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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Doctor Who: The Not Really Pilot Episode

Clever play on words, there, Moffat. Very clever.

So setting aside the Christmas Special, it's been quite a while since we've had any Doctor Who, hasn't it?

I have to admit, when the promotional materials were released for the new series, I did not like Bill at all. And before you get started, don't. Martha's still my favourite companion of the new series (and I still have not forgiven Russel Davies for her puppy-dog fixation on the Tenth Doctor and unending jealousy of Rose). Bill came off incredibly gobby and was asking the absolute stultifying dumbest questions in her promotional video.

It was not a good first impression.

So in a way, Pilot acts as an audition for Bill as a character. Naturally, Pearl Mackie already has the job, so we've got her like it or not, but is Bill really going to work as a character? Naturally, the best way to do this is to have the Twelfth Doctor first make her an offer, then spend every scene afterwards trying to drive her away. Capaldi does this in fine form, managing to effortlessly out-do Matt Smith's cranky exile behaviour from his first face-to-face meeting with Clara.

Of course, it's not all him driving her away. Some of it's rescuing her from a rather creative monster. Some of it's evocative of Nine's "red bicycle when you were twelve" moment, with the box of pictures.
What's wrong with your faaaaace
Bill does pass his shit-test, happily, and redeems herself from the awful promotional videos. The scene from the promo more or less still appears, but it's been incredibly cut down, leaving out Bill's terrible lines. She also some notable character traits. She's got an eye for detail. She's very down to earth, but at the same time says some rather poetic lines. Her mind works incrementally and logically, as evidenced by her progression of assumption about the TARDIS first being a 'knock-through', then a lift, then going around the University. But visually, she's a little jarring. No, not that, stop it. I can't seem to figure out what time period this season is set in because of her. The Doctor references "texting and vlogging" but Bill's entire wardrobe is a throwback to the late 80s, with high-waisted jeans, denim jackets with badges sewn into them, and glaring colours, with what I suspect to be a Siouxsie and the Banshees shirt. These are outfits you'd expect to see around Seven/Ace's period, not 30 years later, and everyone else around her seems to be dressed from the correct time period.

Overly Attached Space Girlfriend
The episode's not without it's problems, but they're few and far between. The line "It hasn't rained in a week" seconds after they walk past a stream of runoff water from the University rooftops stood out to me. Bill's lines from the promotional video (which I'm still holding against it). The "kitchen" reference. In what way does the TARDIS console room look like a kitchen? Oh, and can we please blow Nardol out the nearest airlock? I'm not a fan of Matt Lucas, and his character is annoying me. You could have given half of Nardol's lines to Bill and left out the other half and the episode could have had more time to breathe.

I'm very interested in finding out what the mystery of the season is, and I'm sure it's related to the vault in the University basement. We know Missy will show up again, John Simm's Master is rumoured to return, Nardol is still there for some reason, and the Doctor's sworn not to leave the University while he's guarding the vault and he's been there for at least 50 years so far. He's got a lock on the basement door set to "friends only" and an alert set to his psychic paper.

All in all, definitely worth a watch, and a good start for the new series. I'm just glad we've got a proper screwdriver again, and this one's a beauty.

Welcome back, proper screwdriver. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Checking In From the ATL

Hi everypony!

I admit that I've been quiet this past week -- big hugs and thank-yous to everyone who checked in on my to ask if I was all right! The truth of the matter is that no, I wasn't all right, but I was taking care of myself and getting better.

On April 14th (the Friday before last), a good friend of mine named Donavan Lambertus passed away. Don was a fellow Traveller grognard (go check out his vector scaleable Quick Decks, they're amazing) and also helped out with data entry during the crazy early days of Operation Blazing Sword. His death really affected me, and it intersected with my monthly bout of feeling blue and not wanting to deal with anyone or anything, and so I just took the week off in order to get the space needed to retain my sanity.
Unfortunately, there may very well be silence from me for another week; fortunately, it's for a much happier reason. I'm in Atlanta right now, staying with friends and getting a makeover in preparation for the NRA Annual Meeting. When the meeting starts, I'm going to be quite busy; not only wll I be oohing and ahhing at all the nifty stuff on display, I'm also going to be meeting with people in order to spread the word about Operation Blazing Sword (and hopefully get some corporate sponsorship for it as well). Oh, and I'm also scheduled to appear on Cam & Company during the convention. On camera. No pressure, right? [Erin begins doing combat breathing exercises to prevent panic]

Speaking of meeting people, if you're at NRA this year (or if you live near Atlanta) and you'd like to meet me, send me an email or a PM on Facebook or leave a comment below and let's schedule a time and place to meet!

One more thing before I go: I'm pleased to announce that the Operation Blazing Sword storefront is now carrying my signature "Concealed Carry is herd Immunity Against Crime" design for both dark and light shirts. We also have stickers, and they're only $2.50 each!

All proceeds go to my charity, so please buy early and buy often!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #140 - Going to NRAAM 2017

There's no yellow brick road, but be sure to follow the GBVC cast at NRAAM!
  • Beth is still going to NRAAM... but the USCCA is not. Beth tells us how the NRA dis-invited them.
  • Some relationships are fiery; this one ends in arson. Who lit the fire? Sean takes a look.
  • Barron is on assignment this week.
  • Discretion is the better part of valor, and so Miguel reminds you to pick your fights lest you get in over your head.
  • In the Main Topic, Sean and Erin talk about concealed carry handguns as Personal Protective Equipment.
  • Tiffany is on assignment this week.
  • Friend of the show Sarah Cade asked Erin, "How do you find your family members in an emergency?" Erin has some ideas.
  • For some reason, family members seem to get upset when their criminal spawn get shot! Weer'd brings us the grandfather of one of the home invaders killed in Oklahoma.
  • And our plug of the week is NRAAM 2017. Follow us on Instagram!
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
 Finding Lost Family Members
in an Emergency
This week’s topic comes to us courtesy of friend of the podcast Sarah Cade, who asked for advice on how to find family members in an emergency. And that’s a great question! However, it’s very tough to answer because in an emergency, the best way to contact family members - cell phones and the internet - may be down, or so overloaded with traffic that no signal can get through. However, there are some tips and tricks I can pass along to make finding a lost family member easier.

Now the first thing to keep in mind is that during a disaster, texts are far more likely to get through than voice cails, because texts require far less data. So ensure that family members have a phone that can send and receive texts! At this point I think even the dumbest flip phone can text so this shouldn’t be a problem.

Next, make sure that your family members have a way to keep that phone charged! There are a variety of ways to do this, with the simplest to make sure that each phone has a charging cable and both a wall and car adapter. A portable battery to charge the phone when they can’t get to an outlet is also a good idea. I recommend the Anker Astro E1, which is literally the size of a candy bar and can fully charge an iPhone 7 twice, and only costs $17 from Amazon.

Another good way to keep your cell phones operational is with a hand crank dynamo. I like the ones that are also flashlights and AM, FM, and Weather Band radios because that’s a lot of utility in one package. The iRonshow Emergency Dynamo costs only $17.99 and belongs in every prepper’s bag.

But even if the cell network is completely down, a cell phone can still be useful in locating your loved one. Make sure that you have a picture of each of them on your phone - if you have the time, take a picture of them right before you evacuate so you also have a visual record of what they were wearing - and so if you get separated from them, you can show people their picture on your phone while asking “Have you seen this person?” rather than trying to describe them.

Now back in episode 9, I recommended that people scan their critical documents - drivers’ licenses, passports, vaccination records, etc - and keep them in a thumb drive. This is still a good idea! In fact, you should have other family member’s information on this drive as well, because if you can make it a FEMA shelter, the government or the Red Cross might be able to help you find out where your family is, and having copies of their documents can’t hurt in trying to locate them.

Of course, you don’t want all that personal information hanging loose on a thumb drive, so I suggest encrypting it. I’m sure Barron will jump in next week if I get it wrong, but I’ve found that a great tool is an on-the-fly encryption tool like VeraCrypt which creates a virtual encrypted disk on your thumb drive. So long as you remember the password, you can open the encrypted files easily, but it will take others a long time to break through it!

ProTip: since you need to actually run the program to decrypt your data, install a copy of it on your thumb drive as well.

Finally, the best way to find your family members in an emergency is simply not to lose them in the first place. Pre-plan rendezvous spots if you ever get separated in an emergency. For example, my family uses the acronym ACE: if we get separated, or we cannot reach our house due to a disaster like a fire, our rendezvous spots are, in order: the Airport, our Church, and the local Epic Theater.

If you have to evacuate in multiple vehicles, make sure that every single one of them has a detailed atlas for every state you may have to travel through, and designate meet-up spots in case you get separated. This may be as simple as "the first rest stop across the state line" or as complex as a street address. Write these locations inside the cover of the atlas so they won't get lost.

And yes, I said locations, plural -- on a long journey you need more than one. General rule of thumb for military convoys is a rally point every 20 miles or so, but you don't need to go that route; something simple like "every Chevron station at an interstate exit" or "every highway exit that ends in 5" will suffice for most purposes.

So there you go, Sarah; I hope you found this helpful. And if you or any of our other listeners think of something I missed, go to, click on the Contact Us tab, scroll down to Erin, and leave me your idea in the comment box. Don’t forget to click on “More ponies” before you hit submit!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #139 - Beth, What Is Best In Life?

By Crom, what a podcast!
  • The USCCA Concealed Carry Expo is worth several shows. This week, Beth tells us what some of the women in the firearms industry have to say.
  • It's a complicated storyline in this week's Felons Behaving Badly, but the characters are much the same as they always are. Sean gives you their backstories.
  • Barron is on assignment this week.
  • Are you a snob? Miguel has a few words for you.
  • In the Main Topic, Sean and Erin explore why no one is talking about that school shooting in San Bernardino last week.
  • Are you a parent? Do you have responsibility for others? Tiffany brings us an interview with Melody Lauer who, along with John Johnston, teaches the Contextual Handgun: The Armed Parent course.
  • Erin wants you to bury your stuff. Safely. For reasons.
  • From the "You can't make this stuff up" files, Weer'd brings you an interview with Moxie Cotton, a drag queen who will be helping school kids film a "gun violence documentary. Seriously.
  • And our plug of the week is "Concealed Carry is Herd Immunity Against Crime" shirts by our very own Erin!

Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
Cold, Hard Cache
Last week, I mentioned that best way to safeguard preps that you cannot control is to bury them. This is known as caching supplies, and has been used by militaries around the world for centuries, if not longer. What’s important to note is that the word cache - see ay see aitch ee - is from the French word “cashy” which means “one who hides”. A cache, then, is a hidden supply of something - probably something valuable, since someone has gone to the effort of hiding it. The website How to Bury Your Stuff has a phrase, No one can take what they cannot find, and I recommend that every prepper read it.

Now when it comes to caching supplies, there are three qualities to keep in mind: Accessibility, Portability, and Capacity.
Accessibility. This is the most important consideration, because a buried cache you cannot get to might as well not exist at all for what good it does you. The ideal solution is to cache on land that you own, as this gives you the best amount of control over it, but many preppers have caches concealed along the route to a bug-out location. If you do this, it is critical that you can get to these supplies at all times of the day and night, and in all seasons.

Access doesn’t always mean “can I reach the place where I buried my cache”, either; it can also mean how difficult it is to unearth it. If the ground freezes where you live, then you need to have a way to break through frozen ground in order to reach your supplies. Will there be flooding? A foot of standing water can make it nearly impossible to get to your cache. And if the land is public, there’s always the chance that the earth could be disturbed for a variety of reasons - erosion, development, animal activity - and reveal your cache to other people.

Portability. Once you reach your cache, do you need to take everything, including the case, with you? Or can you just open it, take what you need, and close it back up?

A completely portable cache needs to be small. Not only will a larger container be heavier, but it will also take more time and effort to dig up than if you only need to remove the lid. However, if you are in a hurry you may not have time to properly re-bury or otherwise conceal a non-portable cache, meaning that anything you cannot take will be lost, whereas with a portable container you can just leave behind an empty hole.

Capacity. There are differing schools of thought on this subject. On the one hand, it’s a lot of work to dig a hole, fill a container with supplies, seal it up, bury it, and conceal the evidence of the burial, so there’s a lot to be said for doing the “one and done” approach, especially on land that you own.

On the other hand, “one and done” means that if your cache is compromised, you have lost ALL of those preps. However, if you spend the time and effort to hide multiple caches, you stand a greater success of not losing all of them.
So with these in mind, I present to you various options for making your cache.

  • A wide-mouth Nalgene bottle is a great way to store a lot of small preps, or to have a portable cache, and they only cost around 10 dollars. If the bottle is opaque, or if you put have a sleeve to put it in, no one will see that it’s full of supplies instead of water, and these days no one looks twice at a water bottle unless they’re thirsty. I specified Nalgene instead of metal because plastic won’t rust the way metal will, and unless you are burying a cache in the desert or other dry climate, you need to worry about groundwater.
  • If you want to store a little more and are willing to pay more, an MTM Survivor Ammo Can costs $20 and holds up to 500 rounds of 5.56 ammunition, or 16 30-round magazines, or anything else that fits into a 7x12 inch space, like a pistol or money or food.
  • For a great combination of capacity and portability, kick it old-school with an Army surplus ammo can, which costs between $25 and $30 depending on if you choose 30 or 50 caliber. While these are made of metal, they are incredibly tough; there’s a picture on How to Bury Your Stuff that shows a can that was buried for 4 years, and the pistol and ammunition stored inside it worked perfectly. The can showed signs of rust and pitting, but could have probably stayed in the ground another 4 years without issue. Giving the bottom of the can extra coats of Rust-Oleum paint and wrapping it in a plastic tarp will also expand its functional lifespan.
  • To get more capacity at the loss of portability, get some food-grade buckets like I mentioned waaaay back in episode 5 and pair them with some gamma-seal lids for $12 each. They provide an airtight seal on the bucket and they’re very easy to open if you have opposable thumbs -- much less so if you’re an animal. We store pet food in ours and leave them on our back porch, and while animals have tried to get inside by gnawing the plastic, not even raccoons have been able to open the lid.
  • Finally, if you want a big container for a “one and done” solution, get a Military Grade 58-Gallon Waterproof Molded Barrel. They’re big - almost 2 feet across and nearly 4 feet high - and they’re heavy, weighing 18 pounds - but boy do they hold a LOT of stuff. I’m not sure how you’d get everything out of if without having to crawl inside, but you can fit anything short of a fully-assembled Mosin-Nagant inside. They’re also quite expensive - around $60 before shipping - but I can’t think of anything larger I’d want to bury.
And remember: If they can’t find it, they can’t take it!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

No One OKCupids Like Gaston

Salem has to take the week off due to increased work, so instead I will post something delightful he did two weeks ago.

I posted this to Facebook with the caption Wow, I have no idea why this person is single....

A friend replied with Not sure what gender this person is, but I want to add the caption: "If Gaston had a Mensa card."

And then Salem, in his guise as MC Sal McG, responded with this delightful filk:
Nooooo oooonnnee's

Smart like Gaston
No one brags like Gaston
No one talks about percentile marks like Gaston

As a specimen yes they're ingratiating
My what a guy, Gaston!

No one jogs like Gaston
Burns off carbs like Gaston
No one hits the ellipticals quite like Gaston

When he was a lad he'd do 5k a day
Every morning while reading textbooks
Now that he's grown he'll do 10k a day
So his brains can impress like his looks!
Would you like to hear Salem sing that? Of course you would.

Traveller Tuesday-Thursday: That Way Madness Lies

I'm not even going to explain this, because it would take too long.

My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
I started working on it.... a while ago... and thought for sure I'd be done on Tuesday. Then Wednesday. Now it's early Thursday and I've already passed through "This won't work the way I want it to", "What a stupid idea," "I've wasted too much time on this already to give up now," and am not camping out at "Screw it, I've done this much , I might as well post it and get partial credit. Maybe someone will have a brilliant idea about how to make it work."

400 quatloos to whomever not only recognizes this chart but also figures out what I'm trying to do with it.

(Hint: it's not complete)

Monday, April 10, 2017

SHTF: Passover Candles for Prepping

No, it's not disrespectful, or poor form, or sacrilegious: I asked about that and was told it wasn't.

Go read more at Blue Collar Prepping.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #138 - Everything Sounds More Profound in Latin

Semper ubi sub ubi.
  • Beth is at the USCCA Concealed Carry Expo, and she takes some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to tell us about it.
  • In one of the worst crimes we have ever talked about on the podcast, Sean looks a little deeper to find out what kind of creature would murder two little girls - one only four days old.
  • Barron is on assignment this week.
  • Politicians frequently mistake themselves as public masters. Miguel tells us his idea for whipping them back into proper public servants.
  • In the Main Topic, Sean and Erin talk about the US Senate going nuclear and imposing the Reid Option on Supreme Court filibusters.
  • Tiffany is on assignment this week.
  • Inter arma enim silent leges: "In times of war, the law falls silent." But what about when your choice is break the law and survive, or keep the law and die? Erin tells us about "The Doctrine of Competing Harms."
  • One of these days the anti-gun leadership will force Loaded Conversations to stop broadcasting their utter hatred of people like us - but today is not that day, for it truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Weer'd focuses on Gays Against Guns leader, and Loaded Conversations co-host, Dr. Dwight Panozzo, PhD.
  • And our plug of the week is the SFD Responder from Safer Faster Defense.
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to Lucky Gunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
Ethical Prepping and the Doctrine of Competing Harms

Over the years, the Blue Collar Prepping blog has talked about some subjects which, while not illegal themselves, could certainly aid in illegal activities. For example, last year Chaplain Tim talked about lock picking, and this past Thursday he talked about how to siphon gasoline from underground storage tanks as a way to fuel your vehicle after a disaster.

Like Tim, I believe there’s no such thing as inherently bad knowledge for the same reason that I believe there’s no such thing as an inherently bad tool; it’s what we do with those tools, or that knowledge, that matters.

There’s also the fact that in a life or death situation, it is permitted to break a the law when following it would cause more human injury than breaking it. This is known as the Doctrine of Competing Harms here in the US, although it is sometimes called the Doctrine of Necessity or the Doctrine of Two Evils.

For example, if you are lost in the woods and you are in danger of dying from exposure or dehydration, it is legally defensible for you to break into an unoccupied cabin in order to save your own life, because a human life is more precious in the eyes of the law than personal property. You can get in out of the cold, you can build a fire, you can even drink water and eat food, because this trespassing and burglary is being done to save a life.

However, it is not legally defensible for you to then ransack that cabin or take items from it. Once you are out of danger, anything else you do is prosecutable. Now, some of you are likely wondering “This is all very well and good, Erin, but what does this have to do with prepping?” And the answer to that is ethics.

Here’s an example of ethical lock picking: You come across that same unoccupied cabin in the woods and you’re going to die of exposure if you don’t get shelter and warmth. You could just break the lock or smash a window to get inside, but it’s more ethical to pick the lock, because it doesn’t destroy the cabin owner’s property. It’s also ethical to leave a note with your name and contact information, explaining what you did, and why, and what you used, and offering to compensate the owner for loss and damages. Not only is this the decent thing to do, but it also gives you affirmative defense against charges of trespassing, burglary and theft.

Similarly, if you are a prepper who owns such a cabin, it is ethical to keep it unlocked and stocked with food, water and firewood in case someone is stranded and needs shelter. That’s a common practice in Alaska and many parts of Canada, and I’ve heard it done as far south as upstate New York. Remember, the entire point of prepping is to prevent suffering and death. Clearly, your own well-being comes before that of others, but if your life isn’t on the line -- for example, you aren’t currently living in that cabin -- then your concern should be for other innocent people.

I will admit that things become a bit fuzzy if that cabin is your bug-out location and is filled with your preps, because in that case anything which is taken by a stranger in need is conceivably being taken from you when you might need them in the future. This is made even fuzzier if you keep firearms among your preps. In a situation like that, what I recommend is a bit of misdirection. Leave the door unlocked and some back staples like food, water and blankets for such a lost soul, but keep your main preps both hidden and locked.

Good places to hide your preps are:

  • Under the floorboards
  • Buried a few feet underground 
  • Concealed nearby, under a camouflage tarp or otherwise made to look like part of the terrain
Whichever you choose, it’s important to make sure that these preps are sealed tightly. Not only will this prevent damage from moisture, but a tight seal will lock in odors that might attract hungry wildlife.

Next week, I’ll talk about the best containers for such storage. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Bell Has Tolled, and For The Last Time

I don't talk about it much anymore, but when I was younger, I was really into professional wrestling. I was a mark (someone who believed it was real) for a while when I first started watching, but when I became a smark (a fan who knows about the choreography and storytelling) I began to enjoy it even more.

I've drifted away from it as I've grown. I used to be tuned in every Monday night for WWF RAW and WCW Nitro, through the Monday Night Wars and the nWo and all of the drama, but one thing kept me coming back: The Undertaker.

I wasn't there for the debut of The Undertaker, but I clearly remember through the haze of the years seeing on a friend's television a re-run of the Summerslam event where The Undertaker fought a fake Undertaker. I was mesmerized. Being a weird kid from a young age, seeing something so bizarre and otherworldly was inspiring and exciting, and growing from weird kid into goth kid in high school kept me connected to the 'Taker and his storylines.

The other day, after seeing Logan, I jokingly told a friend that I couldn't take Wolverine and The Undertaker retiring within a month of each other. There's some truth to that; The Undertaker retiring has hit me harder than any of the celebrity deaths that were all the rage in the last year. Even though I wasn't a regular viewer, and watching wrestling had dwindled down to finding streams of his rare matches on the internet some weeks after they took place, I still came back to watch The Undertaker fight.

I get that it's not real. He's not really a cult leader, or an undead cowboy, or an old west zombie mortician. I get that wrestling isn't a real fight... but it's still athleticism. It's still people putting their bodies at risk for entertainment, and it's still about putting on a god damn good show, and no one did that better than Mark Calaway.
Even at age 50, the man can still do a 40 inch vertical leap.
Even at a billed height of 6 foot 10, inches he's climbing the top rope and diving over it like a man a full foot shorter would do.
He's throwing punches that makes you cringe when they (at least appear to) connect.
And that's just the physicality! The theatrics are on another level entirely. They've changed over the years, keeping the gimmick of "The Undertaker" fresh, and I haven't always liked them (Big Evil and American Badass I can choose to overlook), but that coat and hat will always be remembered.

This last weekend was his final appearance. I haven't seen the whole match, but I saw the important part: I saw what happened after the match. They played his music, and the lights dimmed. He put his hat and coat back on, faced the crowds cheering him on like a victorious Roman gladiator, and then...

Then he took his coat and hat off. Folded his coat and laid it in the ring. Took his hat off and laid it on his coat. The Undertaker retired.

It was time, too. I'm glad he's walking away at this point. Tall guys like him are prone to injury, and given how hard he's worked, and how much he's put that body through, he's probably falling apart by now.

He's left a huge legacy behind, both in the ring and out, as I've heard stories about how he's helped out people and has been extremely supportive to the people he's worked with, and I'll always be a fan.

Good night, Dead Man. You'll always be remembered.
I've certainly paid my Ministry of Darkness Dues

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The McThag Legal Defense Fund

For those who may not have heard, gunblogger McThag was embroiled in a bit of legal drama this past month. The good news is that everything worked out all right in the end; the bad news is that he had to hire a lawyer and the various legal fees became pretty hefty. 

He's managed to pay a lot of it back, but he's still about $800 in the hole. Go read his story, and if you feel sufficiently moved, click on the "Donate" button in the upper right. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Traveller Tuesday: Legally Dead in Low Passage, Part 2

Last month I wrote an article about how the Imperium considered someone legally dead while in cold sleep, which caused a bit of a stir. One person on a Facebook group asked me, "How does this affect marriage?" and I had to admit I hadn't considered that. It also got me thinking about legal contracts (which is what a marriage is) and if someone could break a contract just by going into stasis long enough to be considered dead.

I have now given it due consideration, and this is my answer.
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.

Marriage and Other Contracts
Even though marriage vows specifically state " 'Til death do us part", cold sleep is still seen as temporary death pending revival, and therefore not a nullification of a contract. If legal death nullified contracts, then someone whose heart stopped for several seconds on the operating table could say "I died, and so all my contractual obligations died with me." Since that doesn't happen (and would make poor business sense), it's clear that contracts end only after permanent death.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you're suddenly back on the hook for bills plus compounded interest if your emergency low berth is recovered after 20 years. If you are reported lost in a starship accident and rescue efforts cannot recover you (or your body), you are declared legally permanently dead and a Death Certificate is issued. On the other hand, if you just disappear for years in order to escape a contract or debts (see below), that's considered fraud.

But in order to get around that specific "until death" clause, a special exception has been written into Imperial Law which states the following:
  1. A marriage is not dissolved during cold sleep without either a death certificate or one party filing for divorce. 
  2. Marriages are specifically exempt from dissolution if both parties are in cold sleep. (This is specifically to prevent abuses such as next of kin dissolving the marriage while having power of attorney, or a lawyer serving divorce proceedings while both are in stasis.)
Savvy readers will no doubt notice that there is still an opportunity for legal shenanigans though clever use of timing. Don't think of this as a loophole; think of it as a plot hook instead. 

Debts are slightly different than other contracts, because most contracts are a case of "I get something from you and you get something from me" whereas debts are "I already gave you this thing, so now you owe me." It's all very well and good to say that someone's debts don't disappear in cold sleep unless there is a death certificate, but what about the companies that are out very real amounts of money if the aforementioned person lost for 20 years comes back?

The answer is "Imperial Relief Provision." In short, it states that if someone in low passage is certified dead (death certificate issued) as a result of accident or misadventure while in transit, the Imperium will buy that debt from the creditor. This also means that if you fake your death to get out of debt, that debt will be owned by the Imperium -- and if they investigate and discover you defrauded them, they will come after you for redress.

Relief Provision, either Imperial or local, is also a handy way to encourage colonization. People swimming in debt with no way to pay can become colonists, with the government buying their debt and allowing them to work it off at a generous rate (10 cents on the credit and with no interest, for example), or with all debt being forgiven after a set period of years (usually in multiples of 5, depending on the amount involved.)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Product Review: the Glock “Gadget”
The Tau Development Group’s Striker Control Device, also known as the “Glock Gadget”, is a device that can be added to any double-stack Glock pistol to prevent an accidental discharge while holstering.

The Gadget is a metal two-piece hinged design that replaces the plastic slide cover plate. The moving portion has a protrusion that rests against the striker.; when you pull the trigger, the striker moves backwards, which causes the hinged back plate to move. By applying pressure with your thumb to the striker control device, you can prevent an accidental discharge, such as when you are holstering your pistol and something gets caught inside the trigger guard.

By keeping your thumb on the Gadget while you holster your Glock, you will feel pressure against your thumb as it resists the striker going backward. This not only alerts you to the problem of something within your holster depressing the trigger, but it also prevents an accidental discharge (and therefore a potentially serious injury) by slowing or halting the backward motion of the striker.

Despite adding more moving parts to your gun, the SCD doesn't introduce an opportunity for extra malfunctions. It is designed to "fail unsafe", meaning that if it breaks it does not interfere with the ability of the pistol to fire.

It's very simple to install the Gadget: just (carefully!) remove the stock slide cover plate from your Glock and replace it with the SCD. It took me longer to research how to safely remove my back plate than it took to actually swap them out.

It is noteworthy that, once installed, the SCD has a tendency to flop about and make noise when tension is not being put on the trigger bar. This is not a problem for me, but it might be for you.

I bought mine several years ago via the Indigogo crowdfund campaign for it, and I received it in time to use it at MAG40. I’m pleased to announce that not only did the Gadget function flawlessly that weekend, with over 500 rounds of ammunition fired, but it also integrated perfectly with how the instructors taught us to holster our pistols. Those with hammer-fired pistols were told to keep their thumbs on the hammer while holstering in order to prevent accidental discharges, and this is precisely how the Striker Control Device is meant to be used.

In fact, during the class one of the Range Safety Officers came up to me and said “Hey, Erin, the back plate on your Glock looks broken.” I just grinned and said “No, that’s a safety modification! Let me show you how it works when the range goes cold.” I demonstrated it for him, and he seemed impressed with it.

At $79 (plus $5 shipping), it isn't what I would consider cheap. However, it's far less expensive than an AD that shoots a hole in my leg.

My Rating: A+
I heartily endorse the Striker Control Device and I recommend it to anyone who carries a Glock daily. It’s easy to install, easy to use, and it survived a MAG40 course with no problems at all.

Dear FTC: I bought this with my own money, so bugger off. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #137 - You Keep Using That Word

The media being inaccurate? Or having an agenda? Inconceivable!
  • You think shooting a gun is a hair-raising experience? Beth suggests you try trimming a baby's nails. If you can do that, maybe shooting isn't so scary after all!
  • What kind of person shoots his girlfriend to death outside of her home? Sean takes a closer look.
  • Barron is on assignment this week, but in his place we welcome back Miguel in the inaugural episode of his new segment The Flea Market of Ideas. Miguel talks about less-lethal options for dealing with Antifa mobs.
  • In the Main Topic, Sean and Erin commiserate about the total misuse of the phrase "Stand Your Ground" in the media.
  • As promised last week, Tiffany tells us all about her trip to Germany to speak before the World Forum on Shooting Activities.
  • Last week Erin told you what emergency trauma equipment you'd need to keep people alive until the professional rescuers got there. Well what are you going to do if rescue isn't coming? Listen and find out.
  • We give them our tax dollars, but what does NPR do with them? Weer'd shows us that they don't try really hard to be objective.
  • And our plug of the week is Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, the books that inspired the Russell Crowe movie, "Master and Commander: Far Side of the World."
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
Medical Reference Books
With this weekend being April Fools’ Day, I was going to do a segment on how a folded and strategically placed piece of toilet paper can be a critically important prep when meeting people -- such as for a job interview or on a first date -- but I couldn’t find a way to address the subject in the classy manner you’ve come to expect from GunBlog VarietyCast segments. But if there’s enough interest, I could be persuaded to write it up for my blog. It really IS a very useful prep, despite the questionable taste of the subject matter.

Anyhoo, moving on…

Last week, I talked about what you should have at home to treat a traumatic injury while waiting for the ambulance to show up. But what about if you’re in a disaster situation and emergency services can’t show up? That’s an entirely different set of preps. 

Now a lot of people are probably thinking that I’m going to recommend scalpels and suturing kits and skin staplers and those surplus “military” 20-piece surgical kits you find for suspiciously low prices in places like the Bud K catalog. 

Yeah…. No. The reason those kits are so cheap is because they’re made with non-surgical steel. This is a bad, BAD thing, because this kind of cheap stainless steel has tiny grooves and trenches in that can trap traces of tissues or fluid, leading to infection if you use them on another patient. They’ve also been known to cause microscopic holes in surgical gloves, leading to infection of the person using them. 

So these are bad, bad, bad, things. Do not use them, do not get them, use ONLY surgical grade steel that you KNOW is surgical grade. 

As for the other things I mentioned -- they’re great, IF you know how to use them. I’m not going to make product recommendations on that subject because I  don’t know how to properly use them, so I don’t know what’s good and what isn’t. I’ll see if I can get an EMT to write a blog article about it. 
But here’s what I can recommend: BOOKS. Lots and lots of books, filled with knowledge on what to look for and what to do. 

The first book every prepper needs is the Merck Manual of Medical Information. It comes in two versions, the Home Edition - which uses everyday language non-doctors can understand - and the professional version, which is more up to date but has lots of dense medical terms. The professional version is also much more expensive. 

This manual is very useful for diagnosing what is wrong with someone based on their symptoms. And it tells you what causes the ailment and how to treat it. Its main drawback is that the treatment advice assumes you have access to modern medicine and equipment, and in a long-term disaster you won’t have access to those. 

For that reason, I recommend the “Where There Is No Doctor” series of books. These explain how to treat common maladies and injuries using plain language, lots of illustrations, and the assumption that you don’t have access to first-world medical care but instead must make do with first aid supplies and home remedies. In addition to the first book, subtitled “A Village Health Care Handbook”, there are others that deal with different topics, such “Where there is no dentist” for dental problems; “When There Is No Doctor: Preventive and Emergency Healthcare” for preventive medicine, and “Where Women Have No Doctor” an entire book on healthcare for women’s reproductive health. 

Many of these “Where there is no fill in the blank” books are also available in Kindle edition, making them incredibly portable. Buy them, download them to your smart phone or Kindle -- remember, I talked about making a survival e-reader part of your bug-out gear - and keep them handy when you need them. 

Gear can be improvised, but knowledge is priceless, so carry as much of it as you can!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Batgirl and the DCEU

You may or may not be aware that I'm a fan of DC's Batgirl.

I'm not sure if I've made that clear or not.

If I haven't, I apologize.


I must not have made it clear up until now. At any rate, to retread that ground, Barbara Gordon is a character that I very dearly admire. In almost every iteration, her origin comes about in that she sees someone doing something about the crime and corruption that plagues her city and makes her father's life that much harder, and takes it upon herself to do something as well. And when that something brings about a tragic situation, she doesn't allow herself to be victim; she takes what she has left and makes something even more powerful out of it. In my opinion, Batgirl/Oracle/Barbara Gordon is one of the most powerfully conceived and written characters in the superhero genre, and I personally have a Batgirl in some form or another nearby to keep me going when times get rough.

News has broken today that DC is looking to expand their universe a little more, and as such is negotiating a deal with Joss Whedon to write and direct a Batgirl movie.

I'm very worried. I'm very worried and I don't want this to happen. As much as I'd love a live-action realization of Batgirl, especially one tied into Ben Affleck's Batman, I categorically do not want Joss Whedon within a country mile of this project.

Don't get me wrong; Joss has contributed a great deal of good to entertainment. Back in the day, when he did Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse he was on fire. He had a real talent for making believable and respectable heroes and villains out of both male and female characters, something that hasn't always been handled well. But lately... look, I like the Avengers movies, but that tone only works with Whedon's snappy, irreverent dialogue. Batgirl has bits of light-heartedness, but she faces very serious and very dark threats, and survives and thrives against terrible odds. Batgirl does not live in the Avengers' world.

I worry that Joss is going to adapt the Burnside Batgirl -- the one with the leather jacket and yoga pants and social media fixation, who fights cross-dressing gold lamé-suited villains -- and not the one who's been hardened by the world, who wears the composite armour and fights Dollmaker and Joker, the Barbara Gordon who once faced down DC villain Prometheus from her wheelchair with nothing but her escrima sticks and her wits.

I have no confidence in this project, unless I get verification that it's not Burnside and that Gail Simone is being brought in to consult on it. As much as I may disagree ideologically with Simone, she's contributed the most to the character, and has the most respect for who Batgirl intrinsically is, and I don't feel like Whedon will be able to faithfully recreate the character onscreen with it. Without Simone, Barbara's just going to end up being a 4-foot-11 kung fu waif. And that's not Barbara Gordon; that's Cassandra Cain.

Basically, Joss:
Not This
Do This

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Traveller Tuesday: Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System

Short version: If you play Mongoose Traveller, get this book.
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Longer version: Mongoose cannot make a good vehicle book to save its life. The first version of the 1e Vehicle Books (split into Civilian and Military volumes) was a complicated mess involving cubic meters, mass per cubic meter, mass multipliers, and percentage of base volume. It was in fact so bad that the publisher had to re-work the design mechanics and issue it as a new version.

This combined version was all right in that it was merely an awkward if workable kludge instead of a tedious exercise in mathematics, using conceptual "spaces" -- the vehicular equivalent of using dtonnage to design a spacecraft -- instead of absolute volume. While a good idea in theory, the execution was terrible because each vehicle had a fixed number of spaces based on chassis type. For example, a light grav vehicle (like an air/raft) could have no more than 10 spaces; any more than that and it was forced into the heavy grav category, which increased its cost and decreased its performance. What's more, those spaces added up very quickly. I could never make the kind of vehicle I actually wanted; I just had to find a design I could accept.

I never tried the Mongoose 2e Vehicle Book, because I refuse to pay $30 for a PDF, and so should you. In fact, all of the 2e PDFs are overpriced.

But then there's the Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System, and it is good. So very, very good.
Why is it so good?
  • It's based on the Open Game License Mongoose 1e game, not the terrible 2e version.
  • It's less stingy with spaces: you get 12 per dton of vehicle. 
  • It doesn't pigeonhole craft into categories. Instead, you just choose how large you want your vehicle to be using a handy chart that says "chassis code [whatever] displaces this many dtons, has this many spaces, and has a base cost of that much."
  • It tries to make vehicle design as close to starship design as possible. For example: performance is based on a familiar matrix of chassis and engine code. 
  • It's only five dollars. Actually, that's not quite true; it's "pay what you want", but the average price was $4.61 last I checked, so I rounded it up to $5, which is essentially my threshold for an impulse buy. Based on what I see here, I got my money's worth and then some; in fact, I was so happy I went and bought the Cepheus Engine core rules as well. 
This isn't to say it's perfect. The layout isn't what I'd call optimal, as charts aren't ordered in an intuitive way and the order in which material appears doesn't match the sample checklist at the beginning. But it's five dollars, and more than that, the vehicles you can design with it are better than the ones from the 1e book. 

As an example, here is a grav speeder done using the 1e Vehicle Handbook, and here is the same speeder using Cepheus Engine. Performance is nearly identical (the Cepheus version is actually slightly better), it only cost half as much, and -- this part is the critical bit -- I was able to design a craft I liked without tearing my hair out. 
Buy good games and good rules, not overpriced crap. The Cepheus Engine isn't crap. Buy it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Erin's Perfect Prepper Vehicle

Blue Collar Prepping has a theme week going on: "What one vehicle would you choose if price were no object?"  And in proper Erin Palette style, I pick a car that identifies as... something else.

Go take a look!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #136 - Vault 7 Sorcery, REEEEing Ted Cruz, and Perfidious Senators

"To Wikileak" is apparently a verb now.
  • How can you run afoul of the TSA? Beth counts the ways.
  • Who is so bad that even his Mom turns on him? Sean looks at the crime, and the criminal, to find the answer.
  • Barron is back, and he brought a Sorcerer to talk about the Wikileaked Vault 7.
  • In the Main Topic, Sean and Erin remind people that they don't own the culture. Ted Cruz is allowed to be a geek too.
  • Tiffany screamed herself almost hoarse at the 19th annual Tactical Conference, and she's back to tell us about it.
  • Sure, you have a blowout kit on your belt, but what about for traumatic injury at home? Erin tells you what to put inside your at-home kit.
  • You've heard of the NRA A-rated politician from Florida who turned her back on gun owners? Weer'd puts her interview through a Patented Weer'd Audio Fisk™.
  • And our plug of the week is Mike Leon's book Rated R (The Postmodern Adventures of Kill Team One Book 1)
Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Google Play Music!
Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.
Thanks to LuckyGunner and Remington for their sponsorship, and a special thanks to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

Blue Collar Prepping Transcript:
The At-Home Trauma Kit
Last week, Sean talked about the SFD Responder, an ankle holster for carrying a tourniquet, bandage and similar traumatic injury gear... and that’s great as far as a portable solution goes, but if you’re a prepper then you also need to be prepared for traumatic injury at home as well, such as a burn or knife wound from cooking meals, or an injury from power tools or yardwork, or even an animal bite if you have pets. 

Now the good thing about having a prep like this at home is that you have the advantage of being at home. This means you don’t have to worry about portability, because you aren’t carrying it with you; all you need to do is be able to grab your gear from wherever you have it. 

For most people, this will be near the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, next to where they keep their band-aids and pain medication. I call this my booboo kit, and I did a segment on it way back in episode 38. However, the bathroom may not be the best place to keep such things; if you have a large family, there’s a good chance that someone will be in the bathroom when you need to get to the trauma supplies, and the heat and humidity from baths and showers can reduce the life of medicines and supplies. 

Wherever you choose to put it, make sure it’s in an easily-accessed central location and that everyone knows where it is, what’s in it, and how to use it. What’s NOT in it is also important; since this is something I’m going to grab in a life or death emergency, I’m not going to stuff it with bandaids for booboos. If I need one of those, I can get them from the bathroom or first aid kit; this is for serious injuries. 

The three most important things I have in my kit are a tourniquet, and Israeli bandage, and a Trauma Pak from Adventure Medical. I love this pak, as it’s small enough to fit into a cargo pocket but is filled with good things like Quick Clot, nitrile gloves, duct tape, a triangular bandage and a LOT of gauze. With all that, I can handle most any injury. 

Also nearby is something called the iSHWASH Personal Eyewash System, which is an eye rinse unit that can be attached to a bottle of water and then squeezed to produce a shower effect. This is great for preventing blinding in case a harsh chemical gets in someone’s eyes, but also works as a way to wash out painful particles like dust, ash, pollen, etc that may be causing irritation. To make mine more useful, I actually bundled the iSWASH with an unopened bottle of water inside a large ziploc bag for fast access; see the picture in the show notes. 

Other things that would be useful to have in an emergency are bandage shears, in case you need to cut clothing off someone to reach a wound; a pen light with a pupil gauge to check someone’s responsiveness; and a head lamp in case you have to use this when the power’s out and you need both hands to help the injured party

Now I keep all of my stuff inside an airtight, waterproof box with a carry handle. Not only does this protect my supplies from water, pests, dust and the like, but because it has a carry handle I can grab it easily and take it wherever I need it, including out of the house if necessary.  

Now these suggestions are just for making do until the ambulance shows up; in a later episode I’ll talk about what long-term supplies you will need - mainly books - in case paramedics no longer arrive or hospitals no longer exist. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Operation Blazing Sword Storefront

For everyone who said that they wanted Blazing Sword t-shirts, I am pleased to announce that we have an online print-on-demand storefront up and running.

And it's not just t-shirts! We have lots of other formats as well.

There's also a horizontal banner that you can download from our Google Docs folder. The PNG is scaleable up to 10 feet in width, so anyone who wants to have one for promotional purposes -- such as a table covering at events like gun shows, conventions, shooting ranges, and the like -- can take the file to a professional printer, specify what size they want, and the printer can size it accordingly. If folks need something larger, the .AI file will go as large as you need, even up to billboard width or height.
Legal Disclaimer: You are free to use the Operation Blazing Sword logo so long as you do not profit from doing so. All funds that exceed expenses must be donated to Operation Blazing Sword. 
Buy yours today! From now until September, all proceeds from sales of branded apparel and accessories will be used in our $10K for 2A drive. So buy some stuff, support pro-Second Amendment nonprofits, and help embarrass Sean Sorrentino at Gun Rights Policy Conference 2017!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda - Thoughts and Impressions

How do I start this without feeling guilty?

I've previously spoken at length about my relationship with Bioware, specifically the Mass Effect series. I'd sworn off them after Mass Effect 3, being dissatisfied with the ending, monetization, and other aspects of the way the story and game were handled. I then made an off-hand comment about a drunken tryst with Mass Effect 4 when it hit $5.

Well, technically speaking, it did. Or, rather, with the EA Access program, I forked out the $5 necessary to start the program and get the 10 hour trial of Mass Effect: Andromeda. There's been a lot of controversy surrounding this game so far, as the preview build and promotional gameplay has been met with a less than stellar reception. There's been a drastic shift in gameplay, which is good, but there's also been an alarming drop in quality when it comes to the character models and facial animations, which is not good.

The game, if you'll allow me to get technical for a moment, is built on the Frostbite engine, which powers many of EA's current games from Dead Space 3 to Star Wars Battlefront to Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. For all I may complain about EA, the Frostbite engine is a work of art, and renders some amazingly good-looking games... but Mass Effect: Andromeda, from what I've seen so far, is not one of them.

One of the things Frostbite does best is lighting, and Andromeda falls flat in that area. Literally -- the lighting is extremely flat, as if you compared a low-budget television soap opera to a JJ Abrams film. Andromeda looks like the former when you compare it to the excellent lighting and shadows in something like Dead Space 3. The facial models on the default character are cartoonishly exaggerated, and the NPCs are largely bland and generic looking. Characters will tell you grave situations and tragic tales without even a twitch in their facial expressions, and moments later your character will have the most bizarre expressions on their face. Considering the 4-5 years of development, it's like the series is moving backwards instead of improving in these areas.

Gameplay suffers from some pretty terrible bugs as well. In the limited time I had in the campaign (the 10 hour trial cuts you short and returns you to the main menu partway through a story mission on the first planet you land on with a prompt to purchase the game),
  • I got stuck in the terrain 4 times;
  • I experienced pop-in (which is when an NPC spawns in the area you're standing) in a very jarring manner, with NPCs hitting a t-pose before dropping into their programmed space; and
  • I experienced lots of clipping issues (where a character model will phase through a solid object). 
As for the style, it plays very much like Dragon Age Inquisition, which did not have these issues to any noticeable degree, nor did it have such problems with bland and poorly-animated faces.

There are some positives. The game has an interesting premise: a group aware of the Reaper threat in the original series constructed ark ships carrying tens of thousands of varying species of Milky Way residents to the Andromeda galaxy with plans of colonization. Something goes wrong, and only the human Ark makes it, linking up with the Nexus station that was sent ahead to coordinate immigration, and the "golden worlds" turn out to be not quite so golden. Your character, either Scott or Sarah Ryder (name changeable in character customization) is thrust into a position of authority they aren't necessarily ready for, and it's your job to scout for new worlds and ready them for colonization.

When it's not bugging out, the traversal and combat mechanics are quite good. You're far more agile and quick then previous games, and combat no longer has you hugging walls as often as the cover system has been modified and jump/boost jets have been added. Some of the characters are quite likeable so far... and some aren't. Cora, your second in command (the internet is furious that she isn't gay because of her haircut) has excellent voice acting and dialogue, and Vestra, the Turian who joins your squad on the first planetary expedition, is a charming rogue (against stereotype for the Turian race, but she's still no Garrus). The character creator is decent, and allows for a lot of variation in your version of Ryder (mine pictured below).
Justine Ryder, totally out of her depth
A tip from me: if you want to cut down on the goofy facial animations, make your character's lower facial features at least 50% smaller than the default Ryder's.

I will whole-heartedly endorse the multiplayer. Much like Mass Effect 3, it's a horde-mode layout, where you fight off waves of enemies interspersed with simple objectives, and you can play any one of a number of classes of characters from Engineers to Space Wizards (biotics). It's been trimmed from 10 waves + extraction to 7 waves including extraction which quickens the pace; this along with the improved movement and agility of your characters makes for a much more fast-paced and frenetic experience. I played the last game's multiplayer for an obscene number of hours, and can easily see myself playing this one's multiplayer as much, especially since it's also been incorporated into the story campaign as Strike Teams that you can access from the Nexus station. I had plenty of time to experience it, what with the campaign ending prematurely and I still had over half of the time left in my 10 hour trial.  If I'm completely honest, the multiplayer alone has probably raised my asking price of this game from $20 to $30.

All in all, what I'm seeing so far is a technically embarrassing game with an ambitious premise and a really solid multiplayer. It's basically an incompetently-coded Dragon Age Inquisition wrapped in a sci-fi skin, and I know why: the studio that actually developed this game is Bioware Montreal, which didn't exist until 2009, and only had previous experience assisting in the development of Mass Effect 3. It was Biowares Edmonton and Austin that did the heavy lifting on all of Bioware's previous (and good) games.

This is one of EA's flagship franchises, and it was handed to an untested, inexperienced studio that took a fantastic game engine and made a complete shambles of it. It's also receiving backlash on all sides, ranging from Cora's haircut-based sexuality to a trans character dead-naming themselves in their first conversation with you to their lead facial animator allegedly being a cosplayer with no prior experience, Andromeda's losing the PR campaign harder than someone trying to speed-run Mass Effect 2 (sorry, let me explain - if you don't take your time and prepare properly by doing loyalty missions, you lose crew members and could possibly die yourself during the final mission).

Should you buy this? No, not at this time. If the multiplayer has the legs that the previous game had, a year from now a ton of people will still be playing it, and it's absolutely not worth the $60 price tag they're asking now. Wait for a) a major patch and b) a sale. In the meantime, enjoy the plethora of comedy that's been spawned by it.


Edit: Bioware has announced a patch, but sounds very unsure about how to approach the much-derided facial animations.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Traveller Tuesday: Legally Dead in Low Passage

In my Traveller game, anyone who is cryogenically frozen is considered legally dead under Imperial law for the duration of their freeze. There are several good reasons for this, mainly to to preserve financial institutions and help enforce criminal law.
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Let us assume that you are a member of the Imperial Navy or Scouts, and your ship is critcally damaged. You send out a distress signal, set the power plant to run as long as possible while using as little fuel as possible, and crawl into a low berth to await rescue. Unfortunately, due to the vastness of the Imperium and the speed of light, you aren't rescued for a century. When you are rescued, you petition for 100 years of back pay, along with everyone else on your ship who survives. After all, you were in the service when you went into cryostasis, and you're still in the service when you wake up. It wasn't your fault that your century of service was spent in suspended animation, but the fact remains that you've lost time that could have been spent with family and friends, so you're due compensation. And with a century of back pay, you can retire from the service and never have to work again. Or perhaps you'll go into politics, funded by this handy war chest.

Well, no. The Imperium is a conservative society, and the entrenched nobility really doesn't like the idea of ships full of fresh, eager bodies becoming instantly rich through an accident. They also don't like the idea of someone with just enough income to rent a cold berth for a few decades to make some investments and then go to sleep, hopefully waking up with millions in stock options. (This would be akin to buying stock in Apple, Microsoft and Nike in the 1980s and then waking up today.)

No, when you are in cryostasis you are effectively dead, and so all forms of income revert to your next of kin and/or stop paying out (in the case of salaries and pensions). There is a bit of legal "wiggle room" built into the concept of low passage, in that such passage usually only takes between a week and a month, and the amount of paperwork to declare a passenger dead, only to then declare them alive again after they've arrived, is considerable and annoying. Therefore, most corporations have a 30 day "grace period" before they begin the paperwork. This can lead to inventive investors doing things like entering cold sleep for 3 weeks before being thawed out for one week in an attempt to extend their lives cheaply. However, this is known as financial fraud and is frowned upon by the authorities.
Sidebar: Financial Trusts
Someone will inevitably ask "Why don't people just create a trust to receive the finances, with the person in coldsleep being the beneficiary of the trust? This is a good question, and while there are probably loopholes to be exploited here due to my ignorance regarding finance law, there are two broad provisions which make this a less than ideal solution for the miserly

First, if it's a familial trust, then other people will have access to those funds while you are asleep. How much do you trust your kin? Because this is a great way to wake up suddenly poor.

Second, if it's just you in the trust, then someone needs to be managing it while you're legally dead. Someone like a financial adviser. Someone who knows how your money works, and for how long you're going to be asleep, and how to embezzle and hide funds.. or, alternately, someone who controls the payment to the people who are keeping you in cold sleep.

Remember, if you're obsessed with money, you're obsessed with keeping it and you're obsessed with making sure people don't take it away from you, so distrust (if not outright paranoia) is part of the package.
Criminal Law
When crimes are too severe for a fine, but not so severe that the demand death, the traditional punishment is either imprisonment or involuntary servitude. In effect, these sentences are saying "We are taking years away from you as punishment for what you took away from others." Invariably, some felons with rich friends or political connections would seek to do their time in cold sleep, thereby evading the actual physical punishment of the sentence. However, you cannot make a corpse do time, so under this rule the timer on the prison sentence is put on pause until such time as the prisoner comes out of stasis.

Interestingly enough, though. time spent in cold sleep does count towards the statute of limitations on crimes. This is because the statute of limitation applies to the crime, not to the person, and it's generally believed that if you were willing to lose that portion of the lives of your loved ones to avoid doing time, you've already paid your sentence. It's also worth pointing out that the most heinous crimes (rape, murder, slavery, genocide, treason, etc) have no statute of limitations to them.

Passage Between Star Systems
This is where the law sees the most use, and the reasoning for that is fairly straightforward.

Revivification Liability: If you're legally dead in low passage, then the ship's doctor who fails to revive you is not legally liable for any medical negligence. In fact, part of the act of purchasing a low passage ticket is signing a waiver saying "I acknowledge that I will be dead for the duration of my low passage."

Effectively Cargo: There are specific laws against treating sapient beings like cargo, most of which are anti-slavery in nature. If low passengers are dead, then they are legally cargo, and as such can be (and often are) stacked like cordwood, don't require as many crew to look after them, etc.

Abandoning Ship: There are also Imperial regulations for live passengers in the event of an emergency, such as "There must be enough escape pods or rescue balls for all of them" and "All passengers must be taken off the ship before the crew can abandon it." It would be ridiculous to demand escape pods for people already frozen, and lethal to everyone if they had to be defrosted before abandoning ship. Since they are considered cargo, they may be abandoned with impunity.

This is not quite as monstrous as it sounds, however; remember that emergency low berths exist as a method for crew members to await rescue. This means that a low passage berth is, effectively, its own non-mobile escape pod and requires only a trickle of power. Therefore, unless the ship was catastrophically lost (exploded, crashed, fell into a gas giant, etc), both the Imperium and any corporate entity under which the ship the flying will make good-faith efforts to locate and revive passengers and crew in cold sleep.

But what about the Frozen Watch?
Good question. I have three possible solutions:
  1. The Frozen Watch is a form of non-judicial punishment that is assigned to crewmembers. This is especially useful if the ship doesn't have room for a brig. Loss of pay is also a time-honored form of NJP which dovetails nicely with not drawing a salary while being legally dead.
  2. Crewmembers can also volunteer for the Frozen Watch, usually as a means of earning extra points towards promotion, or as a way of being RIFed out, or to avoid a worse assignment while waiting for a vacancy in a school or aboard a desired ship. In this case, the volunteer is presented with what is essentially a "signing bonus" that is equal or greater than the pay he'd miss. Given that most volunteers for the Watch are either junior officers or non-senior NCOs, the long-term effects of being declared legally dead for up to a year are minimal. 
  3. In the absence of personnel from 1 and 2, time in the watch can be considered just part of regular service. It's a crap assignment that no one wants (and again, no one with seniority has to spend time in "the cold barrel"), but everyone has to perform  as part of paying their dues. In this case, time in the watch is probably around a week, and the Navy just never files the legally dead paperwork because of the aforementioned administrative hassle -- essentially, "What happens aboard ship, stays aboard ship."

The Fine Print

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