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Friday, January 31, 2014

SHTFriday

My latest SHTFriday post, this one about Zones of Assessment and Every Day Carry, can be found over at Blue Collar Prepping.   Go read and leave a comment!


Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Most Notable Something-or-other Awards of 2013ish (Part the First)

 Yeah, so I'm a few weeks late for a proper "Best of 2013" entry, and not all of these were actually released in 2013, but I played (most of them) in 2013, and these were some of the more notable entries of the year(ish). I've been told that time is an illusion, End Of The Year Best Of lists doubly so, and nowhere else does this hold true than in dealing with someone as grossly irresponsible with their time as I am.

I'm a proper gamez jurnalist, guys. Really.



The What GTA Should Have Been award: Sleeping Dogs

I have fond memories of playing Grand Theft Auto Vice City and San Andreas. These were games that had wildly different subject matters (80s excess vs 90s gangsta culture), but concentrated on making an immersive world that never took itself too seriously and were never afraid to go over-the-top bonkers to entertain. GTA IV became more and more painfully dull and grim the more I played it, to the point that I never finished it. Sleeping Dogs was the first "serious" Sandbox Crime game (Saints Row doesn't count) that I felt compelled to see through since my negative experience with GTA IV.




Hong Kong was such a beautifully fleshed-out city, that was graphically more impressive than GTA's Liberty City, and Dogs was one of a string of Square-Enix titles (like Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Hitman: Absolution) that were lovingly ported to the PC, going so far even to include a free HD texture pack. The combat also benefits from being more melee-focused than firearms. I think the only complaint that I can make is that some of the DLC maxes out certain stats and dumps money on you, thus breaking the otherwise well-done progression system.

The Maximum Bro-Mode award: Lego Batman 2
Honorable Mention: Lego Marvel Super Heroes


Before I left the world I knew behind and moved to the mountainous deserts of New Mexico, I spent a week with a dear friend of mine, playing Lego Batman 2 to 100% completion, and nearly completing the first one afterwards. The Lego games are the pinnacle of couch co-op. Teamwork, frustration, and moments of sheer hilarity in a bonding experience for gamers of any kind.


33 hours in less than a week.
When my dear friend came to visit me recently, we played through the story campaign of Lego Marvel Super Heroes, and, while it wasn't *quite* as entertaining an experience as Lego Batman 2, it was still worth the time we put into it, and I felt that bond again, especially every time he blew my Jean Grey into pieces with his Repulsor Rays and said "I'M HELPING!"

The I Like This Game Way More Than I Should award: Resident Evil 6
Honorable Mention: The Bureau:X-Com Declassified


Resident Evil 4 was, while silly at times, a masterwork in horror gaming. Resident Evil 5 was an absolute mess. I don't like Chris Redfield. The controls felt half-assed, like they wanted to make something more action-oriented, but were afraid to break the mold. The inventory system was terrible. The story made even less sense it ever had. Resident Evil 6 was terribly received by both the hardcore fans and critics alike, but I rolled the dice on a Steam sale and picked it up for a third of its retail price. I finished the entire game, all 4 campaigns, on normal, then proceeded to play them again on Hard. Then I played it with a friend. I clocked up nearly a hundred hours on a game that was a critical flop. That said, the game is gorgeous looking, the story makes sense (possibly moreso than 4's), and the final step towards action-oriented controls benefits the series greatly, at least in my opinion.

An entire 6 hour campaign being super-cool super-spy Ada Wong? Yes, please.


X-Com Declassified is a case of internet fury gone mad. There were two games in the works, one of them quite faithful to the old tactical strategy games, and the other a third-person shooter. Guess which one the internet was raging against. What really came to surprise me about this one was that it was essentially Cold-War era Mass Effect, with a hostile alien first contact. Having played through the game in the first week since I purchased it on sale, I can only complain that it was frustratingly shorter than I found myself hoping it would be.

The Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey award: Bioshock Infinite

As a game, Bioshock Infinite is dull as dishwater. The shooting is adequate. The gameplay is adequate. The enemies are.. well.. there. This is not a game that hinges on its gameplay, by any means. The things that it excels at are worldbuilding and storytelling, and the dissonance caused by a (sometimes too) shiny and clean world covered in both socio-political and physical human gore. Creating a bond between the player and a character that was so well-crafted that you genuinely cared about them like another human being by the end. And by weaving together an ending that, by all rights, should not even work, let alone justify and explain such a stultifying title as "Infinite." I think the only thing that prepared me for that ending was a lifetime of watching, reading, and listening to Doctor Who.


My heart broke an Irrational number of times during this game.
The First Game In Years to achieve 100% award: Tomb Raider
Honorable Mention: Assassins Creed Liberation HD


Sometimes, I play a game just once through and enjoy the story. Sometimes, if I really liked a game's story or gameplay, I'll play it through twice. If I find a game really outstanding, I'll play the story twice, and find a lot of the collectible items and hidden sidequests. The recent Tomb Raider, which I reviewed for another site, was quite a surprise for me. I think, before this game, the last time I'd gotten a 100% savegame was when playing GTA Vice City. When I get this new video card from my tax returns, I'll play it again, this time on properly high settings. Maybe even turn on Lara's special hair settings. The best part of this? I've never completed a Tomb Raider game before, let alone come near 100%. I usually get frustrated a few hours in and give up when I've spent 30 minutes repeating the same jump only to see Lara ragdoll to her death. Channeling everything between The Descent to the Uncharted series, this is how I feel Lara Croft should always have been portrayed.

The things this woman went through.. I felt tired just playing the game.
Assassins Creed, as a series, holds a special place in my heart. When I heard there was one released exclusively on the PS Vita, I was tempted to buy one for that game alone. An interminable wait later, Ubisoft delivers by releasing a polished version for PC. It's got its flaws, but it's definitely a worthy addition to the family, if a much smaller addition. 100% clocked at right about 20 hours. It'd take me that long just to finish the story in Assassins Creed II.

The This Is Terrible but So Much Fun to Laugh At award: Aliens: Colonial Marines

This was such a serious train wreck of a game. Years in development, more studios than I can count, a hugely popular license, accusations of re-directed funds (if not outright embezzlement), and legions of angry Alien fans. It is literally impossible to be objective about this game, so I'm not even going to try. This is a bad game. A very bad game. If it were released 4 years ago, it would have merely been a mediocre game. Its only real saving grace is that it's not a boring game, and that it has a cooperative campaign mode. I've played the game several times through with friends, and we've been in hysterics from everything from terrible clipping issues, blurred textures, the physics engine going mad, the game randomly deciding to teleport players a foot or two from their current location, and the infamous constipated Xenomorphs.


Part II coming soon!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Einführung...

Last year, I invited Salem McGourley to be a guest writer on this blog.  Based on the spirited discussions which have cropped up after his posts, I would say that this was an excellent decision on my part: He has proven popular with my readers, brings a nerdy perspective which I lack, and having a day free from "Oh crap, I have to post something" has enabled me to relax and be more creative.

Besides, as I've joked before, I'm trying to start a media empire, and to do that I need minions.

Therefore, it pleases me to introduce Lurking Rhythmically's newest co-blogger, Kaptain Von!

I find the gleam of madness in his eyes to be quite soothing. 
Before you distress, let me reassure you that this will not result in a lack of creativity here.  Herr Kaptain is going to be posting every Wednesday, which up until this point was a "phone it in" day where I just posted something witty for your alleged amusement. So really, you're trading up, and I will probably still find a way to inflict YouTube videos of questionable humor upon you.

So, a few things about Von:

  • Despite the name, he is actually British
  • He enjoys role-playing games, Doctor Who, and wargaming
  • He has a blog called Game Over
  • He may (or may not) be a shoggoth


    Von's column is called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Game Store and the idea behind is essentially "Let's take some bit of Wikipedia trivia, a bit of odd news, perhaps a snippet of lyrics from a song barely heard during the day, throw them all into a pot and come up with an idea for an adventure." 

    Or, less prosaically, the "Stone Soup" approach to RPG seeds. 

    It should prove very interesting to see how well he gets along here. Consider that both he and Salem are Whovians, I expect a full-on nerd-off between the two of them when Peter Capaldi officially takes the reigns as the 12th Doctor later this year. 

    Ach, I've prattled too much. Meine Damen und Herren, I present to you...  Herr Kapitan Von and his Phantasmagorical Phables!

    A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Game Store: 'The Creeping Death'

     'The Creeping Death'

    It starts with one field, on a foggy day. Flowers totally covered. No radiation content. A baffled man with a camera phone trying to make some sense out of it all.

    The footage goes viral within a week, and there’s your hook. Your mages, your investigators, your Delta Green personnel, they pick this up and decide to have a look-see. They arrive to find the web intact, after five days. Rain glances off it, flows away; light barely passes through. The plant matter beneath the surface is dying. There is, as has been said, no radiation content, and after the fourth day, the ground began to turn cracked and grey and brittle beneath the covered acre or so of land.

    It’s happened before, in Australia. The official story was that spiders did it, escaping from the floods that were ravaging the country. The truth - available through personal visit, archived (and classified) witness testimony, or careful scouring of the conspiracy blogs - is that the web came first, and the floods later. On a foggy night before the rains came down, the web descended over a vast swathe of Australia. It was impenetrable to water at first; the rainfall was guided to where it would start a flood, and only then did the web begin to break and splinter. Curiously, the ground beneath the webs was near-useless to farmers for the whole of the following year, and the animals that spent too much time in contact with the web have ailed. They have weakened. They sleep too much, and twitch even in waking, as though plagued by nightmares.

    A suitcase is delivered to a police station in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and the contents prove most edifying. The goblin-in-the-bottle is indeed incinerated by a traditional healer (a Guardian of the Veil, or a member of the cult of Ulthar), but not before delivering a puzzling message, which finds its way onto the grapevine. “Two strands bind. Two bites drain. We are Hers.” The message is not revealed without contacting the healer (in person, by email after extended paranoid back-and-forth, or via astral projection), but should be buried among an assortment of dead ends culled by the players during their initial research.

    Her name is Atlach-Nacha, although some prophets knew Her as Lolth or Ungoliant and hid Her in fantasy for all our sakes. She lairs in the space between the hemispheres of the brain, in the minds of every arachnophobe on God’s clean Earth. Her eternal work is the binding together of worlds in Her web, the devouring of them, the giving over of them to Her children. She wove Earth into her web long ago, but something has changed; some shift in the consciousness of humanity, the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning or the immanentising of the Eschaton or something like that.

    The point is, She has noticed us again. This morsel on which She did Her work as the earliest humans were considering coming down from the trees has drawn one of Her myriad eyes. Perhaps She laid a clutch of Her eggs here, dream-spiders growing slowly, fed on a million tiny incidents of terror, and She has come to break their shells and set them free upon the universe. Perhaps the world is becoming something that no longer appeals to Her tastes, and the time has come to take what nourishment she can from it and move on. Perhaps She was merely leaving our meat to hang and mature, poisoned and polluted and irradiated like the mild decay in a twenty-one-day steak.

    England, Australia, two years apart; Her mandibles are sunk into the world and are draining the life from it. Destroying the web in England is a start, slaughtering thousands of Her children. That will drive Her off for a time. In truth, though, She must be led to scuttle elsewhere. Perhaps humanity must dream of some other world, more to Her liking. Perhaps a confrontation in the astral plane is in order.

    Perhaps She has and has always had a following who believe the world ready - in an unusual twist, it first apprehended Her true aspect in Australia, where Her children are at their strongest, and migrated to the opposite point on the world’s surface, and the cult must be stopped before they can guide Her to bite deep again.


    Recommended soundtrack: https://soundcloud.com/brotherhoodofatlachnacha

    Recommended resources: arachnophobic players

    Recommended systems: Mage (either version - in Awakening, the Guardians of the Veil are trying to hush this noise up, in Ascension the Technocracy’s blundering has made her notice that Earth is no longer what she used to be). Call of Cthulhu, obviously, especially with a Dreamlands component as the investigators move between worlds to burn away Her web. Changeling could work, on the same principle as the Ascension plotline. The idea that something about the world is changing means it’s fodder for Discordia! the RPG (but then, so’s everything).

    Tuesday, January 28, 2014

    Traveller Tuesday: A review of T5 (Traveller 5th edition)

    This past Christmas, I was given the opportunity to look over a copy of the newest iteration of Traveller. T5 was Kickstarter funded and was promised to be the "ultimate edition" with "rules and concepts you never thought possible" including  "so many things that players have asked for, or that have been imperfectly handled previously."  With all this in mind, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing what this Magnum Opus had to offer.

    Well, the "never thought possible" bit was true. 

    After I looked it over -- because this beast is 656 pages long, and I don't think anyone has the endurance to read something like that in a single sitting -- I knew I needed to have other people look at this, so that I might share my mental anguish. 

    This review, then, is a collection of the snarky comments we shot at each other as we read as much as our sanity would allow.




    But first, a quote to kick things off
    Unknown commentator: "First Survey, like too many of the Imperium Games products, was what I like to call "fractally broken" - not merely bad, but bad on every scale, with pockets of small badness concealed within larger badnesses, bad from any analytical viewpoint, self-similarly bad."  [Erin adds: T5 is like the above mentioned product, only at an exponential level of badness.] 

    PART ONE: INITIAL IMPRESSIONS


    Erin:  Capsule review: "I'm certain there has to be a game in here. After all, there are all these rules ...!" 650+ pages and the author has sucked all the fun and interest out of the game in favor of OMG CHARTS. 

    The_Jack: Sounds like GURPS Traveller minus the spontaneity and whimsy.

    Erin: This is the kind of game only someone with Asperger's would play. Because more rules = more fun, right?

    McThag:  Uh... Geff  HAS Aspergers and he rejected it.
    Fuzzy Geff: More than half again as large as my microcontroller "data sheet", and that cost $40 to print (okay, and spiral-bind with plastic covers).
    I'm only 10% in, and am ready to declare that the only use for these rules is to diagnose the author's mental illnesses. When he was naming the various Nd6 rolls, I could believe it was just OCD. Now that I've found the "Genetic Profile (GP)", I am convinced that other malfunctions are also involved.
    Erin: Daaaaayyyyyyummmm!

    McThag: And an aspie rejects it thus, "the only use for these rules is to diagnose the author's mental illnesses." That's like wrapping the asteroid with smallpox blankets.

    Jack: So it's a "wall full of crazy" compressed into a book. Maybe if you read the book aloud it heralds the Old Ones. Or would that be too interesting?

    Erin:  If you were a gamer nerd I could make a really cutting analogy:  "It's like the left-brain version of Nobilis."*  Trust me, that would KILL in nerd circles.



    PART 2: SAVAGING THE INTRODUCTION

    Jack: It's... troubling. I stopped my skimming on the dTon lecture. They.... they have a chart of ton versus kg and all the tons are 1.

    "DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN A TON AND A TON"

    That's an ACTUAL sub heading! You'd think they could write...  Oh, I don't know...

    "DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN A dTON AND A TON"

    Erin: Most telling, I think, is that character generation doesn't start until, oh, page 55ish.

    Jack: Well, a dissertation on units is FAR more important. And I LIKE being a nerd about unit systems.

    McThag: Wow, this game includes a free statistics lesson!



    PART 3: THE JOKE THAT IS CHARACTER GENERATION

    McThag: 48 pages of character generation. Huge section for randomly generating the background that many GMs will consider mandatory... this system seems to be written for GMs who can't or won't just make a decision and tell the players that's how it will be.

    Erin: My big problem is that the whole thing seems to lack flavor and fun. While they do mention Aslan, Droyne et al, there are NO RULES for the differences between those races and humans. Let alone, not having any flavor or fluff or history. And yet, 13th pages on senses...

    McThag: Flavor is generated with this easy to use calculus algorithim, just solve for the area under the curve...  I don't understand how this COULDN'T be fun! It's got hard math, and difficult math and frustrating math and it's all organized like hex editing a DOS game!

    Jack: And worse, it's BAD math! So far this reads like a game made by math fanboys who are, alas, innumerate.

    McThag: We are Jack's burning disappointment.

    Jack:  Well, it's nice that they parted out how a Fame state of 32 differs from one of 36. And I can see why they didn't include stats for the other major races. If you want to play a Vargr you can just derive your own!

    Erin: Because if you're a GM, you're already inventing the universe, so what's one or more races as well?

    Jack: That does seem to be this game's "Logic."

    Erin: It's almost like this is a (really shitty) rules "upgrade" for a setting you already own.  Which, to be fair, it is. I don't see any non-Traveller grognard buying this. Ever.




    PART 4: THE EXERCISE IN MASOCHISM THAT IS "THINGMAKER"

    Jack: Oh yes, because every single weapon for every single murder hobo needs its own character sheet! "With a knowledge of Weapons, Armor, Vehicles, and Combat, players can generally understand the relative value of Armor from their LongNames and Models."

    McThag: Everything is a series of hex codes and you'll basically have to memorize the format for each thing to use them.  Its part of the easy four thousand step "ArmorMaker". Simple!

    Jack:  Damn, it feels like it'd be simpler and quicker to build a real gun than use this... thing's balky flowchart.

    Erin: You have to look really, really hard just to find a stock, default "vacc suit". I didn't even bother looking for stock guns. Although the 32-shot, spiral-magazine "revolver" was worth a small chuckle. I'm like "Revolver? UR DOIN IT RONG"

    McThag: It's like a belt but with a cylinder gap!  My brain hurts. Where's my melon baller?

    [Editor's Note:  This is where McThag bails on T5.]

    Jack:  The ACQUIRING WEAPONS section.... Wow! I never thought to go to the factory! They.... they have a section on how long certain parts of a rifle "should" be. But they don't even have deck plans of ships! ... I wish I was well enough to drink.

    Erin: Yesssss. Feel my pain.  Aren't you glad you didn't spend $35 on this book?

    Jack: It's not even a bound hard copy? 

    Erin: Oh, you'd have to pay over twice that to get it in hardcopy! 



    PART 5: BEATING THE DEAD HORSE CALLED "ART"

    Jack: Oh man.... the battle dress just looks... sad. Way to make me pine for Mongoose's art, Trav5. 


    Erin:  Here's what is funny: Some of that art is from the early-mid 80s. Specifically, the pictures of the Zhodani nobles.

    Jack: It DOES have that 80's vibe! The Zhodani look like Ming the Merciless. Or evil wizards. 



    Jack: The drill machine on page 287 is just sad. It's like they did a Google image search for a screw bolt, blew it up, and then cropped it over a tank. 

    Yes, this is the ACTUAL PICTURE, taken from the PDF. 


    Erin: Are you ready to add insult to injury? The Kickstarter for this raised over THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS.

    Jack: ....

    Erin: Look at the production values of that book. With the shitty art and the obviously layered images and etc

    Jack: Thanks for the money, suckers!
    Parenthetical Aside
    Oh good, they've got a whole chapter on Beast Power.  Couldn't skimp on that!
    Jack: page 366

    just.... page 366
    Page 366
    Erin:  Well, this book was already doing a number on our sanity. Now it's official: this is the Traveller Necronomicon.

    Jack: I am starting to feel a bit feverish. [Editor's Note:  Jack had the flu at this time. It is unknown if reading T5 aggravated his condition.]

    Erin: Do you hear a strange flute sound coming from angles orthogonal to reality?
    Jack: Oh wow. The corners of the room are starting to get... wobbly

    Erin: Hounds of Tindalos might like Beggin' Strips...

    Jack: And the Chirstmass music on the radio is starting to get a circusy undertone

    Oh! And "Santa Claus is coming to town" is very sinister now

    Oh man....

    the "comic" on page 375

    I think that cinches the "humans did not make this" theory





    PART 6: SCREW IT, NOW WE'RE JUST CURBSTOMPING THE CORPSE FOR LULZ


    Jack: "Sensors are the technological eyes and ears (and other senses) of starships (and of many star system installations). Technology magnifies the capabilities of personal senses and translates the information that sensors gather into understandable formats."

    Erin: In other breaking news, space is rather dark and a bit chilly.

    Jack: YES! T5! Because I am too gormless to know what sensors ARE, but I AM willing to plot through hundreds of pages of tables and flow charts and will fill out two pages per armor vest!

    "The Referee Has Perfect Knowledge"

    But!

    "The Players Have No Knowledge. They know nothing. They depend on the readings from their sensors to develop an understanding of the situation." Wow!

    Erin:  Truly this is a cutting-edge game. 

    Jack: It's like this was made by someone who watched a couple Trav games. The ship diagram on page 312 makes no sense. Half the callouts are painfully obvious, like the one that points to Wings...

    Erin: "Wings and fins." No shit, really?


     Jack: ... and the other half are nonsense. I'm really getting the feeling that this is some sort of simulation of a game book written by things that don't quite grok hu-mons. I'd say this is all a Hiver plot, but the Hivers get games.

    Oh-kay.... My mind is slipping

    I'm in the Starsysstme section

    and I read B Mainworld as

    Brainworld

    Erin: Oh dear. I've done brain damage to you. So sorry.


    [Editor's Note: at about this point we realize we aren't even half done with the book and neither of us has the stamina to continue. We decide to do something constructive, like get drunk and use our heads like a hammer.]

    Erin: Why don't you play us out with your most brutal synopsis of this product, Jack?

    Jack: This is like a cargo cult of a game. It was made by people who have seen table top games played, and they figured that if they made the proper holy tome, then the game would be summoned. 

    Ouch.

    And with that, I'm going to put "Traveller Tuesday" on the back burner for a while. Do not fear, for I plan to return, but there are other settings which need my attention.



    * Nobilis is a joy to read. It's like the kind of game that Neil Gaiman would write. Lots of evocative text, funny little anecdotes and capsule stories. There's just like, you know, no system there to run a game on.

    Monday, January 27, 2014

    PPR Monday Gunday: Accessorizing your SKS, part 3

    Continuing a series I started way back in October (sighhhh)...
    Part 1
    Part 2

    The last time we talked, I promised you a review of the 20-round Tapco external magazines for SKS, but I couldn't give you one because my shooting range was closed for repairs and I couldn't give a review for something which I hadn't used. Those repairs have since been completed and I've had a chance to use the Tapco magazines at the range.



    Executive summary
    Don't get these.  Just don't. You're better off spending your money on ammunition. I will not buy these again, and I will actively tell other SKS owners not to buy these, either. About the only thing they do well is hold ammunition.  Rating:  F+


    The slightly longer version
    I took my tarted-up and 922(r) compliant SKS to the range back in December. I had two different Tapco magazines, bought from two different places, and holding two different types of ammunition (one lacquered, one not).  I was looking forward to sighting in a red dot scope when the following happened:
    • I insert the first magazine and chamber a round. 
    • I squeeze the trigger. Bang, says the gun. 
    • I squeeze the trigger again. Gun does not go bang, goes click instead. 
    • I wait a few seconds just in case it's a slow-burning round. When nothing happens, I cycle the bolt and inspect the ejected cartridge. 
    • I note that the primer has a little indentation in the primer from the firing pin, but isn't deep enough to have ignited said primer. 
    • Huh. That's odd, think I. 
    • Squeeze trigger again. Gun goes bang.  All well and good. 
    • I squeeze trigger again. Gun goes click again. 
    • At this point I think maybe I have a bad batch of ammo, so I eject the round, drop the magazine (which, might I add, is difficult to do at the same time with an SKS, because the mag won't drop until the bolt is pulled back, and while there are still rounds in the mag the bolt still wants to go forward. Dropping a loaded magazine, then, is this highly awkward dance of Okay, I put the stock against my shoulder here so I can pull the bolt back and keep it there. Now, with my left had I pull the magazine release and... oh crap, I have to rock this thing forward, don't I?  Okay, push the mag release back with my thumb, and rock the mag forward and out with my fingers...) and then put in a new one. 
    • New magazine is in, chamber a round, squeeze. Gun goes bang.
    • Squeeze trigger again. Gun goes click.  Son of a bitch!
    • Eject round again. Inspect round again. Same damn problem again. 

    So here's what's going on, for those of you who don't own SKSes:  In order to refit this weapon to accept detachable magazines, they (for whatever reason) designed it so that the bolt actually travels through the top part of the magazine, between the feed lips and the floor plate. Somehow, the action of sliding through the magazine slows the bolt down just enough so that when it strips off the next round, it doesn't seat all the way after chambering. This means that the firing pin doesn't make it far enough into the primer to fire the bullet, hence the apparently "dud" rounds. What's weird, though, is that this only happens after a bullet has been fired -- apparently manually pulling the bolt back and releasing it properly seats the round, but recoil operation doesn't. This gives the SKS and annoying bang-click-bang-click routine and turns your 20-round semi-auto into a 10-round bolt-action, which is actually worse than stock configuration. 

    But Erin! I hear you cry. How do you know it was the magazines that were causing the malfunction and not your SKS?   That's an excellent question. The answer is "Because I took it to the Bidet Shoot in stock configuration and it worked fine. Then, just as further proof, I took off all the Tapco crap and took my SKS back to the range on Saturday. 

    Guess what?  It worked perfectly, eating every single round I fed it. I went through about 80 rounds as I zeroed in my scope and not a single cartridge failed to fire. So, pretty clearly, it was the magazines at fault.

    And yes, I fully expect someone will say That happens a lot. First you must shave material off the magazine etc  and to that I say BULL!  When I buy a magazine for a gun I expect it to work right the first time without me having to do anything to it other than to load it.

    Honestly, I didn't even want the damn magazines to begin with. I just wanted a stock with a pistol grip and a shorter length of pull, but because of that stupid 922(r) and my desire to be compliant, I was forced to get them. And both of them -- bought from separate vendors, made in different batches, and loaded with different types of ammunition -- failed to operate in exactly the same manner.

    So, congratulations, Tapco. Because your crap-tastic magazines didn't work, I won't use them, and because I want to be legal I can't use your stock, either. 

    Grrr. 

    However, at least now my SKS shoots just fine. After I had zeroed in my red/green dot scope (I haven't put enough rounds downrange with it to be able to definitely state "get this one, I love it,"  I can tell you that so far I am very pleased with how it performs, even in "scout rifle" configuration"), I had about 12 rounds left, I figured why not shoot the rest of them and give everyone a nice picture of how well I did?

    Here you go:


    Before everyone thinks I'm a badass, let me qualify this:  I shot this at 25 yards, using a bipod and optic, and it took me 70-some rounds to get this far.  I consider this "a good start, at best" and will now see how well I do with that optic at 50 yards.

    Oh, yes, this is my current configuration of Simon. In addition to the optic and the quad rail, I was able to fake a pistol grip with the application of a sniper hand grip (Caution! Installing this will require permanent alteration to your stock. However, since Simon is a Chinese knockoff, I said "screw it" and made the change). I also added a cheek riser (because I am small), a recoil pad to cushion the impact of the metal buttplate, and then I topped it off with that dandy Echo Sling I reviewed last week. Special thanks to McThag for gifting me with the rail-mount sling loop!

    Simon, in his latest configuration. Half retro, half tactical -- it's almost steampunk!

    And so, that concludes my series on "Accessorizing your SKS." Hopefully this will save some of you the expense and heartache of buying things which do not work, and you can save your time money on things which are useful. 

    My name is Erin Palette, and I am a Useful Idiot -- making mistakes so that you don't have to!




    Dear FTC:  I bought all of this with my own money. Go away.

    Boosting the Signal Again

    A few odds & sods to start off the week:

    1. 
    Remember my SHTFriday idea?  It's turned into a spin-off blog called Blue Collar Prepping. Unlike this blog, BCP is a collaborative effort among like-minded preppers (one of whom is my good friend Evelyn Hively). We currently have 3 people who have committed to being regular contributors, but I'd like at least another one; that way we can each write one article a week and have 5 full days of content (everyone deserves a weekend off). However, if we get more, all the better!  We also accept guest articles as well (guidelines here).  Head on over and have a look!


    2.
    Speaking of Evelyn, her project to raise $800 by the end of the month to help out her older siblings has stalled at around $470.  I encourage all of you to look at her catalog of goodies (Etsy store here, photo album of crocheted work here) and see if there's something you'd like for her to make for you.

    Doctor Who scarves
    1- There's a hundred dollar one made with better yarn at six feet long and a more more manageable size. (Takes 1.5 months to make)
    2- A full sized at 12, very accurate reproduction of season 12 is available (it's $425 but that covers everything, takes 3 months to make.)

    Shawls
    1- I have mutiple patterns for these and currently have black and turqoise available as color choices. These are $50.00 and take roughly 2-4 weeks to make.

    Bags
    Take your pick of small hand bags, neck purses, messenger bags and tote bags.

    Dolls
    I can do a very broad range of hair colors, skin colors and dress colors. These are $35.

    Traditional hats and scarves:
    Any color or combinations.

    Crocheted jackets, afghans, etc.

    3.
    Squeaky is having financial problems again.  I'm at my wit's end about what to do, as I know folks are all fundraisered-out from last year, recovering from Christmas bills, a recession going on, etc. I don't know how to help her and this is freaking me out. If anyone can think of ANYTHING that would help, please let me know, okay?

    On a related note, if there is anyone in the Memphis area who is willing to donate 10 square feet of storage for little to no rent, OR is willing to donate a yard shed of roughly that volume, please let me know immediately!  This is quite important.


    Don't make me break out the gif of Pinkie Pie giving sad puppy-dog eyes, because you all should know by now that I am totally willing to fight dirty when it comes to helping my friends.  ;)

    Friday, January 24, 2014

    Potential new feature

    I'm looking to start another regular feature on my blog called "SHTFriday," where I talk about general disaster preparedness, what to put into a bug-out bag and what to keep, etc -- basically, revisiting the whole "Zombie Kit" series I did back in '09 and '10.

    The thing is, I don't know how often I can come up with good topics on the subject, as prepping is more of a hobby/thought exercise for me (mostly because I'm poor and can't afford "proper" preps).

    So I'm asking the Internet Hivemind for a few things:


    1. Ideas. Is there something you'd like to see addressed or explored? Keep in mind that I'm basically a Useful Idiot -- if you want true preparedness stuff, you're better off cruising places like Survival Blog. I'm more of the "enthusiastic newbie geek" variety, and my main skill seems to be explaining things in terms that non-enthusiasts can understand.

    2. Products. Folks seem to like my reviews, so if I can get my hands on stuff for no or reduced cost, I can do more of them. If you have a product that needs reviewing, or know someone else who does, please refer me.
    3. Guest writers. Prepping is one of those areas where more heads are better than one, and a different perspective can often lead to solving someone's problem. If you are a fan of preparedness/ survival/ emergency medicine and would be interested in writing occasional guest pieces for me, that would be lovely.

    The main drawback to #3 is that I'm breaking the cardinal rule of freelance writing and asking people to write for free. I regret that I can't pay guest writers anything (if it helps, I basically blog for free myself), but I do have some degree of internet clout and/or fame that I'd be willing to use on your behalf, either to score you swag for testing or to give you/ your business/ your website/ your charity/ whatever publicity I can.

    Also, you'd be part of my network of friends, which -- as 2013's accomplishments have hopefully demonstrated -- is nothing to sneeze at.  (Yesterday, someone sent me an email saying he had "name-dropped" me. I was astounded by this and asked if he was being serious or just pulling my leg. He replied with "Everyone knows Erin!"  I still don't quite know how to process that...)

    Thursday, January 23, 2014

    It's Not A Person. It Doesn't Think Like You. It's *Not* Your Friend.

         So a few weeks ago, someone over at USGamer wrote an article (that I'm not linking here - should be easy enough to Google, but I don't want to give them any more traffic than they've already gotten on it) about how they'd been invited, along with some other journos, to take a look at Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. The article this person wrote is prime fodder for a tirade against social justice, throwing around terms like 'rape allusions' and 'problematic' but that's not what I'm here for today.

    "the scene in question being one in which a withered Dracula stumbled toward a family with his arms outstretched, the camera abruptly switching to a first-person perspective. He kills the father outright, then grabs the mother and sinks his fangs into her neck, draining her life energy to restore his."

         The fact that this act is the shocking act to the author of that article is telling. That they draw parallels to rape and sexual assault simply because Drac discards of the father, apparently not even rating a snack, and feeds off of the mother. The fact that the mother in the family is used for feeding while the father murdered and tossed aside is what shocks them, and apparently not because of the loss of human life. 

         Twilight. Vegetarian Vampires. Interview With The Vampire and its romantic ruffled sleeves and angsty pretty-boys. Even to a lesser extent the folksy suckheads of True Blood or the sympathetic badasses of Underworld. At some point the boogeymen quit being scary monsters, and started becoming the harmless-but-edgy bad-boys that read like a Young Adult novel 'gone wild.' I do not, and have never, understood this, and I'd like to try and work through this.

         Vampires are corpses. Let's not fool ourselves. Vampires are well-preserved zombies with a few extra biological tricks that let them keep fresher and more sapient than your average rotting ankle-biter. As far as I'm concerned, the only differences between zombies and vampires is dress sense and where they bite you. They're not romantic. They're not Beautiful Avatars of The Dark or Mysterious Scions of Eternity. They're cadavers that have forgotten to fall over and rot.

         In addition to this, they are predators. And in deference to the article that brought this whole tirade on, they are not SEXUAL predators, any more than a shark or a peregrine falcon is. In order for vampires to continue 'living,' a human has to die. In order for a vampire to live, *you* might have to die. The very existence of a vampire species is detrimental to the well-being of the human race. Werewolves don't have to hunt humans specifically for survival. Nobody romanticizes zombies (ok, there was that one recent movie, but come the fuck on).

         So really. A vampire attacks a family, kills some of them and eats another. Were you expecting them to stand idly in the shadows with a brooding look on their clammy face, quote poetry to woo them over? If Castlevania intends to depict a vampire as a brutal killer, more power to them. You aren't supposed to romanticize them. You're supposed to be afraid of them. You're supposed to want to kill them on site. They're inimical to your survival.

         I'll side with Buffy, Blade, Van Helsing, Anita Blake, or any of the Belmonts. I'll stand by the werewolves in Underworld and Watcher's Council, Nightstalkers and Whistler family. The only good vampire is a dead one, or at least one that's had its soul restored so that it knows what a monster it is and will spend the rest of its existence snuffing out other suckheads. They're monsters, they should be put down, and I'm not sure what the author of that article is expecting of them, if not to kill and feast on a grouping of humans that wasn't in enough control of their faculties to either run or fight back. I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to go sharpen a chair leg in celebration of the return of the monstrous vampire.

    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

    WNW: PSA

    Ugh. Wednesdays are my day to get stuff done, and today I have been getting stuff done like a boss.

    This means I'm tired and have very little to show for it.

    Here, have a funny PSA about how awesome humans are, based on the following conceit:
    It’s funny how science fiction universes so often treat humans as a boring, default everyman species or even the weakest and dumbest.

    I want to see a sci fi universe where we’re actually considered one of the more hideous and terrifying species.

    How do we know our saliva and skin oils wouldn’t be ultra-corrosive to most other sapient races? What if we actually have the strongest vocal chords and can paralyze or kill the inhabitants of other worlds just by screaming at them? What if most sentient life in the universe turns out to be vegetable-like and lives in fear of us rare “animal” races who can move so quickly and chew shit up with our teeth?

    Like that old story “they’re made of meat,” only we’re scarier.




    If you would like to read more about this concept, I invite you to fall down the rabbit hole by Googling the phrase "Humanity fuck yeah." You will either giggle like a loon or be disgusted.


    Tuesday, January 21, 2014

    Traveller Tuesday: There's a Hole in the Jump Drive, Dear Liza

    There's a Hole in the Jump Drive, Dear Liza is a mini-adventure which can be sprung on Traveller players if they do something foolish with their ship's engines.  It can be run for one player (although if you do that it really should be on a small ship, such as a Type S), but the optimal group size is 4-6 players.




    This adventure will make more sense if the GM waits until a suitable trigger event has occurred, such as:
    • A gunfight or an explosion in Engineering
    • A jump drive or power plant hit in combat
    • An engineer with a history of bad rolls
    • Skipping regular maintenance 
    • Sloppy maintenance, such as from a class C or D starport
    • Installation of an experimental, untested jump drive
    • Just barely rolling a misjump

    Prelude
    First, give them a chance to notice that something is a little off. Tell whoever is on the bridge or in engineering (there is always someone in on duty during jump, isn't there?) that the Master Caution alarm sounds and the accompanying button lights up. An Average skill roll of INT + Pilot indicates that this is odd; nothing else on the caution panel is lighting or sounding. They have a master caution and nothing else seems wrong.

    A brief sidebar on terminology and technology:
    • All bridge (and, presumably, engineering) indicator lights are also buttons. 
    • You press the button to turn off the alarm.
    • "Caution" is less serious than "Warning".
    • Warnings are in the red panel and cautions are in the yellow/green.
    • They each have their own chimes. Caution is “Hey, wake up” volume. Warning is "Oh Shit!" volume.
    • The writers of this adventure are making the assumption that, in the name of safety and robustness, all significant pieces of equipment have their own computers so that they can be brought offline, diagnosed, repaired, and rebooted without having to reboot the entire power plant or jump drive. 
    • A bit of color text too. Since the Solomani greatly influenced the design of ships in the Third Imperium, redundant panels that a Vilani would have put in as a matter of course were excluded from most designs. OSHA is happy and carefree compared to the Vilani bureaucracy... 

    It Begins
    Both the bridge and engineering get a caution alarm that the Primary Field Strength Generator has gone offline. This isn't a disaster as the Secondary FSG kicked in (that's its function), but sensible PCs shouldn't let that ride because the FSG is the part of the Jump Drive that actually generates the jump field.

    Losing the jump field prematurely would be bad.

    1. An Average EDU+Jump Drive is required to inspect and reset the Pri FSG. Nothing appears to be broken or need replacement, so it's a simple matter to reset and reboot it.

    2. Once this happens, the power plant seems to be surging -- nothing critical, just a 5%  increase in temperature and/or pressure, so the dampers need to be reset. In order to do this without losing power to the jump drive, the dampers need to be reset one side (A, then B)at a time. This is an Average EDU+Power Plant roll.

    3. Just as they wrap that up, the FSG Secondary Fault alarm comes on. They fix that and, once again, the power plant is surging, this time by 10%.
    If the GM wishes to engage more players, or if the PCs have a sufficiently large ship, there can be more Field Strength Generators:  FSG Primary A, FSG Primary B, FSG Secondary A, FSG Secondary B, etc.  A useful rule of thumb might be to use a letter for each 100 dtons of ship, such that a 100 ton Type S will only have a Primary and Secondary, but a 200 ton Type A will have an A and B for each, and a 400 ton Type M will have a Primary and Secondary A, B, C, and D. 
    Bounce the players between those three things for a while. Increase the tension by rolling behind the GM screen to scare them. Use description and atmospheric flavor to stress an increasing noise and strain to the system as they shut one side down and the other takes the load. Increase the difficulty of rolls to Difficult, if desired.  Then chase them from A to B, Primary to Secondary, toss in a power plant A and B surge...

    Eventually, one of two things will happen:
    1. A character will stop addressing the symptoms and try to diagnose what is actually causing the problem;
    2. A player will make an impressive roll (be it a 2 or a 12).

    Stopping to Think
    If they stop to think, make more lights come on. Create an atmosphere of "if you don't get on this, you're dead!" Examples:
    • The Master Warning light goes off, indicating an imminent, catastrophic failure of the entire Primary Field Strength Generator system. Secondary FSG is supposed to take over in this instance, but the warning indicates a failure in the handoff from primary to secondary. This requires the engineering crew to address both the failure of the PriFSG and the fault in SecFSG simultaneously.
    • After being rebooted/ having parts replaced/ getting repaired, the Primary system no longer shows good function. The caution and warning panels says they go out as soon as the primary is fixed, yet can be visually verified to be running. This hints at a much deeper problem, and players may think the wiring is faulty, or there is a virus in engineering. This is an excellent opportunity to have non-engineer characters get involved in the action. These should be Difficult rolls, at the very least. 
    • The problem is spreading to other parts of the jump drive. The Field Geometry Sustainer is what keeps the jump bubble in proper proportion around the ship, and it's threatening to warp and leave parts of the ship uncovered.  Also note that it is abbreviated FGS and easily confused with the Field Strength Generator (FSG), especially if inexperienced crewmembers have been pressed into duty. INT+Jump Drive to understand what the Chief Engineer is saying...
    • Other technobabble:  Jump Kernel Lobe Generator (computer system which generates the jump field geometry), Field Geometry Fault Sensor (double-checks the FGS for safety), Kernel Lobe Geometry Error (now I'm just making things up). 
    • Don't forget problems with the power plant as well: Plant Coolant Level Low. Pressure Low. Pressure High with Level Low (that sure messes with a thinker!).
    • Is there a Droyne PC among the crew? Did he remember to ceremonially bless the ship by placing the Voyages coyn under the jump drive?  If not, tell him that through his carelessness he has doomed them all and encourage him to rectify his mistake. Have the Droyne getting in the way of the repair crews as he tries to place coyns in ceremonially correct places:
      • Voyages on the jump drive (alternately: astrogation system)
      • Heat or Fire on the power plant
      • Air or Water on life support
      • Signal on comms/sensors
      • Anything else that sounds reasonable (Warrior in a turret, Technician on the Chief Engineer's tools, etc).
      • Have the Droyne make a DEX+Athletics roll to avoid getting in everyone's way. A particularly bad roll can even result in a a coyn being dropped into someplace inaccessible, or worse, the entire bag being dropped and all coyns rolling away...
    • Throughout ALL of this, stress how lights are flashing and alarms are sounding. Main engineering should sound like a Vegas casino when all the slot machines pay off at the same time. This is stressful and highly distracting, and unless there is someone whose only duty is to sit at the control panel, calling out names and types of malfunctions while turning off the lights and alarms, all difficulties are raised by one category. 
    • Generally keep them jumping from problem to problem, with each repair making other parts worse. This is why the adventure is titled after a children's song about a never-ending problem.

    Failing at these tasks doesn't solve the problem. A critical failure results in the same panel indicator going to warning. If another critical failure occurs, see "Oops!" below.


    "Then Fix It, Dear Eneri"
    Eventually, someone is likely to start putting clues together and realize that, despite what the instruments are saying, the equipment isn't actually malfunctioning. This will prompt a Very Difficult INT+Engineering roll to diagnose (Formidable if lights and alarms are blaring, or if the PC is trying to solve this "cold", i.e. too early in the game session.)

    If they succeed, they realize they are chasing after snakes in the cockpit, which is an ancient Solomani expression from the early days of aviation and means "Oh, fuck, what NOW?" In other words, "Everything is going wrong except for having actual snakes in the cockpit, biting the pilot."

    On all Imperial-standard ships and small craft, there's a button that illuminates all the lights on a panel. It's marked Test. Decade after decade, snakes get in the cockpit while the crew diagnoses a "problem" caused by a burnt out bulb/ loose connection/ bad fuse/ what-have-you and nobody EVER thinks to hit "Test". They've been replacing and testing good parts, and it all boils down to the Traveller equivalent of a burnt-out bulb and fuse...


    If They Press "Test"
    All of this rigamarole is the result of a bad sensor in the Jump Field Monitoring System.The JFMS Fault light is malfunctioning (doesn't light up when Test is pressed) and the diagnostic equipment is out of calibration. How did this happen? High tech tools are sensitive to all manner of things: impact (from starship combat), lack of maintenance, a careless technician, jostling from a bad landing or gas giant refueling, etc.

    If they do this, they aren't out of the woods yet: they still have to try and fix the JFMS Fault with uncalibrated diagnostic equipment -- a Very Difficult (at the least) EDU+Jump Drive roll. Be sure to inform the engineer that the manual says that with faulty JFMS an apparently properly functioning drive could result in a misjump!


    "Oops!"
    If anyone critically fails at a Warning task, things get REALLY loud and REALLY flashy as everything alarms and emergency protocols execute. Lights go red, every klaxon known to the Imperium sounds, the power plant starts venting coolant, and a computerized voice starts alerting everyone aboard (including the passengers) that it is necessary to abandon ship and to get into vacc suits, rescue balls and escape pods.

    Roll dice. Wince at the results. Have the lights go off, possibly the gravity too. Make, make the players think that The End is well and truly Nigh, and they are about to experience the mythical TPK  (total party kill)...

    ... and then everything goes quiet.

    After all that noise, silence is really disturbing and eerie. If possible, the GM should just silently stare at the players for 30 seconds to a minute, just to make them uncomfortable. 

    And then, a lone light on a panel in the dark engineering room begins to blink. With all the lights off, it's clearly running on its own battery.

    That panel is something very plainly labeled, but easy to overlook because of its generic name: Master Fuse Control.

    On that panel, a lonely computer screen has a display of the fault checklist. That screen, which they've been burying under charts, or hidden behind the Chief Engineer's alcohol still or collection of empty booze bottles, gives the following instructions:
    Step 1: Press Caution/Warning Panel Bulb Test
    Step 2: Check Breaker/Fuse Panel
    As their hearing returns to normal, the PCs can hear the power plant calmly humming along -- having performed an emergency warm reboot, it is now operating normally. The jump drive is still switching between the Primary and Secondary Field Generator, but neither is actually broken. It's troubling to hear them switch over, but aside from some clicking and humming the hand-off is smooth. It will need to be repaired once they put in to port, of course, but the wisest course of action is to Leave Things Alone until their ship is out of jumpspace and the entire jump drive can be taken offline.


    Moral of the story
    Space travel is dangerous, jump drives are finicky, and regular maintenance is essential.


    Special thanks to Angus McThag, co-author, for helping me flesh out this scenario. 

    Monday, January 20, 2014

    Palette's Product Review: Echo Sling

    Back in October, when I was scrambling for donations to my Squeak or Treat raffle, I was contacted by Matt Rogers of Echo Sling. He quite generously gave two slings to be raffled off (and this was in addition to the sling he donated months earlier for Jennifer's Evict Lyme raffle.

    So in addition to being a gunnie, Matt is genuinely a nice guy. Because of this, and because I wanted a sling of my own, I've been proudly hosting an advertisement for Echo Slings on this blog.

    As it turns out, Matt is struggling to make ends meet (aren't most folks these days?), and so because he's one of the tribe and makes an excellent product, I'm going to review his sling here. He didn't ask me to do this; I'm doing it because repaying kindness with kindness is the right thing to do.



    Before I begin my review, I want to lead with an excerpt from Pat Cascio's review at SurvivalBlog. Some of you may call this laziness, but the results are so damn impressive that this testimonial needs to be the centerpoint of Echo Sling's advertising:
    [...] one of my German Shepherds, "Sarge" showed me a method for testing the sling. Sarge isn't quite a year and a half old, and he loves to chew-up cardboard boxes that FedEx and UPS bring me almost daily - he honestly believes UPS and FedEx come to bring him new toys to destroy - and destroy them he does. While examining the sling, Sarge decided it looked like a new chew toy and grabbed an end, and the tug-o-war was on - he loves playing this game with "Arro" one of my other German Shepherds. (We have four in our house right now, but we've had more than that in the past.)

    Sarge and Arro - and even Fanja, our little female, got into a three-way tug-o-war with the Echo Sling - my older main male doesn't much get into this game - he's Schutzhund 1 trained and certified, and he likes to bite - not play tug-o-war. So, over the course of a month, I let Sarge and Arro play with the Echo Sling - and these boys can really pull - they've destroyed a number of pull tug ropes in the past year. Over the course of this "test" the polymer buckles were chewed on pretty well - but still functioned, though they had teeth marks on them. The Echo Sling was looking worse for wear, but the dogs never did break it - and these boys can really pull and pull hard against each other. There was some fraying, on the ends of the sling, where the boys usually grabbed it in their mouths, but the sling didn't fail. Now, if a high-quality Nylon sling can take this kind of abuse, over a month, and still function - I'm impressed. I never let the boys chew on the sling - I know it wouldn't last but a day if they did - but I let them play tug-o-war several times a day with the Echo Sling.

    I have lesser-quality Nylon slings and I know, if I had given them to my German Shepherds, they would have made quick work of them - they'd be destroyed inside of a day or two.

    I'm going to repeat that: three German Shepherds played tug-o-war with an Echo Sling for a month and they couldn't destroy it.  I can't think of any endurance test tougher than this that isn't a deliberate destruction of the product.  Matt calls it the "Hundred Year Sling," and while I don't know that it will last that long, it's certainly tough enough to handle whatever abuse you can throw at it while out hunting.

    Other reviewers (including McThag) have commented about the quality of the stitching, or how easy it is to adjust, or how it could really stand to be padded at the shoulder or a little wider than 1" across. I agree with pretty much all of these thoughts. However, there are two qualities to this sling that so far no one has commented about, and I want to address.

    First off, you'd think that a sling as tough as this would be made of rough material, right?  Nope. The nylon feels light, smooth, and soft to the touch. It's not silky by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is it so excessively manly that it rubs you raw. This is an important consideration in any sling that you plan to wrap around your forearm in a hasty sling shooting technique. It may start to rub after carrying it across your shoulder for several hours, but it won't rash up your skin after an afternoon at the range.

    Additionally, given that women are becoming shooters in ever-increasing numbers, and the fact that Matt offers slings in lots of colors  -- two shades of pink in stock, and custom colors are also available (McThag got his in purple for no additional charge) -- this is an ideal sling to give to the gun-toting lady in your life. You're welcome, gentlemen.

    Second, this is the only sling that I've seen which could also be turned into a belt (instructions for belt-ification are included with the sling, and can also be found here). While some folks might regard this as an odd feature of questionable merit -- how many times has someone had a belt malfunction while hunting? -- they are missing a key point in all this:  You can also use a belt as a first-aid device. 
    • As a tourniquet
    • As an arm sling
    • As a way to immobilize or splint a limb
    • As a tow strap for an emergency litter
    Less ridiculous now, right?  Put this sucker on your hunting rifle/shotgun and you have a multi-purpose first aid device. Let's see that piece of padded neoprene you bought at Wal-Mart do that!

    In short, Buy this sling.  It's made by a gunnie, for gunnies, and Matt is a generous and decent human being besides. 


    My Rating:  A
    If Matt were to offer his sling in a 1.25" size, then it would be a perfect A+. 




    Obligatory FTC comment:  I was not paid for this review. Go away. 


    Saturday, January 18, 2014

    Some changes around the place

    Some minor format changes, mostly.  Some of you astute folks will notice a new ad floating about somewhere. If you are curious, I direct your attention to some new legalese in "The Fine Print", below.

    Keen-eyed sorts may notice some posts having gone missing. This is deliberate. I am trying to sell some of my fiction and have therefore removed it from this blog in order to increase its value to publishers.

    Other than that, just some redecorating as I futz about with the placement of boxes. Nothing too major.

    Friday, January 17, 2014

    I have been Batman'd

    So yesterday, the Queen of Snark paid me one of the nicest compliments I've ever received.

    I was talking about how I wished I had the courage to do a photo shoot with Oleg, because I have this idea for a poster that would have an incredibly powerful message -- but I'm hesitant to do it because I know it will draw a lot of flack, and I don't know if I can handle all the hate and mockery that would result from it.

    And then she laid this on me:
    Tamara Keel
    Tamara Keel
    Fuck 'em. They ain't nobody, and you're Erin goddam Palette.
    WOW.

    I realize I sound like I'm bragging here ("Look, everyone! Look what Tam has to say about me!"), but my only reason for bringing this up is honestly because I want to thank her in as public a way possible for making me feel so very good about myself and giving me what is one of the best compliments I've received in a long time, right when I needed one.

    For context, here is why I call this "Batmanning":



    So now you know why I'm so flattered. Thank you, Tam. You really don't know how much this means to me. I really don't get what people see in me (and no, that is NOT fishing for flattery, so please don't), but I am delighted every time people that I like and respect tell me I have good qualities and that I should be proud of who I am and what I have done.

    So thank you. Not just Tam, but everyone who has stood beside me, everyone who has boosted my ego, and everyone who calls me friend. Thank you all so very, very much.


    Thursday, January 16, 2014

    High Quality Non-Content


         So, apologies for the lack of depth this week, but I've a friend in town and am quite busy. And am on
    vacation, technically. Here's what I've been up to, mainly:

    My friend and I visited The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, where we saw..
     




    Chicago Pile-1, the world's first Nuclear Reactor, in Lego.






    Vintage radio. My Fallout fanboyism is showing.
    Sweet Noir Film Posters.

















































    Then we climbed a mountain. Well, we drove up a mountain at least. On the way, we stopped in an area with lots of warning signs.

    Please, do approach. Feed the bears. 

    Whoops. Somebody fed the bears.
    10,678 feet up. Give or take. That's the city, down below.















































    Proper content resumes next week. I have something that's been irking me that I need to expand my thoughts on.







    Wednesday, January 15, 2014

    WNW: ZOMG ZOMG ZOMG ZOMG


    LOOK YOU GUYS HIS CUTIE MARK IS AN ACCORDION

    Not gonna lie, you guys: I peed myself with joy when I saw this. I also jumped up and down, clapped my hands, and squeeed to high heaven. This is the best thing to happen to MLP since John "Q" DeLancie voiced Discord. I know lots and lots and lots of folks who are Weird Al fans who are going to watch this episode just because he's in it. And then you know what will happen?
    We are the Herd. 
    We will add your friendship and magical distinctiveness to our own. 
    Resistance is futile.  
    You will be Bronified.
    Ahem. Moving right along, I've got a funny pony video here to round out the evening... If you've seen the episode "Pinkie Apple Pie," then you will realize just how hilarious this video is. If not, watch the original first.



    ZOMG WEIRD AL ON MLP YOU GUYS! FEBRUARY CAN'T COME SOON ENOUGH!

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