Infernal Polkas, Birthdays and The Barbie and Ken of Fear

Wow, more than a whole half century on this rock! And I got well wishes from many of my friends and family. That’s really about all I can say about my birthday.

Anyway, today I just read news that Donald Trump and Sarah Palin are now in a presidential ticket together. This would be a horrifying thing to discover, if I wasn’t more alarmed at the prospect that these two idiots might actually convince a sufficient number of idiots to win. Every time I think this barbarous country has crossed the Schwarzschild radius of stupidity, it just continues to show me one worse.

But moving on to something more fun, in response to Thursday’s game, a diabolic creature was claimed to be accompanied by sanity draining music which sounded like Lawrence Welk standards, backmasked and run through autotune. Curious, I took “Pennsylvania Polka” reversed it and run it through an autotune plugin in the wonderful open source editing software, Audacity. Here is the result. Make a sanity check at minus four.

In case of Trump and Palin ruling this country come January 20th 2017, make a sanity check at minus eighteen.

3D Printing Fabricates a Small, Steel Bridge

Skynet's robot factory from the Terminator MoviesDecades ago, I remember reading a short by Philip K Dick called “Autofac” which was about replicating machines. It was a bit like his other short called “Second Variety,” although not as sinister, which was also about replicating machines. Replicating machines, even machines capable of reproducing copies of themselves, has been a concept around for a very long time now. John von Neumann is most often cited but it might go all the way back to Samuel Butler or even “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

Anyway, the technologies associated with 3D printing continue to improve, houses are being printed, clothes are being printed, scaffolds for tissue engineering are being printed and now steel bridges are being printed.

There doesn’t seem to be a limit once we figure out how to do it. For more than a decade, there has been steady work on building a 3D printing machine that print out a copy of itself from raw feed stocks.

The serenity of space doesn’t always need classical waltzes

Ladies and Gentleman, the terraforming of Mars as scored by Jamie XX.

My Return from The Hoh Valley Death March

No, I did not take this image of the Hoh Rainforest.Normally I don’t do status reports because I’m not famous and usually I have nothing noteworthy to report. But I promised some of my comrades this, so here goes:

On the morning of Friday, the 8th of May, my trip the Hoh Valley Rainforest began. I was picked up around 6:45 AM and we gathered people and gear until there were four of us with packs massing at 15 to 25 kilograms each (As the out of shape newbie, I was given the lightest.). We then took the ferry to the Olympic Peninsula and then drove along Highway 101 towards the Hoh River Trailhead.

Conversation in the car ranged from home renovation and submarine crush depths, to FAA horror stories and jokes of a scatological nature. All this was liberally sprinkled with hiking boot and fishing gear minutiae. This is what happens when you’re the designated, middle aged, non-engineer riding with engineers.

At the trailhead, we packed up and then we hiked about 8 klicks to a designated site named, appropriately enough, “Five Mile Island.” Naming important features on maps is a bit like naming planets or stars in the universe. After a while, you realize there are simply not enough phrases or names in the English language to name the amount of crap that’s out there. There we set up camp.

Setting up camp consists of finding a good rock free spot for your lightweight composite space age tents, setting up your tiny ultra modern water filtration system, finding fire wood and listening to Beck and War on someone’s smartphone.  Mostly I was kneeding my feet or finding excuses not to get up anymore. One of us rewarded the others with 4 New York cut steaks cooked over tiny Alder chips.

Discussion ranged from concerts and music, more engineering and hiking minutiae, endless ribbing over ancient shared memories and continued jokes of a scatological nature. And the drinking of a few shots of whiskey, vodka and tequila.

Hiking is not like walking on sidewalks. Hiking is very aerobic, a sort of mix between marching and stair climbing. You sweat and go through huge amounts of water. The distances covered by hiking seem small by pedestrian standards in the city but moving by foot in the wilderness is an entirely different order of thing. Sidewalks are an enormous convenience. Free of big thick roots or hunks of rock, sidewalks don’t require your feet to twist or bend much to secure a stable position for your next stride. This lets you get away with truly puny footware.

A picture of a spot on the Hoh river that I did not take. Hiking through the brush? Then you’d better get some proper shoes or you’ll pay for it.

My shoes were not hiking boots but were actually pretty good with thick stiff soles. That first march in was fine. After a day hike, another 8 klicks beyond Gravel Bed to the Olympus Ranger Station, on Saturday, my lack of exercise and poor shoes began to tell. Day hikes are where you only pack a small amount of gear, mostly water, in a belt pouch.

At the station three of us, including me, stayed behind to play in the river and make comments on elk poop. One of us, Mr. Super-hardcore, hiked roughly another 3.4 klicks to somewhere up by Lewis Meadow. We waited for him. I didn’t feel an iota of shame or envy.

The hike back was endurable but I was about 15 minutes after the others in returning to camp. The evening consisted of lots of sandwiches made of Gouda and salami of various sorts, peanut butter and jelly, dehydrated astronaut food like beef stew, trail mix and fancy s’mores. Conversation was similar to Friday night and there was more drinking. More music from the aforementioned smartphone–a little Floyd, some soul gospel.

Our camping spot grew more and more crowded by Sunday morning. We packed up and hiked out by 9:45 AM. My friends did this all with very efficient and practiced air.

At the trailhead we drove out. We stopped briefly at Forks (Yeah, that Forks. Honestly I was underwhelmed.) to order a pan pizza and some Mac and Jack’s. It was a Sunday Mother’s Day; service was slow but the pizza was tasty enough. Hunger will do that to you.IMG_2561pi

Conversation in the truck back was dampened, at least for me, by sleep deprivation and leg soreness. I fell asleep on the twists of Highway 101. Every time we took a stop I stretched my calves as best I could.

On the whole it was fun. I genuinely had a good time. No heart attacks or strokes happened. I saw some cool things. The company was enjoyable and supportive. I was surprised, given my lack of intense walking exercise over the last two years, how well I did.  Things hurt at the end but not paralyzingly so. But I’d still prefer to keep this to a once a year thing. I’m an urban rat, not a granola boy.

Education Still Stinks, But Might be Getting Better

About eight years ago I wrote a short essay about how education has remained largely unchanged, aside from the introduction of mass education after the arrival of the printing press, since the Pyramids. This is a particularly bitter pill for me because I was one of those “square peg in a round hole,” “achievement seems to be below ability” students decades ago. Some people, notably biased like my mother, claim was I a gifted child. But at the same time, I seemed to have learning disabilities; for example, I wasn’t able to grasp making proper change in cash payments and was unable to read analog clock faces until I was in middle school.

And now at 51, I still wonder at how I was hobbled by this. My formal education, a bachelor of arts in history, says almost nothing about what I actually know: information technology. Anyway, I’m not really making any insightful comments about educational techniques or pedagogy here. At least none that haven’t been said a zillion times before by people much more learned that I. I still don’t have the Mandarin language course in a pill that science fiction promised me, but things are getting better in other areas–


Nasty, Gluey Chest Cold

So since the weekend, I got hit with a chest cold, which I’m pretty sure I caught either from my board gaming friends or a grocery store clerk Wednesday last week. It didn’t manifest in full force until the weekend–anyway, tedious aches and pains, dripping nose and phlegm-pire spewage–a constant reminder I’m made of meat like all y’all.

Anyway, that status report aside here are some cool short science fiction movies I found on the Web:

Udra: My RPG Campaign History in Several Parts

2001 to 2009: The City and The Circus

After two players left, and the arrival of a new one, after making the transition to D&D 3.0, and later 3.5, I had started two new threads “City of Doors” and “Circus of the Mighty.”


An image of Sigil, the City of Doors. I have no idea how this was taken considering how tall that mountain is.

City of Doors wasn’t about Udra, instead it was based in D&D Planescape campaign. Planescape was one of the few prefab campaign backgrounds TSR made that I really liked. Mostly because it departed so strongly from so many fantasy tropes. Given the assumptions of how original AD&D 2nd Edition cosmology worked, Udra (My campaign) exists within a universe that’s part of the larger multiverse that Planescape was all about so, in that sense the two are ultimately related. I’ve have had several Udran characters (Beginning with Duke Theramir and several of his associates way back in the early 80s.) make trips to the Ethereal, Elemental, Astral, Abyssal and Baatorian planes of existence.

But in the City of Doors plot thread, I had a party of six heroes from various universes (With one, a human ranger called Sleen, from Udra.) in the prime material plane. This plot thread lasted for about two years of play, with the overall plot left unresolved. The players were mostly meticulous notetakers so, I have a vague idea where things left off.

Image of a Royal Postal Agent's Badge.

The RPA Badge of Arthur Trumblebone, Agent #0101, still MIA. Obviously the Roman letters are there for our benefit, I haven’t yet invented an Udran Alphabet.

One of these days, I shall start another thread here.

Circus of the Mighty, begun in late 2003, was a new campaign thread that I began with three participants, playing characters that were former members of an Udran traveling circus. Almost immediately two players dropped out but the remaining player went on join new players in a party of new characters who were officers in the newly formed Royal Postal Agency.

Significant Udran events in this period

  • The Circus is founded by a disillusioned wizard and two traveling circus performers, this would evolve into a squad of agents working for the newly formed Royal Postal Authority.
  • The Circus, as agents of the RPA, arrest, kill or capture many members of the “Dogs” Floyd Gang via an Orcish upending of a stagecoach and a magical showdown in the city of Vos Obyorn
  • The Circus destroys an orc pirate fleet and defeat the plans of Chebo the Drowned (Later discovered to not be dead and to be a lich!)
  • The Circus stops a 10,000 strong clay golem invasion force based in a ruined temple devoted to Vivistat, the Bringer of Doom Unexplained.
  • For these acts, all members of the Circus (With the exception of Sturj) are knighted and granted the Isle of Jars as payment for their deeds
  • The first expedition to Nyambe Tande in pursuit of the Marketh and his followers. This proved inconclusive.
  • The second expedition to Nyambe Tande in search of the Great Udamalore and Kosan ruins. This also proved inconclusive.
  • The reestablishment of trade, after an 800 year hiatus, with Nyambe Tande, known to Udrans as Darth Lom.

Significant Sigilian events in this period

  • Sleen, by no means a xenophobe, departs the company of Sklanthar Regulus and the Big Pink One to wander in the City of Doors. He is soon joined by a squad of lost, multiversal expatriates and wanderers.
  • They are soon find themselves a task to retrieve five stolen paintings, all believed to be multiversal doors, just like the doors Sigil is so famous for. They managed to recover two, maybe three?

Notable characters

  • Karin, Planescaper, an especially impatient dwarf warrior, nicknamed “Death in a Can”
  • Elstore, Planescaper, priest of Korporedon, ethnographer, biographer and anthropologist.
  • Leafturner Ellywick Neidlebuck, Planescaper, a gnome sorceress, unreservedly enthusiastic, rarely but notably binge drinks.
  • Sedris, Planescaper, a knight and nobleman, formerly of Harn, searching the outer planes for a fleeing criminal.
  • Sleen, Planescaper, a human ranger formerly of Udra, now a horizon walker wandering the outer planes
  • Aowyn, Planescaper, an elf very strongly of the Tolkien stamp.
  • Telwyn, human mage, formerly of the Big Pink One, rescued prisoner from a thrall of the shapeshifters.
  • Amos Sacerius, a former circus strongman and immigrant from the merchant states of Kaya Vua Samaki
  • Rand, a former circus tight rope walker and second story man.
  • Sir Thalin, a side-show wizard, frustrated former warrior and the Man in the Bronze Mask, plan man of the Circus. Agent #102.
  • Kels, savate specialist, devout of Molna. One to challenge the party to greater things. Agent #103.
  • Thantor, an eletum, a planar wanderer, not from Ednom itself. Eventually assigned to the Dead Letter Office. Agent #104.
  • Sir Arthur Trumblebone, human savate mage and letter carrier, gifted with superhuman dexterity. Now missing in action, considered the very model of a modern postal agent. Agent #101.
  • Sturj Barnaclesucker, half-orc pirate (now reformed), herpetologist, explorer, warrior. On the governing council of the Isle of Jars. Recently knighted. Agent #138.
  • Dame Hilda of Arren, Baroness of Jars, diplomat, negotiator, leader and mastermind. Now on Queen Ellen’s small council as Postmistress General Agent #1, promoted from #122.
  • Sir Mandark, half-elf rogue, one to wear iggaak, expert at designing, assembling and disarming traps. Agent #105.
  • Sir Dwalor, dwarf priest of Molna, stubborn, crude, taken by the shadow leopards deep in the heart of Nyambe Tanda. Agent #106. Presumed dead.
  • Sir Chingara Slashgood, elf ranger and all round badass archer. Agent #107.
  • Kinsaul, a demobilized cavalryman and member of the Royal Postal Agency Agent #108. Missing, presumed dead.

(Sigil image credit The Cage, a Planescape Wiki)

Particle Accelerators Around Black Holes?

An acrylic painting of an artificial ring around a black hole.

This is a painting of an artificial ring around a black hole. The concept art is by Philippe Bouchet. It’s not entirely accurate as there would be large optical distortions, especially on the far side of the ring, caused by the hole itself.

Are extraterrestrial civilizations building particle accelerators around black holes, and can we detect their use? Astrophysicist Brian Lacki at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study speculates that we may actually ask and answer such questions. He proposes that if such accelerators are operating they will generate extremely high energy neutrinos. These neutrinos would have energies equal to ten to the twenty-eighth power (10^28) electron volts. This is a septillion times more powerful than the Large Hadron Collider.

The point is that, aside from the Big Bang itself, there are no known natural sources of neutrinos in that energy range. Lacki thinks that if we can find some, they are almost certainly generated by artificial means. They can serve as observational proof for questions concerning SETI, that hyperadvanced alien civilizations exist elsewhere in the universe. Lacki thinks we can build the means to detect the passage of such neutrinos by strewing a 100,000 hydrophones across the ocean floor. These neutrinos are so energetic that, unlike their lower energy cousins, they actually interact pretty strongly with ordinary matter. This means we’ll actually be able to hear the noise as they pass through water.

Another possibility, although less sensitive, is detect the secondary showers of particles as such high energy neutrinos make as they smash into the Moon’s surface.  And such observations are already under way with the NuMoon experiment.

(Image credit Philippe Bouchet.)

Dwarves in Udra and How They Differ From Those of Cliche


The cliche of dwarves is short, burly, bearded miners, masons and reclusive mountain dwellers following their vaguely Norse or Scots Celtic culture, making you think of Brian Blessed, if Blessed were short and stumpy. They are veritable tanks in battle and at the bar. But I don’t follow that in my game.

Udran dwarves are descended from the occasionally evil, occasionally cannibalistic, utucheckulu of Darth Lom. Generally most are lawful neutral rather than lawful good. Unlike their Lomite cousins, and unlike virtually all dwarfish cliches, they have an enormous fascination with magic, especially in combat. This is why they favor monk as a class over fighter. And those that cannot be monks, tend to be become wizards or sorcerers.

To further distinguish themselves from their Nyambian heritige, they tend to shave all body hair, often even the eyebrows, only the women are the exception to this, retaining short bobbed or cornrowed hair, eyebrows and beards occasionally. Generally a male Udran dwarf never lets his beard or hair grow out except as a form of shame, carelessness or penance. There are Udran dwarves who go about bearded but these are looked at as prisoners, hooligans, vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells.

A good example of an Udran dwarf can be found in the Neverwinter Nights character, Grimgnaw. They are short, dusky and ascetic, with strong influences from traditional African shamans, diviners and martial artists. Unlike their Nyambian cousins and unlike their D&D counterparts, they favor monk or wizard as a class. As such, they are always literate, often in several languages. The music they favor is something very similar to Mongol Throat Singing, kora harps, mbiras and mouth harps.

Aside from their different outlook and favored class, they have all the same advantages of dwarfs as described in the Players Handbook. As they have departed strongly from the traditions of Nyambe, they don’t have the advantages outlined in that source book.

Accidents Don’t Happen

Actually this is another test post to see if this Facebook mirroring nonsense works. Autopublish works just fine with Diaspora*. However the Facebook plugin documentation wasn’t entirely clear so, I forgot a step in getting things to mirror on Facebook. If all goes well, this should appear in FB.

This kind of status is very Twitter-like. Bah! To make it worth everyone’s while, let me embed some music: