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



Merry Christmas Indeed


Ajit Pai

Here's the thing, the chair of the FCC has every right to defend his views on net neutrality. I disagree with them but that's beside the point. What troubles me about Pai's video is the obvious contempt he's showing for people who disagree with him.

It's like this, I'm not Pai's employer, the federal government is, but I am his customer. And just like I had to be polite back in the day to the people who called me a crook when I told them the casino was right not to back up that ace, Pai has to be polite to people who thinks his views on net neutrality are at best mistaken and at worst corrupt. And if that sort of thing really gets under his skin, to the point where he feels compelled to make a video showing his contempt for his detractors, perhaps it's time to rethink the whole career in public service thing.

December 17, 2017


And the Winner for Most Depressing Christmas Song Is

But wait, it gets better. The song was written by John Denver about the effect his alcoholism had on his own family. And you ask why I don't listen to country and western.

December 17, 2017


A Picky Eater

I don't know if I would qualify as having an illness I cannot help, nor do I care. I have discovered that people who have no food aversions are often rude to those of us who do have them. For instance, I was once at a home where the host and the guests loved something called church potatoes. Just looking at them swimming in some kind of cream sauce made me a little nauseous. Never the less I dealt and when they were passed around I simply sent them on their way without taking any.

But I got a lot of shit for not trying their goddamn potatoes. I don't think I was being a burden for not eating something, I think it was rude to press me to eat the things.

My rule is that I feel no obligation to try your signature dish. And if you're nice about it, I won't tell you why I won't try it.

There, I feel better now.

December 17, 2017


The Conquering Hero

You may remember that I had problems with the Phylakes, a band of 10 implacable bounty hunters who had been after my ass since the beginning of the game. Tonight I killed the last one and after a bit of questing ended up with this outfit as a reward. Not bad says I.

December 16, 2017


Vengeance Is Mine

Although there's still stuff to do in Egypt, I completed the main quest in Assassin's Creed Origins. So that completes gaming in 2017.

I don't know if I'm interested in any of the previous games in the series but if another one is released a few years down the road I'd at least take a look at it. There's a lot of baggage in this series centering around some contraption called the animus. Technically, I wasn't playing Bayek, I was playing some woman named Layla. She's using the animus to read her genetic memory and it creates a virtual reality simulation of 1st century BCE Egypt and she's sort of role playing Bayek. Although actually she's just reliving the life Bayek lead.

Or something like that, it's all pretty confusing on that front. Good game though.

December 16, 2017


The Continuing Adventures of Bayek of Siwa

Last night I figured I was coming to the end of the main plot in Assassin's Creed Origins. Nope, still plenty of game left. But I didn't realize that until four in the morning. So now it's three in the afternoon and boy am I tired. Such is life.

December 15, 2017


Annihilation

I'm reading that Jeff VanderMeer's book Annihilation is dense, difficult and that the studio is nervous about Alex Garland's film adaptation.

Annihilation is the first book in VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy. In Annihilation a team of four, a psychologist, a surveyor, a biologist and an anthropologist enter Area X. The public thinks Area X was contaminated by the mother of all toxic waste spills 30 years ago and is off limits. Instead a kind of curtain went around the area, separating it from the rest of Earth and nobody knows why. Teams have gone in from time to time, some never came back, others came back changed. Annihilation shows what happened to the 12th expedition.

In the book you quickly learn how strange Area X is but you don't get many answers. The Second book, Authority is set in the Southern Reach Agency, the government entity charged with finding out what's going on. In the third book, Acceptance, you finally get some answers.

But Garland doesn't have that luxury. Right now Annihilation is a stand alone movie. So you won't get to meet Control, the head of the agency, or Whitby and his pet mouse, or the lighthouse keeper. Garland has about two hours to show you Area X and give you some answers.

I liked Ex Machina a film that didn't try to fool you but didn't hold your hand and that's just what VanderMeer's book needs. He's made some pretty big changes, I see we've got a monster added to the mix, one that I'm guessing is based on the moaning creature. But it seems that enough the book's DNA will be in the film for me to enjoy it. I hope so anyway.

December 14, 2017


December Plans

I saw this headline on Rock Paper Shotgun. EA is taking the Star Wars Battlefront franchise in a bold new direction I see.

December 11, 2017


Honor Roll 2017

Diablo 3: The Darkening of Tristram+
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – A Criminal Past
Torment: Tides of Numenera+
Mass Effect Andromeda+
What Remains of Edith Finch+
Prey+
Kentucky Route Zero: Acts 1through 4+
Divinity: Original Sin
Pillars of Eternity (Replay)+
Tacoma+
Dishonored: The Death of the Outsider+
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Dark Interval HL2 Mod+
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus+
Assassin's Creed Origin+

So, a few observations, if you'll indulge me. If I could recommend just one game on this list it would be Prey. I put 95 hours into Prey. Of course a lot of that was because I restarted three times.

I put 94 hours into Mass Effect Andromeda and would have put in more, unfortunately it didn't do well and EA canceled plans for extra content.

I gave Divinity: Original Sin my best shot and didn't like it. This year I tried Divinity: Original Sin 2 and abandoned it. I know that role playing connoisseurs love both games but I just don't enjoy them. But if you have a desire to play an old school RPG in the tradition of Baldur's Gate you should check them out. Wait, just check out the second, it addresses stuff that annoyed people about the first. And if anyone wants to play Divinity: Original Sin 2 co-op I'd put it back on my system.

I'm really enjoying Assassin's Creed Origin and I've put 42 hours into it so far. It's pretty much a role playing game.

Finally if you're in the mood for something different, What Remains of Edith Finch or Tacoma might be worth a look. They're more along the lines of a story you walk around in then a traditional game but they're inexpensive and a change of pace.

So then, I played 15 games this year and finished 11, a pretty good record. I'll probably finish Assassin's Creed Origin, in fact I could have probably finished it by now but I'm having a lot of fun in late Ptolemaic Egypt and am taking it slow.

And whatever your hobbies are I hope you're enjoying them.

December 9, 2017


Star Trek Discovery vs The Orville

When I was 11 I saw an episode of Star Trek called The Apple. The Enterprise has a run in with a powerful computer called Vaal. Vaal tries to destroy the ship and in defense the Enterprise destroys Vaal.

But Vaal was not alone on Gamma Trianguli VI, there were humanoids there who considered Vaal a god. Vaal gave them perfect health and immortality and in return they fed certain rocks to Vaal that powered it. When Vaal was destroyed the good people of Gamma Trianguli VI could now do as they wish, have sex (Vaal didn't allow them to reproduce) and forge their own destinies. The downside was that they'd age and die.

Kirk figured that the prime directive didn't apply because he was dealing with a culture kept in stasis by a machine. Apparently Starfleet agreed with him because he wasn't court martialed or anything.

Nobody thought to ask the People of Vaal if they were cool with dying.

I was only 11 but that episode bothered me. At that age I thought immortality was cool. And while I'm not so sure about immortality now, I still think that the People of Vaal should have had a say in the matter.

Flash forward to Star Trek the Next Generation. During the second season there was an episode called Pen Pals. The crew is investigating the Selcundi Drema sector. A planet there is about to destroy itself and when it goes the population on the planet will all die. But unbeknownst to Captain Picard, Data has been communicating with Sarjenka, a little girl on the planet, via short wave radio. He suggests that the Enterprise could stabilize Sarjenka's planet. At this point Picard holds a meeting:

A meeting of the senior staff is held in Picard's quarters, and the members lay out their positions on Data's friend. Picard and Worf's argument is straightforward; helping the Dremans would violate the Prime Directive, and therefore they should be left to their fate. La Forge and Pulaski on the other hand are aghast at the prospect of sitting by and allowing an entire sentient race to die out. Riker and Troi offer yet another argument; that the destruction of Drema IV and the other planets could be part of a larger "cosmic plan," which the crew of the Enterprise have no right to interfere with. Picard announces that they will obey the Prime Directive and leave the system. Picard orders Data to cut the transmission with Sarjenka, but Data plays a transmission from her, where she pleads them to help her planet. Upon hearing this, Picard decides that since it is a direct plea for help, the Prime Directive no longer applies. The crew cannot simply turn their backs on the inhabitants now.

Understand, until Picard heard that transmission, he was cool with letting a couple of billion people die if it was the will of the fucking cosmos. At that point I know longer had much use for Gene Roddenberry's hopeful vision of the future. In fact I was appalled. I still liked Trek, but I no longer admired Starfleet or the Federation, or rather I didn't find it very hopeful. Suddenly I was looking at Starfleet the way I'd look at two teenagers who wanted to talk with me about God's plan for my soul.

But a lot of people still love Roddenberry's ideas and that frames the Star Trek Discovery vs The Orville debate. The Orville is Seth MacFarlane's love letter to TNG. Yeah, it's got some jokes but it's a call back to the vision of the future enshrined in TNG. I like the show well enough, hell I enjoyed it, even if I no longer admire a lot about TNG's future.

Then there's Star Trek Discovery. The lead character is Michael Burnham a mutineer recruited by Gabriel Lorca a morally compromised captain. Private agendas abound and even young Ambassador Sarek has layers of duplicity.

I love the show, the characters behave like flawed human beings caught up in extraordinary circumstances. But a lot of people hate it because it pretty much pisses all over Roddenberry's hopeful vision. Yeah, they have better stuff in the 23rd century but they're still just people.

Both shows have their place but if I could only watch one of them it would be Star Trek Discovery. YMMV.

December 8, 2017


Selfie

Taken at the tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria.

Currently I'm 30 hours into the game and I'm level 22. The game is beginning to drift into Skyrim or Witcher 3 territory. That is it's becoming more of a world I enjoy inhabiting then a game to play. While I don't expect to get the same longevity I got with Skyrim with this game, I am enjoying exploration for its own sake, hence the picture at the tomb. I had no real reason to be there, I just wanted to see it.

December 6, 2017


EA's Loot Boxes

An explanation of why Electronic Arts put loot boxes into Star Wars Battlefront 2, why gamers are so pissed about it and why governments are calling it unregulated gambling. Because I just don't like playing games, I also like following the industry.

December 5, 2017


Bayek vs the Phylake: Round 3

Yeah, I wanted that guy, the same way I wanted to kill my first dragon in Dragon Age: Inquisition two years ago.

It's not that he was that obnoxious, I had to have a general idea of where he was in Alexandria but he wasn't doing a house to house search. He'd just ride around the city looking straight ahead. He was in the pay of Ptolemy so he wasn't going to bust his ass hunting me down. He was just another typical government worker.

At least I know I can take the bastards down.

December 5, 2017


Bayek vs the Phylake: Round 2

I made a second attempt to kill one of the Phylakes. Killing a Phylake in Assassin's Creed Origins is like killing a Dragon in Dragon Age Inquisition, cool but optional. At any rate I sent Bayek after the Outsider, the Phylake who's looking for me in Alexandria. He's level 20 and the first time I fought him I was level 13 and I died instantly. This time I was 19 last for about a minute. I would have lasted longer if I had bothered to learn some of the keyboard commands such as E=Parry. That would have come in handy.

I'll try him again on Beer Night. I tend to tense up during fights like this, like it's some kind of ancient test of manhood. I'm a little loser on Beer Night. On the other hand I may just load up on smoke bombs and do a spur of the moment thing, ya never know.

December 4, 2017


Kindle Ads

A few years ago I bought a Kindle Paperwhite. It came in two versions, one cost $110 and the other cost $130, the difference was that the less expensive edition showed targeted ads. Mrs. Silverman wondered why I opted for the ad free (and more expensive) version, she liked the ads because they pointed her to books she would have missed otherwise.

That's not my problem. Amazon has my number and every time I go to their site it takes an effort of will not to buy something. And there are other sources, today Warren Ellis' newsletter arrived in my mailbox and it plugged a book by Adam Greenfield called Radical Technologies. I'd encountered that book before but successfully resisted the temptation to buy it. Today I followed the newsletter's link to Amazon and discovered the ebook was marked down to $3.49. So I now own a new book and Amazon's AI will tweak the suggestions it shows me next time I visit the site. And I presume Ellis gets a couple of pence because I followed the link in his newsletter, not that I begrudge him that.

And that's why I paid $20 extra for the ad free edition.

By the way, Ellis asked Greenfield a question and Greenfield answered it, it went a long way towards getting me to click through to Amazon:

Networked digital communications technologies worm their way into everything - or, at least, are often forced into things. I commented in the newsletter last week that Facebook alone is viscous and invasive, and apparently some people have a longstanding urge to outsource the operation of their front doors and pet crates to networked services. Is there a strategy of refusal of a deeply & chaotically networked world that doesn't look like the Amish?

I think one can certainly opt out of much contemporary technology, sure, in the limited sense of clearing it from your personal sphere and living space. You can, if you wish, forego a smartphone. You can surely do without personal biometric monitors and "smart speakers" and a profile on Tinder. Plenty of people do, and so far as I can tell they don't suffer overmuch as a result of this choice.

But there are two circumstances presented to us by networked technologies that you can't opt out of quite so easily, if at all. The first is being an operand, an object of the networked data-collection and -processing techniques that are now brought to bear on you by various institutional actors both public and private, and which will increasingly determine the shape of your life chances and the choices that are available to you. And the second is living in a world where the great majority of the other human beings you interact with have chosen to embrace these technologies, to a more or less conscious degree, and have had their subjectivities altered by exposure to them.

The first circumstance means that nothing short of a Kaczynskian retreat from public life will stop various kinds of actors from attempting to gather information about you, correlating that information with other information already at hand, building models of your personality and psychic state, or using those models to project and anticipate your future behavior — and what is more, any such retreat will necessarily come at the cost of meaningful participation in the contemporary economy. The second circumstance means that any social interaction whatsoever with people who haven't undertaken that kind of retreat will henceforth come at the cost of inviting the network into your life, albeit indirectly. So while you yourself may somehow be able to absent yourself from networked visibility, all of your interlocutors will be people whose tastes, preferences, capabilities and desires have all been inflected by their long-term immersion in the networked condition.

All of this is just a very longwinded way of saying no: no, at this point in time, there is no meaningful gesture of refusal available to the overwhelming majority of us. If we want to create spaces in which refusal is possible, we have to do the work of organizing, articulating our grievances and our desires, and bringing those spaces into being.

December 3, 2017


Old Keys

last night I woke up from a dream about my parents. I don't remember precisely what it was about but when I awoke I was thinking that I hadn't called them in years and I had to get in touch and see them for Christmas. Then when the fog cleared I realized they were dead and they probably weren't sweating a Christmas visit from their son.

Today I looked at the keys on my keychain and took two off. At first I thought they were the keys to my parent's house but I turned my set over to my Sister when she sold the place. No, these are the keys to the condo that Danny gave me in 1990 when I moved in. The locks have been changed twice and it's time to take them off the keychain.

And yet I didn't throw them out, instead I stashed them in a drawer. And that probably isn't healthy, is it? Wait a second, be right back.

There, a little Bilbo dropping the Ring on the floor moment and they're gone. We do accumulate a lot of detritus, don't we?

December 3, 2017


Christmas Logo

This dates back to the beginning of alChandler's Halls if anyone remembers that far back. I used Photoshop Elements to cut out the wreath and put it over the dwarves and as crappy as it is I'm still proud of it. The rest of the snow was done with good ol' MS Paint. I still use that program when I'm converting .jpgs to .bmps so I can use them as wallpaper.

Before alChandler's Halls my page was called When Pigs Fly and it was hosted as part of the swag you got for being a customer of Mindspring. I may have used the dwarves there too but I really don't remember. All told, alChandler's Halls is about 20 years old, or close enough so as not to matter.

In the early days I used MS Front Page as a HTML editor. Fairly quickly I learned that what the program generated wasn't just bad, it was an abomination. And so in my 40s I resolved to learn enough HTML to do my page by hand. For what it's worth I succeed and I currently use a wonderful program called SynWrite as an HTML editor. I recommend it if you're a fellow duffer.

But I wax nostalgic.

December 1, 2017


Assassin's Creed: Origins

Today I played for the first time in almost two weeks, I met Cleopatra. "Hello main plot, it's been awhile. I know I haven't given you the attention that I should have but that doesn't mean I don't love you."

November 30, 2017


Windows 10 Thumbnails

It's early in the morning and I'm up because I have an appointment with my doctor. So what better time to tackle a computer annoyance, eh?

I have a lot of wallpaper and I have the the wallpaper folder set to large icons. But after the Fall Creator's Update went down, every time I'd add a file to the wallpaper folder the icons would have to completely refresh. Might not be annoying for you but it was unendurable torment for me.

So, with only one cup of coffee in me I followed these convoluted instructions from PC World. I figure they'll either work, do nothing or fuck up my system so badly I'll have to do a clean install. So far Kosh rebooted once and things seem to be alright so it looks like I'm looking at the first or second scenario here. Meanwhile the cat is in the corner by the office door. He doesn't fuck with me when I do this stupid shit.

You see, I sometimes yell a lot when I do this stuff and while Newton is pretty sure I'm not yelling at him he stays by the door because who really understands what these hairless apes are on about.

November 30, 2017


A Palate Cleanser

The Kalevala took a lot longer to get through then I intended. So instead of Tolkien or any other fiction, I'm reading The Storm Before the Storm by Mike Duncan. It's about the latter Roman Republic, after the final destruction of Carthage but before Julius Caesar. One thing I learned already is that in the republic, the Senate didn't actually make laws, pretty much like Congress under the Republicans today. Laws were passed by the three Roman Assemblies. Under the emperors the assemblies lost that power and it was transferred to the Senate. Not that the Senate had much autonomy by then.

After that book is finished, I'm leaning towards The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. I enjoyed The Inheritance Trilogy and this trilogy is the one that won all the Hugos. Well, the first two books did, the conclusion, The Stone Sky was just published this August.

In an interview with the Guardian, Jemisin said:

Stereotypical fantasy series like, say, The Lord of the Rings, usually present a virtuous status quo threatened by a dark and eventually defeated outsider. But Jemisin’s stories almost always involve a flawed order, and the efforts (also flawed) to overthrow it. That’s certainly the case in The Fifth Season, where one character uses his magic to literally tear the earth apart rather than face enslavement again. “The goal is survival,” Jemisin writes in the novel, “and sometimes survival requires change.”

“As a black woman,” Jemisin tells me, “I have no particular interest in maintaining the status quo. Why would I? The status quo is harmful, the status quo is significantly racist and sexist and a whole bunch of other things that I think need to change. With epic fantasy there is a tendency for it to be quintessentially conservative, in that its job is to restore what is perceived to be out of whack.”

So yeah, I think The Fifth Season is next.

November 29, 2017


Post Thanksgiving

During Thanksgiving we managed to get Donna's Christmas tree up and decorated in record time. The other bit of post Thanksgiving news is that Donna's daughter Caty graduated from NYU, she's the smartest person I know.

November 28, 2017


Save the Date

I bought my phone in May of 2016. That means that by July of 2018 it will fail in a spectacular way, requiring me to purchase a new one.

Or maybe not, I bought my first smart phone in 2011,an iPhone 4s. This is my first Android phone and for all I know it's made of sterner stuff then my two iPhones were. It would be nice to get three years out of this one. Especially because I already have 2018's tech upgrades planned. First up is a solid state drive. Rolf's been on me about that for some time and next year I'm taking the plunge. My current hard drive will be seven years old next year and will be due for a replacement anyway.

And for the back half of 2018, a new video card. But that can wait if necessary.

And as long as I'm doing free association here, two weeks ago my chair tipped over and I injured my back. Or rather I aggravated the compression fracture I got a year and a half ago. Those thing don't so much heal as subside. Today the pain got so bad I broke down and made an appointment with my doctor. So naturally the pain started subsiding after I got off the phone. But not to worry, I'm not a complete idiot, I'm keeping the appointment.

November 28, 2017