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


Left for Dead

It's been a long time since Ken, Jack, Broer and I played L4D2. We're a little rusty and we may have done some minor property damage to a tank. Don't worry, we left a note on the windshield.

May 22, 2015


Neal Stephenson on Rockets

Take it away:

We developed space tech too early due to weird historical circumstances. Hitler wanted to bomb London so he put resources into rockets way ahead of they would have been built otherwise. Before the war they were just small experimental things. And then suddenly this bizarre situation came up where the only way that Hitler could bomb London was by building rockets. It wasn't even a good military strategy, but he was crazy and had dictatorship so he got what he wanted.

So rockets are like this weird thing in tech history, and their development accelerated even more with A bomb being developed at the end of that war. Rockets were a great way to throw nukes around. So between Hitler and the U.S. and Soviets during the Cold War, a staggering amount of resources got thrown at rockets, over a span of a few decades. And all the smart people who work at Google today would have been building rockets back then.

In the last couple of decades, we've swung the other direction. We've dropped everything on the front of infrastructure and smart people are doing apps or what have you. It's been two extreme swings of the pendulum. And now I think we're coming back to reasonable middle ground. where Elon Musk - who made his fortune in information technology - is applying that money to building rockets.

May 21, 2015


SiriusXM Radio

My new car came with a free trial of Sirius Radio. As it turns out I encountered Sirius years ago when my dealership gave me a loaner car. I listened to it for a bit and didn't like it. I had the car for a week but never listened to Sirius after the second day. So on the new car I never listened to it during the trial period and figured that was that.

Not so, I'm getting junk mail and once a week phone calls from those people. I've never encountered such an emotionally needed company before. Last night a Sirius executive with a boombox was outside my window at three in the morning blaring In Your Eyes. Woke me and the neighbors up. If your business model includes groveling like Gollum maybe it's time for a rethink.

May 21, 2015


Green Mars

I've started the second book in the trilogy. There's a lot going on but the main plot seems to be about a conflict between those settlers on Mars who want to make it a home and Earth, which regards Mars as a resource to be exploited for the good of Earth's rapidly growing populations. You know, like when the railroad arrives and tries to move the farmers out of the way for the greater good of all, or at least for the greater good of the guys who own the railroad.

Hard to speculate as to whether our trajectory will turn out better then the fictional Earth's timeline. In the books the 21st century seems a bit more violent then ours is turning out to be, at least so far. And for us, economic growth seems to slow population growth. In fact, Japan is looking to stimulate a bit of population growth. That's not the case in the Mars Trilogy. Of course we don't have a treatment that will reverse aging. In Green Mars it's been developed and is a tad destabilizing, as you might expect.

According to Wikipedia, Robinson is interested in if it's possible to build an ecologically sustainable society, not to mention a just one:

The environmental, economic, and social themes in Robinson's oeuvre stand in marked contrast to the libertarian science fiction prevalent in much of science fiction (Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle being prominent examples), and his work has been called the most successful attempt to reach a mass audience with a left-wing libertarian and anti-capitalist utopian vision since Ursula K. Le Guin's 1974 novel, The Dispossessed.

I don't know if I'd like to live and the type of World Robinson would like to live in. I'm not a libertarian and consider myself mildly liberal but I still bridle a little when someone on a Star Trek rerun starts spouting off about how money is no longer a motivating factor in the 24th century. But if I had to choose I'd rather live in Robinson's version of utopia then, say, Heinlein's.

Still, the books aren't too bad. Especially if you're a hard science fiction person. I'm not but I can deal with the subgenre from time to time.

May 20, 2015


Letterman

I watched his show today. Letterman had two guests, Bill Murray and Bob Dylan. Both were in fine form, Dylan singing The Night We Called It a Day. It's an old Sinatra song and Dylan made a whole record of them. When I heard about the album I thought it would suck. I'm still not rushing out to buy it but damn if the old man didn't carry it off.

Murray was the youngest guy at 64, next there was Letterman at 68 and Dylan took the prize at 73. With Letterman retiring I started thinking about my dad and how he reacted when the entertainers of his youth started getting older. Then I realized he didn't react at all. There was only one entertainer he ever gave a shit about, Tom Mix.

Mix starred in westerns during the 20s. When dad would bring him up he'd get this goofy grin on his face like he was eight years old again. So, in honor of my dad, here's Tom Mix starring in Riders of the Purple Sage a moving picture that was released in 1925.

It's not a classic but I can see how it would have impressed a little kid in the 20s.

May 20, 2015


The Hunter

It's hot, it's humid and a bug or two have found their way into my house. When I had Jack he's react to insects with a quiet curiosity, he'd just sit and watch them. But Newton is just a year old and whenever he sees one of the things he turns into the Lion King hunting wildebeest. Well, he's still clumsy so it's more like some hideous combination of lion and rhino. But it excites him and makes him happy so I make it a point to encourage him. You know, the sort of thing the gym teacher would say to the clumsy kid, "good hustle, Newton."

May 20, 2015


Lonely Guy

I seem to be the only RPG player on the goddamn planet who has no intention of buying Witcher 3. And what the hell, as long as I'm at it I've watched two episodes of Mad Men and thought it was incredibly boring.

And, just to complete my damnation, I never enjoyed the Mad Max movies. Never even saw the third one and the only way I'll see the new one is if it shows up on Netflix instant play. I'm just a contrary bastard.

I am enjoying Red Mars though. It reminds me of some of the tech obsessed science fiction I read as a kid. Vague memories of Analog coming back.

May 19, 2015


Black Wedding

Today I read a lot of stuff criticizing HBO for last night's episode of Game of Thrones. When I read about the rape of Sansa Stark by some guy named Ramsay Bolton I had to do a bit of research. I've read the books and a lot of things happened that I've forgotten but I'm sure I would have remembered something like that. Sure enough, Sansa does not get raped by Ramsey in the books. Which is cool because she's been through enough shit.

George R. R. Martin has been getting a lot of email about the scene. Here's his response:

How many children did Scarlett O'Hara have? Three, in the novel. One, in the movie. None, in real life: she was a fictional character, she never existed. The show is the show, the books are the books; two different tellings of the same story.

There have been differences between the novels and the television show since the first episode of season one. And for just as long, I have been talking about the butterfly effect. Small changes lead to larger changes lead to huge changes. HBO is more than forty hours into the impossible and demanding task of adapting my lengthy (extremely) and complex (exceedingly) novels, with their layers of plots and subplots, their twists and contradictions and unreliable narrators, viewpoint shifts and ambiguities, and a cast of characters in the hundreds.

There has seldom been any TV series as faithful to its source material, by and large (if you doubt that, talk to the Harry Dresden fans, or readers of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, or the fans of the original WALKING DEAD comic books)... but the longer the show goes on, the bigger the butterflies become. And now we have reached the point where the beat of butterfly wings is stirring up storms, like the one presently engulfing my email.

Now, George is 66 years old and he's getting more money then he ever expected and all he has to do is shut up and go with the program. If next Sunday's episode features a ten minute scene of the Stark family wolves gang raping Sam Tarly, old George is going to roll his eyes, cash this week's check and issue another nice statement. And really, can you blame him?

Speaking for myself, I'm looking forward to the next book, whenever it comes out, but I've no particular desire to watch the show. The producers threw in a rape but decided to omit undead Catelyn Stark. For those of you who've never read the books, undead Catelyn Stark is a real thing and I question the decision of leaving her out to shit on Sansa Stark a bit more.

But what the hell, if I were a betting man I'd bet a few hundred that Martin will never finish the books anyway.

May 18, 2015


Space Shuttles

When the space shuttle program ended in 2011 I was upset. America lost the capacity to put humans into space and all. But I remember reading that towards the end, NASA engineers would go to computer swap meets and try to pick up old circuit boards. The technology in the shuttles was so old that they had to scrounge for replacement parts.

Currently America has regained the ability to send cargo to the ISS via Dragon from SpaceX and Cygnus made by Orbital Sciences. And Dragon is the only unmanned craft that can haul shit back from the ISS. SpaceX is planning to send up a crewed capsule in 2017.

And I'm thinking about all this because of Red Mars. It was published in 1992 and set in 2026. Near future science fiction is a bitch and it started me musing about our current level of technology. Space travel wise we're way behind Kim Stanley Robinson's timeline. On the other hand he figured video tapes would still be around in 2026. And of course there's no commercial internet in his future. But then science fiction isn't about prediction, that's how fans used to justify the genre when I was young, it's about playing with ideas.

Meanwhile the New Horizons probe reaches Pluto on July 14. After that NASA is sending it into the Kuiper belt. Although Pluto is in the Kuiper belt so I guess it's just going to poke around some more. Pretty cool that we can do stuff like that.

May 18, 2015


Red Mars

Red Mars is part of Kim Stanley Robinson's Martian Trilogy. It's all about the terraforming and colonization of Mars. It's considered an important work of science fiction, think Dune level of importance, and I never read it. The damn thing is 22 years old!

I did read his book 2312 set in the same universe and liked it and today when I discovered Red Mars was on sale for $6 I jumped on it. We'll see how well it holds up.

May 17, 2015


Night

Sometime in the 80s or early 90s, the Ultima series instituted a day/night cycle. I forget which game but, probably Ultima 6. Origin Systems pushed it as a major innovation. NPCs now had their own schedules and would move from place to place. Merchants would close their shops in the evening and go home. It doesn't sound like much but keep in mind I was playing it on a computer with 64 KB.

Dragon Age: Inquisition doesn't have a day/night cycle, lot's of games don't. And I never really noticed it until I got to the Hissing Wastes and saw the Moon. Well a moon anyway. Then it hit me, the last RPG I played that did have a day/night cycle was Skyrim and that came out in 2011. Since then I've played Diablo 3, Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, Shadowrun Returns, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, The Bard's Tale and Mass Effect 3. None of them bothered with day and night.

I suppose it's because real time is inconvenient. There were lots of times I'd go to a town in Skyrim because I needed a particular item and have to wait until a local merchant got his ass out of bed and opened his shop. Realistic but not a lot of fun.

Still, isn't that a pretty moon?

May 17, 2015


Dragon Age Romances

In Dragon Age 2 you had several options for romance. I kind of wanted to hook up with Isabela, a Hans Solo type. Instead a male elf named Fenris started vamping me. So why not? It's a role playing game so Fenris and alChandler Hawke had sex. Long term it didn't work out, I had to kill him by the end of the game. Not, I hasten to add, because we had sex. There were other reasons.

So in Dragon Age: Inquisitionwhen Dorian the Mage started dropping hints he wanted to fuck me, I never let it get beyond a kiss or two. Instead I tried for Vivienne. She didn't want me but Cassandra, the woman I'm trying to talk into becoming the Chantry's next Divine, decided she was interested in me and I ran with it. Of course this may mean that she'll never be Divine and a lesser candidate will run the Chantry but I'm not responsible for everything. I've killed six goddamn dragons that's got to count for something.

May 17, 2015


Norm Macdonald Performs Stand-Up on David Letterman

Most comedy doesn't do much for me but this routine actually made me laugh. Norm Macdonald's last time on Letterman.

May 16, 2015


Strategy

So today I fought the dragon Vinsomer. I found a spot where I was protected from her electric breath. Granted, only one shot in six actually connected, doing minimal damage but what, really, is the downside?



(forty minutes later)

Oh. Yeah, I guess forty minutes of me holding down the left mouse button is kind of a downside.

Update - True Confessions: Last night I killed Vinsomer and it went quicker. But you see I had been drinking and I had a conversation with Vivienne before I tackled the dragon. In the game the main religious body is called the Chantry and it's currently without a leader. I've spent most of the game trying to get Cassandra Pentaghast, former member of the Seekers of Truth, to take the job. She takes her religion seriously and would be an excellent choice for Chantry leader. In fact, Vivienne suggested Cassandra and was prepared to back her. But my character wanted to get into Vivienne's pants and to suck up I promised to back her as head of the Chantry. Vivienne was delighted, then we killed Vinsomer and I called it a night.

This morning I realized that Vivienne would make a lousy leader. So I did the right thing, loaded a saved game and took her suggestion that we back Cassandra. Because I'm leader of the Inquisition and have a responsibility to my people. Or something.

May 16, 2015


Music

Did you read about the study that found that most men stop listening to new music in their mid 30s? That's certainly true for me. My phone has lots of Who, Stones, Yes and Zappa but I couldn't even name a group that formed in this decade.

I used to listen to WMMR. When I moved to this area I couldn't get their signal but Comcast carried it on their cable feed, along with other Philadelphia stations. In the early 90s they stopped doing that in favor of their own music service. That's when I stopped listening to the radio, at least at home.

By the time stations like WMMR started streaming their stuff I wasn't buying a lot of music and what I did buy gravitated towards stuff that was familiar to me. Just for the record, here's the last 15 songs I bought from iTunes:

No new artists there at all. I mean Christ, Like a Rolling Stone?

But my taste is my taste. These days when I do listen to radio it's either WLFR or WRTI. And once I purchased a ten minute mp3 of Tibetan monks chanting for peace because it was playing on WFMU when I went to their stream.

I've no idea if young men and women bother to buy music or just listen to stuff like Spotify. Music has changed a lot since Celeborn was young.

May 15, 2015


Witcher 3

I played The Witcher when it first came out. I liked it, I didn't love it but I liked it. When The Witcher 2 came out I bought it and never got out of the tutorial section. CD Projekt RED, the studio, felt they had pandered too much to American tastes and for the second game they weren't going to dumb things down for our tastes.

A couple of years later I put it back on my system and discovered that CD Projekt RED had broken down and made the game considerably easier. I had a good time playing it right up until the time I encountered the first boss, the Kayran. You're launched into a QTE (Quicktime event) that involved hitting keys in precisely the right order. I died, a lot and gave up. Now The Witcher 3 is about to be released and I've been uninterested in the game, even though the studio has gone out of its way to tell gamers that they'll be no QTEs in the game. In fact I wouldn't be writing about it except for two things.

Several days ago Ken posted this on his Facebook feed:

I can't wait until Hollywood gets its head out of its ass and starts making full length movies like this. Enough with the old tired ass reboots and fucking remakes of the same lame ass bullshit. Why not try some new, something fresh, something different for crying out loud. No wonder I don't go to the movies anymore, but I would love to see this. Enjoy.

Yep, it's a good trailer. Doesn't make me want to buy the game though. I can be a bitter bastard and I'm unwilling to give the creators of The Witcher any more of my money. And that would have been that except for this week's Gamers with Jobs podcast. The topic was cynicism and how it sometimes cheats us out of playing very good games.

I'm certainly guilty of that. But I'm still playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and I may pick up Elite: Dangerous or Pillars of Eternity or Wolfenstein: The Old Blood or...you get the idea. There's a lot of good shit out there created by studios that haven't disappointed me.

But if The Witcher 3 turns out to be good, maybe I'll pick it up on a Steam sale. GWJ is right on one thing, I shouldn't let bitterness cheat me out of a good time.

May 15, 2015


Technical Support

May 13, 2015


Sunsets

May 13, 2015


A Quick Gaming Update

You know, in 2014 I finished 12 games. In 2013 I finished 15. It's May of 2015 and I've only been playing one game, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Oh, I still boot Diablo 3 from time to time and I play WoW with Moon but for serious solo play Dragon Age: Inquisition is it, 111 hours and counting.

It's not as if there aren't other games that I'm interested in, there are. But dammit, I'm still having fun in Thedas. It's taken me a while to realize that I'm not in some kind of competition, I game to enjoy myself. Those other games aren't going anywhere.

That being said, I may pick up Elite: Dangerous. I normally play one game at a time but Elite is a remake of the original Elite, a game I played in the mid 80s on my C64. It's been a long time since I got into a cockpit and Elite: Dangerous is more of an explore the galaxy game then a plot driven game. And even alChandler needs an occasional break from messing about in ancient fortresses.

One last thing, I questioned how a super star destroyer could survive reentry into a planet's atmosphere so intact.

Rolf, who knows a lot more about the Star Wars universe then I do, tells me that star destroyers are capable of entering an atmosphere, so it was probably shot down fairly close to the surface. If I'm going to play a space sim I have to bone up on stuff like that.

May 13, 2015


Lucifer

This is loosely based on the comic book by Mike Carey. I'm going to give it a try but I'm not sure I like Lucifer's characterization here. He sort of comes off as a snarky trust fund kid. We'll see.

May 11, 2015


And Now a Few Words from President Putin

May 6, 2015


Gears of the City

Gears of the City, like its predecessor, Thunderer. is set in Ararat. Ararat the city, not Ararat the mountain, although the one geographic feature in the city that remains consistent is a mountain.

The city is bounded, yet within those boundaries is infinite, an interesting concept. If the city can be said to have a literary ancestor, it's China Miéville's city, New Crobuzon that was featured in Perdido Street Station and two other novels.

Of course, Ararat's ultimate ancestor is the castle Gormenghast. Mervyn Peake's influence is alive and well in 2015.

May 6, 2015


Nostalgia

I just backed up my stuff from OLM's servers to my hard drive and found this picture. Those were the days, eh?

May 4, 2015


Cops

Those of you who worked in the casino industry before 2011 probably had encounters with the inspectors. Hell, if you worked in the count rooms it was a daily occurrence. And you may have noticed that a lot of inspectors came off like they were channeling the spirit of Elliot Ness.

When I was hired in 1981 I was told the inspection staff was a quasi-police agency. The first chief inspector was ex-FBI and our management was top heavy with ex-cops. It was a pretty sweet gig for them, most of them had their pensions and some were collecting Social Security. The Commission job was gravy and would lead to a second pension. And while some of the ex-cops were cool, others were assholes. And you had the people who wanted to be cops and did everything but carry around a swagger stick. Good times.

Sometimes the ex-cops would tell stories. And the thing I took out of those stories was not that cops sometimes broke the law. It was that they felt entitled to break the law. So when you look at the six cops in Baltimore, remember this, they weren't sneaking around behind the captain's back administering clandestine beatings, they felt were entitled to do what they did to Gray. And even the cops who would never harm a prisoner would just stand aside. Administering street justice was a life style choice, like smoking.

Damned if I know what the answer is. But I do know that without the explosion of anger in Baltimore, those six cops wouldn't have been charged with anything.

By the way, did you know there were inspectors who felt we should be armed? It's true. At our peak in the 90s there were inspectors who felt we should carry guns on the floor. Now, those of you in the industry, think of the asshole who always came off like a complete tool. Now picture him or her with a gun.

Know what I miss about my job? Not a fucking thing.

May 3, 2015


But alChandler never Feels Good

Not for weeks and weeks anyway. So here's a hidden glimpse into the world of insomniacs. Once my doctor realized I was starting to be awake for 48 hour stretches, he prescribed Zolpidem, that's generic for Ambien. It worked wonders for me, the problem was that the FDA will only allow you a 60 day supply every tree months. So I'd sleep for two months and have insomnia for the third.

So the doctor prescribed Trazodone for the off month. Trazodone is an antidepressant that has drowsiness as a side effect, in America it's starting to be used as a sleeping aid. Europe has used it for insomnia for some time. I don't really like it. Trazodone doesn't work as well and has side effects. And I've been on it for the last six months due to a paperwork dispute between my doctor and the insurance company. I was really starting to feel sluggish and, paradoxically, depressed. Yes, the drug designed to fight depression can also cause it.

But, the paperwork is resolved, I'm able to put aside the Trazodone for the next two months and I feel good for the first time in a couple of months. With that in mind:

No, I didn't solve the thing, I just got one side, but it's only the second time in my life that I've done that. And today I went to Level Up for Free Comic Book Day. I don't do well in crowds so I didn't stay long but I did purchase a print from a Joe Delbeato:

He's done work for Marvel and DC and currently has a shop at the Noyes Arts Garage in Atlantic City. At least I have a souvenir. And I got to say hello in passing to Justin, Greg and Sean (or perhaps Shawn).

It will be several days before I return to what passes for normal around here but today was the first good day I've had in awhile.

May 2, 2015


Necromancy

So, I'm still reading the book of stories inspired by Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique. In the original stories, necromancy figured pretty heavily. A necromancer was a wizard who specialized in raising the dead, sometimes as a spirit. The necromancer would question the spirit about some point of knowledge and then release it. Other times the wizard would raise the dead bodily. There were no microwaves or washing machines in Zothique so somebody had to do the work. Fortunately for the dead, their senses and emotions were generally blunted, so they were unable to truly perceive the misery of their situation.

Which is why it surprises me that Tolkien brought a bad guy into The Hobbit called the Necromancer. I'm not sure that Tolkien knew the Necromancer would turn out to be Sauron when he brought him in. Probably, there's a line where Throrin tells Gandalf that after they deal with Smaug, they must take some thought about the Necromancer. Gandalf tells Thorin that if all the dwarven armies in the world were gathered together the Necromancer would still kick their asses. So, even though Tolkien had no thought to The Lord of the Rings he had the rough outline of his world already sketched out.

But necromancy is still a bit startling in a kid's book. Or perhaps I'm judging by today's standards where every time a book has a marginally heterodox thought, some parent with a stick up their ass tries to get it banned. At any rate, in 1937 the Necromancer's real job was to give an excuse for Gandalf to leave the party. Bilbo couldn't come into his own as long as there was a wizard on call to save everybody. So Gandalf went off to do White Council stuff.

Necromancy actually shows up in The Two Towers and in The Return of the King. Remember these guys?

They were statues with spirits bonded to them. They acted as a gate keepers and burglar alarms. It must have sucked to be imprisoned in a statue in Mordor. On the other hand given the economy of the time a steady job was welcomed. But that aside, that's the kind of thing necromancers do, they force the dead to serve them.

Tolkien really didn't go into too much detail about Minas Morgul and the areas around it. I suspect he knew his limitations as a writer, He really couldn't write horror and Minas Morgul was a horrible place. But every now and then, with the Watchers or with the flowers in Morgul Vale, he manages to give the reader a taste of what Sauron's really like.

As for me, I'm still reading about Zothique. I'll finish it in a couple of days. Then on to something a tad less bleak.

By the way, Tolkien originally had quite a different design for the two watchers:

May 2, 2015


Why Yes, I Do Like Dinosaur Erotica

May 1, 2015


Treasure

Today in Dragon Age: Inquisition I used a treasure map to find the location of a hidden cache. And what incredible thing did I get? Petrified bark:

I guess treasure is a subjective thing.

April 29, 2015


Behind the Scenes

It's necessary to use a FTP program to transfer files to this site. After an update to my antivirus program, the Mozilla extension I was using as an FTP client became increasingly erratic. I called my host, OLM to find out if they were having any problems on their end. They weren't and the tech guy threw out a number of suggestions, including trying a stand alone FTP program called FileZilla. I did and it worked, so that problem is solved.

Browser usage statistics are somewhat unreliable but it does seem that Firefox has dropped to third place, behind Chrome and Internet Explorer. I feel a twinge of sadness over that. The Mozilla project started out with a lot of fanfare way back when but the whole thing seems to have gone off the rails. It reminds me of a comic book store I used to frequent, The Fantasy Factory. It was a great little store but they expanded, started selling video tapes and put in a yogurt bar. They went out of business.

Which may be a little unfair. Mozilla isn't responsible for some guy's extension breaking. But I stopped using Firefox last year because as a browser it was becoming annoyingly slow. And instead of stripping it down to basics and delivering a fast browser, they're adding stuff like Hello, their new chat client.

Yogurt bar.

April 29, 2015


Getting the Hang of Dragon Slaying

That's Gamordan Stormrider about to go down. He's level 15, I'm level 19 and my companions are 18. From that you can figure out that I like outgunning the opposition. And from the screen shot you can tell that I feel no need to get in there and get my hands dirty. Lobbing magical bolts from cover works fine for me. Let Cassandra, Iron Bull and Vivienne get in his face if that's what they want.

Actually I'm surprised at Vivienne, she's a fellow mage and should know better.

This is the third dragon I've killed so far, in case you're keeping score.

April 29, 2015