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The ID10T Files
Computers are crap and people are stupid.
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13th-Dec-2014 10:45 am - Deep Pockets
round glasses
My family has a holiday gift exchange circle. This year, it was my father who was selected to get a gift for me. To that end I sent him an email with a link to my Amazon wish list. My father is no computer illiterate but I wondered what his experience was with online shopping.

His answer was to call me and offer to give me cash instead.

I'm certainly not going to refuse that. Still being unemployed and burning through my savings, getting $30 cash will serve my needs much better than any gift off my list.

With my dad getting a gift for me, the exchange circle had me getting a gift for one of m,y sisters. On her list were some bedsheets. She specifically asked for sheets with “Extra Deep Pockets.”

So, what does that mean exactly? Well, in a general sense, the pocket has to do with the mattress thickness. One would assume Extra Deep Pockets would mean a particularly deep mattress. The question is, how deep? At the store I could not figure it out. Those with measurements (12 and 18 inches were most common with a few as large as 20 inches) did not mention their relation to pocket size. The packages that said Extra Deep Pockets had no measurement and happened not to come in the colors I was directed to find. An Internet search found a rough correlation between Extra Deep Pockets and sizes above 20” but nothing that said specifically. I asked a few store clerks and they had no idea. I stopped in mattress stores, and while they didn't sell bedsheets one would think they would know size standardization and terminology. Nope. No idea there either.

Finally, I sent an email back to my sister explaining the issue in short and asking her to just measure her mattress.

12 inches. Pretty much all the sheet sets I had been looking at would be more than suitable for that regardless of whether they said Extra Deep or not.

12th-Dec-2014 11:51 pm - Steel Ctity Con
I know that previously I had said I would not be getting a weekend pass for Steel City Con but I lied. Well, I didn't exactly lie in that it was my initial intention not to give the con any more money than I had too and I had planned on only attending Sunday for the costume contest but the local steampunks had decided to go on Saturday and I decided to support that cause.

$40 is a lot to spend on just getting into a dealer's convention when you don't have a job.

There was a moment there when it looked like it may have brought some return on my investment. One dealer, who I had spoken with on previous occasions and mistook me for a mason because I was wearing a fez, told me that one of his neighbors had an antique store and was looking for someone to help offload some of his stock on eBay. I have never sold on eBay but I'm pretty sure I could get up to speed in ten minutes or so. A project like that would have been great to tide me over with some cash while I'm waiting for my contingent job offer to sort itself out but, ultimately, that plan fell through.

A momentary, bright ray of hope into an otherwise dismal time.

One dealer had a vintage cast iron zeppelin pull toy for $50, which was actually a good price for that particular toy in the condition it was in. Not that I'm going to drop that much for it at this time. Another dealer had a windup tin airship that he was asking $300 for. From what I've seen online and the condition it was in, I think that was overpriced.

On piece of nostalgia I actually purchased was a vinyl LP of the first public release of Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds. I recall borrowing it from the library and playing at again and again. Then copying it to 8-track so I could play it more. And then copying that to a cassette when I finally got my own player. I'm not exactly sure how much it's worth but it's in pretty good condition and probably worth a little more than the $5 I paid for it.

The costume contest on Sunday had literally hundreds of participants. And all it took was a handful of people with really good costumes and concepts to ensure that Steampunk Django didn't stand a chance. The Dragon Rider. They guy with the 8 foot tall Terminator walking behind him. Santa Doom. King Arthur and Patsy, Groot. I could tell standing in the hallway before going on stage that these guys would be the ones vying for the top spot on the winners podium and I was not proven wrong.

In the mid 19th Century there was an outbreak of crime that became known as the Garroting Scare. Garroting entailed a criminal coming up behind a gentleman and strangling him, perhaps with his arm or by casting a cord about his neck. While the man struggled, an accomplice of the criminal would rifle through the man's pockets. And while these sorts of crime did, in fact, actually happen, there is no statistical evidence, now or then, to indicate that crime became particularly prevalent during that time or that garroting itself became a preferred method of neer do wells. Never the less, the media-fueled panic gripped London leading directly to a cottage industry of inventive devices designed specifically to thwart the garroter. That a gentleman would consider the carrying of a sword cane came directly from this phantom menace.

I mention this because it seems that the steampunk community, and cosplay community in general, seems to have been gripped by a similar panic. The string of police shootings of unarmed youths and specifically the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland while he carried a BB gun, has made the costumed community fearful that they too might become victim to an over zealous police officer who doesn't realize that the hotel is full of people in costumes carrying toy swords and guns. Aloysius Fox, director of the Steampunk Symposium, has banned the carrying of realistic guns at his convention.

Did you see where I'm going with this social-political commentary? Yea, subtlety is why I don't win costume contests.

A more detailed editorial on the subject may be forthcoming but for now I will say that I am disappointed because nearly all of the weapons I choose to costume with are realistic and are, in those cases, integral to the costume. One cannot be a gunfighter without a gun. Therefore, I feel I must amp up my other costumes.

And thus, we return to the Garroting Scare. One of the products which was sold to protect gentlemen about the streets from Thugees was the armored collar. The more inventive of the collars had spikes but the one I am considering for myself would be made of chain mail. And, more than just a collar, I thought to have the entire cravat armored. The cravat could be of chain mail but I also thought that scale would be very attractive. To this end, I spoke with several dealers who produced chain mail and scale pieces. While I was not able to get a precise bid price, I came away with the impression that a scale cravat might cost me several hundreds of dollars.

Not to equate that price to highway robbery but I think that with the proper materials I could construct such a thing myself for significantly less. And it's not like I don't have the time to do it.

I am a bit of a hobbyist when it comes to the Great Airship Flap of 1897-97. I have half a dozen books on the subject and have scoured the Internet for additional material. From that research I have lectured numerous times at science fiction and steampunk conventions on the topic and am always on the lookout for additional materials and sources of information to improve my understanding and presentation on the subject.

Maximilien de Lafayette has offered up a short work titled “Synopsis of the True Story of the Great Airship Flap and UFOs (sic) Sightings of 1896-1897.

The title is almost longer than the book. Out of 64 pages in the book, there are about 12 pages of actual text, a little more than twice that taken up in illustrations, five pages advertising his other books and about as many totally blank but numbered pages as there are of text.

This is self publishing.

It took me literally five minutes to read the included text and while he starts off his narrative by saying there are “avalanches of pieces of evidence, hundreds upon hundreds of irrefutable documents, and mountains of historical and scientific findings,” he then completely and utterly fails to back that statement up with a single primary source, footnote or even a bibliography.

One illustration he used was labeled “An airship landed in Iowa, 1987 (sic)” He doesn't source this photograph or explain its relevance but completely fails to note that the photograph was, yes, from Iowa and, yes, from 1897, but was separated from its original newspaper headline and caption identifying it as an obvious hoax.

Another illustration has an airship flying over and Arkansas town. Is it coincidence or irony that has the airship in that particular illustration a literal cut-and-paste from another illustration of the airship above Chicago on the very next page? An illustration that was repeated, though in a poorer resolution scan, several pages earlier. Using the same picture twice? Really?

And, for a book that starts and ends with the strong assertion that the airship flap was an actual airship, his failure to address the crash in Aurora, Texas, the one news report from amongst 10,000 period sightings to mention beings from another world and the entire foundation with modern flying saucer assertions, is a conspicuous absence.

Given those and other mistakes and omissions, there seems little reason to conclude that the author did any significant research. In fact, there were a lot of truly factual details about the events missing or incorrect that have me believing that he didn't even go as far as to use Wikipedia (the German Wiki on the subject is even better).

I will say that some of the illustrations he used are of a better quality than I have been able to find and I will be scanning them to include in my own presentation but I feel I can say with a certain confidence that I could produce a better sourced and more cohesive narrative on the topic off the top of my head.

I have had friends and colleagues advise me that I should write a book on the subject but I always demurred, saying that there were a number of books already out there and my scholarship, without any decent access to primary sources, couldn't measure up. Perhaps I was wrong. De Lafayette has shown me that scant knowledge of a subject, lack of sources and poor lithographic layout is in no way an impediment to being published.

I'm curious how much money he has made peddling his papers. For someone who has claimed “280 international bestsellers” on his website, the bar has been set very low and I want a piece of that action

25th-Nov-2014 11:05 am - and I would ride one thousand miles
With the brief moment of warm weather yesterday in what seems to be leading up to a very cold winter, I pulled out my bike and did some riding. At the beginning of the year when I had lost my job it looked like I was going to be riding a lot. I would get up, spend a few hours looking for a job and emailing applications, then I would get on my bike and spend the afternoon riding the trail. Fourty or fifty miles a day.

But then I hit the peak with my 250 mile bike ride opver three days which lead to my diagnosis with high blood pressure. Even though the doctor said that I should continue to ride my bike and it was the bike riding that had probably kept me as healthy as I had been in spite of the high blood pressure, I stopped riding.

I think it was psychosomatic. Hypertension is generally a symptomless disease (which is part of the reason it can be so dangerous) but combine that new brokenness physically to the failure of my not being able to find a job and I did not feel well. And, in that not feeling well, I stopped being motivated enough to ride my bike. In generally I have stopped feeling motivated enough to do much of anything beyond job applications and internet surfing. Occasional projects but generally months of unproductiveness.

Typically, the annual mileage for my bike was 2,500 miles. Once the trail past Sandcastle was opened and I was going to be commuting more often from Homestead, it looked like that might climb to 5,000. More than doubling my daily mileage for being unemployed was going to send that even higher.

My bike ride yesterday just clicked over the 1,000 mile mark since getting my new bike just after loosing my job in march.

14th-Nov-2014 07:56 pm - TeslaCon: JttCotE
When this year's TeslaCon theme “Journey to the Center of the Earth” was announced last year, I immediately wrote a posting on the history of the various hollow Earth “hypotheses” in both utopian fiction and in what passes for reality in the deranged minds of the adherents. This was to be the foundation of a convention lecture on the subject and when the call went out for TeslaCon panels, I submitted my presentation, and my corpus of previous lectures, for consideration.

The summer months dragged on into fall and I received no word about the acceptance of any of my half dozen presentation submissions. Lord Bobbins specifically requested more immersive performances and, since I am not an actor, I let him know that if I did a presentation it would be as I usually do. If he preferred people to act their characters as if this really were 1884 then I wouldn't be surprised if I were left off the program. Besides, there are plenty of other people who do fine presentations and I have been on the program many times before. I do not begrudge others the opportunity.

Two weeks before the con, Lord Bobbins published the final schedule for the con and the first thing on the program, was a hollow Earth presentation, the description of which matched some of the ad copy I had made with my submission.

I had received no advance warning. My name was not on the program (in fact, few names were), and the description had been edited down. Was this for real? I contacted the program committee and, yes, they confirmed that I was on the program.

Thus began the panic.

Well, not exactly a panic. While my article of the year before was most of the script I was going to have, I still needed to flesh out the AV presentation with appropriate illustrations, expand on the script to fill the allotted time slot and read up to ensure I was comfortable with the material. Being still unemployed gave me ample time for this so, when crunch time came, I was not entirely unprepared.

Pittsburgh to TealsCon is a 10 hour drive. We made very good time until we hit Chicago's rush hour. Then we lost all that and then some.

Arriving when I did on Thursday night left time for hanging out in the hotel bar/restaurant and meeting the others who had arrived. I few I knew. Many I did not. There were also a significant number of people I would like to have seen, had seen in past years, but who hadn't attend this year. Kapitan von Grelle, Graf von Ziger, Matt Oztalay, Steampunk Boba Fett, all were missing. Tea Wispfaerie made it to the hotel in time to have kidney issues and go to the emergency room to have life saving surgery.

I missed seeing them all.

I hung a Union flag over the balcony and would have posted online that I could be found by that banner but security took it down and left me a note. Apparently the con rules had been changed at the last minute and the use of masking tape was prohibited. Whether they were concerned with the tape causing damage (something it was specifically designed not to do) or that it would fail and drop the flag on someone in the atrium (an insignificant danger) seemed to be undecided when I finally found someone the next day and recovered my flag. That I had never had either of those things happen in 30 years of con-going and banner-hanging was irrelevant. That no one in security seemed to know why the policy was in place, merely that they had to enforce it was also irrelevant.

My Hollow Earth presentation was scheduled for 10am Friday. Normally, such an early start time would mean a low turnout but Lord Bobbins had scheduled a welcoming ceremony at 9:30. That meant that when the ceremony was over, people were going to be scattering to programming and, since my program room was right off the atrium, I had decent attendance.

When I was setting up, I found out that my recent Ubuntu OS upgrade and concurrent change over from OpenOffice Presentation to LibreOffice Impress had given me new features. Normally, the projector would display exactly what was on the screen. With LibreOffice, the software recognized that I was working with a projector and gave me a presentation screen. While the projector showed the current screen, my laptop's screen showed that slide and also the next slide in the sequence. Additionally, it had the current time and the elapsed program time so I knew exactly where I was. Had I tested it earlier, I could have had the screen set to include program notes.

As this was the first time doing the presentation, it turned out being about 15 minutes short of the time slot. There is certainly material available on the subject for me to expand on things and better fill the space with content. I intend to start actually reading more of the Hollow Earth Utopian fiction of the time instead of just relying on summaries and synopses.

There was another Hollow Earth presentation scheduled for later in the day. I was concerned about whether it would cover the same things as I did and was pleased that the presenter showed up at my presentation thinking the same thing. There was little overlap. While my tack was more historical, following the progression of the Hollow Earth hypothesis from Athanasius Kircher and Edmond Halley, through the spiritualist believers and Utopian speculative fiction of the 19th Century with only a final mention of the contemporary nutballs who believe in subterranean shape-changing lizard people, his presentation was much more literary, touching a little on the Utopian fiction of the period but spending a lot more time on more modern fictional tellings.

The official opening ceremonies was the usual. I know that sounds a bit harsh but I have been attending since the first and given the grand production number it is intended to be but, in general, the plot, performances and cinematography of TeslaCon ceremonies are a formula, one pretty much like the other.

That is, until Lord Bobbins takes off his persona and really welcomes us to his convention. Here is where he shows us how much he is committed to the guests at his con. He talks a bit about the work he's done, he talks about what he wants to do in the future, he talks about dreams and fun, and he thanks those on the staff who make it all possible, and he thanks us for giving him a chance to do what he does. And, yes, even though that too is “usual” in that we see it every year, it's the sort of genuine performance that doesn't get old. More so that the story, more so than the computer animation, more so than the overacting, THIS is what I come to opening ceremonies for.

When we left opening ceremonies, there were dinosaurs. A pair of therapods from “Dakota and Friends.” Much like the “Walking with Dinosaurs” full-body puppets but not nearly as animatronic and with performers not nearly as expressive. Probably also not nearly as expensive to get to come to a steampunk convention. Dakota the deinonycus had a broad, flat head and given the limited range of motion my fez sat atop his head without issue.

Jim Trent invented a card game called Twisted Skies into which he has dropped various steampunk personalities. Last year, he produced a commemorative set for TeslaCon and I am one of the cards. I am told it is a fairly powerful card. I purchased one of the sets from him on Friday to have the card but I haven't played the game myself, nor have I played any other similar card games to know if, in fact, mine is a powerful card.

After kidney surgery, Tea Wispfaerie did actually make it to the convention on Sunday. It was great that she got a chance to see people and that I got a chance to talk to her, even if it was only one day spent mostly in her room. It was important to her.

And, in a way, to me. While I talked to her I realized some things about myself.

I want to be famous. Not really famous, and I don't expect to make any sort of money off of my fame, but I do want to be known. In the same way I will choose to go to a presentation based on the person giving it moreso than the topic itself, I want people to come see my presentations because it's me. I want conventions to contact me to bring my presentations to their convention. I want to be sought out for my knowledge and presentation skills for panels. I want to be comped a badge now and again. It's a craving for recognition. For affirmation.

Am I being selfish? Does that make me egotistical? A narcissist?

There are times I think that may be the case but then someone stops me in the hall to tell me how much they liked the presentation of mine they attended last year. Someone stops me in the hall asking if I'm doing any presentations this year and are disappointed to hear that they missed the one I was scheduled for on Friday morning. I hear Jim Trent tell someone that my TeslaCon Civil War was one of the best things he's read in the genre. He said he would like to help me out so I can come to his con down in Texas. I ran into some people building a con in St. Louis and they offered to comp me a badge.

Each time, tt's like getting my legs kicked out from under me and I am humbled. And even if I was on my way somewhere else, I stand in the hall and talk to them for as long as they like because they deserve to be talked to. It's the least I can do for the compliment they have given me. I already have what I wanted. I have a measure of that fame I was looking for and am embarrassed by it when it manifests. I am overwhelmed. I feel undeserving. This is how I know I'm not being selfish.

Humans are such contradictory creatures.

It has been two years since I wrote “A World Unmade,” an American Civil War documentary set in the TeslaCon universe. Lord Bobbins had initially wanted to have it released prior to the con in serial form but that didn't happen. He wanted to publish it in book form along with his photomanipulations but that didn't happen. Part of my plan this year was to corner him and let him know that, if he wasn't going to do anything with it, that I wanted it back. I wrote it for him and his con but if it wasn't going anywhere I wanted to be able to post it on my website so people could see it. It did no good, either as entertainment or as a representation of my wordcraft, it if continued to sit in a drawer.

Lord Bobbins is regularly asked about novelizing the con narrative but he says he's not an author and not a publisher. I had offered to do so but ended up writing the Civil War narrative instead. That sort of gives me my answer about him doing something with it. Jim Trent had a similar question but had his own answer. He's a publisher and told me that he was going to talk to Lord Bobbins about producing an anthology of TeslaCon stories. Including my Civil War narrative.

By the end of the con, Jim had talked with Lord Bobbins about that but I did not hear the details. Hopefully Jim will be able to move it forward and my 30,000 words will see the light of day.

Sitting at the very back of the room during closing ceremonies, I got the chance to talk to Aloysius Fox about several things we had spoken about at Old West Fest. The first was about accents. At Old West Fest I learned that Aloysius accent, what we Americans would call a proper English accent, is an affectation of sorts. He had taken his regional accent and, with theater training in school, changed it to the “proper” accent.

Now, as my persona backstory involves the maid Aimi Somerton doing the same thing with her accent, I was curious as to what that “proper English” accent is. Is it a specific regional accent, say that of London, that is taken for being the base or core accent, or is it a class thing?

In point of fact, it is looked on as neither. The “proper” English accent is looked on as being the lack of an accent. The removal of all regionalisms, dropping syllables and the like. Of course, do that to an American English accent and they won't sound like they are on the BBC World Service. Functionally, though, it is more of a class thing. The upper classes have the tools (money for training) to “correct” their elocution. There is also the societal pressure to not sound the outsider. Aloysius says that he has affected it so effectively that other British expatriates living where he does treat him as at a higher social station than he is because of his accent.

The other conversation we revisited from Old West Fest was his idea that next year he would try for a more immersive experience. (TeslaCon has that effect on people.) I had been sort of ambivalent about it because I am not an actor. On the drive home, however, I thought more about what I was capable of and thought that I could come up with a presentation that was more of a period performance while not being hindered by my not being comfortable acting.

The aether and John Worrell Keely's hydro-pneumatic pulsating vacuo-engine.

I would need to build the rotating sphere and I have a few vintage electric parts (including my newly purchased knife switch) that I could use. Add some quotes by Lord Kelvin, throw in John Newlands' Law of Octaves, and top it off with some of Walter Russell's pseudo-scientific hand-waving spiritualism claptrap.

Next year's TeslaCon theme is Wild Wild West. I've been doing that for years. In fact, at the first TeslaCon, I was one of very few with western styling. Now, it's common place. Even so, I have plans: Steampunk Punisher.
25th-Oct-2014 10:11 pm - Steampunk Action Shooting
Following on my “Steampunk 101” article published in the August issue of “The Cowboy Chronicles”, the Logans Ferry Regulators added a steampunk theme to their October Cowboy Action Shooting match. I looked on it as an opportunity to spread the steampunk word to cowboys and maybe some shooting sports to local steampunks.

The first thing was that I wrote three stage scenarios. For those not in the know, each stage of the match begins with a description of the action. The shooter quotes some relevant line to indicate that he is ready to begin. When the timer beeps, the shooting commences. Sometimes the shooting order is relevant to the scenario but most of the time it is not. It's just a bit of story added to the beginning.

The three stories I submitted:

The Antediluvian Valley: While digging for fossils in the Lost Caverns of Virginia, the Garrison family discovered a hidden valley of living dinosaurs. Now the prehistoric beasts are rampaging and need to be put down. Show them who's at the top of the evolutionary tree.

The Automaton Menace: Families have been disappearing from the homesteads. It has just been discovered that the base villain Dr. Darius Hellstrum has been perfusing the brains of the settlers and installing them as living difference engines inside his insidious war automatons. The madman must be stopped!

Night of the Cooters: Last night a strange green meteor streaked across sky. With morning it was discovered that a huge cylinder landed out behind Judge Proctor's farm. And inside the cylinder. . . Aliens. Mean, octopus looking invaders from another world with giant brains and heat rays. Well they may be vast intellects but they sure chose the wrong holler to land in. We ain't never had calamari before.

They choose the last two of the three and rounded out the rest of the match with zombies.

I showed up in my Steampunk Django cosplay and set up a table of books and other steampunk stuff. There was some slight interest but notthing more than I would consider casual. One other shooter wore goggles on his hat an called it steampunk and another shooter borrowed a pair of my goggles.

From the near side, no one from the steampunk community other than myself showed and, even then, there was only a little bit of interest in the lead up.

Why should this be?

I don't think it's because steampunks don't like guns and shooting but maybe it's more that the people who make up the bulk of the steampunk community in Pittsburgh just happen not top be interested. Or perhaps it was more of a timing and transportation issue. The shoot started at 9am and was out in Plumb. A trip to the Frick Mansion was scheduled for the afternoon right off a bus route in the east end. Do people intuitively see the differences between the two groups of people and think them incompatible?

Probably a bit of all of the above. I should, at least, like to make the attempt to overcome or influence the last one. I've made a couple of attempts that have been generally unsuccessful. Perhaps the gulf is too wide.

Back to the shooting, then.

My times are still roughly twice those of the top shooters but that is likely to always be the case. They tend to have pump or hammerless shotguns while I have a hammered coach gun. They tend to shoot two handed, with the left thumb quickly on the hammer, while I shoot “duelist”, single handed. My modest improvement was in the fewer number of misses I made. Only three for the match. Well, five, but those two additional misses were for the shotgun which allows you to reload and try again without additional penalty. A miss costs a 5 second penalty but it takes me 6 or 7 to reload and fire again. I will need to keep that in mind the next time I miss with a shotgun. Perhaps better to take the miss than try again.

Or practice more. I could probably shave off those few seconds on my shotgun reload.

I made some other mistakes, though not too bad and recoverable. In one instance I almost forgot the shooting order and the yelling of the peanut gallery got me back on track. A similar thing happened where after the pistol string of the stage I forgot that I still needed to do the shotgun. Again, people yelling at me got me back on track.

Overall, I didn't come in last. Lessons learned, though: aim for the bottom of the target, not center of mass. If I can keep that in mind I should be able to shoot a clean match with no misses. Then, after that, time will come with familiarity.

Shooting 120 rounds of 45 Colt in a match plus shotgun can be expensive. Two and a half boxes of 45s at $30 a box can quickly add up. I had been buying a few boxes at gun shows and then not shooting because I was unemployed so I had stockpiled a bunch of ammo but I realized that I had all the components and tools necessary to reload just sitting in my garage. So I spent some of my copious free time to pull the box out and do some reloading.

I only reloaded 50 rounds because the can of powder I had was old and I didn't know how well it would perform. It shot a little dirty, probably for being many years old, but it went boom and hurled the projectile with sufficient velocity and accuracy. I neglected to take the chronograph to the range with me to figure out just what velocity it was producing, though. That for next time.

I have a mechanical powder measure that I could use rather than using the teaspoon-like measures I did use but to make sure that machine is calibrated I need to have a better scale. The one my grandfather used isn't in good condition and I don't trust it. A new electronic scale is only something like $30 so, once I get a job, I won't hesitate to get one.

Will I try to drag the local steampunks out to another formalized Cowboy Action event? Probably not. There will be a standing invitation and if anyone wants to go shooting just to go shooting I'll be glad to take them but organizing an event probably isn't worth the expenditure of energy.

 Oh, and here is a video of my least embarassing stages:

25th-Oct-2014 04:02 pm - Contingent
round glasses
As to my job search, the tode has dramatically turned, and in just the past several weeks.

Two weeks ago, I had an interview with a QA Laboratory for a Help Desk position. They were impressed with my 15 years with The Bank and took that to be a good thing to bring to their privately held company. The pay would be significantly better than I had been making. They also admitted that their training and documentation was pretty poor and I saw my experience with same as being a tremendous opportunity to fix their problems. I have not received word back on that but confirmed that they are still working on it and, given their admitted level of disorganization, expect a callback one way or the other eventually.

Last week I interviewed with a School District for a Help Desk and Deskside position. They would be paying me significantly less than I am worth but, at least, more than I was making on unemployment. If no one else made an offer, I would not turn their down. The interviewers also telegraphed that they were very impressed with my skills and experience and thought me a very strong candidate. I have a second interview scheduled with them next week.

I had a recruiter call me about a Pharmaceutical Logistics company in Monroeville. This would be just a five minute drive away from home. They wanted to set up an interview with me next week as well but the time they selected would conflict with my School District interview. I'm waiting for a callback to see if they can push that back an hour or so.

I have an assortment of other opportunities that recruiters have submitted on my behalf in just the past few weeks but, as with the one hundred or so other applications I have sent out in the past six months, I am not counting those chickens until they call me back for an interview.

And, finally, I had a phone interview for a Help Desk position with a Government contractor a few weeks back and received a contingent offer:

"your credentials and commitment to quality performance and service are impressive and exude the qualities we seek in our employees."

The pay rate is a touch above what I was making previously. They have periodic weekend schedule that they tend to fill with volunteers and balance with a day off during the week. Part of the contingent part is that, within the first month of starting I would need to earn a few security certifications for which they have training for and will reimburse me for the tests. Also I would need to pass a government background investigation and earn "secret" clearance.

Oh, and my first day will be some time before 1 January 2020.

Yea. That. Part of the contingency is that the budgetary approval for the job doesn't yet exist and so the placeholder of some time within the next five years is in the offer letter. There is no word on exactly when that will be taken care of. It could be weeks or months apparently.

Which leads to the problem of what to do in the meantime. I've got three other jobs that I am interviewing for, any one of which (or multiples) might extend an offer to me before this Government Contractor position shakes out. Ethically, I feel uncomfortable with taking a job when I have already accepted an offer. Ethically, I feel uncomfortable with starting a job and then, in short order, walking away to take a better job.

Practically, I must do what is best for my career. I hope it doesn't come to that but I am juggling and have these four clubs in the air at the same time. Will I need to catch this one and immediately throw it again so that I can catch another?

All things considered, I wauld very much rather have this quandary than the one I was suffering through for the previous six months.
21st-Oct-2014 10:53 am - Space 1889 Re-release

Released by Game Designers’ Workshop in 1988, Space 1889 was the first dedicated steampunk role playing game. Frank Chadwick had almost literally created a game that was ahead of its time because, while it had its fans and never really died out, it never really took off either. It was re-released in 2000 but it was still running ahead of the curve as the steampunk scene really hadn’t happened yet. Now, with steampunk running full throttle, with a dozen other games already out there, is it too late for another re-issue of this classic game?

Space 1899 aTwo years ago, Uhrwerk Verlag, one of Germany’s largest RPG publishers, reissued Space 1889 in German. And last year, UK game publisher Chronicle City teamed up with Uhrwerk Verlag, got Frank Chadwick on board and launched a Kickstarter to retranslate the game back into English in addition to creating expanded sourcebooks and game aids.

That Kickstarter is coming to fruition. I have received my final edit copy (that I will be using for this review) but the hard cover books should be shipping any day now.

Space 1889 imagines a world where inventor Thomas Edison invented an aetheric motor, built a space ship around it, and traveled to Mars in 1870. What follows is a steampunk world with adventure drawn from Jules Verne to Edgar Rice Borroughs and all the dime novels in between.

Primarily, there are the British colonial holdings on Mars, paralleling historical India under The Raj and based on much of Burroughs’ Barsoom. Of course, since we are talking about a planet equivalent in area to all the landmasses of the Earth, Not only is there a lot of different Martian environments, races, flora and fauna, but all the other spacefaring nations of the Earth are competing to grab their own piece of the interplanetary pie. And let us not forget Venus, Mercury, all the asteroids and, of course, the Earth herself as opportunities for exploration and adventure.

For those familiar with the earlier editions of the game, the worlds are the same but with more detail. For example, the old book spent two pages on the aether. I always found it a fine synopsis of the entire theory and its development. The new edition devotes twice the space. Additionally, the later 19th Century timeline, originally presented as two pages in one of the supplements (“Conklin’s Atlas of the Worlds”), is now eight pages of the core rules, as it should be.Space 1899 b

Of course, any setting can be adapted to any game system. Space 1889 was adapted to the Savage Worlds rules in 2010 and while I played a lot of Savage Worlds at the time, I found some issues with the game mechanics. This newest edition utilizes the Ubiquity system (also used with “Hollow Earth Expeditions”). To quickly summarize task resolution, a difficulty level is assigned to any action. The player rolls a number of dice based on his skills and attributes. If the number of even numbers rolled exceeds the number set by the difficulty, the action succeeds. Exceeding by more than necessary leads to a more dramatic success. Using even/odd to determine success allows the player to use dice of any type and solves some of the wonky probability curves that occur when using multiple dice with different numbers of sides.

This dice pool method can sometimes lead to rolling handfulls of dice but Exile Games has produced some specially numbered dice that reduce the number of dice while preserving the bell curve.

To accelerate game play, Ubiquity has added something called “Taking the Average” such that if your dice pool from skills and attributes is twice that of the given difficulty, the probably of success is 50/50. With even odds as that, it is assumed that the player is skilled enough to automatically succeed and no dice are rolled. I can appreciate that a master locksmith would be able to pick a simple lock every time and it seems a waste to force him to roll on what seems a guaranteed success but I personally think the 50/50 cut off may be too generous.

Because combat is literally the life and death of a character, so too is the combat system itself the life of death of a role playing game. I have played combat systems from those that are very abstract, such as Dungeon and Dragons‘s hit point system, to those that are excessively detailed, such as Leading Edge’s Spectrum system which breaks the body down to 59 anatomical hit locations and would follow each bullet as it penetrates through flesh, muscles, organs and bone. The Ubiquity combat system tends towards the more abstract, D&D-like end. Characters have a number of health points and damage caused by weapons will ablate that number. If the number falls below a certain number, other stats and skills are degraded. Take more damage and the character will become unconscious. A bullet that causes X points of damage will produce exactly the same result as a club that causes the same X points of damage. And just as later editions of D&D incorporated some more detailed combat add-ons such as critical hits, I think that Ubiquity could also benefit from some additional combat realism. But just as the task resolution system has “Taking the Average” to speed up game play, so too have they chosen a more abstract and thus faster combat system.

Space 1899 c

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about character generation. Much like the majority of role playing game systems, characters in Space 1889 are divided into professions or archetypes, to use the currently popular convention. Adventurer, doctor, engineer, soldier, these are shortcuts in defining the character’s basic skillset or inclination. In the original Space 1889 rules, these careers came with some prerequisites as well as providing a base set of skills. For example, if one wanted to be a Big Game Hunter in the mold of Allan Quartermain, one needed to have a minimum level of agility, which was necessary for being a decent rifle shot and being able to sustain one’s job as a hunter. Having chosen that career, one was given base skill levels in marksmanship, tracking and linguistics (so you can boss around your local bearers). The original rules spent lass space on each career than I just did.

Space1889The new rules provide two pages on each of the various archetypes but then, other than presenting a sample character, omits any prerequisite or career skills. One could construct a character with the Big Game Hunter archetype but then with absolutely none of the skills necessary to actually hunt big game. It is left to the player’s personal interpretation of what attributes and skills might be necessary for a given career. Fine, perhaps, for someone making their own way in the world as an Adventurer, not so much for someone coming out of a regimented military career. It seems to defeat the purpose of having an archetype line on the character sheet at all. With the fine detail they put into all the other elements of character generation it seems to be something of an oversight.

Space 1899 ScientistOn the plus side of that, gone are the 19th Century misogynistic rules that forbid women from certain careers. The original rules defined those outright (Soldier is a male-only profession) but the new, without any character prerequisites at all, gloss over that. One is left to speculate if having space travel become available in the last quarter of the 19th Century changed gender dynamics or, as I suspect, it’s a happy coincidence due more to an oversight in game design.

Personally, I was more influenced by Wells’ evolutionary approach to Mars so the Space 1889 Martians that aren’t very different from humans and a colonial relationship not unlike India appeals less to me. Were I to run a game in this system, I might focus on the dinosaur infested Venus and leave Mars to “intellects, vast cool and unsympathetic, regarding our earth with envious eyes.” I might also set my game earlier, having the players at the cutting edge of space exploration rather than having two decades of development behind them. And I would also probably tinker with the combat system just a bit. I also prefer combat more towards the detailed and realistic end of the spectrum. Not as extreme as “Spectrum” but at least those that detail hits and damage to specific areas and with differing results based on that. A bullet to the arm affects one differently than a bullet to the head just as a knife causes a different kind of injury than a bullet or a club.

All that being said is not criticism of Space 1889 as a complete and consistent game. It has a robust set of game mechanics that offers a wide range of play and a rich set of worlds in which to play. Additional sourcebooks (Venus and Mercury), and adventure modules will expand the world even further, though I suspect that if you were to lay hands upon some of the original publications from twenty years ago you could adapt them quite easily.

Does the new Space 1889 have what it takes to surpass its status as the first steampunk RPG and break into an increasingly crowded market?

We can hope.

18th-Oct-2014 12:19 pm - Steampunk Weekend at Old West Fest
As the steampunk weekend at the Old West Festival was to coincide with the Pandora Society's Steampunk Salon, even though I am running low on funds I decided to combine the two, splurge, and get a room for the night. There had been some talk about a local hotel having favorable rates for the event and so I waited to make reservations until it was pretty much too late. The decent Covington hotels in my price range were full up for some concurrent sporting event and the rest were very expensive. The cheapest was also the only one with rooms available: The Travelodge in Newport.

Online reviews of the Travelodge were abysmal. Dirt. Smells. Bugs. Even one report of blood on the sheets. Most of the worst reviews were older but the newer reviews weren't much better. I was going to take my chances to save myself at least $100 over what was next available. At worst, I figured, I would sleep in my car.

Next on the agenda was the repair of all the damage that Pittsburgh Comicon had done to my Steampunk Django cosplay. The chest armor destroyed by sweat was re-painted and sealed on the back side. The failed belt loops on my drop holsters were cut off and the leather straps were bolted directly to the holster. The plastic window on the coffin/freezer was made more secure with washers.

On Saturday morning, strapping the coffin/freezer to my car's bike rack was the last thing to do. It was raining. I didn't have a tarp so I had to make due with plastic garbage bags and masking tape. It turns out that was somewhat insufficient as the wind generated by driving at highway speed destroyed the plastic. At several points I stopped to add more plastic and tape.

On arrival, I discovered that the washers were not enough to hold the window. I had hoped it would be so that I could more easily switch it out if it cracked but apparently I will need to hot glue the window in. I was able to remount the window and there was no more damage than that.

But it does not drag well on gravel or wood chip. The small caster wheels dug in and I was literally dragging it around the festival. I ended up making one pass and then doing a lot of standing in front of the saloon or the jail. For a while I stashed it behind a fence so I could see the sights, dragging it out again for the costume contest.

Which I didn't win, by the way. Unlike Comicon, my Django walk-on music worked, and everything else went according to plan except the competition. A young boy was competing and, in any popularity contest with a kid. . . the kid wins. I don't begrudge him the victory, especially in this environment. It's that sort of encouragement that gets the kids more involved in the future.

And besides, I didn't need another Old West Fest t-shirt.

A lot of people liked my costume but almost no one got the reference. I would prompt them by saying “Two different movies but with the same character name” and a few got that it was “Star Wars” but far fewer figured out that it was Jango Fett and not Boba Fett and no one got the “Django” reference until these two patrons saw me from across the street and come up to me with big smiles.

They got it.

I would have hoped that, with all the western enthusiasts and even the cowboy action performers, there would be a greater identification than at a comicon. There was but only by a very small amount. I guess the “Westerns and Samurai” film studies course I took in college was more formative than I thought it was. Even though I had not actually seen “Django” myself until sometime last year (which I think might have been my inspiration for the cosplay) I recognized the movie's influence on other media. I had though that Django dragging the coffin around was iconic. Well, iconic yes, widely recognized, not so much.

My Vitruvius Pike persona is not the kind of person that would wear spurs. A little too urban. I little too Yankee. Remember the scene in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” when Clint Eastwood kills a squad of assassins, tipped off by the jangle of their spurs? Yea, Pike would not be that guy. But as I walked around in my Steampunk Django cosplay I thought that the costume could benefit from spurs. I know, as a bounty hunter he might be even less likely to wear spurs but that's the thought I had. Did Franco Nero wear spurs in the 1966 film? Don't remember. Don't care. I wanted spurs.

None of the vendors had spurs but in talking to one of the performers I was pointed in the direction of Tractor Supply Company.

Tractor Supply?

Sure enough, on the way towards Cincinnati, behind the Wendy's, was a Tractor Supply and, three rows back on the right there was horse feed, shoes, tack, harness and, yea, spurs. It is just this side of Kentucky so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Would TSCs around Pittsburgh carry spurs? I'll have to stop by the next time I am passing through Cranberry or Delmont to find out.

My daughter joked that I now have spurs that djingle, djangle, djingle.

And so, with the western stuff over for the day, I arrived at the Travelodge to see if the horrific reviews were true. For the most part, they were not. The hotel had certainly not been updated for quite some time but that was not something I particularly cared about. I was looking for a clean bed for the night.

The room did have a significant odor, the sort of smell that had me think it was leftover from the cleaning staff trying to eliminate some other, more offensive odor. It gave me a little bit of a headache in the short time I was there but I opened a window (yea, the windows actually open) and left it that way, hoping it would clear out by the time I returned.

I changed, waxed my mustache and headed off to the salon. It was only a mile away and, not knowing the parking situation, I decided to walk. That took me past a parking lot concert of the religious attempting to combat an apparent epidemic of heroin in the community of Newport by singing “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” over and over again.

I spent a few hours at the salon (3rd floor of Molly Malone's in Covington) talking to some people that I don't get to talk to much. Even when I see them at something like the Steampunk Empire Symposium I don't get to talk to them much with all the convention stuff going on. It's unfortunate that most of my involvement was my lamenting my unemployment situation.

There was music going so most of the talking was yelling. As the evening got on, it changed from overly loud background music to excessively loud party music. At that point, events such as these devolve into dancing and drinking and maybe yelling at the person next to you asking if they want a drink or to dance. I pretty much abandoned the project shortly after that and neither dancing or drinking appeals to me and it is essentially impossible to converse under those circumstances.

I walked back to the hotel. The god-bothering was over. The room had aired out. I slept.

Sunday was a very different day at the festival. Firstly, I dressed in my more typical garb. Frock coat. Gunbelt. Badge. Sword. I also wore my new spurs because. . . reasons.

On Saturday, one of the performers was gifted with a print by artist Brandon Batie. Batie had taken the performer's photograph at last year's festival and then had digitally painted it. He had done the same with me and I had hoped to run into him again to ask about that and, if nothing else, to have him take a photograph of me in my Steampunk Django because I wanted pro-level pictures of the cosplay. As I had been wearing a mask on Saturday when he was there, he didn't recognize me and I wasn't able to catch up with him. As it was, he had left a print for me with the performers and, once I was out of the mask on Sunday, they recognized me and gave me the print.

Now I need to seek out a frame and wall space on which to hang it, the latter being the more difficult task as most of my wall space is blocked by book shelves.

I spent most of the day hanging about the Cincinnati Steampunk's table talking to people about steampunk and filling in for Aloysius when he had to pop off to do official steampunky things such as the costume contest and Nerf dueling.

Aloysius would typically manage the “This is what's us locals are doing” part and I would handle more of the “What is steampunk” things. One young lady said that steampunk was kind of crazy but also kind of cool.

Crazy cool. Yes. That.

On the other hand, at one boint a young boy came by the table and was handling everything and asking stupid questions. He even reached to pull my gun from its holster.

Some advice to parents; festivals are not your daycare. There are horses. There are knives. There are guns. And, also terribly important, there are people who might not take kindly to your ignorant little morlock literally running amok. If you cannot control your kid, do not expect us to do it for you.

What a little jackass.

When we weren't conversing with the public, Aloysius and I were conversing on a wide range of topics. The one I want to mention here is time travel.

No, sir, I don't like it.

Well, for the most part. I blame “Star Trek: The Next Generation” mostly but television in general has a bad track record of writing good time travel stories (One of the exceptions being Harlan Ellison's original script for “City on the Edge of Forever.). Movies tend to do better, but not by much. In part, I think it is literally how much time they spend dealing with time. A TV show doesn't typically have the time to present a complete and cohesive view of how time works before they have to start throwing paradoxes and such into the mix. Tropes upon tropes that need to be neatly wrapped up under an hour. And, in the case of “Star Trek,” they overused the time travel plot device. J.J. Abram's reboot disappointingly started with time travel to justify every change, using time travel as a plot hammer.

Aloysius askled me then about good time travel and I mentioned Mark Hodder's series that starts with “The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack.” The series is all about time travel and alternate universes and takes a while to let you in on that. He reveals the details piece by piece and even when you know it's time travel and think you know what's going to happen next (because it's already happened) he is able to put a twist on it. It should perhaps be unsurprising that the model of the flow of time and the introduction of paradoxes parallels that presented by Ellison.

I didn't get a chance to talk more about that because when I mentioned the main character of Hodder's series was Victorian super-adventurer Sir Richard Francis Burton, Aloysius thought I was talking about the 20th Century actor Sir Richard Burton, which lead the conversation down a different path.

As we were packing up do go, Aloysius expressed that he had enjoyed the time conversing with me. I did as well. In many ways, this is what I find most satisfying in any convention (or festival) setting. Talking with people on topics of interest. Intellectual conversations that engage my brain. So many of my conversations lately are out-of-work related.

And, I'm going to say this right now, when I'm at TeslaCon in a few weeks (if that plan doesn't crash and burn) I might want to spend a lot of time in the tea room. If you see me there, or even if you see me anywhere, come and talk to me about things. Talk about history. Science. Technology. Literature. Costuming. Things.

Not my life. Not my job.

The last thing before the five hour drive home was the quick stop at the porta-john. As I walked over, and with the end of the day temperature cooling, I put my hands in my pocket and discovered a vest button. How it had gotten off of my vest and into my pocket I have no idea. I dodn't remember it coming off and ending up on the ground. What is worse is that, on checking the two vests I wore over the weekend, I discovered that I was not actually missing any buttons.

I may be loosing my mind.

13th-Oct-2014 06:42 pm - Pittsburgh Comicon 2014
I have been costuming for too long and have won enough awards to not generally concern myself with costume contests. But I was so pleased with my high-concept Steampunk Django, and especially the coffin/carbonite/freezer unit that I decided I was going to give the contest at Pittsburgh Comicon a try.

I also typically go on Saturday but because I am becoming increasingly broke, I went for just the one day on Sunday for the contest only. I needed to get there early because the coffin will not fit in my car and I need to strap it to the bike rack. Since this sticks out quite a bit from the back of the car I wanted to get a parking space that would not only be close to the entrance but wouldn't stick out into traffic. An hour before the official start time was plenty of time.

I went in without my costume so I could walk around comfortably, see stuff and maybe shop before gearing up. I ended up not buying anything.

[Section redacted because of someone's dickish behavior.]

Comicon seemed a bit lighter than it had been last year, even in the number of dealers. I heard a rumor that their table costs have been raised which would understandably push out some dealers. I'm wondering how that is going to shake out when Comicon moves to the convention center downtown next year.

After hydrating myself and getting something to eat, I went back out to the car and geared up. I chose to wear the full helmet instead of the Mark II mask because, at this point and in this context, I thought the full helmet would be more identifiable. The costume contest was set for 2pm instead of what I had thought it was at 1pm so I left the coffin tied to the car so I could easily walk around the con.

No one got the reference. A few recognized the Jango Fett part but no one caught on to the Django part. I thought perhaps the coffin would help that but didn't hold a whole lot of hope. Not the right crowd of people to recognize a western movie reference that wasn't Clint Eastwood or John Wayne.

Just before the contest I went out to the car with everything failing. The cosplay has chest armor that I made out of the same poster board I had made the helmet out of. I had failed to seal the back with paint so my sweat had soaked into the paper and it had started to fall apart. I was able to cobble it together with some tape and hid the worst of it with my scarf.

My holster fell apart. The lacing on the belt loop failed completely. Fortunately I had a piece of leather lacing that I could loop around and tie to my belt to hold it up.

The plastic window on the coffin fell out of its mounting during transport. I got it back in place and was able to re-set the screws but it wasn't going to hold. The screw heads simply weren't enough to hold it it place. It only needed to hold long enough for the contest.

And, at contest time, I had my iPod and a speaker in my pocket and I tried to get it to play the theme from the movie “Django” as I walked on. After the first bars and before I navigated through the door and around a table in the way, it got bumped and paused. The effect was completely lost.

Finally, something else I learned. When measuring leather for belts and straps, assume that you are going to be pulling it three inches tighter than you first thought.

High concept is cool but it wasn't cool enough. The costumes that did win the contest were really spectacular so I don't feel I was robbed or overlooked. I was probably pretty high on the voting based on the judges response but I was just a touch out of my class.

The next thing coming up would be Old West Festival near Cincinnati. I should have all the bugs worked out of my Steampunk Django by then. TeslaCon after that.

10th-Oct-2014 01:56 pm - Steampunk Django: Helmet Build
For my Steampunk Django cosplay concept, I initially just photoshopped a Jango Fett helmet onto a picture from the “Django” film. I looked around at comic shops and comicons for a Boba Fett helmet that was cheap and I could repaint but didn't like the price tags on what I found. I wanted to talk to the stormtroopers at Garrison Carrida and some Mandalorian Mercs about perhaps getting a failed casting but the timing didn't work out so I decided that I could just build it myself.

The Dented Helmet website has plans for Boba Fett's helmet to be made out of sheet plastic or cardboard. I had some poster board sitting around so all I needed was glue and paint and I would be good to go.

Looking at the design and refining my concept, I decided that it would be more steampunk to keep the felt slouch hat that I already owned and was much like the hat Django wore in the movie. This would also keep me from having to do the difficult build of the helmet dome out of poster board, transforming the helmet into more of a mask.

I have a “workshop” in the basement under the side porch but it is not really a good space to work. The space is small. The workbench is small. Ventilation is awful and I have simply allowed a lot of stuff to pile up on the bench itself because there isn't any decent shelving space. I ended up doing most of the work on the living room floor. Pretty awful on my knees and back.

The Dented Helmet design is great. Carefully crafted, it goes together well, although some of the curved parts didn't curve properly, but that was the fault of the poster board I was using and not the design. I have a large cranium so I ended up cutting the back of the helmet in half and adding a spacer to open it up a touch.

Because I needed to have a hat fit over the helmet, I cut down the back and had to build up just a little at the temples to match the hat's curve. It actually fit the shape really well.

In stead of the standard tinted plastic visor, I used some wire mesh, typically used for drywall, and backed it with some window screen. Hopefully this would allow some more ventilation, the costume would be hot enough already.

It took about five days to complete and I immediately realized it was not going to work for me. Yes, it's a helmet under a hat so it's going to be a little awkward to move around in. And, yes, the ventilation is going to be a challenge as well. But mostly, my disappointment with its size. It was simply too big to look right under the hat. It would have worked with a broader brimmed hat but not with the one I had.

The Mark II design took a day of thinking about it and a day to implement.

In this design, I used only the T-shaped face part of the helmet bolted onto a pair of safety goggles. I added some gray fabric to conceal the goggles, strap and rest of the face.

Even so, there was an aesthetic problem with it. The fabric hung down sort of shapelessly. I considered redoing it so it was more like a bandit's bandanna but settled on a very simple solution of taking a point on either side of the chin and pinning them together, narrowing the “face” just slightly. I may yet do more, perhaps actually stitching the fabric to shape it, but it works for now and is much better than the helmet. Slightly cooler. Certainly affording more mobility to my head. And, once the lenses were popped out of the safety goggles, not fogging up my glasses as much.

The rest of the costume consisted of some leatherwork with holsters I already had and some leather strap to create the thigh drops that the “Star Wars” Jango had. I got some leather from Tandy which is now setting up tables at gun shows and Steel City Con. I went to Steel City on a Saturday and had them bring me back some stuff from their store on Sunday. It turned out that the leather wasn't quite right and I ended up driving out to the Greensburg location anyway.

The Union cavalry pants I already had and so I ordered a Union great coat online. The lining on the right sleeve is somehow wrong so I have to finesse it on or the lining twists. I also ordered a shirt online. In my travels interviewing for jobs I have stumbled upon several western style stores. Unfortunately, they only have the modern western stuff and nothing at all period. Not a single banded collar to be found.

I got a scarf and would have liked gray knit fingerless gloves but settled on black from the surplus store.

I built some poster board chest armor that, with some screws, attaches to my leather suspenders. I added some dents in the chest and some mushroomed bullets scavanged from the range.

“The heart, Ramón. Don't forget the heart. Aim for the heart, or you'll never stop me.”

OK, that's not the right movie but homage crosses such limitations.

All of this completed just a few days before Pittsburgh Comicon.

8th-Oct-2014 03:35 pm - Steampunk Django: Coffin Build
The opening credits of “Django” play over an extended scene of the title character dragging a wooden coffin along a muddy and desolate stream bed. He drags this coffin around through much of the movie, about a third of the way through you discover that it contains a machine gun instead of a body. And just as the coffin itself is a plot device, the machine gun drives much of the rest of the story, killing scores of bad guys, killing more people and finally killing even more and acting as a distraction while Django escapes with the coffin now filled with gold.

But the coffin is not just a box. Aside from the general symbolism of death literally following Django around, it is representative of the death of his wife at the hands of the film's villain and the burden of revenge that Django drags to the movie's end.

And so, to do a Django cosplay you need to have the coffin. Since I was mashing up this steampunked cosplay with “Star Wars”, the idea of Han Solo frozen in carbonite transformed the coffin into a Victorian suspended animation unit.

Most of the cosplay could be brought together quickly but actually building the coffin was going to take a lot of work. And money. I figured I would be spending at least $60 just on the plywood necessary to build it in addition to other hardware. Not having a job, I held off moving forward with anything because without the coffin and without the money to make the coffin, the whole concept wasn't going to work well enough to justify the investment in the other parts of the costume. Yea, I know that sounds sort of backwards and you might think that the coffin would not be that important but, well, that's what I thought.

I considered cutting costs by using shipping pallets, which can often be scavenged for free, but that would require carpentry skills and tools I didn't have to work those pieces into something that didn't look like crap. Rather than making junk, I did nothing at all.

Then, entirely at random, I was browsing through Construction Junction and thought “Hey, they have old doors and random plywood in the back corner where I don't typically bother looking for stuff. Maybe I can find some way to save me $60.”

And there it was! Someone had received something shipped to them in a plywood box that they then got rid of. It was almost exactly the size I had sketched out. It was selling for $8.

After that, I got to work. Now, I could have used the simple, straight sided box designs I had seen at Old West shows and online but I wanted to mimic the coffin from the movie as closely as possible. That meant a lot of angles. If I knew what I was doing and had a decent table saw, it probably wouldn't have been too difficulty. But, again, being a complete carpentry amateur, and not wanting to mess it up with the no-margin-for-error box that I had to work with, I started with a cardboard prototype. I then tore the prototype apart to use as a template.

Additionally, not only was this going to be a cosplay prop, but I wanted it to practically useful for dragging my guns around at Cowboy Action Shooting events. That made it overall a little wider than the prop coffin was in the movie. This extra size was also appropriate in that I wanted the occupant to by lying on her side, something that requires something a little more spacious than a period coffin.

I have a hand circular saw and that would be good for cutting straight lines but I also had some beveled angles to cut. A table saw would be best but I didn't have access to one. I settled on the hand jig saw I had. The lines were not quite as straight as one would get from a circular saw but, to tweak the angles I was going to be using a file so the jig saw would be close enough.

I glued the pieces together and then used nails to hold them secure. None of the angled joints lined up the way a professional would have been able to do them but that's what putty is for. Lots of putty.

At a flea market I found some wheels for about a quarter of what I would pay for at the hardware store. I used plastic kitchen drawer handles rather than the nicer looking metal ones because they were cheaper and I could repaint them from the white to a brass color. My wife had a string of Halloween lights that I could use to simulate the hover effect and I drilled some holes in the bottom of the coffin to push the lights through.

The last major thing to do was the simulated occupant. Inspired by the River in the freezer scene from the pilot episode of “Firefly”, I wanted it to look like there was a naked woman frozen in the box, lying on her side (to conceal the naughty bits). More Django than Jango Fett, this is his frozen wife rather than some random bounty or Han Solo stand in. (At least, that's the general concept.) I knew I could use a sheet of plastic for the window, spray on a little white paint around the edge of the plastic to simulate frost, add some blue cellophane and it would, I thought, look really cool (literally and metaphorically).

You would not think that finding a picture of a naked woman on the Internet would be difficult but the pose and angle I was looking for was not to be found. Lying on one's side, but not in the fetal position, is one of the most common sleeping positions and there are countless illustrations and photographs of the pose but they are almost always taken from the side. Those few that are taken from the top are almost always illustrative of some medical analysis of sleep and thus the model is always wearing pajamas. Those models that are naked are also displaying their nakedness in either an artistic (and therefore awkward) or lascivious (and also awkward) position.

I found one picture that was nearly perfect but it was on one of those stock photo sites. The picture online was too small so that if I enlarged it to life size it would be terribly pixilated. And I was not going to spend the hundreds of dollars they wanted for the high resolution image.

I sent out word to friends as I knew some photographers and models, and even a few that might be willing to pose nude. I had one photographer friend respond to my inquiry but once I explained in detail what I wanted and that I could not afford to pay for high art I didn't hear back from him other than “Interesting.”

I finally found one picture that was as close as I could get. The resolution was a little low so when it was blown up there would be some pixilization but not too bad. The model was wearing clothes but I was just going to have to accept that. Finally, the photograph did not include her feet. This, I could work with, though.

I hadn't cut a hole in the top of the coffin yet as I was waiting to find the right picture. I figured that if I never found an appropriate picture, not having a window would be best rather than having the freezer appear empty. But before I actually cut the window, I needed to find the plastic. At Loews and Home Depot I found some plastic but it would cost me close to $40. I ended up going to Michaels's and looking at poster frames. They had a 24x36 poster frame on clearance for $8. To have a full window in the lid I would have needed 48 inches but since the photograph I had didn't include the feet, a 36 inch window would conceal that.

I broke the first plastic sheet. Whatever they use in those is very brittle. Well, when you purchase from Michael's they give you a coupon good for 40% a single item the next week. I got a replacement for under $5.

Next came staining. I wanted something light but because the color palate on the can does not necessarily match the contents of the can ended up getting something that was too dark and too red. It's not bad and not a disaster for being that way but not quite what I wanted.

As I was going to dragging this around with rope, I figured I would make it look neater is the ropes also tied the lid closed. I did that and immediately realized that I then could not open it without a huge production of untying the rope. Since I also intended to use this as a gun case for cowboy action shooting, this was going to be entirely unworkable. The solution I came up with was cutting the rope at lid joint points and than using a staple gun to hold the cut ends next to one another. The rope dies fray slightly at the ends but the illusion of the ropes tying the box closed is pretty good.

Finally, freezer controls. I searched a number of flea markets for period gauges and dials but couldn't find anything appropriate. I looked at the hardware store but none of the plumbing fixtures were the size I needed. I made some dials using medical sample container lids and the clear lenses from some welding goggles I wasn't using. Adequate, but not what I wanted.

The Carnegie Library has a MakerBot 3D printer and offers free printing. One only needs to pay for the plastic itself. Once I remembered they did this, I went on Thingiverse and downloaded a few files for a pair of steampunk goggles. I had the library print them slightly smaller to fit the lenses I had, and then delete the goggleish parts to make the dials. Add a little hardware and they look even better than I had hoped. $5.

I added some round vents along the bottom that I got from the Re-Use Store in Edgewood. The plan was to have fog rolling out of the vents. But when I tested it with some dry ice, the effect was barely observable, much like the hover-effect lights I installed. If the contest involved judges that carefully inspected the workmanship and props, perhaps it woulod be useful, but the typical walk-across-the-stage contest isn't going to notice.

All told, the coffin/freezer/suspended animation unit took me a month to complete. I don't know how much I ultimately spent on it but, with a bit of luck, it was significantly less that I expected. And, I think it looks pretty good. It makes the cosplay.

7th-Oct-2014 02:49 pm - Steampunk Django: High Concept
Cosplay is often driven by the concept of the “mashup,” taking one genre or character and combining it with another. Mashups are even more popular within steampunk and can be made high-concept by merely tacking on the word “steampunk” before any other genre or character name. For example: Steampunk Star Wars or Steampunk Boba Fett. You don't really need to explain much beyond that.

But that's the idea I came up with.

The 1966 spaghetti western film “Django” is rated as one of the greatest westerns ever made as well as being one of the most violent films to date. Over 30 plagiarized sequels (four made by the end of 1966) were made and much of the iconic imagery has been borrowed by filmmakers for decades, particularly it seems by Japanese animation with references in “Fist of the North Star”, “Gungrave”, “Trigun”, and “Cowboy Beebop.” There is also Takashi Miike's 2007 own mashup “Sukiyaki Western Django” and Quintin Tarantino's 2012 homage “Django Unchained.”

George Lucas chose the name Jango Fett for his Mandalorian bounty hunter and father of Boba Fett in “Star Wars: Episode 2, Attack of the Clones,” referencing the gunfighter of three dozen years previous.

Mashup Django and Jango. . . steampunked.

I'm not sure when I came up with the idea to build this cosplay, the Star Wars-themed Steampunk Empire Symposium earlier this year, perhaps. But, having lost my job at about the same time I sort of sat on the idea with little more than a a few sketches, some photoshop and some items on my Amazon wish list. For the most part, I was waiting to get a job so that I could have money to buy the props I needed.

The end of August, however, I decided to move ahead anyway. Perhaps I was tired of sitting around doing nothing but applying online for jobs and arguing on the Internet. Maybe the job outlook was looking more promising and I decided to splurge. In part, I may have concluded that spending a little bit of money on something I knew I could accomplish was more important to my mental health than the one monthly utility bill I wasn't going to be able to pay once my unemployment and savings ran out.

The deciding factor, the one that really kickstarted the project, was a fortuitous, entirely random find.

Stay tuned. . . .

6th-Oct-2014 08:53 am - Not strong enough
I had a recruiter contact me concerning a Help Desk position with a logistics company. It all sounded very promising and the first thing at the interview was the guy saying that it looked like my resume was cut an pasted into their job description. I finally got word back:

"Unfortunately, it was determined that your skill level was not strong enough for this particular position."

So, tell me, how is 15 years of help desk experience and many years of teaching help desk NOT strong enough for any help desk position? No. Really. Explain this to me.

My unemployment runs out in three weeks.

27th-Sep-2014 12:26 pm - Roller coaster
round glasses
There is a certain manicness to my emotions. I received a promising sounding call from a recruiter yesterday and my mood went from failure to almost ebullient as soon as I started talking to him. At one point he asked me to go through the job description he sent me and comment on each of the points as they related to my experience and, after just the first point, he told me I didn't need to go further. I had impressed him so thoroughly he was confident that the employer he was pitching for would love me.

That feeling didn't last long, though. I had heard those sorts of things before because, to be honest, it's a recruiter's job to say things like that to get both employers and prospective employees excited about the possibilities. Sincerity? Once you can fake that, you've got it made.

My mood is improved, waiting for a callback to set up an interview, but it is tempered by the knowledge that if I invest too much emotional capital in the possibility, the crash is even harder when the possibility fails to pan out.

As an act of emotional self presenvation, I am party to my own mediochre mood.

26th-Sep-2014 04:24 am - Cascade
Whether through a hopeful blindness or inattentiveness or ignorance or even a simple mistake, it has come to my attention that in a month my unemployment will run out. The paperwork says things like 52 weeks, which, I had thought, actually meant 52 weeks and should have carried me to at least march, the anniversary of the ending of my employment. But hidden among the technical language is the answer that it is really only for half of that time. Those 26 weeks are now four. Once the money runs out, I will be able to reapply but that will be six months and in the mean time my savings will not be sufficient.

Loosing my job was difficult enough. Even though I was able to prevail when my former employer challenged my unemployment, my firing was, in simple point of fact, my fault. I had made a stupid mistake and have been paying the price ever since. Literally scores of job applications have gone unanswered. A tiny handful have been responded to and I even was able to land a few interviews but in each case it was decided "not to go forward" with my application. Most of those responses gave little clue as to the reasons. In one case, the recruiter would not even return my phone calls. Two responses from interviewers conveyed to me through recruiters; that because I had worked at a help desk for 15 years they thought my technical skills were outdated and the other that they thought I wouldn't be challenged.

I don't want to be challenged! I want a fucking job. I want to provide my labor for 8 hours a weekday so that I will be paid in currency. Currency that I need to pay bills and entertain myself once and a while. No, really, I don't feel the pressing need to wake up every morning with "challenges" I was unable to resolve the previous day. It's part of the reason I stayed at the help desk for as long as I did. When I pressed the button at the end of each call, I had either resolved the issue or given it to someone else. It was a very cleansing experience.

But I fucked that up back in March and have not found the person sitting on the other side of the desk that will hook me up with a job.

Is it my fault? Fifteen years is a long time to stay somewhere in an industry where the typical stay is three years before moving on. Does staying so long make me seem to unambitious to hire? Or maybe the fifteen years of experience comes with the expectation that my salary would be too high? Or my expectations would be too high? Or maybe the circumstances of my previous employment hovers about me like an albatross. Or maybe they just don't like the cut of my jib.

The stress has jacked up my blood pressure, of course. Right now I can feel the pressure in my head. My ears are hot. I've been working on some projects and, while some of them have turned out quite well, they did not come without cost and my ability to focus on any one thing for any length of time is shot. I flit from task to task because I cannot concentrate. I do a lot of sitting in my chair in a darkened room and occasionally dozing during the day because I am not sleeping at night.

And being unemployed and unable to find work is not my only problem.

The bulwark of whatever passes for my mental state, keeping me from falling into a genuine depression, seems to be crumbling about me. At first, with tiny cracks and fisures, then with bits and pieces, now with hammer blows incessantly beating away.

Bam. Failure.

Bam. Failure.

I know I am competant at what I do. I know I am capabable of doing a job in my given field. And I know that my ability to stumble upon that one job where the interviewer will decide in my favor is completely out of my control. I can't choose a job and say "That's the one I'm going to get", I can only send out application after application, like tossing a bloody chum line and waiting for a shark to bite. But I can't shake this feeling that I have failed. That I have not only not done enough but that I am incapable of doing enough. That it is more than a lack of ambition to be challenged but that it is a genuinely lazyness and apathy on top of failure through incompetence. I strugle with not only acknowledging that I have failed but that I am a failure, in ways beond merely being a productive member of the economic system.

Bam. Another hammer blow.

Oftentimes I will write something to get it out of my head. An idea will bounce around for houre on hour, keeping me from sleep, so I will get up, write it down, and empty out the queue enough for me to sleep. But those are story ideas or scholarly articles or other ephemera that is not clawing at the inside of my skull. Once put to paper, those ideas eaily loose their insistence. This. . . this life I have . . . is not so easily dispelled. I can already tell that writing this at four in the morning will not cleanse my mind and allow me to sleep for what remains of the night. It is so very real.

Perhaps, it is the realness of my troubles that allows me to survive as well as I have so far. Knowing that if only I were to land a job, the worst of it would be simply over. Success.

I have been told that I am a rock. I suppose I have been. Steadfast and sure in the face of diversity. Confident that, whatever winds blew, I would weather them and come through the other side.

But wind and weather turn rocks to sand.

5th-Sep-2014 03:58 pm - Yurusarezaru Mono
The 1954 epic Japanese samurai film “The Seven Samurai” was remade into the American western film “The Magnificent Seven” in 1960, beginning a long and mostly high quality series of cross-genre appreciations. The latest of these is “Yurusarezaru Mono,” director Sang-il Lee's 2013 reinterpretation of Clint Eastwood's 1992 Academy Award winning “Unforgiven.”

In 1868, the Japanese emperor was restored to the throne, deposing the Shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa whose family had ruled Japan as hereditary dictators for some 250 years. Shogunate samurai, defeated on the battlefield and stripped of their lands and traditional power, fled to the northern island of Hokkaido hoping to form an American-style republic of their own. The rebellion was eventually to be harshly put down. (See the first part of the 2003 film “The Last Samurai”). “Yurusarezaru Mono,” begins in the winter snows of Hokkaido 1869 with Jubei Kamata (Ken Watanabe, “Letters from Iwo Jima”, “Godzilla”) being hunted down by Imperial bounty hunters.

If you've seen Clint Eastwood's original, you know the rest. The story advances to 11 years later where Jubei is a widower and failed farmer. Is old friend Kingu Baba (Akira Emoto, “The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi”) finds him and asks him to join him in a bounty killing job to avenge a cut-up prostitute. They pick up a Schofield kid, Goro Sawada (Yûya Yagira), along the way. The bounties are killed. King Baba is captured and killed by town sheriff Ichizo Oichi (Kôichi Satô, “Samurai Western Django”). Jubei returns and takes revenge. Roll credits.

It would be easy to dismiss this film as a scene-for-scene remake or, at best, an homage to a classic. But just as “Yojombo” and “A Fist Full of Dollars” are the same story, the one a retelling of the other, they are very different films when taken in context. In the opening scene, the hunter's Western clothes and Springfield rifles establish this move as much in the American Western genre as in the Japanese jidaigeki period drama. The broad, open expanses of the filming locations in Hokkaido again make this seem a much more Western film.

Jubei's survival against the bounty hunter's overwhelming numbers establishes him as a killer, even more so than is done in Eastwood's original, which waits until Ned shows up and then tells us about it rather than showing us.

Most of the reviews I've read say otherwise but I found Watanabe's performance somewhat more emotional. Subtle emotions play over his expressions, almost frame to frame whereas Eastwood tends to glower constantly and consistently, his emotions described by dialogue. This show rather than tell style of filmmaking does tend to leave us wondering at times. The motivations of the sheriff Ichizo are not as clearly defined as they could be and he tends to come across as more psychopathic than he probably should.

The addition of the Ainu subplot and its parallels with the plight of Native Americans reinforces the impression of this being an American Western. For those not familiar, the Ainu people are indigenous to Hokkaido. Under the Shogonate, they were treated as backward neighbors to be dominated, stolen from and occasionally enslaved. Even so, there were occasional treaties, trade agreements and relative peace. With the Meiji Restoration, their lands were claimed by the Imperial Government and their culture was outlawed. What little good “Jubei the Killer” does in the course of the film is attributable to the influence of the plight of the Ainu on the story.

Both the samurai film and the western employ traditional combat tropes. The swiftly drawn sword and flowing slices, the fast draw pistol and shooting from the hip. Eastwood's film tried to dispense with this somewhat but the final fight in “Yurusarezaru Mono” is even more brutal and inelegant. Jubei, with his rusted sword, is no warrior, certainly no samurai. Plain and simple, he is a killer. A killer unforgiven. There is no redemption. There is no returning home. The Japanese theater has a traditional character called the shite who will appear in the narrative first as a human and then as a ghost. In this, Jubei begins as a ghost and only briefly becomes human again before fading away. He ends the film as he began, alone in the snow. Haunted and hunted. I can't really say that I think that this is a better film than the original but I believe this transformational circle makes “Yurusarezaru Mono” a more moving and tragic film.

It is disappointing that it has not received wider distribution in the US. I think western film aficionados would find much to appreciate in this reimagining of a classic.

29th-Aug-2014 01:31 pm - The Face of OO
I'm going to start this review of the novel “The Face of OO” by Charles Stephenson by talking about production values. First off, there are no paragraph intends. The only way to tell that a new paragraph has started is that the previous line does not reach all the way to the right margin. Additionally, the line spacing is somewhat cramped such that the bottoms of some characters (q, y, p, g, j) on some pages are cut off.

The book is already a beefy 690 pages and I suspect these things were done to keep the book from being closer to 1,000 pages. This book was self published and I could imagine someone making a decision to squeeze the text to keep costs down.

What this book needs is an editor. Someone to, rather than compressing the text, tells the author to streamline his story to make a better book.

Now, at this point I'm going to have to talk about the narrative itself and, honestly, there are going to be a ton of spoilers. I'm going to give away the ending and everything so if you are at all concerned about these things, stop reading now.

Starting in November of 1897 in Sacramento and eventually spreading over much of the American midwest through the spring of 1897, there were a series of airship sightings. Tens of thousands of individual reports extending over a large area suggest that someone had beaten Zeppelin to the punch in creating a large, workable airship. I am something of an enthusiast on the subject, have read (I think) every book available on the subject and give presentations on the subject at steampunk conventions. And it was through those contacts and because the airship flap of 1897 was a part of the story that “The Face of OO” was brought to my attention.

I also have read Stephenson's non fiction “Zeppelin: German Airships 1900-40” and, expecting him to be knowledgeable on the subject I looked forward to what I think is his first novel.

The first part of the book does cover, in quite a bit of detail, elements of the airship flap as viewed from inside the conspiracy. It focuses on events in Texas in 1897 while completely failing to mention that the sightings began in California and actually ranged as far north as Chicago and Kalamazoo. With his focus on Texas, the exclusion of everything else, and the inclusion of the “alien” crash at Aurora, I could guess at the one book he used as his source.

Not that this is a bad thing. Even though I knew more than the typical reader and missed not hearing the whole story, the narrative needed to be tightened and cutting out parts that don't advance the narrative is something that needs to be done.

Except that Stephenson doesn't do that or, if he does, I missed it. The entire book ties together a vast conspiracy theory so you can't be entirely sure whether something that seems extraneous at first will become necessary later.

One way he seems to attempt to do this is with the concealment and then dramatic reveal of names. Through the mystery airship part of the story, the man who designed and built the airships is referred to only as “The Professor.” Later, another character calls The Professor by the name Thaddeus, confirming my suspicion that he was Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe who, during the Civil War, was Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps. This “dramatic reveal” would, however, be completely lost on someone who didn't know that.

He does the same thing with “The Chief,” the shady newspaper magnate running this conspiracy to manipulate world events. Though his name is never revealed, it becomes clear that The Chief was actually William Randolph Hearst.

Stephenson uses this technique far too often, though. When a character is repeatedly referred to through the entirety of the chapter as “the man in the pince-nez glasses” it becomes tiresome that he doesn't just say that it's Teddy Roosevelt. Characters come and go throughout the book and their names aren't typically mentioned, if at all, until the end of the chapter. I can only imagine that, for some who are knowledgeable of some of the names like I was with Lowe, they might find some of the reveals dramatic. I found the technique overused.

The protagonist, Samson Plews, begins his involvement in the narrative by murdering his commanding officer and, as a result, sinking an English warship and killing most aboard. He is remorseless and his lack of empathy and crewel efficiency is put to work by The Chief as an assassin. There is little in either his personality or his actions to garner any sympathy. Normally, one might expect the narrative to follow the assassin in such a conspiracy through a path of finding his conscience and turning against his evil and manipulative masters. There is no such Hero's Journey here. The last chapter has Plewes essentially the same killer he was at the beginning.

Since I had no sympathy for the character, I cared little for anything he did or his ultimate fate.

Miss Sha, the female protagonist, or rather, Plewes' accomplice, is introduced to the story by way of her brutal torture and clever escape. The details of her torture are repeated two more times throughout the book to reveal additional disturbing details and she is tortured again later on in the book for good measure. If Stephenson was attempting to evoke sympathy for her he certainly chose an objectifying and almost fetishistic way to do it. A method that ultimately fails because, like the protagonist Plews, Miss Sha doesn't transform much as a character either.

Another thing Stephenson has a tendency to do is over explain technical details or procedures and to post-script events. In one scene, Plews escapes from a southern jail and narrowly avoids burning the place to the ground. Stephenson then adds a footnote that six years later the jail does, in fact, burn to the ground.

So what?

Being an amateur fiction writer with a significant amount of technical knowledge, I have to work very hard not to info-dump when I'm writing. It can be difficult to throw that stuff away, especially when you think it's important for the reader to know the details of some thing, but even I realize that fiction should not be footnoted.

And so we get to the second half of the book and the failings of the entire conspiracy theory narrative. In alternative history stories, there is often an event or a series of events that change history as we know it. Wars that were won are instead lost. Famous people who died somehow survive or vice versa. Something happens and everything changes. In the conspiracy theory narrative, however, history remains as we were taught in school. Nothing changes. So, through the first half of the book when the secret society has airships in 1897, we know they will not be revealed to the world because history tells us they weren't. When the airship crashes, we are not surprised. When the secret society reveals its plans to destroy an American warship to provoke a war with Cuba, we know that they will succeed in blowing up the Maine in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898. Writing a conspiracy into an historical story sucks the drama out of the events.

The second half of the book is a quest to find an ancient Chinese superweapon, clearly described as a bronze age atom bomb. Since we know this is a quest we also know that they will find what they are looking for. But, because this is a conspiracy narrative and such a weapon wasn't employed in the early 20th century, we know their plans will ultimately fail. The only question is how. And since none of the characters are at all likable, we end up not caring much as to how.

Stephenson's technique of the dramatic reveal repeats itself in this as well. I hadn't noticed when he opened the second half of the book indicating that a decade had passed and it was now 1908 but as soon as the Russians became involved in the hunt for the superweapon I knew the endgame. no matter what else happened, success or failure, life or death, no matter what else there would be the detonation of this device over a swamp in Siberia.


It took another 240 pagers to get there but all the dominoes fell exactly into place as expected.

Perhaps if I didn't know half of what I know about the airship flap, airships in general, the Spanish American War, the Great White Fleet and the Tunguska Event I would have been surprised by the fictional events behind the events. As it was, what was supposed to be a spy thriller was entirely unthrilling, the telegraphed ending was unsatisfying and I muscled through to the end only because I was academically interested in the subject matter.

Charles Stephenson is a passable writer and knows how to write a decent story in understandable sentences. He overuses the dramatic reveal technique and sometimes tells us too much that is not relevant to the story, which distracts from the decent story he is trying to tell. I think Stephenson is in desperate need of a a ruthless editor who will tell him to cut whole chapters and tighten up his prose dramatically. Without that, he should stick to his more successful non-fiction.

The Huffington Post had an article by Paul Di Filippo entitles “5 Things You Didn't Know About Steampunk” which was of course, reposted on a number of steampunk forums. Before we get into the kerfuffle that resulted, lets' go through that list of five things:

#1 Victorian science fiction isn't steampunk.
#2 The term “steampunk” is a sneering putdown.
#3 I wrote a novella.
#4 The steampunk genre is not monolithic.
#5 Steampunk appropriates past fiction.

You can read the article for yourself but the first thing that I responded to was his assessment of steampunk being a putdown. Apparently, Di Filippo never read K. W. Jeter's own account of the creation of the term as more of a shrug of the shoulders as he fumbled about for a term to name the new genre he was writing. Steampunk was suggested not as some sneering putdown of cyberpunk but simply because cyberpunk was big and he thought of the steampunk name as a “tongue-in-cheek” variation.

My second response was to the “I wrote a novella” flag. Great there, Paul. You wrote in the genere when it was young and, since you were the first person to actually say that you were writing “steampunk” people mistakenly believed you invented the term. Something about that whole thing, while true and likely not known by many, somehow doesn't seem to measure up to the informative potential that I think the “5 things you didn't know” article should aspire to.

To me they seemed reasonable criticisms of the content. Other people on the forum didn't care. They immediately jumped to “another self appointed talking head telling us mere mortals what is and is not Steampunk,” and “nothing more than self serving ego, motivated, attempts to make themselves seem important in a genre that is metamorphosising into a sub-culture.”

Now, in the past I have credited the steampunk community as being more open and more welcoming than many other fandoms. In part I think it is because unlike other fandoms ('Star Trek" and "Star Wars" for example) steampunk lacks the single incoming vector of a movie or book series. People come into steampunk from scores of different directions and brings with it a very broad variety of perspectives. But, apparently, that open door can get slammed pretty hard when you step on someone else's idea of what steampunk is.

And it's a very fine line that Di Filippo unwittingly crossed.

So, I thought that I would perform a little research. What actually ARE the five things that people don't know about steampunk? Rather than relying on my own opinion for the list and getting in trouble as Paul Di Filippo seemed to have done, I though I would reach out to the community and see what they thought. What do people in general not know about steampunk but probably should? What do steampunks not know about their own fandom that they probably should?

I didn't leave it at that, though. I figured I should "prime the pump" with an example of one thing that I had noticed. A lot of steampunks I have spoken to didn't know anything about Victorian science fiction, the inspiration for their entire fandom. I might mention Mary Shelly, Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Rive Burroughs and I will often get quizzical looks. The unfamiliarity extends even to the modern day. I'll mention K. W. Jeter and James Blaylock and get no response. (I'll be honest here, I haven't read either of those, either, but I know who they are.) I'll mention Cherie Priest and Scott Westerfeld and get the same lack of response. I'll cite “Girl Genius” and they've never heard of it. It's like a “Star Trek” mega-fan never having heard of Gene Roddenberry.

Well, apparently the bile levied against “self serving egos” such as Paul Di Filippo also extends to those asking a question and offering a sample answer from personal experience. In short order, I was accused of condescension, snobbery, "unmitigated arrogance", and the eminently anti-intellectual "delusional superiority."

Uh. . . .what?

OK. You know what? Now you've gotten me mad. These are the sorts of personal attacks I get from creationists, neo-confederates and other anti-intellectuals. You don't like steampunk defined? Let me give you a definition:

argumentum ad hominem, Suggesting that the person who is making the argument is biased, or predisposed to take a particular stance, and therefore, the argument is necessarily invalid.

I'll spell it out for you. . . your entire response was not to challenge what I said but to claim that I (and Paul Di Filippo) were wrong because of our own motivations. Motivations you know fuck all about. So, call us self serving, call us snobbish, call us arrogant, call us all sorts of names only to protect yourself from a perceived threat. Even when I was critical of Di Filippo's article, I merely thought he was wrong. Here, the conversation seemed to go more like this:

Question: “What is something you think people don't know about steampunk?”

Answer: “How dare you hate on my fandom. You are a horrible, selfish person bent on destroying the thing that I love.”

I expect this kind of shit from theocrats, not from the open and welcoming steampunks I thought I was amongst.

So, in the end my research revealed one thing about steampunk that I didn't know but probably should have: Steampunk fans can be just as vicious as other fans. Because they don't have a defined corpus that they can rail against in the form of “authenticity police”, anyone who dares to ask a question can be redefined as the enemy, threatening their precious and personal definition of steampunk.

So. . . what is something YOU think people don't know about steampunk?

2nd-Jul-2014 03:37 pm - Sci-Fi Valley Con
This is the third year for the Sci-Fi Valley Con in Altoona and I have been wanting to go to show my support for local conventions but other events scheduled of past years have interfered with my plans. Not this year, though. I threw on my vest and goggles, waxed my mustache and headed out.

Altoona is a little less than two hours from Pittsburgh and pretty much a straight shot out Route 22. This year's venue, the Jaffa Shrine Center, is a big 1930s block of a Masonic building but it was the large Stargate out front that made it clear that one had arrived at a con. There was also a large inflatable Laser Tag arena on the lawn.

Inside and first thing through the door was the replica Jurassic Park jeep that con organizers had built specifically for their con. The jeep was joined by Christine, the 1966 Batmobile, Ecto-1 and, a staple at Pittsburgh comic conventions, the “Back to the Future” Delorian time machine. I suppose I am a bit of a staple as well because “Doc” and “Marty” recognized me and we talked like we often do.

The Gearbox Union had a number of tables from which they were raffling off prizes donated by many of the merchants. They also had a game that encouraged con attendees to interact with the dealers, artists and guests. A fantastic idea. I didn't get in on the action myself but it seemed to be propagating itself through the con fairly well. They also hosted the charity auction later in the day. I hear tell they raised over $1200.

Time Lincoln!

In addition to the artists and dealers there were gaming tables in addition to a video game tournament. At most cons I am used to seeing these things somewhat segregated, tucked out of sight where only the gamers can find them. Here they were right there out in the open. I don't know how well doing it that way drew people in but I appreciate the intention. Or perhaps it was merely a necessity of the venue. I could also see where it could be an issue for the game players to have too many spectators crowding the space.

At one point I heard a person comment on “Magic: The Gathering” saying, “If your store doesn't support this product it is doomed to failure.” That's a pretty strong and arrogant statement. Is Magic really so powerful as to make or break a retailer? I know of at least one game shop that doesn't deal in Magic and seems to be doing just fine. Doesn't that destroy your blanket statement?

I had intended to spend more of my time watching the panels and presentations but, just as I do with other conventions, I was distracted by conversations and such and so missed out. Perhaps if I had joined in the Gearbox Union's games I would have been prompted to interact more.

It took nearly two hours to work their way through the masquerade. Part of me wants to find some way to pair it down so that it isn't so long for the spectators and participants. Two hours is a long time and one of the reasons I don't participate. On the other hand, everyone who wanted to had a chance to be a part of it and, in so many ways, that's what cosplay is all about.

The balance of the con is somewhat different for those used to things like Steel City Con and Pittsburgh Comicon. There are more artists, artisans and small press than there are more conventional dealers. And it seems to match well with the attendees. I had a conversation with a comic book author and artist of and he said that Sci-Fi Valley was his favorite con now. He said that at something like Steel City Con the people just walk by his table but at Sci-Fi Valley people stop to talk to him and actively look at his stuff. People who bought his first issue at the first con bought the next issues at the next con and have returned yet again to get his latest issues. When he goes back to Steel City, he will go as an attendee instead of as a dealer.

Several others described Sci-Fi Valley as their favorite con.

The air conditioning was insufficient. Downstairs wasn't too bad but for costumed people such as myself it wasn't cool enough. It was a arctic paradise compared to the auditorium area, though. Especially when people were in the bleachers for the costume contest. There were a few industrial fans trying to move some air around but unless you were standing in front of them their effect wasn't noticeable. And the room wasn't even filled to capacity. I can't imagine what it would be like in there if the auditorium was filled with the 3,200 people it was supposedly designed for. Thankfully, the con has outgrown the Jaffa Shrine Center and will be at the Blair County Convention Center next year.

The second year for the con had double the attendance of the first and the person I was talking to on Saturday had said that their Friday numbers for 2014 had been double their previous year's Friday. They are well on their way to becoming a strong regional convention.

Sci-Fi Valley Con is the little convention that did.

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