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!


Planets

So then, there are four rocky planets closest to the Sun, three of them in the habitable zone. One, Venus, somehow experienced a runaway greenhouse effect and is a hellish wasteland. Earth did rather nicely for itself. Life either developed here or developed elsewhere and was brought here by a stray comet or something. And at this point it would be honest to admit that nobody knows how life developed from a hodge podge of organic molecules. It happened at least once but was it an easily replicable process or was it a one in a billion fluke? That's why we have no real estimate of how common life is in the universe. We can speculate that Jupiter's moon Europa could support life because it has an ocean but that's all it is, speculation.

Mars could have had life. In its early days it had a lot of water and a thick atmosphere. What it didn't have was a magnetic field. Its core cooled off too quickly to produce one and that meant that when solar storms sent charged particles the ones that hit Mars chipped away at its atmosphere. Most scientists think that if life did form on Mars, it didn't last too long.

So much for the habitable zone. After that we've got the asteroid belt, the four giant planets and the Kuiper belt, Pluto is the largest Kuiper belt object.

In 2009 NASA launched the Kepler space telescope, It orbits the Sun and its mission is to find extra solar planets. When a planet passes in front of its star the light from that star dims just bit. That's what Kepler measures. So far it's discovered 2,300 confirmed planets and a bunch of other things waiting to be declared planets. It turns out that most stars have planets. However most solar systems aren't like ours. They have Jupiter sized planets orbiting very close to their star, some of them orbiting in days or even hours. There are stars with rocky planets in the star's habitable zone but they're in the minority.

This may be simply because the Kepler isn't sensitive enough. In 2018 we're going to launch a more sophisticated instrument, the James Webb space telescope. It will be able to take direct pictures of exoplanets. Actually, we have some now but they're not very good, here's a picture of Beta Pictoris b:

I hope that the Webb can do better.

I don't know if the origin of life will be cracked in this century but I suspect our instruments will get good enough to detect the changes life makes on a planet. If you have a spectrometer sensitive enough to read a rocky planet's atmosphere and it detects a lot of oxygen, bingo, you got life. That may happen in my lifetime, it might not.

Short term, this Monday the Juno probe will orbit Jupiter. It's job will be to try to get a handle on what's underneath Jupiter's clouds. Arthur C. Clarke wrote a novella about such an examination of Jupiter called A Meeting with Medusa in 1971. No, Juno won't be dropping a blimp with a cyborg captain into Jupiter's upper atmosphere but it's still pretty cool.

June 30, 2016


Dungeon

So while you we're worrying about the Brexit, I cleared out this place. I never really got used to the Baldur's Gate style of combat and after some 17 years it's hard to pick it up again. But the Care Bear setting, if you remember that term of disapprobation, helps a lot. I cleared out that dungeon, discovered the quest giver was a a bastard, let him go, went on a quest for a potion for a pregnant woman, discovered the potion was just a placebo after killing a bunch of shit to get it and gave it to the woman anyway, it was a psychological thing. I think that's enough for one day. alChandler is now level 4. That's bullshit for most games but the Infinity Engine games hue to the old AD&D standard, level 4 is an accomplishment.

I think I've accomplished enough for one day.

June 28, 2016


Just a Thought

Was watching This Week in Tech and they brought this up, a lot of companies in America viewed Britain as an English speaking gateway to the EU and so they located offices there. Now that Britain had decided it would rather not be in the EU, the other candidate for that position is the Republic of Ireland. And Ireland has a pretty low corporate tax rate to boot. It would be pretty cool to see Dublin as a world financial capitol.

June 26, 2016


Sreen Shot

There's a story behind that screen shot. When we'd play World of Warcraft Moon complained that I'd always forget to heal. And I did forget, I just would get caught up in the rush of combat and didn't use my healing spells.

I began Pillars of Eternity and wandered a little off the beaten track into that bear cave. The bear himself wasn't too agressive but I decided to take him on and even on story mode he proved to be too much for me. After the third or fourth death I remembered that I was playing a paladin and I have a healing spell. So on the next try I healed myself in battle and the bear went down. And thus my first, and for all I know last, screen shot from Pillars of Eternity.

June 26, 2016


Pillars of Eternity

Back in the day I played Baldur's Gate I found it ridiculously hard and managed to finish it on my second play through. Back in the day I also played Baldur's Gate II I found it even harder and never got more then a few hours into it. In fact, I have few good memories of games made with the infinity engine. But it's summer, the Steam sale is on and I'm sort of looking at Obsidian's RPG Pillars of Eternity for $17.99. I'm tempted it has the same real time pausable combat that I hated in Baldur's Gate. It gives you a fortress to manage, something I despised in Neverwinter Nights 2 and tolerated in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Your party has no combat AI so that if you don't give your wizard orders, she'll just sit there and let herself be killed.

And yet I'm in a gaming mood. I was having a fairly good time in Arkham: Origins until the fight with Deadshot glitched. I'm still in a gaming mood and the next Deus Ex game is eight weeks away.

And Pillars of Eternity got rave reviews. But so did Divinity: Original Sin and Baldur's Gate II for that matter. People loved those games. I didn't. But two weeks is a long time to go without gaming when you're in the mood. And it is only $17.99. And I'm not obligated to finish the damn thing. I'm 60 and alChandler has nothing left to prove to anyone.

Shit.

Update: Yeah, I pulled the plug, I bought it, I'll probably get two days out of it then uninstall it and hate myself for the next two weeks. alChandler never learns, its one of his endearing qualities.

Update 2: This game has a story time mode! Given my previous experiences with games of this type I'm all over this mode. Here a shot of my party.

Update 3: In fact, this old Penny Arcade comic pretty much sums it up:

June 25, 2016


Batman

I'd gotten to the boss fight with Deadshot and my mouse started to act crazy as the game's autosave kicked in. Under normal circumstances I would have loaded an earlier save but I didn't have that option here.

Shit.

June 25, 2016


Ok Google

Since my phone is now running the Android OS, Google is given a place of honor on its home screen. Google is waiting for my verbal input, all I have to say is, "Ok Google," to wake the app up.

On an intellectual basis, I understand why you need a phrase to wake the app up. Whenever Jim Kirk wanted to use the ship's computer, he simply said, "computer," and it responded by saying, "working." But while Google could have chosen to use the word computer to activate Google, it would lead to accidents. Some of us say computer quite a lot in the course of a day. But few of us have ever said, "Ok Google," in the course of casual conversation.

Never the less something inside of me rebels against using it. I tap the little microphone instead. Perhaps I'm simply making the transition from eccentric to crummdugenly.

***

By the way, to get that photo on my computer I plugged in the phone and instead of the phone automatically doing its thing with Windows and transferring my latest photos over, I had to tell the phone I wanted to enter its file system, look for the right photo and move it over myself.

I've been doing that with my computer for some time now and I've yet to reduce it to a pile of slag. But doing that with a phone gives me pause. iOS has kept me confined for so long that with Android I'm like a dog that's been taken from a kennel and moved to a house with a big back yard. There will be a period of trepidation before I adjust.

June 23, 2016


Trump Embraces the Internet

Truump has just registered lyingcrookedhillary.com. And I've taken a screenshot of the only thing that's up there right now:

And it gets better, he registered the domain with GoDaddy.

June 22, 2016


Strategic Brilliance

For reference, the original video is here.

June 22, 2016


Email

The last time I had to set up my email was in 2011. I got my first iPhone and had to set up my Comcast Account and the alChandler's Halls address. It was a hassle because I hadn't done it in years. An obscure setting in the alChandler's Halls account took two days and a phone call to my web host to resolve. Now, five years later I just finished setting the accounts up on the new phone.

The Comcast account set itself up but I had to redo it manually because the phone defaults to leave messages on server during the automatic set up. I like to use my phone to check my email but don't really deal with the messages until I'm back on Kosh.

aChandler's Halls was a bitch. There was an thing involving authentication that I had to track down and uncheck. But I didn't have to call OLM and I got both accounts up and running the same day I took home the phone, that's pretty fast for me.

I think I've said enough about the damn phone for now.

June 21, 2016


Adventure Time!

For the last five years I've had an iPhone. Two days ago I dropped my iPhone 5s in the parking lot at the local Shop-rite and last night I discovered that I could no longer make outgoing calls. So I went to the Verizon store on Jimmy Leeds Road and while the guy there tried the usual stuff, my phone was just unable to connect to a cellular tower. Since my cell phone is my only phone it was time for an upgrade.

I've had two iPhones and each time I've purchased last year's model. That meant that instead of paying $600 for my phone, I paid about $350. This time I went with Android, a Samsung Galaxy S7. I'd grown a bit tired of Apple's walled in garden approach and decided I was going to be bold, daring and adventurous. It didn't hurt that they had a special running and I got the phone for $147 either (that was with a $70 credit for my old phone).

And I'm writing this because I just set up the Tivo app for the phone. The Tivo app was always slow on my iPhone and I pretty much blamed Tivo for that. Boy is it faster on the new phone. I'm liking the phone's speed and the slightly bigger screen, it's 5.1".

So that was today's adventure. The phone is in the bedroom doing its wireless charging thing. I'm pretty happy with it.

June 21, 2016


Suicide Squad

This August Warners releases the next movie in the DC cinematic universe, Suicide Squad. In the movie Amanda Waller gets Colonel Rick Flagg to form a strike team composed of some of the most dangerous super villains in the world, people like Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang. They take on, um, suicide missions for the government. Warners has a lot riding on this one, Batman vs Superman under performed for the company and they'd really like Suicide Squad to be a hit.

As a fan of comic books I don't have a good take of how much the non comic book reading majority knows about comic book characters. It's a fair bet that everybody knows about Batman, even if they don't know that Bane broke Batman's back a while ago. And I'm guessing it's the same with Captain America and Iron Man, people know about Steve Rogers but don't know that the super serum wore off and he aged 70 years (he got better). But I wonder about characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang, have people heard of them? It strikes me that Suicide Squad is a movie like Ant Man, the type of thing you do after your franchise has been established.

Which is the reason the movie has Batman and the Joker in it. Ben Affleck makes a credible Batman and he did the best with the material he had to work with but Jared Leto as the Joker has Heath Ledger to contend with. Those are some mighty big shoes he's stepping into.

Right now I've no plans to see Suicide Squad. That may change if it gets wildly positive reviews.

June 20, 2016


Guess Who Finally Figured Out the Panorama Feature on His Phone

June 20, 2016


Batman

I'm four hours into my second pass at the Batman game and I seem to be doing a lot better then I did last year. I'm not quite sure why but I suspect that part of the reason is that I've finally accepted the fact that age has taken away a portion of my never abundant abilities and I've stopped worrying about it.

I just finished a bit in the Penguin's battle arena. Last year it took me a lot of replays to get through that part. This time I got through it on my first try. I suppose the take away is that when you stop obsessing about declining hand/eye coordination, the coordination you have left works slightly better.

Now that I've written this, I'll probably rage quit by Wednesday.

June 20, 2016


Mom, Dad and Pictures

Last month was Mother's Day. Now I've never tried to hide the fact that I have no good feelings for Mom. But it's been 14 years since her death and while I still don't love her or particularly miss her I'm aware that she was not in control of her emotions. So this year as a kind of gesture to myself, I posted a picture of Mom and me after my high school graduation.

So there you go. of course that meant I was morally obligated to put up a picture of Dad for Father's Day. On graduation day after Dad took the picture of Mom and me he handed off the camera to her and she took this picture.

I look like some kind of smart assed criminal that a detective is escorting to jail.

I posted that picture to Facebook and then got annoyed by the list in the thing. Damn it, it's 2015, there must be something I can do to straighten the thing out. I have a powerful computer, I have software, I'm going to straighten the fuck out of this picture. And one on line tutorial about GIMP later that's what I did.

June 19, 2016


The Road to Rome

Whenever I read a book I try to throw up a picture of its cover on this page. Yesterday I did an image search for The Scarlet Fig and while I found a picture of the book, I also found this picture that, according to Google, was buried somewhere on Amazon:

So, a little history for you. Burial and cremation were forbidden in the city of Rome by the Law of the Twelve Tables. That's not all the Twelve Tables forbade, just one of 'em. So rich Romans built tombs outside the city. Then as now, rich folk want to be noticed and if you want your tomb to really be noticed, the best spot to build it on was somewhere along the Appian Way, the road that connected Rome with Brindisi in southeast Italy. Think I-95 but with tombs instead of billboards and you've got the vibe leaving Rome via the Appian Way.

Now lets talk about Giovanni Battista Piranesi, he was a Venetian artist in the 18th century. His thing was etchings, archaeology and spaced out prisons.

Piranesi was a surrealist before there were surrealists. And I suspect that's why his picture of the Appian Way with its impossible tombs ended up buried on an Amazon page for the Vergil books. And when I saw the picture on Google, I did a little hunting and found a version of the picture big enough to use as wallpaper.

The picture is wonderful but it doesn't really capture a spirit of Davidson's novels. The Vergil books read like a literate 18th century gentleman with no knowledge of history tried to write a novel about Rome using whatever books were in the town library and some paintings on his estate. But that's the effect Davidson was striving for. The drawing does, however, go very nicely with a story by Clark Ashton Smith called The Doom of Antarion. The story is also known as The Planet of the Dead and I think it's highly possible that Smoth encouthered Piranesi's drawing:

Not without reason had Melchior been fascinated by things antique and by things that are far away. For the world wherein he walked as Antarion was incomputably and the ages of its history were too many for remembbrance: and the towering obelisks and piles along the paven road were the high tombs, the proud monuments of its immemorial dead, who had come to outnumber infinitely the living. In more than the pomp of earthly kings, the dead were housed in Phandiom; and their cities loomed insuperably vast, with never-ending streets and prodigious spires, above those lesser abodes wherein the living dwelt. And throughout Phandiom the bygone years were a tangible presence, an air that enveloped all; and the people were steeped in the crepuscular gloom of antiquity; and were wise with all manner of accumulated lore; and were subtle in the practise of strange refinements, of erudite perversities, of all that can shroud with artful opulence and grace and variety the bare uncouth cadaver of life, or hide from mortal vision the leering skull of death. And here, in Saddoth, beyond the domes and terraces and columns of the huge necropolis, a necromantic flower wherein forgotten lilies live again, there bloomed the superb and sorrowful loveliness of Thameera.

Good stuff but I'll admit it's an acquired taste, for that matter, so is Davidson.

June 19, 2016


In Case You Were Wondering

The first boss in Batman: Arkham Origins is Killer Croc. He's big, he's got armored skin, super strength and crocodile teeth. The first time I plated this game it took forever to beat him. That's because I hadn't mastered the cape stun/beatdown combo. That is click the center mouse button to stun the guy with your cape, then rapidly click the left mouse button to throw rapid punches.

Now, further down the road, I have mastered that combo and this play through I defeated him my first try. Whatever else happens, I'm happy.

June 17, 2016


It's An Honor Just to be Nominated

June 17, 2016


Trump

Trump decided to retweet this picture of himself posing with Dr. Robert Jeffress. And who is Robert Jeffress you ask. Well he's the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. He also has a radio program called Pathway to Victory. And he's a man of strong views. Here's Dr. Jeffress on the Roman Catholic Church:

This is the Babylonian mystery religion that spread like a cult throughout the entire world. The high priests of that fake religion, that false religion, the high priests of that religion would wear crowns that resemble the heads of fish, that was in order to worship the fish god Dagon, and on those crowns were written the words, 'Keeper of the Bridge,' the bridge between Satan and man. That phrase 'Keeper of the Bridge,' the Roman equivalent of it is Pontifex Maximus. It was a title that was first carried by the Caesars and then the Emperors and finally by the Bishop of the Rome, Pontifex Maximus, the Keeper of the Bridge.

You can see where we're going with this. It is that Babylonian mystery religion that infected the early church, one of the churches it infected was the church of Pergamos, which is one of the recipients of the Book of Revelation. And the early church was corrupted by this Babylonian mystery religion, and today the Roman Catholic Church is the result of that corruption.

Here he is on President Obama:

"I want you to hear me tonight, I am not saying that President Obama is the Antichrist, I am not saying that at all. One reason I know he's not the Antichrist is the Antichrist is going to have much higher poll numbers when he comes. President Obama is not the Antichrist. But what I am saying is this: the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist."

And here's a quote from his famous sermon Gay Is Not OK:

What they [homosexuals] do is filthy. It is so degrading that it is beyond description. And it is their filthy behavior that explains why they are so much more prone to disease.

It should come as no surprise that Jeffress has a rather dim view of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the Church of Latter day Saints. But I suppose that with his approval rating tanking, Trump has to take his supporters where he finds them.

June 17, 2016


Nice Try Amazon

June 16, 2016


The Phoenix and the Mirror

Now that I've finished with Joe Hill's post apocalyptic book, I'm rewarding myself by rereading Avram Davidson's fantasy The Phoenix and the Mirror featuring Vergil the Magus and his quest to create a mirror that can be used for divination.

There's a book called Gesta Romanorum which sort of translates as The Deeds of the Romans It was written at the end of the 13th century or, maybe, the beginning of the 14th and it was a best seller. It was written in Latin and only translated to the vernacular after the printing press made it profitable.

Latin was the lingua franca of the Middle Ages, at least in Western Europe. Books themselves were incredibly expensive but if you were literate and rich, or a member of the clergy, you would have encountered Latin authors and even if you never read stuff like The City of God or The Aeneid you'd know they existed and have a good idea of the what was going on. In the chaos after the fall of the Western Roman Empire a lot of literature was lost but The Aeneid and The City of God weren't. And every literate person knew who Virgil and Augustine were. And if you were a literate person in France in the 13th century, you might not be able to read French. In fact one of the reasons Dante was a big thing was that he didn't write The Divine Comedy in Latin, he wrote in in Italian.

But back to Gesta Romanorum. That was a collection of tales that supposedly was about folks in the Roman Empire. It has the same relation to Roman history as Exodus: Gods and Kings has to Egyptian history. The book was popular entertainment and while historical characters show up there actions have nothing to do with the historical record. For instance Emperor Titus shows up in one story. He wants to make sure that nobody works on his son's birthday so he hires Virgil to make a statue that will snitch if anybody disobeys the edict. A guy named Focos does work, is hauled before the emperor and justifies his defiance so well that after Titus dies, Focos is elected emperor.

Avram Davidson thought it would be cool to take the Virgil of popular imagination in the 14th century and run with it. His Vergil is a mage and the Roman Empire of the books is the empire of Gesta Romanorum. The Phoenix and the Mirror is a fascinating mixture of the real and the not so real. Thus, Vergil is an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries. On the other hand he also encounters the Sea Huns.

Davidson wrote three book about Vergil Magus and since they're short I may just read all three.

June 16, 2016


Random Notes

it looks like I'll be messing about with Batman: Arkham Origins for a bit. On my last go round with the game I got distracted by Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3. That may happen again if I'm still playing it come August.

***

I'm more then half way though Joe Hill's The Fireman. I'm not enjoying it nearly as much as I thought I would, probably because it's sort of his version of The Stand. The Stand is one of Stephen King's greatest books and one I really didn't like. It may simply be that I'm sort of a pessimist and so I've no need of apocalyptic fiction. The Fireman is a good book but I'll be glad when it's over.

***

In 2011 I lost some mobility in my right arm. Turned out I had a torn rotator cup. The doctor told me it would probably get worse but in the meantime I could live with it, after all I don't exactly live an active lifestyle. Five years later it has gotten worse and I see the doctor on the 27th. I'm hoping I can deal with this sans surgery. It's not that the concept of surgery bothers me, it's the convalescence. I have insomnia as it is and sleeping in a chair for several weeks would mean I'd be living on brief catnaps every two days.

***

Person of Interest has just one more episode to go. It started out as a police procedural. Harold Finch designed an Artificial Super Intelligence called the Machine that the government uses to predict terrorist attacks. But it also can predict things like murders. Finch assembled a team and when the Machine gives Finch the Social Security number of a person about to become a victim, the team tries to save them.

But the show evolved into full blown science fiction. The Machine is at war with a less benevolent ASI called Samaritan. At this point Samaritan is running the government and is killing anybody who stands in its way. Finch, his team and The machine are seriously outgunned. The show is on Netflix if you feel like checking it out.

***

Finally, if you like James Joyce, tomorrow is Bloomsday. Ulysses take place on June 16, 1904.

June 15, 2016


So That's It for Geralt

And Fallout 4 for that matter. I'll dick around with stuff in my library for a bit and in a worst case scenario, chill until August when the next Deus Ex arrives. And on another note, while I love digital distribution and have no desire to pre-order Deus Ex from Gamestop or whatever, I do miss getting stuff like this with my games. A fancy in-game gun for pre-ordering from Steam just isn't the same.

June 14, 2016


Deus Ex

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided arrives on 8/23 and it's probably going to be my next major game. And I have a little story about the last game in the series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Eidos Montreal made that game and they really hyped the idea that you could play it as a shooter, a stealth game or you could hack your way past obstacles and guards. So I went with a stealth build. Thing is, Eidos Montreal decided they needed boss fights in the game and rather then do that in house they outsourced that part of the game to GRIP Entertainment. And the boss battles were a straight up slug fest. If you had a stealth character, well you either had to get very lucky or start fresh. The folks at GRIP defended their part in the game by reminding players that, "Life isn't fair." Eventually Eidos Montreal changed the battles in some DLC.

At the end of the game you had a choice about what to tell the public about your actions. Since Deus Ex: Human Revolution came out in 2011 I haven't the slightest idea what I chose for my ending. I do have a Deus Ex folder in my Steam directory and I'm hoping that has some kind of record of my final decision. I know that once I got the two TB hard drive I stopped being quite so rigorous about deleting every little bit of a game I'd finished.

I'm just about done with Witcher 3. Just exploring the game world a bit. There's no new content coming for the game so it will g between now and August. I've been playing it, on and off, for almost a year so I really will be sad to see it go.

June 14, 2016


Donald Trump

The NY Times has an article about Trump's days in Atlantic City called How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions. So far Trump hasn't mentioned the article, he's too busy bragging on Twitter about being right on terrorism to deal with the Times.

I've run into people who support Trump for various reasons, dislike of Clinton, Trump's supposed business acumen or fear of immigration. But every now and then I'll encounter someone in the casino business who backs him. That always surprised me because Trump was an absolute disaster. The Plaza closed, Trump Marina was sold to Landry's and is now the Golden Nugget and Trump Taj Mahal was sold to Icahn Enterprises and is managed by Tropicana Entertainment. If the article in the Times is in your tl;dr category, Trump entered Atlantic City at the hight of its boom and four bankruptcies later crawled away. That's why I find it surprising when anyone presently in the casino business, or someone who who formerly worked in the casinos, tells me they're voting for Trump. It's like voting for Ralph Kramden because he's got that old entrepreneurial spirit.

Time to reread What's the Matter with Kansas I guess.

June 12, 2016


Dave

Whenever you have to take your cat in the car, this is always the reaction.

June 10, 2016


Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson is working on a sequel to The Passion of the Christ. Gibson's last film was Apocalypto, a film about the Mayans that was every bit as accurate and well researched as Exodus: Gods and Kings.

June 10, 2016


This Explains Everything

June 9, 2016


The Fireman

Although I'm a compulsive reader, there are times when I hit a dry spell and just can't focus on anything. I'm in one now but fortunately I have an emergency book in my backpack. In May Joe Hill's fourth novel, The Fireman was released. I've been holding it back until I need an intellectual jumpstart. And so today I broke the glass and pulled out my emergency book. And if I need another jump after that, Stephen King has a new one coming out.

June 9, 2016