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tophat
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
tophat
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 Garrett Free, author and artist of “Arcadian Knights” 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.


 
1st-Jul-2014 09:23 pm - Under Pressure
growl
I noticed while I was on my bike ride on the C&O Canal that when I would climb into my tent and lay down, when I sat up again in the morning and sometimes during the night when I would roll over, that I would get dizzy. It seemed quite severe at times. However, I didn't notice any problems at any other times. No dizziness or balance problems when I was riding my bike. I attributed it to perhaps not getting enough to eat or being dehydrated. I didn't do so well at addressing the caloric intake issue but I made a conscious effort to drink a lot of water and would get Gatorade when the opportunity presented itself.

Once I got home, the symptoms continued. Again, it was when I would lay down in bed or get up from bed. Walking around wasn't a problem. Getting up from a sitting position wasn't a problem.

When I was young, I would occasionally get dizzy when I stood up but I had not had those symptoms for over a decade. It was also a different sensation. When I was younger, it was a tunnel vision sort of thing. This time, the room was spinning. Specifically upper left to lower right. I thought perhaps I had gotten myself an inner ear infection that was messing with my balance.

As it continued into Thursday, my wife insisted that I do something about it and I agreed. I drove to MedExpress.

After checking my blood pressure they told me to go to the ER. Go directly to the ER. Do not go home first. My blood pressure was 186/142, apparently a level that they thought was an immediate stroke risk. They asked if I wanted them to call me an ambulance. I responded that, other than my head being apparently about to explode, I felt fine. I had just ridden 250 miles in three days and driven myself there, I figured I could get myself to the hospital.

At the ER they hooked me up to the BP machine, an EKG, had me pee in a cup and set up an IV. Given the panic-inducing diagnosis from MedExpress, my blood pressure was now 200/something-or-other. The doctor came in and he seemed less concerned than the people at MedExpress. He figured that I probably had undiagnosed hypertension and, since it may have gone on for some time he wanted an X-ray to see if my heart was enlarged. He also had a CT scan done to see if there were any stroke symptoms going on there. Both of those results came back negative. The EKG had something he called a nonspecific T-wave abnormality which, now that I think about it, is something I have always had.

My blood pressure came down to something a bit more reasonable. Still high, but the kind of high that people with hypertension normally have, not the kind of high that requires immediate emergency room intervention. In fact, it probably never needed that kind of thing in the first place and the "Go to the hospital, NOW!" thing was just MedExpress covering their asses.

The doctor gave me a prescription for a mild diuretic and told me get myself a family physician. Given that I had ridden my bike 250 miles in three days I had already pretty much done a cardiac stress test and had at least half of the typical "diet and exercise" program taken care of.

The dizziness has dissipated but I feel run down and have a pressure feeling in my head. Yes, it's been hot and humid and yes I have high blood pressure but I think most of it is my own mind making me feel worse than I actually am. I don't feel as good as I did on Wednesday when I was just beginning to recover from my marathon ride and yet didn't know about the blood pressure issue.

Ignorance is truly bliss.

Well, I'm no longer ignorant and I have to do something about it. Mostly I've been loafing around the house but I got out and cut the grass today. Need to get back on my bike again. My wife has forbidden me from ever eating Ramen noodles ever again. Other dietary changes are sure to be made.

And I need to find a doctor.


Proof that I do, in fact, have a heart.


 
26th-Jun-2014 08:59 pm - Return to the C&O Canal
bike
For one reason or another, it had been six years since I last rode the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal from Pittsburgh to DC. So, when my niece was going to have a graduation party down in Monrovia, MD, I took that as an opportunity to get on the trail. Being unemployed meant that I had nothing to really conflict on my schedule. It also meant that I had ample time for training rides.

The plan was basically this: Drive down on Saturday morning for the party in the afternoon and evening. Stay the night on my sister's floor. Get up Sunday, breakfast with family and then hit the trail at Dam #4. Ride the 250 miles back in four days. I wasn't sure when I would be on the trail Sunday and how many miles I would be able to get in by the end of the day so I padded my numbers a bit, expecting to be back on Thursday sometime. My wife works out near Hendersonville on the Montour Trail so one option was for me to get off the Passage at McKeesport and ride out there or, depending on the time and my inclination, I could simply ride directly home.

Things moved more swiftly than I expected on Sunday and so I arrived at Dam #4 at about 11am. About mile marker 84. There was still plenty of daylight and I hoped that I could get as far as Paw Paw Tunnel at mile 155 before the end of the day.

Just up of Dam #4 is the Slackwater. Originally, the C&O Canal would exit out onto the river and canal boats would be towed on the Potomac River itself. However, being dictly on the river itself, this area was more prone to flooding damage and in 1996 the damage was so severe that the 2.7 mile section of towpath was closed, necessitating a 5 mile on-road and up the hill detour. For the half a dozen times I had ridden previously, this detour was my only experience.

And it was hated.

Finally, though, $15 million in funding was found and as of October of 2012, the towpath along the Big Slackwater had been restored. Riding that section of trail was the reason I chose to enter the trail at Dam #4 rather than any where else that might have been easier for me to start.

In some places, the original stonework survives but where it was washed away, modern concrete is in place. And while it would have been nice to reconstruct the towpath to its original specs, replacing the lost sections with modern materials kept the cost down, allowing it to be constructed at all.

After that nice, new section, came the rest of the C&O and I have to say that I dislike riding upstream. Nominally, the canal is pretty much flat with only eight foot climbs at each lock but, given the generally poor trail surface, it feels uphill all the way. And even more so than the uphill parts of the Great Allegheny Passage of which I am most familiar. I was hoping to average something over 10mph, especially starting out fresh, but I was chugging along at something closer to 8mph. That picked up a bit when I got off of the C&O and on the Western Maryland Rail Trail into Hancock but I was really getting worn out and feeling quite old.

In Hancock I stopped at the bike shop and got some Gatoraide then went across the canal and took a nap on one of the park benches. It did a world of good because once I got back on the trail I seemed to have caught a genuine second wind, even after I got off of the paved Western Maryland and back onto the towpath.

I thought of stopping to camp at Indego Neck but the hippy couple were looking at me suspiciously when I stopped to make my decision. It was if they were afraid I would intrude on their solitude or something. It was still fairly early and I was feeling OK so I rode on.

I paused at Devil's Alley and thought of camping there. There was a small group of people there as well and they looked up from what they were doing when I stopped then returned to their tasks, apparently unperturbed by my presence. Even so, the next camp site was five miles off and I felt I could make it and still have a reasonable time to set up camp.

I made camp at Stickpile Hill, about five miles short of my initial goal of getting to Paw Paw Tunnel. Setting up my tent, making dinner, washing my hair and so on consumed the rest of my useful daylight and I felt it was good choice that I didn't press on to the next camp.

I set my alarm for 4am so I could get as early a start as I could, hoping to get the 30 miles to Cumberland and then the 22 miles to get up Big Savage Mountain before it got too hot after midday.

I hit the trail at 5:30, just as it was getting bright enough to ride.

At some point I hit a stick, which jammed in my front fender and punctured my tire.

Ultimately, it took me 5 hours to travel the 30 miles to Cumberland. That's pretty darn awful. I was feeling really old and worn out and spent an hour in Cumberland getting a bite to eat, rehydrating and taking a break before the long climb. I will never through-ride the trail north again. The C&O in that direction just drains too much of the life out of me.

Something I didn't expect to see in the bike shop in Cumberland; a fridge full of hopps. Apparently there is an unexpected amount of crossover in the cycling and brewing communities.

Two and a half hours for the 15 miles to Frostburg and my effort to get up Big Savage before the afternoon heat set in failed miserably. I took another long break in Frostburg, climbing the 600 feet of switchback to replenish my water because for some inexplicable reason they don't have any trailside. There are houses across the street so there really isn't anything preventing them from running a line to the trail. Hell, even a garden hose at one of the houses would be an improvement.

As I had been riding, I could look across the valley and see Big Savage Mountain rising in the distance. A recent addition were the wind turbines along the ridge installed some two years ago.

The seven miles up to Big Savage Tunnel took an hour, which was actually somewhat of an improvement over what I had been doing. Apparently my second wind was catching up to me again. There was a momentary threat of a shower but only a few drops made it to the ground, failing to cool things off.

Where the trail crosses the Mason-Dixon line, someone has constructed a memorial park of sorts. There is a large marker obelisk on one side, which I think is quite tasteful and appropriate though I think a replica of the original stones would have been better. On the other side they have giant granite blocks, like kids spelling blocks with one letter on each stone, spelling out M-A-S-O-N- -D-I-X-O-N. Not quite so tasteful, I think. The worst of it is between the two, and crossing the trail, is a line of coarse stone bricks marking out the line itself. I don't know what genius designed this but he obviously didn't consult with any cyclists. Someone biking down the mountain from Big Savage Tunnel is likely to hit this line of rough bricks at 20+mph. Throw even a little bit of water on the angled bricks and I almost guarantee that the unsuspecting cyclist is going to spill hard.

I didn't even like riding over them climbing slowly uphill. If they had used flat bricks it might have been tolerable but, no. It's a trap and someone is going to get hurt.

The lights were out in Big Savage Tunnel, my headlamp was not mounted on my helmet properly and the light on my handlebars had lost nearly all of its battery power so I rode through the tunnel by lining up the light at the end of the tunnel with the reflection on my headlamp off of the light fixtures in the ceiling. I would turn my head back and forth to keep a sense of where the walls were and kept to the center of the tunnel without incident.

What had been 6 or 7mph on the towpath and up Big Savage quickly turned back into my more typical average of 10mph. After the short distance from the tunnel to Deal Road and the Continental Divide, that quickly climbed to 14 of 15mph and the blessed downhill.

When I got to Meyersdale a had three hours of daylight and 30 miles to cover to get to Confluence. Unlike the C&O, campsites on the Passage are few and far between and my next opportunity to camp would be midway between Meyersdale and Confluence at the Husky Haven at Rockwood. I could pay $10 to camp there or press on, arrive at Confluence after the gate house had closed, and avoid the $8 fee for camping at the Outflow Campsite. Showers at both.

When I got to Rockwood, I was still on track to get to Confluence just before dark and I decided to go for it because I was feeling pretty good. It was like I was my younger self and not quite as old as the C&O had made me feel.

For the last mile into Confluence I needed to put on my headlamp as the last light of day faded. Only then did I look at my odometer and realized that I had logged 100 miles for the day. Better than I though I would. Better than I thought I could. Of course, it had taken me 16 hours to do it.

There's a shop just outside the park and I got something to eat there, including a large milkshake. I like these community shops because you get a lot more shake for the money than you get at some place like Dairy Queen.

Shower. Hmmmmmm.

I slept in until 5am the next morning.

Breakfast didn't turn out so well. The previous day I had made a Mountain House brand dehydrated meal that had sat in my camping gear bin for five years. It worked out just fine. But it was the last of those meals that I had and on Tuesday morning I had a Wise Company brand meal I had gotten a little cheaper at a gun show just a few weeks before my trip. Even after the alloted time with boiling hot water the noodles and flavoring powder hadn't absorbed the water properly. Crunchy noodles, flavor lumps and water does not make for a good breakfast experience.

And then, flat tire.

It seems that whenever I get a flat and change the tube, the tire will go flat again overnight. In some cases it has been because I didn't inspect the tire carefully enough and missed the chunk of glass still stuck in the tire. The stick puncture from the previous day wasn't like that and I had not found any splinters. In fact, when I swapped out this second tube I couldn't even find the air leak, so it wasn't for the same reason or in the same location.

Well, after fixing that I hit the trail again. I got to Ohiopyle just as they were opening the visitor center, which was nice to use the rest room rather than a porta-john. I got to Connellsville just as the bike shop there was opening but decided not to stop in an inflate my front tire beyond the pressure I had supplied with the hand pump. I also decided to go up the street to the Sheetz and get some chocolate milk and a better breakfast.

Sitting in the park in Connellsville I was coming across some of the 300 or so riders of the RTC Greenway Sojourn. They had come from Weirton on the Panhandle Trail, along the Montour Trail and then on the Passage south from McKeesport on their way to Cumberland. For $680 you have a fully supported six day, 191 mile ride. I was on track to complete my 250 mile ride in three days and having cost me something around $50 (not counting the gas to get me down to Monrovia).

In spite of my gloating there, my ride on the Passage from Confluence towards home was much more typical for me. Not as energetic as I had been in my youth but not feeling quite as old and exhausted as the C&O had made me feel.

The Great Allegheny Passage has much more open sky than the C&O so things got hot in the afternoon. I stopped at the West Newton Station to refill my water bottles and take a break but the sun was creaping across the sky, eating up the shadow in the front of the station. Thankfully at about the time the sun was chasing me from my resting spot some clouds rolled in.

Those clouds had become a thunder shower by the time I reached Sutersville.

Refreshing.

I was rolling into the area pretty much two days early so my wife wasn't ready for me to come to her on the Montour Trail and then to go home from there. I rolled into the Waterfront in Homestead at about 6pm and really didn't have the energy to try to get home over steep hills and narrow streets from there. Eighty miles for the day was enough. Rather, I would gladly wait several hours for her to get home from work and then bring my car and bike rack to pick me up. I waited it out in Costco while another thundershower rolled through.

Why? Why would I insist on putting myself through this? Well, not having a job and not being able to find a job has me feeling a bit inadequate. Getting a job is not something you can simply do or even something that you will accomplish if only you just keep working at at. Luck is a dominating factor for success. But a bike ride like this that. So long as I keep plugging away and don't break something (a very small element of luck), every rotation of the pedal will bring me closer to my destination. I may go slowly and I may hurt but I will accomplish this.

I'd like to think that this accomplish will fortify me in some way for the other part of my life. The finding a job part. I'm not so sure of that, though. It's more difficult than it used to be.


 
16th-Jun-2014 02:30 pm - Origins
round glasses
I decided to splurge and go to Origins Game Fair. I wasn't looking for any gaming supplies in particular but I've been wanting to play some of the games I have and perhaps seeing thousands of people collected in the Columbus Convention Center would help to inspire me a little.

The first issue was parking. The garage I typically park at was available for leaseholders only so they sent me somewhere else. That was even further away from the convention center. I drove around and saw yet another garage, closer, but they wanted $20 for parking. Finally I found a lot behind a restaurant, three blocks from the convention center, that was $5 for the day.

I've heard a story that these lots in Columbus will tow you, whether you have the receipt on the dashboard as directed or not. I have even heard that they will break the window to remove the receipt and then have you towed. A staggering level of collusion and corruption if true. I took pictures of my car and receipt just in case.

Going on a Thursday isn't as crowded as going on a weekend but there were still a lot of people there.

Two years ago I helped Kickstart an airship racing game called “Quicksilver.” I spoke with the guys at Split Second Games and showed them a link to some 3D printed airships I wanted to get to replace the cardboard tokens that came in the game. They shared with me a miniature that someone had made for them of the actual airship design from the game. The problem was that it was too delicate and broke.

They were giving away weather supplement card sets to people who purchased the game at the convention and offered that, if they still had any sets on Sunday, they would give me one for being a Kickstarter supporter and talking to them. I wasn't going to be back on Sunday but I told them that the owner of the hobby shop that went in with me on the Kickstarter was going to be at the con on Sunday and I would have him check back for me.

Free stuff. Maybe.

I've also helped Kickstart the re-release of “Space 1889.” I've gotten the PDF but it may take a few months for the final edit to be printed and shipped. In the meantime I've been reading the rules and found out that it uses the Ubiquity system. Ubiquity is also used by the “Hollow Earth Expedition” RPG (I also have a copy of that) so I stopped by the Studio 2 Publishing booth and picked up some dice.

To explain a little bit about the Ubiquity system, it is a dice pool system, a bit like the Savage Worlds system that I played a lot of “Deadlands” with. Your character will have a level of skill and you will roll a number of dice equal to that skill level to determine the success of your action. Unlike Savage Worlds, the Ubiquity uses all the same die. In fact, it doesn't even matter which kind of die that you use.

For example. Let's say that I am trying to accomplish a certain task. It is considered a tough action and so I need to have 3 successes. A success is determined by rolling an even number on a die. It doesn't matter what kind of die, d4, d6, d8, roll even it's a success, roll odd, it's a failure. 50% for each die.

If I have 3 skill points that means I roll three dice and I would need to roll even on all three of them to succeed. The odds of that are 50% of 50% of 50% or 12.5%. That's one chance in 8.

Now, here's where the special dice come in. The Ubiquity dice are d8. One die is numbered with only 0s and 1s. Four of each so even odds. Another die is numbered 0 through 3. There is one 3 which represents the 1 chance in 8 of getting 3 successes, three 2s, three 1s and one zero. Roll this die and it tells you the number of successes and they are exactly the same odds as if you threw three dice and counted only the evens as successes. Using the custom dice results in the same odds but you can roll two special dice numbered to 3 rather than rolling six dice.

One of the quirks of Savage Worlds and it's “exploding” dice (roll the maximum on a die and get to roll again and add) is that you have better odds of success by having a lower skill level (d4) than having a higher skill (d6). Ubiquity, whether using the special dice or not, has a proper bell curve of probability.

The proof is in the playing and I haven't played it yet but it does seem a better system than Savage Worlds and it also seems not much unlike the original “Space 1889” rules I played in 1988, at least as far as skills and combat. The new rules have a lot more flexibility in its character development and I should be able to easily add even more features from other games.

Once I get the published rules, I intend to run a campaign. Ultimately, it won't be exactly “Space 1889” because I happen not to like the Mars as a stand in for British colonial India portrayed in the game as much as I like the Mars of H. G. Wells with tripod war machines, heat rays and “intellects, vast, cool, and unsympathetic.” I also want to run things earlier, perhaps around 1875 before airships, spaceships and technological marvels are commonplace. I want the characters to be on the cutting edge. Perhaps they are the first to discover the secret mineral that allows for space travel. I want to throw elements from just about every steampunk RPG in there as well; “Deadlands”, “The Kerberos Club”, “Stars of Empire”, “Rippers”, and “Castle Falkenstein”. I've got shelves full of steampunk novels and comics to draw from as well. Hopefully, I can run a good game.

Anyway, after that digression, back to the convention floor.

One of the dealers had a number of Denix firearm replicas at retail cost, which is about a third over what you can find online.

I ran into Steampunk Santa. He was helping out with Mayfair Games.

The Flying Buffalo booth had hardcover copies of “Ace of Aces.” “Aces” came out in 1980 and was one of my favorites. It's a simple WWI air combat game where you both start on the same page, which gives views from the two combatant aircraft. You choose a maneuver and send your opponent to look at the page your book says and vice versa. On that page, they reference the maneuver which sends you both to the same final page that shows the result of your maneuver.

When I was in Boy Scouts, the troop would go hiking or camping and I would take “Ace of Aces”. My fellow scouts would play the game and the winner would challenge me. I would shoot him down and they would go off again, hoping to learn how to best me.

It was a simple yet elegant game that won awards and Flying Buffalo got the rights to reprint in in a hardcover edition. Too bad I can't afford it but it does inspire me to pull out my well worn copy again.

Jolly Roger Games has re-released and updated another of my favorite games from the 1980s; “Kremlin”. Originally published by Fata Morgana (the version I played) and later re-released by Avalon Hill, Kremlin was a fun game of political intrigue and backstabbing in the Soviet Union. Jolly Roger has updated the game to modern times as well as keeping all the rules and characters from the original.

Last year, one of the best miniatures setups was from Gettysburg Solders. Their miniature terrain was immediately identifiable as the fields of Gettysburg, the figures were well painted and the rules seemed pretty straightforward. This year, they set up the battle of the Alamo. Seeing it laid out to scale with the number of defenders makes it very clear that it was not a winnable battle for the Americans. I put in a slip to win the Alamo miniature itself, not that I need it but free is free.

Someone else featuring a different game system had the Battle of Isandlwana. Another scenerio that didn't go well for the defenders. But to then think about it further, the subsequent Battle of Rorke's Drift would look very similar except that they had a defensible position. In that context, the Alamo would look like a defensible position if you ignore most of the mission and instead concentrated your forces. Of course, being attacked by artillery would change that dynamic.

More so than just the play, this is what I find interesting about war games. They get to play out different scenarios to find out if things really could have turned out differently.  I remember playing "Axis and Allies" and having the Japanese rolling armor into Moscow. Yea, well, if you abstract the game too much the plausibility of alternative history is diminished.

Ares Games, the makers of the “Wings of War” WWI air combat game, have released a Napoleonic naval combat game called “Sails of Glory”. It uses a somewhat similar game mechanic in that you choose maneuver cards and then the cards are used to maneuver the miniatures. I liked the game but I have “Wings of War” that I don't play.

I have too many games that I don't play. I need to fix that.

Last year there was a dealer with a lot of used and discount games. Too bad he wasn't around this year or I might have bought more games that I won't play.

I've heard complaints online about a number of dealers that weren't there. The general consensus was that Origins went through a lean time and is now appearing to recover somewhat though it is being held back by where it sits on the calendar. I'll admit to not being in the gaming scene or the con circuit to formulate an informed opinion.

In the end, Origins was a lot more expensive than I could really afford. The day pass was $20, which isn't bad, but I spent $60 filling the gas tank. I spent maybe $50 on gaming stuff (including an RPG plot hook supplement that I will use in my “Space 1889” campaign), $40 on gourmet ice cream and ate out for lunch and dinner. A lot of money to spend in a day when you don't have a job.

My car was unmolested when I returned.


 
10th-Jun-2014 06:14 pm - Hot potato
frown
A month and a half ago, I got an interview for a Help Desk Team Lead position with a downtown law firm. After that interveiw they indicated that they would be making their decision in several weeks and, one way or the other, they would be in touch.

Nothing.

Two weeks ago, I applied for a Help Desk II position with a medical service provider through a recruiter. The recruiter called me that afternoon and pretty much every day for a week as he set up a Skype interview. I took a Windows 7 test online that I did astonishingly well on considering that I had a single introductory CBT on Windows 7 back in February, didn't work with Windows 7, and don't own a Windows 7 machine. After the Skype interview with the client and their techs the recruiter said he would call me back later in the day.

He didn't call back that day but called the next. My phone happened to be off so he left a message saying that whatever it was he wanted to talk about he didn't want to leave it on the phone or send an email. I called back and ended up leaving a message the next morning.

Nothing.

Some weeks ago, I received an email from another recruiter. He asked me a few questions and said that he wanted to talk to me further. We set up a time for him to call me on Monday morning.

Nothing.

I am feeling like a hot potato. People show an interest in one form or another but then, suddenly and for no apparent reason, they drop me completely. Do they call my former employer, hear a different story from them and assume that I was lying to them? Is it the new normal to, if you are not going to offer someone a position, simply leave them hanging?

It's frustrating not knowing because I don't know if it's something I have to change. If it's something I even can change. If it's something at all.


 
19th-May-2014 06:28 pm - Hail to the King
round glasses
I remember “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster” at the drive-in. My parents let me stay up till two in the morning to see “King Kong vs. Godzilla” on Chiller Theater. I drove 10 hours to see the remastered original on the big screen. I have all the films. I've done club presentations on Godzilla. Done a convention video program that was all kaiju. There were kids who needed to be dragged literally kicking and screaming from the room because they wanted more. I was on a Godzilla panel at WorldCon with Bob Eggleton. So, when I went to see the latest incarnation in IMAX and 3D, I had a lot of historical baggage. I told myself I would hold my nostalgia in check and temper my expectations. And then, even before the opening credits, they replaced the Dolby sound check with Godzilla's roar.

Wiping tears from my eyes I submitted to the inevitable.

I watched it like I was a kid again. I applauded when we first saw the king in all his glory. I got chills when he announced his arrival with a thunderous, imperial roar. There were “oofs” and “ows”with every beatdown. Have you ever been in a movie, seen what was coming, and started laughing? Yea. That was me. Multiple times. Laughing like a madman, disturbing the other moviegoers until they too saw what was about to occur.

I was twelve again.

Since then, I have seen it two more times and only now do I think I can give a bit more nuanced analysis. First, a short and nearly spoilerless review

Go. Have fun.

Garth Edwards appreciates the material. Unlike the much reviled 1998 attempt to Americanize Godzilla, Edwards did not set out to make this something different than it has historically been. It's not about some mutant lizard hiding behind buildings, being lured by fish and ultimately killed by a couple of missiles. It's about the king of monsters. An unstoppable force of nature that you could drop a nuke on and he could get back up and kick the crap out of some other city-crushing monster.

And that's what we want. This isn't Shakespeare.

As to the things I didn't like. . . Or rather, the things I thought they could have done better because, in all honesty, there really wasn't anything I truly disliked.

Gone from the backstory is the idea that humans created Godzilla with atomic testing. The thing is, in spite of the creation story of 1991s “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah”, the original 1954 concept had Godzilla being awakened by testing, not created. That is just one of the many myths that have grown up around Godzilla. But he has been recreated so many times that there is plenty of room for reinterpretation and this one is reasonably true to original form.

The same goes for the “Guardian of Balance” theme. In the original 1954 version, Godzilla was a terrifying destroyer of mankind's works. The embodiment of nuclear fears. In subsequent reboots (1984, 1999, 2001) he was again a force of nature, at best indifferent to humanity. But in between, Godzilla has often taken on the role of hero. Sometimes it's more like he is merely a jealous god protecting his stomping ground from interlopers but at others he is genuinely a monstrous friend. I won't say that Edwards' incarnation goes as far as that but I found his being an alpha predator destined to restore balance a bit disappointing. I think the story might have been better served if he was a bit more selfishly territorial. If his being the hero were a bit more ambiguous.

This is a movie about giant monsters so you shouldn't expect award winning acting. But I think Ken Watanabe's performance really shines. After the MUTO escapes and wrecks Honolulu, Watanabe's character, Dr. Serizawa (a nod to the eye-patched scientist in the 1954 version played by Akihiko Hirata), is asked why they didn't just kill such a dangerous creature. His assistant answers with the expected “we needed to study it” answer while the camera watches emotions flow over Watanabe's face. You see those same mix of emotions play at the end as Godzilla returns to the sea. So much emotion displayed without a word of dialogue.

On the other hand, Bryan Cranston's emotional railing as Joe Brody, hinted at in the trailer and overflowing in the film, are another performance highpoint. He gives voice to the devastating human impact as monsters destroy the world. I was disappointed that we didn't have that later in the film.

The rest of the cast were throwaways. The secondary story of Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) trying to save his family falls completely flat and stands only as a Forest Gump-like plot device to give us a ground eye view of the monster action. Taylor-Johnson's eyes can well up and redden on cue but even Godzilla shows more emotional range.

No, really. First off, even though Godzilla is entirely CGI, he is built like a guy in a suit. Not only is this a fitting homage to the original Toho artisans (such as the legendary Haruo Nakajima, the Man of a Thousand Monsters and the man in the 1954 Godzilla suit), it really does allow this towering monster to be presented in a way that we tiny humans can immediately recognize. After taking out one of the MUTOs with an epic tail swipe, Godzilla takes a break to catch his breath. His shoulders slump. His back bows. His sigh is that of a nearly exhausted prize fighter. Yet, the fight goes on. I don't think you could deliver this sort of instant identification with a more dinosaurian proportioned creature.

Godzilla's opponents, the MUTOs, have a bug-like quality that has become popular recently. They have these big walking legs but also have these smaller grasping legs always held praying mantis-like against their torso. I saw these same things in “Pacific Rim”, “Cloverfield”, even “Cowboys vs. Aliens.” Creepy, yes, but I'm wondering if monster designers can come up with something new to be disturbingly alien.

They also have this electromagnetic pulse thing the fries electronics. Even so, somehow the news is able to broadcast the monster fight on Honolulu on cable. How does that work? That also had me thinking about what use this EMP ability would have served these creatures billions of years ago. Plot hole or foreshadowing?

The forecasts had been around a $70 million opening weekend and, if it met those expectations, G-fans would have been happy. “Godzilla” stomped those numbers with a $93 million opening, right up there with “Captain America” and “Spiderman.” Legendary has already announced that, yes, there will be a sequel.

I want Xians.





 
14th-May-2014 12:22 pm - Rich Fantasy Lives
tophat

From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

We all live in a fantasy world of sorts. Most of the time, we constrain ourselves with the tenants of society. When your manager is a complete imbecile you don't typically challenge him. You might have passing thoughts of drawing a broadsword to decapitate him but here in the "real" world you don't even consider that as a viable option and only passingly imagine it as if you were a viking marauder. We play the role we have to play.

But there are those of us who can step outside that singular role. We don't even bother with imagining an alternate present where we bypass our manager and prevail by going to the CEO. No, we start from scratch and build an entire universe in which we are not merely the protagonist but the conquering hero. And if we're really lucky, we get to share pieces of these worlds we create through games, fan fiction and cosplay. We find people who understand us.

We do not dream alone.




7th-May-2014 10:45 pm - Vandalia-Con: Report
tophat
I first heard about Vandalia-Con last year at the Pittsburgh Comicon in September. As a new con, it was an unknown quantity with two things going for it. First, it was relatively nearby in Parkersburg, WV, only a two and a half hour drive. Secondly, they were set up as a non-profit with all of the proceeds dedicated to breast cancer screening and services. What's not to like?

I was on programming and wanted to support a local and worthy cause so, in spite of still being unemployed, I went.

The convention was held in the 1889 Blennerhassett Hotel, a fantastic opportunity for a steampunk convention. They had a period styled sitting room which offered a fireplace, wood paneling and high-back chairs. They called it a library but most of the books on the shelves were not the sorts of things you felt you could just leaf through or read casually. The vintage hardcover collections of National Geographic should not have been unreachable on the highest shelf. The second floor, where the conference rooms were, had a lounge area. A band played in the area on Friday nice. Nice for con-goers. Not so nice, perhaps, for non-congoers with adjacent rooms. The third floor (where my room was) had an atrium with tables and a nice skylight. Another nice place to congregate unless it's late at night and people are trying to sleep. The rooms themselves were typical of hotels.

My airships presentation was scheduled for 9:00 Saturday morning. Too early. Not that I have a problem getting up for it but most other people do. Better to schedule programming no earlier that 10. With that, I had one person show up. About half way through, another person came in and the first got up to leave because there was another program set to start at 9:30.

That's another scheduling thing. Conventions with multiple programming tracks have enough problems with competing content but to have people getting up half way through one to go to another. I can see why they did it that way. They slotted 1.5 hour blocks which, since most programs are built to fit in an hour, provide a lot of set up and take down time in between. This also limits overall time for programming so staggering programming in these cases is common.

As to my program, I didn't have a chance to do any tweaking of my airship presentation from the previous week when I decided that it needed to be more of a resource for writers and world builders.

My Mystery Airships presentation was scheduled for 7pm and I had one person show up for that as well. Two more people showed up later because the one of the presenters scheduled opposite me canceled their program because no one showed up and he wanted to attend a third program. With attendance what it was (more on that later) there weren't a lot of people available to fill three tracks of programming plus the dealer's room. Afternoon programming wasn't bad, at least in the panels I went to, but the ends were sparse.

Except for the performances on Saturday night. Those were well attended in no small part because there wasn't anything else on the program to compete with them. I think that if this is going to remain a small con that the schedule should be tightened up with fewer tracks.

One of the dealers had a the Lindburg 38” Graf Zeppelin model and I was sorely tempted. Being unemployed means you have plenty of free time to do things like build models. However, you tend not to have any money for the purchase of said models. I was able to resist, though.

There was an auction with play money. You could attend the gaming track and gamble your way into having more money or simply pay cash for more play money, proceeds going to the cause. One of the donated items in the auction was a small lasercut steel Graf Zeppelin. Bidding went wild for that item and I lost out. Well, if I really want one, they are available for $10.

Parkersburg is one of those towns that rolls up the streets in the evening. The Crystal Cafe just across the street was a nice place to have breakfast but they didn't have any evening hours and were closed on Sunday. Aside from the Jimmy John's a block up the street, I would have needed to get in the car and drive somewhere to find a place to eat.

Unlike most of the other cons I've been to, the hotel was not dominated by con-goers. There were a lot of regular people there for business conferences, senior proms and, given the way the town closes up, the hotel seemed to have the only open restaurant downtown. And so there was a lot of interaction with people wondering what was going on. Yet another opportunity for me to explain what steampunk is.

Sunday afternoon had a steampunk parade where the attendees would walk a few blocks to the park where a women's health fair would be set up. Pirates were pulling the carriage because there was no horse. Professor Bubblemaker was making bubbles. The 20 or so participants were cheered on by the 20 or so townspeople who turned out to watch.

Part of the con Gold Ticket admission price was a tour of the Blennerhassett Mansion and a ride on the sternwheeler to get you down the Ohio River to the island where the mansion sits. The sternwheeler was an actual sternwheeler unlike the Gateway Clipper boats in Pittsburgh which only have stern wheels that rotate as the boat moves under the power of a conventional propeller. The tour of the mansion was interesting enough but a little disappointing when you learn that it burned down in 1811 and was recreated in the 1980s.

I spoke to Shelly, running the show, at the Symposium a week previously and asked how she was doing with pre-reg. Fourteen. That did not seem encouraging but she said she expected more to pay at the door. Most of the other cons I am familiar with tend to have higher pre-reg numbers compared to at the door and day-passes but, then again, most of those conventions are established. She hoped for 100 to 150 total.

At the end of Friday, I asked Shelly again how things were going and they were up to 40. A little more respectable. There were clearly more people on Saturday and I know two of the people who came down from Pittsburgh for just the day. I didn't get a chance to ask on Sunday how things had gone overall because I wasn't going to get up early for their 8:30 am con planning panel but I don't think they broke the 100 mark.

What held the attendance back? I was at the first of most of the cons in the region; Tesla Con, Steampunk World's Fair, World Steam Expo, the Steampunk Empire Symposium, all of those did very well right out of the gate and had good attendance. Why should they do so well while Vandalia Con was so sparse?

Well, in the case of the World's Fair, there was Jeff Mach's reputation and experience doing other conventions. Tesla Con also benefited from those sorts of things as well. Geographically, the Expo and Symposium benefited from having a local steampunk community. Could that be it? Parkersburg is not so far off the beaten pass. It's less than 2 hours away from Columbus. Pittsburgh is 2.5 hours away. Cincinnati is 3 hours off. Those places have decent sized steampunk communities and I count myself among the people who will drive further to get somewhere. It's five hours for me to get to either the Symposium or the World's Fair. I drive ten hours for Tesla Con. Is three hours too much for the steampunks in Columbus and Cincinnati?

Maybe it is for an unknown quantity con trying to enter an already crowded market. The Symposium was a week before and the World's Fair was the week after. Was it a timing issue? Are three cons in a row too much for people? I know that there are a significant number of people in Ohio who aren't driving the 8 to 10 hours to get to the World's Fair, are two cons in a row too much for them when one of them is only a few hours away?

They seem intent on doing it again next year and given that they are operating as a non-profit and got a lot of resources donated, their budget can probably support it. That is, if the people donating feel they got their money's worth. I hope that word-of-mouth improves attendance next year. At this point, I intended to return.


 
30th-Apr-2014 02:47 pm - Loosing my job
round glasses
When I lost my job, I didn't blog much about the details of that event. Mostly because I just didn't have the emotional capital to spend on such a thing but, later, there were unresolved legal issues. Well, at this point those issues have been resolved sufficiently that I feel I can tell the tale somewhat.

Through, I believe, managerial incompetence, the Corporate Overlords lost the contract with The Bank. The Bank said that they wanted to change the Help Desk into more of a Service Desk and didn't want to be tied down by having to renegotiate the contract for each change but I can't help but conclude that recent changes in management at the Help Desk, and then other changes in management at the Help Desk led The Back to conclude that they should just take things in house.

And so the interviews began towards hiring Help Desk employees into The Bank. I was not one of those who got hired and, based on the circumstances of other people who were also not hired I can only conclude that I was black balled. All of us shared a history of being critical of management, of pointing out broken promises. And the only way that The Bank would have had that list of “bad eggs” is if our own Corporate Overlords had provided them with those details and told them not to hire us.

So, I was due to be laid off. As part of clearing out my cubicle, I copied a number of files to my USB drive. Files like annual performance appraisals, self evaluation forms, copies of cover letters for when I applied for Team Lead positions and a few correspondences with Management where I complained about having been promised promotions and then not receiving anything and a screen shot of when a Team Lead tried to publicly humiliate me.

This was my mistake. What should have done was zip these files up and emailed them to myself. Instead, in moving them to a USB drive they set off the Data Loss Prevention application. An email went to my managers indicating what I had done. Even so, I didn't think it was a big deal because I had done this before, set off the DLP flags and my managers hadn't taken any sort of action. According to the policies and procedures, the managers are to review the files and determine if they actually ppose any sort of risk and take action.

No action was taken that day but two days later I was fired.

When I was in my exit meeting, I specifically asked the Site Manager if a review of the files had been done to determine if, in fact, there was any sort of risk. He said that no, there was no review. The mere fact that I had downloaded any sort of file at all was cause enough for The Bank to demand that my Corporate Overlords fire me.

Even though I was fired “for cause”, I made an unemployment claim stating that I was fired under an inconsistant application of policy. I had copied files before and not been censured in any way. I had dealt with employees and managers who had received DLP warnings and the policies and procedures indicated that those instances should be reviewed on a case by case basis. The policied do not mandate summary dismissal for setting off automated DLP flags. Only because I was already scheduled to be laid off did manager fire me without review.

The state agreed and granted me unemployment benefits.

Of course, the Corporate Overlords did not and appealed.

At this point I had little hope for success. They technically had the right to fire me for violating policy. In fact, in previous issues, the Corporate Overlords habitually invoked the “at will employment” clause, saying that they could fire me at any time, for any reason, even for no reason. They had never employed that threat so I was not entirely sure they could actually act on that with the impunity they implied. In this case, they really did have cause in that I had violated the policy. My only chance was in a sympathetic hearing officer and my claim that they had been inconsistant in their application of policy.

With their appeal, I received a copy of their evidence which consisted of, as I expected, a copy of the confidentiality agreement, my acknowledgement that I had read the employee manual and a copy of the email from The Bank saying to fire me. What it did not have was a copy of the Data Loss prevention policy and procedures. Was that intentional on their part so that they didn't have to admit that they did not review the download?

The day of the hearing arrived. I collected up all my documentation, had prepared a statement to elaborate on the reasons that I had submitted with my unemployment application, put on my nice suit, waxed my beard and went to McKeesport.

The McKeesport offices are a sad, depressing place. Empty halls. Peeling paint. It's certainly no way to encourage the unemployed that they have any value whatsoever.

I sat in the office and the Hearing Officer came out and gave me the case folder to review. It had a copy of my application, the Corporate Overlord's appeal and a few administrative pages with a checklist of how the hearing would go.

According to the documentation, the representative of the Corporate Overlords would be attending the meeting by phone. As we sat down and the hearing started, the Hearing Officer turned on the recorder, read some preliminary stuff and attempted to call the Corporate Overlords. She got the corporate office main line. She looked through some other pages and found a name and number. She called that and got a voicemail. She then asked if she could go off-the-record to search for a better number and I agreed.

It was then that I realized that what I hadn't seen in the folder was the evidence that the Corporate Overlords had submitted. The confidentiality agreement, the employee manual agreement, and so on. For a moment I reached for my own folder to see if the necessary information was in my copy and then stopped myself. I am under no obligation to offer up incriminating evidence in an attempt to fix the state's mistake. Even the Hearing Officer, off the record, indicated that without evidence and without any input from my former employer, I would be best advised not to say anything at all, as their initial finding in my favor would stand.

I recall in the documentation that I received that, for those attending the meeting by phone, they are supposed to call the Hearing Officer 15 minutes in advance of the meeting. This didn't happen. So, even if the state hadn't misplaced the evidence, their failure to attend the meeting as directed would indicate a failure to advance their case.

The Hearing Officer restarted the recorder and went through additional motions. She asked if I had any statement to make and I said that my previous statement in my online application should stand. She asked a few other administrative questions, indicated that the employer had not provided any evidence and was not attending the meeting, and asked if I had any closing statement. I said that I had no additional statements and the hearing was over.

I expect a positive result withing two weeks.

Several people I have talked to about this seem to think this was some sort of harassment on their part. As a matter of course they appeal unemployment claims and bank on the former employee being cowed into accepting their fate and not attending the hearing. I'm not sure I buy this because, for the cost of half an hour on the phone, they could actually win their appeal. To go to the effort of making the appeal and then not following through doesn't make sense to me.

Personally, I think the ball was dropped, with the Corporate Overlords not carefully reading the documents to realize that it is their responsibility to call the hearing office at the appointed time and also, even more fortunately for me, the state not putting all the documents that had in the folder. The former more important than the latter.

And so, I get my unemployment benefits. Hail the conquering hero.

Now all I need is a job to render those benefits irrelevant.


 
30th-Apr-2014 08:09 am - Obsolete
tophat
I should relearn Morse Code.

tophat
Having lost my job, I really cut back on my convention schedule. I chopped Millennicon from my schedule. Marcon. Steampunk World's Fair. Contemporal. I might still do Origins as a day trip but that would be the same weekend as Steamtopia. I'd rather do that but would only be able to if I got a job in the meantime. I had an interview last week but that's not enough to make any sort of plans.

However, I had already committed to the Steampunk Empire Symposium because, at the time, I had a job and it was looking like I was going to someone else's ride. That ride, unsurprisingly, fell though at the last minute but I was on the program schedule and wouldn't back out of that and so was on my way.

But even though I arrived mid-afternoon and had hours before my first presentation on Friday night, I had a difficult time getting into things. Once I got dressed in my Union Airship Cavalry uniform I began to feel more myself but still felt weighted down by my “real world” situation. Long time friends and associates were glad to see me and asked how I was doing and I couldn't help but admit that I wasn't doing very well.

Then I did my airship presentation and began to get in the grove. The room I was in didn't have a screen but the wall was good enough. I think I need to tweak my airships presentation again. The first time I did it, it was too much history and not enough technology. After changing it to focus more on the technology I think it improved but I think it still needs some work to make it more of a resource for authors, role-players and world builders. That's the tack I've been taking on developing my aether presentation and I think it will work well for airships as well.

Near the end of my presentation I have a few slides of airships to scale to give an impression of just how monstrous they are. A few people were taking pictures and, as they did so, I mentioned that the illustrations are available online. However I neglected to mention where they could be found. I will need to add a slide with a link.

The next presenter was told that there would be a projector for them but there was not so I allowed them to borrow my projector. And the presenter after that. I got to play the hero yet again.

Sillof Workshops was there giving a presentation on his customized action figures. I want my own action figure and Sillof gave some details on how to do that. I think I mentioned in a previous post how I plan on doing that. The 7” Neca Lone Ranger action figure is a perfect base figure. At a minimum I would need to add a beard and goggles and a little bit of paint. I think I can accomplish that.

Saturday afternoon was my first time presenting “What is the Aether?” I think it went reasonably well for its first time running. I seem to have the right amount of information to fit in the alloted time slot though I did feel a bit rushed at the end because I didn't have what I wanted to say about Space 1889 scripted out. I missed a few things I would have wanted to say. There were a few other points I need to clean up and streamline.

I momentarily thought about changing up the format a little. As it stands, I talk about what the aether was (Classical, luminiferous aether, sub-hydrogen elements) and then talk about the way those different versions of the aether can be used in a steampunk narrative or world building. I toyed with the idea of doing each separately, that is talking about the Aristotelian aether and then mentioning some science fiction that uses that kind of aether in its story, but as I talked about it I have concluded that my initial format works best.

I spoke with someone later who thought that I give the best presentations and I neglected to ask for a critique of my aether presentation. We talked more about the content, which is valuable in itself, but I should like some feedback to make my presentations better and more useful.

When I got home, someone had posted on Facebook a link to some scientists who are proposing that spacetime is actually a superfluid with a near zero viscosity. Their paper is titled “Astrophysical Constraints on Planck Scale Dissipative Phenomena” but in everything they described I saw a nearly exact parallel to the luminiferous aether hypothesis of the 19th century, though they seemed to be carefully avoiding using that term.

The 19th century natural philosophers and proto-scientists thought that just as sound must have a medium through which to propagate so too must light have a medium, thus the luminiferous aether. They never found any evidence to support the existence of the aether, even up to todays scientists attempting to disprove Einstein and failing. And now that another century of study has reinforced Einstein's conclusion that there is no such medium, they look at the hole in their understanding of how gravity fits in with quantum mechanics and say that, having discovered gravity waves, there must therefore be a medium for gravity to propagate. I really wish they wouldn't confuse people by using the word “theory” in this case because they don't have any evidence to support their hypothesis.

Some day we will have a true unified theory. My expectation is that it will not be the aether but that it will take an additional century or two to finally stop hearing about it in those terms. Of course, there are still geocentrists so the aether isn't going away any time soon.

The beard competition had seven contestants and I won. And while I accept that I do have something of a spectacular beard, at least everyone keeps telling me so, I think I have well reached the point where I will not be competing at cons anymore. Winning beard competitions at steampunk conventions just is not important to me. It is the same attitude I have with costuming in that I have won my share of costume contests and more don't matter. What I think I will start doing is offering up myself as a judge for beard competitions. Stand as an example that other beardies can aspire to and give them a chance to win top honors.

I was asked several times about how I styled my beard. I have moved on to using Göt2B Glued. It holds better than the hair spray I had been using, has a long setting time to work the style better and lasts an entire day. I still have some issues with my hair being wavy but I'm still working on techniques to manage that.

Having won the competition I was awarded admittance to next years Symposium. Now, I had paid for this year's con but was comped a bad for being a presenter. I haven't been reimbursed for that and now I have another badge to my credit. Since I expect to be presenting next year as well that would comp me yet another badge. Once things calm down after the con I will send an email to Aloysius and say that if he just comps me and Euphorbia badges for next year we will call it even.

One of the dealers had a table full of modified squirt guns and other toy guns. One of those guns was an unmodified Peacemaker, unusual in that it was properly scaled. I thought it might be useful to have it as a prop for those cons more picky about realistic guns such as my Tanaka softair, He wanted $30. That's a lot for a plastic gun when I've seen Denix metal replicas on Ebay for only twice that.

I went to a cosplay photography panel and got lots of good information about posing for photographs and taking batter photographs and then completely neglected to apply what I had heard when I took a photograph of someone cosplaying the First Doctor (William Hartnell). After taking the picture I saw that the ribbon on his monocle was not well placed and I should have had him move it and try again but I didn't.

There were three different people who approached me asking “Are you coming to Old West Fest this year?” I would very much like to but if by some chance I am still out of work by that time I will be staying at home, sitting in the dark because I can't afford to do much else. I don't expect to still be unemployed in five months but, then again, I didn't expect to be unemployed in the first place. Still, I've been thinking that, yes, I really want to go. I'll have additional opportunities to get gunned down in the street, which was fun, but I was also thinking that I could set up a table near the entrance with a few books, a bunch of cards and fliers, and a placard on a tripod that reads “Ask me about Steampunk!” I could spend my day doing what I do; talking about this thing that I love.

But here's the real rub. The weekend of the steampunk theme at Old West Fest is the same weekend that the Steel City Beard and Mustache Club is having their second regional competition. I took third in my class last year and, as I've learned a thing or two about bearding since then, I feel I have an opportunity to move up in the rankings.

As I talked to people at Symposium about this dilemma, I came to the realization that while I socialize with my bearded brethren, want to compete on a regional level and will even be giving my “Century of the Beard” presentation at one of the club meeting, they are not “my people.” Other than having a beard, I don't feel I share very much in common with them. There are geeks among them but I don't feel that they share my interests on the whole. My enthusiasm lies with steampunk. They are my people. They understand me and I them more so than those with beards.

So, the conclusion will be that I will go to Old West Fest if I can.

The Symposium's Star Wars theme was probably the best theme that one could have with steampunk. Steampunk, because it is an aesthetic with no media corpus to define it in any one way, mashes up well with other fandoms. And Star Wars is itself a very simple story that could be reimagined in a lot of different ways (since that's what Lucas did when he adapted it from the samurai film “The Hidden Fortress”) The two fandoms naturally fall together in a conflagration of geek.


 
14th-Apr-2014 06:03 pm - Steel City Con: Report
tophat
I went to the con Friday in just shorts and a t-shirt. A number of dealers had to do a doubletake to recognize me because I am usually costumed.

I had registered for a three-day pass earlier in the week but for whatever reason I was not on their list. I had to wait in the rain for a manager to finally show up, look at my receipt and give me a badge.

There were a number of things that caught my eye but I picked up only a single Godzilla DVD and a Abraham Lincoln Lego minifig. Being unemployed, just attending the con was a bit of a splurge that I feel I need to do to benefit the steampunk community.

Saturday, I was more myself as I had my lawman gear. There were a lot of people who felt sure they recognized my cosplay from somewhere. It seemed moreso that usual. I think they are mostly mistaking me for Jeff Bridges' character from “R.I.P.D.” One person was sure she remembered where I was from and struggled to figure it out, saying that, though she knew it was wrong, kept thinking “A Clockwork Orange.” I said that I was Vitruvius Pike from an early 80s manga called “The Clockwork Chambermaid” and she snapped her fingers. “That was it! I knew it was something clockwork.”

Knew it, indeed.

Steel City Movers had a table at the con. Now, you wouldn't expect that a moving company would have a table at a comic and toy convention except perhaps that geeks such as myself would be likely to have accumulated many boxes of comics that would need moving, but these guys have taken a step up from they. They had a display with action figures for all their employees. They went to an online website that would produce 3D printed heads if you supplied the pictures. They then cannibalized a number of Shia LaBeouf figures from the “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” line, repainted and printed up some custom cardboard backings. Voilà! They plan on getting some software and a 3D printer of their own and going into the side-business of making personalized action figures. They are hoping to have something by the next Steel City Con.

I want an action figure of myself. In fact, when I said that at the table, people standing at the table said that wanted an action figure of me. So, I did some online searching. I couldn't track down the specific site the mover mentioned but he said having a head made was $50. That's way out of my price range right now but not too far outside if I had a job. I also looked up base figures which, if chosen correctly, could save me work. The mover's figures were 4 inch figures. I think the 7 inch “Lone Ranger” figure would be a good base. Would only need to change out the head and the rest would be minor repainting and adding some accessories. Of course, the larger figure would have a larger, more pricey head.

Of course, if I had any sort of skill I could do a sculpt from scratch, like Sillof.

I spoke to someone who mentioned more stuff about Tekko. He didn't go to the steampunk panel because he had low expectations and I confirmed that he was right. He only reinforced my decision to offer to do a steampunk presentation for them. He said that they comp badges for presenters, so that is an incentive.

I also noted that Steel City Con had much more Godzilla stuff than Tekko did. Tekko was nearly all pop anime and all the panels reflected that. In fact, only one dealer had anything Godzilla at all. For a convention of Japanese media culture, they definitely shortchanged the kaiju. I could also put together a Godzilla presentation. I learned more about The Sangawa Project which is another con from the Pittsburgh Japanese Cultural Society that focuses on the older con goer and is a little more retrospective and literary.

The conversation also had me thinking of reaching back to my college days and building a presentation based on Keiko McDonald's “Westerns and Samurai” course. That would be a tougher one to produce but I think it could be interesting and unique. In two weeks I have to do a first time presentation on the aether at the Steampunk Empire Symposium so I need to focus on that before coming up with new projects.

Now that I have a nice, contemporary suit, I've realized that I can do Men in Black or Agent of SHIELD cosplay in a minute. All I need is an appropriate ID tag. Of course, being me I could never just leave it at that. For MIB I'd have to have a noisy cricket and neuralizer.

On a completely unrelated note, I ran into someone who was still working at the help desk I was fired from. While the circumstance of my leaving could have been better, things have gotten exponentially worse since. Call queues high all the time. Clock in 1 minute late, get written up. Too much aux, written up. Three write ups and fired. If I hadn't been let go the way that I was, it probably wouldn't have been long before I was fired for some other reason.

And finally. . . what I did with the Abraham Lincoln minifig:




 
8th-Apr-2014 12:21 pm - Tekko 2014: Convention Report
tophat
I hadn't been going to Tekkoshocon for a few years. They had moved from the Convention Center to a downtown hotel and there simply wasn't room for them. Far too many people packed into far too small a space so I stopped going. They returned to the Convention Center last year but I didn't go then either. I think I saved myself $30 and went to Steel City Con instead. This year I went with my RWBY cosplay in spite of being unemployed. More on that later.

Friday was a steampunk day in part because there were some steampunk panels.

Security took an interest in my sword but once I showed them that there was no metal blade but that instead there was a piece of wood just long enough to hold the hilt to the scabbard they left me alone. They thought that idea was the best cosplay prop they had ever seen, mostly because they didn't have to come up with some way to peace bond it. Not one of them said anything about my very realistic looking Peacemaker in the holster, mostly because none of them ever saw it under my frock coat. I had been concerned because the rules are that realistic weapons must have an orange tip. The best I could muster was an orange twist-tie wrapped around the barrel. I had my doubts that it would pass muster but it pretty much stayed in the holster under the coat so never became an issue.

I have plans to make a gun out of wood such that, much like the sword, it looks good in the holster but isn't even gun-like otherwise.


Congoer: "Are you that guy from that first episode?"

Me: "No. I'm a different guy from that other thing."


My steampunk costume is still mistaken for being something that someone recognizes from some other program. That is, in fact, by design. I had several opportunities to explain the 1980s manga “The Clockwork Chambermaid” and the Vitruvius Pike dime novel it was based on.

The people who didn't think they recognized me from something else still appreciated my costume and, most especially, my beard. I sometimes think that just walking around in a t-shirt and jeans would get as much attention if I also had my beard styled as it usually is when I'm doing steampunk or that I would not get half as much attention were I clean shaven.

“You can get further with steampunk and an awesome beard than you can with steampunk alone.”

I spoke to the guy cosplaying Professor Ozpin who had previously been on the Tekkoshocon board and he let me in on some concom stuff. Apparently after last year's convention, the Tekko board was disbanded and gave all of their remaining stuff to Pittsburgh Japanese Cultural Society. One of the things that had been going on was that the concom had been choosing guests and performers based on their own interests rather than the interests of the congoers. I don't think that would be enough to bring down a convention in and of itself but I could see how that could affect attendance. The steampunk community had seen something similar with the World Steam Expo. The con had booked Abney Park several times, hoping their popularity would boost attendance. It may have done that but it wasn't by enough to offset the added cost of bringing in the band. In the end, Yumacon, which had been helping to fund the con, decided not to fund the con anymore and they folded up with $20k in debt.

And now Steamcon in Seattle has folded after five years. I don't know that situation but I can see a number of other steampunk cons folding in the near future. Aside from the talk of steampunk being a huge thing, I'm not sure it's sustainable at the level people seem to think. But steampunk is a very young fandom, still undergoing its growing pains and trying to find its place among other science fiction conventions. Perhaps if Hollywood gets off its collective backsides and produces a decent steampunk blockbuster, the genre will get the boost it needs to truly hit the mainstream.

I saw the middle part of “Wolf Children.” Now on my Amazon wish list.

Given the popularity of “Frozen”, I saw at least five different Elsa cosplays. There had been an online meme predicting that this would be the big thing this year but I think that “Frozen” was still handily beaten out by “Attack on Titan” and “Doctor Who.”

The AMV (Anime Music Video) Room had steampunk on the program but I was disappointed in the block. There was one very good video with “Steamboy” and “Abney Park” that I had seen years ago and one with “Last Exile” and “Abney Park” but the rest really weren't steampunk. Where was “Sakura Wars”? Where was “Castle in the Sky”? A later search of the Internet couldn't find much more than that. Just as in Hollywood, steampunk hasn't hit the big time in Japanese animation yet.



Later was the “Steampunkify Yourself” presentation. I missed the very beginning but the presenter was reading off steampunk archetypes. I even recognized the website that she downloaded the information from though it seems that every website that talks about creating a steampunk persona uses the same general script; breaking down all of steampunk unto personalities such as aristocrat, scientist, adventurer, air pirate. Once she was done with that I wondered where she was going to go next and she ended up calling me up to the front to tell people about myself and my character.

I sort of took over. I started off by saying that I only recognized one person in the audience and since I was up to my ears in the steampunk community in Pittsburgh, I would be glad to answer any and all questions anyone had and that, after the panel, I would be available out in the hall by the water cooler. I then went on to talk about my persona and how it was developed (I didn't choose an archetype from an Internet website), where I got my costume, a some of my steampunk experiences. After the presenter moved on and I returned to the back of the room, I noticed that the room started to clear out bit by bit. By the end of the time slot, fully half of the people had filtered out.

In the hall by the water cooler I spent another hour and a half talking to a few people about steampunk.

Tekko tried to promote a steampunk theme this year, at least with their badge and program art, but they didn't do much more than that as far as I can tell. The full room shows that there is an interest in steampunk but the person doing the presentation couldn't sustain interest. Therefore, I intend to talk to the Tekko staff. If they want to have a steampunk presentation at next year's con, I will do it for them. Steampunk is so much more than choosing an archetype from a website.

Saturday was for Team RWBY.

In the middle of last year, I was beginning to recognize that the writing was on the wall concerning my employment and I decided that I really needed a nice suit for job interviews. The 19th Century styling of everything I already had wasn't going to cut it. I also decided that a henchman from the animated webseries RWBY was going to be my next cosplay. With the suit, all I would need in addition was red sunglasses and an axe. I had a pair of old glasses I took to the optometrist to be tinted and Cold Steel had a practice Axe Gang axe. The suit was delayed up until the point I was pretty much loosing my job but I got what I thought was a fairly decent deal at Men's Warehouse.

The henchmen in RWBY are based on the Axe Gang from “Kung Fu Hustle” which, in turn, are based on a Shanghai triad from the 1920s. I tried to learn the evil dance of the axe gang but, while I have plenty of rhythm, I cannot dance for shit.

On the Tekko facebook page I found that there were a number of people doing RWBY cosplay and I attached myself to them for their photoshoot.

That was a good thing. A guy in a suit with an axe just doesn't leap out as being any particular anime character. I had a few people take my picture but otherwise didn't get a lot of attention. Even when other RWBY characters were getting their picture taken, I was left out of the conversation, most likely because they didn't recognize the RWBY characters to take their pictures but just recognized them as some sort of costumed anime characters.

That's what happens when you are a henchman. Sure, the flamboyant madmen with capes, maniacal laughs and grand schemes for world domination get the spotlight but the professionals, the working class mook that rolls up his sleeves to perform everyday villainy just trying to keep a modest, city-wide empire of crime on an even keel, end up being overlooked.

At least John Woo shows us the love.

Hanging around after the Team RWBY collective photoshoot, I was asked how long I had been doing this sort of thing.

Almost thirty years.

Really. I have been costuming, cosplaying and attending science fiction conventions of one form or another for almost thirty years. I was at the first Tekksoshocon in 2003 and, as a Klingon, got my picture in the July issue of “Animerica Anime & Manga Monthy.” I was on panels at WorldCon in 2002. I helped to run my first convention in the late 80s on Pitt's campus which became Confluence in 1996. I've been running their video room program since 2000. And cosplay goes back further than that, I suppose. My first from-scratch costume was a Tuskin Raider for Halloween of 1977.

And I'm still finding things to interest me. My fandom is a constantly evolving thing and I see no reason for it not to go on for another thirty years.


 
26th-Mar-2014 03:59 pm - Cracked
tophat
Back in October at the Steel City Beard and Mustache Club competition, I purchased a mustache mug from One Eyed Cat and it quickly became my favorite mug. And, yes, it's because it's essentially an adult sippy-cup, specifically designed to keep my beverage out of my mustache.

Well, at one point some months back, I was pouring hot water into the mug (because that is what ceramic mugs are for) and it made a distinct popping sound. I checked and could see that it was indeed cracked but as it was not then leaking fluid I continued to use it. Today, however, the recurring popping sound was accompanied with a flow of liquid out of the side of the mug.

I should very much like to have a replacement as, I have said, it was my favorite, however I cannot in good conscience do so without some sort of assurance that the replacement will be more thermally sound.

I shall have to return to conventional mugs that lack the facial hair protective guard.


 
25th-Mar-2014 07:09 pm - Unemployed
frown
I hate being unemployed. I feel so useless. I know, in an intellectual sense, that I am where I am because of some circumstances beyond my control but, even so, there is a persistent and permeating sense of failure.

I put up a white board with a list of things I wanted to accomplish with the copious free time I was going to have on my hands. I have accomplished about half of them and the rest languish under a crushing apathy. I see them listed there and simply cannot motivate myself to do much with them. Instead I spend far too much time scrolling through Facebook and RSS news feeds. I've applied for jobs online but when you search the next day you only see things you have already looked at.

There are several writing projects that I make a half-hearted attempt at but I simply lack the concentration to be creative. What I have written reads like crap, but I don't know it it really is crap or if I'm just being overly critical. I have some books I've wanted to read, and at least one that is research for a presentation project that I have to accomplish before convention season starts up, but I can't concentrate on that either. I read a few pages and realize somehow that I skipped over half a page and need to go back and try again.

I've tried riding my new bicycle a few times and while that is important to keep me from becoming a slug, bike riding is a time for me to think and all my thoughts turn to my situation.

I have gone to the movies a few times or watched a few things downloaded to my computer and, for a few hours, I am blissfully distracted. Once the credits roll, however, my disappointment rolls back like a turning tide.

I'm eating because I have to eat but I think I've lost a few pounds. I'm not getting to sleep for hours after I get to bed and waking up during the night. I'm tired in the afternoon for having accomplished absolutely nothing. I'm dreaming of work, something I didn't do previously.

Am I depressed? I found a website that had a checklist about the symptoms of depression but I didn't really have the motivation to go through the whole list so, yea, that's one of the symptoms. I don't know if it's to the level of being clinical or diagnosed but I'm not sure it matters at this stage. I don't like it and don't know what to do to fix it.

I feel so alone right now and yet don't feel that being with people would help me.

I'm sure friends and family would have a multitude of opinions and solutions, all of them reasonable, I suppose. But I also know that, in my present state, they will all sound condescending. I will take it badly no matter how well intentioned or true. I have a significant amount of anger at the situation, at those who made the situation and at myself. Most of it feels like its an undercurrent, buried deep under multiple layers of other emotions, but it also feels like it could bubble up at any time. I don't want it to do that at someone just trying to help and so I sit in the dark and hope I'm wrong about what I'm feeling.


 
12th-Mar-2014 11:47 am - Unsupervised
round glasses
I have suddenly come to the realization that all the Management here at the Help Desk are now employees of The Bank while I am still an employee of the contracted company.

I am operating completely unsupervised.

 
 
11th-Mar-2014 02:53 pm - Framed
round glasses
I’m beginning to think that my not getting a job with The Bank may have been the better result of this whole insourcing fiasco.

Most people were picked up by The Bank but the backstories of the people who were not picked up make it clear that The Corporate Overlords told The Bank not to hire them for some reason. It’s not difficult to guess as to why I was on that list. No effort on The Bank’s part to learn my side of the story. They didn’t call or even ask for my other professional references. Blackballed.

We have, for some months now, been terribly understaffed. With that, there has been increased emphasis on not taking breaks or, if taking a break, asking a Team Lead before doing so. Just like in Elementary School, you have to ask to use the rest room. I recall this sort of thing happening ten years ago when the Help Desk was much more like a call center and I was averaging 70 to 80 calls a day and there was a constant barrage of messages to take more calls.

This is coming from The Bank that said it was insourcing because they wanted to transition into being a Service desk where analysts too whatever time was necessary to address issues. What we are doing now is the exact opposite of that.

I have learned other insider information that The Bank’s decision to insource may have begun with a new manager being hired and asking the question “Why was the Help desk outsourced in the first place?” After 15 years, there was no one who could answer that question and apparently no documentation to explain that decision making process. Therefore, seeds of decision were planted in that mystery to grow into what we have today. I wonder how long it will take for them to rediscover why they outsourced the Help Desk in the first place.

The Hardware Guy was being set up to become a Bank employee and, in so doing, they messed up his accesses, meaning that he was completely incapable of signing into any of the resources he needed to do his job. So, while he has been getting paid to surf the Internet, I have been picking up the hardware calls all day rather than just covering him when he’s away on lunch. Except that the new Site Manager wants everyone on the phones. Including me.

So, today I’ve been doing what I was told and the hardware calls have been languishing. I had asked about the 30 minute Service level Agreements that were going to be missed because no one was escalating these calls but received no answer.

One week from now will be my last day. Additionally, there will be another half dozen people also leaving. We have been having queues of upwards of 250 people when normally it tops out at a few score. Reduce staff by another half dozen when there are only about 45 people in the first place is going to hurt.

Oh, and finally. . . the new Site Manager has half a dozen of those motivational posters hanging on her wall.

Framed.

Me in that environment would probably not end well.
7th-Mar-2014 09:28 am - I think, therefore I’m right.
round glasses
Last weekend I went to Brunching Skeptically and spoke with a pair of solipsists.

Maybe.

During the discussion, they (father and son) stood firm on the importance of faith (without ever identifying what particular faith they had), their skepticism of skepticism (without every saying what it was they were skeptical about) and their assertion that perception is reality (maybe).

It’s that perception is reality thing that I want to focus on because it was the bulk of the discussion and appeared to be the final question that all the philosophical discussions of theirs boiled down to. The goal, as it were.

The thing that they seemed to be arguing for was solopsism, the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist. That ones perception not only seems real but is reality and thus subjective things such as morality, faith and even the concept of reality itself are perfect and unassailable because one’s own mind IS reality. They used the phrase that “perception is reality” multiple times.

I see the natural consequence is that of the denial or the irrelevancy of a shared reality. That what I perceive as reality is reality for me but not for you. You perceive a reality that may include me but that is not necessarily reality, thus my existence or non-existance is irrelevant. I am, at best, in a separate reality, a different universe. You might just as well be the only mind only imagining that there are other minds.

Logically, this is an unassailable argument. Nothing can touch this faith. Not science. Not evidence. Not even another metaphysics. It is the perfect argument.

I am reminded of William Lane Craig’s style of apologetics where he uses things like Kalam’s Cosmological Argument and the Ontological Argument to argue for the necessity of a god. A transcendent, eternal, maximal god.

But I don’t think he actually believes in that kind of god. That vague possibility of a god that must have logically created the universe. He believes in a very specific god named Jesus as described in his specific interpretation of a specific translation of the bible. Because he never addresses that, the connection between the necessary god he is arguing for and the god he actually believes in, he can feel free to move the goal posts at any time he wishes to avoid being pinned down by any counter argument. Or make the claim that the argument for the necessary god has never been adequately refuted, therefore Jesus.

So, too, with the solopsists that I was dealing with. In fact, I asked specifically, “Do you believe that your perception IS reality? That my existence or non-existence is irrelevant because your reality is the only real reality? Ami I, for all intents and purposes, a figment of your imagination, an artifact of your perception of reality. Is this what you believe?”

“It’s possible.”

And, thus, the end of argument. I mean, ultimately I could argue the possibility of monkeys flying out of my butt and, using a metaphysical foundation of solipsism, it would be literally impossible for you to counter that argument. My perception of reality is different from yours and even if I cannot show you simians actually erupting from my rectum, that is irrelevant because you exist, if you even exist at all, in an entirely different reality. I know that I am right and you can’t prove otherwise.

I don’t actually believe they think this way. I don’t think they are really arguing that perception is actually reality and that their reality is different from mine or, as follows from that reasoning, that my reality does not exist. I don’t think they are arguing that they are merely minds with only perception to go on and that an actual reality does not exist outside their own senses. I think they are playing a semantic game, redefining the word “reality” in such a way that, without a common point of understanding, they can win every argument and protect their faith without ever opening up their faith itself to any sort of challenge. They are metaphorically covering themselves in oil so that they cannot be pinned down by any argument. Again, it’s a tactic to win arguments rather than a method to have a reasonable and reasoned discussion with a goal of understanding. It's not philosophy, it's jackassery.

That is, unless MY perception is the only reality and the rest of you are merely figments of my schizophrenic imagination. I already understand everything. That makes winning arguments a breeze.

Keep watching for those monkeys.



 
5th-Mar-2014 02:15 pm - Answers
growl
I finally received my callback.

"We have decided not to move forward with your application."


 
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