half of 2014 hasn't been good for me, gaming wise. There were two major titles that I expected to like and just plain didn't. The first was Divinity: Original Sin. I got about a third of the way through it and just got bored, no other way to describe it. I got into a long stretch that was nothing but combat and didn't care enough about the characters or the story to tough it out.

Shadows of Mordor was a different story. It was described, accurately, as a cross between Batman: Arkham Asylum and Assassin's Creed. Well shit, Batman: Arkham Asylum was the first game I played this year and I had a great time. But I should have remembered that I disliked Assassin's Creed and never got beyond the tutorial. When I realized that I was approaching the game like it was a job it was time to bail So it looks like I won't be playing any major solo games before the end of this year.

But goddammit, Shadows of Mordor was a game outside my comfort zone. I took a risk. That counts for something in my book. And if Shadows of Mordor didn't work out another risk, Gunslinger: Call of Juarez worked out very well indeed. And who knows, there are six weeks left in 2014, anything could happen.

Update: So, I'm taking a shot at game called Styx: Master of Shadows. I saw some game play footage somewhere, I don't really remember where but I do remember that it was stealth and I'm a sucker for stealth. It was on sale on Steam for $20 and I decided to take a shot. After all, I love games and why not take a chance on something now and then, right? I'm not as young as I used to be and all but the day I'm not willing to take a chance on a game now and then is the day I really will be old. And I do feel better about a $20 chance then I do about a $50 chance. Yeah, I'm looking at you Shadows of Mordor.

November 16, 2014


The Iron Horde

Been a bit since I posted a screenshot from World of Warcraft. This one is from the expansion, Warlords of Draenor. You know, the game's graphics are 10 years old and weren't cutting edge even back in 2004. But they do the best with what they have.

November 15, 2014


This Should End Well

November 15, 2014


The Phantom Edit and Revival

When Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace arrived it was a huge disappointment. I'd heard of a reedit of the movie by Mike J. Nichols, a film editor and production manager. What I didn't know is that his edit is on YouTube.

Another thing I didn't know is that Stephen King has a new book out, Revival, I had to find out via the New York Times. And the Times gave it a good review, but I noted with a certain amount of dismay this:

You can fall down a very deep rabbit hole just pondering the list of names to whom Stephen King dedicates "Revival," his second skin-crawler published this year. ("Mr. Mercedes" arrived in June.) Some, like Bram Stoker and H. P. Lovecraft, are familiar. Others, like August Derleth, the author of more than 100 books that Mr. King must have devoured as a boy and a seminal figure in the creation of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos horror genre, are so far out of the mainstream that they can prompt long, dreamy voyages of discovery

By all means look up Robert Bloch or Derleth if you'd like to have more insight into what shaped Mr. King's young imagination. But don't do it until his new book, tenderly realistic despite its roots in horror and science fiction, has had its way with you. And steer clear of the ageless 1890 short novel that Mr. King says inspired "Revival" if you don't want to kill its chances of scaring the hell out of you.

Perhaps it's just my choice of reading material that's warping my judgement. I can understand that August Derleth is kind of a niche author. But the implication that most people have never heard of Robert Bloch surprises me. I assumed he was in the same category as, say, Dashiell Hammett. That is, a genre author who would be known by any reasonably literate reader of the Times.

And yes, I've read the ageless 1890 short novel that inspired King to write Revival. It's called The Great God Pan by Aurthur Machen. And you should read it if you like horror. Far from spoiling me, it makes me eager to read King's take on the subject.

But fitst I intend to finish Eco before I start on King. The Island of the Day Before is set in the 17th century and Eco delights in that century's weirdness. The century began with folks trying to come up with a rational framework for stuff everyone knew to be true, stuff like astrology. It says a lot about the century that Newton, when he wasn't inventing calculus or writing about gravity, was a serious alchemist. It was that kind of century, at least in Western Europe.

November 14, 2014


Religious Vader

November 13, 2014


Adblock

You can get Adblock for Chrome, Mozilla and Opera. It does what it says, it prevents ads from loading on web sites. A couple of weeks ago I gave in and turned it on.

I'm not a bloody communist, I know things have to be paid for and by and large I never minded ads. But for some reason the powers that decide these things thought it would be a swell idea to have video ads that auto played and shouted at you when you entered a site. I endured that for months, hoping that they'd stop but instead more and more sites started using them.

It was enough, I fired up Adblock and until sites figure out a strategy for dealing with that I'll see no advertisements at all. And you greedy little fuckers brought it on yourselves.

Wow, I just read that last sentence, my but I think highly of my influence on the net.

November 13, 2014


The Governor's Advisory Commission

Yeah, those guys, they released a report on Atlantic City yesterday. They recommend a government takeover of the city's finances, laying off a lot of cops and fire fighters, skipping some payments into city workers' pension fund and merging the CCC and DGE into one agency.

If I had to guess, I'd say that these recommendations will be adopted. Christie doesn't seem to have any strong opinions of his own about Atlantic City. The whole thing is just a minor speed bump on the way to his triumphant victory in the 2016 election. Perhaps Atlantic City's monetary crisis will stabilize. The new Not-For-Profit Development Company will be a non-starter and the Arcade Building will be looking for a new tenant in a year or two.

On the other hand, with the exception of the Taj Mahal, the surviving Atlantic City casinos won a lot more money in September 2014 then September 2013. Perhaps the market is will support a reduced number of casinos. And Brookfield Asset Management Inc., the new owners of Revel, are telling folks they plan to invest $200 million in the place. That's a good thing, if it really happens.

So that's that. I gather there's going to be still another meeting in a few months. Whee.

November 13, 2014


Readin'

I finished The Peripheral. I didn't like the conceit, time travel via a server located in China, but it was nice to read science fiction from Gibson again. Now I'm feeling bold and I'm going to tackle The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco. It's been on my shelves for 20 years and I've never gotten through it but I think I'm in a 17th century mood. And yes, you have heard of Eco, or at least you've probably heard of The Name of the Rose. It was a great book and was turned into a movie with Sean Connery playing William of Baskerville, a 14th century Sherlock Holmes stand in. I should probably watch the movie but I always felt Connery was miscast as a variation of Holmes. A case of my stubbornness keeping me from enjoying what may very well be a splendid adaptation of the book.

By the way, did you know Connery was the first choice to play Gandalf? He didn't like the script and so McKellen got the part. Connery doesn't strike me as a fellow who would have much truck with Tolkien anyway.

November 12, 2014


Zimiamvia

E.R. Eddison's Zimiamvia books have not been in print in years. I have a complete edition of the trilogy that's too unwieldy to read. I also have the Ballantine paperbacks but they're getting old and my next reread of them might very well be my last. I've wondered why they haven't appeared on Kindle yet.

And now they have, the trilogy plus the sort of related book The Worm Ouroborus. This is very good news, at least for me. The bad news is that The Worm Ouroborus is no longer on Project Gutenberg. But you can hear and audio version here. In fact, unless your comfortable with reading early 17th prose, maybe giving the audiobook a try is the way to go. And Amazon does have inexpensive editions if you want to read the Worm but don't fancy spending $29.99 for an ebook.

Update: So, a bit of background on the books. In The Worm Ouroborus an English gent named Lessingham is transported, via a chariot pulled by hippogriffs, to Mercury. He's there to witness the great war between Witchland and Demonland. Lessingham is quickly forgotten about and the book concentrates on the epic deeds of Lord Juss and his cousin, Brandoch Daha. In the course of their adventures they climb a mountain and far to the south they see Zimiamvia:

Juss looked southward where the blue land stretched in fold upon fold of rolling country, soft and misty, till it melted in the sky. "Thou and I," said he, "first of the children of men, now behold with living eyes the fabled land of Zimiamvia. Is that true, thinkest thou, which philosophers tell us of that fortunate land: that no mortal foot may tread it, but the blessed souls do inhabit it of the dead that be departed, even they that were great upon earth and did great deeds when they were living, that scorned not earth and the delights and the glories thereof, and yet did justly and were not dastards nor yet oppressors?"

"Who knoweth?" said Brandoch Daha, resting his chin in his hand and gazing south as in a dream. "Who shall say he knoweth?"

In Mistress of Mistresses Lessingham appears again as an old man ruling an island off the coast of Norway. The Norwegian government has had enough of that and is going to send in the troops come dawn to seize it. Lessingham plans to go down fighting but dies in his sleep. A version of him in Zimiamvia, Lord Lessingham, is vaguely aware of the conversation back in our world and then shakes it off.

But it gets stranger. It's as if Edward Lessingham of Earth became two people, Lord Lessingham the mercenary who seems to have gotten Edward Lessingham's active side, and Duke Barganax, who gets EL's aesthetic side. It's not an even split. Barganax is brave in battle and Lord Lessingham is cultured and gracious but they do seem to be two halves of the same fellow.

Then in the next two books it starts getting strange. Ultimately Zeus the creator created primal love and beauty, Aphrodite. After that omnipotence became a slave to love and all worlds are created for her. And what's the fun dammit, if you can't live in those worlds.

Eddison and Tolkien met as it turned out. They liked each other well eonough but they didn't have much use for each other's work. It's easy to see why, Aragorn would have considered Lord Lessingham a scoundrel while Lessingham would consider Aragorn more fit to be a clerk then a king. On the other hand, Doctor Vandermast, the mage, and Gandalf the Grey might have liked each other, provided they didn't talk politics.

November 9, 2014


The Apocalypse Is Coming!

I've watched a lot of shows in which the end of the world is an overriding concern. Not in a global warming sense, in a Book of Revelation sense. The heroes, sometimes contacted or helped by angelic forces, are trying to prevent Satan or some other demonic personage from taking over the world. Demons are real, angels are real and there's a serious power struggle going on. Generally, while the forces of hell are eager for the final fight, and fully expect to win, our heroes are trying to put a damper on things and want to preserve the supernatural cold war that's been going on for the last 2,000 years.

As I recall from the Book of Revelation, the end of the world is not an event that can be avoided. It's something God wants and the incredibly shitty stuff that happens along the way just hast to be endured. And the ending is preordained, God wins, Satan and the damned are locked in hell for eternity and God throws away the key. Of course, that's not an exciting narrative, there's no suspense or dramatic tension.

In the 60s James Blish published two novels, Black Easter and Day After Judgement. The Apocalypse starts, but only after God disappears. Satan wins, captures God's throne, only to discover that while God has left the building, the universe he created still requires an unmoved mover. With God gone Satan is given the job. The book finished with Satan begging humans to learn all they can so that one day he can thrust the keys of heaven into our hands.

That's the route Supernatural and Dominion took. God left and everybody else is just trying to pick up the pieces. Satan and the boys can now be a credible threat to the heavenly order because the big guy is gone.

Now Constantine is a new show, and while I like it its ratings are low. So far we have a concerned angel helping the hero to stop a hellish breakout and we have the implied existence of God. That makes things interesting. Perhaps God wants the end of the world to happen but there is a faction in the heavenly hierarchy working against him. Or God doesn't want the end of the world to happen but has declined in power, or perhaps hell has grown in power, and God can no longer be certain of imposing his will.

Or perhaps he just doesn't care anymore.

It's interesting because you do want drama and conflict but most people still believe in God and, in this country, there's a Judeo-Christian majority and they take God very seriously. He's omnipotent and, by definition, sinless. Other religions didn't have the same view of their deities. Odin had power and wisdom but he could be a shit sometimes. And Zeus once turned himself into a giant swan and raped a woman. That pretty much sums up all you need to know about that bastard.

But Yahweh doesn't do stuff like that. As such, a show featuring a Judeo-Christian background has to factor him in somehow. In my case I'm hoping Constantine survives long enough for me to figure out their take on him. I suppose my favorite version of him was in Time Bandits:

Wally: Do you mean you knew what was happening to us all the time?

Supreme Being: Well, of course. I am the Supreme Being, I'm not entirely dim...

And the second best is God in Paradise Lost. During Satan's rebellion God lets the forces of Michael and Lucifer fight for two days it out and then, after having his fun, he sends out his Son who ends the whole thing by himself. I don't know what your patience is for 17th century epic poetry but it's a damn fine poem.

November 9, 2014


Amazon Echo

You know, I'm turning into an old fart. I don't use Siri at all and I use Google Voice for maybe 10% of my searches. The speech recognition just isn't good enough for me yet. That's why I'm probably not the intended market for Amazon's Echo thingy.

It's marketed as a digital assistant. It's going to retail for $199, $99 for Prime members. And while it's supposed to sit on your coffee table and answer questions, its main purpose is going to be to make it easy for you to buy shit on Amazon. I imagine that some of Echo's innards come from unsold Fire Phones.

As I said, I'm getting old. I'll admit that my sense of privacy has eroded to the point where I don't care that my phone is keeping track of my location. Fine, dandy, I've made my peace with that. And maybe one day I'll be cool with the Dark Tower lurking about my living room. But if you're trying to get me to use a device whose primary purpose is to sell me shit then you've got a lot of gall charging me $199 for it. You want me to screw around with echo then you damn well better give it to me for nothing.

Maybe that's harsh but at least I'm not being as mean as this guy.

November 8, 2014


Peter Jackson's Hobbit

Tolkien wasn't too good at providing motivation for his characters. You don't learn the backstory behind Aragorn and Arwen until one of the appendices tacked on to The Return of the King. That's also where you find out about the meeting between Gandalf and Thorin in Bree. And it doesn't help too much. Gandalf pretty much points 13 dwarves and a hobbit at Smaug and hopes something good will come out of it. Hell, Gandalf's idea was that Bilbo will somehow steal the treasure for Thorin. He makes a start by going down, snatching a cup and sneaking out again. Smaug wakes up, notices the cup is missing and freaks. The dwarves, in turn, blame Bilbo for riling Smaug. Bilbo, for his part points out:

"What else do you suppose a burglar is to do?" said Bilbo angrily. "I was not engaged to kill dragons, that is a warrior's work, but to steal treasure. I made the best beginning I could. Did you expect me to trot back with the whole hoard of Thror On my back?"

Peter Jackson came up with a more coherent story. Bilbo is to sneak into Erebor, steal the Arkenstone and give it to Thorin. That will make him high king and he can rally the seven houses, raise an army and then go back and kill Smaug. And had Bilbo found the Arkenstone and gotten out without waking Smaug it might have worked. The dwarves would have left to rally the seven houses. Granted, Smaug would wake up eventually and probably blame Laketown but I'm sure Thorin's attitude towards that possibility could be summed up by the words, "Fuck those guys."

December 17, 2014 guys.

November 8, 2014


Leave Sauron to Me

I really, really want to see this movie.

November 7, 2014


Diane McCaughan

If you haven't already heard, I'm sorry to have to tell you that Diane McCaughan died on Wednesday, November 5. There's going to be a viewing at the Church of the Assumption on Monday, November 10 at 10:00 AM, followed by a Mass at 11:00 AM. The address is:

Church of the Assumption
146 South Pitney Road
Galloway NJ, 08205
(609) 652-0008

After Mass they'll be a buffet at Fred and Ethel's Tavern in Smithville, it's at the end closer to Route 9 and their number is 652-0544.

November 10, 2014


Arwen's Wedding

Here's a shot of Elrond beaming as he presents his daughter to Aragorn, he's every inch the proud father. But I love the smug expression on the elf to Elrond's right. "Yeah dude, I did her. I did her before you. She wasn't even that good, I've had better."

November 4, 2014


Bloody Vengeance

There's a Marvel Comics character called the Punisher. His real name is Frank Castle. His family was killed by the mob and now he kills criminals in revenge. I was never a fan but I'm bringing him up because that's pretty much the plot of Shadow of Mordor.

Before the events of The Hobbit Gondor built all the fortifications you saw in The Lord of the Rings. The original idea was to stop Sauron from ever reoccupying Mordor. But sometime between the end of The Hobbit and the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring Sauron does occupy Mordor and the humans who lived there are now slaves Your character is Talion, a ranger who saw his wife and son killed by a guy called the Black Hand of Sauron. You were killed to but you come back because the vengeful ghost of an elf needs you alive so he can have his revenge. So you and your ghost pal start a two man crusade against the orcs.

There isn't a lot of vengeance in The Lord of the Rings. You may remember that even Saruman was offered a second chance. In fact a critic I respect labeled Shadow of Mordor infantile revenge porn. The thing is, Talion is more like a character from The Silmarillion then The Lord of the Rings. But you can't make a game from The Silmarillion. As long as he's alive Christopher Tolkien will never sell the movie rights for any more of his father's material. So we have Talion stabbing and hacking his way though Mordor on his quest to find the Black Hand of Sauron.

Is it fun? Yes. But Shamus Young's criticisms hold a certain validity:

The game starts off in the most ham-fisted and tone-deaf way possible: You play as Talion, a soldier. The bad guys come and murder you and your family during the tutorial. You then come back from the dead to get your revenge. Yes, the writers took the most stale and overused story premise from 80's action schlock and tried to hide it under a coat of Tolkien paint. The result isn't just merely sophomoric, but contemptible. No effort is spent filling in the protagonist's world, establishing his character, or building any sort of narrative tension. The game has just a few lines of dialog before it jumps right into the family-murder, like a porno that's in a hurry to get past all the stupid talking scenes and get to the boning. That's what Shadow of Mordor is: Revenge porn. The game starts with a guy killing your family and ends when you kill him back. (And if you needed a spoiler tag for that, then you are new to this planet.)

So there you have it. While I'm enjoying the game I already confessed to not caring about poor Talion. But then again my gaming history is littered with main characters who just became cyphers. And Talion and I have already spent 21 hours together so there's something between us, inn't there?

November 2, 2014