This is Doctor Manhattan, a godlike superhero from Watchmen created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Doctor Manhattan has been messing about with the time stream in the DC Universe and the characters there are becoming aware of him.
Some are frightened, some are in awe and some are just pissed off.
Because my sense of humor never evolved after I hit 10 years old.
November 22, 2017
The Kalevala and Tolkien
I used to reread Tolkien every year, but I'm in my 60s and the years go by a bit quicker then they used to. It's been about three years since I read the whole thing, starting with The Simarillion, then The Hobbit and finishing up with The Lord of the Rings. It's time for that again only this time I'm starting with The Kalevala.
The first translation I read was by Keith Bosley. It's a modern translation and it's supposed to be very good. I'm afraid I found it very difficult to follow. So a few years later I read the first English translation. It was done in 1888 by John Martin Crawford. I had problems with that one too. This time I'm reading William Forsell Kirby's 1907 translation. I've a much better handle on the poem with Kirby. And Kirby's translation is the one Tolkien read.
In The Kalevala there's a brooding tragic hero called Kullervo. Kullervo blew Tolkien away and when he started his own private mythology, Túrin Turambar was based on Kullervo. The chapter on Túrin is the longest chapter in The Silmarillion and he also has his own book, Christopher Tolkien brought out The Children of Húrin in 2007. Morgoth hated Húrin and cursed his whole family. Túrin was Húrin's son and let's just say that when Morgoth curses a family, they stay cursed. I've read a lot of Tolkien's posthumous stuff and The Children of Húrin is very good indeed, if you're into the Nordic, tragic, cursed by destiny thing. Indeed, if I'm really feeling the whole Tolkien thing I may read The Children of Húrin after The Silmarillion this year.
By the way, when Túrin died his spirit did not leave creation, the way other human spirits did. Instead Túrin resides in the Hallos of Mandos. And when Morgoth breaches the Walls of Night and the Dagor Dagorath, the last battle between Morgoth and the Valar, takes place it will be Túrin who finally kills Morgoth once and for all.
Meanwhile, Kirby, his translation was published in two volumes and I've just started volume 2.
November 21, 2017
Do you know who Jon Draper is? Well he invented a device that could mimic the tones the phone company (there was just the one in those days kids) used. He got his nickname, Captain Crunch, when he discovered that a whistle that was given away in Cap'n Crunch cereal could:
emit a tone at precisely 2600 hertz—the same frequency that was used by AT&T long lines to indicate that a trunk line was ready and available to route a new call. This would effectively disconnect one end of the trunk, allowing the still connected side to enter an operator mode. Experimenting with this whistle inspired Draper to build blue boxes: electronic devices capable of reproducing other tones used by the phone company.
Eventually two kids named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak improved on Draper's design and sold their own blue boxes that allowed people to make free phone calls.
“He and I, we don’t get along,” said Matt Lewis, who organized special events for years at DEF CON and other hacking conferences. “What I've seen with my own eyes is him behaving inappropriately around teenagers in the hacker community, and having a harem of young hackers that kind of bubble around him because he plays up the hero card. This has never been a secret, it's flagrant public behavior, and as a result he's been something of a social outcast for many years, although that doesn't stop him from showing up at hacker conventions.”
And fuck it, while I'm on the subject, Jeffrey Tambor is leaving Transparent after he was accused of sexual harassment.
November 19, 2017
The DC Cinematic Universe
Let's get something out of the way, I've nothing against Zack Snyder. I enjoyed 300 and I loved The Watchmen. That being said, I disliked Man of Steel. In that movie, 13 year old Clark saves his classmates when their school bus plunges into a river. Clark is spotted and although the Kents paper it over Clark's father is angry:
Clark Kent at 13: I just wanted to help.
Jonathan Kent: I know you did, but we talked about this. Right? Right? We talked about this! You have...!
Jonathan Kent: Clark, you have to keep this side of yourself a secret.
Clark Kent at 13: What was I supposed to do? Just let them die?
Jonathan Kent: Maybe; but there's more at stake here than our lives or the lives of those around us. When the world... When the world finds out what you can do, it's gonna change everything; our... our beliefs, our notions of what it means to be human... everything. You saw how Pete's mom reacted, right? She was scared, Clark.
Clark Kent at 13: Why?
Jonathan Kent: People are afraid of what they don't understand.
Clark Kent at 13: Is she right? Did God do this to me? Tell me!
And that's where the movie lost me. I'm not saying it was a bad movie but I didn't like Snyder's take on Superman. And I wasn't alone, Man of Steel made $668 million, a respectable sum but a lot less then Warners was hoping for.
While I'm unwilling to say that Man of Steel was a bed movie, its follow up, Batman v Superman was terrible. And it underperformed as well. A movie that brought together Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman made $872 million, a lot less then Warners was hoping for. But Warners soldiered on with Snyder, tapping him to direct Justice League. While Snyder was doing that, Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman, a far more optimistic movie then either of Snyder's. It pulled in $821 million, the highest grossing super hero origin movie in history.
I don't know how well Justice League will do ultimately, but it only made $96 million domestic on its opening weekend, a big disappointment for Warners. And at this point I'm wondering how much longer Warners will allow Zack Snyder to make movies about DC's comic book characters when the public has shown that it dislikes his take on them. Hell, turn the franchise over to Jenkins.
November 19, 2017
Everyday Life in Alexandria
Bayek and his hawk Senu on the roof of the Library of Alexandria.
And here's the view of the city you get from up there.
November 18, 2017
Assassin's Creed: Origins
I took a break from the game for a few days. You see, I did a quest that involved an assassination (obviously) and the result that a band of, ahem, assassins are on my trail. They're called Phylakes and they ridiculously overpowered. I'm level 13 and the guy after me in Alexandria is level 20.
Previous to this, if I wanted to kill someone in a fort I could just waltz in and start killing. If they lit the emergency beacons it didn't matter, I could handle the extra guys. But now one of the Phylakes will show up. So I have to stealth my way through.
It's not that difficult being stealthy and it's fairly easy to avoid them in the city. There's just one guy in Alexandria and he shows up on the map. If he gets too close I can take to the rooftops. But it took me by surprise and I had to adjust to the new circumstances.
November 17, 2017
Star Wars Battlefront 2
Because I'm interested in the electronic gaming business, for lack of a better term, I follow the news about games I'm not particularly interested in playing. One of those games is Star Wars Battlefront 2. It's a third person multiplayer shooter and there's also ship to ship combat. It also has a series of solo missions for the introverts among us but the real focus of the game is multiplayer.
At a certain point in the game you need to grind missions to earn in game currency to get loot boxes. The loot boxes contain cards that can be slotted into your ship for upgrades and natural resources that can upgrade your weapons. They also can contain hero characters like Vader or Luke that you can use during multiplayer.
These things are necessary to progress in the game but they're time consuming to obtain. So EA is offering to sell players the in-game currency in return for real world money. This is not going down well.
Previously companies sold new content for games or cosmetic things. For instance Blizzard offers a necromancer character for $14.95. The necromancer allows you to play the game with a different set of powers. And Dishonored had a couple of expansions that allowed you to play a new adventure as the assassin Daud. But you couldn't buy new abilities for Corvo, the main character in Dishonored, to allow him to finish the game easier. And you certainly can't buy better weapons or purchase abilities for your character in Blizzard's shooter Overwatch.
Not only is EA doing that with their loot boxes, they're doing that in a multiplayer game. And the blowback took EA by surprise. So yesterday EA posted this:
[As] we approach the worldwide launch, it's clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design. We've heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we've heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn't get this right.
We hear you loud and clear, so we're turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we've made changes to the game. We'll share more details as we work through this.
Translation: After we've sold a shitload of copies we'll turn the in-game purchases back on.
Polygon thinks that EA was under pressure from Disney. The last thing Disney wants is negative press about their franchise a month before Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And I'm sure that EA will tweak the system before they turn the in-game purchases back on. And so it goes.
And there's nothing wrong with this. EA didn't try to hide the fact that you could buy your way to the top. If the game tanks, EA will come up with something else. And if the game does well in spite of the microtransactions then expect other companies to start including them in multiplayer games too.
Update: CNBC is reporting that EA's stock has droped by 7% this month, it fell by 2.5% on Friday alone.
November 17, 2017
New Program Part 2
Ok, I think I got this OBS recording shit down. Maybe not down cold but I think I can do a real Assassin's Creed: Origins video without too much futile thrashing around.
November 17, 2017
In Which alChandler Tries to Learn a New Program
I've been using a program called Fraps to capture video from the games I'm playing. For some reason Fraps stopped recording after 30 seconds while I was playing Assassin's Creed: Origins today. Now, Fraps is an old program and I've heard that a lot of people use OBS Studio to record their gaming these days. It not only records but it can be used to stream as well, not that I have any intentions of going down that fucking rabbit hole. So I gave it a try.
It took an hour and a half to get it to record this 36 second video. It's not very interesting and I'm only putting it up as a celebration of victory over OBS.
Update: I did indeed figure out the problem with Fraps and recorded a video, but I decided against posting it. The frame rate on with Fraps running in the background took a huge hit, so I'll probably have to get comfortable with OBS if I want to continue throwing videos up on YouTube, at least with demanding games like Assassin's Creed: Origins. Besides, it will do me good to learn something new.
November 16, 2017
I don't often start a book and put it down to start another one but that's what I did today. I'd been enjoying Autonomous but today I heard the story about Christopher Tolkien and I started thinking about The Kalevala.
J.R.R. Tolkien encountered The Kalevala in the John Martin Crawford translation while he was in college. He was so taken by it he tried to teach himself Finnish to read it in the original. Quenya, the language of the High Elves, has Finnish roots. And in The Silmarillion the story of Túrin Turambar is based on the story of Kullervo in The Kalevala. In fact, the last book of Tolkien's that was released was The Story of Kullervo, a translation/retelling that Tolkien abandoned.
So that's what's going down on the literary front.
November 15, 2017
Amazon and Christopher Tolkien
On August 29 Christopher Tolkien resigned as an officer of the Tolkien Estate. I suspect that's the reason the Tolkien family came to a very lucrative agreement with Amazon over television rights. Tolkien hated the movies and back in the day had reservations about his father's decision to sell the movie rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists. I can't imagine that he was giddy with glee over the prospect of Jeff Bezos getting his hands on his father's books.
On one hand, I'd like to see some of Tolkien's mythology on screen. But I kind of feel sorry for Christopher Tolkien. He's 94, he's worked all his life to preserve his father's legacy and this must be a heavy blow for him.
And there's more to fantasy then Tolkien and Martin. May I respectfully point out that Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy and Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun would be ideal for Neflix or some other streaming network. And for the right amount of cash, China Miéville might be willing to consider an adaptation of his Bas-Lag books. And there's M. John Harrison's books about Viriconium.
But I am not without gratitude and I'm looking forward to whatever Amazon comes up with.
November 15, 2017
The Justice League
I haven't seen The Justice League but the reviews are in and they're not very good. It strikes me that while Warners owns some of the most recognizable characters in the world, they don't know what to do with them.
When Warners relaunched Superman with Man of Steel Zack Snyder didn't want a Marvel movie, he wanted something more serious:
"When we started to examine the Superman mythology, in the most classic sense, I really wanted to press upon the film the 'why' of him, which has been 75 years in the making. The Christ-like parallels, I didn't make that stuff up. We weren't like, 'Hey, let's add this!' That stuff is there, in the mythology. That is the tried-and-true Superman metaphor. So rather than be snarky and say that doesn't exist, we thought it would be fun to allow that mythology to be woven through."
And that's what he did. His Superman was grim and joyless and while Man of Steel made a lot of money it didn't do as well as Warners hoped. And rather then look for a mid course correction, Warners doubled down on the seriousness with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
That movie was inspired by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. That book told the story of a 50 year old Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement in defiance of a law that banned costumed vigilantes. The one hero allowed to work openly, Superman, is dispatched to corral Batman and hopefully persuade him to stand down. But Batman won't stand down and that leads to a conflict between them.
If you've never read the book, you should, at least if you have a taste for graphic novels. The conflict between Bruce and Clark is organic. Clark has the power to rule the world but he'll go along with the government because in the end he respects the rule of law and has a basic faith in humanity. Bruce has seen America society deteriorate in the 10 years since superheroes were outlawed and he's had enough. He's not very big on the whole faith in humanity thing. Miller's characterizations of Clark and Bruce were a logical extension of their portrayals over the decades.
In short, Miller made sure that Batman and Superman earned the right to their smackdown.
Batman v Superman was a bad, incoherent movie. Batman's motivations for trying to kill Superman were xenophobic, Lex Luthor was a psychopath and once again a big DC universe movie underperformed.
At this point I'm going to talk about the Marvel movies. Marvel did solo movies about the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, setting them in a shared universe. Hawkeye and Black Widow did not get solo movies but Hawkeye showed up in Thor and Black Widow was in Iron Man 2. By the time The Avengers came out we knew who the characters were, we knew their motivations and there was a credible threat, Loki. Loki arrived backed by a Chitauri army. But the Other, who gave Loki the army, was himself a servant of Thanos, introduced in a post credits scene.
Now the Marvel movies are lighter in tone then the DC movies and no one is asking DC to emulate that, but Marvel got all their pieces on the board before they released The Avengers. DC doesn't seem to know how to do that. Most people still have no idea who Thanos is but they know that the big purple dude who shows up now and then is a badass and a major threat. And really, that's all you want in a villain.
The villain in JLA is Steppenwolf. Now if you're my age you know Steppenwolf as a band and Steppenwolf is also a novel by Herman Hesse. But in this context, Steppenwolf is one of the New Gods, he lives on Apokolips, is the uncle of Darkseid ruler of Apokolips. And he's one of those characters that even a person who reads comic books has to think about before you can actually remember him. Presumably he's the bad guy in the movie to set up a battle between the JLA and Darkseid further down the road. But here's the thing, while we've never seen Thanos in action, the Marvel movies have set him up as the ultimate bad guy. But most people have no idea who Steppenwolf the villain is and, so far, there's been no mention of Darkseid.
Which is a long way of saying that I'll see The Justice League but my expectations are pretty low.
November 15, 2017
The game has an odd mechanic, you're always connected to Ubisoft's Uplay service while you're playing Assassin's Creed: Origins and if someone in another game dies close to where you are in your game you get the option of avenging them. In this case I got a notice that FRIST2011 had died and if I wanted to pick up 250 quick and dirty experience points I could track down the counterparts of the guys who killed FRIST in his game and kill them on my game.
It's an interesting idea. I'm not very social but dealing with someone's corpse is something I can deal with. However I expect that once the novelty wears off I'll approach these quests more like this:
And somehow it doesn't seem quite right. After all while the three soldiers I tracked down and killed worked for Ptolemy and so are probably bad people, they weren't the ones who killed FRIST. Those guys are still alive in FRIST's game, looting his corpse. My guys never bothered FRIST in any way. And somewhere on still another computer some player may get asked if they want to avenge the death of alChandler1 someday.
November 12, 2017
Fuck That Guy
See that guy in the green circle? I've been playing this game for several days now and every time I came by here he was about to beat the shit out of somebody because he represents the Pharaoh and he wants everyone to know it.
But I'm level 6 so fuck that guy.
November 11, 2017
A Word About Egypt
In 3150 BCE Menes united Upper and Lower Egypt, establishing the first dynasty. Until then Upper and Lower Egypt had been separate kingdoms. The last native dynasty of Egypt was the 30th and the last pharaoh of that dynasty was Nectanebo II.
After Nectanebo died in 343 BCE the Persians ruled Egypt, then Alexander the Great conquered Persia. After Alexander's death one of his generals, Ptolemy I Soter, got Egypt as his share and he declared himself pharaoh in 332 BCE. Ptolemaic Egypt lasted until 30 BCE. Then the Romans took charge and Egypt became a province of the empire. And while most people think of Cleopatra VII when they think of ancient Egypt, she was Greek and when the Romans took over Egypt, it had been ruled by foreigners for 313 years.
And Egypt didn't get an Egyptian ruler until June 18, 1953 when the Egyptian Republic was declared. Muhammad Naguib was the first president. Currently Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is president.
So then, after 2807 years of independence (with interruptions now and then) Egypt spent the next 2296 years being ruled by people who weren't Egyptians. The nice thing about history is that it encourages you to take the long view of things.
By the way, Assassin's Creed: Origins starts out in 49 BCE, so we're talking late Ptolemaic Egypt as the setting.
November 11, 2017
Bayek is a Medjay, that is an elite defender of the pharaoh. However the current pharaoh is Ptolemy and is oppressing the people so I'm pretty much against him. I'm not sure if this is too historical. I mean it sucked to be a farmer under Ptolemy but it sucked to be a farmer in Egypt no matter who was calling the shots.
Anyway, I just cleared out a cave of bandits who had hijacked Siwa's main water supply. They're dead, the farmers are happy and I decided to pose all majestic like.
I'm currently level 6 and I probably should be leaving Siwa but there are some quests I haven't done yet so I'm going to stick around for a bit. I may, may even craft some better armor.
November 10, 2017
The Newsletter Goes HTML
This will probably be a boring story but it's my story and I'm going to tell it.
For the last six years I've been sending out a newsletter. It goes out to 38 people about three times a week. It's fun for me to do and I enjoy exercising my snark muscle.
I started out composing email in plain text but early on I realized that the newsletter could benefit from embedded graphics and URLs. So I turned on the option in Thunderbird to compose email in HTML format and started sending out email with pictures and links.
And I had to stop. A lot of the folks on the list were reading it on their Blackberrys and HTML email came out borked for them, so it was back to plain text. But last August I was told that nobody is using Blackberrys anymore, they're using iPhones or Androids and HTML email would actually be appreciated. So today I sent out my first email in HTML format and it seemed to go well. Oh brave new world that has such people in it.
November 9, 2017
The Retail Apocalypse
Let's start off with an embarrassing confession, I'm rather pear shaped and I wear Levis 550s (AKA Old Person Jeans) 40" waist 32" length. Every year I go to Sears and buy new jeans. This is always problematic, sometimes Sears is out of the size, sometimes they don't have it in 550s and I end up going elsewhere in the mall.
This year I bought jeans from Amazon. The price was the same as Sears and they had a wide range of colors to choose from. And having used Amazon for jeans once, I'm never going back.
And thus the link to an article from Bloomberg on the Retail Apocalypse and a link to comments on the article on Slashdot. And I'm going to post this anecdote from an anonymous poster that sums up retail very nicely:
Retail itself, traditional retail anyway, is one of its own four horsemen. It can't get out of its own way because the people who run it aren't capable of thinking in a way that will save them from what is happening.
I found something I needed and what seemed like the only reasonable way to get it was via Walmart's order-online-pick-up-in-store system. So I ordered and 5 days later I get an email saying it was ready to pick up. Slow, but not a deal breaker. The email directed me to 'follow the orange signs to the pick up area'.
So I drive to the store and see orange signs and follow them. I come to a parking lot where signs directed me to call a number and someone would be out. It turns out that that area was for online ordered groceries only, and the person on the phone had no idea where to pick up non-grocery items.
I decided a graphic in the email was a map to some location inside the store, so I park and go in and awesome there is an area with an orange sign, a few ragged chairs, and a kiosk. Something about scanning a QR code but the scanner didn't work, and instead I typed my order number into the kiosk. My name appeared in a queue on the screen and the screen assured me someone would be along.
After 5 minutes or so a typically disinterested retail employee came out with a single box that weight about 1 LB and asked me to sign.
Me: This can't be it, my order is probably in several boxes and weighs about 300 LB
Me: Yes look at the confirmation on my phone
Her: I will go look in the back
15 minutes later she appears with a cart with several boxes. I glance through them, one is missing. She says she can call corporate Walmart tomorrow and see if they can find it but she is sure without a second pass through the back she didn't miss it. I realize she just wants me to leave so she can go on break, and I really need this stuff now, so I sign anyway.
On the way home while sitting at a stoplight I order the missing part using my Amazon app and someone drops it on my porch the next day.
I wrote all that to say that the level of thinking that designed the Walmart process cannot compete with Amazon. It can't, it has 0 chance. It might keep obliteration at bay for a few years, but it will lose eventually. The only way traditional retail could compete would be to hire all new people, burn down all their stores, and start over. It can't win on convenience, it can't win on speed, it can't win on experience. It is a monoculture of price reduction and now that an alternative has appeared that can beat it in that area, it can't change quickly enough to survive.
And there you have it. Another poster pointed out that Sears started out as a mail order company and that selling stuff over the net should have been a natural for them. Now it's too late for them.
November 9, 2017
Gaming Attitude Adjustment
So that's my guy. He had to get soft leather to upgrade his breast plate. It wasn't my idea, the game insisted on it. And while I hate crafting, the whole idea is to expand my horizon a bit. Besides, I did crafting in Neocron. I was the best poker around whenever Peggy Moon wasn't on the server, so I can do this.
Thank fucking God for easy mode, because this could turn into a real life adventure.
To give you an idea of the learning curve I'm dealing with, I have a hawk and I had to use her to find game that I could kill for the soft leather. But when I found an antelope, I wasted 15 minutes trying to kill it with the bird. I took me awhile to figure out that the bird was just a scout and that I had to haul ass and kill the thing myself.
November 9, 2017
Gaming Comfort Zone
I tend to stay in a gaming comfort zone but occasionally I try something new.
Last week I watched N. K. Jemisin play the beginning of Assassin's Creed Origins on Twitch. I find her a comforting presence and I was aware that Assassin's Creed Origins was a big game so I was interested in seeing someone play it.
It looked good and I kind of felt that maybe if I played on easy I could do the combat. But the kicker came when she said that she played the first game in the series, didn't like it but the new game interested her. Because I disliked the first game too. And if Jemisin's recommendation wasn't enough, Rolf has been playing Assassin's Creed games for years.
Long story short, I bought the game today, killed my first guy and am now trying to find my way out of a temple.
So that's what's happening. I probably won't finish but the game will occupy me through the holiday season.
November 8, 2017
I for One Welcome Our Elevator Using Overlords
November 7, 2017
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