Monday, February 29, 2016

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #80
It's another great episode of The GunBlog VarietyCast!
  • Erin Palette discusses the pros and cons of Behavioral Scripts.
  • Britain is reconsidering exiting the EU. Nicki Kenyon gives us her views on the situation. 
  • Our Special Guest this week is our Sponsor, Attorney Andrew Branca. Andrew explains how the old "Never Talk To The Police" mantra is just plain wrong when it comes to lawful citizens using force for self defense. Seriously, who are you going to believe: some random guy on the internet, or the guy who wrote the book on The Law of Self-Defense?
  • In one of his longest segments to date, Barron B gives us his view on the legal battle between Apple and the FBI.
  • Weer'd notes that that nasty little fascist, Michael Bloomberg is branching out. He was just trying to ban guns and salt and soda, and trans-fat. Now he's decided to start giving dating advice. He's directed his minions make videos telling women not to date gun owning men. You know what that means. It's time for another patented Weer'd Audio Fisk™!
  • And next week, our new contributor Beth Reoch Alcazar joins us!
Thanks for downloading, listening, and subscribing. Please like and share The GunBlog VarietyCast on Facebook, and if you use iTunes, give us a review!

Please consider donating or subscribing at the PayPal link in the show notes. Our podcast runs on your donations.

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.

Friday, February 26, 2016

SHTFriday: Apocabox Unboxing #10 (February 2016)

Oy frigging vey, you guys. This video. This video.  I have NEVER had this level of trouble with one (which is why this post, despite being dated Friday 26th Feb, is actually being published on the 27th) and it made me seriously wonder if making this damn things is worth all the aggravation.

I had sound problems. I had video quality problems. I recorded this four times and on that fourth time, a telephone rang in the middle of the session. Editing that out was a pain so massive that I said I would literally pay someone money to fix this for me. (Thankfully, someone did, and he was such a sweetheart he refused payment. Thanks Donavan!) And then the time it took to upload it... ugh.

The point of all this complaining is this:  Do any of you readers really give a crap about these videos? Because if no one cares, I'm just going to save myself the aggravation and stop doing them. Please leave a "Yes please keep doing them/ No don't bother" comment either here or on my YouTube channel.

Anyway. Despite all the technical problems, this box (like December's) is full of really neat stuff. I particularly like the fire piston kit, but the bird snare looks useful and the tarp book is full of great information.

Enjoy the unboxing.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Finest Redemption Story in Superhero Movies

My first attempt at watching Deadpool did not go so well. It had nothing to do with the movie; that, without going into too much detail too early, was really quite good. No, it was the case of grinding stomach cramps that started about halfway through the film, followed by my car not starting after the movie, capped off with nearly a week of gastroenteritis that put a damper on the evening. So I did all of you, my faithful readers, a favour and went to see it again. In IMAX. I swear, the things I do for you lot...

I've been aware of Deadpool for a very long time. I've seen his start as just another terrible Rob Liefeld creation, be-pouched and violent with a name made of two gritty words, generic as all hell in his fight against gritty, be-pouched and hyperviolent sort-of anti-hero Cable, another terrible Rob Liefeld creation. But I've seen him grow in the hands of more creative writers and artists into something different, something almost beautiful, one of those tragedies that just can't stop laughing because if he does, it'll hurt too much to go on. His finest redemption came with that of Cable, his brother-in-90s-badness, in the simply-titled Cable & Deadpool, and it's one of the best series I've ever read. Since then, he's been on a meteoric rise to pop culture fame, and now he's every-goddamn-where. Like it or not, Wade Wilson has struck gold.

But how was the movie? The FOX X-Films have been varying in quality, with the two decent-to-good and one poor X-Men, one terrible and one much better Wolverine, and the First Class trilogy, 2/3 complete with the excellent First Class and quite good Days of Future Past, and the concluding X-Men: Apocalypse on the way. Deadpool is, quite frankly, the best of all of them, possibly even the one with Apocalypse. It's on par with the better Marvel Studios films, with a faithfulness and wit that no one saw coming.
Add caption
Let's get a few things out of the way (as well as a spoiler warning): this is a film that more than earns its R rating. The language is crass. There's nudity, female as well as... well, Deadpool wang. Floppy, scarred Deadpool wang. The violence is visceral, detailed, and astoundingly gratuitous. And all of it grabs you and does not let go and shouts in your face “THIS IS NECESSARY.”

To release a family-friendly cut of this film would more than likely render it perhaps half an hour long. But every decapitated body part, every glimpse of flesh, every foul word serves a purpose to paint a picture of the world Deadpool inhabits and the circles he moves in,  places which were heretofore unexplored in the X-Men films.And speaking of the X-Men, there's another character with a true redemption here: Colossus, last seen as the hunky member of a boy-band covered in chrome paint, has been fixed. 

He's now ENORMOUS, not just above average tall and muscular; the chrome has been toned down; and his attitude matches what it should have always been: a farmboy raised under Communism who is now living in America with a supportive family unit. He's simultaneously the ultimate cuddly big brother (no pun intended), human wrecking ball, and source of some of the movie's best laughs -- not at his own expense, but at his optimistic reactions to the situations he finds himself in as well as the faith he shows in Deadpool.
I dare you not to love this guy.
Deadpool himself is a gem. He's portrayed with just the right amount of weird (not the lol-so-random that some writers saddle him with) and he moves perfectly. Agile, fast, accurate, he's a real menace on the field, elevated from minor threat to nigh-on unstoppable force by his regenerative powers, taking only a moment to stick his finger through a bullet hole in his arm and swear at the guy that shot him. Ryan Reynolds really gets the character, and I feel happy for him about it. He deserves this. He's been working a hell of a long time to make this happen, and he's redeemed both himself and the character from its dreadful portrayal in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is alluded to several times in the film (including showing the action figure, for which I've supplied a visual aid). This is nearly everything we wanted from Deadpool on-screen, and certainly far more than we ever expected to get considering a) the last time he was on-screen and b) it's not a Marvel Studios film.
Yep. That's the one in the movie, and I have one.
And speaking of that, it's really a shame that it's not, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was some form of crossover being set up. The final battle does appear to take place on a decommissioned helicarrier that looks like it's straight out of SHIELD's fleet. Reynolds's Deadpool is now added to the Downey Jr. Stark/Jackman Wolverine teamup I dearly want to see.

The film wasn't perfect, though; some pretty hefty details from Deadpool's origin were missing. The organization that performed the experiments on him didn't seem to be Weapon X, but they didn't explicitly name it anything else, so it still could be; Vanessa wasn't a mutant or a mercenary, and she was a much more morally sound character than she was in the comics; Colossus's trainee X-student, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, looks nothing like she does in the comics and seems to have Cannonball's power; and most damning of all, Deadpool's inner monologue does not speak in little yellow boxes.

But all in all, this is a mark in the win category, not only for how good it was, but how much money it's made. As I write this, I think it's past the 500 million mark, and it's cleared the record for highest-grossing R rated film ever. The viral marketing campaign for it was genius, allowing Reynolds to ham it up in-character in all manner of situations not in any way related to the film, just for us to get a taste of his performance and assure us that the movie did, indeed, know what it were doing.

The trailer cuts were smart, too. The “pity the guy that pressures her into prom sex”line is there, but it makes perfect sense in context, but Vanessa's line about not being a damsel in distress is gone from the final cut.

If you haven't seen it, and you've survived the cascade of spoilers, please go see it. It's great fun, as long as you're not easily offended. And Ryan Reynolds, of all people, deserves this. This was the man's last chance; he'd already screwed up twice in comic films before the great Marvel Studios flood that started with Iron Man. If he messed up again, he was done. But he didn't.

He deserves this film, and so do you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I am reminded of a Wesley Snipes quote

Specifically, this one.

So here is what happened, via a series of emails (names have been removed), when I ordered a nice $40 hardcover with an Amazon gift card from a company that is NOT Amazon (but fulfills their orders)

Email #1: Wherin Erin Complains About Damaged Merchandise
Me: Bought brand-new hardcover book for $40. 
You: Wrapped $40 hardcover booked in soft envelope with minimal bubble wrap and shipped via FedEx. 
FedEx: Promptly dropped brand-new $40 hardcover book right on the corner, damaging it and making it no longer brand-new before I even took possession of it. (Pictures of damage attached) 
Me: Now has $40 damaged book. 
You: Need to make this right by either shipping me another book in a container that your shipper can't damage (the way Amazon does), or refund me the price differential between a brand-new book and a book with damage.

Email #2: The Ineffectual Response
Hello Erin,
I apologize for the inconvenience. Typically we don't have any issues with our shipping methods and when we use Fedex. 
We can offer either an additional 15% off ($6.60) or we can do a free return of the item. If you would like to do the return, please send the estimated weight of the item and I can send you a free return shipping label.

Email #3: Wherin Erin Tries to Find the Win-Win
This book with its dented corners is now Good at best. Even with the refund, it's not worth $34 dollars. So if I pick that choice (Option A) I'm actually taking a loss.

Or I could return it to you (Option B), in which case you lose a $40 sale, get a bad Amazon review, and have to unload a damaged book.

I would like to choose option C, "You replace my damaged book and I send you this one." This is the only way we both win. I get my new book; you get to keep the money, get a sterling review from me, and still get this damaged book to resell.

Email #4: The "No, We Really ARE That Stupid" Reply
Hello Erin, 
I spoke with my manager and the most we can do is $10 off. Even at the lesser amount we are already taking a loss on the item but we want to try and reconcile the situation. I understand your frustration, but those are the best options we have at this time because of the back end systems we have setup for our business. You are welcome to place a new order once the refund has been placed. 
Again, I apologize for the inconvenience and please let me know what works best for you.

Email #5: Wherin Erin Decides to Let the Company Ice-Skate Uphill
Why you decided to do it this way when you still have new versions of this book for sale is beyond my reckoning. But since you'd rather take the loss than send me a new book, I guess we do it the hard way.

I officially announce I am returning this item because it is damaged. Please refund my money.

The shipping weight on the FedEx envelope says 2.45 pounds, so send me a label for same.

Email #6: Wherein They Admit They Have Lost 
Hello Erin,

Attached is your free return shipping label. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience. I've made note of your feedback and hopefully it is something we can fix in our system in the near future.

I don't understand people. I ordered a new book; said book was damaged by their carrier; and they have the ability to replace said book. Replacing the book would have made a customer happy, they would have kept their sale, and they could have recouped their loss by filing a claim with FedEx and/or reselling the damaged book.

Instead, they made a token offer, and then requested I re-order (and therefore pay the shipping charges again). This resulted in them losing the sale, paying FedEx to ship it back, and a bad review of the company.

In what realm is this even good business sense?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Traveller Tuesday: I Helped Make This

So this is the thing that has been consuming a lot of my time lately:
Alespron is subsector G of Foreven sector. It's got a lot going on, and my stink is all over this (I wrote a third of it):
  • A fallen Monarchy in civil war.
  • An invasion by the Zhodani Consulate to "restore order".
  • Opportunities for ship captains to make money legitimately (bringing relief supplies in and transporting refugees out) or less so (gun running, conflict gems, double-dealing).
  • Plus a curious little Droyne world that isn't what you'd expect.
I'll post the link to this when it's available for publishing. It if sells well, maybe I'll get a larger writing gig -- I'd love to get my paws on Urnian (subsector P). Until then, haunt the Jon Brazer Enterprises blog for more information. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #79
It's the Gun Blog Variety Cast!
  • Erin Palette interviews Scott Bascom about the various prepping resources that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints makes available to non-Mormons.
  • You think Bernie Sanders' economic policies are bad? Wait until you hear what Nicki Kenyon has to say about his Foreign Policy!
  • Our Special Guest this week is Jenna Meek, an owner/instructor at Carry On Colorado. Jenna joins us to talk about her new book, a really great introduction to armed self defense "Calling the Shots: Self-protection and firearm choices that work for you."
  • Don't use Windows, they said. It's not secure, they said. Well Barron B tells us about a HUGE vulnerability just discovered. And this time it's in Linux!
  • And Laughing at Liberals brings us the strange, bizarre, and downright insane proclamations of the anti-gunners in a gun grabber "Town Hall" meeting in Oregon. You know what he's going to do with them. That's right! It's time for another patented Weer'd Audio Fisk™!
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.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Quickie With Salem

I'm afraid I will have to phone it in this week. I had planned on offering up my thoughts on Deadpool, but halfway through the movie I started experiencing some unpleasant sensations in my gut which led to a week of fun.

See, my refrigerator is a little old and busted. It ices up probably more often than it should, and I hadn't noticed until it was too late this time. I'd probably eaten one or two meals of stuff out of it that was being stored at maybe 50 degrees F by the time I noticed. Then, while it was unplugged for a day and a half to melt all the backed up ice, I was eating a lot of junk and fast food. Follow that with the bright idea of starting Friday morning off the right way with a big bowl of healthy oatmeal.. and my entire digestive system just ground to a halt. I spent a couple of days curled up in my recliner because lying down hurt and moving around hurt, and I've spent the last couple of days fighting my way through work and thankful I do so from home so that I can occasionally stop what I'm doing return to a fetal position.

I'm feeling considerably better now, if still not 100%, but I will do you all the service of refreshing my mind on Deadpool by going to see it during my week off of work that starts tomorrow, so that I may bring you a proper verdict on the movie. I swear, the sacrifices I make for you all. I'm glad you're all so grateful.

Anyway, in the meantime I'd like to bring just a few things to your attention that caught my attention the last week or so and that I wish I had more prepared, coherent thought about:

  • British national treasure Stephen Fry was run off of Twitter after a minor, imagined offense this week, and fortunately unlike Joss Whedon, he has the good grace to claim he didn't just fall down some stairs. At an awards show, a friend of his was presenting an award dressed rather eccentrically, and he joked that she looked like a 'bag lady.' The comment was immediately seized upon as being misogynistic and one of Twitter's most valuable assets was relentlessly attacked for ribbing a pal. Personally, I think Fry has the right idea. Between their flailing stock prices and hemorrhaging executives and the institution of their Police of Vice and Virtue... what? Oh, sorry, their "Trust and Safety Council", Twitter is a sinking ship, and I'm glad. All it does is amplify misunderstandings and give bad actors an excuse to attack. As much as I harp on Tumblr, I'd rid the internet of Twitter if given the choice between the two.

  • Next, we have long-time Gay Rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, being boycotted and branded transphobic and racist by an NUS LGBT Officer for supporting freedom of speech and standing against the practice of no-platforming. A man who fought for gay rights in a time when you'd still stand a not-insignificant chance of being lynched for being gay. A man who once tried to perform a citizen's arrest on Robert Freakin' Mugabe. I'm starting to see a real pattern here.

  • Finally, a positive note: Something I've been saying for at least 3 years has now appeared on Everyday Feminism dot com! I'm not even archiving this one. I want them to get attention for having a moment of self-awareness, and I'm hoping it grows. Social Justice is giving bad people an excuse to act badly, and a cudgel to beat people they don't like with.

All right, everybody. I'm out for now. I've got one more night of work before I'm on holiday, and I'll somehow drag myself back to see Deadpool one more time just for you lot. I just hope you all appreciate the sacrifices I make.

Traveller Thursday : Multiple Hull Coatings

I've been busy working on a real-life project that I ought to be able to talk about soon, which is why posts have been rather thin lately. I have time for a quickie, though.

Quick question: what Traveller tech level would it take to effect the following transformation sequence for a real-life vehicle?

If you're familiar with this 90s series, keep in mind I'm not asking about any of the weapons. I just want to know what TL you think is needed to have the red car transform into the gray car while still being able to move.

I asked this question of my Secret Cabal of Evil GMs and the answer was "somewhere between TL 10 and 12."  This suits me just fine for the purpose I have in mind.

My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
2nd Edition High Guard (still in beta testing) has explicitly stated that TL 10 Reflec coatings and TL 10 Stealth coatings are mutually exclusive. Now while I can see a point to be made where you can't have both operational at once -- anything which reflects visible light is, by definition, not stealthy -- I don't see why you couldn't have both on the same ship and switch between them.

Sure, it's going to be expensive. But I think it's possible, and it's the kind of thing that militaries would put on craft like system defense boats and small craft.

2e also has the Holographic Hull option, which includes projectors embedded within the hull to change color, add graphics etc. I recall a previous edition of Traveller (MegaTraveller, I think, but it could have been New Era) mentioned that many warships had holographic hulls which allowed them to switch between "peace mode" that used bright colors for the name and unit logo loud and proud for easy identification,  and a "war mode" that was camouflaged and made it difficult to determine what ship it was (and therefore not have its capabilities be obvious). 

So I think it is quite reasonable to assume that ships past a certain TL ought to be able to switch between stealth and reflec. I chose TL 12 just to err on the side of caution. 
Configurable Hull (TL 12)
This option allows a craft to switch between hull coatings. This is an outer-layer only change, and therefore it does not interfere with armor, the jump grid, or atmospheric integrity of the ship. It does not allow the addition of the same coating more than once. It costs MCr 0.1 per ton of hull, in addition to the coatings. It takes one turn, during the Ship Action phase, to switch hull configurations. 
Now you can build fighters with advanced stealth systems that can "turn on" armor against laser point defense right as they begin their strafing run, and then "re-stealth" as they break away to avoid missile interception. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Legends of Tomorrow? More like "Ends of Meh"

I have largely moved away from commenting about popular culture or current events on this site because as time passes, such things become less relevant. Perhaps I am committing folly by assuming that things like my Traveller posts will stand the test of time, but let's be honest for a moment: once an election or a television season is over, no one really cares what was said about it, but my "I am the very model of a modern Marvel mastermind" filk is still funny years after it was topical.

But today I am going to break that rule -- I do it every so often -- and talk about something in pop culture that is driving me bugnuts crazy. Specifically, the CW's new show Legends of Tomorrow.

I'm sorry, but this show is terrible.

I want to like it, because I am a big fan of Arrow and Flash. I enjoyed Ray Palmer's "too smart for his own good" run on Arrow (even if The Atom is more Iron Man than Ant-Man), and I enjoyed seeing Professor Martin Stein be a mentor to Barry on Flash.

Sadly, none of that is present in this show. Instead, we get stupid plots that break the rules of time travel that were set up in Flash, and the leader of the group is a character we don't know and who has all the charisma of a bureaucrat. Arthur Darvill's Rip Hunter doesn't act like a leader -- he doesn't act very well at all, in fact -- and he's so overshadowed by the personalities who CAN act that you're left wondering "Why do these awesome people continue to listen to this jackass who has not only lied to them but also can't even grasp the basics of causality?"

Allow me to explain.

Rip Hunter wants to go back in time to stop Vandal Savage from conquering the world and killing his family. We're going to set aside the whole paradoxical argument of "You went back in time to stop something from happening, and so it didn't happen, and because it didn't happen you didn't go back in time to stop it, so it did happen, so you go back in time..." because 1) that way lies madness and 2) that doesn't make an entertaining show. So we have to assume that time travelers can fix things without erasing their reason for the fix. I'm fine with this, as it's the central conceit of the show and I know it going in, so I accept it as I watch it for the same reason I choose to accept "the dead animate to feast upon the living" so I can watch The Walking Dead. However, accepting this premise leads to some questions

Question #1: Why doesn't Rip go back in time to the day BEFORE Savage kills his family, pile them onto the Waverider, and take them to a safe place in history?

Question #2: Rip hesitates and doesn't kill Savage in ancient Egypt. Why not go back again and finish the job? Hell, why not go back MULTIPLE TIMES and have multiple Rips there to kill Savage?

The answer to both of these questions seems to be a variation on the observer effect: if a time traveller is there for an event, they cannot change it, because it is part of their personal timestream. In other words, Rip can't gang up on Savage because he didn't see multiple versions of himself there. He can't save his family because he's already seen them dead.

Problem #1: This directly contradicts how time travel works in the Flash, where Barry has not only changed events he is part of (Weather Wizard's tidal wave in season 1, and Vandal Savage going boom in season 2), but has actually met and interacted with himself (the fight with Zoom in the past). Since Flash came out before Legends, and because the entire season 1 metaplot was built around time travel, I consider its rules on how time travel works to have precedent unless there's a good explanation why things ought to be different. So far, there hasn't been one. Despite Rip Hunter talking a good game about how he's a Time Master and he knows how to make subtle alterations to the time stream so that the changes stick, there's been no explanation as to how he knows or what the rules for making proper changes are.

Problem #2: Again, according to Flash, when you alter the past to change the present, the past "fights back" and tries to reassert itself in the new causality. In other words, if you mess around with time travel, you pay for it, which makes good sense from a narrative standpoint because otherwise every villain can be beaten with "The Flash goes back in time 24 hours and defeats the villain." Now compare this with how it works in Legends, where the team screws up a 1970s arms deal and suddenly Central City of 2016 is in flames. So the past is easy to change, I guess? And it doesn't fight to reassert itself... except when it does, like when Leonard Snart tries to keep his father out of prison by stealing the emerald his father would get caught stealing, and instead his father is put in jail for fencing the stolen gem. There's no consistency here.

Problem #3: If the Observer Effect is how changes to the time stream work in Legends, then this is all a fool's errand, because Rip has already observed that Vandal Savage conquers the world 2166. Tough noogies, Rip, you can't change the future because you've just observed it. So either you don't know how altering the time stream works, or you're delusional with grief... or the writers obviously have no clue and they're making you look like an idiot.

Conclusion: There is literally NO POINT to this show. Either Rip Hunter wins, immediately, because he's a time traveller, or he's already lost and cannot change that because observing the events has fixed them in the time stream. Saying there's some kind of middle ground, especially without any kind of explanation as to how or why the rules are different, is just masturbation. And that's what this show is: character-based fanwanking. Which would be fine if the characters were handled intelligently and sympathetically... but they aren't.

Hey Arrow fans, you remember how smart and confident and competent Ray Palmer was? He was this awesome uber-geek who could leave Felicity Smoak in the dust, and he didn't have any of her crippling social anxieties. Really cool, right? Well, he isn't any of those things in this show. Instead, he's just a nerdy fanboy who gets handed the idiot ball so that smooth criminal Leonard Snart can show him up. Instead of being the smartest man in the room, he's been reduced to "shrinking guy."

Hey Flash fans, you remember how Professor Stein was wise and mature and a fatherly mentor figure? He talked about time travel and alternate realities and was generally warm and kind and filled the role of leader when Reverse-Flash abandoned his Wells disguise. Guess what? He isn't any of those things in this show, either! Instead he's an angry, controlling, almost bullying old man who will do or say anything to get his way, including roofie-ing and kidnapping Jax so that Old Man Stein can have his Big Egotistical Adventure.

The only bright spot in this dismal affair is the triple "bromance" that Canary has with Heatwave and Captain Cold. If the show was just those three travelling through time and getting into trouble, I would enjoy the hell out of it. Sadly, it isn't, and Wentworth Miller's schmoozy charisma and Caity Lotz's psycho intensity only highlight how much I don't care about Rip Hunter and Hawkgirl.

In other words, it's  not just fanwankery, it's BAD fanwankery that doesn't deliver. I was SO excited for this show, because the premise was amazing -- "Your favorite side characters, in their own show!" -- and it's just terrible in execution.

However, because I feel bad for savaging Legends, I'm going to give Greg Berlanti (in the exceedingly slim chance that he reads this) an idea for his next show.
  • Put John Constantine and Zatanna in a series called The Books of Magic and have them fight magic-based villains. (Alternate titles: Trenchcoat Brigade; Shadowpact)
  • Set it in England (but film it in Vancouver, to have maximum crossover potential with Flash and Arrow).
  • Tim Hunter can be their teenage sidekick. This allows that funky quasi-family dynamic that CW loves, and also gives Constantine the chance to take the piss out of Harry Potter. Win-win!
  • At some point, add the Huntress to the team. She can be the third leg to the love triangle that I know you'll set up with John and Zats. (Feel free to rip off the Question/Huntress dynamic from Justice League Unlimited.)
  • Have over-arching metaplots linking to DC's cosmic entities: Lords of Order and Chaos; the Endless from Gaiman's Sandman series; and of course the Spectre. As the stories progress, the team can receive missions from the Phantom Stranger and/or Doctor Fate. 
  • Etrigan the Demon can be the first season nemesis, but can redeem and eventually join the team as a good guy. 
  • Also good adds or guest stars: Swamp Thing and Hawkgirl (who would be a MUCH better fit here than on Legends). 

Yes, people will say it's a ripoff  of Supernatural (and maybe it is), but it's a DC-themed ripoff. Think of the crossover potential between shows, and the rich mystical history of the DC universe. We have a natural show (Arrow) a science show (Flash), and an alien show (Supergirl); we need a magic show, and the character of John Constantine is popular (and the actor is available).

Boom, there's your new series. I give it to Greg Berlanti for free. Just add my name somewhere in the credits and we're good.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #78
Another fine episode of The GunBlog VarietyCast!
  • Erin Palette gives you some good ideas on alternative methods of carrying your everyday preps.
  • Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, says that ISIS isn't a "Mortal Enemy" of the US. Nicki Kenyon tells us what she thinks.
  • Our Special Guest this week is Gabe Suarez of Suarez International. Gabe tells us why we should use Mini Red Dot Sights (MRDS) on pistols.
  • Barron B reminds all you software developers, and anyone who builds complex systems, that "Configuration Matters." 
  • And Weer'd finally completes his 5 week breakdown of Obama's disastrous CNN Town Hall, ending with a pro-gun question from Taya Kyle, American Sniper, Chris Kyle's widow.
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.

Friday, February 12, 2016

SHTFriday: Slings and Rifles

I wanted the title to have more of a Hamlet riff, but "Slings and Rifles of Outrageous Fortune" sounded far too expensive for our little blog.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The X-Files Strikes Back

My ex-wife was fond of The X-Files. One of a small handful of positive things that I can say about her, but I'm pretty sure it was more tangential to her love of police procedurals than of a love of the weird. Between her reruns and me catching the first few years of the show forever ago, I've seen probably every episode at some point or another, but not often or in order enough to really know the story backwards and forwards. I know it turns out there actually were aliens; I know Mulder and Scully had a child; I want to say I remember something about the Cigarette Smoking Man and Mulder's father, but... and it's gone.

So in quite possibly the longest hiatus between series since Doctor Who, The X-Files has returned. In some ways, it still feels like the old X-Files. The direction is the same; similar camera angles and lighting, but on much higher quality equipment; and the old gang -- most of it, anyway -- is back.

As I've expressed previously, I respected Gillian Anderson's portrayal of Dana Scully back in the day, but she fell off my radar for a long time until she resurfaced in Hannibal. Without becoming distasteful, Gillian Anderson, at this point in her life, is a captivating woman, and her portrayal of Scully remains dead-on with an older, more mature version of the doctor and agent we knew years ago.

David Duchovny, however, has not aged as well. Which perhaps serves the character of Fox Mulder, as in the first episode he looks old and tired. So much so that I couldn't help but worry, when Mulder takes a tumble down some stairs in episode 2, that his hip wouldn't make it.

Skinner's back too, as well as a brief cameo from the CSM.

The writing, I feel, isn't quite as strong as the original series, but it's workable so far, mixing old-school conspiracy talks with references to modern things such as Uber, Obamacare, and totally-not-Bill-O'Reilly.

The first episode starts off with promise, and a premise of a woman being kidnapped and impregnated repeatedly by aliens, but after the first act the pacing puts the hammer down and the editor completely loses his mind, fitting what feels like an entire season into two-thirds of an episode. So many interesting ideas, concepts, and characters are introduced and immediately discarded without further development. The most disappointing part is the character of Sveta, who refers to having met Mulder and Scully before as a child, during the events of the original series. I looked her up, and was disappointed to find out that Sveta never appeared in one of these episodes. While that's hardly a flaw in and of itself, I felt it a missed opportunity and would have been a nice bit of symmetry for Sveta to have actually been a character that had appeared in one of the first few episodes. The appearance by Joel McHale as a conservative pundit obsessed with unveiling governmental conspiracy in a nice blend of O'Reilly and Alex Jones is also fun to watch, and would have made for an interesting recurring character, had the first story had more room to breathe.

The pacing on the second episode is much better, taking its time and letting the scenes breathe a little. The visual effects and makeup work is fantastic as well, especially in the DoD-funded hospital for children with genetic disorders, with some truly haunting disfigurements on display. This one really felt like an old-school episode of X-Files, much more so than the frenetic pacing of the first episode. Mulder, back in his suit and tie, looked much more at ease with being back on the job, and easily 10 years younger than the first episode. The shining moments, though, belong to a pair of dream sequences of “what might have been” showing Mulder and Scully growing up with little William into his teens, moving from idyllic normal lives into their fears of what could come given the circumstances of their son's origin.

The third episode, though, brings back the charm of some of the funnier classic episodes like Bad Blood (trailer park vampires) or X-COPS (filmed not unlike an episode of COPS). Unlike the previous two episodes of this series which were, in turn, confusing and gripping, this one was fun. Fun and very self-aware. From the opening moments, with Mulder's crisis of faith explaining away the possibility of a monster with nudists and mountain lions, to the near-farcical moment of losing the monster in question in a port-a-loo, the comedic timing on this one is gold. And yes, this scene is in it. And no, I'm not telling you the context. Watch it for yourself. The episode is completely absurd and completely worth your time watching, even if it's the only episode of the relaunch you see.

If the remaining episodes can, even if serious in tone, match the pacing of the second episode and the fun of the third, I think this'll be a triumphant return for The X-Files. If not, and they end up looking more like that haphazard first episode, it may leave a bitter aftertaste for fans of the original. I've quite enjoyed the second and third episodes, and they kept me from checking out of this revival early. I'll see you in a few weeks for thoughts on the next few.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I'm Still Alive

Yeah, I've been quiet for a while, but I felt I owed it to everyone to check in and let you know I'm all right.

This is turning out to be one of those weeks where accomplishing more than getting out of bed takes far more effort than usual. And I'm not even depressed!  I think it's a combination of my sleep schedule getting screwed up, over-extending myself on the weekend, and having real-life duties that have eaten much of my free time. But combine that with the fact that I do feel my monthly depression spooling up -- doubly so because Singles Awareness Day is in 4 days -- and I don't know when I'll have the energy, or the desire, to check in.

So anyway: I'm all right. I'm not in pain. I've no desire to hurt myself or anyone else. I'm just tired a lot, more than a little discouraged, and bracing for the emotional thunderclouds that are rolling in.

If you want to do me a kindness, wish me well on the 14th. I'm never anyone's Valentine.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Gun Blog Variety Podcast #77

Adam and Sean bring you another episode of The GunBlog VarietyCast.
  • Sean has heard some really scary things about this Zika virus, and Erin Palette tries to talk him down off the ledge.
  • Nicki Kenyon discusses the African Islamist terror group al Shabaab.
  • Barron B is on assignment this week (get well soon!)
  • And Weer'd continues with his multi-week fisking of Obama's disastrous CNN Town Hall. This week, the pro-gun questions.
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.

Friday, February 5, 2016

SHTFriday: Zika Watch, Week 2

Despite all the hysteria you're hearing from the media, not a lot has changed between last week and this. This week, I talk about the new developments and why they aren't the big deal that the panic-mongers want you to think they are.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

This Wire Goes Where?

It is with heavy heart that I retire the last internal component of my original gaming computer, first built some 5 years ago now.

It is with fond memory that I recall making the decision to first build it. When playing Assassin's Creed: Revelation, I was put off by the framerate dipping into the low twenties, rendering the game virtually a slideshow and thus unplayable. I began putting together an order for parts with money set back each month, and made the order late 2011: an Nvidia GTX 560 graphics card, Intel i5-2500 processor, and 16 GB of DDR3 RAM. When finally completed, it was capable of an average of 37 frames per second on the maxed-out benchmark of Batman: Arkham City, and blazed through the aforementioned Revelation with all the settings topped out.

In the intervening years, a new video card, the XLR8 Nvidia GTX 770, was acquired, along with a new power supply as the old one physically didn't have the capability to run it. Not that it wasn't powerful enough, but that it simply didn't have the required plugs. Some additional RAM was added, but my poor system was finally reaching a moderate level of obsolescence. New games couldn't be maxed out anymore, and like history repeating itself, Assassin's Creed: Unity and Syndicate were barely playable. I was lowering the resolution from the standard 1080p (still far higher than the average gaming console can achieve) and turning settings down to low, and still getting mixed results. Well optimized games - Mad Max, Witcher 3, Shadow of Mordor, were running fine, but Arkham Knight and the aforementioned Assassin games, which were already a mess, were a nightmarish mess of stuttering and blurred textures.

Come Christmas Bonus, I put in an order. The new Skylake generation i5-6600, DDR4 RAM, and a motherboard named after an explosive, the B150M Mortar.

Upgrade day is always stressful to me. It's a damn good thing I never went into medicine, as nothing works the first time I close up the case and start it up. In this case, it was quite literal, as the whole thing failed to power on. After cracking the case back open I noticed I'd neglected to attach the mains power to the motherboard... and the front LEDs... and the power switch. I'd forgotten to plug the power switch into the motherboard.

This rectified, I set about reinstalling Windows 10, which went successfully until, at the insistence of an otherwise brilliant techie friend, I manually reinstalled the drivers for the motherboard. The activity on my solid state hard drive went to, and stayed at, 100% until the computer crashed.

After a fresh reinstallation, and trusting Windows to handle the drivers, I'm back on my feet and happy to report that I'm now getting the same performance at 1080p on Ultra settings for games that were previously at 720p and Low settings.

All that said, it's set back the review I was going to write for X-Files, which is probably a good thing. That first episode was... well, someone linked me to the gif I'll provide here, which promises that the subsequent episodes have a little more to provide than the frenetically-paced mess that was the first episode.

And remember, it's never a successful rebuild unless you have screws left over!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Traveller Missile Addendum

I forgot to mention this.

Disclaimer: At this point I have fully embraced my heresy and now cherry pick willy-nilly from both 1e and 2e Mongoose Traveller. I denounce myself.  
My use of Traveller setting and dress falls under
fair use guidelines for both Mongoose and Far Future Enterprises.
Missile Speed
As I said last week, missiles in Traveller are slow -- probably too slow to make them effective in combat.  (Well, maybe not; perhaps you have different space combat scenarios then I do. All of mine have started at Very Long or Distant range, and it takes for-freaking-ever for missiles to reach their targets.)

To that end, I have been experimenting with increasing missile speeds. I am sure this will come as a source of consternation to at least one of my players, who said "Missiles are not beams." And this is true. But consider this post about AMRAAM G-load from, a forum filled with war otaku if I've ever seen one:
AMRAAM like any missile will likely be able to achieve maximum G forces when their rocket motor is still burning but are able to achieve quite high G forces mid-flight. For example VT-1 missile in Crotale NG SAM system can go up to 50 Gs but can still go 35 Gs 8 km away from launcher several seconds after the rocket motor has burned out. Speed then is something like 750 m/s when top speed is 1250 m/s. I think AMRAAM will be similar and can do max G turns when rocket motor is still burning or just burned out. 
There are no citations, so I can't check the claims being made (and believe me, I've been looking for sources of hard data on missile G load, but they're passionate and I generally trust war nerds to get their data right), but they're saying that modern (TL 7) missiles can pull G loads between 30 and 50 G's, albeit briefly and usually at launch.

If that's possible at TL 7, then it sounds plausible to me that TL 12 (average Traveller tech level) missiles ought to be much faster, and Imperial maximum TL 15 missiles faster still. As tech level advances, both upper speed and duration of G-burn increase. 

So here's something one of my fellow Evil Traveller GMs came up with: the top speed of any missile is twice its tech level.  This means that TL 7 missiles have a max thrust of 14 G's... which actually fits as another of the Evil GM Cadre gave me these numbers:
The WPU-8/B engine of the AIM-120A-1 has 2,128 kg of thrust for 10 seconds then 182 for another 110 seconds. That's 14 G's. And that 14G is the average over the entire burn, it's slower at the beginning and faster at booster burnout because it's getting lighter from fuel consumption.
 Of course, the drawback to having really fast missiles is that you can't use the missile flight time chart in the core rules; you need to track its position like a craft and subtracting its thrust from that of a fleeing target in order to find relative velocity. (Not that it matters to me, I've been doing it this way for years now.)

To that  end, I present you with this very nifty spreadsheet that my friend The_Jack made. Just input the missile's thrust and endurance (and if it's launching from a craft, how fast that craft was going and for how long) and it will do the rest.

Since speed is dependent upon Tech Level, and TL is variable, we need a formula. For simplicity's sake, let's just use the base cost of the missiles as printed in the book as the baseline and then multiply them by tech level as well.
  • Basic (ballistic guidance) missiles (which are  cost 15,000 x TL 7 = 105,000 Cr for 14G or 225,000 Cr. for 30G. 
  • TL 12 Smart (internal guidance) missiles (which is what most PCs will get) cost 30,000 x 12 = 360K for a pack of 12 at 24G's. 
  • Nukes cost 45,000 x 7 = 315,000 Cr for a dozen, which is still pretty cheap. TL 15 cost 675K for 12. If anything, I think I'm undercharging for these. 
  • Missiles which are neither smart nor basic default to external guidance. See last week's post for more explanation on this. 
  • Long Range missiles... kind of cease to be relevant at this point. 
You get the idea. Yes, they're much more expensive than the 1e versions (but actually get surprisingly close to 2e prices), but they're also much faster, which means they are less likely to be shot down, and that makes them far more effective. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Monday Gunday: 3 Ways to Sling Carry

I had originally planned to write an article about the use of the sling and the different ways you can sling your rifle... and then I found this infographic which says everything I planned to say, but better and with more clarity.

So look at the picture and be informed. I'm going to run my antivirus to see if I can figure out what is causing my internet connection to drop intermittently and then I'm going to bed.

By the way, my sling of choice for my AR-15 and SKS is the Echo Sling. I've reviewed it and I recommend it highly.

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