gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
I really cannot stand NBC's coverage. Worse than watching baseball on ESPN.

But I do keep seeing the medal counts, because at some point it became important to "win" the Olympics for your national team. But it bugs me, because the teams are no equal in size. So I've decided to do a quick thing to see who is winning.

I'm assigning points to each medal. 30 for gold, 20 for silver, and 10 for bronze. As of this writing the current medal board looks like this.

1. United States 28G 30S 28B 1,720 points.
2. Great Britain 19G 19S 12B 1,070 points.
3. China 17G 15S 19B 1,000 points
4. Russia 12G 12S 15B 750 points
5. Germany 11G 8S 9B 580 points.

Now, we take those point totals and divide them by the number of athletes.

1. United States 554 athletes. Score 3.1
2. Great Britain 366 athletes. Score 2.9
3. Russia 266 athletes. Score 2.8
4. China 399 athletes. Score 2.5
5. Germany 419 athletes. Score 1.3

Obviously, this doesn't factor in team sports, or events where there is both individual and team scoring. But I find it interesting.

The smallest team in Rio is from the island of Nauru, with just two athletes. If one had earned gold? Team score of 15. Dream big, guys!
gridlore: Photo: Adelie penguin, precariously balanced on one foot. *wobble* is written in the lower right corner (Penguin - Wobble)
Had my surgery. Which ended up being, well. . . weird.

No, not going into more detail. Let's just say there were a few last minute changes to the plan.

Don't remember anything. Although I was evidently at least moderately coherent in a "talking in my sleep" kind of way under the twilight anesthesia.

Now taking it very easy on pain meds.

Going back to bed.
gridlore: White crosshairs on a red background. Text: "Keep Calm and Aim Center Mass" (Keep Calm)
OK, to clear things up.

A while ago I had a PET scan. Normal for me, with my medical history. Around that time we noticed an odd bump on my abdomen that would come and go. We thought it might be a hernia.

However, that was when the annual "State Fucks Up My Health Care" festival was scheduled. This year, they decided to transfer close to a quarter of my doctor's patients from our current program to one no one had ever heard of (and one that never answered phone calls or emails) which made it so he couldn't see us or give referrals.

This didn't affect my specialists. My oncologist, seeing some unusual metabolic activity in my lymph nodes, ordered a CT scan. Which showed some slightly-enlarged lymph nodes, but the accompanying lab work didn't show any signs of my body trying to fight a cancer. So that's something we're going to monitor.

But what the CT did reveal was a subcutaneous mass on my abdominal wall. I was sent for a surgical consult to decide if we just wanted to do a needle biopsy or go full chainsaw. As needle biopsies are literally hit or miss when it comes to getting good results; it was an easy choice to slice me open and pull out more bits.

Odds are this is a mass of fatty tissue or a cyst. But getting it out so the lab geeks can poke it with scientific sticks is important. From what I understand, I'll not be under a general, but rather extremely stoned and numbed. It's outpatient, barring complications, and I'll have a new scar.

Surgery is scheduled for August 9th. Offerings to Kamrusepa welcomed.
gridlore: animated American flag (US Flag)
Over the last couple of months I've been reading the conservative hysteria over Hilary Clinton. According to them, Sec. Clinton has, for at least 35 years, been at the center of a web of conspiracies and illegal acts that propelled her to riches and power. That she manipulated, lied, cheated and stole all through the Arkansas years, was the power behind the throne in the White House, and sold America by the pound as Secretary of State.

And woe to anyone who crosses her! Or anyone who gets too close to the truth, or fails her! According to these very earnest posters, Clinton has left a trail of blood behind her that would make Vlad Tepes green with envy. Cross Madam Clinton and your days are number. If you're lucky, she'll just destroy your career.

And through all off this, she's remained untouched by the law. Decades of corruption and murder, years of investigations that fail, agency after agency standing down in the face of the Clinton mafia. Hilary Clinton is too tough to take on.

At least that's the narrative from the paranoid right. But let's say that every single word is true. The Hilary Clinton is the master of deceit and overwhelming revenge, and can cloak her actions so well no one ever knows it is her.

Isn't this EXACTLY who we want facing down Vladimir Putin? Someone as devious and cold as he is? Hell, elect Hilary Clinton and I expect that one morning Putin will wake up with the head of a Razorback pig in his bed and a note reading "this week, one of your meals is poisoned, on of your vehicles has a bomb in it, and one of your guards works for me. Love, President Clinton."

Just my take.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
And suddenly doctors are interested in me again.

Several weeks ago I went in for a PET scan. This showed some unusual metabolic activity, so a follow up CT scan was ordered. Wednesday I saw my oncologist to discuss the results. No sign of cancer, but there were some slightly enlarged lymph nodes. As always, we're staying vigilant.

I'd also noticed a lump in my abdomen, which came and went. We thought it might be a hernia. Nope, the CT revealed there's a mass of some kind pretty much on the abdominal wall. Referral to a surgeon for a possible biopsy and removal made.

Since I was Dr. Agrawal's last patient for the day, he took the time to give me a guided tour of my insides. So fascinating! Especially when he pointed out internal surgical scarring. What was really amazing was when we got to my lungs. He pulled up a CT of healthy lung tissue for comparison. The lower third of my lungs look like they have thick spiderwebs clogging them. That's cumulative damage from blood clots, multiple cases of pneumonia, and years of exposure to atmospheric pollution. No wonder I have problems breathing!

The final issue was some severe, sudden-onset headaches I've been having. Since I've already had one stroke, I'm always concerned about anything going wrong in my head. I already have an appointment with my neurologist for next week, but wanted to get ground work done. I'm now going in for a head MRI on Monday.

Other than that, I'm doing OK. I was joking last night that I am a complete binary person. I have two states, On and Off. Trouble is I can never tell which state I'm going to be experiencing the next day. Trying to get to the gym and hoping to get more walks in. The new FitBits are great for nagging.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
Yesterday I took a nap (not uncommon when you've survived a stroke, you get tired easily) fully intending to get up and write the first part of the Threats to the Imperium article.

I woke up to a coup attempt in Turkey. Since we were just there, I sort of got distracted by the news. But it does serve the point that any society, any government is going to experience instability. And on occasion, that instability will require an active intervention.

Once again, I have to emphasize the huge size and variety of the Third Imperium. There are going to be literally millions of cultures, religions, and old simmering conflicts. We've often wondered why the Imperial Navy doesn't just post a cruiser in every system to deter piracy. The simple answer is they're too busy putting out fires.

So what triggers an Imperial intervention? Any event that could:

1. Disrupt trade over the region. As the Imperium is primarily a trade federation and dedicated to preserving the free flow of trade, anything that threatens that will be stopped as soon as possible. It doesn't even have to be a direct assault on the mechanisms of trade, freighters and the like, but an event that is causing damage to the economic health of a county. Civil war on an important planet might trigger an intervention to lessen the economic impact on the nearby worlds.

2. Weaken the security or integrity of the Imperium. Revolts, rebellions, and crusades against the Evil Empire will crop up constantly. This will be a big problem on the Solomani Rim. Anything that weakens the Imperium will be squashed with overwhelming force. For most of these, a show of force followed by the hunting down of ringleaders will suffice. In other cases, the Unified Armies will be tied down for years hunting partisans. The Ine Givar insurgency on Efate/Regina is a classic example of this.

3. Create mass causalities. This is an unusual one, as it includes natural disasters. Any event that threatens the lives of a significant number of Imperial citizens can trigger an intervention. This is a long-standing exception to the rule of sovereignty for member worlds; oppress them, fine. Genocide? Not cool. In this case the focus will be on both stopping the deaths (if possible) and rendering aid to the affected population.

4. Destroy Imperial property. Attacks on Imperial facilities, ships and vehicles, and sapiants in Imperial Service are grounds for an intervention. Two guys jumping the fence at the Consulate isn't going to be enough, but a mob storming and torching the place is. Attacks on the nobility are seen as attacks on the person of the Emperor, and *will* result in an Imperial response. Starports, military bases, Research Centers, and pretty much anything else with the Imperial Sunburst slapped on it.

So, who can call for an intervention? Normally, it's either a member state asking for aide, or an Imperial official who sees the need for such an act. Every Imperial Navy officer is drilled with the idea that they have to be ready to take action. Usually, the decision for a large scale intervention lies with the Count-Elector and his Fleet Admiral and Marshal. Most nobles are wary of intervening too often, because it builds distrust with the worlds of his county and drains the treasury.

When an intervention is called for, the Unified Armies motto for planning is "Maximum Force, Minimum Time." The Imperium wants to stop problems as quickly as possible. If the commander on scene determines that the best solution is the overthrow the local government, so be it. In most cases, the Imperial Marines embarked on a light cruiser can handle smaller events, at least until reinforcements arrive.

On a wider front, the navy deals with threats that cross space. Piracy, is the most common, of course, and Naval Intelligence has learned that piracy usually means someone backing it. The image of the interstellar freebooter with a cybernetic hand and a flaming eye tattoo is mostly a myth. Most pirates are back by governments or corporations, and set out with a definite target list.

Every so often, there will be an actual interstellar war to handle. Powerful worlds can field their own small navies, and as I said above, you can have grudges that date back centuries. Such wars tend to be fought with full understanding that the Imperial response will be devastating. Such wars tend to start out with cold war tactics, and escalate over time.

This is why the Navy isn't everywhere, it's too busy racing around answering the latest crisis. At least internally. Exterior threats will be covered in the next couple of articles.

I hope y'all are enjoying these. I really want to get feedback on them.
gridlore: (Burning_Man)
Almost all our Burning Man gear is storied in the warehouse at Kirsten's office. Today, we went over to sort it out and build an actual packing list.

This comes from being a solider and a truck driver. I want to know what is in what box, and know what we need to get before we leave. The plan is to have the Playa-only stuff on a pallet and wrapped in industrial plastic wrap. This will increase security if we decide to spend a night in Reno on the way up, and help secure the load. The stuff we'll need access to on the way or immediately on site (the tent box, the 7-day Igloo cooler, and our water and gasoline containers) will be easier to access.

We have four 3.6 cubic foot boxes that are now labeled "Bedroom", "Kitchen", "Consumables", and "Miscellaneous". We'll be taking a roll of pallet wrap with us, so when we pack for home we can put everything in the correct box, put it back on the pallet, and wrap it for home.

Organization is fun.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
I swear to Halford the next installment will be about the threats the Imperium faces, but I realized that after the post on Imperial Law, or the lack of same, I needed to address how the Imperium regulates things.

Cleon the Great realized that even with a light hand on the member worlds, some things needed to be defined and controlled to prevent the conditions that brought on the Long Night. To this end, many of the early Imperial Edicts established regulatory agencies with broadly defined powers to established regulations and enforce the same. In the early 12th century, the main ones functioning are:

  • The Imperial Treasury. Responsible for managing the Imperial monetary supply and ensuring the the Credit is the sole currency used in interstellar trade. There will be more on the economics of the 3I in a later post.

  • The Starport Authority. Oversees and administers all legitimate starports in Imperial space. Over the centuries they've also acquired a role in inspecting starships for safety and compliance with regulations.

  • Standards and Measurements Bureau. Originally the Office of Calendar Compliance, this office has grown to enforcing common standards for everything from weights to struggling to keep Galanglic from drifting into different tongues.

  • Colonization and Migration Bureau. Created to repopulated the barren worlds after the end of the Long Night, this bureau now oversees ongoing colonization projects and manages any requests for large-scale movements of populations.

I'm welcome for suggestions for any I may have missed.

This literal Celestial Bureaucracy will have offices on almost every world of the Imperium, even if it's four bored C&M agents who spend the day playing cards. But their main jobs is data. All of these various bureaus produce reports in staggering numbers. Take the Starport Authority. One of the responsibilities of a Port Master is to maintain a log of all ships passing through the port. Name, transponder code, name of the ship's master, and reason for visit. This information is dutifully collected and forwarded to the County capital, where it is collated with reports from the other worlds of the county. Those reports are sent to the Sector capital, and finally, to Capital.

Capital is a temple to data collection. Those port logs from across the Imperium are feed into massive data farms where they can be used to do everything from modeling trade patterns for the coming century to tracking a single ship's travels. Beyond the Imperial Palace and the Moot Spire, the Imperial Capital city is filled with the magnificent offices of these agencies.

From these offices, updated regulations and reports issue forth based on the incoming data stream and the wishes of the Emperor. Dissemination can take years to reach every backwater world, so these new regulations tend to come out every ten years or so, except in cases of vital changes or emergency alerts. I suspect that a large proportion of the traffic on the X-boat network is encrypted Imperial data. Getting a specific report, or changing the data before it reaches its destination could be a fun adventure.

Who enforces these regulations? The SPA has it's own police and security apparatus, as it has physical plants to defend; as does the Treasury when it comes to mints and the branch Imperial Banks in the counties. They others depend on the the threat of an Imperial intervention to force compliance. Or they just hire mercenaries to do the job.

So we have 1100 years of regulations, some of which may be out of date, or ignored, and varying degrees of enforcement depending on the local official. This is why Bribery is a skill.

As always, I'm looking for comments and expansions.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
I know, i said last time that this would feature a discussion of the threats facing the Imperium. I lied. Or more accurately, I realized that there was some that needed to follow the discussion of the now-ripped apart nobility. Namely, we need to examine Imperial Law.

There isn't any such thing as Imperial Law. Drive home safely!

You need more detail? OK. One of the big problems in the ongoing development of the Third Imperium is that is was defined by people living in Western democracies for the most part. This grossly affected how we defined a functional government. For those of us living in the US, the idea that we are "A government of laws, and not of men." as put forth by John Adams dominates our views. So we invented civilian ministries and the entire concept that there were three branches to the Imperial government, giving the Moot some sort of shadow legislative ability and assuming a standing court structure relying on published laws.

Which absolutely would not work in something on the scale of the Third Imperium. Imagine the logistical nightmare of a thousand regional courts issuing rulings on the same laws in wildly different ways, all crawling up the chain to the Imperial High Court! Between the backlog of cases, travel times, and the general slowness of high courts, it could be years or decades before the correct interpretations filter down.

No, the Imperium is a nation of men, not laws. One man, actually. The Emperor holds supreme authority over the state, and rules through Edicts that have the effective force of law. Over a thousand years Edicts and how they are enforced has built up into a semblance of a legal code. As an example, Imperial Edict 7 states that "the possession of weapons capable of mass destruction if forbidden unless specifically authorized by the Throne." Well, that's vague. But over the centuries numerous enforcement actions have defined both what constitutes WMD and what the punishments should be.

Most of the early Edicts are like this. Cleon I issued 27 Edicts in the first few years of his reign that defined the Imperium. Edit 4 defines treason as "making war upon the Imperium or a member state of the Imperium, adhering to the enemies of the Imperium, or any attempt to undermine the sovereign rights of the Imperium." Again, a very broad order that has been interpreted over time.

Now we come to enforcement. As I said above, it is insane to think that any court system could function in this setting. So instead you have the Imperial Navy. All naval officers (including Marines) act in the Emperor's name and with his authority. So when there is a violation of law, nine times out of ten the investigation and punishment will be handled by the Navy. Usually this means Naval Intelligence and Admiralty Courts. But out on the frontier it might be the next light cruiser to come by on patrol. A green Commander might find herself sitting in judgment of a group of conspirators against the realm. (Hint: this is a campaign hook.)

So what prevents abuses? Such trials and their results are reported up the chain of command and to the local Consul-General and Count-Elector. Appeals also go to the Count-Elector for review. If that Commander botches the job, she might not only find her career trashed, she might be riding a prison barge into exile himself! (Possibly with a few other interesting fellows, who are suddenly given a chance to escape. This is a Blake's 7 campaign hook.)

Despite the informality and vagueness of Imperial Edicts, there are lawyers who specialize in Imperial Law. They study the precedents from across the Imperium to ferret out arguments and loopholes. They are very expensive, and every good Travellers' Aid Society office has a few in the Rolodex right next to the hostage rescue team's contact information.

There you have it. A state where one man rules, but those rulings are carried along by the force of traditional and precedent, and where your fate may in the hands of a Naval officer who slept through his Legal Theory classes at the Academy.

As always, comments wanted.
gridlore: Army Infantry school shield over crossed infantry rifles (Army Infantry)
This my last comment on the shootings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. As we all know, a gunman with a entire menu of issues, who claimed allegiance to three terrorist groups who hate each other, entered the club and shot over 100 people, killing 49 and wounding 53 others. He uses a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 handgun in the attack. After a stand off lasting several hours, the gunman was killed by SWAT officers.

Much of the debate centers around the weapons used. The MCX was designed for sale to governments for military use. Read the site linked. It's designed for rapid fire even in semi-automatic mode, and built to be quieter than most non-suppressed weapons. A boon for special forces, perhaps, but for civilians?

Rather than repeat the arguments, I'm just going to point out another shooting incident that was remarkably similar in terms of the situation but had a very different outcome.

On December 8th, 2004, Damageplan was playing the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio. The place was packed because the band was the post-Pantera project of drummer Vinnie Paul and Darryl "Dimebag" Abbott, legendary guitarist. The two brothers were thrilled to be back on the road and playing to 700 fans. Shortly after the band's set started, a 25-year-old former Marine named Nathan Gale walked onto the stage and started shooting. Dimebag was the first to fall. A massacre was underway.

That night there were four deaths, and seven wounded. Out of over 700 fans, band personnel and club staff. Why so low? Because Gale was using a 9mm Beretta 92FS pistol with a 15 round magazine. The police were able to approach and kill Gale while he was reloading.

The only difference here was the weapons used.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
At this point in history, as we approach Traveller’s 40th birthday, it is time to reassess the classic setting, the Third Imperium of Man. From it’s birth in vague references in Mercenary and High Guard, the 3I has grown mightily over the years.

The problem is it was never really designed. Dozens of authors working for different companies added pieces here and there. Oh there was the Moot, and we knew about the Imperial Armed Forces, but it stopped there. It was the broadest brushstroke of a setting. Which suited me when I was 13 years old.

I’m a bit older now.

So, I’m going to rip the Third Imperium to pieces and rebuild it. Comments welcome.

What is the Imperium?

11,000 worlds, the vast majority self ruling is the quick answer. Ruled by an Emperor and his loyal nobles. But most of the nobles seem to have no real power over these independent worlds. So what gives?

My answer is that the Imperium is, in a very real sense, the Imperial Navy. It’s the navy that keeps the peace, polices the “space between the stars” and has the best equipped troops in known space ready for action. The Imperium is a military state with civilian oversight.

But what is the Imperium? Born out of the ashes of the Long Night, Cleon I realized that what doomed interstellar civilization was the end of trade. The new empire was built on three concepts:

1. A universally accepted currency
2. A universally used calendar
3. Near universal freedom of trade

Using these three principles, the state grew quickly. (As an aside, the one thing I hated about 4th edition more than anything else was the Core Sector was filled with inhabited worlds. It should have been one desolate, ruined world after the other.) This would have been the glory days of the Scouts Service, who cemented their role as the more subtle option when compared to the navy’s hammer. Early merchant princes also struck out, using the promise of free trade to sign deals. It was a golden age.

And it established how the Imperium would run for the next thousand years. The Navy everywhere; gaining more power.
The Nobility.

One thing that always bothered me (once I started reading history, that is) was the neat pyramid of Traveller nobles. Everyone in their little slot. The reality is much different. So I’m scraping the nobility for the most part.

In the Imperium the only rank that really matters is Count-Elector. These counts replace subsector dukes, and they are the members of the Moot. They are the meat of the Imperium’s administration, as they control far more manageable areas of space. The local fleet admiral answers to them and the Sector Admiral. They control the local Unified Army, and oversee a vast bureaucracy dedicated to making sure that taxes and levied and apportioned correctly. The Count-Elector is the sophont on the spot. These posts are hereditary, but the Emperor can strip a family of their office if high crimes or gross incompetence are proven. Not all Counts are Counts-Elector, and it’s the Emperor alone who decides who get the title.

As members of the Moot, Counts-Elector are required to “maintain a presence” at Capital. As this is impossible for most Counts, a relative is usually sent as a proxy. The Moot is mostly a debating society, where the assembled member study issues and provide guidance to His Majesty. A year on Capital is a standard stop for a young noble’s Grand Tour.

Sectors are the province of Ducal families, and only rarely would a duke be an Elector. (One example is Grosherzog Norris of Deneb, who used the power of an Imperial Warrant to retain his title as Markgraf Regina.) Archdukes oversee Domains, and like the Emperor, are limited to mostly long range planning.

Barons are mostly life appointments, and are awarded for service. Most come with a manor house somewhere nice that provides a nice income. Knighthood is unchanged.

A note about Social Standing and noble rank. It is entirely possible for someone to be SS F and not be a noble, or not hold a title consummate with his power and influence. A merchant prince who controls the bulk of shipping across three counties might be of low birth, but his money opens many doors. This guy is probably a knight and should have his home estate declared a baronial holding. But still, he’ll be hob-nobbing with the glitterati while the Count-Elector of a poor frontier county will be ignored.

The Member Worlds.

The 11,000 worlds of the Imperium govern themselves, with certain limits. Imperial Worlds are strictly limited in their ability to conduct “foreign affairs” with other systems. In almost all cases, they are denied jump-capable warships (although a blind eye is usually turned to the “armed merchantmen” fielded in frontier regions.) They are forbidden to make war on other systems.

Controlling this is the office of the Governor-General. Appointed by the local Count, Governors-General work out of the Imperial Consulate usually found in the planet’s capital city or close by the starport. Consulates tend to be near fortresses in most places, and are guarded by Imperial Marines. Because the Governor-General has the power to forbid any action taken by the local government if she feels that it threatened the safety of the planet or other systems, it would unduly restrict trade, or violates the few laws the Imperium has. Governors-General tend to be people who've spent years in the Imperial bureaucracy and have shown a talent for diplomacy. The larger and more powerful the world, the lighter the Governor-General has to tread.

Sadly, there have been thousands of instances of Governors-General using their positions to enrich themselves through corruption, theft, and in one notable case, co-running a pirate fleet with the world’s system defense commander.

Less populated worlds tend to have a Colonial Administrator assigned instead, leading a much smaller office. On very low-population planets, the Administrator could also be the Starport Authority Port Master, the Customs Officer, and run the best bar in town (it’s the only bar.) Such assignments are seen either as stepping stones to bigger and better things, or the inglorious end after not making the right moves to further a career.

In all of these levels, from the Count-Elector down to the Governor-General, the key problem is time. Even if you have a courier ready to go, the minimum response time is going to be two weeks. So at every level, you will find leaders taking action. Sometimes the wrong actions, but that’s where we get adventures!

Next up, the threats faces by the Imperium, or how your character got six Starburts for Extrem Heroism.
gridlore: (Burning_Man)
Black Rock Playa
(ttto: "New York Minute" by the Eagles)

Since this was a really quick job, I left a lot of lines intact.

Billy got up
Headed out the door
Went out to the Playa
Was never seen no more
They found his clothing
Scattered outside the Empire Store
And he won't be down at the office in the morning

He had a home
The love of a girl
But men get lost sometimes
As the city unfurls
One day he crossed that line
And he was too much in this world
But I guess it doesn't matter anymore

On the Black Rock Playa
Everything can change
On the Black Rock Playa
Things can get pretty strange
On the Black Rock Playa
Everything can change
On the Black Rock Playa

Lying here in the darkness
I hear the noise camps' beat
Somebody dancing at a rave
Somebody's brittle and weak
You find a camp that partially sane
You better hold it close all week
The wolf is always at the door

On the Black Rock Playa
Everything can change
On the Black Rock Playa
Things can get pretty strange
On the Black Rock Playa
Everything can change
On the Black Rock Playa

And in this time
When darkness falls to fires
And people come home
To this place they love
You better take a fool's advice
And take care of your own
One day they're here
Next day they're gone

I pulled my coat over my shoulders
And took a walk through the Temple gates
Strangers milling around me
The glowing city in the distance waits
A funeral program pinned to a tower
A desperate note from the heart,
"I'm here all alone, please come back"

What the head makes cloudy
The heart makes very clear
Those days were so much brighter
In the time when we were there
I know that someday next year
We'll make these dark clouds disappear
Until that day, I have to believe
I believe, I believe...

On the Black Rock Playa
Everything can change
On the Black Rock Playa
Things can get pretty strange
On the Black Rock Playa
Everything can change
On the Black Rock Playa

On the Black Rock Playa...
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
My schedule for Baycon. Note, as part of the Yak Mil Panel joke, you won't see me listed in the program book for two of my three panels. Trust me, I will be there.

Next Year in New Jeruslaem: Religion and Expansion Into Space
Saturday 13:00 - 14:30, Connect 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

Many religions have specific requirements, such as facing a holy site during prayer, or required pilgramages for the faithful. How do you do that when you are many AU or even light years from Earth? We will discuss both some of the troubles the religious will face, and how religions adapt.

ElizaBeth Gilligan, G. David Nordley, Tom Saidak, Randy Smith, David Gerrold

Domestic Sales Of Yak Milk

Sunday 08:00 - 09:00, Connect 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

Expert in the field Doug Berry presents his current research.

Douglas Berry

The Lost Solar System

Sunday 10:00 - 11:30, Connect 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

Before we started sending probes everywhere, we had a very different view of our solar system. Come discuss Martian canals and the Swamp-Men of Venus!

Jay Reynolds Freeman

And the usual reminder. Due to my stroke, I may not remember you. Even if I've known you for years. If I give you a blank look, please just re-introduce yourself and remind me how we know each other. That usually works.
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
Recently I found a couple of opportunities to get back into gaming. Both involved the latest version of the granddaddy of all RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

I picked up the Players Handbook, and I'll admit I was a little skeptical. D&D has been in a decline since the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and things got really bad with the 4th edition.

Which seems to be a cursed number. I can think of several games that had terrible fourth editions.

But I am pleasantly surprised. D&D5e is a very good game. The base mechanic is a simple target number. Roll a d20 and add modifiers to hit a set target number. The modifiers come from either one of the six characteristics, or from having a proficiency from your race or class, or having a skill. Each character class has a proficiency bonus listed for each experience level, which makes things much easier to keep track of.

One mechanic I really like is the Advantage/Disadvantage rule. Various circumstances can give you an advantage or disadvantage. For example, if your opponent in a fight is Stunned, you have an advantage on on your attack. If you are prone, you are disadvantaged when you make an attack. This is simply rolling two d20s when making the attack or skill check, and taking the higher (advantage) or lower (disadvantage) roll. Simple, quick, and another reason to hate your dice.

The classic races, Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling are hear, with more uncommon choices (Half Elfs and Orcs, Gnomes, Dragonborn, and Tieflings) in a separate section. Each race has descriptive text, game stats, and a few sub-races, like High Elves, Wood Elves, and the Drow. More choices are a good thing, and this can be easily expanded.

Character classes are excellent, with the traditional list of types. A new feature is choosing a path at third level that allows more specialization. A fighter, for example, can be a Champion, who focuses on his physical might; a Battle Master, who depends on tactical skill and mastery of his weapons; or an Eldritch Knight, a potent warrior who can also use magic. All classes have these branches which allows the player to make their character more to their liking as they go. Again, this is a feature that can be expanded without breaking the game. I've already seen several sites with expanded Archetypes.

But what really excited me was the section on Backgrounds. These adventurers had lives before the game starts, and this not only adds to the characters' abilities, it is a great tool for coming up with compelling story lines. The backgrounds listed are:

Acolyte - You spent much of your youth in a temple or monastery.
Charlatan - You excel at charming people and getting them to trust you.
Criminal - Your history is one spent breaking the law.
Entertainer - You grew up in a family that entertained others. Players, a circus, something.
Folk Hero - From humble beginnings you've become a local legend.
Guild Artisan - You come from a guild family, and were apprenticed yourself.
Hermit - You spent much of your youth isolated by choice.
Noble - From one of the great families you come, accustomed to deference and obedience.
Outlander - You hail from a remote region, far from things like cities and nobles.
Sage - You've spent most of your life in study.
Sailor - Most of your life has been spent under sail.
Soldier - You served in an army in battle.
Urchin - Born in the gutters, your only family your fellow urban poor.

It's easy to min-max these choices, giving you Fighter the Soldier background, for example. But I prefer to get creative.

Rouge - Soldier. Dragooned into the Army, this guy deserted during battle, and ran for his life. He began stealing to survive, and found he was good at it.

Barbarian - Urchin. Growing up unwanted and unloved in the alleyways of the Great City, this feral child depended on her anger to survive. Soon, even the toughest gangs feared her rage.

Monk - Sailor. Though rarely seen, the House of the Endless Water roams the oceans of the world, a huge monastery that rarely docks. The select few accepted on board are trained in the traditional martial arts, and practice in the rigging!

See what I mean?

Really like this game. Can't wait to play.
gridlore: The word "Fail" in bold red letters on a black background. (Fail Black)
OK, so the Fox Network is remaking the Rocky Horror Picture Show for broadcast. Why I don't give a flying piece of toast.

First Red Doritos: Hearken back to when the RHPS was just getting rolling. No one really knew any LGBT people. The closest most came was watching Billy Crystal on "Soap." Same goes for transvestism. So a movie with a bisexual, cross-dressing alien as a lead was edgy. On screen implied sex was edgy. Hell, implied cannibalism was edgy. Today? LGBT people are out and open members of society. And the cannibalism dinner scene? You can find much worse on YouTube.

Second Red Doritos: We were much closer to the source material. The "late night, double-feature, picture show", whether at your local theater or on a local station after regular programming, instructed us in the tropes that the RHPS played with. The two kids with a flat, the mysterious house, creepy butlers, mad scientists, and created monsters. Seeing the RHPS was like a best-of reel from great B-horror flicks of the 50s through the 60s.

Third Red Doritos: It was a social event where we broke rules. When you go to see a movie, you're supposed to sit quietly and enjoy. Not at Rocky! We danced, shouted call back lines, used props, and in most places there was a shadow cast, either ad hoc or a dedicated team acting out the film in front of the screen. You went to the RHPS to have fun with other people. Running around a theater in your underwear screaming obscenities at the screen then going to Denny's and eating fries with Ranch. Watching any production at home alone loses the point. Rocky was something out of the ordinary.

Finally, it was as close to a mystery cult as we could get. There was a fraternity among Rocky fans. The jocks and stoners went to see Song Remains the Same or Wizards, the Metal Dudes lined up for Heavy Metal (once it hit the midnight circuit), and the Art Nerds went to see whatever was playing at the Los Gatos Cinema. But Rocky fans showed up week after week. We'd see each other at school and give the briefest of nods, as our membership in the cult crossed caste lines. It meant something, damnit (Janet, I love you!).

I did Rocky Horror for well over a decade, Friday and Saturday nights for long stretches. Keep this pointless remake.

Because on our world, we'll do the TIME WARP AGAIN!!!
gridlore: Doug stares over his glasses at the camera, a single eyebrow raised. (Me - Glare of Sarcasm)
OK, I'm a proud Democratic Socialist. I support Bernie Sanders, single-payer health care, fully-funded public schools, and higher taxes coupled with drastic cuts to defense spending. I'm a screaming, dyed-in-the-wool, ACLU card-carrying liberal.

But for the love of Halford, will people stop using European nations to support these ideas in the United States? Today I'm seeing a meme touting Denmark as a model for the US going around Facebook.

OK, the entire nation of Denmark has fewer people than New York City. The United States is about 230 times larger than Denmark, with close to 60 times the population. Also, the US is far more diverse in terms of cultures, languages, religions, and political opinions. What works well for a small state like Denmark isn't necessarily going to be easily transferred to the lumbering behemoth that is 'Murica. The same goes for Sweden, Norway, even Germany and France. Each is quite different from each other and the US. Canada? Population of 35 million compared to our 320 million. Makes it much easier to apply a national health service.

We need to keep fighting for the ideas I listed above, but we need to do so with an eye as to how to make them work in this country, not by saying how it works elsewhere.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Yesterday I had my first dental appointment in a few years. Yes, people with no teeth are supposed to still see a dentist. This was to address my denture issues.

I got dentures back in 2008, and due to the massive amount of bone loss from my chemo, the lower plates never had nothing to grab onto. As a result, eating almost anything with my teeth in was impossible. I wore the teeth mainly for show, and for comfort when I was still driving for a living.

But after my stroke, and going nearly month without them between hospitals and rehab, I just stopped wearing my dentures. There was no need. I can manage most foods by carefully cutting and using my tongue to mash them up before swallowing. Also, i let my facial hair grow over my lip, which hides the lack of teeth most of the time. I've not worn my dentures in nearly three years. (I do keep them clean, just in case.

But in the last several months, I've been told by multiple doctors that I really need to chew properly to get all the nutritional value from my food. I also discovered that there is in fact a dental version of MediCal, called Denti-Cal which covers many things, including dentures. But not implants as a rule.

Which brings us back to yesterday's appointment. We went back to the same dentist who had done my extractions. They remembered us, which was nice. Got really cool X-rays (there's a machine that circles your head like a scanner; no more film shoved in your mouth!) a quick exam, and a discussion.

Turns out that getting what I need is going to cost close to what the Istanbul trip cost. But there is hope! I'm going to call my doctor to see about getting a consult with a dietician. See if we can't get my medical team to sign off on my getting teeth as a medical necessity to cover at least some of the cost. Also, there are payment plans. We looked at the brochure briefly and [personal profile] kshandra said we'd be making car payments on my teeth. I have an appointment to see an oral surgeon in a few weeks to get his take.

One way or another, we'll make this work.
gridlore: Army Infantry school shield over crossed infantry rifles (Army Infantry)
Today is Camerone Day.

The French Army was besieging Puebla.

The mission of the Legion was to ensure the movement and safety of the convoys, over an 80 mile distance. On the 29th of April 1863, Colonel Jeanningros was informed that an important convoy was on its way to Puebla, with a load of 3 million francs, and material and munitions for the siege. Captain Danjou, his quartermaster, decided to send a company to escort the convoy. The 3rd company of the Foreign Regiment was assigned to this mission, but had no officers available. So Captain Danjou, himself, took the command and 2nd lieutenants Maudet, company guide, and Vilain, the paymaster, joined him voluntarily.

On the 30th of April, at 1 a.m., the 3rd company was on its way, with its 3 officers and 62 men. At 7 a.m., after a 15 mile march, it stopped at Palo Verde in order to get some rest. At this very moment, the enemy showed up and the battle began. Captain Danjou made the company take up a square formation and, even though retreating, he victoriously drove back several cavalry charges, inflicting the first heavy losses on the enemy .

By the inn of Camerone, a large building with a courtyard protected by a wall 3 meters high, Danjou decided to stay, in order to keep the enemy and so delay for as long as possible, any attacks on the convoy.

While the legionnaires were rapidly setting up the defense of the inn, a Mexican officer demanded that Captain Danjou surrender, pointing out the fact that the Mexican Army was greatly superior in number.

Danjou's answer was: "We have munitions. We will not surrender." Then, he swore to fight to the death and made his men swear the same. It was 10 a.m. Until 6 p.m., these 60 men who had had nothing to eat or drink since the day before, in spite of the extreme heat, of the thirst and hunger, resisted against 2,000 Mexicans: 800 cavalry and 1,200 infantry.

At noon, Captain Danjou was shot in the chest and died. At 2 p.m., 2nd lieutenant Vilain was shot in the head. About this time, the Mexican colonel succeeded in setting the inn on fire.

In spite of the heat and the smoke, the legionnaires resisted, but many of them were killed or injured. By 5 p.m., only 12 men could still fight with 2nd lieutenant Maudet. At this time, the Mexican colonel gathered his soldiers and told them what disgrace it would be if they were unable to defeat such a small number of men. The Mexicans were about to give the general assault through holes opened in the walls of the courtyard, but Colonel Milan, who had previously asked 2nd lieutenant Maudet to surrender, once again gave him the opportunity to. Maudet scornfully refused.

The final charge was given. Soon, only 5 men were left around Maudet; Corporal Maine, legionnaires Catteau, Wensel, Constantin and Leonard. Each had only one bullet left. In a corner of the courtyard, their back against the wall, still facing the enemy, they fixed bayonets. When the signal was given, they opened fire and fought with their bayonets. 2nd lieutenant Maudet and 2 legionnaires fell, mortally wounded. Maine and his 2 remaining companions were about to be slaughtered when a Mexican officer saved them. He shouted: "Surrender!"

"We will only if you promise to allow us to carry and care for our injured men and if you leave us our guns".

"Nothing can be refused to men like you!", answered the officer.

Captain Danjou's men had kept their promise; for 11 hours, they had resisted 2,000 enemy troops. They had killed 300 of them and had injured as many. Their sacrifice had saved the convoy and they had fulfilled their mission.

Emperor Napoleon III decided that the name of Camerone would be written on the flag of the Foreign Regiment and the names of Danjou, Vilain and Maudet would be engraved in golden letters on the walls of the Invalides, in Paris.

Moreover, a monument was built in 1892, at the very place of the fight. The following inscription can be read there :

Ils furent ici moins de soixante
Opposés à toute un armée,
Sa masse les écrasa.
La vie plutôt que le courage
Abandonna ces soldats Français
Le 30 avril 1863.

"Here there were less than sixty opposed to a whole army. Its mass crushed them. Life abandoned these French soldiers before courage. The 30th of April 1863."
gridlore: The word "Fail" in bold red letters on a black background. (Fail Black)
I've been sitting here in front of the computer since about 0730 this morning. And I've accomplished absolutely nothing. I haven't eaten. I'm still wearing the hoodie I donned when I got up despite it being warm. I just forgot to take it off. Like I forgot to eat.

The hoodie is off now. I'm wearing my San Jose Sabercats shirt. No idea if I put it on this morning or slept in it. Pretty sure the blue jeans are fresh, since there's no belt and wallet. Based on that, I'm going to assume clean clothes. Go me.

I had plans for the day. I was going to round up all the recycling from home and Earth Baby and take it in. But my brain never clicked on that. I forgot about it the moment Kirsten walked out the door, and by the time they notion wandered back in, I was already done. My brain, dealing with leftover stress from yesterday, is failing to launch. I can't muster the will to do anything, because when I think about doing, my brain overloads. Just writing this a struggle.

Maybe I did eat. I'm not that hungry right now. Don't see any breakfast dishes or crumbs from a sandwich, so I suspect I just closed my 0900 "Eat Breakfast" alarm on the iPhone and immediately forgot that I'm supposed to do something at that point.

Hey! I did remember to take my morning pills! And the anti-coagulation clinic called with a med adjustment and I immediately wrote it down! And put the Post-It where it is supposed to go! Can I get an Army Commendation Medal for that?

I'm dealing with residual stress because yesterday we had to go and beg for money. The state stopped paying my MediCal premium, and I never saw the notice. Even if I had, I can't read bureaucratese anymore. It shuts me down. Kiri, who is a Goddess, got everything organized and did 90% of the talking. Things are looking good, but I'm stressed because it was casually mentioned that there is a MediCal dental plan that might be able to get me dentures that actually work. I've been trying to find this information for months! But I can't concentrate that long.

I should be writing. I'm trying to do two novels -- one SF, the other Urban fantasy -- along with a bevy of ideas for short stories and the Great Church for Pathfinder that I'd love to sell to someone so my sole big gaming credit won't be a book written 16 years ago. But I can't get the thoughts together. Just getting this down is torture. And my aphasia is so bad today that the voice recognition software is I use is pointless. So ideas flit around my head, dissolving when I try to make them come out. Very frustrating.

This is what living with a stroke is like for me. I could take it when my body was trying to kill me, but my brain? It's where I live, and now it's broken as well. I have good days, to be sure. But this is a bad day, and I'm just terrified that it is a sign of things to come.

1519. I've been writing this for close to 45 minutes. And while I had more things to say, they won't come out. So I'll end this here.
gridlore: Detail from (Gaming - EatRads)
The First Diaspora was commercial, when we spread through the solar system to exploit asteroids and gas giants. We learned that space was dangerous, and ready to kill us in many ways. The new breed of colonists grew strong and prospered.

The Second Diaspora was cultural, after we were contacted by an IRSOL Star City and given the hyperdrive. Suddenly the stars were open to us, and any culture or sect that wanted freedom embarked on massive transports and headed to new worlds. We learned that we were not alone, and that we'd often have to fight for our survival. These colonists adapted to their new homes, many changing their very DNA to fit in.

The Third Diaspora was one of survival. During the madness of the Purity Wars, an ancient gateway was discovered in Sol's Kuiper Belt. The Resistance set up an underground railroad, using any ship they could get their hands on the funnel dissidents and and the dispossessed through the gate. In the end, millions were saved and sent to a cluster near the North America Nebula, 1,600 light years from home. But then disaster struck. A Pure Earth raid on the gateway destroyed it.

We were marooned. Years from the Terran Federation with no way of knowing a safe route back.

So we settled in. Explored. Expanded. Settled and built. But fearing the return of tyranny, each world remained independent. We traded, debated, and prospered. Until the Korellians found us. In less than 14 kilo-hours, we were defeated and enslaved.

That was a century ago. We've learned. We've organized. Quietly, the worlds of the North America Cluster have formed a united government, the Confederate Systems Alliance, and have spent two decades carefully assembling the means of rebellion.

Recently something has distracted the Korellians. Fewer Battle Fleets patrol our space and the quality of Imperial Legions garrisoned on our worlds has dropped. Rumors come to us that the Empire has found itself locked in a bloody war with an implacable enemy. Our time has come.

But before we can light the fuse and bring the fight into the open, there is much to be done. Sabotage, assassinations, smuggling, subversion, intelligence gathering. All vital steps on our path to freedom.

Are you up to the task?

Divided, We Fell. United We Rise. The war starts in 35 kilo-hours!


gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)

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