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Why Take Down the Old Content?

In short, I've decided to take down the old E-V Combine content because there was no luck on finding an illustrator, so I've had to shelve the idea of doing a web graphic novel based upon my back catalog. It clutters the site and it won't be relevent again unless I return to that universe and resume writing. (Or let people see the back catalog in it's low quality state). I've instead decided to focus on what I can produce - prose. Now, I can't stand reading from a computer screen for extended periods of time (including those built into tablets), but I've found eInk quite comfortable. So even if Amazon wasn't a near perfect vector for monetizing the various gobs of content that spill from my keyboard, I'd still endorse their regular (non-Fire) Kindles. As a result, that content which I choose to ePublish will be available in either .prc or .mobi format (same thing really). Though I still have to figure out the best way to point visitors to the opportunites to buy those which I'm not giving away for free. Some crap isn't worth charging people for, but if I think you might enjoy it, I'll think about posting it for download.

My current big projects are Shadowboy, its sequel, Gruefield, and a bevy of shorter tales set in the same universe. In it's current state, Shadowboy is a 108,500 word novel (length may change somewhat in final editing) which I plan to release once final clean-up is done. I'm not sure how spoiler-free I want to keep the promotional material, but that will be the first round of new content I'll be posting. Anything that contains spoilers should be marked as such, as I want people to enjoy their reading.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 06/05/2014 at 6:29pm Eastern |

I'm Calling a Do-Over!

If there was anyone who visited this site before, you will note that there has been a long lapse between when I last updated and now. I can't say I'll have regular updates, but I'm revamping the site. Why? Because I've almost got a new book out, and I want to get things all pretty in case anyone stops by. I also pan on trying to advertize the crap out of this one so that people will buy it, and the chance of some of them stopping by here means cleanup is in order. One thing I want to try to get going is a storefront for direct sales. That part will be tricky. (I stopped paying for an SSL cert years ago, so I'm probably going to outsource the eCommerce part to Amazon or something).

I'll be clearing out a lot of the content which originally gave this site it's name. That project has apparently collapsed, so I'm converting my namespace into a site for blathering about my books. I will keep the random pages about cooking, and am debating if I want to keep the game commentary around.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 06/05/2014 at 5:02pm Eastern |

Back

I've been away from keyboard for a while now. A: my home machine died a grusome death at the hands of my electrical system, and B: there was a fairly nasty contract dispute going on with the governer. Let me give you an idea of how bad the governer's offer was. The Public Employee's Federaton is a Civil Service Union chartered in 1978 (formed in 1977). In those 33(34) years, no contract approved by the e-board and sent to the membership has ever been rejected. The membership vote at PEF was essentially a rubber stamp. Until now. For the first time in it's history as a Union, the membership took the contract offer and said "No Freaking Way". My attention was focused more on this because the Department of Civil Service gets caught in the crossfire as we have to process A: Health care plan changes, B: Layoffs, C: Workforce reports for the Governer's office, D: Information for the State Workforce about their options during a layoff, E: re-employment lists, etc. Plus, our data center keeps dying because it's taken them MONTHS to approve the purchase of replacement parts for our UPS. Whenever the UPS goes down, the whole network goes down. Fun times.

That said, I'm not so distracted (and was not laid off), so I'm back to updating this oh so oft visited website.

UPDATE - Actually... Anyone who's paid the least bit attention to the New York State civil servants will have noticed that all of us Tech Guys got thrown haphazardly into a single agency in the name of creating more bureaucratic barriers to efficiency called the Office of Information Technology Services. ITS exists so that the Govern'ers hired goons can claim we're overstaffed when in fact we are so critically understaffed that mission critical applications with thousands and thousands of users (including the general public) are maintained by a faction of an employee. I say a fraction of an employee, because when we were recording the scope of my group's duties, we came up with fifteen major application areas, loss of any one of which could knock much, or all of our client agency offline and prevent them from doing their jobs. My group consists of two people, and one of them filed for retirement. Our quarterly workload assessment comes out to more than a year's worth of work for a single person. And yet somehow the public claims I'm overpaid and underworked. There was a guy from Oracle who rabled on about ITIL who did say one thing quite relevent here. "If you keep trying to do more with less, you end up trying to do everything with nothing". Which just about sums up where the State IT has reached.

The governer complains about Call Center wait times. Excuse me, Andy, I worked on a call center. The agents aren't sitting around letting the phone ring. The reason callers can't get through is because there are not enough people on the phones. But, of course, we can't hire state workers because we're "overstaffed" and "underworked". Perhaps his highness would like to work the phones for a few hours to get an idea for what's really going on. But I digress. I'm not responsible for the phones. I'm keeping half a datacenter afloat all by my lonesome. Most of it to run home grown applications older than I am which can't be replaced because it takes time and money to write a new system. Time and money the powers that be won't let us have because clearly we just want to scam the taxpayers. After all, they got into politics to scam the taxpayers, so everyone else must be the same way.

Some of you may recall I'd previously said we were down by a quarter of our staff. (Or you can scroll down on the news archive and see it). This is no longer accurate. All of the division is down by well over half, and my unit has lost three quarters of its staff, soon to be more. IT people are getting especially fed up with being treated like crap by the state. Here's a little secret - we have highly mobile skills. IT folks can work for any industry, any company because everyone save perhaps the Amish has a computing environment. So we get a lot of people jumping ship. Or retiring. State workers on average are older than non-state workers due to a longstanding hiring freeze (fifteen years and counting), so many can simply take their pensions and go. I'm even seriously thinking about jumping ship these days.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 03/23/2013 at 04:47am Eastern |

Animated Doctor

I have an average Geek's understanding of Doctor Who and do not technically fall into the show's fandom. Yes, I watched the classic series on PBS as a child, and have seen the revival, but don't go too far beyond that. (Okay, some books too, but I don't have them anymore). One or two months ago I saw a fan made animation of Doctor Who (really, an Anime) using audio clips from the classic series (and the Pertwee Doctor). It was made by about two or three people in Japan. I only bring this up because in the past few days I saw two instances of official Who animation put out by the BBC. These being "The Infinite Quest" and "Dreamland". Before you dismiss what I'm about to say by pointing out that these were serialized on a children's show, I counter with "Just because it's for kids doesn't excuse bad quality."

With that spoiler, let me point out that both of these serials had poorer animation than the fan made work. Animation quality issues aside, lets move on to other problems. One of the major things these two had going for them (aside from being legal and coming out of the BBC) was the use of the actual cast for 10th Doctor adventures. Moreover, a lot of the production staff was utilized, including writers. Which is what makes this so much worse.

"Infinite Quest" looked like a cheap Flash animation one would stumble accross in the bowels of the internet, and I've seen better done cheap flash animations. For a release by a major Quasi-governmental television studio, there really is no excuse, even if you might jokingly claim that they were paying homage to the worst of the classic series. One could actually make that assertion, because "Infinite Quest" was Hilariously bad. It has some of the most atrocious dialogue delivered with the utmost sincerity by people you know have done better work. The potential to take it seriously vanishes before the opening credits when the Doctor threatens the bad guy with a rust inducing fungal spoon. What? Even though the item in question does in fact corrode the vessel within minutes, the incident makes it impossible to take anything that follows seriously. (It might have been better if the Doctor had been bluffing and the spoon was simply a spoon). While it did induce laughter, I wasn't laughing with the show, I was laughing at it. From there, it never recovered.

Dreamland, by comparison was full of lost potential. It had the core elements of a decent Doctor Who plot, but fell apart in implementation. If someone had told me it was the cutscenes from a Doctor Who game for the GameCube, I'd have believed them. At least until I remembered that the Wii was out before Tennent became the Doctor. It is semi-cel shaded CGI, looking like it had just stumbled out of the 90s. Being a solo Doctor adventure, the role of the Companion had to be picked up by locals swept up during the intro. I'm not sure who voiced these characters, but they seemed to be lacking in emotive range, or they just didn't care. The problem could have been caused by the fact that this took place in Nevada (the title being a reference to Area 51), and was probably done entirely with british actors faking American accents. One of the hardest things to do is act in a foreign accent, so over half the cast was handicapped from the get-go by the script. In the transition from "Infinite Quest" to "Dreamland", the writing did away with most of the hilariously bad elements, leaving behing a bland subsitution that needed a few more tweaks before it was good enough. There was one incident of note. "Dreamland" marks the first time to date that I've seen the Sonic Screwdriver used to rotate threaded fasteners, albeit bolts rather than screws. The problem being, in this scene the Doctor and an alien have taken refuge inside a crate while hiding from another, hungrier alien. To walk around under the crate (it makes sense in context actually), they remove the bottom of the crate, by unbolting the fasters which are on the INSIDE. I don't know about you, but all government issue crates I've run into were fastened by Nails from the OUTSIDE. Worse still, since we saw them climb in, we know the top wasn't attached to the crate, and they could have simply flipped it over to do the same thing in less time.

UPDATE - I've since watched "The Ark in Space" from the 4th Doctor's tenure, and there too, the sonic screwdriver is actually used to remove threaded attachment devices. I can't call them bolts or screws because the interface with the head was a pair of circular indentations which looked like it might be friction driven. But, goiven the number of of-label uses devised for the portable deus ex machina, seeing it used for it's purported purpose is still an event of note.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 10/04/2011 |

Coming Soon: The Cure

I've just submitted for publication another e-book. This one is an anthology named for it's keystone story "The Cure". As of this posting, it is still "In review" at Amazon, and I will update this site when it becomes available.

The story of the story entitled "The Cure" is a long and rather dull one. The story itself is interesting and worthy of sale. Of my current works, "The Cure" is one of the earliest I started. It's development dates back to the latter half of the 1990s, when I was still in high school. Back then I was writing stories longhand on paper, and I started an untitled work set in Victorian England. The main character was named Donald, and the family lived in London rather than the country, but key elements of the narrator's personality were already there. I lost the paper original for a while, and re-started it in electronic form. This time the Narrator's name was Edward, and it stuck. After I rediscovered the hand written original, I compared the two. The character of Anne Rutherford appeared in both, though in the original she was an outright bitch rather than a slightly misguided if likable character. My canon at the time was the second attempt, also known as the "Twenty Five Pages of nothing". It was 25 page (8 1/2 x 11, single spaced, single sided, 12 point Times New Roman). Where absolutely nothing happened that could be regarded as a plot. It did contain loads and loads of characterization. For some unidentifiable reason, people seemed to love it. The problem is, when my opening consists of 20,000 words with no semblance of plot, it's awfully hard to move forward.

And so the story languished, still untitled. I went back to it after a while, picking up the two bits which could be spun into plot threads. Edward had a respiratory ailment, and Castle had a dodgy past. What did Victorians with respiratory ailments do? They convalesced in drier climates. So I sent Edward off to Egypt along with the promice of a cure and sent the people from Castle's past after them. Finally the plot got rolling, and the events went along as they should. I ran into a snag with my original idea for an ending. What was supposed to happen was that part of the supplies for Edward's treatment were to be stolen by arab guerillas waging a campaign against the Ottomans who controlled the middle east at that time. The main characters were supposed to head off to Arabia and negotiate with the guerilla leader (I had a note that he was supposed to be the most civilized character in the book) and afterwards have a climactic gun battle with the Americans chasing Castle in the ruins of a desert town. Only problem was, this side trek to Arabia would have dragged the plot down at a time when they'd just come off of a rather strong action sequence in the jungle. Worst of all, the showdown wouldn't have been more climactic than the previous scene, so the book would have fallen flat on its face in the final act.

I ditched the Arabia plot thread and wrote a new ending chapter in Cape Colony "Justice from the Barrel of a Gun". It was an Okay setpiece, but it had the exact opposite problem, it was too rushed, too eager to finish things off, and to pull it off, Edward had to recover too fast from previous injuries. Also, I kept trying to keep in the duel between Edward and Dale Baxter, which had been part of the original idea for the plot. This sequence, however, was not in character for Dale Baxter, and only served to drag out the ending. So, once again, I dropped it, along with "Justice from the Barrel of a Gun" and wrote "Blood on the Green", the current ending sequence. To help out by dampening the increase in tempo of the jungle sequence, I added another chapter to the middle of that, "Jungle Fane" which also served to pay off elements from earlier in the story which had more or less just been dropped.

So the story is finished, end of tale, right? Not really. I still hated the Twenty Five Pages of nothing for their lack of plot related content. They also introduced a lot of elements which would never be addressed within this story. I took an axe to them and ended up with a very abbreviated version. Unfortunately, I ended up cutting too much, and the characterization was lost. I spent a number of additional edits trying to tweak the period from the opening line to the point where they arrive in Egypt. Eventually I grew fed up with it and tried a re-write. This time in the form of a set of flashbacks with Edward in his sickbed reading the Johnathan Warr novelization of the events in question. This attempt fell flat on its face, so I tried another re-write in the format of the original but starting from scratch. This was ungainly as the original had a lot of content that I liked. At this point I had five major revisions (each with multiple minor revisions) and was on the verge of despair. I went back to version 3.2.3 and copied it as version 3.3, smoothing out its wrinkles and correcting the clunkier lines of narration. Much of the Twenty Five Pages of nothing came back, but without those elements which would not be addressed within the story. I also rolled in some elements from the sequel into the chapter entitled "The Mad Alchemist's Dream", in particular Henry's entire scene there came straight out of a failed sequel attempt. (Don't ask why I'd be writing sequels when I hadn't even finalized the original). It explained his character so well, and the story it came from was such a failure as to be untenable, so in it went.

When I went to look into publishing it, I realized that "The Cure" was too short to be a novel. It was only a little over 80,000 words in all. To get something I regarded as long enough to ask people to pay money for, I reviewed and polished up a number of short stories I'd written with Edward as the narrator. Even so, the way they fell into line, the supernatural elements in "The Cure" first make their appearance halfway into the story, well after the reader has gotten into the mindset of "this is a period piece". All of the supernatural stories took place later in the chronology (to maintain Edward's credulity at some of the suggestions that come up). So I needed a supernatural piece which could go before "The Cure" but which wouldn't damage Edward's credulity at the existence of the occult. I composed "The South Mercia Monster" in a day and a half to fill that need. It rates as one of the fastest turn around times on a story of that size for me. It also proved to be an excellent platform to set up elements which are not fully explored later on but which get mentioned in passing. Technically one might ask "Why would Mrs. Rutherford not know that Margaret's father is Lord Basil if her daughter stayed at Lord Basil's house before, and she socializes with Margaret's sisters?" In short, Mrs. Rutherford is an idiot. As a character, she is borderline comic relief, though not terribly funny. Her primary inspiration was Mrs. Bucket from "Keeping up Appearances", though none of the rest of the Rutherford family has any correlation to characters from that show.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 08/07/2011 at 01:30pm Eastern |

.vimrc and .viminfo

I hate when software thinks its smarter than me and knows what I want better than I do. Software does this because the programmers are arrogant enough to think they know better than I do what I want or need. I mentioned before that I'm a Unix Admin by profession, so I use vi a lot. (For those of who unfamiliar with the arcane world of Unix Administration, vi is a text editor). A lot of Linuxes ship with vim instead. Cononically vim stands for Vi IMproved. But most of their changes annoy the ever living crap out of me. The only thing I like is the ability to use the arrow keys while in insert mode. Most of the time, there's little difference because the default compilation and configuration behaves a lot like vi. Why do I bring this up? Because the people who host this website decided that their servers should have vim with a lot of the annoying as crap options turned on by default. This isn't my box, I didn't build it, I don't maintain it, I just rent space on it. So when vim behaved this way I tried to ignore it.

I didn't succeed. They had things turned on like remembering where the cursor was in a file from session to session. Persistant history and undo trees. Automatic highlighting of previously search terms. Persistant search history. Why do these features annoy me? Lets start at the beginning.

I just wasted an hour trying to find out how to trun this crap off without killing the rest of the expected behaviour. Sure I could have set vim to pure vi mode, but then it'd pick up all of the behavioural quirks of vi, some of which are just as obnoxious. (See my previous reference to not being able to just use arrow keys while actually editing text in vi). I read poorly written Unix documentation as a regular part of my day job (no one can remember every little detail). I really don't like having to do so at home. Eventually I found the options I needed to set and created myself a .vimrc file. Like any other rc file in unixland, it's just a stack of user defined configurations living in the home directory. Also living in the home directory was the .viminfo file where that accursed persistance was stored. Since getting the new confiruation down, the .viminfo file hasn't changed and I've been able to purge the history from it. And there was much rejoicing.

My new .vimrc file is probably the simplest out there (short of the empty ones) but here goes:

set nohls
set hi=0
set vi=""

What does that mean? First is 'no highlight search' which turns off that persistant search highlighting. Second is zero history. This wipes out the arcane configuration for the viminfo file, making vim ignore it completely, and renders the first two options, you guessed it, entirely pointless. I could get away with just 'set vi=""', but I left the other two in place for now.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 07/19/2011 at 12:11am Eastern |

Day Jobs and Time Management

As I mya have mentioned once or twice, I don't work full time on this site (It may be obvious from the frequency of updates). I have a day job with the State of New York. Of course, these days it's not popular to be a state worker as we're hated by much of the populace for reasons which escape reason. Whatever the cause of the emnity, it's been picked up by the politicians, who seem to want nothing more than to shoot themselves in to foot by evicerating the state workforce. As a direct result of their policies, the workload of individual state employees has been creeping up in unfavored agencies (like mine). Combined with the looming threat of layoffs, this has the direct effect of driving up stress levels. Would you believe it's hard to write when stressed out?

Now at once I hear the echoes of the anti-state worker crowd "But you guys don't do anything, how can you be overworked." I've invited people to try their hand at my job, but they chicken out the moment I drop the documentation for one part of one of my projects and go "I've narrowed it down to the relevent parts for you already." Of course I don't give them the ultra-distilled version that I created, because that represents hours of work for me, and if they can do my job, then distilling the base documentation should be easy for them. This is all before a single server gets switched on... Oddly enough it doesn't seem to elicit any more respect from these people.

Of course, being understaffed to begin with, we've had consultants in and out of the agency since the Pataki administration (before my time as a state employee). These days, whenever their contract is up, it's my job to clean up after them, be it tying up loose ends or tearing out their work (not all consultants are made equal). My first year was spent redoing everything one of the less worthwhile consultants did. Later people in that chair have been less problematic (thankfully). Yes, this is mostly a gripe posting. I might have some content were I not so stressed out.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 06/01/2011 at 05:00am Eastern |

Free Comic Book Day

While this is a little late (especially compared to my last update of this site), I figured I'd ramble on about something tangentially related to the purported purpose of the site for once. Saturday (May 7th) was free Comic Book Day. Free Comic Book day is a rather brilliant advertising scheme by the Comic Book Companies to encourage new readership by giving away issues so that people who aren't convinced to shell out for real issues can see if they'd want to. Why would this work any better than being able to flip through the copies on the shelves? Two reasons. One - Free draws more people into the comic store than would normally stop by. Two, the stories in these issues are fully self contained. This means that the people picking them up will not be confronted with the confusion of stepping in at the midpoint, nor be left with a cliffhanger. Prior to Saturday, the only Comic book I'd owned was a chunk in the middle of three concurrent story lines. The difficulty in understanding what was going on more or less made me not bother picking up more.

Where I went, it was "Limit Five Items (Must have logo)", but you can't have one person walking away with everything on the table. In addition to being shorter in pagecount than standard, the issues from the major companies also seemed to have two stories in them. So, after reserving room for adverts, these storylines were short indeed. Of the eight stories in my stack of free issues (I had two smaller name imprints that didn't double up in addition to the big name companies), one sticks in my mind more than the others. It was the lead story from the free issue of "young Justice" (DC Comics). It was hilarious, but I seriously doubt that was what they were going for. After the splash page introducing the concept of who these characters were (sidekicks, children and clones connected to well known heros), it cuts right to the characters interrupting the villain of the piece. The first spoken line is something like "Presto, the Psycho-Pirate Pilfers Precious Plutonium." While the only character I could recognize right away (Robin) makes the expected Alliteration quip, I was too busy laughing at the villain. They might not have that many pages to set up the story, and it is a concise exposition line. But, the delivery and wholly non-threatening appearance of the villain turned it utterly comedic. Moreover the Macguffin for the story (the "Pilfered Plutonium) looked like a glowing orange rock in a glass tube. A one word Wikipedia search confirmed what I already knew - Plutonium is dull gray. Also, they character are terrified of what would happen if the tube shattered. Yes, Plutonium is radioactive, yes, people have been killed by exposure to it, but these people were nuclear researchers and the incidents usually involved two subcritical masses coming together and forming a critical mass where the reaction picks up speed. Sure, just sitting there it emits radiation and is a health hazard, but it's not generally lethal unless it's reacting.

Anyway, we find out where the villain got his name from. Turns out he's psychic and controls emotions. He makes all the ordinary people nearby hate the characters to the point of attacking them. Being ordinaries, this doesn't really slow the characters down that much. When they break through the ring of rage-addled civilians, the villian cripples the teenage main characters with, of all things, an angst attack. I am not making this up. The story takes this moment to exposit the sources of their anxiety and give more insight into the backstory of these characters. It is, after all, aimed at the potential readers who, like me, have no idea who these characters are. Apparently, having super-speed also lets you work out your psychological issues in record time, because the only one to snap out of it on their own is "Kid Flash" (Poor choice of names there, DC). Again, I am not kidding, that is actually the excuse they use in the book. He proceeds to incapacitate the villain by, of all tactics, throwing mud in his face and stealing the item that allowed him to control emotions. Yay for underhanded moves? At this point it switches to a run of the mill action scene involving a villain who simply appears out of nowhere to claim the MacGuffin. And the writers forget entirely about the Psycho-Pirate. We never see him again in the scope of the story. The last frame with him in it has him getting mud thrown in his face.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 05/10/2011 at 06:00am Eastern |

Tamahagane

There are those in the Geek community for whom Japanese swords are some sort of semi-sacred uber-weapon to which there can be no such comparison. The moment I learned anything about metallurgy, I realized that nothing could be further from the truth. The traditional source material for Japanese swords is Tamahagane - an unholy abomination that can barely claim the title of steel by virtue of the fact that it contains carbon. This ... stuff is smelted at relatively low temperatures for a very long time inside a kiln, not a furnace. The fuel is burned in the same compartment as the iron bearing sands (providing the carbon source) and there is no homogeneity in the finished product. The carbon is so poorly distributed through the material that each sliver has a different concentration.

So, how does one make anything resembling a weapon out of this horrendous metallic scrap? Every tiny piece is hand tested to determine the malleability of the fragment, and sorted by that value. The more malleable a fragment is, the less carbon it contains. The swordsmiths put the low carbon fragments along the back edge and the high carbon pieces along what will be the cutting edge and then forge weld the lot into a block they can fold.

Ahh, the folding. Misinformed residents of the internet will claim that the folding contains the magic which makes the swords so great in their eyes. The real purpose of the folding is to introduce uniformity in the distribution of the carbon content of the two halves. In other words - to correct for the shortcomings of the source material. The result is a slug with high carbon steel along one edge and low carbon steel along the other, and an imprecise transition point between the two. This slug is wrought into a straight blade shape and bent using differential cooling (Clay painted along the cutting edge causes it to contract slower when the blade is quenched).

If I seem unimpressed, it's because this technology is very old - Ancient Rome old. The Gladius was built with two high carbon edges and a low carbon core. I can hear the trolls gearing up to whine like a jet turbine. They're going to complain "But European swords don't cut as well as the Katana, a Katana can cut bullets!". I'll get back to that bullet comment in a bit, but lets start with this - metal armor was much more common in Europe, and European swords were designed to overcome it, meaning the edges tended to have a lower carbon content to avoid the severe chipping that a Katana would suffer when crashing into the sorts of hammered steel and mail that was common on a European battlefield. That, and a European parry is with the edge, compared to a Japanese parry with the flat of the blade - a less brittle edge keeps the sword usable longer when fighting in those conditions. And for those who couldn't afford full armor, shields were far more common in Europe than Japan. Almost always made of wood but often edged in metal (whatever was on hand), shields are just as brutal on the edge of a sword as armor is. If you go to a metalurgical analysis, you find that both are pattern welded steels with little to differentiate them.

I'm not going to get into Wootz Steel ('True Damascus') because that was actually a steel containing carbides which have the interesting property of getting sharper when micro-fracturing due to wear (a useful property in a weapon's edge). Interestingly enough, it's just as old as pattern welded steels (falsely called Damascus steel as well), but came from India.

The main difference between Japanese swords and their western counterparts is the fact that innovation continued after the Fuedal era in the west, where Japan stuck with the traditional art. The impression of superiority came from the fact that by the time the two cultures interacted to a significant extent, it was the 19th century, and western swordsmithing had been abandoned in favor of firepower, so the cavalry sabres were cheap nothings thrown together as a sidearm for a trooper whose main armament was a carbine. Effectively, they were comparing a sword to a bayonet. Modern steelmaking techniques can produce a blank of homogenous steel which can be turned into a comperable sword in a matter of days, compared to the months for Tamahagane blades, even faster with more mechanization.

I said I'd get back to the "cutting bullets" comment. One of the most spectacular demonstrations of the edge of a sword which is often used with Japanese blades is to affix one to a stand and fire a bullet at the blade with a high speed camera showing the bullet splitting in two while leaving the blade unscathed. There are those who say "see - sword beats gun" based upon that image alone. They forget all of the conditions of the test. First, the blade had to be held in place by a vice grip and is utterly immobilized. Second, the firearm used is laser aimed precisely to hit the edge at the optimum angle. Thirdly, they always seem to use a soft led round, not a full metal jacket like any of the bullets I get from my average sporting goods store. Lead is not a very hard metal, and cleaves very easily. Lastly, they forget that two half bullets are still moving at full speed towards where the imaginary wielder of the sword would be standing - and two half bullets are just as lethal as one whole bullet. Beyond that, no human could possibly make the cut required to split a bullet when someone is shooting to kill them. The slightest error results in either missing the round, or the sword shattering on impact because the energy gets transfer to a flatter portion of the blade. And the average semi-automatic pistol holds from seven to twenty rounds per magazine. All the shooter has to do is keep pulling the trigger, the swordsman would have to keep making impossible cuts. (And survive being riddled with fourteen to forty half bullets). I find it a rediculous demonstration that proves nothing.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted MM/DD/2010 at HH:MMpm Eastern |

Lunacy

Another "Why haven't I been posting" post. Previously I commented on not having heard back with regards to my IT Specialist Exams and my Baen Books submission. Well, both have finally sent word. I passed the ITS3 exams (all five of them) with flying colors and am reachable without selective certification. On the other hand Baen sent me a rejection e-mail. It's just not the same, I like the form letters, I can collect them. E-mails never come on company letterhead.

Also the ongoing mess that is the elected government has had my stress levels up and my ability to put words to paper reduced. Even my ability to write technical documentation has been impaired, and that's a work requirement (for a title I'm not in but whose duties I do). I've been thinking about going to one of the online random story premise generators every weekend and forcing myself to pound out a short story to spec just to get something done, but expect the relevence to be low (along with the quality). If I do that, I'll probably just put up the results here.

... My brain just shut down. If it reboots anytime soon, I'll see about posting more comments.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 12/21/2010 at 03:00am Eastern |

Silence

I've noted that I have the terrible habit of thinking of what to write on this page while driving. The problem being that once I get to a computer, I've forgotten everything I planned to say. The end result - nothing gets posted. I'm seriously thinking of having a scheduled ramble time in which I put anything at all to keep activity on this site. With the State starting layoff procedures, my latest book rejected and the chaos of a general election, there have been as many distractions as there are potential topics of conversation.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 11/11/2010 at 02:35pm Eastern |

Random Ramble

Capsaicin is the chemical in your average chili peper which gives it the "heat". In times of yore when I made no effort to curtail my eating, capsaicin didn't bother me it was easy to forget that the chemical evolved to Kill Mammals. It's a defense mechanism for the chili plants so that their seeds don't end up in the aggressive digestive tracts of mammals, and smaller members of the class end up dying fro exposure to the stuff. Hense the evolution of receptors which react negatively to it, producing the "heat" sensation for which we grow chilis. Being domesticated as a foodstuff has the effect of intensifying the spread and survival rate of the species, so as a means of ensuring the continuation of their progency, capsaicin has done its job.

Why all this rambling about Capsaicin and not something relevent to the site? Because I'm annoyed that it now bothers me. I blame Nutrisystem. Why? Because in their quest to be as taste agnostic as possible, they banished all but the slightest trace of the stuff from their food. Having been on their diet for three months now (and shed thirty three pounds by the way) I've grown acclimated to what's in their food (including even the horrible sugar substitute they use in their crappy imitation chocolate). Even their "Buffalo Chicken" products have only the most miniscule trace of the stuff. Now even the 'Mild' wings I'd oft scoffed at have an effect and I'm pissed. I liked my capsaicin tolerance. I'm going to have to start dosing my dinner entrees in hot sauce to get it back.

That said, I'm changing topics.

When last I asked, Baen Books said that there were still a hundred and fifty manuscripts in the slush pile in front of mine. In six months they processed two hundred and fifty (it went down from four hundred when I first enquired) yet they have not adjusted the "please wait 9-12 months for reply" on their site. By the rate demonstated their slush readers can evaluate five hundred manuscripts in a year, an when I first put in my submission there had to have been around nine hundred in the pile, thus their estimated wait time should have read two years. Though I do give them credit - they evaluate the entire book and not just the first X pages like some other publishers (Tor for example, who can't decide if they take unsolicited submissions or not, the policy seems to change every time I ask). And to tell you the truth, five hundred book in a year (most of them of low quality) is a rather lot of reading, especially given that the slush pile has traditionally been a low priority task for editors. What does annoy me is the fact that I've been informed that I shan't get a paper rejection notice to add to my collection should they turn me down. I'm trying to collect at least one from each publishing house. I guess they could always give me the consolation prize of accepting my manuscript...

Enough of that.

As I mentioned, my day job is working for the State of New York. The bureaucratic time is the intermediate timescale between human time and geologic time. Whatever you do, you don't want to move at the speed of bureaucracy. Lets give you an example. In June, the Department of Civil Service administered the Information Technology Specialist 3 series of exams (five exams in total). The actual act of scoring consists of sending the exam key to data entry to be put in the system (same day turnaround there), feeding the exams through a scantron reader and loading the results into the system. Then those people who have failed are culled and those who haven't paid their fees are removed (they can be reinstated by paying their fee). This information gets delivered to another program (electronically) to establish the lists which are then subjected to the brand new "Selective Certification" bullshit which has been implemented in such a way as to invalidate the entire purpose of creating an exam in the first place. (More on this later). And finally the lists are certified so that the agencies can attempt to get a freeze waiver to hire or promote from the lists. These last few steps make the entire process a joke. Currently, the ITS3 exams are sitting in Rating. Why? Because unless you're an amputee, you can count the entire staff of the Rating unit on your fingers, and Civil Services gives dozens of exams a year to thousands of people. And in the end there is only one working scantron machine in Rating, which is growing rather old. None of this matters really, because the Hiring Freeze and Selective Certification have castrated the entire process anyway.

If you fail to recall my discussion of the role of the legislature in the Civil Service, it amounts to "They need to keep out of it". "Selective Certification" is a legislative farce which amounts to a return to the patronage system for IT titles. While the original idea was to filter the test results to people who have experience with the technologies involved in the job title, the manner in which it has been implemented is an absurd mockery of good governance. The "Instrument" covers over twelve hundred data points on the academic and practical experience of the applicant, with some items so specific as to get down to the individual model numbers on some systems, while other whole sectors (unix administration) are brushed aside in a handful of questions. Under no circumstances will the precise model number of a particular product make a difference in the actual skill level of the applicant, and there is nothing that judges the willingness of the applicant to learn new technologies (an essential skill in the ever changing IT landscape). When asked about this lopsided and at times overly specific set of categories, the response was "we were instructed to put in what the agencies wanted". The "Agencies" in this case represented by their Liasons - Front Office appointees from the retinues of the elected officials. Put together, this paints a picture of what the legilsative mandate really means - so long as their desired candidate can get a seventy on at least one of the five exams, the agencies can tailor their Selective Certification requirements so specifically as to ensure that their chosen candidate is reachable to the detriment of everyone who is more qualified for the job.

Why am I ranting about this? Because I'm good at what I do and I test well, but I am not politically connected, meaning under the system which had been in place until this round of tests, I'd be in good shape to actually make it into the pay grade that matches the work I do. I've been out of title since I started at the state, doing work five grades above my official title. That may sound petty, but it's $13,000 a year. All I really want is to be paid for the work I do.

In another dissociate rant, State Employees have the unique position of getting a say in who their boss is. Every four years the governer is up for election, and the Governer is the de jure head of the state workforce, ignoring courts, OSC, AG, the Authorities, the Non-Profits, the Localities, the Districts, the Legislature... holy crap, the Governer doesn't head much. The bulk of the Government workforce in New York is outside of the executive chamber's authority but I am a part of one of those agencies that fall under the gubernatorial purview. Also I happen to be a part of a very important electoral demographic - people who actually vote. I don't mean registered voters or likely voters, I mean people who zealously attend to every election that comes along and takes election day off to make it to the polls. Anyway, 2010 is a rather interesting year for Governer of New York. Lets see what are my choices? Well, now that Limp Fish Lazio has dropped out, there's Pulpit Ranter Paladino, Camera Shy Cuomo, the same Liberterian Wingnuts, the Madam who arrainged for the last Governer's prostitutes, and one or two more that I can't remember. Not much of a choice.

At this point, a lot of people jump to conclusions about my political preferences based upon their assumptions about either geeks, state workers or whatever overly large demographic they most associate with me. They're usually wrong. Now a lot of people assume that as a State Employee I'm going to be fretting over the layoffs that all candidates have either promised or implied. I'm not worried. I've been laid off before. In fact, if it does happen, I have a chance to get out od this damn city. I hate Albany - it's a city with a dead soul. I'm only here for the job.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 10/04/2010 at 05:23pm Eastern |

Blackouts, Hard Drives and Primaries

Once again I have afflicted you with a long silence, and there are reasons for that. None of them are good reasons, but that's the way life goes.

As per my usual zeal as a voter I've taken election day off from my day job. True, it is a primary day, but it's still a voting event. I have the distinction of being the first voter to cast their vote at my polling place using the new electronic voting machines that got forced down our throats. And these things are CRAP. I have zero confidence that my vote was accurately counted. Allow me to enumerate the problems. Problem One - We've essentially gone back to the paper ballot, just marking off your chosen candidate on the pre-printed form and dropping it in a box. Problem Two - Because it's a paper ballot being read by electronic eyes instead of human ones, the marks allowed are the same as on the bubble sheets for standardized tests - ie, just the fully bubbled oval. Problem Three - The "Special Marking Pens" we are required to use on the balot sheet are nothing more than disposable PaperMate blue ink pens. You know them, the kind that never starts writing when you doo and has to be primed every time it touches the paper before the ink starts to flow, ie the cheapest pens on the market. Of course, there's no scrap paper provided to prime the pens, so I kept going around inside the bubble until it started filling in - meaning my bubble became a dent in the paper before it became blue. Problem Four - Those bubbles are darned tiny, meaning a lot of voters using cheap pens are going to make extreneous marks outside the confines of the bubble proper. The machine discards ballots with extreneous marks. A lot of people are going to have to repeatedly get new ballots to attempt to recast their votes, so the number of sheets collected by the machine is going to far outnumber the number of voters. Problem Five - When the machine gets a 'spoiled ballot' it asks the voter what to do with it - ignore just that section or ignore the entire sheet. There is nothing save for the word of the machine to say what the voter chose. Problem Six - when the machine doesn't mark any sections as spoiled, it simply says "Your ballot has been cast", which doesn't tell me if it completely failed to register the marks I made for any given category. For instance, I don't know if it picked up my vote for lieutenant governer or simply didn't register any marks in that field. I have no confidence that this machine actually recorded my votes as I cast them. With the lever machine we'd been using for over a hundred years, you knew exactly who you'd picked up until the moment it reset itself for the next voter when you threw the main lever. Here I had no indicator of what the machine thought I'd said. We're going to be spending the next twenty years in litigation over the vote come november. I demand a recount already.

On the 'why no updates' front, there are two unrelated tales of woe. The first has to do with my personal computer at home. I have never seen a failure like this before, the OS hard drive can be read when booted, but the system gave a "disk read error" when trying to move from BIOS to the OS hard drive. I couldn't install an OS on one of the other drives in the machine as they were a dynamic drive spanning multiple disks, aka a software RAID organized from within windows. The BIOS simply couldn't boot to that. I've since gotten a new hard drive in the mail (actually it was via UPS) and resurrected my poor machine. It took over four hours to get the system most of the way to where I wanted it, and I've still not gotten that damned start menu to expand to the size I want it. I had to pull a dirty trick to restore the quick launch, and windows is still grouping my taskbar items. I hate Windows 7. First problem - The start menu. When hundreds or thousands of people asked Microsoft how to get the classic start menu back in Windows 7, their answer was "Deal with it". It was the same sort of corporate arrogance that made Office 2007 the useless fstering sore that it is and made me switch completely to OpenOffice at work, even when the rest of the staff suffered through the Office 2007 ordeal. I have a well developed work process in both office suites and operating systems, this is my most efficient mode of operation, and when some arrogant asshole changes the interface for the sake of change, I'm slowed down to an utter crawl. I know what I like and I like what I know, and wantonly invalidating fifteen years of experience with this type of software is simply offensive. If my games ran on another OS, I'd be gone.

Last, but not entirely least, the power was turned off at work. We had plenty of warning, so we were able to shut down the data center before they did it. The week before that, there was a vendor on site for an unrelated project. Et cetera ad nausium. On the plus side, I did rack up enough unpaid overtime to knock monday off of my schedule this week, and as that was the day my hard drive got to my apartment, it was a fortunate synchroneity. I still have most of a day's worth of comp time banked for later, even after this little mental health day. Don't tell the union rep, they'd have a fit. But seriously, if I worked to rule, nothing would get done around my office. IT just doesn't fit into a 9-5 schedule, since our work tends to deprive others of the ability to do their work and thus must be scheduled for when others are not working. Of course, the end goal is to permit those same other people to do their jobs better, but most people think we're useless because we do our jobs well enough that they are not impacted. Some of us less than fully gruntled IT workers were half-hoping for a major failure so that the rest of the agency would realize that we actually matter. We've lost over a quarter of our staff since I started working, and the only new hire that wasn't already there in some capacity has yet to show up.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 09/14/2010 at 01:55pm Eastern |

Bad Choice of Words

The title of my previous news post was 'cutting back' and it appears to have been applicable far beyond the context of food where it was intended. In general I've been getting less done in the past few weeks and the biggest thing to suffer is this site. This is not a result of my diet, which had generally imporved most aspects of my life, but fallout from my day job. Thanks to the latest workforce reduction plan from the governer's office, my division has now shed a full quarter of the people who were there when I arrived, many with irreplacable skillsets. Their workload? Hasn't gone anywhere. Right now we're coasting because nothing has broken, but as new initiatives start coming down the pipe, the politicans are going to find that we lack the requisite people to implement them. My morale hasn't gone above poor in weeks, and hasn't been above semigruntled since it hit that high when I found out we weren't going to be furloughed. As it stands keeping the lights on is taking up more and more of our time, and we still have a major implementation project that's been delayed for two years by politicians. Two years ago, it would have been much easier to implement given the people we had back then.

I've found a direct correlation between stress and writer's block. That's why I wrote most of my last novel while unemployed - during the sweet spot after getting over the shock of being laid off but before the strain of looking for work starts to take it's toll. That was over two years ago. I've been trying since then to produce work product, but the few words that I scrape out fail to yield compelling literature - or even interesting fiction. What have I gotten done? Four pages of "The Rive Detectives", which isn't anything that counts for this site, also eight or nine pages of "Seven Gun", which also doesn't count for this site. I need a vacation, but I used my leave for mental health days, so I have only my emergency reserve - which I'd like to save for a real emergency. It got so bad that I unplugged my work telephone to spite the voicemail light. I know exactly what those voicemails say - I got the accompanying e-mails.

How do I know I'm frazzled? I applied for jobs in Wyoming of all places. I don't know anyone out there, I've never been to the state, but it was far from New York and not in Psycho California. Plus they were basically advertising my current job only there instead of here. When I worked for a company that has since been bought out, I measured my stress level in lottery tickets and resume mailings. The "I gotta get out of this place" factor was higher the more of each I ended up with. By that measure, this past week was awfully high on both. Six resumes and two lottery tickets is nearly peak levels for me, matched only by the worst days at the company that is not to be named.

So there you have it, I have at least two or three more large chunks of "Bandit Patrol" planned, but if things keep going this way, it will be a long time coming.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 8/8/2010 at 8:10pm Eastern |

Cutting Back

I noticed that as of late I've had less and less time to do things, but have been getting less and less done. My Day Job isn't taking up any more of my time (New York still won't approve overtime, so I go home at the end of my shift). So I wondered what was taking up so much of my time. After carefully examining what I was doing on a day to day basis, it turns out I was sleeping a lot. It was threatening to take up more than half of the time in any given day. And when I was awake, I was incessantly lethargic. It turns out I was too fat and eating too poorly to even enjoy life.

Well, the only thing I could do was to go on a diet. It's not something I've officially done before, but there was not much else I could do. I chose NutriSystem because it helps me address my main problem with reigning in my intake - portion control. In my family, we have always cooked large meals, and in cooking for one, the quantities cooked far exceeded the optimal quantities I should have been consuming. So literally, my own cooking was killing me. My first reaction to the serving size and meal plan was "This is going to suck". So far, however, I have not seen that prediction realized. For the first time in a long time, I am genuinely not hungry. So long as I stay not hungry, I can turn down foods not otherwise on the schedule. If I can do that, I have a very good chance of seeing real results. I have not been on the plan very long, but already I have a good feeling about my chances of success. Why? Because I'm no longer taking that afternoon nap I's often end up going for when I got home from my Day Job. The plan doesn't place limits on caffiene consumption other than suggesting that you limit your intake, but I cut back a lot there too. The caffiene withdrawl is actually the hardest thing I'm going through right now. I'm going to see about resuming updates for evcombine.net now that my afternoons are once again mine.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 7/26/2010 at 4:00pm Eastern |

$50

I don't win very often. A few years ago when I won $50 in the lottery it went directly into my food budget. Though in hindsight it was because I was losing money at the job I was holding at the time. How was I losing money? Turns out my debt repayment and cost of living were more than my post-tax income from the job. Mind you, my rent was lower than my student loan payment and was in fact the sort of rent that you might expect from the 70's. And still I was losing money. I was better off after they laid me off than I was when I was working. Something is seriously wrong when someone who is not trying to defraud the system can be better off on public assistance than employed at a full time job. My reaction has always been "That's seriously messed up."

Recently I won a $50 gift card in a raffle. Seriosuly, what's with me and only winning exactly $50? Anyway, being one of those cards issued by a credit card company instead of a retailer, it's good wherever that company is accepted. The difference being now my day job covers my cost of living so there's no pressing need to dump it into my food budget. Being a gift card, I can't put it in my bank account or anything like that, and is expressly limited to purchace of goods or services from a retailer who takes credit cards. Fortunately, it doesn't expire because I can't really figure out what to do with it. I'm sure a lot of people have the response of "If I had $50 I'd..." with some plan of action tacked on to the end. The problem is not a shortage of ideas - you'd be amazed how many different ways one can think of to blow $50 - but rather a shortage of good ideas. I just don't want to waste it.

So it sits in my wallet unused. This is the worst case scenario. As I've already mentioned, I can't bank it or invest it, so the only thing I can do is spend it. And should I do so it would help the economy one more iota. The problem is, the economy I want to help most - that of upstate New York where I've spent my entire life - isn't what benefits from credit card transactions. The small vendors and local producers who also purchace locally are not the places that accept this particular card company. (I won't expressly say which company it is, but it has two words in its name and tends not to stay home.) It's not that I have anything against said company (They're not the only ones who've turned me down in the past) but it's just not widely accepted among the small vendors.

One thing I really hate and want to avoid is having my money go to china. Our manufacturing base should not be located somewhere whose name requires you to have a foreign language degree to pronounce. It's strategically stupid to buy good manufactured in China, especially when unemployment is so high here. I want to see people opening factories in the US again. This country has enough resources that we should be able to shrug off a total trade embargo and yet we've tethered ourselves to foreign and often belligerent economies in the name of slightly lower prices at vastly lower quality. I have a GE alarm clock made in the United States that's older than some of my siblings and is still running just fine and waking me up every morning. In contrast this smaller (translation - harder to read) clock from china keeps randomly losing time on me, and I can't figure out why. I can't find anyone to repair it and keep getting told I should buy a new one. I wish GE still made clocks.

So yeah, why is our society so obsessed with quantity over quality? While Lenin might have said "Quantity has a Quality all its own," this is not yet a Soviet Socialist Republic. (Though we seem to have more generous social welfare schemes than the Soviets did - ours don't even require the recipient to work).

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 6/27/2010 at 2:13Am Eastern |

EVCombine.net a Games Site?

It seems the algorithm used by the IronPort Web filter has classified EVCombine.net as a 'Games' Site. Probably has something to do with the Game reviews in the Anarchic Marches which are not included in my regular new page updates on the front page. Well, if Cisco says this is a Games site, I might as well share the content more openly.

For those who didn't notice the Random: Game Reviews header on the side, it's where I've been babbling on about games. Someimes it's short and bitter like the Dawn of War II commentary. And then sometimes it's long and vitriolic like the Aliens Versus Predator 2010 rant. Though it's quite possible that my longest blathering was for Dragon Age: Origins but then again, it is a really long game. But not all rants are about Video games. I did give my thoughts on 4th Edition. The reason these have proliferated recently is because it doesn't take inspiration to hammer one out. During a high stress period I can't write, but I can vent. And most of them are me venting my frustration and pet peeves. So they will be slanted towards the flaws that come up more than the positive sides. Though some (4th Ed) had no positive sides. I guess I should invite you to take a look.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 6/20/2010 at 3:11pm Eastern |

Roasting Cubicles

The Office of General Services is on an economy drive. They've decided to save money on energy by reducing the cooling provided by the AC to state offices. My cube is perfectly climate controlled, it is a constant 81 degrees. Mind you, when I arrive for work, it is 65 outside, and still 81 in my cube. The only upside being that when it had hit the mid 90s not long ago it was still 81 in my cube. I happen to be a cryophile, I like the cold, and I get sick in hot weather. This is aggrivated by two more factors, both OGS related. OGS doesn't trust us and has locked all of the windows in the office, jealously guarding the keys, and has regulations banning desk fans.

This just borders on the sadistic. When you want to save money on the AC at home, you open the windows and turn on a fan. If we let in some of that 65 degree air in the morning and then closed the windows again, it would be much nicer in here and would cost OGS nothing. True, I find even 65 degrees to be too warm, I'm willing to make concessions. Anything is better than this stagnant, stale 81 degree air which hasn't moved in weeks. This building is also dusty as hell, and we can't figure out where it's all coming from.

Anyway, it's just a little gripe today, but I swear this heat has lowered my productivity more than the threat of furloughs did. It doesn't help that it's making me physically ill.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 06/04/2010 at 04:00pm Eastern |

Cthulhu 2012

As far as I can tell, the Elder Party candidate for every presidential election since at least 1996 (if not earlier) has been Cthulhu. Now not only does this cult of personality make it harder to field other Elder Party candidates, but recently some questions have been raised about Cthulhu's eligability to run for president in the United States.

The first relevent clause is Section 1, Article 2 of the Constitution which reads: "No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

The thiry-five year age requirement is easily satisfied given the fact that Cthulhu has been known to have existed for some time prior to the 1930's, so he is at a bare minimum over eighty, though his cesnsus form lists age as "several (strange) Aeons" and ethnicity as "Pacific Islander". Sadly, there do not appear to be any tax forms filed which we can reference.

As for the legal status of Ry'Leh, that is also a matter of some dispute as it was claimed under the Guano Islands Act (Effective 1856). The act only covers actual islands which must be "not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other Government" at the time of discovery and must both contain a guano deposit and count as an "island, rock, or key". Legally, since Ry'Leh has a tendency to sink below the surface of the Pacific, and was last on the surface during the 1920's and 1930's, it may no longer qualify.

Lastly, if we take Cthulhu's census declaration into account, he was born prior to the revolution, meaning his status as a "Natural Born Citizen" might be questionable. As Ry'Leh was not a US territory at the time of the ratification of the constitution, Cthulhu would have gained his citizenship under the Civil rights Act of 1866, and reinforced by the 14th Ammendment. Thus one could reasonably argue that Cthulhu is in fact a naturalized citizen, being brought into US jurisdiction after he was born. Unless, some evidence comes to light that Cthulhu spent time in the thirteen colonies during the revolutionary war, in which he might have gained citizenship earlier and been eligable under the "Currently a citizen of" proviso of Section 1, Article 2. However, there is no evidence of Cthulhu even having been awake during this time, and as such it is unlikely that he left Ry'Leh.

I'm sorry, Elder Party, but your candidate won't pass the constitutional challenge.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 06/02/2010 at 04:00pm Eastern |

The Black Hat is Back

Where have I been for half a month?

I've been pulling double duty at my day job, stressed out of my gourd, watching the Governer try to deflect attention from 9 Billion of the state deficit by focusing on 0.2 billion of his 'plan' - aka attacking the people who actually deliver the state services that the politicans don't want to cut. And I've been preparing for a Civil Service Exam. For those of you unfamiliar with Civil Service Exams, they started in Ancient China as a means to reduce political influence over the bureaucracy by filling posts via merit. People who hear that often promptly go "That's absurd, private industry promotes on merit all the time and they don't need any stinking exams to do it." Which is a Jedi Truth, merit is in the eye of the beholder, and in any political work environment - like government - what one political party sees as merit the other sees as cronyism.

Now at one time, cronyism and patronage were workable systems of government - but this was also the era of absolute monarchs and very light bureaucracy (by today's standards). Now in the 1800s in the United States the patronage system got pretty corrupt by even the standards of the day, and the last straw was when a job seeker who felt snubbed in the job hand-out shot the president (James Garfield). Luckily, the US always has a spare president for just such eventualities and we ended up with Chester Arthur. Now while politicians don't seem to be bothered with mere corruption, the prospect of getting shot by a snubbed supporter was an abhorrent idea to them. Thus we got reforms wherein the modern requirement for civil service exams was created. The idea was that if the jobs were disbursed by an objective and apolitical algorithm, the disgruntled couldn't point to a particular politician to shoot.

Thus, anyone seeking a job in Civil Service or seeking a promotion in Civil Service for the bulk of the ranks of the bureaucracy must take a test. Many states have abandoned the Civil Service exam, but New York spawns so many corrupt politicans that convicting a state senator for fraud doesn't even make national headlines anymore. It's just another day in the Capital District.

I've been working above my pay grade since my arrival at the state, so I figure I should at least try to get the title (and salary) associated with the work I actually do. To this end, I have to take my test. . . and what a crock it is. While flowcharts are perfectly valid quasi-logical constructs, I've never seen one used outside of a parody flowchart or that one whipped up a year back which only served to make a process less clear than the verbal instructions. Outside of that, they're never used. But we're tested on them because 'computer guys use flowcharts, right?'. There's also "Perparing Written Material" or "How to make your instructions clear as mud" wherein all the right and proper answers in the real world are wrong. While I am a fan of the Civil Serivce system because it beats the alternatives, I do feel that the people who prepare the tests should spend more time cycling out to real world positions to remember what it's like once in a while.

I must avoid getting riled up at the disparity between the real world and the viewpoint of the system. After all, the exam score controls my access to the $13,000 difference in pay grade between my current title and the one all my work comes from. With it, I'll finally reach 2/3rds of what my counterparts in private industry make. At least those who haven't been outsourced to India. And that is the reason I took this job. No matter how bad it gets, the State can't fire me without serious misconduct. Anyone who says they stay here to help the public is probably lying. Fatal Cynicism is a chronic contageous disorder in the state. No one i've met has maintained idealism past the first year. Since I was never an idealist, I've not had any such issues of bitter disillusionment.

Now as for the title. I meant that literally, I got my black fedora back. Since I am the professional paranoid and the devil's advocate, being the guy in the black hat just provides a visual cue about my role in the department (ok, so I'm not wearing it most of the day, but it is sitting on the edge of my cubicle during that time.)

I plan to get more content up soon, but I need to get in the top three on this exam to have any hope of seeing my title match my job.

UPDATE: I blathered on about the Civil Service and realized that I forgot to mention the patron saint of the Civil Service - Sir Humphery Appleby. While he is a fictional character, he does reflect the side of the Civil Service no one likes to admit is needed - Keeping the politicians out of the functioning of government. While anyone who is a fervant idealist might go "That's abhorrant". But consiter this example: In New York, the Governer and the legislature has one job - develop and approve a budget so that the state can function. Everything else is done by the Civil Service. This job is never completed on time, and they pass weekly 'emergency spending bills' while unable to reach an agreement ich entitlement line item or politically sensitive program has to be trimmed. Being concerned mainly with getting re-elected, they show no regard for the actual running of the very programs they refuse to cut, let alone anything required for a functioning government (which are two entirely separate things as they will cut items required for a running government before cutting a pet project). So to let such people actually have a say in day to day operations is like playing Russian Roulette with an automatic.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 5/24/2010 at 8:50pm Eastern |

Lame Duck Politics

It's not often that I sound like a Union Rep. I'm usually resentful of being forced to pay union dues regardless of my membership status (requiring me to pay them as a condition of employment is extortion, especially when they get us the worst contract in the state). But right now our interests have aligned (most of the time I'm also offended by their misuse of my dues to support political causes I'm vehemently opposed to.) The Governer of New York (who has already dropped out of the 2010 electoral race) is trying to extort more concessions from the State Workforce. He says 'Any' but there is a reason I list it as 'more'.

Discounting the Help Desk (whose numbers remained constant), Admin (for whom I don't have numbers) and the programmers downstairs (whose numbers were inflated by upgrade consultants when I arrived) there were 36.8 people in my Division when I arrived two years ago. The decimals represent part time employees proportional to the amount of work days a week they come in. I was the only new hire they had "In years". Since I've been here, we've hired exactly Zero people, and had 8.3 people leave. Our workload, however, remains unchanged. This is a 23% reduction in workforce by attrition alone.

The work that used to be done by those 8.3 people? It still has to be done. The scope of my responsibilities has grown substantially in the same time, almost as if I had one quarter again as much work as I did before. Oh wait, I do. Whenever I go to other units in the Department, the same story plays out - no new hires, attrition of workforce and no decrease in workload. If this were a business, we'd be shedding the least profitable business areas and reassigning the remaining people to cover the work in those we kept. This is however government. We are mandated by law to provide services in all the areas we currently cover and we can't just shed business areas.

I'm not saying that there are not shirkers leeching off the state like tenured parasites. The problem is, these people A: Live in agencies which have been allowed to hire (Tax, etc) and B: are dug in like ticks so that you would burn a lot of people who do real work trying to burn them out.

After twelve years of an on again off again hiring freeze (started early in the Pataki Administration and briefly lifted by Spitzer), we're well past "Doing more with less" and even past "Doing less with less" and into "Struggling not to drown". And the Governer wants more conessions? Take a read on the budget again. Even if the State Workforce were slashed 100%, our salaries would not cover your budget deficit. Sorry bub, but someone has to go slaughter the golden cows of Education and Healthcare, because there's nothing else nearly as large as those two clogging up the budget.

On a more personal note, the 4% contracted increase in salary would for me be completely subsumed by the increase in my rent this year. As it stands I cut my food budget to cover for it. (I did away with my recreation budget already.) A 20% pay cut (which is what the proposed furloughs would represent) would result in my eviction, and I'm not the only one. Most of the Unionized state emploees are grades 6-12, and at those pay grades you're already talking paycheck to paycheck living. I know there's a recession on, but the low end of the payscale (Unionized employees) spend all of their take home pay locally, in New York State. Unlike the high end of the pay scale, which have been known to take vacations in Europe or go around the world, draining money out of the state. You don't punch the driver of the economy and expect to get more money out of it.

UPDATE: There are two more clauses in the governer's 'plan' which are of note and should be mentioned. First is the explicit ban on the use of overtime to make up for lost productivity due to furloughed employees. From an austerity measure point of view the clause makes sense, after all it would be cheaper to have the employees there at their regular pay rate and not forced to go home doing the work which has already become backlogged due to chronic staffing shortages.

Lets take a look at two examples. First, the front desk of this department is a place where members of the general public come to fill out forms, get information and generally interface with the agency. The people staffing it also answer the main phone line and route those calls. People staffing the front desk: two, one FTE and one Part time casual employee. This allows for there to be at least some coverage during all business hours. Should said FTE get furloughed, the front desk would have to close during periods such as the time we are required by law to permit the part time employee to have lunch. And since said part time employee has already retired, they could easily get fed up and respond with "I'm out of here", closing the public face of the agency entirely during the FTE's furlough days.

Second example. There was a recent news item on the thrity five thousand people who applied for the Beginning Clerical Worker exam. The Department of Civil Service (responsible for said exam) consists of five hundred people. When you discount the Front Office (Administrative overhead, mostly political appointees), Municipal Services (the people who keep the localities compliant with Civil Service Law), Classification and Compensation (the people who define the job duties and pay rates for given titles), Information Resource Management (the IT Department), the Commission (make sure other agencies follow Civil Service Law) and Human Resources (for inside the agency), you have Staffing and Testing. Staffing has other duties in addition to application processing, so only a small portion of that division is involved in this example. So we are now looking at a small fraction of Staffing plus Testing for this workload example. By this point you are down to seven people processing the exam applications, seven people coordinating the administration of the testing and five people dealing with scoring the exams. Local proctors deal with the public on the day of the exam, but have nothing to do with the rest of the process.

I don't know how familiar you are with the process of data entry, but in short everything has to be entered then verified by a different person. One might ask "Why are you typing everything in twice?" the answer: because if you don't, you fail to catch errors which could prove disastrous down the road when the electronic data is processed. While it might be annoying to have the wrong name on your exam form, having your whole entry under someone else's SSN or not having all of your exams on your record prove even worse. So in short, one person entrs and another verifies. Of the seven people in application processing, five were involved in the actual entry of forms into the system. (the other two were both not trained on the process and were busy opening envelopes, coding forms, catching malformed applications, etc). Thus you had 2.5 people entering and 2.5 people verifying (some were switch hitters, sometimes entering and sometimes verifying others work). This means that each person processed on average thirteen thousand applications for the Beginning Clerical Worker exam alone. Nevermind the unending stream of applications for other exams which had to be delayed in processing until the BCWs were in.

Because I support the software used to get the applications into our system, I saw the daily counts of what was entered. A heavy day during the normal work cycle sees the processing of 250 applications. This is the clearance rate, the unit can get all of their other work done and process 250 applications without lulls in their workday. (No unit here does just one thing, that went out with the 70s). At the height of the BCW rush, they were clearing elven hundred a day, and could only do so by staying until eight or even eleven at night (I have the timestamps to prove it) and letting their other duties get backlogged. But if any of those thirty some od thousand applicants were denied their chance at an examination through no fault of their own (say because we couldn't process them in time to send a notice) the state could be liable (it gets fuzzy on the legal side there).

Now all of these people are Union (CSEA in particular), meaning they would be subject to furlough under the Governer's 'plan'. With the addition of the "No Overtime to cover lost productivity" clause, we're looking at a processing rate of 200 a day (there are five of them, so they'd be down one each workdayi and throughput would suffer accoridngly). To process a set a third the size of the BCWs (say a mere ten thousand) would take fifty workdays, or ten weeks. The Close of file (last day to apply) tends to be only eight weeks before the actual exam, and the entry deadline is closer to the close of file so that there is time for the exam notices to reach the applicants and the testing unit knows how many tests to print, how many proctors it will need and at which sites (these exams take place all over the state).

Thus, under the Governer's 'plan' we would have to pull people from other units off their regular duties (which would also be backlogging because of the furloughs) to assist, but we could only throw four more people at the problem (technical limitations of the system - we can't buy upgrades without a budget as the state can't spend anything) These people would not be fully trained and would work slower (with dramatically more errors) and the process would bottleneck at verification, buying us almost no additional throughput. (We went over this usage case during the BCW rush, it is not a practical solution).

You may think "Oh so what, so some people can't take their tests" but look at it from the other perspective. These are people who applied on time, paid their fees and were denied equal access to employment opportunities at Tax, Labor or Corrections (not many agencies can hire right now). This is a class action lawsuit in the making, and would probably cost the state far more than the annual salaries of a handful of the grade 6 and 9 employees tasked with processing the applications. Extend this example across the state workforce and you'll find dozens if not thousands of more examples of "non-essential" employees whose work, if interrupted, will cause similarly horrific problems for the state.

Like sysadmins, state workers who do their jobs right are never noticed by the general public, only when we mess up or don't do our jobs do people take note. This is where the stereotype of the lazy and apathetic state employee came from (that and the bloated and corrupt system of the 60's which has long since retired)

As for the 4% raise? I'll list that as nogtiable when the Governer and his cronies give up the 20% raise he gave that lot. (You didn't hear about that one did you? He's tried to sweep it under the rug.) The simplest solution is to furlough the legislative aides, lock the governer and the legislature in the assembly chamber without their cell phones or other gadgets and not let any out until they pass a budget.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 5/4/2010 at 4:50pm Eastern |

iCrap

I'm a PC because of the things Apple won't do for me.

  1. Expose the BSD core at the heart of Mac OS to the user. I do UNIX administration for a living, I'd rather see the workings than have them hidden behind a pretty smokescreen
  2. Let me buy just the OS and install it on the scads of i86 hardware I have lying around my place
  3. Or at the very least make the price compeditive with a similarly built windows box. (A similarly built BSD box would be even cheaper still since I still assemble my own systems)

I am also saddened by the falling out between Apple and Adobe. Mac used to be the place to run Adobe products to the point where I listed picture and video editing as primary functions for which a Mac was suited. Not any more.

Why I have yet to buy an iProduct

  1. Fixed internal batteries. If it's an electronic product which has batteries of any kind, I want to be able to change them. Batteries go before the product does, making it impossible to change them is just an unnatural way of sucking more money out of the consumer, and I won't be subjected to that treatment.
  2. Touch interfaces. I don't want to smear my grimey paws all over my display, and I don't want anyone else smearing their grimey paws over it either. At least give me a stylus if you won't give me a keyboard.
  3. Multitasking. I always have 7-8 things open at once on any device I'm working on. Monotasking was already out of style back when windows 3.1.1 was mistakenly released with it.
  4. Spreadsheets and PDFs. When I owned a Palm PDA I discovered that the only thing I was interested in using a mobile computing platform for was Spreadsheets and PDFs, at the same time, and several of each. It'd be replacing the countless books and pieces of paper on my clipboard in face to face dealings. When I first saw the iPad format my first thought was "That would be perfect if it ran open office and Acrobat reader." Actually all it needed to run was Mac OS and I'd have bought one. But since it runs a monotasking version of the iPhone OS, I'm no longer interested.

For the record, I do use both PDFs and Spreadsheets more often than my phone. It's ben over a week since I've made or recieved a phone call. Now I can just hear people going "Wow, you are boring". But I mentally went over the usage scenarios for the iPad form factor and determined that the only role it could reliably fill for me was as a reference during tabletop gaming sessions. Like many tabletop gamers, I have a library of books that weigh down my shelves and strain the floor below, plus a myriad array of character sheets. In recent years I've digitized all of it, rendering the books into PDFs (no, I don't share them) and transferring to electronic character sheets. I use photoshop for my cartography (overkill, really) and generally have all of my gaming data on one memory stick that I can carry in my pocket to the game. The problem is, the laptop screens divide the table and remove many of the benefits of gaming in person. If I could instead load the data onto a pad, I get the best of both worlds. But since the iPad is a monotasking oversized iPod, it is of no use in that situation.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 4/30/2010 at 4:50pm Eastern |

Epic Fail

Last year, the New York State Office for Technology mandated that all state agencies use McAfee Anti-Virus. After a costly and painful migration for the agencies, OFT discovered that the price for said product was scheduled to rise from the original contract quote and cancelled the contract, just in time for the state to be left unable to buy anything due to budget negotiations. As such, state agencies continued to run McAfee. Today, McAfee issued a virus definition update that falsely identifies svchost.exe, a vital windows system file, as a virus. As soon as McAfee takes action against the 'infection' the machine crashes. It is then stuck in an infinite reboot loop. The fix for this problem requires manually booting the system into safe mode and copying an extra .dat file onto it. This means that a tech now has to visit every system owned by New York state and apply a fix. During this time, thousands of people will be cut off from their work. This will cost hundreds of thousands of man-hours of labor, and probably millions of dollars in lost time. I was able to keep working because I have a linux box on my desk, but a large portion of the agency was kicked offline. So now one decision by OFT has cost the state millions three times, first in the conversion, second in the lost time, and it will cost us again when the agencies can finally put in to buy their replacement products because the contract was cancelled. The damage to McAfee's reputation is also massive, as I am stunned that they let such a thing out the door in the first place. How was this supposed to save taxpayer dollars?

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 4/21/2010 at 4:50pm Eastern |

Polite Software

As I may have mentioned at some point on this page, my day job is as a Systems Administrator, so I deal with a lot of different types of software on a daily basis. Yet, I still come home and putz around on my computer when the day is done. I've dealt with a good many editors for a wide range of data types, and in general a good editor will abide by a very simple philosophy - do not write anything to disk atop a file unless the user tells you to. vi follows this philosophy, as does (oddly enough) Microsoft Office (though I prefer the pre-2007 interface still). This ramble is not about them. This ramble is about two other editors - the HTMl editor in OpenOffice (not their word processor or spreadsheet which I still use before MS Office) and Adobe Premiere (elements version).

When I first launched this page I dusted off the basic framework of an old project from college that I still had the code for, starting from there I looked for the best way to add content with the least overhead for bandwidth, space and processing power (I was still contemplating hosting it myself at that time, and Idea I gave up on fast). Seeing how OpenOffice shipped with an HTML editor, I decided to try it out, at the very least for the code highlighting. The mistake just componded itself from there. This editor makes the mistake of trying to be too helpful, 'automagically' adding the HEAD, BODY and HTML tags along with a pile of meta tags identifying what software did it. For a first year web design student, this is probably a very useful thing. For someone who already finished college - four years of IT, two more of software engineering and one of internships - who hand-edits xml as part of their day job, this came off as mildly annoying. It gets worse once you realize that this site uses Server Side Includes, and when an included page contains a close html tag, the rendering just plain stops there, leaving you with a seriously malformed site.

I got annoyed at this and decided I was just going to revert all of my pages back to their original forms and start over in another editor. I open one of the files in my backup copy (always keep a backup) and see that it too has strangely developed the OpenOffice meta tags and other 'helpful' additions. So I close it without saving, figuring the data must still be on disk. I open the file with notepad and what do I find - OpenOffice's HTML editor has written it's unwanted changes to disk - ruining my backup copy. Luckily, fixing it was not too difficult, but I was livid over this unwelcome and wanton violation of my data. I'd never once told the program to write anything to disk, yet it did so, flagrantly disregarding the wishes of the user. These days I edit the site in notepad and vi - which now sports code highlighting yet doesn't write until I tell it to, though I often find myself issing vi commands to notepad:w!, which it fails to respond to. (Sorry, unix gag.)

The other program I will babble about is Adobes Premiere Elements. Now given the price tags of Adobe's flagship products (Photoshop is at the low end with $600) the choice had long been between piracy and open source. And believe me, the open source alternatives are not that great. Gimp in particular is aptly named as it is the most gimped piece of software I've had the misfortune of trying to work with. It nearly gave me an aneurysm when it staunchly refused to operate on the currently active layer and instead operated on whichever layer had the formost colored pixel wherever I happened to click. And for the Love of $DIETY, when you paste an image - make it a *BLEEP*ing layer, don't force the user to immediatly go and say "Yes that 'pasted layer' should be a real layer" in a manual option which is easily overlooked. Anyway, this ramble is not about Gimp. Adobe made the wise business choice of offering a lightweight version of its flagship products available for the home user at a lower price ($100), calling them the "Elements" version. I got the free trial of Photoshop elements and found it did everything I needed it to do. The terminology was dumbed down a bit (I couldn't find 'Rasterize layer' because it had been renamed 'Simplify Layer') but it was good enough. So I bought a copy.

I have no real complainted about Photoshop Elements except for the fact that it apparently caps it's images at 30,000 pixels square (don't ask what I need a larger image for). Satisfied with that product, I went on to pick up Premiere Elements on a later month. This thing should come with a warning label. Aside from the semantics of "Export" being replaced with "Share" and a similar dumbing down of terminology, I ran into real issues with this software. For one, it doesn't seem to support imput files wiht multiple audio tracks. This may not sound like much, but I often deal with container files where music, effects and voice are on three different tracks. Right now I have to run them through a crappy open source pre-processer to make a (much larger) single file (slightly fuzzy video wise) with a single audio track. I'll figure out a better solution at some point, but this along pisses me off. The second thing it does wrong? It maintains a single "Organizer" which spans ALL of your projects. Given the complexity of my projects, this quickly becomes bloated and unmanagable, but is the default view for media when the software opens. I'm not even to the best parts.

Interface issues aside, Premiere elements really shines in the "Asshole Software" category in what it does in the background. First off, despite my files being the E: drive of my desktop, Premiere elements makes a cached copy in my user folder of the C: drive. Mind you, last time I purged it, this hidden cache had reached 17 gigs in size on a disk which was intended to only hold the OS and as such only had 80 gigs to begin with. What is wring with the copies on the E: drive, or the F: drive where I set up your scratch space? Both are terabyte disks with over half their space free and are SATA2 as opposed to the SATA1 C: drive, making it much faster to read and write to them. But no, Premiere Elements wants to eat up space on my smallest and slowest drive for cache files which perform worse than the originals.

And then there's the "AutoAnalyzer". It's part of the "Elements Organizer" I don't use because I know how to keep track of and sort my own damn files, I've been doing it since I was eight and had to file five inch floppy disks. Remember how I said the cache directory passed the 17 Gb mark? Well, the AutoAnalyzer would run constantly, trying to process these files for some function of the Organizer that I've NEVER used nor intend to use. At first I didn't even know it was going on, then I saw that my system was starting to crawl. I would like to take this moment to point out that this is a quad core Phenom II 920 with 8Gb of RAM, so bringing it to its knees is no easy task. The process that was doing this was the unwanted "Elements Auto Analyzer" - and it was eating so much memory that my foreground applications had to be paged out to disk, all because it was chewing on those ultra-crunchy 17 Gb of files (some of which are over 1Gb in of themselves). Mind you, I wasn't even running Premiere at the time, I was doing other things.

Now we get to the part that ties back to the philosophy I mentioned. When you put a file into the organizer for a project - you don't even have to use the file in the project, just make it ready - Premiere Elements does something it calls "Conforming" the file. What is it doing? I'm not 100% but I di know that A: It's adding metadata to the file itself and writing it out to disk, and B: It's altering the internals of the file. How do I know? Among those 17Gb of files were a number I'd been carrying around for years through several upgrades of my system. These files have audio issues and are generally degraded, but I've never thrown them away (Impossible to replace). I loaded one of my sets into Premiere in hopes of restoring the audio to a managable level. Premiere promptly "conformed" them. The audio had markedly changed, and now when it cuts out, it is instantly noticable by the complete silence amid a somewhat normal volume. While I appreciate the program doing what I had been trying to do, I am livid that it did so without being asked and overwrote the originals in the process. If I hadn't been out to asjust the audio on these files, I would have put a fist through my TV (which is also my monitor).

As I said before, editors should NEVER write to disk unless told to by the user, especially over the originals.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 4/13/2010 at 4:50pm Eastern |

Site Update

I changed the wdth of the main content block mostly because it felt too narrow and crowded. It's up to 800 pixels from 600 pixels. Nothing major besides that.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 3/18/2010 at 8:50pm Eastern |

Phong Shading

I must be in a ranting mood.

Why do game designers these days love Phong Shading so much? Whenever I see it, it makes the rendered object even more obiously fake than it needs to be. When used it makes everything glossy and shiny in a way real surfaces are not. I've only once seen a real surface display the sorts of visual properties you get with Phong shading. It was in a leaky parking garage and the rain had been distributed along the walkway by a lot of drudging feet on their way to work. The glossy surface of the floor looked like Phong shaded concrete. Seriously, that is what went through my head "That floor looks Phong Shaded" because it was the one time anything not on a computer screen looked like that. The AvP2010 game (see rant below) uses this shader to excess. Mr Weyland's hair and face do not need to be Phong Shaded - unless he uses some sort of seriously heavy hair gel and face cream every time he's about to open an alien pyramid. Even the Aliens who have a gloss finish were far too glossy. Everything reflects light as if there was a horrible mishap with a truckload of KY Jelly that aerosolized it and left a fine sheen on the entire game. I left this out of the main rant because good gameplay can overcome graphics flaws like that (see main rant for gameplay). Ever since Doom3, too many games have flung Phong Shading around like it was the end all in realism. In truth it just makes the game look like I need to wash my hands after playing it.

As you may have guessed I tried again to get my money's worth out of AvP2010. I started out by getting my alien killed again - walked right into an electrified panel just two minutes into the second mission. Yeah, I really get the feeling of being a perfect killing machine here. So I tried out the Predator tutorial to see if there might be a glimmer of hope for the standard escapist fantasies. Their tutorial was a total cop-out. You stand in a pit and fight aliens. No problem solving, no clever use of vision modes, no treetop movement chasing your prey through the backwoods. No unique predator homeworld prey. You stand in a pit and fight aliens. And they've mapped yet another time sensitive and vital control to Mouse 3. This time it's the Predator's signature plasma cannon. To trigger auto aim, your hold Mouse 3 and wait for the three bars to bracket your target. Mind you Mouse 3 is just about the most awkward control on a Mouse you have, so I sucked at this. I'm probably going to remap it to Mouse 2. After all their default for right-click is "Heavy Attack" which translates to "Strike a superhero 'about to punch' pose for FIVE SECONDS before actually throwing a punch." In that time, the tactical situation has changed such that the attack you wanted to make is pointless. Aliens are Fast, that is the thing that makes them dangerous as melee fighters in a game with a lot of ranged firepower - they move fast. A one second delay can be fatal. It also doesn't help that they decided to swap the locations of the health and power meters on the Predator HUD - an UNLABELLED HUD mind you. I kept looking at my power meter to see how my health was faring and got confused. I don't know about you guys, but I can't think of another game where health was in the lower right and ammo was in the lower left - both signified by very abstract meters and neither was labelled in any way. Had they simply swapped the two and put them in the conventional locations I'd have gotten past that really fast. Health is usually lower left and ammo is usually lower right. It's that way all over the place and doesn't have to be changed - Hell it's that way in this games' MARINE campaign, so you know they were aware of the convention and Chose to ignore it.

I really wanted this to be a good game. I did. I liked AvP2 a lot and finished all three campaigns. Why are you punishing me Sega?

UPDATE: at 5:27pm Eastern

Once again I am reminded why I hate putting scores on Plot based games. I played the first real Predator mission of the game where you actually get to use the treetops and the cloaking device to stalk prey. It had a rather whimsical (in a gallows humor kind of way) portion where you carried around the chief security officer's head to get past retinal scanners on your way into the human base. And when I was done kicking ass and reaching the end of the level (where the cutscene does the ominous reveal of the now obligatory predalien monster) I felt I'd done a pretty good job of handling the mission. The score's judgement: You Suck. They penalized me for making use of the best damn ranged weapon in the game, they penalized me for topping off my health when I passed three medpacks I'd been unable to pick up because I hadn't needed them and more or less called me a wuss for tackling problems in more or less the same way the movie predators tend to.

*BLEEP* you Sega!

I picked up all of your lame assed collectables and sure 'trophy kills' are theoretically more badass, but while I'm trophy killing one alien, his buddy is chewing on my ass because all my movement controls get locked out during the mini-cutscene, and those five marines on the other side of the map? They just caught me with my cloak down. Of course I'm going to make use of my superior firepower, That's what it's there for! And I think on the scale of badass, taking all seven of these guys on by the horns still ranks higher than the sorting algorithm than the shadow killer, especially because I WON. And that last marine had a real shocked expression when I tore her fire team to shreds and still managed to trophy kill her. (Although the marines always have a shocked expression when you trophy kill them...) So what if I took out two marines with the plasma cannon - I didn't bother with the slow-assed auto-aim either. I might not be a superb uber-player, but telling me I suck after a showing like that really sucks all the fun out of the adrenaline rush. So I say again, *BLEEP* you, Sega.

UPDATE: at 8:40pm Eastern

I decided I would ignore the scores and go for completing the plot of the Predator campaign and see if there was anything to redeem the game. I'll give it this - As a setpiece of action it has the psoitive aspect of being actually rather good. Let me rephrase that - it rocked. There is however one major problem. Note the timestamps on these updates. Add in the time it takes to rant and the fact that I spent half an hour or more watching webjunk in the middle of that time frame and you'll know what the issue is. The predator campaign is SHORT. Less than four hours gameplay unless you take the time to make every kill a trophy kill. Mind you at the penultimate battle, this is not an option. This is the reason Sega put those score up there, so that the player will see it and go "Damn it, I know I'm better" and go back and replay the mission. It is nothing more than an artificial gameplay multiplier to cover the the fact that they do not have any content. While the story they did tell has the elements one might expect in a complete package, it was lacking in duration. I've not yet completed the Marine or the Alien campaigns (and the way my alien keeps dying that one might take a while from sheer "I died again" restarting), but the brevity of the Predator campaign doesn't give me much hope. I'm somewhat inclined to say "My Alien diedduring a zerg rush of a sentry gun" and "My Marine gave birth to a bouncing baby drone after being dragged down to the hive" and call it quits. But, eventually I'll get over the fact that the game likes to call me names, the default control scheme loves 'Mouse 3' despite it's awkward and unusable nature, and wander back to finish it. I'm going to file this news item along with the first post in a 'Random Crap - Game Reviews' section next to the cooking articles.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 3/7/2010 at 4:28pm Eastern |

Public Faces

Wow, three random pointless rambles in one day, I have to check to see if the blood levels in my caffiene stream are too low.

If anyone out there cares, I mentioned a week ago that the one year deadline for the end of the "Please wait 9-12 months for reply" ran out on one of my submissions at the end of Febuary. Having not heard back, I sent a polite query about how deep into the slush pile my submission was, providing the submission number and title to make this as easy a task as possible - there's no point in antagonizing the publisher. Turns out there are four hundred other submissions still unread in front of mine. So I'm guessing 12-18 months might have been a more accurate wait time than 9-12. I am however grateful that the editor took a moment to inform me of this rather than simply deleting my query e-mail.

As a bureaucrat, I can tell you that being polite does help when you want to get information. We tend to deal with the same sorts of problems and requests quite frequently. We do not find loud and confrontational customers the least bit intimidating or even urgent. The more you antagonize a bureaucrat, the more they make it their mission to make you suffer. We do this for a living, and we know exactly how to kill your request in the most painful and obstructive manner possible. But, people who are polite tend to recieve better service. While we don't exactly like answering the same questions all the time, at least the polite customer admits that they're not special and that we actually do work that their request takes us away from.

This is why I try to be a polite customer, I know what it's like to be on the recieving end of impatient egocentric assholes, and despite being an impatient egocentric asshole, I keep it buried when dealing with other people. These are called social skills, and I'm sort of at a loss as to why the public seems to have forgotten them. I don't know who to blame, so I'll leave that question dangling.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 3/7/2010 at 3:44pm Eastern |

Portal

I've owned portal for a while now (How long has it been out?) and re-played it a few months back. When i'd heard that Valve had changed the ending to something that more definatively states what became of you, I decided I would load up a saved game and play through the GLaDOS fight and see for myself. I started up portal and what did I find - I had no saved games. No this didn't mean I'd somehow lost my saved games. As I looked at the empty list I realized I'd never once EVER saved a game of Portal. I had always played through to the end. This says something profound in my repertoire of games that Portal alone has no saved games. I almost always walk away from a game at some point to do something else - sleep, go to work, etc. This comes back as a 'Whoah' moment in retrospect, because Portal is a glorified jumping puzzle, that's it. And I, as a rule, despise jumping puzzles. The very fact that a game which is nothing but a jumping puzzle caused me to not only play it through to the end three different times, but each of those runs was a sit down, start to finish playthrough of the entire game says something profound. It was nothing new in terms of graphics, sure it had the Half-Life two Source engine behind it, but most of that went unused as mere fluff that the game didn't need. I'm not going to sit here and analyze the game, I will just say that it was and is what every jumping puzzle dreams it could be as they cry themselves to sleep at night, weeping in dispair at their own inadequecies.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 3/7/2010 at 3:18pm Eastern |

Cerebreal Theater

On the subject of thinking at movies, I find it overly pretentious of filmmakers to want to make 'cerebral' films. I don't watch movies or television to think, these visual mediums are cheap escapism and work best when they remember that. There's good reason why the highest grossing movie of all time has a plot as deep as a puddle. Those who argue "But If we are to be remembered as the shakespeares of our age, we must add elements to make the viewer think" forget one major point - In his day, Shakespeare wrote popularist tripe. His work is regarded as good because his characters are recognisable as humans with human motives and foibles, thus people with whom the audience can identify with or revile appropriately. His stories had a beginning, a middle and an end, with everything neatly wrapped up in a bundle - even when we wrote a sequel later on. As a contrast, I'm going to rail against one of my most hated movies of recent years - "No Country for Old Men". It has no beginning and no end, just middle. You're dropped in on it partway through and it drops the credits on you before reaching a conclusion. All the while it has no characters with which I can relate, prattles on in pointless naval gazing introspection and then dies stillborn without congealing a real plot. It was written to win awards and fails to satify the basic tenets of storytelling. My first reaction when the credits rolled was "What? where's the rest of the movie?" because it seemed as though I'd just sat through an interminably long act 2 (which started at the open of the film by the way) and it was just about to get into the part where it's supposed to wrap things up. Act 2 of 3 is where the real character development is supposed to take place, so a libby arts student might think "Character development is good, act 2 has lots of character development, if I make my entire film one big act 2, it'll be great" but a real storyteller knows that the hook and the catharsis are just as important if not more so in satisfying the needs of the audience. Without them, you might as well sit in on a philosophy lecture and not read the initial supposition. Mind you I have a technical degree and I deliberately skimped on my liberal arts courses because the 'professionals' tended to be speaking out of their arses.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 3/7/2010 at 2:51pm Eastern |

Aliens Vs Predator (2010 Version)

Two events coincide on this weekend, one of which is making me more or less unable to actually string together a coherent sentence. The lesser event is my tax refund came back higher than I expected. I missed the Schedule M form I didn't know I had to fill out, so the IRS recalculated my taxes based upon what should have been there. It was not an insubstantial difference for the sums I handle regularly. I got back about five times as much as I thought I would (since I was expecting only double digits, that isn't saying much). And the item which is leaving my brain running in circles is thus: It is reaching the end of the "Please wait this long to hear back from us" period for one of my submissions for publication. So I've been trying not to get my hopes up on the "is it going to be a form letter, a personalized rejection letter or a yes" question. But yeah, it's that anticipation that's more or less driving me to distraction.

So, I shelled out some of my tax money for the newest AvP game, just to have something to take my mind off the waiting. I've played through the first section of the Marine campaign and the first section of the Alien campaign and I have a few observations.

If you don't know what this game is about, first off, stop reading and go find two movies. The titles are real easy. The first is "Aliens" the second is "Predator". Watch both of them then imagine the hunter from Predator thrown into the movie Aliens. That's the basic premise. It worked for the previous incarnations of the franchise in game form.

Now there were a few things I noted while playing the game.

I hate collectables.

I don't care if it's apocalypse logs or royal jelly or whatnot, AvP is not about collecting crap. I know it's optional, but they score you on it. That leads me to my next complaint.

It's scored.

With performance rankings and everything. When I saw it in WarCraft it was asinine. It was even more so when I saw it in Renegade. Here it's simply egregious. There are three themes that made AvP good the previous games. The Marine game was always about survival and atmosphere. Not about surviving well, just plain surviving and getting out of Dodge in one piece. If you save the day in the process, cudos, if you had to nuke the site just to cover your back despite knowing there were still bundled up colonists down there, then so be it. The Alien game was about spreading chaos. It was about destroying shit and making pissant humans wet themselves with fear at your sudden an unexpected appearance above them. Sowing meyhem, chaos and fear, unmeasurable things, things which defy quantification. While cutting out the facehugger sequence might appeal to some players, I liked that part of the Alien campaign in AvP2 where you had to hunt down a host to develop. It fit.

It's episodic.

After finishing the first chapter of the marine campaign, instead of getting a cutscene where the next chapter gets set up, or some other meaningful transition, I get kicked back to a menu screen. It interrupted the flow of the game to ask me if I wanted to replay the chapter, view my ranking or even change to one of the other races. Seriously. They were doing so well at setting up the right atmosphere and then shattered it completely. Part of the fun of the marine campaign is supposed to be the continuity of atmosphere. Being afraid to push forward but knowing that if you stayed still you'd be overrun and that your only hope of getting off the rock is to keep going. When you interrupt the flow to critique the player's lack of xenomorph slaying skills, you're completely missing the point.

At first, I was going to have good things to say about this game, with only a few gripes about the fact that the flashlight is about as effective as my laser pointer at lighting up a room, and how the backpedalling away from aliens streaming out of the darkness, firing a rapidly emptying pulse rifle in the vain hope that they'll all die before I have to swap back to the pistol made it really feel like it's supposed to.

That reminds me about what I had to say on the matter of the flashlight. What is it with the people who make these AvP games and their obsession with the flares? Sure there were flares in Aliens, but Ripley wasn't using them as her primary light source. She used them as a trail of breadcrumbs to find her way back out of the hive. Why does my space marine have a flashlight with a field of illumination so narrow that 80% of the width of my screen is still dark? Every flashlight I own will light up the entire room, and light up the far end of a fifty foot server room without even losing intensity. LEDs are bright little bastards and they don't take up all that much space. One might say that this is to help build the atmosphere I was talking about earlier. But you can do that without leaving four fifths of the width of my screen completely blackened by lack of light.

The scale from me to the dots on that motion tracker is not really correlating in my mind. There doesn't seem to be a connection between a top down of the level and where those dots are. All it gives me is bearing. Okay, that's never worked right, so I'll lay off.

Tequila. Seriously, Tequila. Who would name their kid that? Besides, she rapidly becames an annoyance because she's the voice that keeps repeating "You're going the wrong way" and "Get to X". I'm going the wrong way because this colony is full of blind corners and dead ends. I have no map, so I didn't know the damn walkway didn't have stairs at the other end, so I had to walk all the way back to where I first got on because I can't hop the railing. Seriously, I can climb up on boxes (which is never a good idea because the aliens then have an easier time reaching from the ceiling) but I can't hop a railing of the same height.

Climbing on boxes reminds me of the next interface pet peeve. The tooltips. Sure it's nice to see what's interactive and all, so I'd leave in all the "you can interact with this" ones. But shut up about pressing the middle mouse button for a melee attack or to transition to another surface. I get it already. It's awkard as hell to depress my mouse wheel and click it like a button. I'm never going to do it in combat. Marine melee atack should be mapped to something easy to hit that isn't already in use. How about the space bar? It's not as though the marines can jump worth a damn, and it's really easy to hit. Why is the default 'Mouse 3'?! The only 'Mouse 3' I ever saw that was easy to press shipped with a Sun box, and you don't play video games on Sun boxes. Even so, why must the game deem it nessessary to remind me that 'Mouse 3' is my melee attack Every time an enemy gets anywhere near me, even when I'm spraying pulse rifle bullets into their face? Helpful tutorials are one thing, but this is obnoxious. Worse still, it goes through the 'move the mouse to look around' and 'WASD to move' tutorial for every race. Sure it's different each time and fits in with the campaign, but still, it's bloody condescending.

I'm not yet mad at them limiting the saves to checkpoints (you can manually save, but it only stores the last checkpoint to a more permanant record for later restores). That's probably because my Marine hasn't died yet. I can't say the same about my Alien, but I made the mistake of charging a sentry gun. Not at all unreasonable to fail when doing that. And guess what, each time you get killed and reload, your score goes down. That's right, you're running through what is supposed to be the collision of the three most lethal species in the universe and they mock you for getting killed. The score is something games had before they had a plot. A plot based game doesn't need a score. A score is a substitute for a plot, not an augment to it. This isn't space invaders... well it is, but not really. You get what I'm saying, right?

I put it on easy because lately I've been seeing a tendency for higher difficulty settings to act as though they were named 'rape me' instead of 'medium'. I just figure that's because I suck at games, but whatever. Though the aforementioned scoring takes into account your difficulty setting, at least 'easy' was 'x1' and not 'x1/2' or something. And can someone tell me why the marines can't crouch, duck or crawl? Coming off of Mass Effect 2 where I clung to and ducked behind every scrap of cover I could get, this sort of threw me. Or did I just miss another choice control mapping. Is crawl mapped to 'L' or something?

Bak to Tequila. Now aside from being the annoying voice on the radio, she's constantly trying to give directions to a bunch of different groups. Every group she sends to help the player ends up massacred by the Aliens. Now either she's the most incompetent director of forces known to the colonial marines, or she's working for the hive. No one is that bad at regrouping marines. To top things off, she repeatedly sends the player into xenomorph ambushes. When I get directed into the sewer level... Seriously, another sewer level? Anyway, when I get directed into the sewer level, it isn't "The only way out" It's actually got more Aliens in it than the way I came in. I'd be better off backtracking to where Tequilia is. Moreover, when I reached a few strides from the end of the level, I got grabbed by an Alien and dragged into the floor, scraping the concrete with my gloved hands to try and stay out of it. My first reaction - *BLEEP*it, now I gotta try that again. I would say I reloaded at once and ran through it a few times, but I'd be lying, I was too busy fuming and trying to figure out how I could have avoided the trap. Guess what - you can't. Turns out this isn't a special xenomorph amush kill for the unwary marine, but a scripted event. Turns out the end of the level is being dragged to hell by the Aliens, and Tequila led me right into it.

That's enough of a rant

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 2/27/2010 at 7:57am Eastern |

The Story of a Department and an Office (Reprise)

Well, after much wrangling, the Office has decided to fix the leaking pipe. The managers have worked out whose budget the money will come out of. But, since both are Agencies of the State of New York, the point is moot to the taxpayers. The actual expenditure will be the cost of the plumbing parts as all of the people doing the work will have been paid anyway. (Don't worry, there's plenty of work since we've been short staffed for years...)

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 2/6/2010 at 10:54pm Eastern |

The Story of a Department and an Office

One leaky pipe...

Our story begins four years ago, when New York had money and the banking bubble hadn't yet burst. A Department moved out of it's aging facilities into a newly renovated building owned by the State, Theoretically saving the taxpayers money by causing fewer environmental illnesses among the staff. As part of this, the Department moved it's datacenter to the new location, giving the Office, which ran the new building, detailed designs for the cooling of the datacenter's new home. The Office ignored these plans and haphazardly threw in some AC units. Realizing that these units were not enough to cool the datacenter, the Office tossed in a few more. Tired of arguing with the Office, the Department settled for 'at least it's cool enough now' and let the matter drop. These AC units ran on a chilled water loop from the Office's central plant. The pipes which carried the chilled water were installed by the lowest bidder and contained a fatal flaw - the plumbers had joined copper to iron and started both pipes corroding.

For four years, no one knew about this problem hiding above the ceiling panels in the Data center. Then an astute technician noted a discolored splotch on the otherwise white tiles. The rusty pipes had sprung a leak. The Department called the Office to investigate the problem, and the Office sent TWO ELECTRICIANS to look. The electricians promptly went "Yep, it's leaking, but we don't do water," and wandered off. The Office then decided to send a plumber. This plumber investigated and saw that the pipe was corroded in both directions from this joint, passing the isolation valve on its way towards the main supply. The Plumber went back and informed his superiors. The Office then sent two more people to refute this claim and assert that the problem only existed on one side of the isolation valve - the side for which the Department was responsible.

Upon looking at this pipe which was clearly corroded on both sides of the valve, the new appraisers declared it was only an issue on the side the Department had to deal with. The same appraiser, after having openly admitted to never having been in the datacenter before blithely declared that the Department would "Be fine without the AC unit" that the pipe was feeding. He ignored the experience of the Department staff who have seen the datacenter heat up rapidly whenever even one AC unit was offline. Instead he relied on the fact that this datacenter "feels cooler than other datacenters" he'd been in.

With the pipe leaking onto a rack of computer equipment, the Department hurried to move the servers which sat directly below the rusty pipe. The Department looked uneasy upon the "not a problem" span of rusty pipe on the side of the valve that the Office was repsonsible for and noted that it ran directly over the external gateways, the core router and the firewalls. The loss of any one of these would knock the entire Department offline. Worse still, if the loss was from the dangerously weakened pipe bursting, the AC unit would go offline. With the External gateways offline, the datacenter would not be able to notify the Department that it was heating up. And it takes only twenty minutes from loss of AC until the first hardware goes 'pop'. "But what about the on site staff?" one might ask. One would promptly be informed that because of twelve years of hiring freezes and budget cuts that there is only staff on hand during business hours and weekday evenings. Should the pipe burst at night or on a weekend, there would be no one to notice before it was too late.

So far the pipe has not burst, but the Department is wary, and several are irate at the cavalier attitude the Office has shown towards this problem. Replacing a rusty pipe costs less than replacing an entire datacenter by many orders of magnitude, but it appears that the Office does not want to have this expesne on it's budget. It would much rather see the higher expense on the budget of a different agency. Your Tax dollars at work New York.

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 2/2/2010 at 10:57pm Eastern |

Bandit Patrol Part 6 Is up

Does Monday count as "the end of the weekend"?

The main delay here derives from the fact that I'm not using my back catalog for this story. The operational model of this site is meant to be: 1 - Take next scene/sequence from the back catalog in the story arc; 2 - Edit for illustrator to best suit the visual medium; 3 - Give segment to Illustrator; 4 - Illustrator composites draft of scene; 5 - Draft is discussed and revised; 6 - Illustrator composites final artwork; 7 - Text put in place and images exported to web-friendly forms; 8 - Issue is posted.

Well, Bandit Patrol isn't from the back catalog, so I have to write it on the fly. Writing on the fly is vulnerable to writer's block. I have only two ways to get past a block: A - Power through it by forcing text to screen (usually results in poorly done text); B - Switching to a differen project; C - Walking away until my brain cools down.

Of these options, A requires re-writing scenes once I get over the block, and both B and C will generate nothing during the recovery. All cause slow posting.

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 2/1/2010 at 10:54pm Eastern |

Erm...

Did I say 'By the end of the weekend'? I suck. My original title for this update was going to be "Curse you Linkara" with an excuse about how, in my slightly sleep deprived state, the internet siphoned off my few waking hours this weekend. Then I realized it was really my own fault. I have about half of what would constitute 'Part 6' re-written. Now Monday is here again and my Day Job expects me to show up for work again. To be fair, it does pay the bills, keep a roof over my head and keep this site online, so I should probably head on in to work.

My plan to rectify my current ongoing failure is to set aside time specifically for editing this site and adding updated content. If anyone were paying the least bit of attention to it, they might note that my timestamps don't always agree with when the update is viewable on the site. Oh well. At least the date is correct.

And now, the original title drop.

Curse you Linkara, your theme song is stuck in my head!

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 2/1/2010 at 6:10am Eastern |

Bandit Patrol Part 6 is ... late again

Title says it all.

I had a working draft that I was going to post but there was one problem - I fell asleep. That's right, I bored myself to sleep with my words. As such, I tossed out that draft and started again on part 6. This unfortunately means delays as I have to head to my day job soon. I haven't forgotten about you... the one or two people who actually visit this site. I know you exist, Google says so (they track ad views as part of that whole "how much is this site worth" thing.)

So to those who still bother to come by, I will have a real update up by the end of the weedend.

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 1/29/2010 at 3:10am Eastern |

No December Update

I was unable to find time to update the site during the chaos of the holidays. What did I do instead of writing? I made beer, specifically an Irish stout so dark in color it was pitch black, and almost totally opaque.

Krampus Stout proved to be very popular with people who actually drink beer. For those of you who don't know, Krampus is a a christmas spirit who carries a birch rod and a rusty chain for disciplining small children who were rated as naughty. Mind you, the part was generally played by young men who would drink with the parents while going from house to house. So by the end of the night, they are fairly drunk. You can bet the children are motivated to be well behaved.

Thus we named the beer after this drunken, child beating demon of chistmas... I am not making it up : Ref.

Don't ask.

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 1/6/2010 at 10:12pm Eastern |

Bandit Patrol Part 5 is up

Title says it all.

I'm sorry it took so long. I just upgraded the OS on the central database server at work. Twelve and a half hours. On a sunday. That doesn't count all the lead-in, prep, or cleanup work. Mind you, this isn't like the occassional purges and reinstalls on a desktop. Turns out the users actually want everything to still work in the same way afterwards. Picky, picky.

Anyway, since that same day job keeps this site online (ads haven't really covered any of the costs yet.) It's an inconvenience that has to be tolerated.

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 12/8/2009 at 8:13pm Eastern |

November Silence

Someone out there may have noticed a long span wherein nothing to posted to this site. This is the direct result of RealLive(TM) meddling in places it need not go. Given the insanity at my day job and the side effect of giving me writer's block, I had nothing to give you during this span. I do greatly appologise to anyone who still bothers to visit this site.

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 11/26/2009 at 2:46pm Eastern |

Bandit Patrol - Part 4

My appologies, I thought I'd put this up last week.

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 10/21/2009 at 5:48pm Eastern |

Display issue solved

I have corrected the problem which caused unusual rendering of the navication pane in Internet Explorer.

End of Line.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 10/5/2009 at 8:00ipm Eastern |

Bandit Patrol - Part 1

I noticed a distinct shortage of Seven Nations centered stories in my collection, so I have started composing one to fill the gap. Part 1 is up, and more will be coming. I know it's still text, but I'm still looking for an illustrator.

--Robert McCarroll

| Posted 10/1/2009 at 11:56pm Eastern |

UPDATE: Part 2 is now up.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 10/7/2009 at 9:55pm Eastern |

Display Issue on IE

After adding the 'Ads by Google' code to the local navigation bar, Internet Explorer visitors have been having an issue where some or all of the links in the navigation pane are not appearing when the page first loads. I am investigating the cause of this and how to correct it. Sweeping the mouse cursor over the navigation pane appears to cause IE to render the links it skipped. My appologies, I will have it corrected as soon as possible.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 9/30/2009 at 5:49pm Eastern |

Revolt on Rand

As much as I hate filler, I need something up on my site, it felt too bare as it was. I've posted the short story "Revolt on Rand". The title pretty much sums up the plot, Rand Colony revolts against Combine authority. Admittedly, it has nothing to do with the Seven Nations at all, representing only the conflict between the Combine and the residents on a world conquered from the Stellar Confederation.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 09/27/2009 at 12:21pm Eastern |

Ramblings of a Mad Sysadmin

This site is designed and tested first and foremost in Firefox. As far as I can tell, IE emulates the display of Firefox well enough that there are no issues with using that browser. For those of you who use Chrome, Opera or the even more esoteric options out there, I cannot vouch for the appearance under those rendering engines.

That said, I organize the front page news based upon importance, not chronology. This is why the first post, 'Illustrator Needed' is pinned to the top of the page, with the apology for the 'under construction' look following close behind. Thus my mad ramblings are delegated to a distant third.

I know first impressions are important, but they're also hard to do. I'll have the background to the project up soon and fill in the missing gap to the right of the logo as soon as I can.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted 09/26/2009 at 1:23pm Eastern |

Pardon Our Dust

Astute observers may note a few things about this site. First, the navigation all fits on one screen, Second, the logo appears to be offset instead of centered. And third, it's small. This is the result of the simple fact that we're new. The offset logo is on purpose because other items will join it on the top navigation bar, the sidebar will grow as content is added, and naturally it will get bigger with time. Right now my hosting provider loves me, a site under a meg paying for unlimited disk and bandwidth. Don't worry, that will change soon.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted: 09/26/2009 at 12:36pm Eastern |

Illustrator Needed

This site is meant to be a web graphic novel, along the lines of the various webcomics, but with a more serious bent. While I have to plot, the characters, the events, the script, the setting, etc all worked out, what I do not have is the artistic talent to convert my prose to a visual medium. I could post pages and pages of text, but I personally find reading that much on a computer screen to be uncomfortable. Besides, the stories I have set aside for use here and the world they are set in are more suited to a visual medium than simple prose. To that end, I need an illustrator. I have plenty of material from which they can start, and have set up a simple means of measuring the relative abilities of anyone who would want that post. The details are here. Or at the links to the left.

-- Robert McCarroll

| Posted : 9/25/2009 at 5:15pm Eastern |