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alChandler's Halls

Serving dozens since 1999

The Pile of Shame

We all have them, books that accumulate on the night stand, unplayed Steam games and stuff that's bee living on your DVR unwatched for weeks. In my case it was weeks and weeks of comic books that I brought home from the store, dropped on the table in the bedroom and proceeded to ignore.

But reading new Stephen King inspired me and I've begun whittling down the pile. And now if you'll excuse me, I have some back issues of Batman to get through.

May 27, 2018

The Outsider

I just finished the new Stephen King, The Outsider. It's been two years since I read anything by him and this book came along at just the right time. By the way, if you read King's Bill Hodges Trilogy, Holly Gibney makes an appearance in this one, I missed her.

Read it so fast I didn't get a chance to post a picture over on the left. Dear me, I needed some King.

May 27, 2018

Late Night

I haven't really gamed for almost two weeks. Tonight around midnight I got a hankering to play Pillars of Eternity 2 but I figured that it's late and I didn't want to be up until four in the morning, so instead of playing the game I just read my book then dicked around on the net.

As one does.

And now it's well after three. I was about to write that if I had played the game at least I would have accomplished something but somehow that doesn't seem quite right.

May 24, 2018


Aside from obsessively taking pictures of Newton, I don't use my phone's camera as often as I should. Last week I was in New York for Caty's graduation and I did remember to take a couple of pictures:

A badly composed picture of Caty and her diploma. I'm willing to argue history and politics with almost anyone but not with her. She's smarter then I am and she knows more about each subject then I do.

Mrs. Silverman and Caty in Washington Square Park. You can't see the Empire State Building in that picture but it was bathed in purple lights, the color of New York University.

Donna took that picture of me in the bar of the Algonquin Hotel. The table I'm standing behind is the original Algonquin Round Table. During the 1920s a rotating cast of folks like Alexander Woollcott, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Harold Ross, Harpo Marx and others would meet every day for long lunches. But by 1929 most of the regulars left New York for Hollywood. I don't have a bucket list but if I did seeing the original table would have been on it.

Well then, Caty has her bachelor's degree, she's completed her master's courses and will spend the next year working on her thesis. She's accomplished all this at 21. So be warned world, she's coming for you.

One last thing, I've learned that I really like Moscow Mules.

May 20, 2018

Going North

I'm heading to New York for Caty's graduation so nothing's getting posted here for a bit. Meanwhile I just checked Steam, I haven't even had Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire for a week and I've already put in 19.7 hours. I'd say it was a successful purchase.

May 14, 2018

The Boring Bits: Update

So then, I went to the local tavern, hired some sailors and I loaded up on supplies, I think I'm good to go. By the way my ship's name is the Defiant, as a fan of Deep Space 9 that's a good omen.

May 11, 2018

The Boring Bits

In Pillars of Eternity 2 you're chasing Eothas through the Deadfire Archipelago and that means you need a ship. So the game gives you a ship to manage. You have to pay your sailors and keep them happy. You can give them water and hardtack but that will lower their morale. It's smarter to give them fresh fruit and grog. I've been searching around for supplies, I've got food and drink but I still need cannon balls, medicine and rum.

Now, I find this sort of thing boring but I think I'm in the minority. A lot of people like this sort of thing, judging by the comments I've seen and the reviews I've read. People are also excited about ship to ship combat. Fortunately for me I can skip the trading broadsides bit and let the computer resolve that automatically. I still have to fight the pirates (or whatever) when they try to board but combat is the everyday stuff of role playing games. Besides, if I win and their ship is better then mine I can take it.

And I might get to like it. In my replay of the first game I started out hating the time I had to spend outfitting my castle, but towards the end of the game I started to get into it. Perhaps seafaring will be like that.

One more thing, Obsidian has beefed up the random encounters you run into why traveling. As I was exploring the territory around Port Maje, the first I encountered, I entered a forest. It turned out that there were wild boars there under the protection of a druid. He was pissed and ordered me to take a hike but I convinced him that I wasn't on a boar hunting expedition and was just passing though. So he loosened up a bit and gave a me a necklace of +1 intelligence. Since I'm a wizard that was very cool. And it's nice to be able to resolve a situation without resorting to combat.

May 11, 2018


Next week Mrs. Silverman's daughter Caty will graduate New York University with her master's degree. Who does she get as a commencement speaker in 2018? Justin Trudeau the prime minister of Canada. Who did I get when I graduated Glassboro State College in 1978? The New Jersey secretary of agriculture. Caty got the better deal but she deserves it, she's a lot more talented and far smarter then I am.

That's next week, this week social security kicked in and my first payment was deposited. A lot of people advised me to hold out until I was 67 for a larger check. But with one thing and another I've been living on the same income for 20 years and waiting five more years for an extra $500 a month just didn't appeal to me. I celebrated with some beer and by buying the Steam version of Fritz 16, a chess program. I had Fritz 13 in my Steam library but it didn't like Windows 10 very much and wouldn't run. It's just as well, Fritz 16 has a much friendlier interface.

So I'm in the rare situation of having nothing to kvetch about, at the moment life is good.

May 10, 2018

The First Dungeon

There's nothing like clearing out a classic dungeon, seriously.

May 10, 2018

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

While I've come to prefer first person RPGs to isometric RPGs I've got to admit that the world of the Deadfire Archipelago looks nice. The screen shot was taken in the Kraken's Eye, your typical fantasy tavern. So here are the people I'll be talking about. The guy in front is a mercenary named Edér. He and alChandler became friends in the first game and five years (game time) later they're still adventuring together. Behind and to the left of Edér is alChandler. I'm still playing a mage so I'm not in the front line. Mages are squishy. And behind and to the right of Edér is Xoti. She's a priest of Gaun.

And now some back story, in the first game there were many references to the god Eothas. Eothas had possessed a human and raised an army. Eventually he was killed and presumed destroyed, all that happened before the game began. Well Eothas rose from the dead in the form of a giant statue. He destroyed my castle and I'm after him, mostly because the goddess Berath tapped me for the job. She rules death and rebirth and Eothas is interfering with that by stomping on people and collecting their souls.

And that means that Xoti may be trouble. Gaun is another name for Eothas and I'm sure we'll fall out over him. But she's a priest, priests are healers and besides, she's got a crossbow. So we've got Edér as our front line fighter and Xoti and I have got ranged locked down. Not bad for the first two hours.

Almost forgot, here's what alChandler looks like:

I kind of like the poofy shirt.

May 9, 2018

Speed Boost

Today I got on Steam to pre-load Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire and discovered that Comcast had tripled my download speed. That was nice.

May 7, 2018


Expect a series of annoying gaming posts soon. Tuesday Obsidian is releasing Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire to the world. The original game, Pillars of Eternity got me though a bad time and I'm looking forward to the sequel. Then on Wednesday Social Security should kick in and that means that Thursday will look like this:

Just kidding, I don't drink Coors Lite these days.

I think I'm keeping Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor around for a bit. Sometimes you just want to beat the shit out of orcs. And it's not like the game is hurting anything.

May 6, 2018

Mazirian the Magician

There are fictional genres and subgenres that are fairly robust, near future science fiction and epic fantasy come to mind. Then there are boutique genres like dying earth fiction. That subgenre is named after Jack Vance's 1950 collection of stories, The Dying Earth. Before Vance people were writing books about decadent humanity living on Earth at the end of its allotted life span but the genre hadn't been named.

Vance ended up writing four books set in his version of ancient Earth. He called the whole series The Dying Earth and retitled the first book Mazirian the Magician. The first volume owes a big debt to Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique stories but the other three books show a lighter touch. After all, if you can't laugh at the end of days, when can you laugh?

By the way, if you've ever played a role playing game and wondered why your wizard could only memorize four of five spells, blame Vance. That's how magic worked in the 21st eon and Gary Gygax based D&D's magic system on Vance's.

May 6, 2018

The Sliding Scale of Science Fiction

On one end of the spectrum there's Star Wars. Calling Star Wars science fiction is like the guy who got an honorary degree from Rowan University insisting you call him doctor. Star Wars is a fantasy set in space. So, Luke can project an image of himself hundreds of light years away, cool, doesn't bother me. I also don't care how Gandalf gets his replacement staffs.

Then there's the middle ground. There's Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Dune. Interstellar empires and galactic politics abound. If you stop and think of it, Dune's political organization makes no sense. A galactic empire whose computing technology tops out at the hand cranked adding machine level yet it can run the galaxy because mentats. Or Star Trek with its endless supply of human looking aliens, most of them at the same technological level. While it may not make much sense, at least they try to remain internally consistent, within reason.

At the top of the heap, for me, are things like The Expanse and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both try to remain scientifically accurate, at least when it comes to technology available to humanity. But there are other things out there, the blue goo in The Expanse and the cosmic 2x4 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Who the fuck knows what they can do, right? As a thought experiment, imagine Aristotle gets hold of a fully charged iPhone. How would he explain its capabilities. Clarke's Third Law comes to mind:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

They're all good. And a lot of works don't fit anywhere. I'm thinking of R. A. Lafferty's stories and Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind series. And hell, are Gene Wolfe's books about Severian and C. S. Lewis' books about Elwin Ransom fantasy, science fiction or a bastard child of both? Actually they're both a series of religious novels.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to be mellow, relatively speaking. I don't expect your science fictional universe to be scientifically accurate but I do expect it to be internally consistent. Unless it's Star Wars, then who really cares.

May 5, 2018

Bullshit Jobs

In the course of my wanderings today I encountered an excerpt from David Graeber's forthcoming book Bullshit Jobs:


These employees exist only or primarily to allow an organisation to be able to claim it is doing something that, in fact, it is not doing. The most miserable thing about box-ticking jobs is that the employee is usually aware that not only does the box-ticking exercise do nothing towards accomplishing its ostensible purpose, but also it undermines it, because it diverts time and resources away from the purpose itself.

We’re all familiar with box-ticking as a form of government. If a government’s employees are caught doing something very bad – taking bribes, for instance, or shooting citizens at traffic lights – the first reaction is invariably to create a “fact-finding commission” to get to the bottom of things. This serves two functions. First of all, it’s a way of insisting that, aside from a small group of miscreants, no one had any idea that any of this was happening (this, of course, is rarely true); second, it’s a way of implying that once all the facts are in, someone will definitely do something about it (this usually isn’t true, either).

Local government has been described as little more than an endless sequence of box-ticking rituals revolving around monthly “target figures”. There are all sorts of ways that private companies employ people to be able to tell themselves they are doing something that they aren’t really doing. Many large corporations, for instance, maintain their own in-house magazines or even television channels, the ostensible purpose of which is to keep employees up to date on interesting news and developments, but which, in fact, exist for almost no reason other than to allow executives to experience that warm and pleasant feeling that comes when you see a favourable story about yourself in the media.

Which pretty much describes the job I held for 29 years. Yeah, I have a couple of stories where I actually did some good but the fact that I have a few specific stories is a good indication that most of the time I was box-ticking.

I got a job as a dishwasher when I was 18. So from 1974 until 2010 I was gainfully employed, with a break or two between jobs. When I retired friends asked me what I was going to do next and I'd tell them, "Nothing." At first they thought I was kidding but eventually they realized I was serious and stopped asking. I read books, I do this web page, I send out a letter a couple of times a week to a mailing list I curate and I play computer games. That is enough.

I just preordered Graeber's book.

May 5, 2018

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

For some reason I seem to be enjoying myself this time. I'm not especially driven to play it to the ending and I can take or leave the story missions but I can't deny that I've been having a good time. In fact, I plan to keep it on my hard drive after Pillars of Eternity II: Deeadfire unlocks next week. Tine changes everything, doesn't it? Meanwhile, I think I'll add it to the list of games I'm playing over on the left. At nine hours I think it's earned it.

May 1, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rolf and I watched it yesterday. He pointed out that bombers in space don't make a lot of sense and mentioned some problems with the movie's flight physics. At that point I told him that Star Wars owes a lot to the old adventure serials of the 30s and 40s and shouldn't be looked at with an eye to scientific accuracy. And having settled that to my satisfaction, I spent the next five minutes pointing out the absurdity of the geopolitical situation in the galaxy, because that's just how I roll.

April 29, 2018

Avengers Infinity War

The final trailer.

April 28, 2018

Leah Brahms

It's easy to imagine stuff we don't have now: star ships, sentient computers, holo decks! It's quite another thing to imagine how a new technology will change the way people behave. In two episodes Star Trek: The Next Generation explored the implications of the holo deck and did a pretty good job of it.

In the episode Booby Trap the Enterprise was caught in a leftover trap from a vanished culture that was draining its engines. Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge needed to brainstorm a way out for the ship so he recreated one of the ship's designers, Dr. Leah Brahms, on the holo deck to help him come up with a solution. But the program was unemotional and that bothered La Forge so he had the computer add some personality based on Brahms' public appearances. Together La Forge and Brahms 2.0 save the day.

The decision to infuse Brahms 1.0 with emotion was a little problematic. La Forge had a rather disappointing date at the top of the episode and his lack of romantic success was almost a running joke. Furthermore, it becomes clear that Geordi was attracted to Brahms 2.0. Although crew members use the holo deck for many things, there's an unspoken taboo about making copies of real people and interacting with them. But La Forge was in a tough spot and one presumes that after the crisis was resolved he deleted Brahms 2.0.

Except he didn't. Later on, in the episode Galaxy's Child, the real Dr. Brahms boarded the Enterprise. She's not happy that La Forge has been modifying her designs, you know the old engineer vs. user debate. In the course of the episode she discovers the holo Leah Brahms and lets La Forge know that she thinks he's a creep.

This being Trek, there's crisis, Brahms and La Forge work together and the two of them end the episode with mutual respect for each other and the beginning of a friendship.

It's not science fiction for the ages but the writers took time to explore the implications of the tech they created and did a nice job of it. And with programs like Photoshop and now FakeApp it's something our society will have to face.

April 28, 2018