Tuesday, September 16, 2014

John Oliver discusses student debt

Student debt in America is bigger than credit card debt and auto loans. Incredible, isn't it (especially when education is free in some countries, our economic competitors)?

Yet student debt differs from other debt in that you can't get out from under it even through bankruptcy. Funny, isn't it (especially since it's guaranteed by the U.S. government, anyway)?

Actually, it's not funny at all. It's a travesty. As we've decided we don't want to pay taxes for anything but prisons and the military, college costs have shot through the roof. But instead of helping students get an education, we're helping banks and other financial institutions take advantage of them, so the rich can get even richer.

And we're helping for-profit colleges take advantage of them, too (and of us, don't forget - this debt, again, is guaranteed by the government).

I know I say this every time I post a video by John Oliver, but he does a great job, doesn't he? I might note that he spends enough time to really get at the key points. And he's very entertaining while he does it, too.

Nightmare on Graham Street

"This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home."

Heh, heh. Why hasn't Lindsey Graham - and others like him - been laughed out of politics by now? How could it be any more clear that he's pushing irrational fear simply for his own political advantage?

Remember, we over-reacted badly after the 9/11 attacks, causing us to invade two countries, one of them having nothing at all to do with the attacks. (Saddam Hussein had never attacked us and was no threat to America whatsoever. Yet remember the "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" rhetoric used by the Bush White House to push fear?)

And we're still struggling to extricate ourselves from the quagmire that's Afghanistan. All for nothing, too. George W. Bush never did get Osama bin Laden - you know, the guy who actually did attack us - and by the end of his presidency, he'd even stopped trying. (It took Barack Obama to show us how we should have gone after bin Laden in the first place.)

Heck, we even allowed our hysterical fear - or the Bush Administration desire for political cover, take your pick - to cause us to torture prisoners of war. Isn't that more than enough over-reaction for this century, already?

Note that you can't stop every determined terrorist. That's just impossible. It doesn't require a brilliant plan, but just the will to do harm. Yet we've seen very little of that in America since 9/11. Doesn't that also seem to indicate that our fears were overblown?

Heck, when it comes to terrorism in America, we've had a bigger problem with right-wing Christians than with Muslims since then, at least until the Boston Marathon bombing (which definitely was a horrific event, even if only three people died).

But terrorism - which is inevitably a sign of weakness, not strength - is designed to instill fear, and it works best on cowards. When our own politicians and news media aren't just cowards, but are actually eager to push that fear themselves, for their own purposes, it's literally helping the enemy.

How did America get through two World Wars if we were this cowardly? How did we get through the Great Depression? How did we get through the Cold War? We had real fears back then, but we faced them bravely. How can a ragged band of religious nuts overseas cause us to panic now - even when politicians are pushing panic for their own selfish reasons?

When will the rest of us say enough is enough? When will be start reacting with laughter, instead of fear? ISIS has been doing some terrible things (overseas, not here), and that's not funny. But the fear-mongering we're seeing from Lindsey Graham and John McCain, among others, deserves nothing but our ridicule.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Scary black men

This is all too common. If you're going to make up a story about being attacked by scary men, of course they're going to be black.

I remember reading about an attempted attack on a hiker/biker trail, here in Lincoln, Nebraska, a few years ago. A big, scary black man jumped out at a young (white) woman on the trail, but luckily, she was able to escape.

The retraction a few days later got much less attention. I saw it buried on an inside page of the newspaper, just a brief note that the woman had invented the whole story, apparently for attention. I'm sure that relatively few people saw the retraction, given how little attention the news media paid to that, compared to the original - much more exciting - claim.

But when this woman decided to make up a story - for whatever reason - of course the scary man was going to be black. Isn't that what you'd expect? I'd have been shocked if her imaginary assailant hadn't been black.

Naturally, this feeds into the preconceptions of the overwhelmingly white population here - a population fed on a steady diet of fear by Fox 'News' and other right-wing Republican propaganda mills.

And no doubt the police stopped and questioned any black men in the area. ("Black man" probably tends to be a distinct enough description in most Nebraska neighborhoods to narrow down the list of "suspects" to a manageable number.)

This is racism. But the people inventing such stories probably don't actually intend to be racist. This is just how they see the world. All too often, such stories are believed because that's how the people hearing them see the world, too. (In both cases, my complements to the police who checked out these claims and determined the truth.)

Racism is still common in America. We've come a long way, true. Let's not forget the very real progress we've made. But we still have a long way to go.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Geshud Cabnul, the Fortress of Fools

Our arrival in the Hills of Singing [Spacefox graphics pack]

Note: I'm playing Dwarf Fortress 2014, the recent release (version 0.40.10, right now), in fortress mode. Please look elsewhere for information about this game. This is just the story - rather uneventful, so far - of the first year of The Fortress of Fools.

We call ourselves Nabotad Udril - "Two-Hands of Oxen" - but they call us fools for our appreciation of 'undwarven' architecture. Not for us burrowing underground like frightened moles. We think we dwarves should stake our claim to the surface world, too. So we pledged to do so.

Of course, there might also be some petty sexism involved, since we were six females - 'Doc,' 'Bibs,' 'Archie,' 'Cogs,' 'Cookie,' and 'Poindexter' - while our leader, Urdim 'Boss' Steelpracticed was male. [I'm using nicknames in an attempt to remember who does what.] Let them sneer. We'll show them!

We're not much different in appearance from anyone else in the Helpful Fair Chamber. We're a small, thin people - scrawny even, for dwarves - with auburn hair. Of the females in our group, only 'Cookie' has plumped up to any real extent - from sampling her own cooking, no doubt.

Our boss carries some extra weight, too, which gives him rather a distinguished look - sleek and self-satisfied. He's a miner by trade, but that shouldn't surprise you. We did plan to mine, of course. That's what dwarves do. We just intend to live on the surface, as much as possible.

So we headed to the Hills of Singing to stake our claim. It was still very early spring - the 15th of Granite, 250 - when we arrived, but it was already rather warm in this latitude. The area was tropical woodland, not quite a jungle (a bit too dry for that), and we chose a low bluff overlooking a pool at the intersection of two small rivers.

[The river to the east is at a higher elevation, so there's a short waterfall where it pours into the pool below. Note that, thanks to the weird fluid dynamics of Dwarf Fortress, this means there's an increased risk of flooding my fortress, if I'm not careful, since water taken from the river will naturally rise to the level of the upper river.]

There were hippos in the river, and alligators, and carp, so we planned to stay above the river and avoid the shore. [Carp are notorious dwarf-killers in Dwarf Fortress - or they always used to be, at least. Let a dwarf get near the river, and carp would rip him to pieces.] As time went on, we spotted rhinoceros, giraffes, and lions, as well.

The palisade was completed by summer.

So we immediately went to work building a wooden stockade around our small settlement. Wood is not the most secure building material, but it was readily available, and - absent dragons - it would probably do.

Our priority was to wall off the cliff, to keep our people from slipping off the edge and becoming carp food, and somewhat to our surprise, we accomplished that with no fatalities. We put bridges over the river, to the northeast and the south, and another bridge over a moat at the north end of our camp. Then we worked to extend the palisade to the west, as well.

We'd almost completed that, leaving only a couple of openings where we could cut timber, when a bull rhinoceros wandered into camp. Our war dog (we'd stationed one war dog at each of four openings in the stockade) took one look at the huge, bad-tempered beast and ran off in terror.

To our great good fortune, we had no one working nearby. So the rhino calmed down after awhile, browsed a bit, then went back to join the rest of his crash. [Yes, a group of rhinos is apparently called a 'crash'.]

We'd dodged a bolt, but we probably wouldn't be that lucky a second time. So we quickly walled up both openings to the west, abandoning the lumber we'd already cut there. (The dog made it back safely, too.)

By late spring, we were needing stone, so 'Boss' dug down from the center of camp. The surface layer was quite sandy, but there was claystone below that - with considerable iron and coal deposits - and marble deeper down. We'd chosen our location well, apparently.

Nine or ten levels below ground, we broke through into an extensive cavern system. But we weren't nearly ready for that, so we walled up the opening and started mining the claystone and marble. (We thought a marble road would look sharp, and it would do well for the more opulent parts of our castle, too, while the claystone would suffice for our walls and fortifications.)

Initial stonework [shown via the Stonesense utility]

In mid-summer, seven immigrants arrived, doubling out population. (None had any useful skills, but what do you expect in a brand-new settlement like ours?) Specifically, they were two couples, each with one young daughter, plus one older woman on her own. We were now up to 11 females and 3 males.

We welcomed both families, though the children were a bit of a burden. But the lone woman was rather worrisome, since she was a stranger to everyone. (We do have to fear vampires, after all.) However, she seems to have fit right in.

In early autumn, a caravan arrived from home - well, from the Helpful Fair Chamber, I mean. (This is our home, now.) It didn't bring much that we needed, but then, we didn't have much to trade, anyway - just some gourmet meals, packed to store well, which 'Cookie' had created. (Admittedly, she is a fine cook, so those meals sold well.)

In return, we picked up another anvil, a couple of water buffalo cows (just because they were available), some leather and some raw foodstuff. Mostly, we wanted to encourage further trade, so we didn't bargain very hard. I think they left happy (and impressed with our trading setup).

Our paved roads dip underground at the trade depot.

(Thanks to our hard work, we had a paved road - marble - coming into our camp from the north and from the south. From both directions, the road dipped underground when it got close, with the trade depot itself built into the first rock layer below the surface. It was a nice layout, we thought.)

After the caravan left, more immigrants arrived - eight, all adults, evenly split as to gender. There were lions in the area when they arrived, which could have been disastrous, but they scooted past safely, if just barely.

Again, most of those people were unskilled, but Ezum 'Digger' Sternchannels was a competent miner and Avuz 'Greenjeans' Splashwhips was a pretty decent farmer - both quite useful to us.

Risen Hairypaged said he had experience with wax-working, of all things, but upon further conversation, it turned out that 'Sarge' was also a highly experienced swordsdwarf. We're certainly going to need a military, eventually, though we put him to work hauling stone until then.

Winter was little different from the rest of the year. We're going to miss the seasons, I think, but the good weather meant that we could keep working nearly every day. We've still barely begun, but we're proud of how our 'Fortress of Fools' is coming along.

Starting to build upwards. (Note the wooden henhouse - blue peafowl, not chickens - at the top, farm plots to the left, and pastures to the right. The main building does extend below ground, mostly through necessity, at first.)

We still don't have any real defenses - just a few cage traps (which did catch us a giraffe, just before the year ended). But we can raise bridges to keep enemies out, if necessary - well, unless they can fly or climb well, at least.

Our war dogs have been useless - they ran in fear from the giraffe, too [Edit: I was wrong about this. After finding rhinoceros blood in our camp, I checked the combat logs. Our dogs did fight the rhinos and the giraffe, at least for awhile.] - but they'll do better against goblin or kobold thieves, I'm sure. [This is part of the new morale system in Dwarf Fortress. We can no longer expect dogs to sacrifice themselves for their dwarven masters, apparently.]

It's spring again now - we've been here a year, already - and so far, so good. But we have a lot to do yet. And pretty soon, we're going to need to take some dwarves off building, so they can start training as soldiers. Well, maybe we can get some more immigrants this year.

Yeah, uneventful, as I warned from the start (and as is usually the case in the first year of a new fortress). However, I did want to document our construction progress. The wooden stockade encloses the entire hill, or nearly so, with bridges which can be raised to prevent most enemies from entering at all.

Of course, we need to let trade caravans in. So there's a stone wall in between the paved road and the rest of the fortress, with more bridges which can be raised to block off the road and the trade depot, if necessary.

My original design for our castle wasn't large enough, so I've started extending that to the north. But the lower floor is for the cook, the butcher, the brewer, the miller, and others who need close access to farms and pastures.

The raw materials for these professions are stored one level down, underground. Prepared meals and barrels of booze will eventually be stored one floor up, just below the dining area.

First level underground, with farms (certain crops grow only underground) and temporary bedrooms. Near the river is a room with two wells (not very fancy yet). The trade depot is one level further down.

Eventually, we'll have bedrooms above that. We'll also have towers and other fortifications for our marksdwarves (crossbow-wielding soldiers).

Mines are underground, of course, and that's where most of our crafts will be produced, close to their raw materials and close to the trade depot. (Admittedly, most of our trading will probably continue to be of prepared meals.)

Note: You can find all of my posts about this and other games here. As you can see, I rarely ever finish a game. But I plan to tell the story of this fortress until... I don't. :) Well, as long as I keep playing it, I'll probably keep posting about it. (No guarantees, but with any luck, this will get more exciting later.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

30 years of injustice

This is why I don't support capital punishment.

I have zero sympathy for violent criminals. I'd execute them myself, no problem. Yeah, I don't care about your hard life. Some things, you shouldn't get a second chance.

But we're not infallible, and we're never going to be infallible. Sometimes, we convict innocent people. We know we've executed innocent people before - not many, I hope, but it's happened. Certainly, there have been many cases like this, where innocent people spent decades in prison for something they didn't do.

That's a real tragedy, but how much worse would it be if we had killed them? These guys were on death row! Assholes like Antonin Scalia don't care about that. The entire Republican Party doesn't care about that. But I do.

Your bloodlust is simply not worth the fact that we'd end up killing innocent people, sometimes. And it is just bloodlust. There is no other reason for capital punishment. (It's not a deterrent.) Right-wingers just love the idea of punishing people. Well, that's why they invented Hell, too.

So if you believe in Hell, what's the problem? What's executing someone, next to an eternity of torture. Of course, that assumes that you really do believe in your religious fantasies, huh? Do you actually believe what you claim to believe?

No country for little kids

Could these people be any more mean-spirited, idiotic, and downright... insane? Not to mention bigoted, of course.

We're being "invaded." By child refugees. Thousands of them (which, in a nation of three hundred and fifteen million people, is a drop in the bucket).

Of course, they're brown children, which is what makes them scary, right?

Luckily, we've got these heavily armed lunatics keeping us safe:

Actually, this might not have been a mistake. These right-wingers seem to hate scientists almost as much as they hate Hispanics.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

PMS and the science of making shit up

I like how Rebecca Watson does these videos. She has a real knack for pointing out stupidity, doesn't she? (Though the real stupidity is the mainstream media taking these brain farts seriously.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Minecraft 1.8 tutorial - how to survive your first night

I thought I'd post this, since Minecraft version 1.8 has just been released. I haven't played this version yet, but the very beginning hasn't changed much since I first blogged about the game here. (This video isn't much different from the one I posted then, either.)

If you've never played the game, this video will get you started. He plans to continue the tutorial series, too, or you can just check the wiki whenever you've got a question.

Note that, if you do want to follow this tutorial, you can enter 2905400373399475580 as the world seed, and you'll start in the same world in the same place. Or you can leave it blank and create a random world (as he did when he created that world).

Minecraft is a great game. I haven't played it in two and a half years, I guess, so I'm really tempted to give it a go again. But right now, I've just started a new fort in Dwarf Fortress, so this is going to have to wait.

Note: Check out my posts about this, and other computer games, here.

How to ruin a protest

You do know your Bible, don't you? Or are you a Christian? :)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bullets and Burgers

It's such a tragedy - for this little girl, as much as for the man who was killed - and it's just completely nuts, isn't it?

Bullets and Burgers - just a fun little vacation stop, where your children can play with military-grade weaponry. What could possibly go wrong?

We've gone completely batshit crazy over guns here in America, and there are two nearly-contradictory parts to that. The first is that everyone needs to carry a gun at all times so you can fight off the 'bad guys' - or the government, or the UN black helicopters, or whatever.

It's fear-mongering to the extreme, where cowards are made to feel that they and their families are under threat every minute of every day. The police can't be everywhere, and if you can't put your hand on a gun instantly, at a moment's notice, you're dead meat.

But the other part to this, the other NRA-backed meme, is that guns are perfectly harmless. Heck, guns don't kill people, don't you know? Only people kill people.

Every time an unarmed black kid is shot to death, we hear the same thing, that fists are dangerous. Yeah, Trayvon Martin was minding his own business, when a gun-wielding vigilante accosted him for 'walking while black.' But when Martin fought back, that was all the excuse needed to (legally) shoot him dead.

But guns, well, they're not dangerous at all. Why worry about idiots bringing assault rifles to your restaurant? Heck, they're just patriotic Americans, not complete losers compensating for their inadequacies.

I always thought this was bizarre. If it's so easy to kill people without a gun, then why do you need to carry your gun with you, night and day? In fact, we could save a lot of money by not arming our military, too. Fists would certainly be cheaper, right?

But no, you've just got to have your gun, huh? Yet, at the same time, it's perfectly harmless, too. Your gun - which you desperately need for self-defense - wouldn't hurt a fly.  Guns don't kill people. In fact, guns are just toys. Come on in to Bullets and Burgers - and bring the kids!

Two days after this tragedy, the NRA was again tweeting about how much fun your kids would have at the shooting range! Apparently, these fun-with-guns tourism businesses are making money hand over fist:
Tourists from Japan flock to ranges in Waikiki, Hawaii, and the dozen or so that have cropped up in Las Vegas offer bullet-riddled bachelor parties and literal shotgun weddings, where newly married couples can fire submachine gun rounds and pose with Uzis and ammo belts. ...

The dusty outdoor range calls itself the Bullets and Burgers Adventure and touts its "Desert Storm atmosphere."

Similar attractions have been around since the 1980s in Las Vegas, although the city has experienced a boom of such businesses in the past few years. Excitement over guns tends to spike when there's fear of tighter gun restrictions, according to Dan Sessions, general manager of Discount Firearms and Ammo, which houses the Vegas Machine Gun Experience. ...

The businesses cast a lighthearted spin on their shooting experiences, staging weddings in their ranges and selling souvenir T-shirts full of bullet holes. ...

"We have better safety standards for who gets to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park," said Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, a group seeking to reduce gun violence. Referring to the girl's parents, Hills said: "I just don't see any reason in the world why you would allow a 9-year-old to put her hands on an Uzi."

In 2008, an 8-year-old boy died after accidentally shooting himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun expo near Springfield, Massachusetts. Christopher Bizilj was firing at pumpkins when the gun kicked back. A former Massachusetts police chief whose company co-sponsored the gun show was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.

No one was even charged with a crime in this latest incident. A man is dead, and a nine-year-old girl gets to live with the memory of blowing his head off by accident. But hey, she won't forget that vacation, huh?

This stuff is just so completely insane. If you really can't live without your Precious at your side, ready to defend you from the scary rest of the world, then why can't we at least recognize these things as deadly dangerous weapons, not toys.

On the other hand, if guns really are perfectly harmless, despite the daily drumbeat of shooting deaths in America, why do you need to carry one with you at all times? If you can just as easily be killed in a fist-fight, why aren't your fists the only weapon you need?

The NRA pushes both of these memes, because gun and ammo manufacturers want to push as much of their product as they can, any way that they can. They don't care if it's contradictory.

Heck, they don't even care if people die. (In fact, that increases fear, which increases the demand for their product. It's win/win.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Chick Dick

Probably NSFW, but this is still pretty funny.

Note that some people on YouTube are apparently offended by this video - not all for the same reasons - so if you're easily offended, you may want to give it a pass. Of course, if you're that easily offended, what are you doing here? :)

Thank God for Ebola

Rebecca Watson can really turn a phrase, which is probably why the comments on her videos tend to be filled with bitter, angry trolls having hysterics (usually, over nothing at all to do with the content of said video).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Jon Stewart has been on vacation throughout this whole Ferguson, Missouri, mess. So I've been waiting to see what he had to say about it.

I wasn't disappointed. This is great, isn't it?

Those guys on Fox 'News' - who frequently remind me of the Pillsbury Doughboy - pontificating on race and the African American experience,... doesn't that just seem bizarre to everyone? (Apparently not, huh?)

We've come a long, long way in America, but your race still matters. As a white man in Nebraska, I rarely even think about race. Certainly, I've never even imagined that my race would have anything to do with how people treated me. That just never been an issue.

Of course, it's had a great deal to do with how people treated me, and if I weren't white, that would quickly become obvious. But being white in Nebraska is the default. (My gender mattered, too. But as a man, that's not always evident, either.)

Still, I can use my brain. I can listen to the experiences of other people. I can empathize, and I can understand how their experiences might be very different - infuriatingly different, sometimes - from mine.

As Jon Stewart says, "Race is there, and it is a constant. You're tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Greece does a bait & switch

You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court gave its blessing to local governments that want to open their public meetings with religious prayer.

It was a victory for the town board of Greece, N.Y., which stressed that it was fighting not just for Christian prayer but for the right of all people [to] express their views regardless of their faith. In a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines, the Court ruled against the Jewish and atheist plaintiffs, who argued that the practice violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Less than four months later, the town of Greece has adopted an invocation policy that excludes non-religious citizens and potentially shuts out faiths that aren't well-established in the town, according to a top secular group.

That's not quite what the five Republicans on the Supreme Court claimed, is it?
In [his decision], Justice Anthony Kennedy described public prayer as a "larger exercise in civic recognition" designed to "represent rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers." ...

Justice Elena Kagan warned that the decision in Greece v. Galloway could lead to discrimination against minority faiths. In her dissent for the minority, she accused the conservative justices of "blindness" to the "essential meaning of the religious worship in Greece's town hall, along with its capacity to exclude and divide."

No, no, it's inclusive. All Christian sects approved by the town board are welcome to pray to Jesus in their own way. LOL

Note that this was another terrible Supreme Court decision in which the five Republicans on the Supreme Court overruled the four Democrats. However, as the LA Times put it when the decision was announced, the court isn't just divided along political lines:
The Supreme Court's decision Monday to allow Christian prayers at city council and other public meetings divided justices not only ideologically, but along religious lines as well.

The five justices in majority are Catholics, and they agreed that an opening prayer at a public government meeting, delivered by a Christian pastor, brings the town together. ...

Three of the four dissenters are Jewish: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. The fourth, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was raised as a Catholic, but she is said to be not a regular church goer.

Justice Elena Kagan faulted the majority for approving an official policy of "religious favoritism." In her dissent, she said the majority might view the matter differently had a "mostly Muslim town" opened its session with Muslim prayers or if a Jewish community invited a rabbi every month.

The Catholic Church is the biggest Christian sect in America and the world. Is it really surprising that five right-wing Catholic men see no problem here? No one is going to discriminate against the Catholic Church in America.

On the other hand, three of the four dissenters are Jewish. (Three of the four are women, too.) I don't know whether Justice Sotomayor still considers herself to be Catholic or not ("not a regular church goer" could mean anything), but it's not just politics that's separating our Supreme Court justices.

We saw this exact same thing in the court's terrible Hobby Lobby decision, too, where the five Catholic men on the court tried desperately to limit the decision to birth control, which (a) mostly affects women, and (b) is a longtime Catholic Church issue (though Catholics in America still use birth control just as much as everyone else, despite the wishes of the church hierarchy).

You don't care about freedom of religion if you're in the majority, right? After all, the majority doesn't need defending from the minority (the right-wing's ridiculous hysterics about "Sharia Law" notwithstanding).

Maybe I can understand that - not agree with it, just understand it - when it comes to ordinary people. But these are justices in the highest court in the land. They're supposed to be defending our Constitution. Why are they acting like political/religious activists who are determined to undermine it?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Atheist Debates: an interview with Jamila Bey

This is the first video in the Atheist Debates Patreon project, and it's excellent, it really is. It's laugh-out-loud funny, in parts, and always entertaining.

After this, I really wanted to watch Jamila Bey in a debate, but I couldn't find anything on YouTube. There are excerpts from her talks, but no debates, not that I could find. Too bad.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The rest of the story

Dwarf Fortress, Ironhand graphics pack.
Here, the snow has melted, though the river remains frozen.

Note: This is the sequel, and conclusion, to Just a flesh wound, my first play of the new Dwarf Fortress 2014, version 0.40.08, in adventure mode. Make sure you read the beginning of the story first. (And please see my other posts about DF for information on how to install and play the game.)

In a tavern in Ecrueagle, we met an unusual figure - a marksdwarf (dwarf crossbowman) necromancer. Kib Mastersabres looked as old as the hills, with white hair, sunken eyes, and wrinkled skin.

In fact, I actually accused him of being a night-creature! But he just laughed. Well, if you'd seen him, you'd have understood the mistake (particularly since he was wearing jewelry made from elf bones).

Quickly, I made a decision. I fired Nique, my swordsman follower who'd been so completely useless, and asked Kib to take his place. I wasn't sure if he'd accept - or if I could completely trust a necromancer follower - but he agreed, if I would promise to lead him to glory and death.

This was probably the worst decision of my life.

Anyway, my plan was to head south "about a day's travel" to Jreekus, a camp in the Drab Winter, and clear out a bunch of thieves. "Skulking villains" didn't sound too tough for our small group, right?

But halfway there, we were ambushed by a pack of wolves. Kib was closest to them and took the brunt of the assault, but as I moved up to help, Atal, our maceman,... ran away. In his panic, he ran right through the five wolves, but they ignored him completely. Cursing, I turned my anger on the wolves.

(It used to be that followers in adventure mode would charge right in towards an enemy. Now, they don't even make good meat-shields, because they just run away from every fight. This is part of a new morale character setting, apparently, but I'd say it needs work!)

Kib was nearly surrounded by wolves, and getting chewed up badly. But I figured I could lower the odds quickly enough. After I killed the first wolf, I was shocked to see the corpse stand back up and rip the throat out of a former pack-mate. Maybe having a necromancer on my side wasn't such a bad thing!

Or maybe it was. It turned out that the zombie wolves didn't much care who they attacked. They didn't appear to attack Kib, but they did snap at me if I got too close. Luckily, two of them were just re-animated heads - since I'd decapitated both wolves - so it wasn't hard to stay away from them.

(Actually, the other one was just a re-animated wolf neck - at least, according to Dwarf Fortress. It was actually the wolf neck which ripped the throat out of that other wolf. Nice trick, huh? But when I hit it with my axe, the record indicated that I'd killed a zombie wolf.)

When the pack was finally put down, I was a little worried about the remaining zombie wolves. Specifically, I was worried about what Kib would do if I attacked one of them. They weren't friendly, but they were his.

And my dwarf follower had become enraged, which also made me hesitate. But after he shot one of the zombies with his crossbow, I figured it was OK to step in and help, so I quickly... re-killed each zombie wolf or part thereof.

Kib was really a mess! One wolf had completely ripped off his lower lip, and he was chewed up pretty badly elsewhere on the face and hands, too. None of his wounds looked fatal, but he was even uglier now than when I'd first met him. The best you could say was that he... looked like a necromancer.

We had to track down Atal. I was really disgusted with him, but I still didn't want to leave him out in the wilderness all alone. Then we butchered the wolves and ate our fill of wolf meat. I took the skins, too. I figured they might be worth something (but I never found out).

A quick stop at The Luxurious Risk

We continued on, and Kib's wounds scabbed up pretty quickly. (In fact, they were just scars by the time we fast traveled a bit.) Then, we got to Jreekus, which turned out to be a kobold camp.

But there was already a battle going on. Several reindeer corpses were rampaging through the camp, killing the kobolds. We watched as a bull reindeer zombie smashed a kobold to bits, then quickly turned to charge towards us.

Atal, of course, immediately turned to run. Kib just stood there. Our necromancer didn't seem to be worried about the undead reindeer charging towards us - he never even fired a bolt at it, nor at the two undead reindeer cows which followed.

I tried to fight. That zombie reindeer was fast, so I hoped to slow it down, to cripple it, so we could get away. But it was quite agile, too. It kept jumping out of the way of my attack. And soon, the other two reindeer corpses joined him. I couldn't win this fight - certainly not all by myself!

So I started running. As the saying goes, you don't need to be faster than reindeer corpses, you just have to be faster than your companions. And I was.

Kib was still just standing there, doing nothing. As I ran on past him, so did the zombie reindeer. Maybe he didn't have anything to worry about.

To his credit, Atal had stopped running. He even seemed to be debating coming back to help. But it was far too late for that, now. "Run, you fool!" I yelled, as I swept past him. And he tried, but the dead reindeer were on him almost immediately. He didn't even get a chance to swing his mace before he was dead.

I thought I was dead, too, because I didn't have much of a headstart, and those reindeer corpses could really move! And there was just no cover at all - no trees, just windswept, snow-covered plains. I kept running, because that was all I could do. But I didn't expect it to be enough.

It worked, though. I don't know if those zombie reindeer turned back towards Kib, or if they were just distracted by poor Atal's dead body. But I soon realized they hadn't followed me.

I was on my own, now. I didn't know what had happened to Kib, but it would have been suicide to try to find out. Still, all this had happened to the north of the kobold camp, and I didn't expect there were many kobolds left. So I thought it might be safe enough to loop around to the south and approach it from that direction. If it looked too dangerous, I could just run away again.

Unfortunately, it didn't look very dangerous at all. There was only one kobold left alive, and he didn't look to be armed. He was east of the camp a ways. It looked like he'd run when the reindeer corpses had attacked his buddies.

Right now, there just seemed to be a lot of loot, completely unguarded. Oh, there was a corpse of a peregrine falcon - an animated corpse, which made me pause - but like those wolf heads I'd fought previously, it didn't seem to be able to move.

So I quickly picked through the bags and chests at the camp, collecting whatever was both light in weight and valuable. I checked the kobold bodies, too - they were wearing giant cave spider silk clothing!

But just as I turned to leave, Kib showed up - running towards me from the north like a bat out of hell. Only it wasn't Kib. It was Kib's corpse!

I suppose those reindeer zombies had killed him, after all. Something had, at least. And something had then raised him as a zombie. Unless, maybe, that's automatic when necromancers die? At this point, the question was academic. I just needed to get the hell out of there!

I ran to the south, but Kib's corpse was far faster than Kib had been. Like the reindeer corpses, he was faster than I was, even when I was sprinting as fast as I could (and I could move pretty fast, myself).

I did get a little ways south of the kobold camp before I turned to fight. I was just hoping that was far enough away that I wouldn't have reindeer zombies joining the battle, too!

It was a long battle. Kib no longer had the intelligence to use a weapon, but he seemed to be immensely strong, as well as supernaturally quick and agile. But I could still hit him with my axe. He dodged pretty well, but he couldn't dodge all of my attacks.

Unfortunately, it didn't seem to make any difference how many times I hit him. With a powerful blow to the stomach, I gutted him completely, but it didn't even slow him down. I chopped at his neck, over and over again - powerful blows, doing real damage - but I couldn't cut his head off. I couldn't even cut off his leg, though I tried, oh, I tried!

I could, and did, chop zombie Kib into hamburger, but it didn't even slow him down, let alone seem to bother him in any way. He was already dead, so he didn't feel pain, and bleeding wasn't an issue. He wasn't actually healing his injuries, but no amount of damage seemed to cause him any problem.

If I could have chopped his leg off - or his head - I could have run away, at least. But I couldn't. Heck, I even tried to start a fire, hoping to burn him up. But I couldn't do that, either - not in combat.

(This is a different kind of invulnerability from what I've encountered before. I've noted how, in Dwarf Fortress, I'll do just fine until I encounter an enemy I can't harm at all. But normally, that's because I just can't hit them. Like that goblin bowman who deflected every attack, if you can't hit them, you can't harm them.

(But I could hit Kib's corpse, and I could damage it. Badly! But it made absolutely no difference. I got damage reports that indicated I was inflicting horrendous wounds, but they didn't even slow him down.)

So I died.

As the battle went on, and on, and on, as I chopped at the zombie with increasing desperation, I'd been dodging every attack, or blocking it with my shield. Every single attack. That was the only way I could survive, and I was doing it.

Until I missed one. I failed to dodge fast enough. I missed the block. So Kib's corpse grabbed me and smashed my hip into splinters. Then he battered my head in.

RIP, Wom Mythwards.

Note: My other posts on a variety of computer games, not just Dwarf Fortress, are here.

Ferguson, Missouri, and police militarization

John Oliver just keeps getting better and better, doesn't he? One thing he doesn't mention, though, is why military gear is being distributed to police departments across America (including Ferguson's).

This almost certainly has a lot to do with the political power of military contractors and their lobbyists, don't you think?

Sure, America has far and away the biggest military in the world. And sure, we give away even more equipment, worldwide. (Thus, the terrorists in ISIS are using American armored personnel carriers and weapons, which they captured from Iraqi soldiers who just turned and ran away.)

But when it comes to making money, the military-industrial complex never thinks that enough is enough. So what better way to make more money from our tax dollars than to militarize our police forces nationwide?

The military gives away equipment, so they need to buy more of it from contractors. It's win/win for the contractors and their lobbyists. (Only America loses.)

Of course, it's different when you don't look on a whole group of people as the enemy. Here's the police at a demonstration in St. Louis:

(from Pharyngula)

But the protestors looked like this:

See a little difference from the scene in Ferguson?

The police don't have an easy job. I certainly wouldn't want to do it. And yes, it's a dangerous job, too. There are violent criminals out there. But if you're this afraid of our own people, you shouldn't be a policeman in America.

And keep in mind that you can always join the military, if you want to play with military gear. (Of course, the military won't let you behave like this towards peaceful protestors.)

Just be honest in your job interview

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Just a flesh wound...

The Ecrueagle market (Ironhand graphics set). Yeah, we finally made it there.

After two years of development, Tarn Adams has finally released a major new revision of Dwarf Fortress. (See my previous posts about this incredible - yet free - game here.)

Actually, it's been out for a few weeks, but there are always a lot of bugs with a new release, so I didn't want to jump right in. Even now, after seven or eight bug-fix updates, I figured I'd just start with adventure mode, which tends to be a much shorter game than fortress mode, the real meat of Dwarf Fortress.

(Note that the Lazy Newb Pack is no longer being updated, so I'm using Peridexis Errant's Starter Pack, which is basically the same thing (thus, my "Getting Started" post is still useful). I'm not using any of the utilities in the starter pack - I've never even tried most of them - and for this playthrough, I just picked Ironhand's graphics set at random, pretty much.

(I don't have many screenshots here, though, because the land is still covered with snow, thus it's not very colorful. Not that the graphics are much, anyway, by today's standards - but the game is developed in ASCII, so be thankful there's even this much! Still, I should have taken more screenshots. My apologies for this wall of text.)

My character is a human axeman named Wom Mythwards (the random name-generator came up with that), hearthperson of Nac Councilflax of the hamlet of Trancebolted. It's a cold land, and still very, very early spring.

My lady had a number of guards in The Accidental Lull, so I recruited two followers. Both Doñas Smithhill, who was also an axeman, and Nique Thriftystrings, a swordsman, were eager to be led to "glory and death."

I also searched through weapon and armor supplies at the fort and equipped myself almost entirely with iron armor. Unfortunately, I could find no chest armor of any kind, but both Doñas and Nique wore iron chainmail shirts and were almost exactly my size. (As you can see, I was thinking ahead.)

Then we were off in search of adventure. Now, I'd talked to my lady and her consort, so I had some idea of the troubles plaguing our land - bandits, criminals, and beasts, as well as an army marching on Hideunite. (Note that, from the conversation options I've seen so far, I still don't know if that army is friend or foe - or anything else about it, for that matter.)

However, I really felt that food was my first priority. I started with only five servings of chopped spiny dogfish liver - not my favorite food, and not nearly enough of it. :)  As an axeman with no sneaking or throwing skill, I figured that I wouldn't be too successful hunting for more, either.

So I thought we'd look around the nearby hamlets to find a shop or a market. Unfortunately, we didn't find a store of any kind, piddling away nearly the whole day before I thought to ask someone. It turned out that Ecrueagle, a "short walk" to the northwest, was the market town for the whole area.

Coincidentally - or not - that was also the town we'd heard was infested with criminals. So maybe we'd have a chance to do a little fighting, too.

By then, it was too late to get there before nightfall, when the bogeymen come out, so we stopped at a village along the way and asked permission to spend the night. The next morning, we got up early to fix breakfast, then headed on our way.

Perhaps I should mention breakfast? I built a campfire to warm up our chopped spiny dogfish liver, but I'm wondering if it might have tasted better frozen. (Either way, I was already down to just two servings left.) Our water was frozen, even in my waterskin - even after spending the night indoors! So I had to warm that up at the fire, too.

But as I say, we got an early start, and we made good time. At one point, we were slowed down at a cliff, where I had to go south to find a way down, then travel north at the bottom before finding a way up the other side.

It wasn't until we were up the other side that I realized we'd crossed a river. The ice, like everything else, had been covered in snow. (Even with a graphics pack, it wasn't very scenic.)

Then, as we were traveling through a small town, we suddenly dropped out of the fast travel map. I had a bad feeling about this! (This is how you get ambushed when using fast travel.)

There were five goblins nearby, including a bowman to the north and a crossbowman to the south. Since there was no cover at all in this windswept town, I moved towards the nearest house - and the goblins came closer.

According to the humans in the town, these goblins had been harassing people. ("A bandit gang led by Taviti Hilllaw has been harassing people on the street.") But they weren't overtly hostile to us, and we didn't see any signs of combat.

The goblins told me they were on a mission, but I couldn't figure out exactly what mission. (There are a ton of conversation options in this new version of Dwarf Fortress, but few of them tell me anything I really want to know.)

As we talked, though, they got closer and closer, getting right up in our faces. (The two ranged goblins stayed at a distance, which was also a concern.) I didn't like the situation at all, so I headed off to the east, then north around a house, leading my followers out of there.

Three of the goblins stayed right with us, though. So I tried to talk to them again. I demanded that one of them yield. He called me a coward and demanded that I yield, instead.

At this point, I discovered that my bronze great axe was still in my backpack. Heh, heh. Yeah, I'd put it away in the previous town, because the townspeople weren't eager to talk with a man who looked ready to chop their head off. And I'd simply forgotten to equip it again. (I'd also forgotten the 'q' command, which toggles drawing/sheathing your weapon. I didn't actually have to put it in my pack.)

So I took my axe in hand and things went to hell immediately. In fact, a lot of things happened before I was able to make another move, myself.

(Note: I don't know if that's because it takes a long time to remove a weapon from a backpack, or if I just hit the wrong key while trying to wade through pages of combat announcements. Either way, I wasn't entirely sure what had happened until I went back and read the announcements afterwards.)

I suppose it was my fault, because the goblin crossbowman yelled, "What is happening? Is this an attack?" when I drew my axe. Then he started yelling at my followers to yield. The goblins hadn't drawn their own weapons, but they started punching and kicking my men.

Nique, my swordsman, immediately yelled, "I yield! I yield!" Doñas was made of sterner stuff, though. "Has the tide turned?" he asked. "I laugh at the face of death."

That was the last thing he ever said, because the goblin crossbowman shot him, and when he fell to the ground, the goblin lasher smashed his head in. (Lashers wield whips, which are incredibly dangerous weapons in Dwarf Fortress.)

In explanation, the goblin crossbowman said, "Wom Mythwards demanded submission of me." And so I had. But the shit hadn't actually hit the fan until I drew my weapon. For that, I'm sorry, Doñas.

Nique was still standing frozen in place. He kept saying, "This is truly horrifying." And so it was. But I wasn't going to let the goblins get away with murder.

The goblin crossbowman was to my southwest, right next to me, but just around the corner of a building. The lasher and a sword-wielding goblin were to my north (both lying on the ground, as it turned out, because that was the only way they'd could fit in the same location). So I thought I'd try sprinting and jumping over them, so I could possibly take them from behind.

This is something new to this version of Dwarf Fortress, but it turns out that a man wearing iron armor, with a full pack on his back and carrying a great axe, can't actually jump that high. Go figure, huh? :)

As I made the attempt, the lasher rolled out of my way to the east. The goblin swordsman tried to roll away, too, but unsuccessfully. So I struck him, knocking him to the north and temporarily stunning him.

Quickly, I swung my axe at the lasher and took his head off. Then I did the same to the goblin swordsman lying stunned on the ground. Things were looking up! I was expecting a crossbow bolt in my back, but the goblin crossbowman and my remaining swordsman both seemed stunned by the violence.

So I took a quick step back to the south and knocked the goblin to the ground, then removed his head. The other two goblins - a pikeman and that bowman - were nowhere to be seen.

So I looted their corpses. :)  Ah, poor Doñas. I didn't lead him to glory, but I did lead him to death. He probably didn't expect it to be in his very first fight, though, or that he wouldn't even get a chance to bloody his axe.

Luckily, as I say, he was almost exactly my size, so I had my iron chainmail shirt now. It was rather bloody, of course, but then, everything was bloody at this point. Doñas had a gold coin on him, too, which I figured he wasn't going to need anymore. I thought about taking his iron great axe, but my bronze weapon seemed to be working just fine, so far.

Then I looted the goblins. They didn't have much, especially since I couldn't carry anything too heavy (and I wasn't willing to take their soiled underwear), but at least I had a little something to sell, if we ever found a merchant.

A food store in Ecrueagle. Note the clothing stores to the north and west. And that's a tavern - where all the noise is coming from - to the south.

With only two of us left, I figured it was time to get out of town, so I headed north. But Nique didn't follow me, so I went back for him. He was still standing in the same spot, still staring at the carnage, still muttering about how terrifying death was.

I checked him over and discovered that he had a bruised foot. A bruised foot! That was all. And he hadn't even swung his weapon! Hey, buck up, Nique. Walk it off! I didn't have the conversation option to chew him out as I wanted, or even to demand that he get moving, but when I headed off again, this time he followed me.

And this time I went south, back where we first entered the town. Maybe I was feeling cocky, but I thought the two of us could take out those two remaining goblins - assuming that's all there were, of course. (As it turned out, I came across a human maceman - Atal Wrungfortresses - who also wanted me to lead him to glory and death. So I was back to having two followers before I even spotted the remaining goblins again.)

We saw them both, and I thought I could sneak up on the bowman and get a jump on him (literally). I never saw the goblin pikeman again after that, but I did get close enough to sprint forward and jump at our ranged enemy. Unfortunately, he saw me, too, and stepped backwards, so I didn't hit him. But he was now standing at the edge of a drop-off - not a tall cliff, but not something he'd want to fall down, either.

So I swung my axe at him. He parried with his bow. I swung my axe again, and again he parried. But he also yelled out, "I yield! I yield!"

Now, that was great, but... what was I supposed to do now? He didn't drop his weapon, and I didn't seem to have any conversation options to take his surrender. So, not knowing what else to do, I demanded that he yield.

And he shot an arrow at me! Yeah, I'm standing in his face, swinging a great axe at his neck. But he's not only parrying every attack with his bow, he's actually able to shoot that bow! I dodged the arrow, but it was still quite surprising.

So I swung at him again, and again he deflected the attack with his bow. So I reached out with my left hand (my "lower left arm," technically) and grabbed the bow. I didn't have any wrestling skill, but I thought maybe I could at least prevent him from using the bow, if not pull it out of his hands completely.

But no, I didn't seem to have that combat option. I could release the bow or I could change my grip, but that was all. (I don't remember exactly how that second option was worded, just that it wasn't clear to me what it would do. But when I tried it, the result was, "You adjust the grip of your lower left arm on the Goblin Bowman's bow." Whoopee.)

[Edit: Apparently (my thanks to Migue5356), this was all because I had a weapon in one hand and a shield in the other, thus I didn't have the option to use my hands when wrestling. (I'd assumed that "lower left arm" was just the weird Dwarf Fortress way of saying "left hand." I should have known better.)

[If I'd grabbed the bow with my hand, instead of my lower arm, I would have been able to Interact with it, just like when you get a weapon stuck in an enemy. And if I'd grabbed the goblin with my hand, I would have had more wrestling options, including throwing (though not the option to throw him in a particular direction, I guess). All good to know, huh?]

And when I tried swinging my weapon at him again, he still deflected the attack with that bow, even though I was hanging onto it with my left hand. [Edit: I just noticed a bug-fix today where Toady - Tarn Adams - "Stopped shared/wrestled items from being used for block/parry." Apparently, this should have worked to keep the bowman from deflecting my axe attack.]

So I also grabbed his left arm with my right hand (my "lower right arm"). There was still no option to disarm the goblin or throw him off the cliff, or anything like that. But I had one hand on his bow and the other on his arm.

So he shot me in the left lung.

Yeah, he could still use the bow, even with me hanging onto him. Apparently, the only result was that I could no longer dodge his arrows.

The arrow went through my leather coat (my leather "dress," actually, although that's another thing that doesn't make much sense, since my character is male) and through the iron chainmail shirt that I'd just taken from Doñas. (It hadn't done either of us much good, huh?)

Looking back at the combat report, I see it just "bruised" the lung (and my chest muscle). But "mortal wound" kept flashing on the screen. Apparently, I was dead and just hadn't realized it yet.

So I kept fighting. I mean, why not? If I was dying anyway, maybe I could at least take the bowman with me. But he still parried every attack I made.

Nique was finally moving close enough to maybe think about helping - throughout all this, he hadn't even swung his sword yet, but he was at least braver than our new maceman, who was nowhere in sight at this point - when the bowman wrenched free of my grip and ran off (not down the cliff, but to one side).

I tried to catch him, but with an arrow in the lung, I'd gotten winded, and I was a lot slower than I had been. I don't know what good it would have done, anyway, since I couldn't hit him. (This has been my typical experience with Dwarf Fortress adventure mode. I kill enemies right and left, until I encounter one I can't hit at all. There seems to be no middle ground. Either they're easy to kill or completely impossible - at which point they kill me.)

I still had my mortal wound, and there didn't seem to be anything I could do about that. There are doctors and hospitals in fortress mode, but there aren't even bandages in adventure mode. Technically, there are civilians with medical skills, but they don't actually use those skills for anything, as far as I know. And "mortal" seems rather final, anyway, doesn't it?

But this is Dwarf Fortress. :)  I went to fast travel again - mostly because I wanted to get my death over with - and headed north, just to the other side of town. It hadn't even been an hour, I'm sure, but when I dropped back out of the fast travel screen, I was completely healed - not even a scar to indicate I'd ever been hurt.

I don't know where the arrow went, because I hadn't thought to pull it out of my chest. But maybe, since my chest muscle and my lung were just "bruised," it hadn't actually pierced anything? Still, a flashing "mortal wound" on the screen does seem rather critical, doesn't it? Heh, heh.

OK, my character has "high toughness," which no doubt helped. But I think there's a bit of luck involved here, too. Sometimes, fast travel will cure whatever ails you. But sometimes, you're healed, but permanently impaired (like my crippled peasant here). Of course, if you lose any bits and pieces, amputation is permanent. But I was surprised to recover at all, let alone so completely, from my "mortal wound."

After that, we traveled on to Ecrueagle with no further delays, and there were lots of shops in the town. (No criminals yet, not that I've seen anyway, though we encountered a friendly - apparently - "dwarf marksdwarf necromancer" in the tavern. I tried to recruit him, but I can only have two followers until my fame goes up a bit.)

At the first clothing store, I sold the bloody clothing I'd looted from those goblins (probably too cheaply, but I didn't realize how expensive food would be). Then we bought some good food, so I'm not stuck with that chopped spiny dogfish liver.

In fact, I bought a variety: prepared giant toad brain, prepared elk bird gizzard, and prepared swan intestines. Yum, yum!

PS. Here's the sequel and conclusion to this story.

Note: My other posts about Dwarf Fortress - and other games - can be found here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

God made squirrels

Well, I announced that I was back, after my computer had been in the shop, and then I didn't post anything else for several days? I guess maybe my post was premature, huh? :)

No, my computer is working just fine. I've simply been lazy. I am, however, working on a post. Till then, maybe this will tide you over.

Any country music fans out there? :)