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


For Love of a Box

I had planned to get rid of this box last week but Newton has fallen in love with it. Newton can be annoying at times but when it comes to material things he doesn't ask much. And so the box stays for a bit.

February 21, 2017


Prey

This May Bethesda will publish Prey a game by Arcane Studios, the same studio that did Dishonored 2. Today I did something I regret, I looked at an article on PC Gamer that described the first hour of play. As it turned out there's a plot twist in that first hour of play that I really didn't want to know about.

Every now and then I'd see someone on the internet mention that they were on a self imposed embargo of news about this upcoming game or that upcoming movie and I'd think, "how overly dramatic." I now know where they were coming from and so, in my overly dramatic voice, "I will no long read any stories about Prey until it's released. But at least I have a few adventures lined up until then.

February 20, 2017


The Diamond Age

This may, or may not, dovetail with the book I'm reading Darwin's Dangerous Idea. I've read The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. It's set about 150 years in the future and while a lot has changed, socially and technologically, one thing that hasn't advanced very far is artificial intelligence. If you want a genuinely interactive teaching environment for example you need human actors to interact with students. AIs just can't perform at that level.

And Neal Stephenson believes this, there is a threshold that computers just can't cross. A computer may be able to do my taxes but it will never be self aware. To Stephenson, HAL isn't science fiction, it's fantasy.

First things first, if someone objects to HAL on religious grounds, humans have souls HAL is, at best, a clever mimic, well fine then. Then HAL's part in 2001: A Space Odyssey won't make very much sense but perhaps you can look at the movie as a fantasy. But if you're an atheist, agnostic or just a person who believes that God has no objections to his creatures learning stuff and trying to emulate him, then you have a problem if you argue that humans will never make a self aware machine without providing some scientific reason.

Currently we don't have HAL. The human brain is enormously complicated and on top of that we don't understand how much of the brain's structure is necessary for our own self awareness. There are also technological limitations. The human brain has 100 billion neurons and that's beyond are ability to replicate in software or hardware at the moment. Finally there's an economic thing going on here. For a lot of things computers do, self awareness doesn't add anything to the mix. HAL might be fun to talk to but I don't need a HAL 9000 to do my taxes.

And they are getting smarter. Last year a program called AlphaGo beat the world champion in Go 5-0. This year a program called Libratus beat four human players in a Texas Hold’em tournament. While we don't need computer poker players or go masters, the skills that allow programs to win at those games can be adopted to other areas. Watson, the Jeopardy champion, is helping doctors diagnose patients and it also is helping to forecast the weather.

And to tie all this in to Daniel Dennett and his book, if you believe that we don't have the capability to make a self aware computer at the moment because our technology isn't sufficiently, I suspect Dennett would be cool with that. After all, we really don't have the technology at the moment to get a human to Mars safely and then bring him or her back to Earth. C. S. Lewis aside there's no inherent reason why we can't do it, we just have to get better at stuff, it's the same with computers. But I get the impression that Dennett would have an issue with Neal Stephenson. It remains to be seen if there are scientists who believe there is a fundamental difference separating humans from every other animal on the planet. I do know that, so far, Dennett has written that there are people who don't want to follow Darwin's ideas to their logical conclusions and that why he wrote his book.

February 16, 2017


Darwin's Dangerous Idea

I think I read on Metafilter about the disagreement between Daniel C. Dennett and Stephen Jay Gould about evolution. I found an exchange between the two men in the New York Review of Books and couldn't follow it, probably because I never read Dennett's criticism of Gould in his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea. And so let the matter rest until I got email form Amazon suggesting that I'd really like Dennett's book Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

At that point I bowed to the wisdom of Amazon's AI and bought the damn thing.

February 16, 2017


Welcome to City 17

This was posted on Reddit as a shot of the train station in City 17 in Half Life 2 recreated in the Unreal 4 engine. Some folks are claiming that the picture was actually made with the Unreal 3 engine. I've now way to judge myself however it certainly looks a tad better then the original.

Half Life 2 was 13 years ago and Half-Life 2: Episode Two was released 10 years ago. At this point releasing Half Life 3 would be the gaming equivalent of a Beatles reunion and I suspect that Valve doesn't need that kind of pressure, not when Steam is doing so well. Valve's not a gaming studio anymore, they're a distribution company.

And while I'm sure somebody will attempt to recreate Half Life 2 in the Unreal 4 engine, I'm not sure I'd want to play it. Torment: Tides of Numenera arrives in two weeks, Mass Effect: Andromeda will be here on 3/21 and Prey arrives on 5/5. After a slow couple of months, alChandler's busy season is about to begin.

By the way, I haven't mentioned Prey very much, it sort of flew under my radar. But Bethesda Softworks is publishing it and Arcane Studio, of Dishonored fame is one of the developers and that's all I need to know about that.

February 14, 2017


Kevin's iTunes Adventure

When I bought my new phone last year the nice man at the Verizon Store imported most of my iTunes library into the new phone. But most is not all, many of my older songs were copy protected and I didn't want the hassle of trying to move them myself. But this month I vowed that I would wrestle the beast.

I tried the easiest way first, delete the song from iTunes and download the current version (Apple no longer copy protects your purchases). That didn't work so I sulked for a week and then tried the alternate method, burning six songs that didn't make the jump as an audio CD, rip them with Windows Media Player and manually copying them to my phone. That worked but for some reason Google Play couldn't find the songs. I did some research and discovered that for Google Play to actually see an mp3, the mp3 has to have certain information filled out in what's called an ID3 tag. So I tried all sorts of software to allow me to edit ID3 tags and they all failed. Then I discovered that Winamp had a tag editing feature. So I edited one of the mp3s on my computer, pasted it into my phone and like magic I now had Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl on my phone. So I moved the other five songs over in one go and they all showed up as Track 2, Track 3, etc.

To cut to the chase, I had to delete those songs and move them over one by one. Now I have six new songs with the correct titles on my phone.

And all of this took hours and looking back now I realize something. It's not that I'm a senile bastard, it's that I don't try a lot of new things with my computer, at least not the way I used to. I forgot that things I do easily now, like editing this very page, came with hours, days and sometimes weeks of trial and error before I got it right. And the upshot is that now, when I notice I'm missing a song from iTunes it will be a simple matter to import it.

And at this point I'm tempted to go into an rant against Apple but that would be unfair. I bought an iPod back in the day, tied myself to iTunes and when I bought an iPhone it was because it was the easy thing to do. Like they say in war movies, "He knew the risks."

February 11, 2017


The New Printer

Today I picked up my new printer. Before I could set it up Homeland Security had to inspect it.

The hardest thing was getting the wifi to work, it took well over an hour. I'm not sure but I think this model has two different settings, one for wifi and one for WLAN, which stands for wireless local area network. According to Google, the two terms can be used interchangeably and I really have to run it by Rolf but I was trying to use WLAN during the setup and eventually I scrolled a bit further and found a separate item to set up wifi. The important thing is that it's working, I can print and the thing has a cool Darth Vader look.

I only print a few times a year, if that, and unlike an inkjet printer this printer's toner won't dry out. Barring accidents, this printer will last me for a bit.

February 11, 2017


Torment: Tides of Numenera

They're calling Torment: Tides of Numenera a spiritual successor to Planescape Torment. That game became a classic although it didn't sell very well when it was released in 1999. That's why they needed a Kickstarter to get T:ToN going.

T:ToN arrives on 2/28 and while I always intended to get it, the latest trailer has actually hooked me. And some of the people who worked on Planescape Torment worked on Torment: Tides of Numenera. At any rate it will be the first big game of alChandler's 2017 season.

February 10, 2017


Gaming in 2017

With a shock I just realized that I haven't completed a game since Dishonored 2, that was in the fall. I did play the System Shock Pre-Alpha Demo but that hardly counts. I've dicked around with stuff between now and then but alChandler hasn't been very active.

Today I spent $3 for the alpha of a game called, appropriately enough, Sword with Sauce Alpha. You get three levels of what I assume will be a longer and more polished production. I just spent two hours on a level called Mansion. The idea is simple, there's guys with rifles, machine guns and swords patrolling the area, 33 of them. Kill them all and you get this screen:

You don't get a parade for $3.

It looks a lot like Superhot at first but aside from its stripped down nature the two games are different. Superhot added a very different mechanism to the FPS genre. Sword with Sauce is simply a minimalist shooter. The AI isn't sophisticated but the game makes up for that with numbers. So that's the first new game of 2017 and it will have to hold me until the end of the month when Torment: Tides of Numenera arrives.

Update: I just remembered, I did finish The Darkening of Tristram content for Diablo 3 last month. If you have Diablo 3 I hope you put it back on your system long enough to play the recreation of the first game. It bought a teat to my eye it did.

February 10, 2017


Tolkien and the Kalevala

The first time I read the Kalevala it was Keith Bosley's translation. I didn't much like it but I suspect it was more me then Bosley. The second time I read it, it was in the version by John Martin Crawford. It was published in 1888 and was the first full English translation of the poem. I liked it better then Bosley's but I still found it a bit hard to follow. I'm now on my third go round and I'm reading the second full English translation. It was done in 1907 by William Forsell Kirby (there was a prose translation in 1893 by R. Eivind but that needn't concern us) and, according to Goodreads, was the version young J. R. R. Tolkien read. He liked it so much that he learned Finnish to read the poem in its original tongue. I don't know about young Johnny Tolkien, but I'm finding it the most comprehensible version so far.

During WWI Tolkien kept himself sane by working on a private mythology for England. He always felt bad that England didn't have a well documented mythological history like Greece and the Scandinavian countries. He borrowed themes from Norse mythology and the Kalevala, cobbled them together and if you want to read what that was like you can read The Book of Lost Tales. Eventually this stuff became The Silmarillion.

The mythology that became The Silmarillion was written first but it wasn't published in Tolkien's lifetime. The Hobbit was a stand alone tale but Tolkien borrowed Elrond and Gondolin from his earlier writings. Then came The Lord of the Rings and after Tolkien's death his son, Christopher Tolkien worked The Silmarillion into a comprehensible whole that didn't contradict Tolkien's earlier published work.

And The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion both have DNA from the Kalevala. In the Kalevala, magic is sung. The first time we see that is when young Joukahainen attempts to bushwhack old Väinämöinen. Väinämöinen sings Joukahainen into the ground until the young man promises to give his sister, Aino, to Väinämöinen in marriage. That, by the way didn't go as planned, Aino drowns herself rather then marry the old shaman and becomes a water nymph.

A similar duel of magic occurs in The Silmarillion. Finrod Felagund the Elf and Beren are attempting to sneak north and rob Morgoth of a Silmaril. Since and Elf and a human would be noticed, Finrod uses magic to disguise them both as Orcs. But Sauron notices them, figures out that they're not orcs Sauron and Finrod sing at each other. Sauron's songs are stronger and he strips their disguises off. Because Sauron was a bad ass.

The Kalevala is rough going but as I said, Kirby's translation is the most accessible, at least for me. And having finished Gaiman's Norse Mythology I'm ready for something a bit older and wilder. And with snow on the ground there's no better time to tackle a Finnish epic.

February 9, 2017


Râsh Evil Eye

It's late and I played a bit of Shadows of Mordor. Last week after I installed it one of the first orcs I ran into was an orc captain called Râsh Evil Eye. I nearly killed him but he ran off to a large group and I couldn't take them all down. Today I encountered him again as I was freeing some slaves. This time I had him boxed in and he couldn't flee. Killing him was actually pretty satisfying, probably more then it should have been for someone like alChandler.

February 9, 2017


Snow Day

Back in the day I used to be an essential employee of the state of New Jersey. I had to come to work when the rest of the state, the rest of the Casino Control Commission even, got to stay home.

A little while ago Governor Christie announced that all non-essential state employees were to stay home but essential employees still had to come in and when I read that I did a mental fist pump for retirement.

February 8, 2017


Still More Occulus Rift!

Gizmodo is reporting that Best Buy is shuting down 200 of its 500 Occulus Rift demo stations due to a lack of traffic.

I'm aware that I quit games in a huff then come back to them a year later and then quit again, this must be my seventh or eighth time with Shadows of Mordor, so I'm aware that under the right circumstances, I'd buy a Rift and learn how to use the controllers. I've dropped money on equipment to play a game before. I mean I spent something like $1,000 on a Tandy 1000 EX to play one of the Ultima games back when $1,000 was really beyond my reach. So if there was some Occulus exclusive that I just had to play then the checkbook would come out.

But there's not and that may be the problem.

February 8, 2017


Occulus Rift

I mentioned my brief encounter with the Occulus Rift. Whelp, one of the principals over at Occulus, Palmer Luckey, used to work for ZeniMax, a media company. As is usual, Luckey signed a nondisclosure agreement with ZeniMax, then he left that company to go do the Occulus thing. ZeniMax sued Occulus for billions, maintaining that Luckey stole trade secrets. A jury in Texas disagreed with that but did find that Luckey violated the nondisclosure agreement and awarded ZeniMac $500 million.

So that's where things stand. ZeniMax is mulling over whether or not to try to get sales of the Occulus Rift halted.

February 5, 2017


A Story About Language

Last night I started reading about Daniel Dennett and Noam Chomsky, the two men have very different ideas about the evolution of language and the whole thing is way over my head. But it did get me thinking about Newton's grasp of language.

I let Newton into my office when I'm there and I kick him out when I leave. It's nothing personal, it's just that Newton likes chewing on wires and if I leave him in the office by himself he'll start noshing on the monitor's cable. So when I leave I pick him up, set him down outside the office and shut the door.

The thing is, Newton doesn't enjoy being picked up. He'll tolerate it but that's what it is, a resigned toleration and I feel bad about it. So I started saying this when I picked him up, "I'm sorry Newton, you gotta go." This was the way of things until one day I shut down Kosh, turned off the monitor, turned to Newton and started to say, "I'm sorry Newton..." and to my surprise he bolted out of the office. And now, unless he's sleeping, he'll leave the office when I say those words.

I'm not pretending that Newton knows what my words mean, but he does know that those sounds are followed by being picked up and removed from the room and rather then put up with that indignity he removes himself. A message was given and a message was received.

But today no communication is possible and when I leave the office I will, in John Crowley's words, wake Newton up from a deep enjoyment.

February 5, 2017


A Proper Response

My depression over Trump has been replaced by righteous anger. And what better way to work off righteous anger then by killing Orcs? Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is back on Kosh for a few weeks.

February 5, 2017


Three Gaming Notes

Early this week Rolf and I tried the Occulus Rift demo in Best Buy. Actually, Rolf did, I never got beyond trying to deal with the controllers.

A tech at Showboat once told me he was no longer helping his parents with their computer because they were constantly getting it clogged with malware and refused to follow his instructions. He said, "If the computer was important to them, they'd lean how to use it." And if the Rift was a $300 item and was supported by a game I desperately wanted to play I suppose I'd take the time and effort to try to learn an alien control scheme. But it's an expensive item and I won't be looking at it anytime soon.

***

On the other hand I am downloading what Epic is calling the pre-alpha demo of Unreal Tournament. Since I'm in a gaming lull, why not? I'm hoping it tides me over until the end of the month when Torment: Tides of Numenera arrives. Remember Planescape Torment? It's a spiritual sequel to that game. A spiritual sequel is something you make when you don't have the rights to do an actual sequel.

***

Finally, I still feel bad about Pillars of Eternity. It was Obsidian's best game in ages and while I finished it I didn't give it the attention it deserved because I was in a great deal of pain while I was playing. If you like isometric role playing games and want a setting with some novel concepts you should check it out.

Unreal Tournament is about half downloaded, you guys are no longer interested in free for all shooters and I respect that but if you change your minds you know where I'll be for a bit.

February 4, 2017


The Great Manipulator

I'm not sure that the epithet The Great Manipulator is justified in Bannon's case. It's not really that difficult to manipulate a stupid narcissist, it's a lot like faking out your dog by pretending to throw the ball. Get back to me when Bannon successfully manipulates someone other then President Shit for Brains.

February 2, 2017


The Troll Song

Tolkien was not over fond of technology but one day a friend of his came over with a tape recorder and Tolkien thought it was wonderful and had a great time playing with it. So here he is singing Sam Gamgee's song about an old troll.

February 2, 2017


Diablo 3

Now that it's February, Blizzard has taken the portal to the original Diablo out of the game. But I got to keep my cow so it's all good.

February 2, 2017


Printers

This is my current printer, a Lexmark inkjet. Now here's the thing, inkjet printers are cool if you print a lot. I don't print a lot and that meant that the printer heads would dry up and it would take half an hour of running the printer's head cleaning routine to unclog the thing when I did want to print something. That generally happened when Diane would come over to do her taxes. She'd use my computer because I had Turbo Tax on it and instead of just saving her returns, she'd print the whole thing out. Then the Lexmark would go to sleep for another year.

So yesterday after a call from Rolf, I'm replacing the Lexmark with a laser printer. I won't have problem of drying printer heads. Granted, it only prints black and white but that's all I need, well that and a scanner and Rolf told me the model I'm buying scans. I do use my current printer's scanner several times a year.

This is actually coming at a good time, my passport expires in March and I'd like to renew it this month. I could pick up the forms from the post office but that seems a bit too old mannish, if that makes any sense. I want to print them here and drive over to the post office with everything signed and all.

The printer will actually be the second upgrade to Kosh (he's not just a computer, he's an ecosystem). Last week I had to replace my router, which meant that Rolf replaced it. And later on in the year I think I'm finally going to make the jump to a solid state hard drive. I need a 2 TB drive and while they're expensive, they're coming down in price. And I've had my current hard drive for six years, it still works fine but I don't want to push my luck.

By the way, you probably want to see a picture of my new router.

It's a lot faster then my old router. The only device I have that takes advantage of the increase in speed is my phone but that's cool, I'm on the phone a lot.

As long as I'm rambling, one last little computer story. I use Chrome as my browser. Today I noticed that I was logged into Google when I started Chrome up. Apparently I logged into Goggle for YouTube or something and never logged out. So I signed out of Google and the next time I started Chrome the browser opened a second tab and asked if I wanted to sign in. This annoyed me, although I admit my annoyance threshold is pretty low. After screwing around for an hour or so it turned out that I had a Google extension in Chrome checked. The extension was constantly trying to reach Google when I started the browser and that's what was causing the tab to open. So I unchecked the extension and deleted it. I don't know why Google Play ended up on my browser in the first place.

February 1, 2017


Black History Month

President Trump kicked off Black History Month today. Among other things he noted that the contributions of Frederick Douglas were being recognized more and more. Since he didn't specify the contributions he was talking about, a reporter asked Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, what Trump was referring to. Here's what Sean said:

When you haven't done the assigned reading the teacher will always call on you.

February 1, 2017


Cat's in the Cradle

I bought Quantum Conundrum in 2012 and this was the puzzle I couldn't beat, even with a walkthrough from Gamefaqs. But it's five years later and I figured out what I was doing wrong all those years ago. The video isn't me, my playthough was a lot more hesitant, but it is what I had to do to beat this puzzle.

January 29, 2017