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!


Giving up Driving

I have macular degeneration, the blood vessels that feed my retina in my right eye are leaking causing distortions in that eye's vision. For the moment my left eye is fine and for most of the year (I was diagnosed in January) I was fine to drive. But recently my right eye's problems have gotten to the point where my left eye is having difficulty compensating. I go to the retina specialist on 10/30 and I'll see what he says but in the meantime I'm curtailing driving and facing the prospect of giving it up completely.

And that kind of sucks.

It's not like I wonít be able to get around. Moon can help out, and there are transportation options. I installed the Uber app on my phone and took a screenshot. There seems to be enough drivers in my corner of the world.

So there's that. There are also cabs and I can head north via the bus. And the Absecon Shop-rite delivers, as does White Horse Liquors. But it's a change and it diminishes me a bit. I won't be able to get in my car on the spur of the moment and drive somewhere, not that I ever did that. But I had the option dammit.

There are worse things, cancer, heart disease, that sort of thing. And I am a pessimistic, worst case kind of guy. We'll see what Dr. Connors says at the end of the month. And on Tuesday I'm going to try out my local Uber by taking one to the barbershop in Absecon. For me that will count as an adventure.

And that's where I'm at. My vision was good enough to finish Rebel Galaxy and I can still read. If I was I was given a choice between giving up reading, gaming or driving, of course driving would go. In an ideal world I could keep all three, but in an ideal world Trump wouldn't be president.

October 13, 2019


Rebel Galaxy

I just finished the last plot mission for Rebel Galaxy. Like Witcher 3 or Skyrim the game doesn't end, it will continue to generate go here and kill these guys missions for you but the plot is over and I've beaten the game. This year I've played twelve games so far and finished five of them, not bad for an old man with macular degeneration.

On the 25th The Outer Worlds unlocks, however on the 15th Disco Elysium comes out. It's a strange, detective RPG and I'm interested in it, I'll be watching the reviews on that one. Either way I'll be playing a role playing game by the end of October.

By the way, I'm not fond of watching the credits at the end of a film, unless I'm with people who consider that sort of thing important or I'm watching a movie with an after the credits scene. On the other hand, I'll cheerfully watch the credits in a game that I finished. I presume that means that as an art form, games rank higher on my list then movies. Go figure.

October 12, 2019


Past Master

Past Master wasn't the first novel by R. A. Lafferty that I read, the first was The Devil is Dead. It was published as an Ace paperback and over in Fantasy and Science Fiction the reviewer, it might have been Fritz Leiber, raved about it. So I read it and later picked up Past Master. Here's the basic idea of the novel from Wikipedia:

Past Master is set in the year 2535 on the world of Astrobe, a utopian Earth colony that is hailed as Golden Astrobe, "mankind's third chance", after the decline of both the Old World and New World on Earth. Despite idealistic intentions, it is suffering moral and social decline that may be terminal for both Astrobe and the human race.

In an attempt to save their dying civilization, its leaders use time travel to fetch Sir Thomas More (chosen for his fine legal and moral sense) from shortly before his death in the year 1535 to be the president of Astrobe. More struggles with whether to approve of the Astrobian society, noting its possible connections to his own novel Utopia. His judgments soon lead him into conflict both with destructive cosmic forces on Astrobe and with its leaders who thought him a mere figurehead who could be manipulated.

I'm about to reread Past Master. I still own the Ace Science Fiction Special edition I got in the 70s but it's ancient and on the verge of disintegrating. I have a more recent edition but it was cheaply made and probably won't stand up to frequent rereadings. But it was just released in a Kindle edition, I'm hoping that his other works will be released in various formats, he's an author that deserves to be better known.

Lafferty was a Catholic, I didn't know that when I first read him. For that matter, I didn't know that J. R, R Tolkien and Gene Wolfe were Catholics when I first encountered them as well. For an atheist, I have a certain affection for believing authors, Tolkien, Lafferty, Wolfe, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Charles Williams and for that matter John Milton (Paradise Lost really is the shit).

As for Lafferty, he has a unique style I fell in love with from the beginning. Here's a bit from his introduction to The Devil is Dead:

"And they also tell the story of Papadiabolous the Devil and his company, and of two of the hidden lives of Finnegan; and how it is not always serious to die, the first time it happens.

"Here is one man who was buried twice and now lies still (but uneasy of mind) in his two separate graves. Here is another man who died twice--not at all the same thing. And here are several who are disinclined to stay dead: they don't like it, they won't accept it.

Reading Lafferty is like sitting at a bar and listening to the old guy next to you spin tale after tale. He's wonderful.

October 8, 2019


Trailers

Three, to be exact. The first one is for Star Trek Picard. That show drops on 1/23/20.

It looks like we're pretty far from Roddenberry's ideal future where everybody is noble and more in Deep Space 9 territory, specifically In the Pale Moonlight. For some, myself included, that was the single best episode of Trek. For many others it was an abomination that betrayed Gene's vision for the show. At any rate, there seems to be a Starfleet coverup and somebody seems to be doing questionable research on the Borg.

The next trailer is for Star Trek Discovery. The ship has been catapulted 930 years into the future and things don't look so rosy.

Apparently the United Federation of Planets has lost a few members over the years, with just six stars left on the flag. No word on when STD drops but I'm guessing that it will be after STP.

Finally, The Expanse premieres on 12/13/19. I have a long standing affection for the Trek universe but The Expanse is a better show then any of the Treks.

One more thing, CBS All Access just released a new Short Trek. This one deals with Ensign Spock's first day on the USS Enterprise. It made me happy.

October 5, 2019


Halo Infinite Voice Actor

Gyoza the Pug is supplying some of the sound effects for the next Halo game.

October 2, 2019


Gideon the Ninth

I very seldom buy a book based on a blurb but this one from Charlie Stross appeared on the cover of Gideon the Ninth:

"Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space! Decadent nobles vie to serve the deathless Emperor! Skeletons!"

I'll start it tomorrow. But there's more, the idea of the book reminded me of Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny. In 1967 Zelazny wrote one of my favorite books, Lord of Light about the crew of a generation ship who learn how to transfer their consciousness to new and better bodies. By the time their ship reaches its destination the crew have become gods and the descendants of the original passengers worship them. I reread it every few years.

Creatures of Light and Darkness was published in 1969 and started out as an experiment that he never intended to release to the public. Unlike the crew of the good ship Star of India, the gods in Creatures of Light and Darkness really are gods and they order the universe. At any rate the description of Gideon the Ninth reminded me of that book and I wanted to reread it. I lost my original copy many years but some ten years ago I paid $30 for another copy that I haven't reread because the book was out of print and I, um, wanted to preserve the paperback for an emergency. Today I discovered that it's back in print and my 46 year old paperback copy is no longer irreplaceable. So that book will finally be reread sometime after Gideon, Amazon assure me it will be here tomorrow.

And while I thought that Tamsyn Muir, the author of Gideon the Ninth, might have been influenced by Zelazny, an interview I read indicated that she was not, she loved horror and her book has some of Lovecraft's DNA, some of King's and it also has a touch of Catch-22 in it.

Now there's a book I have to reread.

October 1, 2019


Now We Are Six

Now We Are Six is also the title of one of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, by the way.

10/1/13 is an arbitrary birthday. I decided to adopt him in March of 2014 and he was estimated to be six months old, old enough to be neutered. I took him home on 4/1/14 and just made 10/1/13 his birthday by decree. So far he hasn't objected.

Mrs. Silverman described him as a good natured thug and that's fairly accurate. Not a thug in the bullying, overbearing sense, a thug in the sense that he's big, somewhat uncoordinated and so he stomps about, enjoying his life without malice in his heart.

Lately he's been demanding drinks from my bathroom faucet. When I turn on the tap Newton first goes to the bathroom mirror and starts licking the poor cat on the other side of the glass. He can't free the other cat from his prison but at least he can show him some affection. It's the type of thing a good natured thug does, "Don't worry buddy, I'm thinking about you."

And there he is now, waiting in the hallway. He's thirsty but rather then drink from is dish he'll hang out there, trying to guilt me into turning on the faucet for him. Marie calls it watering the cat. And what the hell, it's his birthday.

October 1, 2019


And my Next Game Is...

Currently I'm dicking about with Rebel Galaxy a game I got free from the Epic store early this year. But I'm almost tempted to put Mass Effect back on my system after watching N.K. Jemisin replay it on Twitch last night. I watched two hours of her finishing up the first game in the series and then start Mass Effect 2. And if I was in a gaming drought I just might have gone through with it. But two games I'm interested in are being released in October, one of which I preordered. That one is The Outer Worlds by Obsidian. There the ones who mad Neverwinter Nights 2, Tyranny, Pillars of Eternity, Pillars of Eternity 2 and Fallout New Vegas.

I've mentioned before that in Witcher 3 I made a decision to skip a quest based on what I thought my character would do. I played Fallout New Vegas back when it was released in late 2010 and in that game I decided to quit the game because my character was asked to do a story quest that I personally found distasteful. My character would have had no problem with it but I did. In my defense, I had just retired from the Casino Control Commission, my friends were still working there, knowing that their jobs were being eliminated in 2011 and I was not in the mood for moral ambiguity. So i quit the game.

And years later, I felt bad about that. I've put the game back on Kosh several times and tried to finish it, but the sad truth it that even with patches and tweaks, Fallout New Vegas won't run very well on my system. It has problems with the 64 bit version of Windows 10. And so it goes.

But life goes on and on 10/25 I'll be able to install The Outer Worlds, it's one part Firefly, one part Borderlands (the first one that you could play solo without too much of a hassle) and one part Fallout New Vegas, I'm pretty excited.

I don't know what kind of character I'll play but it won't be a grey haired white guy named alChandler. I'm going to role play.

But wait! There's more! On 10/15 a game comes out from left field, something called Disco Elysium, it's an RPG about a detective and it flew under everybody's radar until early September when the devs announced that it's coming out in October. They also released this video:

September 29, 2019


The Most Venerable Book

There are five ancient Chinese books called the five classics that were compiled during the Zhou dynasty, The Book of Poetry, The Book of Documents, Book of Rites, I Ching and Spring and Autumn Annals. I'm interested in The Book of Documents, also known as The Most Venerable Book and, in older books on China it's called The Book of History.

Confucius is said to have compiled the book from much older records. And while itís a history of sorts, itís also a polemic. Whoever put the book together was aiming to show virtuous rulers and government officials and contrast them with the not so virtuous rulers. And thatís what drew the wrath of Emperor Qin Shi Haung, founder of the Qin dynasty.

Rulers of the first three dynasties were called kings, Qin Shi Haung called himself emperor and he was a prick. He embraced a philosophy called legalism that can be summed up by Pink Floyd:

You better stay home
And do as you're told
Get out of the road if you want to grow old

This was a rather cheerless philosophy and unfortunately for the emperor it had a lot of competition, the previous dynasty, Zhou, had degenerated into a collection of warring states with the Zhou king as a kind of pathetic, forgotten symbol. It was a violent period but it did give birth to a lot of philosophic schools, most of which were cheerier then legalism. So Qin Shi Haung decided to eliminate the competition by ordering all books burned, excepting those that dealt with practical matters like agriculture and medicine.

Consider what has survived from the literature of classical Greece and the Roman Empire. We've lost the bulk of it and nobody went on a systematic campaign of destruction like Qin Shi Haung. And here's the ironic part, he kept copies of the banned books in his personal library. But the Qin dynasty only lasted 15 years and in 206 BC a warlord named Xiang Yu burnt the imperial palace and there went the library.

But some books survived, including The Book of Documents.

It tells the story of China's first three dynasties, Xia, Shang and Zhou. Shang amd Zhou are historical but the jury is still out on Xia. It was thought to be legendary gut then this happened:

Archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the possible existence of the Xia dynasty at locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts. There exists a debate as to whether or not the Erlitou culture was the site of the Xia dynasty. Radiocarbon dating places the site at c. 2100 to 1800 BC, providing physical evidence of the existence of a state contemporaneous with and possibly equivalent to the Xia dynasty as described in Chinese historical works. In 1959, a site located in the city of Yanshi was excavated containing large palaces that some archaeologists have attributed to capital of the Xia dynasty. Through the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs in the same locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts regarding Xia; at a minimum, the era traditionally denoted as the Xia dynasty marked an evolutionary stage between the late Neolithic cultures and the urban civilization of the Shang dynasty.

In 2011, Chinese archaeologists uncovered the remains of an imperial sized palaceódated to about 1700 BCóat Erlitou in Henan, further fueling the discussions about the existence of the dynasty.

You can read more at the Wikipedia entry on the Xia dynasty. Part of the problem is that writing didn't seem to exist until the Shang dynasty. Still, I'm a historical romantic at heart and like to think that there was a Xia dynasty.

And that's your history lesson for today.

September 28, 2019


Just my Luck

Now that I've uninstalled Control, Epic adds a feature to its storefront that keeps track of how long you've played. While Steam can show you your playtime regardless of whether the game is installed or not, Epic's tracker only works if the game is installed. Because I'm not a programmer, my reaction is one of bemused frustration.

September 28, 2019


Metropolis

The only silent film that I've watched more then once is Fritz Lang's Metropolis. This version is colorized with dubbed in dialog added. Do I feel a need for this? No I do not, but that being said Metropolis is an incredible science fiction film and if the only way you'll watch it is in the dubbed, colorized version, or for that matter you just prefer it with color and spoken dialog, then by all means watch this version.

By the way, you may notice that some of the film looks streaked. That's not the fault of the folks who made this version. About 25% of the film was lost. Over the years the lost footage turned up in this place or that and was edited back in. Some of that footage was in terrible condition and that's why some parts of the film look pretty bad.

September 26, 2019


Control

After nearly three weeks of trying I've come to the conclusion that I can't beat the penultimate battle in Control. I had a good run and I can honestly say that I did much better then I expected. But I do have one thought about the game, Control was different then the type of game I normally play, I bought it for its setting more then anything else. When I installed it and discovered it had no difficulty settings I stopped for a minute and then went on rather then requesting a refund. If a review had mentioned that the game had no difficulty settings I might still have purchased it. Then again, I might have given it a pass.

This isn't a knock against Remedy, the developer, or the Epic store. It's just a wish that reviewers would include that sort of thing for those of us who can't always control all ten fingers at once.

September 26, 2019


Hobbit Day

Ken reminded me that today is Hobbit Day, the date was chosen for the twin birthdays of Bilbo and his nephew Frodo.

Tolkien tells us that the average life expectancy for a hobbit was 100 years. So while they don't live as long as dwarves, who frequently make it to 250, they outlive humans, except folks like Aragorn who were descended from Numenorian aristocracy. All of that means that in the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring Bilbo's age, 111, was above average but not freakishly so. However he still looked like a hobbit of 50 and that did get the folk of Hobbiton talking, one of the reasons for his decision to leave the Shire.

On that same day, Frodo turned 33 and that made him legally an adult. If you consider their longer life span 33 seems a logical choice to enter your majority. And up to that point the book and the movie share the same timeline, but after that they split. In the movie Gandalf takes a quick trip to Gondor, researches the Ring and comes back the next year to send Frodo to Rivendell. In the book, Gandalf visits on and off, disappears for quite a long time and when Frodo is nearing his 50th birthday shows up to drop a shit ton of bad news on him.

So then, Frodo had the Ring for 17 years, and while he never used it the Ring was always with him, either in his pocket or on a chain around his neck. The Ring was more or less asleep and Frodo, having no particular desire for power over others, wouldn't have made a tempting target anyway. But Gandalf knew that Sauron had gotten himself a new body and was actively searching for his Ring again, so Frodo was in danger.

But by the time they're 50, hobbits start getting settled and stodgy. Neither book Frodo or movie Frodo truly knew what they were getting into but book Frodo had a much better idea of what he was leaving behind. He loved the Shire and if Sauron's servants were asking after a hobbit named Baggins, then it might never be safe for him to return home. Indeed, by the time he did return he was so wounded spiritually and mentally that Shire offered him no peace. It was Arwen who got him passage to Valinor, the Undying Land. She gave up her immortality to marry Aragorn and secured passage for the three Ring-bearers, Bilbo, Frodo and much later Sam.

By the way Pippin was 29 when he went off with Frodo, still in his tweens as Tolkien put it. And if he came off in the movie as a bit of a self indulgent fuck up, well he kind of was. Still, he wrose to the occasion.

September 22, 2019


Cleanse the Siphons: The Video

The big red ball I was attacking heals the hiss soldiers, that's why I was trying to take it out first. I was trying to avoid the missiles and grenades the soldiers were hurling at me but I should start hitting the Q key, that brings up my shield, I always forget to use that. Back in my World of Warcraft days, Marie would complain that I'd forget to heal myself in battle.

I've been stuck on this part for over a week now but upgrading the pierce weapon, the one with the glowing red lines, helped a lot on the healer and the flying guys with the red shields. There are still two more guns I want to max out, it helps to go into battle prepared. I may not be very good but I'm persistent.

September 22, 2019


Cleanse the Siphons

You'll have to take my word for it, I've never gotten this far before.

My character's name is Jesse Faden. Seventeen years ago there was an Altered World Event in her home town of Ordinary, Wisconsin that caused the adults to vanish and left the place destroyed. The FBC picked up Jesse's brother, Dylan and brought him back to the Oldest House. Jesse ran away from the ruins of Ordinary and has been looking for Dylan ever since. She enters the Oldest House at the beginning of the game and is promptly made the FBC's director.

Jesse learns that her brother is incredibly powerful, probably insane and the Hiss seem to be holding him in that big thing in the distance, using six siphons to draw power from him. I managed to shut down three of them but siphon number four gave me a lot of trouble and shutting down siphon five was just a dream. But with two maxed out weapons I breezed through siphon four and managed to shut down siphon number five. So there's beginning to hope that I might get through this sequence.

The game pulls some shit, for instance, if I ever make it to siphon six and die, the game will kick me back to siphon four and I'll have to clear it and siphon five again before I can attempt six. Personally, I think that bullshit, but what I think doesn't count. At any rate I'm a bit to wired to do the siphons now, besides there are three other guns to upgrade.

So that's where I'm at in Control.

September 21, 2019


Threshold Kids

One of the conceits of Control is that the Federal Bureau of Control has been around for a while. One of the relics left over from the 20th century are a series of videos meant to prepare the staff's children for possible encounters with unusual phenomenon. The in house show was called Threshold Kids and video tapes of the program can be found from time to time in the various offices of the FBC. I get the feeling that the forces besieging the Federal Bureau of Control have been around for a long time.

September 21, 2019


Upgrading Pierce

Yesterday I spent my time in Control trying to get enough crafting stuff to open up the second upgrade slot for my pierce weapon. I succeeded and just now I took the modified weapon out for a spin. I was surprised at how much of a difference that second mod made. I still don't think I'll finish the game but if I spend tomorrow, well today it's 3:30 in the morning, getting enough material to unlock the third slot the gun might actually kick ass. So that's where I'm at battling the Hiss (I know, I didn't make up the name) in Control.

September 21, 2019


Life Imitates Art

That picture is from 2010: The Year We Make Contact, it's the scene where the monoliths turn Jupiter into a small star.

And that picture was taken by the Juno probe, currently studying Jupiter. Alas, it's not godlike aliens messing about with Jupiter, rather Jupiter's moon, Io, is eclipsing the Sun. Still, pretty cool in its own right if you ask me.

September 21, 2019


Difficulty Levels

You know, if I had known that Control didn't have difficulty levels I wouldn't have bought it. But I'm glad I didn't know that because I've had a good time with it. Now I'm at the end of the game and unless they issue a patch I doubt I'll be able to finish it. But I'm giving it my best shot, upgrading my weapons by running around looking for infected to fight to gain crafting materials.

I generally check put the Gamers with Jobs site and one of their regulars, Colleen Hannon wrote an article called When Every Game is Hard Mode. Hannon has issues that prevent her from playing games the way she used to and when a game like Sekiro: Shadows Dies Twice comes out without difficulty levels she simply can't play it.

Now, I have no health issues at the moment that prevent me from playing games, but I am on the clumsy side. If I'm especially motivated, like I was with Control, I can do better then expected but I'll never be able to finish something like Dark Souls.

Meanwhile, I have three more weapons and a skill or two to max out. After that, I'll put it aside if I can't do the final fight, hoping that Remedy issues a patch that will offer a lower difficulty setting. If not, well I had a good time.

September 20, 2019


Gaming PSA

The Epic Store gives away free games every week. This week they're giving away six Batman games, three Lego Batman games and the three Arkham games. I'm not particularly interested in the Lego games but I've played all three Arkham games, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City and Batman: Arkham Knight and I heartily recommend them.

If you don't play computer games or you don't want to sign up with another online store, that's cool. But six games for free is a pretty good deal.

September 20, 2019


On Beauty

I once read Roger's Version by John Updike. I remember nothing about it except I was bored. Here's the plot summery from Wikipedia:

The novel is about Roger Lambert, a theology professor in his fifties, whose rather complacent faith is challenged by Dale, an evangelical graduate student who believes he can prove that God exists with computer science. Roger becomes obsessed with the thought that Dale is having an affair with his wife, Esther.

Roger himself becomes involved with his niece Verna, a coarse but lively nineteen-year-old and single parent whose own mother (Roger's half sister) had a sexual hold over him when they were in their teens. Verna, frustrated by her poverty and limited opportunities, becomes increasingly abusive towards her one and a half year old, mixed-race daughter, Paula. Roger, out of sympathy for her situation and his increasing sexual attraction for her, begins to tutor Verna so she can earn her high school equivalency.

One evening, when Paula refuses to go to sleep, Verna shoves and hits her; Paula falls and breaks her leg. Roger, after helping Verna disguise the assault as a playground accident from the hospital staff, has sex with her. Dale, meanwhile, grows depressed and disillusioned when his computer data does not seem to point to the existence of God. The novel ends with Verna leaving Boston to return to her parents in Cleveland and Roger and Esther receiving temporary custody of Paula.

I remember none of that.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the mood for a work about upper middle class academic types. The type of people who turn up in Woody Allen movies and sometimes in Updike novels. These days I'm still a little wary about Woody Allen's work and while Updike was regarded as a national treasure he didn't do much for me. Somehow I stumbled into a review of Zadie Smith's book, On Beauty. Again from Wikipedia:

On Beauty centres on the story of two families and their different yet increasingly intertwined lives. The Belsey family consists of university professor Howard, a white Englishman; his African-American wife Kiki; and their children, Jerome, Zora and Levi. They live in the fictional university town of Wellington, outside Boston. Howard's professional nemesis is Monty Kipps, a Trinidadian living in Britain with his wife Carlene and children Victoria and Michael.

The Belsey family has always defined itself as liberal and atheist, and Howard in particular is furious when his son Jerome, lately a born-again Christian, goes to work as an intern with the ultra-conservative Christian Kipps family over his summer holidays. After a failed affair with Victoria Kipps, Jerome returns home. However, the families are again brought closer nine months later when the Kippses move to Wellington, and Monty begins work at the university.

I was going to write that it's done with a lighter touch then Roger's Version but it would be wrong of me to say that, I don't remember enough of the book to make that kind of judgment. As for Updike, he won two Pulitzers, so is reputation is safe from my snideness.

By the way, I finished Stephen King's The Institute in two days. As it turned out, I was in the mood for Stephen King novel.

September 18, 2019