Monday, November 30, 2015

In Which I Have Strong Feelings About the MLP Season Ender

Earlier this year, Salem took a page from my playbook and talked about the Season 5 opener of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This two-part episode was a remarkable thing, as it effectively took social justice warriors seeking enforced equality of outcome and cast them into a talking cartoon pony version of the East German Stasi.

I mean, just watch this video and shudder at such lyrics as You can't have a nightmare/ If you never dream.

You know... for kids!

As it turns out, the Glorious Leader of Our Town and villain of the episode -- one Starlight Glimmer* -- has been showing up in the backgrounds of various episodes this season, and so it comes as no surprise that she should re-appear as the Big Bad for the season ender as well. So far, all is good.

(I will spare you the synopsis and assume that if you're reading this then you saw the episode. However, if you haven't but want to know what I'm talking about, go here and start reading.)

What was not so good is how the ending just sort of... happened. As The_Jack wrote on my Facebook,
I liked the time travel and how it showed all the alt-ponies and the ways the present could have gone wrong. But man... that reform was too neat and tacked on.
Now lest you think I am expecting too much from a cartoon aimed at preteen girls and meant to drive toy sales, I first direct you to watch the aforementioned season opener again and marvel at how the story, while accessible by children, carries a message that is meaningful and relevant to adults.

Then I ask you to look at this summation of alternate dystopian timelines as a result of Bitchicorn Starlight Glimmer mucking around with causality:
What you are seeing here are dystopias. Kid-friendly dystopias, to be sure, but the fact remains that each and every one of them are great examples of places you wouldn't want to live. These are mature concepts made accessible by cartoon sensibilities. Fairly heady stuff, and one of the reasons I'm a big fan of the show.

The ending, however, was basically... this:

Yeah... that doesn't track with me, especially since Starlight Glimmer's end goal was this:

So with that in mind, here is my big rant on why I didn't like the too-tidy ending, how it was broken, and how it should have gone.

First of all, Starlight Glimmer has some sort of pathology -- sociopath, psychopath, I don't know for certain, but anyone who 1) is incapable of making friends without emotionally manipulating them and 2) basically says "I don't care about the future, I just want to hurt you" is some version of insane, callous, or other severe dysfunction.

Second, I have issues with the whole "Every time Twilight goes back in time, so does Starlight in order to thwart her" because it raises the logical question of "Where does Starlight go when Twilight is sent to the new timeline?" There are various possibly handwave-y answers to this, but they seem to reduce to either "Starlight Glimmer is willing to permanently strand herself in the past in order to keep enacting her revenge, which means she's psychotically crazy" or "Starlight Glimmer also returns to the new timeline but is unable or unwilling to see the consequences of her actions, which means she's delusionally crazy."

Third, Twilight is the Princess of Friendship. In this universe, it has been proven empirically that Friendship is literally Magic, which means that she's Princess of Magic as well. I have a really hard time accepting that mere unicorn Starlight Glimmer (with some undefined cutie mark) could out-magic the Alicorn Princess of Magic (who also has a magic cutie mark). That's akin to saying "This unicorn over here with a sun-shaped cutie mark is better at raising the sun than Celestia, the Alicorn Princess of the Sun." I'm sorry, but NO.

Fourth, here is how it should have ended: Twilight, realizing that Starlight Glimmer is pathological, decides that she needs to go back in time and prevent the childhood trauma from happening (basically, a pony version of Let's Kill Baby Hitler). So Twilight uses her special talent in magic -- remember, she was promoted to princess when she fixed a spell that Starswirl the Gandalf Bearded couldn't do -- to modify this other Starswirl spell and goes back to Starlight Glimmer's past. There, Twilight shows her how to make new friends, and halts the creation of the nascent sociopath.** Starlight Glimmer makes new friends and understands that friendship is the most powerful magic of all. Bam, problem solved in a proper pony manner and it makes sense.

Finally, let's say the writers really wanted that ending. OK, that still isn't a problem: just replace Starlight Glimmer with The Great And Powerful Trixie. This actually makes narrative sense, you see, as Trixie has a longstanding magical feud with Twilight (see Boast Busters  and Magic Duel), and she's demonstrated both an ability and willingness to find things which give her a magical edge (like the Alicorn Amulet).

If they'd used her instead of Starlight Glimmer, it would have changed the thrust of the episode from a stalkerish "I hate you and will do everything I can to ruin you" to "I'm going to prove once and for all that Trixie is the greatest!"

Which would mean the end conditions would change: all Twilight would have to do is admit that yes, Trixie beat her this time and Trixie is indeed both Great and Powerful, but The Great And Powerful Trixie's ego is turning the future of Equestria into a horrifying uninhabitable wasteland, so would she please stop screwing around with time? And Trixie, because she isn't an utter sociopath, accepts.

Either of these endings would have been preferable to the one we saw on screen. This matters to me because I have this terrible sneaking fear, given the final scenes of this season and the fact that the girls have been a unicorn short ever since Twilight was alicorned, that Starlight Glimmer will join the cast next season.

If it were Trixie, I'd be okay with it. The fans like her -- I like her -- and while she has an ego the size of an Ursa Major, she's not a bad pony and can easily be redeemed by the Avatars of Harmony. 

Starlight Glimmer, though -- is she actually redeemed? Or has she just been temporarily mollified by having been given what she wants, which is unconditional love? I think it's the latter, because I haven't seen any evidence that  she truly learned her lesson and has turned her back on her mandate of Enforced Equality For All. 

She's a ticking time bomb. And if she sticks around, Twilight and the others better keep not turn their backs on her.

* As Dustbury said back in the spring, "If you're a unicorn with a name based on a time of day, you're probably overpowered."

** It was asked "How come Starlight Glimmer's parents -- I assume she didn't arrive via parthenogenesis -- never saw this little ball of resentment growing? Unless they just didn't give a flip." Based on her actions and sense of entitlement, I'm guessing that their special snowflake could do no wrong in their eyes, and was likely an only child.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #67
Adam and Sean bring you our Thanksgiving episode!
  • Erin Palette talks with her Blue Collar Prepping Blog co-blogger, Chaplain Tim about getting caught in a riot in Berlin, and the lessons that peppers can learn from his experience. 
  • Nicki Kenyon talks about the new cyber warfare, internet hoaxes. 
  • Barron B is still on assignment.
  • Weer'd does his latest patented Audio Fisk™ on Hillary's Brady Campaign award acceptance speech. 
  • And you don't want to miss the story of how Sean blew up his father's Dillon 650 in his wife's face! Check out the show notes for a photo of the powder burns on his arm. 
Thanks for downloading, listening, and subscribing. Please like and share The GunBlog VarietyCast on Facebook, and if you use iTunes, give us a review!

Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.

A special thanks both to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support and to our sponsor, Law of Self Defense. Use discount code "Variety" at checkout and get 10% off.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Doctor Who: The Gallifreyan Lament Configuration

Pardon while I don my tin-foil fez...

A week or so back, I messaged Erin, ranting nigh-incoherently about hair and jumpers. I'd noticed something off, and it triggered a few memories regarding previous episodes. I'd noticed that Twelve's previously unkempt hair and ratty jumper were gone, and he was once again immaculate in waist-coat and finely-groomed hair. Why didn't he know how the Confession Dial worked? Why was it important now, after going unmentioned since the first couple of episodes and for that matter, who was he talking to when he was playing guitar and talking about Beethoven and the Bootstrap Paradox? Why did he say “Longest month of my life” when Clara referenced him thinking she was dead? Something is off, and I suspected we were seeing events play out of order again. Which led me to one conclusion:

Clara Oswald has been dead this entire season.
At least from the Doctor's point of view. And after this week, I feel that I'm still right. 

We learned what the Confession Dial is: it's a Gallifreyan interrogation room, a personalized prison and puzzle box. And in the course of the Doctor working out this particular puzzle, we get something that I've wanted to see specifically since Capaldi started and generally for much longer: an episode with just the Doctor. And did we ever get that. 

  • Capaldi veers seamlessly between quiet anger and abject horror as he's faced with his childhood nightmares and reminders of his failures. 
  • A monster that would be straight out of a classic Japanese horror film if it were shot differently. 
  • And some very real mature content, as his death scene is played out in gruesome detail. 
The image of a badly burned and blistered Doctor dragging himself by his fingernails is not something I thought I'd see, let alone him killing himself just so he could live the cycle all over again. But he was clever. Left himself a clue so that he could make progress in the puzzle, which is probably not something his captors were suspecting, even if it took two billion years to do it.

Capaldi's performance here has cemented his place in Doctor Who history, if it were not already so. Three of the four previous episodes have had truly shining moments in his performances, and now he's surpassed even “Everybody Lives”. Steven Moffat borrows heavily from another property for this episode, taking the Doctor into his own Mind Palace as he did Sherlock Holmes at the moment when Mary Watson shot him and his body was shutting down. The difference here is that whenever the Doctor is in danger (and not just dying) he thinks quickly. Very, very quickly, as he retreats into a mental version of the TARDIS, and depends on the one thing that's kept him going for a very long time: his companions asking him questions.

This is the perfect excuse to bring Clara back, perhaps for one last time, to give the Doctor one last stern order: Get off your arse and win. I wonder what strings Moffat had to pull to get the BBC to allow swearing on a family show, pre-watershed at that, but honestly I've been waiting for Clara to swear for some time now... she strikes me as the type to do so. (Repeatedly. With much imagination.)

But you have to read between the lines a lot in Doctor Who. The kids are watching, after all, and it wouldn't do to have a companion with, say, a ton of emotional and abandonment issues to be a stripper. No, she's just a kiss-o-gram.

Always read between the lines. The story's much more fun that way.

The Oncoming Storm Approaches
Which brings us back to my theory: Clara's been dead for a long time now. Certainly since before the beginning of this season, which is why the Doctor's in a funk and why he's dressing down. The Confession Dial's first proper appearance was this episode. We know it was given to Ohila of the Sisterhood of Karn (as seen in the Season 9 Prologue), who will most likely hand it off to Missy, at which point it will return to his possession, only to be given to Mayor Me/Ashildr. Until now we assumed that the prologue took place before this season started, but now I suspect it takes place between this week and next week's episode, or even after next week's episode. Who has the dial after Me/Ashilder is anyone's guess. As for Clara, there's production photos of her in a waitress uniform floating around the internet, so we haven't seen the last of her. But it's entirely possible that her erratic travels with the Doctor could be in part to him intruding on her timeline as far back as last year's episodes, as the ratty jumper and hoodie have made appearances previous to this season. 

My fingers are crossed that I'm right, and I'm genuinely eager to see what goes down on Gallifrey next week.  

Friday, November 27, 2015

SHTBlack Friday

There are some amazing deals to be found out there if you're into prepping. Now's your chance to get some high value gear at lower cost to you, including the current (non-HD) Kindle Fire for only $35!

Check out the rest of the sales (some of them slightly dated, as I wrote the post on Wednesday) over at Blue Collar Prepping.

The Splash 25, a dry bag/backpack with an inflatable frame. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Brief Musing about Star Wars

It's no wonder the Jedi Order fell, what with its ridiculous practice of taking small children, training them with laser swords and psychic abilities, and then telling them "Look, I know you're going through puberty right now, but you aren't allowed a boyfriend/girlfriend because that would be a distraction. Instead, meditate through it."

Frankly, I'm surprised no one pulled an Anakin-style "I want to get laid and I'll kill you all if I have to" massacre sooner.

You want to know how the Dark Side gets its recruits? The Sith let their apprentices fuck. It's that simple.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Traveller Tuesday: Tech Levels

To head off the likely first question: Since tech level is an important part of a system's Universal Planetary Profile, and the UPP is administered by the Scout Service, I think it's safe to say that the concept of "tech levels" exists within the setting of the game as well as outside it.

My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Tech Levels in Traveller are seemingly arbitrary things. For example. TL 1 encompasses everything between bronze-age Greek city-state technology (a la 300), iron-age Roman Empire technology, and Medieval "castles and plate armor" up to but not including the Renaissance -- in other words, TL 1 is "Dungeons & Dragons", and TL 2 begins with the invention of gunpowder. That is a huge spread.

Compare that to the difference between Tech Levels 14 (Zhodani Consulate maximum) and 15 (Third Imperium maximum) and you get... not a lot of difference: Jump-6 vs Jump-5, anagathics, early (read: prototype) black globes, and general quality of life improvements. Essentially, TL 14 vs. TL 15 is the difference between the 1990s and today: we had computers and the internet back then, too, but the tech was slower and its applications had not become essential for daily life the way that global social media, GPS, and portable global telecommunications have today.

In other words, TL 15 is just a fancy way saying "mature TL 14", because the differences as listed are about the same as the difference between early TL 7 (the 1980s) and mature TL 7 (the present).

There are two reasons for this extreme difference at both ends of the spectrum. The first is a mechanical reason: player characters in Traveller exist at the high-TL end of things, and so it's important to know what they, and their opponents, do and do not have access to. (I fondly recall an adventure that my players have taken to calling "Murder Island", where a team of NPC mercs with TL 12 weapons and armor messed up a PC party with access to much higher technology.) Similarly, when protagonists have access to space travel, energy weapons and advanced combat armor, the differences between inferior barbarians becomes academic.

This is Imperial Marine Battledress shrugging off small arms fire.
Do you think it matters to him if your swords are bronze, iron or steel?
No. No, it does not. 
"Differences between inferior barbarians" is actually the second, in-game reason. The Vilani had jump drive (TL 9) while Terrans were building the pyramids (TL 0), and their civilization has lasted for over ten thousand years. If you decide that the fall of the First Imperium and the intermingling of Solomani and Vilani cultures during the Rule of Man counts as the creation of a new, hybrid civilization then it lasted for only eight thousand, but that hybrid has lasted another 3,300+ years. To put that in perspective, the Chinese language & alphabet has existed for only 3,500 years!

Given such an old culture (and the Vilani are ancient -- remind me some day to write a blog post comparing Vilani conservatism /stagnation, Solomani dynamism /instability, and Zhodani stability /homogeneity), there is enormous cultural pressure to equate "oldest" with "best". The entire Major Race/Minor Race division? Entirely a Vilani construct to keep themselves on top as the oldest, and therefore wisest civilization... at least until it was discovered that the Droyne were far older, which may explain some of the Imperial derision towards them that isn't based upon fear and contempt of psionics.

What I am getting after is this: I believe that the Tech Level scale that the Third Imperium uses is deliberately vague and periodically undergoes revisions every few hundred years, compressing the lower ends and lengthening the higher ends. Further, I believe that the Imperium has been TL 15 for so long because it is culturally convenient to have a technological descriptor that is not only large but also a nice, "round" number.  The Imperium is TL 15 because it is important for them to have a higher technology than the other polities around them:
  • Aslan Hierate (peak TL 11, average TL 9)
  • Hiver Federation (peak TL 14, average TL 12)
  • Solomani Confederation (peak TL 14 and estimated to hit TL 15 within a decade, but average is much lower)
  • K'Kree Empire (TL 11, average TL 9)
  • Vargr Extents (balkanized, TLs all over the place)
  • Zhodani Consulate (peak TL 14, average TL 13)
You may note that of the three TL 14 civilizations near the Third Imperium, two of them are hostile and have fought wars with them. (The Hive Federation is more disposed towards psychohistorical manipulation rather than open warfare, and also has to contend with the militant K'krees that it shares a border with.)  In other words, the Imperium MUST have a higher tech level than its enemies for exactly the same reasons that the United States needed a visibly higher technological edge than the Soviet Union: it was good for morale and made opponents think twice about attacking.

The Imperium would be perfectly happily to cruise along at TL 15 forever, slowly compressing lower tech levels downward so that it always stays on top. However, that metric is tied to how Jump drives work in your game, as the key difference between TL 14 and 15 is the creation of the Jump-6 drive:
  • Per first edition Central Supply Catalog, "The ‘Jump-6 limit’ remains in force for some time after the invention of Jump-6 drives. Various promising fields of technology eventually fail to produce a workable Jump-7 or higher drive. However, other technologies continue to advance." (p.6, CSC). 
  • However, second edition High Guard (still in playtest and so subject to change) states that Jump-7, -8 and -9 are feasible at Tech Levels 16, 17 and 18 respectively. This theory is bolstered by Marc Miller's Traveller5 (p.344).
If you adhere to the first school of thought, then the Third Imperium is likely to hover at a stated TL 15 for quite some time, until a significant technological benchmark is reached (such as the invention of antimatter power plants, practical matter-to-energy transmission, or a significant weapons development like a disintegrator0; when that happens, the Imperium is likely to revise its tech level metrics and state "Oh my goodness, look at this, we are actually at TL 17 [or more]." That this will likely leave the Solomani and Zhodani two tech levels behind is deliberate.

However, if you follow the second line of reasoning, things are both more clearly delineated and also more problematic. An additional one parsec in jump distance is hardly worth crowing about unless you're desperate, but if you use this metric then it stands to reason that other developments in Jump can be developed:  perhaps one can reduce the time spent in jump to less than a week. The strategic and logistical advantage inherent in jumping 6 parsecs in four days rather than seven is immediately obvious.

TL;DR the reason Tech Levels are weird in Traveller is because it's beneficial propaganda for the Third Imperium.

Monday, November 23, 2015

PPRMG: LaserLyte Emitters

Last week I talked about the targets; this week I'll talk about the emitters.

Universal Pistol Trainer (LT-PRO)
The LT-PRO is essentially a laser boresight with a universal collar that allows it to fit any pistol from .380 to .45 caliber. This has both good and bad points.

Good: You can put it in a Trainer Pistol (see below) for a dedicated training platform, or you can put it in your carry guns and practice with your actual firearm. This allows for realistic training and one LT-PRO ought to fit all of your needs.

Bad: The emitter is sound-activated and listens for the click of a falling hammer or striker to trigger the laser. This works very well if your pistol has an easily thumb-cockable hammer or is otherwise dual action; however, if you have a striker-fired, single-action pistol like a Glock, you will have to rack the slide after every single shot. As you can imagine, this gets old very quickly, and will probably spur you to purchase one of the trainer pistols.

What's more, this system has a significant drawback: because it is sound-activated, it is listening for hammer-fall all the time. This means that if you forget to remove the batteries after a training session, they will slowly drain as the inbuilt sensor actively listens for the next click, and the next time to you go to train you will end up with dead batteries. (Fortunately, the LT-PRO runs on common LR626 batteries, which can be easily ordered in bulk from Amazon.)

Like all LaserLyte products, the LT-PRO comes with a fresh set of batteries.

Retail: The LT-PRO retails for $120, and while it is available in combo packs, it cannot be bought separately on Amazon. This is because it has since been replaced with the LT-PRE, or Laser Trainer Premium, which also retails for $120 but can be purchased at Amazon for $87.

I have not tested the LT-PRE. From what I can tell, it is similarly sound-activated, so it still has all the drawbacks of the LT-PRO in terms of  slide racking and battery drain. It does, however, have an on/off button for the microphone, which mitigates the hassle of having to unscrew the battery compartment each time.

My Rating: C
My metric for a C is "Functions adequately, but something pisses me off." While the LT-PRO laser emitter does indeed work, the need to turn off something which is not visibly on or risk draining the batters is a source of annoyance for me. Far more irritating is the poor synergy it has with my carry pistol, which is a Glock 26; considering that many law enforcement agencies issue Glocks to their LEOs, I consider this a major drawback. 

I received the full-size pistol (stated as "approximately the same size as a Glock 23"), although a compact-size trainer is also available. These trainer pistols are a cross between blue guns (nonfunctioning pistols shaped and weighted to realistically mimic actual guns for training) and toy guns which go "click" when you pull the trigger.

It's listed as being "weighted and balanced to give the realistic 'feel' of most semi-auto pistols," but on that point I must vehemently disagree; my unloaded Glock 26 weighs about 20 ounces, while the full-size Trigger Tyme weighs only 13.25 ounces.

It does have a working trigger, though, with a 5.5 pound trigger pull (just like my G26), and when it breaks it makes what can only describe as a click-sproing sound; the click is from the trigger breaking, and the spring is from a spring resetting in some manner. The sound echoes down the metal-lined barrel to facilitate the activation of the LT-PRO.

Retail: The full-size Trigger Tyme retails for $55, but can be bought on Amazon for $35. Alternatively, a combination trainer and laser set can be purchased for $98.

My Rating: B
It's not realistically weighted, nor is it shaped like an actual pistol, but considering that proper blue guns cost around $50, this makes an excellent tool for hand-to-hand training or a costume prop. I do not think it makes a good laser trainer, both for reasons related to the LT-PRO's performance and for the following anecdote.

An Anecdote Is Not Data, But...
The first LT-PRO and Trainer Pistol I received had issues:  I would put the laser arbor into the pistol, and it would take several trigger pulls before the laser would realize that I wanted it to activate. It would then activate most of the time, but not always. The problem persisted when I placed the LT-PRO inside of an actual pistol.

I mentioned this to the folks at LaserLyte, who promptly sent me a new LT-PRO. When I placed the laser within the trainer pistol, the problem occurred again, but interestingly enough the problem did not present when I placed the laser within actual pistols.

This leads me to suspect that either both the original LT-PRO and trainer pistol were broken in some manner, or if the laser was broken and the pistol just poorly built. As I am just one reviewer, I cannot draw a definite conclusion.

Trigger Tyme Laser Trainer
Also available in a compact version. this trainer (which I shall refer to as "Laser Tyme" to differentiate it from "Trigger Tyme", above) is leaps and bounds better than its non-laser sibling.

Slightly heavier (15 ounces) and with a trigger that breaks sooner and heavier than the Trigger Tyme, the Laser Tyme solves every problem I have with the LT-PRO and is an honest-to-goodness laser gun.

(I just have to stop and giggle about this. One of my earliest memories is of watching Star Wars at a drive-in, and ever since then I've dreamed of having a blaster. While this trainer doesn't do any damage unless you flash someone in the eyes with it, the fact remains that this is a laser gun and it's mine and I'm holding it in my hands and I'm shooting things with it. Pewpewpewpewpew.)

Where was I? Oh, right. By having a laser integrated into the pistol itself, there's no need to worry about the sound hitting the sensor and activating the emitter; it's all hard-wired into the trigger. Every single trigger pull results in a crisp burst of light, and I don't have to worry about the batteries running out because I forgot to take it apart afterwards.

It also has enormous endurance, with a battery life of 50,00 shots, compared to the measly 3,000 shots of the LT-PRO. (Like all LaserLyte products, batteries come included.)

Retail: Of course, all of this comes at a price: the full-size Laser Tyme retails at $150, and costs the same on Amazon. However, the compact version can be purchased with a single plinking can (reviewed last week) for as low as $90 if you can find them in stock.

My Rating: A+
It does everything I want to do it, and it does it smoothly and perfectly. Unless you truly need a laser that will fit inside your carry gun, save a bit more and get the Laser Tyme instead. You will not be disappointed in its performance.

Combine a Laser Target or a Score Tyme with one of these and you will have so much fun you will practice every day. As I said previously,
Yes, it's expensive. Believe me, I know this better than anyone; I am both poor and cheap. But you will save money with this system, because
  1. Practicing in the comfort of you home means you won't spend money on range fees and gas to and from the range.
  2. You can shoot as often as you like without having to buy expensive ammunition.
  3. Points 1 and 2 mean you will practice much more than you would with real ammo. For example, if I need to stretch my legs or clear my head, I'll fire up the target and take about 20 shots -- and I do this several times a day. That is something you simply can't do at a range. 
Besides, when you think about it, $258 for the Score Tyme and $150 for the laser pistol is still cheaper than a brand new gun. You're actually saving money when you buy this.. or at least that's what you can tell your wife when she asks you how much it cost.

Obligatory FTC Disclaimer: I received this products for free. I was not paid for a good review. I do what I like. Call your mother. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #66
Adam and Sean do bring you Episode 66 of The GunBlog VarietyCast.
  • Erin Palette talks about addictions.
  • In our Foreign Policy for Grownups Segment, Nicki Kenyon talks about the Paris attacks and the refugees situation in the attack aftermath
  • Our Special Guest this week is Ryan Michaud of Handgun Radio. He talks about Nanny Bloomberg's assault on Maine gun owners' rights
  • Barron B is still "On Assignment" with his family.
  • and Weer'd takes Girl Pants Productions to school with another of his Patented Weer'd Audio Fisks™. 
Thanks for downloading, listening, and subscribing. Please like and share The GunBlog VarietyCast on Facebook, and if you use iTunes, give us a review!

Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.

A special thanks both to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support and to our sponsor, Law of Self Defense. Use discount code "Variety" at checkout and get 10% off.

Doctor Who: Remembering the Impossible Girl

Spoilers, possibly from the title onwards...

Very rarely do we lose someone to death on Doctor Who. They can be banished to another dimension, decide that they need to live their own life, be stranded in the past, or simply forget everything. But death? That's in the far past, with the Adrics and the Sarah Kingdoms of old. Clara Oswald, once the Impossible Girl with the whimsical Disney Princess-esque musical theme, is no longer with us; and yet will always be with us, splintered throughout the Doctor's timeline, a painful reminder of one of the rare few who fell in the line of duty saving worlds.

Many of us did not really get to know Clara, did not give her a chance after she spent a year as a literal walking plot device, and wrote her off (paradoxically) as yet another misogynistic Stephen Moffat creation (I still say his women are stronger characters than Davies' ever were). But in truth, The Bells of St. John was not the first appearance of Clara Oswald. Nor was it Asylum of the Daleks, or even The Snowmen.

No, the first actual, proper appearance of Clara Oswald was The Day of the Doctor, where she convinced the Doctor to change his history (or to take the action that he had always previously taken, and will always have taken -- wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey), and she didn't come into her own as a character until partly through Deep Breath.

Over the course of two seasons,we saw Clara change from a purposeful Mary Sue of a companion into someone with a life outside the TARDIS and fall in love. Clara was reckless. Clara was impulsive. Clara had control issues. Clara loved, lost, got angry, made mistakes, and saved people.

Clara was a friend, and she'll be missed.

Good soldier. You went out on your feet.
We'll run, Clara. We'll be clever. And we'll remember you.

Oh, right. The episode.

Face the Raven was quite good; the juxtaposition of the quaint, almost stage-like air of the not-Diagon Ally with the urban normality of London worked quite well. I enjoyed seeing Local Knowl- I mean Riggsy again. He was quite good as Clara's sidekick (or Companion's companion, if you like).

The quantum shade and the raven were nice touches, and remind me heavily of the Faction Paradox spinoff universe, where agents of House Paradox use their shadows as weapons.It also worked as the culmination of all the little character hints that we've gotten about Clara becoming, as I mentioned, reckless and impulsive, as she was too clever for her own good in this episode, and it came back to bite her, hard. She did, however, face the consequences of that decision, and sacrificed herself to save the life of someone that she believed in.

The Doctor's reaction requires special mention, as well. Capaldi's quiet rage easily dwarfs that of both Tennant and Smith, reminding me heavily of Smith's “Colonel Run-Away” moment at Demon's Run and Tennant's punishment of the Family of Blood. I'm still unsure whether he meant what he promised Clara, or if he simply told her that so that she could go peacefully. 

The only major problem I have with this episode is that they telegraphed the stasis pod so hard that I kept waiting for him to throw Clara into it and switch it on so the raven couldn't get her.
I'm looking forward to solo Capaldi's episodes next week, but at the same time I still can't help but be miffed that Sleep No More's many, MANY questions still go unanswered. I certainly hope they plan on re-visiting that episode before long. It didn't have to be this week, due to the non-linear nature of time-travel plots, but there's more to that story that needs to be explored.

[mad author's edit] NON LINEAR NATURE

His hair's all wrong. Where's his jumper? Who was he explaining the bootstrap paradox and Beethoven to? How did Missy get his disk in episode one and why did Mayor Me take it in this episode? We're out of chronological order again and that would mean Clara's been dead for... what, ten episodes? Oh dear, I've gone cross-eyed. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

SHTFriday: Situational Awareness is a Two-Edged Sword

In this week's post, I waffle about the existential dilemma between "Not being in places that terrorists might target" and "Not living in fear."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hyrule Warriors: A Linkle to the Drama

For the past year or so, there's been a vocal contingent of cultural critics, industry writers, and twitter loudmouths that have been pushing for female characters. For even longer than that, there's been actual gamers that have been saying “We like the characters that we've got, but wouldn't mind a little more variety in character design.”

I've been a part of the latter group for some time, and appreciate every game that lets me play something other than the industry meme of the 'dark-haired white dude in his 30s.' From under-appreciated games like Assassin's Creed: Liberation and Remember Me to classics like Beyond Good and Evil and Tomb Raider, to imports that a lot of people very vocally hated like the Final Fantasy XIII series, I dig a good female protagonist.

Now I haven't been in Nintendo territory in a long time, but I understand there's a game out there called Hyrule Warriors, which is a Zelda-themed take on the Dynasty Warriors franchise, a sort of horde-mode spectacle fighter in which you pick a hero and take on hordes of enemies. 7 male, 8 female, and 3 monster characters fill out the roster; pretty balanced, I'd say.

Hyrule Warriors is available on the Wii U (which has just now managed to out-sell the failed Sega Dreamcast) and  is coming to the 3DS in March. (The 3DS has out-sold EVERYTHING. I mention this because it will be relevant later.)

On the 3DS version, Nintendo has announced a new character to the franchise: Linkle, a hero with long-ish blonde hair, big blue eyes, a green tunic, brown boots, and a very familiar overall style.
Good for them..?
Yep, this is a female Link. This is what Link would look like as a woman. This is literally everything that the cultural critics and Twitter-twatters have been clamoring for (short of literally making Link into a woman). And the reaction has been... mixed.

Pack it in, guys.
Now, you all know I've been paying very close attention to that alleged misogynistic hate mob, Gamergate, for the past (oh god has it been that long) 15 months, and given their reputation one would think there'd be outrage from them over a female Link. Mostly, though, the reaction has been “Hey, she looks neat. We'll give her a try” and discussion over her fighting style (and wondering how she fires crossbows without reloading them).
I can't find a single topic of discussion where people complain about a new female character being introduced, and the praise is pretty much universal.

The reaction outside of there, though; now that's where the real drama lies.
Do worms still turn?
Initially, it was very positive, but then it began to break down. The Mary Sue (bless them) cries “I love Linkle, but Linkle is not enough!” She's been criticized first for being a new female character and not a female Link, and then called a Ms. Male Character, when a literal female Link would be just that very thing.

It genuinely feels right now as if Linkle was trotted out by regressive activists as a “gotcha” who then backpedaled quickly into critical-theory-based criticism of the character as soon as they realized their targets actually kinda liked it. I almost wonder if Nintendo created Linkle just to prove that this type of people can never be satisfied, but then I remember that most of the Japanese companies really couldn't care less what Western-centric cultural critics think of them and practically print money every time they come up with something like this.

My favourite bit of criticism has to be that she doesn't count because she's on a mobile device.

A mobile device that's the Nintendo 3DS, which has outsold the X-Box One, Playstation 4, and Wii U. combined.

Linkle will have a potential reach of 55 million players (as opposed to a potential reach of only 10 million had she been released on the Wii U), and given that's she's being released on the 3DS, she'll likely cross over onto the Wii U version of Hyrule Warriors anyway.

Tits? What tits? She's wearing 
a loose blouse and flowy green tunic.
Sorry, cultural critics and twatters, Linkle is legit. She's adorable, and she's a great-looking character. You'll just have to swallow that disappointment and live with the fact that a Japanese games company gave you exactly what you wanted in a way that appealed to the rest of us as well.

Maybe one day you'll even admit that you're only in this because you're addicted to being outraged over things. Either way, the cognitive dissonance is great fun, and if I had a 3DS, I'd give her a spin.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Traveller Tuesday: Spinthrift, a Prototype J-7 Ship

Those of us in the Mongoose 2e playtest have access to the "still being written" 2e High Guard, and so I decided to tinker with them a bit to create a prototype Jump-7 starship.

Of course, given that 2e HG uses a completely different ship design process than 1e Mongoose, what I'm doing isn't so much a playtest as it is a Frankenstein approach of chainsawing out the bits I like and stitching them together into an unholy abomination.

But that's par for the course for someone who made a My Little Pony RPG using the Unknown Armies game engine.

My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Here is the handy table I'm using:


TL Tonnage Cost Modifications
Early Prototype -2 +100% +400% 2 Disadvantages
Prototype -1 - +100% 1 Disadvantage
Budget +0 - -50% 1 Disadvantage
Advanced +1 - +50% 1 Advantage
Very Advanced +2 - +100% 2 Advantages

From context, it should be clear that this is 2e's version of the "Primitive and Advanced Spacecraft" rules found on p.52 of 1e High Guard, and indeed that's the name of the chapter that this table is from. It's pretty straightforward: as tech progresses, you get Advantages like a reduction in tonnage or an increase in performance, but you pay out the nose for them.

What's new is that this chart also goes the other way, and allows folks to create experimental equipment at lower tech levels in exchange for fun drawbacks (in addition to increased price and/or tonnage). 

Since Jump-7 is canonically listed as TL 16, I decided to make a TL 15 Prototype J-7 ship with this chart and 1e's ship creation system. 

(Link leads to Google docs spreadsheet.)
Every ship needs a name. A portmanteu of spindrift and spendthrift seems apropos without courting too much disaster.

I chose a 200 dton hull because the "Performance by Hull Volume" table on p.108 of 1e MongTrav has a handy "1 2 3 4 5 6" progression, which means that J-7 from its hull simply follows next in line. This makes a lot of things easier. 

Power Plant
Since J-7 at 200 dtons is a G code, that means I just need a power plant G, which already exists. Handy, that. 

Prototype Jump Drive
A normal jump drive G would displace 40 dtons and cost 70 MCr. This means that my experimental drive costs 140 MCr, and because increasing tonnage of the drive doesn't seem right (G engines already exist, we're just trying to squeeze more performance from them), I decided to make the J-7 a real fuel guzzler. 

The disadvantage "Energy inefficient" says that it consumes 30% more power than normal, but I'm not using the Power stat, so I want to turn that into fuel consumption. But a 30% increase in fuel raises it from 140 dtons to 182 dtons, and for some reason that still seems low. Because I'm the GM, I decide to tweak this to 50% under the rational that power consumption isn't fuel consumption. This gives me 210 dton for a jump-7, and that feels reasonable to me; I like the notion of an experimental drive requiring as much fuel as the ship displaces. 

Drop Tanks
These are the easiest ways to wring more performance out of a ship. I'd feel guilty if various J-6 ships weren't rotten with drop tanks as well. Being a prototype means it's a test bed that isn't expected to do more except get there (like the Bell X-1), so a single J-7 is fine. 

At this point I begin to imagine the Spinthrift as a Marava-class Far trader, with the top sheared off and replaced with a single 200 dton drop tank. The remaining 10 dtons of jump fuel is carried internally, along with power plant fuel.

Maneuver Drive
M-drives are small and we want this ship to be able to move under its own power in case there's a catastrophic misjump, so M-1 is added as an emergency backup. (Once the first test is successful and the IISS/Navy/whoever is bankrolling this gets tired of hauling the ship out to the 100 diameter line, a ton of cargo space can be lost to upgrade the m-drives to 2G. This would allow Spinthrift to travel under its own power to the jump zone, even with full drop tanks (albeit at 1G)).

Speaking of backups, the Spinthrift is a significant investment for whomever is making it, and given that the risk of misjump** is high, they'd want to protect their investment and give it (and its crew) a fighting chance to make it back. A backup J-1 drive and dedicated power plant (in case the one attached to the J-7 fails) is added, along with fuel processors, enough fuel to make 2 J-1s, and two triple turrets with lasers for self-defense. 

Jump Control/6 requires a rating 30 computer, and lesser jumps decrement by 5, so it's logical for Jump Control/7 to need a rating 35 computer, which is just possible at TL 15 with a 30 million credit Model 7. Even so, plotting a 7 parsec jump might require a larger program, so just to be safe I assume JC/7 is a rating 40 and turn the Model 7 into a jump-specialized bis.

In addition to astrogation, a J-7 test bed is going to need sensors for recording the trip data. Advanced sensors are added. 

We don't want to endanger a bunch of people, so let's take along the bare minimum: A pilot, a navigator/sensor operator, and two mechanics. Space is at a premium, so it's double occupancy for our intrepid jumpnauts. 

The 10 dton cargo hold is filled with food, spare parts, and other supplies to provide 6 months' worth of endurance in case the Spinthrift has to limp back home. 

An emergency low berth is available in case they need to set an SOS and wait for rescue. 

High-rating Evade and Fire Control programs have been added in case combat happens and no one is available to run the guns, and a reflec coating was installed because armor and sand canisters take tonnage.

Total Cost: 307.3 Million Credits
Not bad for advancing technology and a chance at immortality, right? And it's still cheaper than a capital ship.*

* Not counting costs for research, development, tooling of prototypes, personnel costs, and other bits of infrastructure spread out over who-knows-how-long. 

** There are no rules for this in Traveller, but with experimental jump tech I'd raise the roll for a successful jump to 10+. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

PPRMG: Three LaserLyte Targets

(Palette's Product Reviews Monday Gunday)

Since May, I have had the pleasure of testing several LaserLyte training products. This has been especially convenient for me as laser targets do not require ammunition (aside from the occasional battery change) and I can practice shooting in the air-conditioned comfort of my own home.

For someone like me, who is both stingy and on a fixed income, and hates getting hot and sweaty, these qualities are godsends, and so I have been happily pewpewpewing at electronic targets with my honest-to-goodness laser gun -- and let me just tell you that, as a science fiction nerd, I am positively thrilled to be able to say "my laser gun."

Because I have six products to review, doing them all in one blog post will be huge. Therefore I will break them into "targets" and "emitters", and -- you clever readers, you -- you've no doubt deduced that this review will be about the targets.

All LaserLyte targets come with batteries included, which is very convenient.

Trainer Target Plinking Cans
These are three plastic "cans", about the size of mini-sodas, with battery-powered laser sensors and an electronic peg that knocks them over. Operation is simple: You turn the cans on, you set them where you want them, you shoot them in the sensor with the laser, the plunger deploys, and the cans fall over dead.

This is very fun until you've shot them all, at which point you have to walk over to them and re-set them. Which, to be fair, is a drawback of a lot of plinking targets. 

I use mine in two ways. The most common is to set them up next to the other targets and then them as a fun "big finish" right before I end the routine. Despite the scoring system of the others, there's something viscerally satisfying about shooting something and making it fall over, and by putting them at the end (when I'm going to walk over to the target anyway), it feels like less work. 

My second use for them is to set them in in various places inside a room, which then gives me a miniature "shoothouse". For example:
  1. I draw from retention and shoot the can in front of me.
  2. I pivot to my left and shoot the can a few feet away, on the table. 
  3. I complete my pivot and shoot the can that was behind me. 
I don't know if it's anything resembling practical, but it's certainly fun. 

Retail price is $115, but you can buy them on Amazon for $65, which is a much better price.

My Rating: B
They're fun. I'm not sure if they provide good training, but if you're looking to introduce a child to the shooting sports, this would be a fine first step: easy to hit, instant feedback, lots of fun from the comfort of your home. I expect adults will get bored with these easily (unless multiples are bought) and will get more out of the other two targets reviewed. 

This target has more utility than the plinking can by simple virtue of not needing to be manually reset every time. 

To operate it, simply turn it on and shoot at it with a LaserLyte emitter; when you're ready to see your progress, just shoot the "display" sensor to the lower left. To erase that progress and try again, shoot the "reset" sensor to the lower right. Repeat this as many times as you'd like until you're ready to turn it off. 

Retail price is listed at $230, but Amazon has them for $150

My Rating: A-
Don't let the "minus" in the rating fool you; this is a very nice target. My one complaint about is is that the sensors are so very small; the target is 5 inches across, and the display and reset sensors are only 1.25 inches across. While I can appreciate the space-saving benefits of a small form factor, I think that the target is a bit cramped and the interactive sensors too small for inexperienced shooters. Apparently LaserLyte agrees, because they made an extra-large version, which is better in every single way. 

Form factor comparison

Target size comparison
When I say better in every single way, I mean it:
  • Larger controls
  • Generous target
  • "10 ring" markings
  • Automatic scoring system
  • 5, 10 and 15 second modes for timed shoots
  • Still uses only three AA batteries
The Score Tyme is my absolute favorite of the targets. The larger controls are easier for a poor shooter to hit, and the bigger target makes it plain how well or how poorly I've hit. I can just shoot until my finger gets tired and then see what kind of groups I have, or I can set the timer and see how well I do when drawing from retention. 

This target has improved my accuracy and technique over the course of the summer. I'm not quite at the "Draw and put two in the 10 ring" stage, but I've been able to diagnose and then correct a lot of flaws in the way I gripped and shot a pistol from the instant feedback the Score Tyme provides. And that practice has paid off; my performance with real pistols and real bullets has dramatically improved. 

My mother (76 years old now, arthritis in both hands, and cataract surgery in each eye) also likes this target, and has added shooting it to her morning exercise routine. If I can ever get her to the range, I expect that her performance will have likewise improved. 

Retail price is a whopping $350, but once again Amazon comes to the rescue at $258.

My Rating: A+
Just get it, you'll love it. The only way it could be better would be if it had an electronic voice saying "You are awesome!" after each session. 

Yes, it's expensive. Believe me, I know this better than anyone; I am both poor and cheap. But you will save money with this system, because
  1. Practicing in the comfort of you home means you won't spend money on range fees and gas to and from the range
  2. You can shoot as often as you like without having to buy expensive ammunition
  3. Points 1 and 2 mean you will practice much more than you would with real ammo. For example, if I need to stretch my legs or clear my head, I'll fire up the target and take about 20 shots -- and I do this several times a day. That is something you simply can't do at a range. 
If you can't bring yourself to spend $260 for a target, I understand; get the smaller one for $150 instead. It still works fine -- I just gave it a minus because its big brother is so much nicer. 

In short, get one of the two laser targets, pair them with one of the emitters I will review next week, and shoot, shoot, shoot. You will have fun and your skills will improve. It's like a video game, only better!

Obligatory FTC Disclaimer:  I received this products for free. I was not paid for a good review. I do what I like. Go away. 

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #65
Adam and Sean bring you Episode 65 of The GunBlog VarietyCast.
  • Erin Palette talks checklists.
  • Nicki Kenyon makes her triumphant return, with a discussion of the recent Russian airline bombing.
  • And Weer'd does his Patented Weer'd Audio Fisk on a Moms Demand Illegal Mayors for Everytown, a wholly owned subsidiary of Michael Bloomberg, Inc indoctrination video.
  • As a special treat, Erin returns in the Gear Grinds segment to warn us of our impending collision with the Cinnamon-Scented Event Horizon
Thanks for downloading, listening, and subscribing. Please like and share The GunBlog VarietyCast on Facebook, and if you use iTunes, give us a review!

Listen to the podcast here.
Read the show notes here.

A special thanks both to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support and to our sponsor, Law of Self Defense. Use discount code "Variety" at checkout and get 10% off.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Doctor Who: The Space Witch Project

In the 38th century, a squad of Security forces disappeared on a station near Triton while investigating a communications blackout. 

27 centuries earlier, their footage was found. With spoilers.

I've never understood why, every time a military force appears on Doctor Who (with the (sometimes) exception of modern-day UNIT) they tend to have silly helmets and ill-fitting, lumpy uniforms. Arriving to the game late, Doctor Who provides its first ever 'found footage' episode only 16 years after The Blair Witch project popularized the genre. Thankfully, there's a twist here: Nobody's carrying a camera, except (spoilers) the monster of the week.

The episode itself is a bit of a jumble, in part to the presentation style of found footage and in part to Mark Gatiss. Gatiss tends to be rather inconsistent and frequently ambitious. When his episodes are good, they're really good. (See The Unquiet Dead or Cold War.) When they're not, they're... not. (See The Idiot's Lantern or Robot of Sherwood.) But this can hardly be laid entirely on Gatiss's shoulders, as found footage films are rarely coherent, well-paced stories. Chronicle is possibly the only one I can think of, and the Paranormal Activity series is an excellent example of stories that don't work out.

There's a few interesting concepts in this story which probably deserve a little more time than they got.
  • The lack of sleep thing: given this particular week, with all my day job stuff taking up so much time and wanting to get back to Fallout 4, I'd kill for another 8 hours in a day. 
  • The Doctor's reaction is understandable, as he's much older and wiser than anyone in the room, but Clara's reaction to it is odd. She strikes me as the type that would love to go without sleep.
  • Her reaction to 474 and the idea of cloned soldiers was interesting as well. What are the ethical implications of developing low-intellect beings designed primarily for combat? And how far along is this technology, as they don't seem terribly effective.
  • The cultural notes in the episode were interesting as well, as the Doctor remarked them being Indo-Japanese and all the characters native to that time period were portrayed by actors of Asian or Middle-Eastern descent -- with the sole exception being Rasmussen, who was revealed at the end to be one of the monsters as well.
Does it make it more or less scary that it's a snot-monster?
The science was a bit dodgy, even if the monsters looked great.
  • I really don't think there's enough mucous that collects in your eyes in the course of a month, or even a year, to create a man-sized construct.
  • One would think that if they were fragile enough to start falling apart as soon as the gravity shielding went offline, that they'd hardly pose a threat for one. 
  • As our kind editor pointed out, these soldiers all seemed very hesitant to use those rather incongruous rifles that they're carrying the whole episode and point at everything with a satisfying click-whirrr
  • And if 474 is a shining example of the combat clone, I would seriously consider sending that tech back to the drawing board for a few more years of development. Aside from the ability to not die quite as quickly as a human after walking through a flaming corridor, I don't see much of an advantage in using them. (Editor's Note:  I found it appalling that "combat reflexes" equated to "Let's bludgeon the monsters with our rifle instead of shooting them, as would be sensible.")

This episode felt like a self-contained story, albeit one that ended in a very rushed and inconclusive manner. The trailer for next week seems to be for a completely unrelated episode... except for that bit where that raven seemingly evaporates and reforms in a cloud of dust. I've a feeling that the Doctor's last words, that it doesn't make sense, that none of it makes sense, will prove relevant.

And was that a view of Clara from the TARDIS door near the very end? I wonder if that means something..  
Whose 'helmet-cam' was this? 

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