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


The Secret of Mordor

You see that? That is a copy Shadow of Mordor's saved game folder. And you'll note that the game doesn't even call it a saved game folder, it gives it a number. Well folder 241930 is going to sit on my desk and get recopied often. At least until the game does something to piss me off, as I'm sure it will. Or until Pillars of Eternity 2 is released, whichever comes first. In the meantime, whenever I want to revert to an earlier state I will plug the desktop copy of 241930 into its spot in x86>Steam>userdata>10377102 and overwrite the current state of the game.

I will not let this game fuck me over, not again.

April 23, 2018


The Go to Game

About ten years ago or so Ken kidded me about Doom 3. He said that whenever I mentioned putting Doom 3 back on my system it was a sure sign that I was bored.

It was a fair cop but I don't do that these days. Today the I can't find a game to play and I'm so bored game is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I hate so much about that game, the mechanics, the orc chieftains who can only be killed near bees, the nemesis system, the whole lot of it. But It's been weeks since I put aside Ghost of a Tale and I'm getting short tempered. And I don't have to actually play the damn game seriously, I can boot up, kill some orcs and get out of Dodge.

At any rate in about two and a half weeks I'll be able to download Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. Then I'll be back in the groove, hopefully.

April 22, 2018


Llewellyn

So then, 40 years ago I heard a song that began like this:

This is the story of the war 1282
King Edward the First, the death of Llewellyn too
Each man looked different from afar
But in their hearts you know they bore the same scars

It's by The New Riders of the Purple Sage on their album Marin County Line. For awhile WMMR played it then the song seemed to drop out of sight. But I never forgot it and had I known what group did it and what album it was on I would have bought it in a second. Alas, I didn't know either one and so for 40 years the song was a legend to me. In fact I began to doubt it even existed.

Until today when I remembered enough of the first line of the song to find it on the Grateful Dead Lyric & Song Finder. That in turn enabled me to find the song itself.

So, was it as good as I remembered? Hell no, but it is a recovered artifact from my youth and I am very, very happy.

April 22, 2018


Superman's 80th Birthday

For comic geeks one of the big things about Action Comics 1000 was that Brian Bendis' first Superman story would appear in the issue. Bendis used to work for Marvel where he did a lot of innovate stuff so the news that he was jumping to DC was huge, at least in my circles.

His first script for Superman featured a fight with a powerful foe and a revelation about the destruction of Krypton, in other words nothing out of the ordinary. However he did give snappy dialogue to the owner of a bistro and her employee who drag an unconscious Superman to safety until he wakes up. That's probably what we'll see, Superman will remain the icon he is today but the characters around him will be fleshed out.

Superman is a hard character to write for because he's not just a character, not only does he have to deal with that whole icon shit but he's a corporate symbol. Yeah, I know, they're all corporate symbols but 40 years ago when David Michelinie wanted to make Tony Stark an alcoholic, he was able to do it and we got this:

Today he's still an alcoholic and unlike his movie counterpart he doesn't drink. Because Tony Stark is a superhero but he's not the superhero. So he can be flawed and even fall off the wagon.

If you want to know why Superman can't be changed, watch this cartoon. I've posted it here before, it's called Steamboat Willie and it was the first appearance of Mickey Mouse:

Mickey was a dick, wasn't he? And he remained a dick in those early cartoons. But eventually Mickey became the public face of Disney studios. The public face of a studio can't be a dick so we got cartoons like these:

Not so good, are they? But here's the thing. A good writer can take a bland character who can't be changed and write good stories about them. It's very difficult but it can be done. Alan Moore did it in 1985 in a story called For the Man Who has Everything which features an enraged Kal-el using his heat vision as a weapon and fuck the consequences. And 33 years later that story is still in continuity.

Superman is the first media character I ever recognized and I read his comic books even when they're not great. It's a tribute to my five year old self who watched George Reeves duck into the storeroom to change into Superman back in 1961. I don't know if Bendis will deliver a For the Man Who has Everything but he's great at dialogue and characterization.

Meanwhile, I just saw this wonderful painting by Alex Ross. It's called Superman of Two Worlds and it's a crossover I'd love to see.

For the record, Christopher Reeve's Superman is stronger but George Reeves' Superman is smarter, not that they'd fight, they'd team up against an enemy too big for either one to tackle separately.

April 20, 2018


Casinos

You know, last night was the first time I actually felt relaxed in a casino since retiring.

A part of all that is simply getting the commission out of my system. Inspectors were always allowed to go to a casino, provided they didn't gamble and comported themselves as befitting the dignity of their position and all that. And a lot of inspectors did just that, dining in casinos, seeing shows and taking advantage of all the non-gambling things you could do there. But while I did meet people in casinos from time to time, I'm a neurotic person and I was always afraid I'd do something to fuck up and get fired.

But it's been eight years since I retired and seven years since there were any inspectors and when I entered the Trop last night it just felt like I was at a nice place where I could shop, dine and gamble.

So that was nice.

April 19, 2018


The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

Warren Ellis has a blog called Morning Computer. Back in February he posted a link to Catherine Nixey's book The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. It was already out in the UK but it wouldn't be out in America until this month. In what was probably a bad move for my composure I preordered it back then and I'm reading it now.

I don't like Christianity. It's combines a hideously intolerant god with an aggressive drive to force everyone to become Christian. Had Christianity not existed the Roman Empire would still have collapsed in Western Europe, with all respect to Mr. Gibbon, but Western Europe would have recovered a lot quicker.

It is what it is, but for a week or two I'll probably be exceptionally grumpy about the Abrahamic religions, not that Abraham ever existed.

April 19, 2018


Bacon Week at Tropicana

How could I not go?

So Marie and I hit the Trop. For the first time since 1980 I gambled in a casino, sitting down at a progressive slot machine and putting in $20. After three minutes I had $24 in credits and decided to declare victory and cash out.

We also ate bacon cheeseburgers covered in maple syrup. I'm not sure bacon and maple syrup really go together but at least I tried it. The bottom line is that it was a fun couple of hours and I should probably get to Atlantic City more often.

April 19, 2018


Commander Data and Strategema

Writing a bit about go made me think of strategema. That's a game that showed up in a STTNG episode entitled Peak Performance. According to Memory Alpha:

The equipment for the game consisted of a holographic projector that created the image of three panels. Using a set of controls that were placed on each finger, the players attempted to move their game pieces to change the color of the panels to the assigned color of the player while the opponent attempted to do likewise. When one player completely changed the color of the panels to his assigned color, the game was won.

Data was challenged to a game of strategema by Sirna Kolrami, a Zackdorn third level grand master. Data expected to win easily but instead Kolrami kicked his ass. Data figured that there was something wrong with him but as it turned out, Kolrami was just the better player.

Data defeated Kolrami in a rematch. Instead of playing for a win he played for a stalemate, blocking Kolrami's moves. The game went on forever and after 33,000 moves Kolrami decided that continuing was absurd and forfeited. Everyone on the Enterprise congratulated Data on his win.

But while Data's win was apparently legal, it always seemed a bit chickenshit to me. I imagine that the Galactic Strategema Association revised the rules to make Data's tactic illegal. On the other hand, maybe not. Had Commander Riker tried Data's idea I'm assuming that Kolrami would have beaten him handily. And in chess, a player behind in material during the endgame has every right to try for a stalemate. So maybe it was a case of Kolrami not being good enough to get around Data's tactic. In The many Faces of Go by Edward Lasker, Lasker tells the story about a Japanese noble who goes to China to learn go. Because he was inexperienced, he kept losing until he came up with the idea of mirroring his opponent's moves on the other side of the board. Once he started doing that, he won every game. Lasker points out that all his teachers had to do was put a stone in the center point and that would have ended that, but I suspect there was a certain amount of diplomacy involved in the noble's wins.

In other words, Kolrami was a third level grandmaster. Perhaps a fourth level grandmaster would have humiliated Data.

April 17, 2018


AlphaGo

Go was invented in China about 2,500 years ago, unless you buy the story about Emperor Shun inventing it to increase is son's intelligence. In that case it's over 4,000 years old. But the earliest written record of go dates back to something that happened in 548 BC.It's a game of abstract strategy and if you've never heard of it here's the article from Wikipedia. If you've never seen it here's a picture from the same article.

Go has been harder for computers because there are more moves for a computer to consider, especially at the beginning of a game. Brute force look ahead doesn't work as well. There's go software that can kick my ass but hell, I could lose a game of chess to my cat. Until 2016 a go program couldn't beat the world's best go player. Then Google DeepMind developed AphaGo.

AlphaGo, according to Wikipedia:

As of 2016, AlphaGo's algorithm uses a combination of machine learning and tree search techniques, combined with extensive training, both from human and computer play. It uses Monte Carlo tree search, guided by a "value network" and a "policy network," both implemented using deep neural network technology.[2][10] A limited amount of game-specific feature detection pre-processing (for example, to highlight whether a move matches a nakade pattern) is applied to the input before it is sent to the neural networks.

In 2015 Google DeepMind turned the program loose on Fan Hui, the European go champion and it defeated him. So in 2016 Lee Sedol, considered one of the best players in the world, agreed to play five games against AlphaGo. Lee expected to win them all, instead he lost, 4-1.

AlphaGo played moves throughout the match that seemed strange to the human commentators. According to its programmers, "If AlphaGo must choose between a scenario where it will win by 20 points with 80 percent probability and another where it will win by 1 and a half points with 99 percent probability, it will choose the latter, even if it must give up points to achieve it." In the match AlphaGo would pass on opportunities to gain territory if it thought it had a sure win.

And I'm thinking about this because I watched the movie about the match, AlphaGo on Netflix last night. It was a little hard to follow because while I learned the Japanese rules of go as a kid, Lee and AlphaGo were using the Chinese rules. The Chinese rules have a different scoring system. Now that I think of it, the books I read as a teenager had a distinct anti-Chinese bias. Go was the national game of Japan and what was going on in China didn't count. In fact, until I watched the movie last night, I didn't know that there were different rules for scoring.

Go has a ways to go to catch up with chess. It's estimated that there are 60 million people who play go in the world verses 600 million chess players. Go figure.

April 17, 2018


Ok That's It

Well, last night at four in the morning I found out why I stopped playing Ember after two weeks last year. That's it, I'm not dealing with gaming until 5/8 when Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is released. For the next three weeks someone else will have to save the universe.

April 16, 2018


2018: A Bad Year for Gaming

Actually it's a very good year for gaming in general, I'm just not having a good year. The Year started off with a hard drive crash. Then when I reinstalled Assassin's Creed Origins on the new hard drive the game went to a black screen and Ubisoft was not particularly helpful. I didn't particularly like Seven: Days Long Gone and Fallout New Vegas stopped working on Friday. This year the only game I actually finished was Tyranny.

So right now I'm playing Ember a game I bought then abandoned for some reason last September. I don't exactly remember why but I think I wasn't doing a lot of exploring and ended up rather underpowered for the enemies I was facing. I also tended to avoid fights and if you're not going to fight you're not going to have a lot of fun in a role playing game.

If my luck remain bad, the game will stop working or I'll be defeated by a boss in the middle of the game. We'll see. Oh one more thing, I don't blame Fallout New Vegas for not working, I knew it had problems going in, but Ubisoft on the other hand is really a shitty company. Just wanted to put that on the record.

April 15, 2018


The Upside of PC Gaming

I've been doing some kvetching about Fallout: New Vegas here. But the upside is that I can play an 8 year old gaming on an OS that didn't exist when the game was released. In 2010 Windows 7 was state of the art. So if I want to dick around and play it with Windows 10, Bethesda's attitude is, "Go for it and let us know how it works out for you."

Console gamers don't get to do that. When Sony releases the next Play Station there may be a few PS4 games that they graciously allow to work on the next generation system but that's it. If Red Dead Redemption isn't on the list then no amount of coaxing will get it to work.

To use an automotive metaphor, console gaming is driving an automatic, PC gaming is driving a stick.

April 13, 2018


Keeping Fallout NV Running

You know, my old hard drive started spitting out error messages back in December and Rolf urged me to replace it back then. I decided not to, I wanted to wait until May when I'd get my first social security check.

And that didn't work out but at least I had backups. I'm bring this up because the hard drive thing was sort of like a slow motion train wreck. Keeping Fallout New Vegas running on Windows 10 is starting to have the same kind of vibe. Running the game in compatibility mode became a detour into .ini files and Steam verification. I'm not an achievement whore (as the kids say) but dammit, I want and achievement for keeping the game running this long.

April 13, 2018


Vault 22

In the the original Fallout, way back in 1997, you were living in Vault 13 in 2161 84 years after WWIII. Your vault's water filtration system had broken so you were sent to the outside world to get a replacement chip. In subsequent games, like Fallout New Vegas you sometimes encounter other vaults but they're almost always disaster areas. Today I spent some time exploring Vault 22.

I was sent there by a tech guy working for the New California Republic. There's some kind of plant growth hormone in Vault 22 that the NCR wants. Today I spent my day exploring the place. I found the vault overrun with plants and encountered the occasional spore possessed human that had to be put down. I also encountered a locked door that led to a cave. Having played CRPGs for 35 years I knew that was where I had to go. I also knew that most of my game day would be spent looking for the key card that would override the lock on the door to the cave. Not to keep you in suspense, I found the key card, the door is open and that's as good a place as any to save the game and leave Vault 22 for the night.

April 13, 2018


Compatibility Blues

As my travels in the Nevada desert have continued Fallout New Vegas has become increasingly unstable. Although my gut reaction is to blame Obsidian, this time it's not their fault. The game was released in 2010 and was never designed for Windows 10, much less a 64 bit operating system.

Still, something had to be done. Saved games weren't always loading and the game was starting to lock up my system when I'd exit the program. So for the first time I followed instructions for running a Steam game in compatibility mode. It's too early to tell if that will fix the problems.

And I really have to stop being so snotty about Obsidian. Yes, there early games were buggy as hell but in recent years they've gotten their shit together.

April 13, 2018


Zuck

April 12, 2018


Shadowland

Shadowland was written by Peter Straub, it's about two boys, Tom Flanagan and Del Nightingale. They spend Christmas vacation with Del's uncle, a magician. But gradually they realize that Del's uncle is a magician in the same way that Doctor Faustus was a magician.

I'm a fan of Stephen King, I'm not really a fan of Peter Straub. I pick up one of his books from time to time but I generally buy new Stephen King every time he writes a new one. Shadowland was different, that one I've reread several times.

I'm picky about my books. So then, some 20 years ago I lent my copy of Shadowland to a friend and it came back with the spine bent. I never said anything but I put the book back on the shelf and never read it again. I'm strange that way, assholish even.

The other day I suddenly realized that I hadn't read Shadowland in a very long time. Anyone else would simply have gone to their shelf and picked up the battered but still readable paperback and started reading. I just couldn't bring myself to do that, instead I bought the Kindle edition.

You know, I read that book in my 30s and I recall that the chapters set in the grim boarding school, Carson, reminded me a lot of my 12 years of Catholic schooling. Don't get me wrong, I was far better off in Catholic school then in public school, I would have been eaten alive there. But I didn't realize that while I was a kid and I still didn't realize that in my 30s. So the early part of the book weighed me down, a lot.

I haven't read the book in maybe 25 years. I'm curious about how I'll react to it. By the way, I think I should also reread Mr. X, another good one by Straub. Not immediately, the next book will be The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey. Obviously a polemic work but I'm afraid that Christians did indeed persecute folks who did not want to accept the blessing of Christ and the church. What can I say, I'm not a fan of the Abrahamic religions.

But after that, maybe Mr. X.

April 11, 2018


A Trip to the Vet

There are some people who don't make their animals go through the torture of a yearly visit to the vet. I do take Newton in once a year. He's not happy but he deals with it.

Today was vet day and when we got to his yearly shots I started walking to the table to hold Newton. The Doctor asked me to stand back because she didn't want Newton associating me with the shots. I obeyed but I didn't think it was a good idea. Newton will tolerate stuff he doesn't like if I'm the one doing it. At any rate the Doctor brought in an assistant, the assistant held Newton and Newton was very angry. He didn't bite or scratch but he did howl.

I felt guilty and as I paid my bill I saw a bowl filled with hand made dog toys and one cat toy, a furry fish stuffed with catnip. I didn't think Newton would go for it but I bought it anyway. That's what guilt does to a person.

And that's how Newton reacted when I gave it to him, he loved it. And while he's been avoiding me the whole day he just jumped up on my lap. Reconciliation.

April 11, 2018


The 100+ Club

Two notes, first of all Prey comes in at 95 hours because I started it three times before I got a handle on it. Pillars of eternity came in at 95 hours because it's one of the few games I played through a second time. Oh by the way, if you're only going to play one Mass Effect game, Mass Effect 2 is the one you want to play.

One interesting thing, Divinity Original Sin came in at 101 hours. I really didn't care for it but a lot of folks whose opinions I valued kept saying that it was the role playing game to end all role playing games so I restarted multiple times. Never finished it.

April 11, 2018


The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Don Quixote (Jonathan Pryce) is an old man who's convinced he's the Knight of the Doleful Countenance. Toby (Adam Driver) is an advertising executive that the old man mistakes for Sancho Panza. Gradually, Toby start's to buy into Quixote's fantasy, jumping from the 21st century to the 17th and back again.

And that's the basic plot of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a movie that Terry Gilliam has been trying to make for ages. Will wonders never cease?

April 9, 2018