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Windmills and Lances

confessions of a quixotic unicorn fanatic

WikiLeaks: xkcd Nails It

Yep. "Information wants to be free", right up to the point where it's YOUR information.

ZonieCon Update!
Sorry for the delay on this; we were supposed to get a proposal from Hotel Tucson the Monday following my meeting with them. Long story short, we both dropped the ball --- I didn't follow up quickly, and when I did I found out that the hotel's management is undergoing a staff change, so they hadn't followed up either (or written up the proposal to start with).

So, today, I tried a few other contacts at the hotel, and voila! Just got a call back from Carrie in Sales.

The bad news: to get all the function space we want, our convention dates must be November 18-20. So, a couple weeks later than even our late-date expectation.

The good news: I was quoted $800/day for the function space, confirmed a block of 50 rooms plus at least one reserved Jacuzzi Suite (GoH), AND the prices on rooms have come down dramatically! Quoted at $69/night for a King or Double Queen, and $89/night for the Jacuzzi Suite.

Our function space is the Copper Ballroom (includes stage with sound hookups), the Mission (two adjoining meeting-room spaces in the Tower), and the Barkley (large single meeting room). The Executive Suite is being thrown in at no extra charge, which is what we'll be running Con Ops out of. I highly recommend making this our ConSuite, BTW, given that its bedroom (plenty of convention-needs storage plus emergency crash zone for staff) is separate from a dedicated meeting space that contains chairs, tables, and a kitchenette with open-area bar. Perfect for snacks and maybe some on-site cooking.

At this time, I'm negotiating for all these to be in use both Friday and Saturday, with all areas EXCEPT the Exec Suite being closed down and checked out of by noon Sunday. The Exec will become the site of the "Dead Coyote Party" to wind up the convention.

All major feeds will still need to be held off-site however, due to the high expense of the catered buffets available (about $13/head). The exception is a "kiosk-style" BBQ thing where six bucks will get someone a burger plus chips and drink. Off-site food, both fast and fancy, is fairly close for those who don't mind walking or grabbing a taxi. Hotel Tucson is immediate to the downtown district --- so much so, it might be worth considering something like a Friday Night Avenue Crawl.

Oh, and thanks to Wolf Smith for kicking me in the ass to get moving again. -:D

"Bradley Manning": With Apologies to Rudyard
"What do the tabloids read today?" said Files-on-Parade,
"The Wiki-Leaks, the Wiki-Leaks," the Color-Sergeant said.

"What makes you look so white, so white?" said Files-on-Parade,
"I'm dreadin' what we've got to watch," the Color-Sergeant said.

"For they're hangin' Bradley Manning,
You can hear the quickstep play,
The Regiment's in column
An' they're puttin' 'im away,

They've taken all 'is buttons,
An' they've cut 'is stripe away,
An' they're hangin' Bradley Manning
In th' mornin'."

"His cot was right-hand cot to mine!" said Files-on-Parade,
"He's sleepin' out an' far tonight," the Color-Sergeant said,
"I've drunk his beer a score of times!" said Files-on-Parade,
"It's better, drinkin' beer alone," the Color-Sergeant said.

"For they're hangin' Bradley Manning,
You must mark him in his place!
He stole the nation's secrets,
You must look 'im in the face.

A traitor to his Country and
The Regiment's Disgrace! So
They're hangin' Bradley Manning
In th' mornin'."

When they've done with Bradley Manning
You will hear the "Dead March" play,
With th' Regiment in column
As they march us all away,

Oh, the young recruits are shakin',
Aye! they'll want their beer today
After hangin' Bradley Manning
In th' mornin'.

The VA Killed My Jeorb! -:(
Gonna Whap 'Im One
So, I got accepted for a job driving a city bus. Pay is decent, benefits are okay, and it's a freakin' JOB.

That should have been the end of it. But you have to get a Commercial Driver's License to get the job, kind of obviously. To do that, you have to get a physical, paid for by the company, and I went and did that.

On the forms, they want you to list your past history of ailments. Here, I suppose I should have lied: I wrote that I had been treated for sleep apnea. This apparently triggered a Red Flag, because sleep apnea prevents proper sleep, resulting in nigh-constant sleepiness. Falling unconscious without warning is not only possible, but has happened to me --- before I got my treatments. Now I'm fine, and get plenty of Z's, but the Feds don't know that, so my federal paperwork can't be finished until I get a signature from my doctor confirming that I'm not having any further issues.

The problem is that my doctor is part of the Veterans' Administration.

I filed my paperwork with his office, was told it would be up to two weeks for this one sheet of paper to be done with. I waited two weeks, heard nothing, so I called my doc --- "Oh, I can't sign that because I'm not with Pulmonary, they handle sleep apnea." He'd forwarded the paperwork and not followed up on it, nor called me about it, because it was no longer his problem.

Pulmonary, for their part, has no actual doctor assigned to me. So they invoked a generic regulation which says they do not perform sleep tests in order to meet Department of Transportation requirements --- as that's not their job.

I pointed out that all they needed to do was check a box confirming I hadn't had any further episodes since my original treatment, which WAS done by them. I wasn't asking for any new testing, nor did the paperwork require it. Just a checkbox and a signature, that's all.

They repeated themselves as though they hadn't heard me.

As I was trying to iron all this out, the bus company called and let me know the job offer was rescinded, and only the one training class --- which I would have been in, had this hang-up with the VA not occurred --- would be completed. Thank you, we're sorry, farewell and good luck.




God, I hate government bureaucracy...!

ZonieCon 2011 Update
Well, the Mob got around to scouting hotels in the Tucson area and seems to have actually come up with one: Hotel Tucson.

The Goods: it's in downtown Tucson, within walking distance of a wide variety of the city's more interesting urban attractions --- 4th Street's "bohemian arts district", for example, as well as museums and interesting bits of historic Southwestern architecture. Roaming fursuiters will definitely get attention and, most likely, appreciation from the general community. Tucson is really as close as Arizona will ever come to having a San Francisco.

Plus, the Hotel itself is definitely upscale from our past venues. Not only is it nicer-looking, and undergoing further renovations at this time to look even better, but the event areas available are very very sweet and offer a fair bit of flexibility. When I met with the sales staff yesterday, I got the full walkaround and services pitch, so I've seen the rooms on offer as well as the ballroom, hospitality suites, meeting rooms, in-house bar-and-grill, and suggested ConOps Room.

Hospitality Suites: are linked and open directly onto the parking lot (for ease of bringing things in) and spacious enough that one could serve as ConSuite and the other as any of Dealers' Room/Artists' Alley/Art Show (assuming numbers similar to previous years). Both have wet-bar areas with countertop mini-fridges as well as their own bathrooms. We would have to provide a big-screen TV, stand, and a few good couches to make it work, but it certainly CAN work.

Meeting Rooms: the Hotel lobby connects directly to three meeting rooms, one on the ground and two up a "grand staircase" modeled in the classic style. I suggested we would go with the ground-floor one, which gives us the flexibility of running panels or moving the Dealers' Room, Artist's Alley or Art Show there if needs require.

Ballrooms: it's actually one huge rectangle, partitioned into three rooms --- Copper, Silver and Gold. The one I said we'd prefer was on the end, where a sizable curtained stage dominates the far end of the room. It's also rigged for sound hookups (assuming CJ or someone else wants to run a rave or dance of some kind) and even has a (cramped) "green room" just off the stage containing podiums and such. This would of course be ideal for anything from panels to a dance to a Masquerade, depending on resources and interest.

ConOps: one of the Executive suites. It's BIG, well-appointed, and partitioned into meeting area and bedroom. The meeting area has a wet bar, four-burner stove, and enough space to qualify as a ConSuite itself. The back door opens onto a patio with table, itself enclosed but with a back gate to the parking lot and one in front to the general interior.

Grounds: Olympic-sized pool and jacuzzi with good fencing dominates the center of the interior, which is open to the sky. Paved walkways meander around grass sections, and there is even a fenced-in "faux fire-pit" patio for evening relaxation on chilly nights. Also a volleyball area with sand, currently under renovation. I asked if a pinata-type event might not be possible; they seemed amenable if we were to clean up after ourselves...just something to bear in mind as an option.

Amenities for Hotel Guests: nightly Social Hour, with two drinks provided (beer, soda, coffee or tea). Free fruit-and-cereal breakfast every morning, including fresh Belgian waffles. Free Wi-Fi throughout the property, many if not all rooms include Ethernet connectivity as well at no extra charge. "Business Room" provides PC use and Internet access with about six machines, directly off the lobby itself. Free (albeit small) exercise room.

Also, the Hotel is currently working with Tus-Con; I noticed meeting rooms and ballrooms had in fact already been tagged with signs for programming panels and such. I mentioned that I was familiar with Tus-Con and that ZonieCon was similar in nature, so they already expect the weirdness associated with a Sci-Fi convention and are fine with that.

The Bads: right off the bat, there is no way we could hold the Meat Meet or Ice Cream Anti-Social here. Except for the Hospitality Suites, which are restricted to soda and snacks, there is no outside food allowed on the property. We could likely get away with cooking food in ConOps on the stove there, but that would obviously give us limited cooking capacity to start with and the Hotel might have a fit if we tried to center a major event around that.

The Hotel's own catering options include either a "burger-and-hot-dog" or "taco bar" buffet, limited in either case to 60-90 minutes and costing $13 per person. They have a "kiosk BBQ" option where a guest could buy their own meal for about $6 from a hut that the Hotel would set up near the pool, which might work okay for people who don't want to go off-site, but it's not an event we would actually run and of course our attendees would be charged for that --- kind of against ZonieCon traditions (such as they are). And while there is a lounge-style bar-and-grill called "PJ's", I was told flatly that they are not geared for large-group dining in the lounge itself. A mob of attendees could easily overwhelm their staff.

This means that any such food events as we've run in the past will likely have to be off-site. I did hear from Karno that the local Tucson furs routinely rent a ramada or two for fur-B-ques at a park, so if we can figure out transport issues that might be a better way of doing these things. But of course that then brings us back to the concerns of providing transport for a large number of attendees.

It's also pricier --- albeit, in my opinion, worth it if we can swing it. Room prices I was quoted were King ($79), Queen-Queen ($89) and Deluxe ($99). All rooms have mini-fridge, microwave and coffee maker. The beds are new and large, with pullout beds built into the room couches and costing no extra charge. The plus side here is that when I asked about cost-plus issues (i.e., having more than one or two people in a room), they said it wasn't an issue; they only charge for the room, not the folks in it. The down side is that the rooms themselves are kind of small, with very little leftover space once the pullouts are employed. Still, a Q-Q with four furries would still be comfortable and about $20/nite per fur. The Deluxe rooms also have jacuzzis.

I suggested an initial block of 50 rooms until we have a better idea of what we can expect for attendance, with a possible increase to 75 on basis of the Arizona fandom's expansion over the last decade.

Our big ouch is going to be the event rooms, however. I was not immediately quoted a price on either the meeting room or ballroom, but EACH of the two Hospitality Suites was quoted at $200/day, as was the Executive Suite I was shown for our suggested ConOps. As I mentioned above, the "ConOps" section of that suite (tables, chairs, wet bar, but no bed, with attached enclosed patio) might be better as a ConSuite anyways. We could just have our ConOps meets and needs in the bedroom portion of the suite. FYI: this would position the ConSuite at the far end of the hotel. We're going to have to be careful about what we commit to here.

All in all, I think it's a good pick -- if we can adapt ourselves to it, and if we can actually get the advertising going to get people out in enough numbers to at least break even. I've been promised a proposal will be emailed to me by Monday, so I'd like to head back south and get together with constaff Tuesday (or otherwise ASAP) to talk it over.

EDIT: Whups! Important point! They CANNOT do next Halloween as they already have a major event taking over the hotel for two weeks including that period. We would have to either go with early November or mid-October. I did not discuss earlier options than that, given that the Mob's general consensus seems to be that we want roughly a year's lead time to "do things right".

George Lucas: F***ing Up Legends One Story at a Time
Sonic Roy
Okay, so I just got done watching the entirety of Clone Wars: Season Two.

I've commented on some of it elsewhere. But now, I'm really steamed. And bear in mind, I understand just how much this is a matter of Fan Drama. After all, it's just a movie, just a comic book, just a TV series, just a set of novels. None of it really "means" anything.

Well, except to hear George Lucas talk about how we're all supposed to be inspired by the story and "the power of mythology" and so on. HE clearly wants Star Wars to provide an inspiration to our lives, at least in terms of some sort of message if not in the specifics.

But it's the specifics which carry the message, same as letters of the alphabet form words. Get them wrong and you have the hilarity of Engrish. Screw up the specifics in your own mythology, and you'll similarly confuse people.

This is why people hate plot holes, poor plotting, and bad dialogue.

For those who originally saw Season Two on TV (I didn't), this is going to be old hat and may just retread old arguments. I really don't know, and don't care: I just got this stuff on Netflix as soon as it went to DVD and it's my first time seeing it. In fact, I may have a leg up on the rest of you, because the DVD includes specific behind-the-scenes material about WHY things were done the way they were.

Specifically: fucking up the Mandalorians.

According to the B-T-S material, George Lucas made the specific decision to insert the Mandos into Clone Wars. His producer, and he, sat down and went over the pile of material that encompassed everything that had previously been written about the Mandos under license from LucasFilm ever since, oh, Empire Strikes Back. They took it all in.

And then Lucas said neither Boba Fett, nor Jango Fett, had ever been Mandalorians. They were just bounty hunters. That's all. In fact, in Clone Wars, it's said that Jango Fett was a COMMON bounty hunter.

WAT. O^o

The B-T-S segment then proceeds to trip all over itself, saying that Boba's armor is actually a collection of pieces taken from fallen enemies --- not a complete set in itself; this is supposed to explain why, in the films, some of his armor pieces change color and type from movie to movie. Of course, the reason for that was several suits of armor had actually been made when the original idea had been to have an actual squad of Mandalorian troops appear in the film instead of just the one bounty hunter, and over the course of the filming some parts of the armor became damaged or lost from time to time. The "patchwork armor" was a result of filmmaking reality which few people (except George) thought was important.

This is of course entirely at odds with the armor worn by Jango Fett in the prequel Trilogy, which is all shiny and new and matching. We're even told that Boba simply started wearing his dad's armor. So whatever was added later, the original suit wasn't just a collection of odd pieces from fallen Mando warriors --- resulting in Clone Wars actually retconning some of the prequel movie material. Which is a concept George is supposedly anathema towards; the movies are supposed to be the "ultimate canon".

It also kind of blows out the reason for the Kaminoans to clone the Republic Army from Jango Fett. If he's a "common" bounty hunter, what makes him special? Over twenty years of canon material, developed and published under license, made Boba Fett out to be special on grounds that he himself was a "supercommando" who'd served in the Mandalorian forces. His father, wearing the same armor in the prequel movies, gave rise to the same notions, and so years more of licensed canon presented him as also being Mandalorian.

Hence, went the canon, the Republic Army was cloned from Mandalorians, a warrior race with such credentials that they fought a hard war with the Jedi themselves. Moreover, Mandalorians were called in by Jango himself to train the Army --- in large part because NO ONE ELSE HAD A SIGNIFICANT MILITARY TO PATTERN THE NEW ARMY AFTER. This also made an amazing amount of sense because one could clearly tell that there was a progression from Mandalorian armor to Republic Trooper armor to Imperial Stormtrooper armor.

So there was a great amount of depth here. It was fascinating. It was the basis for a number of novels that hit the New York Times bestseller list, too.

"Nope," says George. "The Mandalorians were nuked until their planet's a dusty waste that makes Tatooine look picturesque by comparison, and so for centuries now the Mandos have all been completely pacifist except for a single terrorist outfit called Death Watch." The design team went so far as to make the Mandos "Nordic" in appearance, all blond-haired types who clearly couldn't be related to the dark-haired clones.

Thanks, George. Thanks for making your universe much more shallow and less interesting.

Now we know that the clone Army had no one specific to train them, no military traditions to rely upon, and were bred from a single bounty hunter for no particular reason, as he was simply "common". We know that Boba's armor was entirely "patchwork", even though he got it from his dad, who clearly had a non-patched full set in the movies, which are supposed to be THE overriding canon (except here). We know that it was so important to you to "preserve Boba Fett's unique look" that you declared the whole swath of existing canon involving "vagabond" Mandos is right out the window.

We know that you started off paying full attention to the whole of the fan-beloved mythos, and then pissed on it in a fashion which added nothing but instead took away a great deal.

Is there no part of Star Wars George Lucas can't fuck up when he sets his mind to it?

Clone Wars Second Season: So, Jedi Torture, Huh? Whoda Thunk.
Yep, seems that when the chips are down, Mace Windu will get together with Obi-Wan and Anakin to invade (and risk the shredding of) a captive prisoner's mind.

Two kids are kidnapped in "Children of the Force" by the Sith, as they're Force-sensitive and because the Jedi keep a list of such candidates, which both Anakin and his Padawan Asoka managed to let fall into the hands of a bounty hunter.

This is all part of a multi-episode story arc which opens the second season of "Clone Wars" --- I just got it on DVD from NetFlix. Overall, the story is great, as the writing and characterization in the entire Clone War animated series to date has routinely outstripped the quality of the prequel films they're based on.

But it's also very dark, very much material that would rate an R if it were a live-action film. Characters are not just killed in the "shot-and-fall-down-without-any-blood" fashion of PG violence, but we also see death by torture. Specifically, electrocution. With a body check afterwards, and circumstances which leave absolutely no room for a just-faking-it aftermath.

And both the Separatists and Jedi, as suits their perceived needs of the moment, stoop to torture --- the Jedi merely have a brief debate on the subject ending with "what other choice do we have?". Then three of them get together to invade their prisoner's mind, knowing and stating beforehand that the effort could likely scramble the man's brains.

Well, it's necessary because two future Jedi have been kidnapped, you see, and will likely be turned to the Dark Side by the Sith. So it's an ends/means sort of argument...you know, the same one that proponents of waterboarding use. Surprising, especially coming from Lucasfilm, which was at pains to insert a bit of anti-Bush-era proselytizing into its prequel trilogy (which is also one of the reasons it was widely panned by critics).

So far, actually, I'm getting the biggest kick out of the main villain in this arc, Cad Bane (seriously, did they just stop TRYING around the time they came up with "Darth Sidious"?). http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Cad_Bane

He's genuinely professional, intelligent, capable, and comes across as badass not because he dresses the part of a Wild West gunslinger, but because he IS badass, and would STILL be if he were wearing a friggin' TUTU. He's all about the paycheck, but remains no one's fool. Cold, calculating, and always with a backup plan, he's an excellent foil to the Jedi.

Instead, most of the stupidity comes straight from the Jedi --- such as when Asoka gets the clean drop on Cad and simply demands he "drop it, sleemo". So of course he pulls down on her, and initially at least has the upper hand. What was she expecting?

Because he's that capable, and also strong-minded, the Jedi are reduced to smashing his skull in psychically, which he initially resists --- so of course Anakin just threatens that they'll do it again.

I remain interested to see where this series will go. Don't get me wrong, I'm not actually complaining that the Jedi resort to torture when they see a need for it. I suppose I'm just commenting on the willingness of Hollywood types to excuse the morality of it --- so long as the villains are purely fictional.

REVIEW: Fallout New Vegas
Instead of hashing over the same complaints and kudos that every other reviewer has covered already --- various bugs, the differences between FO3 and Vegas, etcetera, I decided I'd talk about the, you know, GAME part.

And here I do have to cover one difference between Fallout 3 and New Vegas: namely, the player's starting position. In FO3, you began almost smack in the middle of the game world, not far from Megaton, one of its larger towns. Not only that, but you could quickly work towards earning your own home, where your gotten goods (ill-obtained or otherwise) could be stored until you needed them later. Because of this, you could freely explore the vast expanse of the DC Wasteland at your leisure. There was plenty to do and see which had nothing to do with the main quest line.

But in New Vegas, your start point is smack up against the west side of the map. Immediately north is a major Deathclaw zone, which is prominently marked at all approaches by large lurid signs warning you of this fact. Just to the east of that are a large pack of Giant Radscorpions.

While a low-level ninja-oriented character might be able to sneak through these areas, any attempt at combat here is frankly suicidal. The Strategy Guide flatly states, more than once, that it's the most dangerous area in the game world.

Altogether, this cuts you off from 270 degrees of the compass. Your choices really boil down to heading south (essentially following the main quest) or east. And you can't get very far east without smacking into another couple of MurderDeathKill zones. This is exacerbated by "invisible walls" which block off what looks like an easy climb in various locations, so that you're channeled down certain paths that often look like some sort of trap --- and usually are. Also, the game world itself is designed around Vegas itself, its immediate surroundings (and by "immediate", I mean only a few miles in most cases), and then the areas immediately east and west of the two major freeways of I-15 and I-95.

The result is a game that feels a lot more cramped, more linear, and less freewheeling than Fallout 3.

That said, there are a lot of great concepts and game mechanics which have been introduced, such as gambling, which is actually tied to your Luck stat. Another is that Damage Threshold means that you (and your enemies) can have armor which actually defeats attacks that don't exceed it. So if someone is hosing you down with automatic fire, but none of the bullets are of a type or caliber that can penetrate, you'll laugh it off for the most part. Of course, this ALSO applies to critters such as the aforementioned Giant Radscorpions, now generally referred to by many players as "OMFG poison tanks".

The story underlying New Vegas is also much stronger and closely tied to the existing canon from early Fallout games (which also took place in the US Southwest), so old FO grognards will particularly enjoy this round. Plus the endgame payoff is both exciting and gives a real sense of accomplishment. A big part of this is how the game factions play off against one another, and how you the player can directly affect their fortunes. You don't even have to be a king-maker...you can, if you like, be the king yourself.

[Ash]Hail to the King, baby.[/Ash]

Also: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I'm very much looking forward to what the modding community will do with New Vegas, which shouldn't take long given that the tools were released the day before the game itself was. Future DLC will also likely take us to such places as the Grand Canyon and New Reno, the latter of which figured so prominently in FO2 (and arguably made the Fallout line itself legendary, with its darkly-themed player freedom).

"Drink Healthy, Invigorating RADIUM WATER!" --- Seriously? No, Seriously?

Yes, seriously.

I was doing a bit of research into the fictional Fallout 3 soft drink "Nuka Quantum", in which a small amount of strontium is added to induce a glowing blue effect. To my amazement, a link was referenced in the Fallout Wiki showing that, yes, people had once ADDED NUCLEAR MATERIAL TO DRINKS.

The above link is frankly amazing, and not a little bit scary. And the one below is to the original Fallout link which led me on this merry voyage of OMGWTFBBQvery.






Your BALLS! You put this under your SACK in a JOCK STRAP! 200 milliRads per hour! RAPTOR JEGUS SAVE ME


"Don't Ask Don't Tell" Stopped --- So Why Are Gays Cheering?
The Crusader
The entire point of "don't ask" was that the military was prohibited from asking soldiers (and enlistees) their sexual orientation. The entire point of "don't tell" was that if the information was volunteered anyways, the solider (or enlistee) was subject to ejection from service (or rejection from enlistment). Why? Because the actual laws on the subject STILL bar gays from military service.

DADT was not a "ban on openly gay troops", as has been claimed by many activists, but was instead a formal order from the Commander-in-Chief (then Bill Clinton) to the military that it was to officially look the other way. This allowed gays to serve regardless of the anti-gay enlistment policy and laws, thus (rather half-assedly) fulfilling Clinton's campaign commitment to allow gays to serve.

Now that protective policy is gone, but it remains a matter of both military policy and federal laws that gays are not allowed to serve. There has been no order to reverse either of these, nor have either been found unConstitutional.

Despite the fact that DADT proceedings themselves have now been prohibited and those in process have been ordered to be cancelled, the fact of the matter is that new and unrestricted witch-hunts may now commence just as they did prior to 1993. This puts serving gays in danger of being investigated and subjected to ejection from service all over again.