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


Ad Blockers

You know, I really wish that CNN would start punishing me for using an ad blocker by disabling their autoplaying videos.

February 28, 2017


Score

Well then, it looks like somebody stealthed his way to the place where the guards keep their weapons. That same asshole shut down some of cameras and alarms in Cellblock B. Looks like I'm recovering some of my old skills.

February 27, 2017


alChandler Speaks

That video was recorded two years ago, almost to the very day. I've done some videos since then but I never spoke in them. For some reason vocals on videos were bound up with Skype and co-op play.

But in fact, they're not and Juliet Lamond's film of Caty cooking reminded me after two years that I have a microphone and I can talk.

I apologize for the muffled quality at the beginning, it really has been about two years since I used the microphone and I'm out of practice. Also I really didn't have anything to say, this was more proof of concept then anything else. But yeah, I can comment on stuff in my games now. Cool.

By the way, the Left 4 Dead video is still my favorite.

February 26, 2017


Caty Cooks Stuffed Shells

Another student made a short film of Donna's daughter Caty making stuffed shells. For the record, I've had them myself and they're very good. If we had a proper technological infrastructure in this country Caty would be able to make some and send them to me via a drone. Fortunately, the internet allows me to experience them vicariously.

February 26, 2017


alChandler Sneaks

Caty's cooking video reminded me that I haven't posted a gaming snippet in some time. So I did Adam Jensen's stressful sneak from Cellblock A to Cellblock B a second time and recorded it. By the way, I'm still using Fraps and I discovered it doesn't work in Direct X 12. Deus Ex added DX 12 support in a patch and I had to set it back to DX 11 to get Fraps to record.

And since I'm talking Fraps, it's an old program. It records everything in AVI format and a one minute movie takes up almost 4 GB. Now I have about 120 GB it these gaming movies that I don't want to lose and only two choices, either buy an external drive just for them, something that's not going to happen, or use Movie Maker to shrink them down to MP4 format. That's probably what I'm going to do, change the format and get rid of the AVIs but after spending several boring hours transferring my older iTunes songs to my phone I'm not looking forward to the prospect of going through the same thing with my movie folder.

February 26, 2017


alChandler Is Out of Shape

Man am I out of shape when it comes to playing Adam Jensen and it's not helping that I don't have access to my augmentations. In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided I'm a human who has all sorts of implants that make me superpowered. But the Criminal Past DLC I'm playing now takes place before the main game and I'm undercover in a prison designed to hold augmented humans. A chip that the guards installed prevents me from using my abilities, so all I have left is my stealthiness.

Here's the thing about that, every game has a certain feel to it, for lack of a better term, that you have to learn. I haven't played Deus Ex since September so I'm out of practice. But the DLC assumes you're familiar with the in and outs of the game. And I am, I'm just out of practice.

So, I'm a prisoner in cellblock A and I have to get to cellblock B. I have a keycard another prisoner gave me but I'll still be killed if the guards see me. I used the keycard to exit cellblock A but I had a lot of problems avoiding the guards and cameras on the way to cellblock B. It took me far longer then it should have. Like I said, I'm out of practice with Deus Ex's version of stealth.

Still, I made it, after all I am alChandler.

February 25, 2017


Mass Effect Andromeda

Mass Effect 3 ended for me with the devastation of Earth, the destruction of the Reapers (the bad guys), the destruction of the mass relays (so no FTL travel), the destruction of all synthetic life and my character's death. There are two other endings, one of which was only available if you played the multiplayer game. The publisher, EA, decided that all games had to have a multiplayer component and wanted players to experience that content whether they wanted to or not.

At any rate, the mass relays are gone, Sheppard is dead and things are pretty sucky in the Mass Effect universe. Fortunately Mass Effect Andromeda is set between the second and third game. And since you're on a mission to the Andromeda galaxy you don't have to worry about the shit show back in the Milky Way.

Like a lot of people I hated the way Bioware did the endings and it sort of colored the whole series for me. I'm buying Mass Effect Andromeda next month (of course) and Bioware, now an EA studio, proved with Dragon Age Inquisition that they still have the old magic so I'm hoping that the whole Mass Effect 3 thing was just a lapse. I'll know in a month. Well, maybe longer then a month, it depends on how long Torment: Tides of Numenera takes.

February 25, 2017


A Bit of Sad Gaming News

The buzz is that the bit of DLC for Deus Ex that I'm downloading will be the last content for Deus Ex ever. Square Enix and Eidos Montreal always meant Deus Ex: Mankind Divided to be part one of a two part game. But the game under performed, Eidos Montreal is now making games for Marvel and Square Enix is moving on. Some franchises lie The Witcher and Bioshock get closure, others like Half Life and Deus Ex don't.

Sigh. At least Geralt of Riva is happy. Ciri lived and became a Witcher herself, Geralt retired to a vineyard and his long time lover Yennefer moved in with him. Yes, Gordon Freeman and Adam Jensen are left hanging but them's the breaks.

February 24, 2017


Because I'm a Weak Man

Torment: Tides of Numenera arrives next Tuesday and assuming it's not buggy, my gaming needs will be met. But today another bit of DLC came out for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. So I plonk down $11.99 and start reinstalling the game. I'm weak but happy.

February 24, 2017


Legends of Tomorrow

That's Christopher Tolkien. He's 92 and has worked to bring the full depth of his father's work to the public. He takes J.R.R. Tolkien's work very seriously and he absolutely despises Peter Jackson's movies, saying, "They gutted the book, making an action film for 15 to 25-year-olds."

That's Legends of Tomorrow. It's a superhero show set in the DC television universe and even by the standards of that universe it's pretty stupid. I like it but really, I have to admit that you have to check your brain at the door. Oh, it's a time travel show to boot, they can meet anyone.

That's the cast sheet for the season finale. They meet J.R.R. Tolkien. Christopher Tolkien is 92 years old and I hope for his sake he never finds out about this.

February 23, 2017


The Discovery Goes to Jupiter

In 2001: A Space Odyssey scientists discover and alien artifact on the Moon, it was buried 3 million years ago and it sends a strong signal to Jupiter. So the United States sends a manned mission to Jupiter to investigate.

It's 2017 and we can't send humans to Jupiter. But I realized a few days ago that even if we could we wouldn't send astronauts to Jupiter to investigate a possible alien contact, we'd send a probe of some kind. Our machines are a lot dumber then HAL but they're pretty versatile.

I can imagine the monolith in the hotel room looking at the Juno probe going, "huh."

February 22, 2017


For Love of a Box

I had planned to get rid of this box last week but Newton has fallen in love with it. Newton can be annoying at times but when it comes to material things he doesn't ask much. And so the box stays for a bit.

February 21, 2017


Prey

This May Bethesda will publish Prey a game by Arcane Studios, the same studio that did Dishonored 2. Today I did something I regret, I looked at an article on PC Gamer that described the first hour of play. As it turned out there's a plot twist in that first hour of play that I really didn't want to know about.

Every now and then I'd see someone on the internet mention that they were on a self imposed embargo of news about this upcoming game or that upcoming movie and I'd think, "how overly dramatic." I now know where they were coming from and so, in my overly dramatic voice, "I will no long read any stories about Prey until it's released. But at least I have a few adventures lined up until then.

February 20, 2017


The Diamond Age

This may, or may not, dovetail with the book I'm reading Darwin's Dangerous Idea. I've read The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. It's set about 150 years in the future and while a lot has changed, socially and technologically, one thing that hasn't advanced very far is artificial intelligence. If you want a genuinely interactive teaching environment for example you need human actors to interact with students. AIs just can't perform at that level.

And Neal Stephenson believes this, there is a threshold that computers just can't cross. A computer may be able to do my taxes but it will never be self aware. To Stephenson, HAL isn't science fiction, it's fantasy.

First things first, if someone objects to HAL on religious grounds, humans have souls HAL is, at best, a clever mimic, well fine then. Then HAL's part in 2001: A Space Odyssey won't make very much sense but perhaps you can look at the movie as a fantasy. But if you're an atheist, agnostic or just a person who believes that God has no objections to his creatures learning stuff and trying to emulate him, then you have a problem if you argue that humans will never make a self aware machine without providing some scientific reason.

Currently we don't have HAL. The human brain is enormously complicated and on top of that we don't understand how much of the brain's structure is necessary for our own self awareness. There are also technological limitations. The human brain has 100 billion neurons and that's beyond are ability to replicate in software or hardware at the moment. Finally there's an economic thing going on here. For a lot of things computers do, self awareness doesn't add anything to the mix. HAL might be fun to talk to but I don't need a HAL 9000 to do my taxes.

And they are getting smarter. Last year a program called AlphaGo beat the world champion in Go 5-0. This year a program called Libratus beat four human players in a Texas Hold’em tournament. While we don't need computer poker players or go masters, the skills that allow programs to win at those games can be adopted to other areas. Watson, the Jeopardy champion, is helping doctors diagnose patients and it also is helping to forecast the weather.

And to tie all this in to Daniel Dennett and his book, if you believe that we don't have the capability to make a self aware computer at the moment because our technology isn't sufficiently, I suspect Dennett would be cool with that. After all, we really don't have the technology at the moment to get a human to Mars safely and then bring him or her back to Earth. C. S. Lewis aside there's no inherent reason why we can't do it, we just have to get better at stuff, it's the same with computers. But I get the impression that Dennett would have an issue with Neal Stephenson. It remains to be seen if there are scientists who believe there is a fundamental difference separating humans from every other animal on the planet. I do know that, so far, Dennett has written that there are people who don't want to follow Darwin's ideas to their logical conclusions and that why he wrote his book.

February 16, 2017


Darwin's Dangerous Idea

I think I read on Metafilter about the disagreement between Daniel C. Dennett and Stephen Jay Gould about evolution. I found an exchange between the two men in the New York Review of Books and couldn't follow it, probably because I never read Dennett's criticism of Gould in his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea. And so let the matter rest until I got email form Amazon suggesting that I'd really like Dennett's book Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

At that point I bowed to the wisdom of Amazon's AI and bought the damn thing.

February 16, 2017


Welcome to City 17

This was posted on Reddit as a shot of the train station in City 17 in Half Life 2 recreated in the Unreal 4 engine. Some folks are claiming that the picture was actually made with the Unreal 3 engine. I've now way to judge myself however it certainly looks a tad better then the original.

Half Life 2 was 13 years ago and Half-Life 2: Episode Two was released 10 years ago. At this point releasing Half Life 3 would be the gaming equivalent of a Beatles reunion and I suspect that Valve doesn't need that kind of pressure, not when Steam is doing so well. Valve's not a gaming studio anymore, they're a distribution company.

And while I'm sure somebody will attempt to recreate Half Life 2 in the Unreal 4 engine, I'm not sure I'd want to play it. Torment: Tides of Numenera arrives in two weeks, Mass Effect: Andromeda will be here on 3/21 and Prey arrives on 5/5. After a slow couple of months, alChandler's busy season is about to begin.

By the way, I haven't mentioned Prey very much, it sort of flew under my radar. But Bethesda Softworks is publishing it and Arcane Studio, of Dishonored fame is one of the developers and that's all I need to know about that.

February 14, 2017


Kevin's iTunes Adventure

When I bought my new phone last year the nice man at the Verizon Store imported most of my iTunes library into the new phone. But most is not all, many of my older songs were copy protected and I didn't want the hassle of trying to move them myself. But this month I vowed that I would wrestle the beast.

I tried the easiest way first, delete the song from iTunes and download the current version (Apple no longer copy protects your purchases). That didn't work so I sulked for a week and then tried the alternate method, burning six songs that didn't make the jump as an audio CD, rip them with Windows Media Player and manually copying them to my phone. That worked but for some reason Google Play couldn't find the songs. I did some research and discovered that for Google Play to actually see an mp3, the mp3 has to have certain information filled out in what's called an ID3 tag. So I tried all sorts of software to allow me to edit ID3 tags and they all failed. Then I discovered that Winamp had a tag editing feature. So I edited one of the mp3s on my computer, pasted it into my phone and like magic I now had Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl on my phone. So I moved the other five songs over in one go and they all showed up as Track 2, Track 3, etc.

To cut to the chase, I had to delete those songs and move them over one by one. Now I have six new songs with the correct titles on my phone.

And all of this took hours and looking back now I realize something. It's not that I'm a senile bastard, it's that I don't try a lot of new things with my computer, at least not the way I used to. I forgot that things I do easily now, like editing this very page, came with hours, days and sometimes weeks of trial and error before I got it right. And the upshot is that now, when I notice I'm missing a song from iTunes it will be a simple matter to import it.

And at this point I'm tempted to go into an rant against Apple but that would be unfair. I bought an iPod back in the day, tied myself to iTunes and when I bought an iPhone it was because it was the easy thing to do. Like they say in war movies, "He knew the risks."

February 11, 2017


The New Printer

Today I picked up my new printer. Before I could set it up Homeland Security had to inspect it.

The hardest thing was getting the wifi to work, it took well over an hour. I'm not sure but I think this model has two different settings, one for wifi and one for WLAN, which stands for wireless local area network. According to Google, the two terms can be used interchangeably and I really have to run it by Rolf but I was trying to use WLAN during the setup and eventually I scrolled a bit further and found a separate item to set up wifi. The important thing is that it's working, I can print and the thing has a cool Darth Vader look.

I only print a few times a year, if that, and unlike an inkjet printer this printer's toner won't dry out. Barring accidents, this printer will last me for a bit.

February 11, 2017


Torment: Tides of Numenera

They're calling Torment: Tides of Numenera a spiritual successor to Planescape Torment. That game became a classic although it didn't sell very well when it was released in 1999. That's why they needed a Kickstarter to get T:ToN going.

T:ToN arrives on 2/28 and while I always intended to get it, the latest trailer has actually hooked me. And some of the people who worked on Planescape Torment worked on Torment: Tides of Numenera. At any rate it will be the first big game of alChandler's 2017 season.

February 10, 2017


Gaming in 2017

With a shock I just realized that I haven't completed a game since Dishonored 2, that was in the fall. I did play the System Shock Pre-Alpha Demo but that hardly counts. I've dicked around with stuff between now and then but alChandler hasn't been very active.

Today I spent $3 for the alpha of a game called, appropriately enough, Sword with Sauce Alpha. You get three levels of what I assume will be a longer and more polished production. I just spent two hours on a level called Mansion. The idea is simple, there's guys with rifles, machine guns and swords patrolling the area, 33 of them. Kill them all and you get this screen:

You don't get a parade for $3.

It looks a lot like Superhot at first but aside from its stripped down nature the two games are different. Superhot added a very different mechanism to the FPS genre. Sword with Sauce is simply a minimalist shooter. The AI isn't sophisticated but the game makes up for that with numbers. So that's the first new game of 2017 and it will have to hold me until the end of the month when Torment: Tides of Numenera arrives.

Update: I just remembered, I did finish The Darkening of Tristram content for Diablo 3 last month. If you have Diablo 3 I hope you put it back on your system long enough to play the recreation of the first game. It bought a teat to my eye it did.

February 10, 2017


Tolkien and the Kalevala

The first time I read the Kalevala it was Keith Bosley's translation. I didn't much like it but I suspect it was more me then Bosley. The second time I read it, it was in the version by John Martin Crawford. It was published in 1888 and was the first full English translation of the poem. I liked it better then Bosley's but I still found it a bit hard to follow. I'm now on my third go round and I'm reading the second full English translation. It was done in 1907 by William Forsell Kirby (there was a prose translation in 1893 by R. Eivind but that needn't concern us) and, according to Goodreads, was the version young J. R. R. Tolkien read. He liked it so much that he learned Finnish to read the poem in its original tongue. I don't know about young Johnny Tolkien, but I'm finding it the most comprehensible version so far.

During WWI Tolkien kept himself sane by working on a private mythology for England. He always felt bad that England didn't have a well documented mythological history like Greece and the Scandinavian countries. He borrowed themes from Norse mythology and the Kalevala, cobbled them together and if you want to read what that was like you can read The Book of Lost Tales. Eventually this stuff became The Silmarillion.

The mythology that became The Silmarillion was written first but it wasn't published in Tolkien's lifetime. The Hobbit was a stand alone tale but Tolkien borrowed Elrond and Gondolin from his earlier writings. Then came The Lord of the Rings and after Tolkien's death his son, Christopher Tolkien worked The Silmarillion into a comprehensible whole that didn't contradict Tolkien's earlier published work.

And The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion both have DNA from the Kalevala. In the Kalevala, magic is sung. The first time we see that is when young Joukahainen attempts to bushwhack old Väinämöinen. Väinämöinen sings Joukahainen into the ground until the young man promises to give his sister, Aino, to Väinämöinen in marriage. That, by the way didn't go as planned, Aino drowns herself rather then marry the old shaman and becomes a water nymph.

A similar duel of magic occurs in The Silmarillion. Finrod Felagund the Elf and Beren are attempting to sneak north and rob Morgoth of a Silmaril. Since and Elf and a human would be noticed, Finrod uses magic to disguise them both as Orcs. But Sauron notices them, figures out that they're not orcs Sauron and Finrod sing at each other. Sauron's songs are stronger and he strips their disguises off. Because Sauron was a bad ass.

The Kalevala is rough going but as I said, Kirby's translation is the most accessible, at least for me. And having finished Gaiman's Norse Mythology I'm ready for something a bit older and wilder. And with snow on the ground there's no better time to tackle a Finnish epic.

February 9, 2017


Râsh Evil Eye

It's late and I played a bit of Shadows of Mordor. Last week after I installed it one of the first orcs I ran into was an orc captain called Râsh Evil Eye. I nearly killed him but he ran off to a large group and I couldn't take them all down. Today I encountered him again as I was freeing some slaves. This time I had him boxed in and he couldn't flee. Killing him was actually pretty satisfying, probably more then it should have been for someone like alChandler.

February 9, 2017


Snow Day

Back in the day I used to be an essential employee of the state of New Jersey. I had to come to work when the rest of the state, the rest of the Casino Control Commission even, got to stay home.

A little while ago Governor Christie announced that all non-essential state employees were to stay home but essential employees still had to come in and when I read that I did a mental fist pump for retirement.

February 8, 2017