30 December 2009

The Gathering Storm

I consider this book one of my Christmas presents, though my mom actually gave it to me just before Thanksgiving. I didn't actually start reading it until Christmas Eve, so I'm tying it to a tradition we used to follow of opening one present on Christmas Eve, and the rest on Christmas morning. I knew that if I started reading it while the semester was still on, I wouldn't get my papers written or my students' homework graded.

I wasn't sure what to expect. Hopefully everyone knows that after Robert Jordan's passing, Brandon Sanderson took over the Wheel of Time series. It was originally slated to be one book. Sanderson wound up breaking it into three, and Gathering Storm is the first installment. I'd read Sanderson's book Elantris, and enjoyed it, but that was his own world; here, he had to take over the reigns of someone else's world. I was quite impressed with his handling of it. It wasn't perfect, but that's not really a surprise. I have a few specific nitpicks with handling of some characters, but nothing worth pointing out here. Sanderson has the WoT world down pat, and also most of the characters. That's quite an achievement for a series that was already eleven books long.

The style, of course, is not the same as Jordan's. Sanderson is much more prone to explain the things a character does, rather than leave the reader to guess what's going on. This is both a plus and a minus. I miss Jordan's subtlety, but at the same time, it was often frustrating when he was too subtle. I think Sanderson, himself a WoT fan before being recruited, felt some of the same frustration, and decided that he would make things clearer. It's also nice to see some long-running threads resolve themselves, and to see hints to how some of the others may resolve.

I'll mention one of those hints. I don't consider it a spoiler, exactly, as I'm mostly speculating from what was given in the book. However, it might imply a spoiler or two, so you've been warned.

Lews Therin comes out with a hint as to what went wrong when he and the hundred companions sealed the Bore. In order to seal it, they had to touch the Dark One directly with their power, and this is what tainted saidin. Also, we see an unexpected character wield the "True Power" (the Dark One's power), accidentally. How this is possible is not explained, unless it has something to do with the former taint on saidin. Still, since the "True Power" comes directly from the Dark One, it can't become any more corrupt by touching the Dark One directly, and if it can be wielded by someone trying to seal the Bore, then maybe there's a way to seal it without tainting any other forms of power. However, this solution does not really fit with the way the book ends, so it may be completely wrong.

One minor complaint about the ending: I think the sentiments were good, but I think Jordan would have done a better job getting them written down without coming across as ridiculously maudlin or sentimental. It's a place where his subtlety was needed. Still, I don't think anyone but Jordan himself could have done a better job than Sanderson on the book as a whole, and it's a bloody relief to know that the rest of the books are on their way, with no illness to make the wait time drag on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on...

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25 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

This is what Jilly would do were she ever to be brought to Santa Claus. According to LOLcat parlance, I guess Jilly is a basement cat (i.e. she's black), but all of my kitties were born in the basement, so they're all basement cats in imo ... except maybe the new one, Tux. She's mostly being tolerated by the other cats now, so long as no one is surprised. Jilly, predictably, is still the least tolerant. Somewhat ironic given that she's named after Charles de Lint's easygoing, supertolerant character, Jilly Coppercorn.

Anyway, Happy Solstice Festival of Glittering Trees, Overeating, and Overspending.

The Christmas Eve service last night was actually enjoyable, as it was about 90% music, 9% story-telling, and only 1% nonsense. Also, I was pleased that I managed to find the bass part (an octave higher) on the chorus of "O Come All Ye Faithful." It seems they finally have a pastor who understands what the Christmas Eve service is supposed to be. It should be a fulfillment of Mircia Eliade's notion of "sacred time," where the past comes alive in the present. When taken as the last word, Eliade's idea has some problems, but here I think it works perfectly.

Also, with it 90% music, I can distract myself from the nonsense bits by trying to find non-melody parts in each song (and probably annoying my mom no end when I can't find them and start making them up).

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20 December 2009

One Down...

As usual, I was roped into turning pages for my mom for her church choir's Christmas Cantata. The music was less objectionable this year than in years past, but the narration was absolutely horrid. The last thing you want to think of during a Christmas cantata is a "used car salesman," but that's how the narration came across: as a sales pitch. Blech. Last year Kim suggested leaving out the narration, and everyone objected. I doubt Robin would have thought of leaving it out, but it would have been vastly improved that way this year.

As for me, I'm perfectly happy to see Christmas as a solstice celebration, with a "rebirth of the sun" theme that Christians take to a rather odd extreme. Something that still puzzles me... If there is only one Deity, and if that deity created everything, then if someone worships something other than said Deity, that something must have been created by the Deity ... so how can there ever be such a thing as worshiping a false deity under those premises? There's plenty more that puzzles me, but I'm not in the mood for making a list, let alone checking it twice. ^!^

It's only "one down," btw, because I also have to help turn pages at the candlelight Christmas Eve service. I like the candles, and generally the singing, depending on the carols chosen. The rest I can do without.

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18 December 2009

Some Things Are Best Left Locked

Okay, the major part of the IC dispute has played itself out, so it is now safe to post this. Last night, we started with the post-long-rest-plot playing itself out. We made it to another encounter after that, but we're not even halfway through it, so I'm not going to post anything on that. I will comment that, both IC and OOC, I did think things were going too far, and Dovra's actions reflect that. Her plan didn't work, but I didn't honestly expect it to. I was hoping to irritate the gods enough that they would actually show up; Dovra's probably just as happy this did not happen, though Fibonacci told us that they were on standby in case things went completely pear-shaped. Apparently what the rock said when it set Shenron on fire to wake him up was, "Dovra just attacked you! She must die!", but it didn't roll high enough to force Shenron to attack her. Oh, the long conversation between Dovra and Allonar was an actual IC conversation, so John/Allonar deserves credit for his own lines. I fixed one minor error (Heian is a full elf, not a half-elf), but otherwise left them as they were. Anyway, the tale is below the fold.

Dovra slept uneasily after they managed to open the chest. It wasn’t the chest itself that haunted her dreams, but the screaming that had come afterwards. One scream in particular played itself over and over in her mind: the girl they had rescued from the cells below had died, and for no good cause at all. With every breath, Dovra breathed in the ashes from the fire that had killed her, had nearly killed all of them … except Shenron. No, the one who had foolishly started the fire had not been hurt at all. Naturally, he was immune to fire damage. But Dovra and the others, already hurt from dealing with the chest, had not been so lucky, and it had been enough to kill the poor frog-girl. It seemed strange that someone so capable in battle—Dovra still remembered the banshee cries as the grabbed the nearest monster and bashed it into the floor—would be so fragile, but the fire had killed her instantly. Shenron had tried to rescue her from his idiocy, but it had been too late. They had never even learned her name.

The scene froze as Dovra stared down at the dead girl, and then the dream started over from the beginning, with Heian and Dovra just beginning to work on the chest. It had seemed like a good idea. Dovra had always been curious about the halfling’s ice chest and everyone else seemed to be hoping there was treasure inside. It was a challenge to her magical skills, and she always enjoyed such challenges. While she and the rogue worked on the chest, the others had to fight off the monsters it kept summoning. The monsters were semi-transparent as if they weren’t quite fully there, but the wounds they inflicted were real enough. For the most part, Dovra was able to trust her allies to take care of the monsters while she remained focused on the chest. The black dragon’s screech, though, had drawn her attention. Thankfully Allonar had been able to unsummon it without fighting. Dovra started paying more attention to the battle in case anything else would be too much for the group to handle with everything else around them. A while later, there was a horrid stench that nearly made her gag. “Troglodyte,” someone said and went to go fight it. That she hadn’t worried about unsummoning, but the giant blind thunder lizard, which had barely fit in the room, was another story. That one she had unsummoned herself before returning to the chest.

While Heian worked his way up and down the dial, listening for whatever it was that told him when the correct number was being turned to, Dovra tried to ward the dials and gather information the only way she knew how: through magic. Sometimes the chest was able to block her, and she reeled from the backlash of its psychic attacks, but sometimes she got a tiny hint of information to make Heian’s job easier. Then, finally, she knew exactly what the first number of the combination was. The number 13 had appeared in her head, and she felt the chest’s awareness reel back, knowing it had lost the battle on that dial. As she summoned the mage hand to turn it to 13, there was almost a sizzling sound. One down, three to go, and the battle continued around them.

They had barely started on the next dial when a strange song began flowing through Dovra’s head. It was a wondrous, beauteous song, and it drew her towards its source. The source, though was an insult to the beauty of the song. The song needed to be freed from the horrid half-woman half-bird who had stolen it. The harpy had drawn every one towards it, so that it was surrounded, and it was dead before Dovra could do more than think about destroying it. It hadn’t stood a chance with enemies flanking it on every side. As if coming out of a trance, Dovra realized that a summoned Shadar Kai had also been drawn towards it, and was now adjacent to her. She tried to unsummon it, but the chest’s hold on it was too strong. Dovra muttered a prayer to Corellon under her breath. As if in answer, the room flickered. She sensed that the chest had been weakened somehow, and tried again to unsummon the Shadar Kai. This time it went easily.

Most of the rest of the creatures wound up in mortal combat with Shenron, with the strange new power he had picked up that forced a creature to fight him and only him. This kept them from attacking the rest of the team, so they could focus on weaker creatures or on the chest. Horgta stuck close to Dovra and Heian, pulling them away from the chest before its cold could overcome them. They almost had the second dial figured out when Dovra felt the numbers rolling in her head: the chest had overcome the ward she had placed on that lock, and she sighed, knowing it was going to change the combination now … but something strange happened. As the numbers spun in her head, they seemed to get stuck. The number 19 flashed in her consciousness and the second lock sizzled and opened. Dovra wasn’t sure what had happened. 19 had been their candidate for that lock anyway; possibly the chest’s attempt to change it had gotten stuck on that number. The last two dials went more quickly: most of the fight seemed to have gone out of the chest now that two of its locks were open. Heian thought he had the last two numbers: 14 and 16. He set the dials and tested the lid. It opened easily, and the remaining creatures vanished.

Dovra looked into the chest and wasn’t sure what to think. There was a clear crystal chalice and some sort of rock frozen inside it. Everyone gathered round, trying to figure out what it was. Dovra sensed a presence from it, as if the rock had some rudimentary awareness. She thought that, whatever it was, it might be dangerous, and was certain she’d never even heard of anything like it. Why had Phoenix kept it locked in a frozen box? Why had he had a sentient pet rock at all?

Shenron seemed drawn towards the rock in its chalice. “Hey! I bet my fire breath could thaw it out!”

The dream froze. Dovra had all the time in the world to look around the room and note all of the spilled potions and acids and chemicals. She turned and grunted in her sleep, knowing now how flammable they all were. Dream-Dovra tried to shout a warning, though she’d done no such thing when it had actually happened. Heian and Allonar did caution the dragonborn about thawing the rock at all, let alone thawing it with fire. Shenron ignored them. The preparatory inhale seemed to take forever, and the fiery exhale moved millimeter by millimeter towards the rock, and it spread millimeter by millimeter through the entire lab. When the fire reached Dovra, setting her on fire, time started moving normally again. In reality, she had moved towards Allonar, helping douse his flames. In the dream, she moved towards the doomed girl, hoping somehow to shield her this time, but it was no use. The girl shrieked once and died.

This time the dream didn’t start over. The shriek echoed and repeated over and over and over in Dovra’s head … and another scream from the depths of her memory rose up and joined the chorus. The new scream finally drowned out the girl’s dying shriek, but it wasn’t much of an improvement. “Moiah…” Dovra muttered in her sleep, and saw her not-quite-human friend plummeting into the chasm. There’d been nothing she could do but hope that their pursuers thought that Dovra had fallen with her. She hid and waited, trying to hold back the sobs. All of fourteen, she was only just learning how her powers worked, and she’d forgotten to warn Moiah that one of the planks in the suspension bridge was an illusion. It was her fault, her own bloody fault, that her friend had fallen to her death. One careless moment, and everything had changed. Just like Shenron’s careless flames had snuffed out a life. The dream switched back to the lab on fire. This time Moiah sat in the doomed girl’s place, and, as she burned, she stared into Dovra’s eyes.

Something touched Dovra on the shoulder, and she barely bit back a yelp. It was just Shenron, waking her up for her watch. She glared at him. She might have gotten a friend killed, but she hadn’t set the rest of her friends on fire doing so. He didn’t seem to notice. He seemed distracted and strangely bloated as he collapsed into sleep on what was left of the halfling’s work table. She wondered if he’d found more gold to eat. Then she noticed that the rock was no longer in its chalice on the table, and was no where else in the room. Surely he wouldn’t have eaten that, would he? She wasn’t sure. Regardless, he needed to take responsibility for what he had done. Dovra didn’t know what she could do, but something needed to be done. She kept a wary eye on him, and sighed. He had defended them against everything the chest had thrown at them. Without him, they might not all have survived. But he still needed to learn some caution and respect.

About halfway through the shift, she felt an insistent presence in her mind. The star around her neck began to give off a faint glow. She let it guide her to a bit of rubble that had somehow escaped the fire. Of their own accord, her hands began digging through it. At the bottom was a small vial. Her powers told her it was a frost grenade. It was interesting, but not obviously useful. ::You’re going to need it,:: Correllon’s voice said in her head. She was certain that, had anyone else been awake, they would not have seen the faintly glowing elf who appeared leaning against the wall across from her. ::And I need to point out to you that Shenron is under Bahamut’s protection. If things go too far…:: Correllon grimaced and made a throat-cutting gesture.

::Things? What things?:: Dovra tried to ask, but the image faded without responding.

She spent the rest of the watch trying to figure out what Corellon thought was going to happen. Just before it was time to wake Horgta, she heard a sharp, “Pst!” She looked around for Corellon again. “What?” After a moment, she figured out it was only Allonar. He motioned for her to come closer. Dovra did so bemusedly, wondering if she looked even half as confused as she felt. The deva gestured at Shenron, and Dovra grimaced. Was this what Corellon had been trying to warn her about? Surely they had to do something about the dragonborn.

“What he did last night,” Allonar said softly, glowing eyes strangely muted, “that can’t be ignored. He almost got us all killed. I specifically told him not to use his flame on the ice, but he did it anyway.”

“That he did,” Dovra agreed. “And he got that poor girl killed.” Dovra sighed, hearing the screams again. “We never even found out her name.”

“Indeed. I will not needlessly injure those who claim to serve good, but I'm beginning to doubt his 'goodness'. Her death needs to be Avenged. It is my calling.”

Dovra couldn’t read the deva’s eyes, and the rest of his face was under that strange mask they all seemed to wear. “I don’t know about the whole ‘good’ thing, but what he did wasn’t right. What did you have in mind?”

“I'm not sure what the end result should be, but he has to be forced to listen. You are capable of causing a forced sleep, correct?”

“Yes, but he can resist. I would prefer to have as strong a chance as possible of it working. He will only be slowed if it fails.”

“Hmm, what if he is asleep when you use it, would that cause him to wake if it fails?”

“No. I tried it on the Blue Dragon, and it failed, and he did not wake up right away. We just won't be certain it has worked without trying to wake him.” Dovra thought quickly. Surely Bahamut wouldn’t object to his paladin being put to sleep, but what else did Allonar have in mind?

“Very well. We will try it, then send the rogue to remove his weapons. Once he has taken (and hidden, the weapons), he can begin to remove the paladin's armor: that is sure to wake him if he is not supernaturally held. What say you to this idea?”

“Count me in.” Without his weapons, a violent conflict would be less likely. Hopefully Bahamut wouldn’t object to a peaceful solution.

“What is your desired restitution against this creature?”

Dovra thought for a moment. What did she want? “I wish for him to know the same pain and isolation that the girl knew. I wish for his power to diminish until he has learned his lesson and has found some way to put this right.” That seemed fair, though she had no idea how to make it happen.

“Very well. I will speak to the Half-Orc and also wake you and the elf before the Dragonborn has wakened. If he wakes, we may yet set upon him to teach him a lesson.”

“I will support you in this.” Yes, removing his weapons before dealing with him would be one way to avoid bloodshed. That might keep Bahamut from interfering.

“Very good. May your rest be satisfying until our plans come to fruition.”

“Yours as well.”

Dovra watched as the deva went to wake Horgta for the last watch. She lay down, but kept her ears open as the deva and the half-orc continued their plotting. The more she heard of their plans, the less she liked them. Yes, disarm him, yes teach him a lesson, but Dovra would not agree to humiliate and rob him. That would do nothing to bring the girl back or to heal their wounds. This was sounding less like it was about teaching Shenron a lesson and more like it was about out and out revenge. She wasn’t sure that the half-orc and the deva wouldn’t kill him, given half a chance. As she drifted into sleep, she decided that the plan needed a few alterations. She thought she felt Corellon wince at some of the ideas she had, but she ignored it. If he had a better plan, he could just tell her.

Horgta woke her sometime later and put his finger to his lips. Dovra looked up at him and nodded, feeling strangely giddy about what was to come. Everyone was quietly gathering around Shenron. Allonar was trying to change the plan at the last minute and have Horgta knock Shenron unconscious instead. She had to act now. She stepped back and cast the sleep spell so that it would hit everyone but her. They’d made it easy for her by circling around the sleeping dragonborn. Allonar looked at her reproachfully and shrugged it off, but she’d half-been expecting that. It hit Horgta and Heian, but it would take a few moments before it knocked them out. Shenron was sleeping so she wouldn’t be able to tell—except as soon as the spell reached him he burst into flame. Dovra stared in disbelief. “What in Correllon’s name…?”

The dragonborn bolted upright and stared around, realizing that he was surrounded. He gave Dovra a wide-eyed look, though she was not even adjacent to him to pose much of a threat. He seemed to be muttering to himself; more than that, he seemed to be arguing with himself. The only word Dovra could make out was, “No…” If he had gone insane, her plan would have even less chance of working, but it was the best one she had. Allonar and Horgta postured and made their threats. Heian slumped over, asleep. Wonderful. He would have been the most useful one to leave awake, and he was the only one the bloody thing had worked on. Dovra took a deep breath and began weaving the sound illusion that she hoped would end this. It began with a rumble of thunder. Then she wove in what she thought the voice of Bahamut should sound like, almost blending in with the thunder. It said “Shenron…” Her star grew cold against her skin, as if Corellon were warning her. For a moment, she thought she heard his voice again, saying, “No, don’t smite her.” She hoped she’d imagined it.

Shenron looked around confusedly for the source of the voice. He considered for a moment, but he seemed to trace its source to Dovra. Blast. This wasn’t going to work. She tried anyway, tried to get him to swear an oath that would be bound to Bahamut that any damage he inflicted on the group would be doubly inflicted on him. Allonar would have none of it. “That was not what we agreed to, and you attacked us,” he told Dovra, turning his back on her. Dovra frowned. Humiliating and robbing Shenron was not what she had agreed to. The deva had little room to complain. Given Corellon’s warning, it seemed best not to overdo things against Shenron, and she was convinced that the deva’s plan was nothing but overkill.

For no obvious reason, Shenron moved jerkily toward a wall, as if moving weren’t his idea. He inhaled and produced a larger flame than Dovra had ever seen from him. It filled the room, burning everyone but Shenron. Dovra irritably rubbed the soot from her arms. At least she hadn’t caught on fire this time. Allonar and Horgta moved to flank Shenron, and Allonar’s ghostly double appeared, blocking any escape for the dragonborn. They began attacking him with all they had. Dovra wasn’t going to attack anyone, but she did send her mage hand over to try and get Shenron’s sword off his belt. He reacted too quickly, and the hand wasn’t strong enough to overpower him. Maybe now would be a good time to create an illusion of the girl’s face in front of him. Was the dragonborn capable of guilt or remorse? That would be one way to find out.

Before she could try, Shenron began coughing violently. It reminded her of the way he had acted when he’d eaten all the gold. Finally, something came out of his mouth and landed improbably in his hand. It was the rock that had been frozen inside the chest. Allonar became even more enraged. “Drop your weapons, or die,” he said. Shenron complied, dropping everything but the rock. He tried to drop the rock, but his fingers simply would not release it. Dovra realized it must have enhanced his flame ability, and remembered that Phoenix had kept it encased in ice… “The rock, as well,” Allonar said, deliberately refusing to recognize that Shenron had been incapable of doing so.

“I may be able to help with that,” Dovra said. Everyone looked at her suspiciously, but she didn’t care. “Corellon led me to a sort of ice grenade last night, and I think this is why. I think if I can hit the rock with it, Shenron will be able to let go of it.” She moved in closer, ignoring the wary looks they gave her. She missed the rock, but the grenade hit Shenron instead. That was enough. His fingers slowly opened and the rock fell to the floor. Horgta started to poke at it with a sword but Allonar stopped him. Dovra summoned the mage hand once more and it grabbed the rock. As soon as it did, she felt its presence in her mind. “Let’s play!” it said. It tried to control her mind, but she was able to resist. The mage hand carried it back to the chest. As soon as it was inside the chest, Dovra dismissed the hand and gently closed the lid. “I just want to be friends!” the rock called to her faintly. Dovra shook her head. That kind of friend she did not need. The chest hadn’t locked again, but hopefully the rock couldn’t control anyone while it was out of sight and untouchable.

They took a long rest, and Dovra was mostly ignored, though she finally convinced Allonar to let her help him with his filth fever. He still had a cough from it, but so far it wasn’t getting any worse. She kept him stable, but was still unable to get him all the way over it. When he thought she couldn’t hear, he would glance at her and mutter about her going against the group consensus. Dovra looked over at Shenron, seeming rather pitiful without his armor on. Horgta and Allonar had insisted that he lose his armor if he wanted to live, and had taken his sword and replaced it with a wooden toy. That would only make him more foolhardy, and lessen his value to the group, as far as Dovra could tell. There had to be balance, yes, but overdoing things did not put them back in balance. She’d worked for evil wizards and good wizards, and on the whole she preferred the evil ones: they, at least, were under no illusions about what they were actually doing. This did nothing to avenge the girl’s death. If anything, it was an insult to her memory.

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16 December 2009

All done but the Grading

I was the first to finish both of my philosophy finals. Language took roughly an hour. Science took a bit over an hour. On both of them, I had reached the point where I had answered everything as best I was going to. I could have sat there and fiddled with wording for a while, but there didn't seem to be much point. I thought of one thing on the Science final that might have made a slight difference, but that's it, and there's no guarantee I would have thought of that if I had just stayed sitting there. I think I did decently on both of them.

As for papers, I did not care for my Philosophy of Science paper at all. I thought it was shallow and poorly conceived. It got an A. I thought my Philosophy of Language paper was much better and stronger, and I had a lot of fun with it. It got an A-. Whether that means anything beyond "different people have different reactions to things," I don't really know.

Since I got done early anyway, I stopped over at Galaxy to check on my laptop. I may not need a new one after all. It was a problem with the cable to the monitor that was causing the flickering. The cable will cost $30, which isn't bad at all. As for the random dying, they defragged the hard disc and fixed something else that I can't remember, but it was all basic maintenance. I'm still happy to have almost every file on it backed up, now. And I may spend the money I'd been expecting to spend on a new laptop on getting this blasted desktop running decently. It is ridiculously slow and the sound has never worked right. At the very least it needs more RAM. A faster processor would be nice. That might be enough to straighten out the sound if the only problem is low memory.

Anyway, I have two sets of tests to grade, and I'll do those tomorrow morning, then submit grades and be done. I've got one mystery no-show on a final, though. A student who had been doing very well did not show up to take the final. This dropped her from an A to a D. I haven't submitted her grade yet, in the hopes that she'll contact me and we can work out an alternate time. I've also got an extra final that someone took with my 025 students. I presume he was in someone's 025 class, but no one has claimed him yet. Oh well.

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Random Pre-Philosophy-Final Thoughts

(1) Rereading an entire semester's worth of both Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Language in 2-3 days is an effective way to make yourself go mad.

(2) LOLcats are an effective remedy for this sort of madness.

(3) Slow computer is sloooooooooooowwwwwwwww.

(4) Despite having spent less time on the material, I feel more prepared for the Language final than the Science one. I suspect this is because Pelleti's lectures are more organized, so it's very clear what he thinks the important points are. It is not so clear for Wahl.

(5) That is all. For now.

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14 December 2009

'Tis the Season to Get a New Laptop

...unless repair costs for this one are going to be significantly under $300. A new HP netbook is currently going for $350 at CostCo, and this one also needs a new battery. All in all, I'm suspecting it will be much cheaper to get a Netbook. I've already pulled most of my files off of this one and put them onto an external 500gig hard drive (I calculated the other day that I'd paid roughly 13 cents per gig for the thing).

So what is my laptop doing? It started with the screen. When I adjust the angle, the screen will start reflecting across itself and producing overlapping duplicate images, which are completely useless as far as navigating the screen goes. There's just enough detail that I can see that it's a duplication/reflection thing, but not enough detail to use it while it's doing that. I finally found a reasonable angle to put the screen and figured out that, so long as I didn't adjust the angle at all, there was no problem. So no more shutting it to keep it out of the cats' way while I'm gone.

Yesterday, it started doing something worse: randomly dying after being on for about 30 minutes. I think it may be overheating, but I'm not really sure. No clue if this is connected to the screen or not. The screen may just be a loose cable, and the trick is to find a position where contact is maintained in spite of this. The randomly shutting down...? The only connection I can think of is if the loose cable is resulting in excess heat, overheating it, and shutting it down. That seems a bit of a stretch, though not impossible. So it's likely there are 2 separate problems to fix, plus the thing needs a new battery. I strongly suspect it will cost more than $350 for all that, which will result in me getting a new netbook.

ADDENDUM: As of late this morning, the laptop will not run at all. It tries, but never gets past the "loading your settings" screen. So it is now at Galaxy awaiting diagnosis. I'd been hoping to hold onto it until Thursday, but there's no point if it's not running at all. One caveat on the netbooks: no optical drive. For not quite twice the price, I can get a slightly bigger HP that does have an optical drive, and twice as much memory. That might be worth it, but it does up the "allowable repair cost" range.

I may hear back from Galaxy tomorrow as to whether or not the thing is even worth trying to fix. I got all but a few downloaded pictures off of it, and those are eminently replaceable. My only concern is if there was still a hidden cache of word processing files from the last time it had to be repaired. I think I moved all of those to be with the regular ones, but I'm not sure. Everything else is programs that can easily be reloaded (at least, easily reloaded if there is an optical drive...).

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12 December 2009

Fire, Ice and a Chest

I've got a start on my account of our D&D group's adventure with the chest. There's a problem, however, and I don't think I should post anything specific on it until the problem is resolved. Short version: in-character disputes. A longer version will have to wait until some resolution is reached, hopefully at the next meeting.

ADDENDUM: Oh, yes. Two of us were at the concert last night (Philip to perform; I think I spotted him amongst the crowd of Camerata singers), and between us complaining and the current situation, the DM, aka Fibonacci, decided we needed to have everyone there for what is going to happen next. So last night John/Allonar was going to lead them in a one-time dungeon crawl, with gladiatorial overtones from what I picked up on the message board.

RE-ADDENDUM: I seem to be posting more now that lectures are done. I think I've just been too exhausted to post much here lately.

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Acoustic Eidolon, plus Carols

Last night was the ISU symphony's Christmas concert. It was quite enjoyable, especially since the first half featured Acoustic Eidolon. This is a husband/wife duo. The wife plays the cello (apparently one made by someone here in Pocatello) and the husband plays guitar and "guit-jo". The guit-jo is an instrument he designed that looks like a guitar with two necks. One neck is almost a standard guitar, with one extra bass string. The other neck is strung with a different kind of string that gives it a much higher, harp-like sound. He can play both necks at once.

I thoroughly enjoyed their performance, but Marky and my mom both thought that they were toning themselves down for the orchestra, and liked the two encore pieces (with no orchestra) better. I liked it all.

The second half featured two symphony pieces sandwiching a carol-singalong. I get rather tired of the carols when all seven five (seemed like seven) verses are included, but apparently the current director really likes the end verses of "The First Noel." I don't. I think the early verses bother me less because I can see them in a meta-mythological context that I am capable of finding inspiring, rather than nauseating. Still, the singing was fun. My preference would be for fewer verses and more carols, however.

I would have linked to a video of Acoustic Eidolon, but I'm not finding one, so here's their newest album: River of Fire. There should be an option to listen to samples there.

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11 December 2009

Gunnerkrigg Court

I found the comic Gunnerkrigg Court through a D&D tips web-site. It took maybe a week and a half to race through the archives. It is awesome. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman's style of story-telling. This may have something to do with both authors being British. There are stories within stories within stories so far, but the gist of them all is trying to figure out what this world that people find themselves in actually is. There is a technological half that seems to be all city (even the seemingly outdoor parts in it are enclosed). There is a wild, magical half that seems to be all forest. Why this is still isn't clear, though there have been tantalizing hints.

At any rate, it's well worth checking out (and has preempted Garfield Minus Garfield from occupying 'G' in the list; it is now at 'K').

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Poster, Please!

This is from today's Schlock Mercenary. It would make an awesome (de?)motivational poster!

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I seem to have acquired another cat. She's not quite full grown, and is what they describe as a "tuxedo cat", meaning mostly black with a bit of white on the chest. I saw her hanging around the yard in the fall, kind of getting along with my cats, and fairly friendly towards me. Two nights ago, I went out to change the cats' litterbox and saw her again, meowing plaintively from under my car. I guessed that she was hungry, and opened the garage and put a can of food in there for her. She gobbled it up in under 30 seconds, so then I put out a bowl of dried stuff for her. I saw her again the next day, and showed her the rest of the dried stuff she'd left behind, and gave her another can of food last night.

This morning, she rather insistently barged into the house. It's about -10° out there, so this is understandable, though it was actually colder yesterday. Anyway, I was most worried about how Dovienya would react, but Dovi just ignored her. Pouncer seems mostly interested, but cautious. The two girls, Princess and Jilly, are rather unhappy about her. They've been having staring contests all morning. I think I'd better lock Tuxedo (hopefully a temporary name) in a separate room while I'm gone, as I'm not sure what they'll do without me around to mediate.

She's got the same snub nose as Princess, and similar ears and facial features to Dovi, so I'm wondering if she's possibly related to Dovi (same mother?). If so, this might explain why Dovi wasn't worried about her.

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09 December 2009

End of Semester Observations (with Rant)

I think I've decided that taking two full classes while teaching full time is too much. The schedule just wore me down continuously through the semester. On the, er, ambiguously positive(?) side, I suppose, next school year that won't be an issue, "barring a change in administration." I need to get applications in for grad school over break, if at all possible.

As far as I can tell, anyone who actually gives a damn about undergraduate education despises what the Frank Burns administration is trying to do, and anyone with actual experience in such matters knows full well that ISU is not going to become the MIT of the midwest (which is a misnomer anyway, since the midwest is further east than we are). I'm not sure how I feel about the situation at this moment in time. But my strongest reaction is still relief that I'll be out while Burns sends ISU down the toilet.

It will be interesting to see what happens when I put in my math program application. On the one hand, there's not much Fisher can do about the administration's machinations; on the other, he still needs instructors. As a grad student, I would teach one or two courses (they didn't have much choice but to up the load), which would still lose them at least three overall.

They've also been playing fast and loose with the definition of "full time" for faculty, as an excuse to decrease insurance benefits. At this point in time, I really wish I could send one of my evil fictional characters to go play with Burns and his cohorts for a while. Of course, then I'd have to find a way to get them back out of the real world, and, well, I created them, so I know they wouldn't cooperate. *sighs*

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08 December 2009

Rockapella Christmas Concert

It certainly wasn't my favorite performance of all time, and it's not the kind of music that I would buy and listen to at home, but if you ever have the chance, Rockapella is a lot of fun. It's currently five male vocalists who provide all their own accompaniment, including one guy who is the drum set and another who is often the bass ... but also does an interesting Whitney Houston version of Silent Night (I could try to explain, but I don't think it's worth it).

At one point, they pulled a member of the audience up on stage to "help" them with "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town." They may have gotten more than they bargained for. She was a middling elderly lady, but she stood out by wearing a sequined santa hat. When they asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she replied, "Well, I'm single..." They convinced her to make do with one of their CDs instead. ^'^ She would get along well with the Coffee Gals in Akron, I think.

Anyway, Silver Bells was probably my favorite of the evening. This is the YouTube version that seems to have the same lineup of people as those who performed here:

Direct Link to YouTube
Alternate Silver Bells Line Up

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06 December 2009

27-degree Rain?

From the weather forecast for Pocatello at NOAA:

Now, if it does rain on Thurdsay, and the high is only 27° F, I'm pretty sure it would actually come out as "Freezing Rain," not just "Rain." The forecast in words also said merely rain, so it's not a case of a mere typo in the picture coding.

Now I'm trying to think how it would work for it not to be freezing rain... The ground temperature would have to be above freezing, despite having no highs above freezing in the past week, or the rain would have to be saturated with something that would lower the freezing point below 27° F (probably further down than that, since that's the high). That just doesn't seem likely to me.

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05 December 2009

Antiremembrance Hazards

I managed to forget that, in addition to checking on my mom's cats, I was also supposed to be checking on my dad's cat and dog. He wasn't gone, but he's a bit forgetful about these things. I made it over Tuesday, before the stomach issues hit, then completely spaced it until I talked to my mom tonight. They were both fine. Ji'e'toh still had food in her dish, though it was a bit low, and a bit of water. Buster gets more immediate attention, anyway, so he was at no real risk. So, no harm done. Thankfully.

My mom also said that her heating pad died en route to Las Vegas. Apparently it worked when she left home, but not after she got to the hotel. She's assuming the flight killed it. Not sure why the flight would have any effect. Presumably the heating pad would have been exposed to rather cold temperatures, but surely that wouldn't mess up the circuitry; it probably got shipped to Wal-Green's at similar temperatures. So...security scan, maybe? Could that have affected the electronics in the turn-on switch? If so, I'm not finding anything about it online. It was a few years old, so maybe something was just loose enough that rough handling or cold jogged it out. *shrugs*

Oh, and I finally got my Christmas tree up this afternoon. I'd meant to do it during Thanksgiving break, but other things took precedence. Other things still take precedence, but I wasn't actually up to doing them. Tomorrow I've got to get a philosophy of science paper written, and polish up a 99% done philosophy of language paper. As I was not up to writing philosophy today, I figured I might as well get the tree up and get some more D&D tokens printed out. It struck me while I was punching them out that you could use them as decorations on a very small Christmas tree. They would be rather odd decorations, saying "bloodied" and "dazed" and "petrified" and the like, but they would also be quite colorful!

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04 December 2009

Odd, Long (Oblong?) Week

My mom's out of town, going to a class to keep her accounting license current, so I've been taking care of her cats. Meanwhile, I've had a slight cold or weird allergies or something, on top of some* food item disagreeing with me sometime prior to Wednesday morning, so I haven't eaten much in the past three days, and it's starting to catch up with me. Still, we finally got the chest open in D&D tonight, so now I have to figure out what all Dovra saw. She was mostly focused on the chest, except when the harpie summoned everyone closer to it (rather idiotically as it turned out), and when Allonar took a crack at the chest for one turn, so she finally got to use her Healer's Mercy.

Inside the chest? Some sort of fire-elemental-in-a-rock, as far as I can tell. No clue why Blue Cheese put it in there. It's friendly, and can enhance flames (though Dovra doesn't actually know that yet), but I suspect it may turn out to be more trouble than it's worth. As we quit for the night, it had lured our dragonborn, who was supposed to be on guard duty while the rest of us slept, out to go "hunting." The DM assures us that they won't actually find anything to hunt, but... *shrugs*

There were other activities going on at the meeting place (a sort of weekly gathering that some of the group go to independently of D&D), but lack of food was massively catching up with me, and there was nothing non-poisonous there to eat. So I went shopping instead. At 10:00 pm. Eggs tend to agree with my stomach no matter what, and I was out of them at home. Now that I've had a semi-decent meal (two scrambled eggs and an apple), I feel considerably better.

*AM UPDATE: I am about 99% certain that it was the turkey stew I made from my family's leftover Thanksgiving turkey that upset my stomach. I did not eat any on Thursday, and had no major problems on Friday. I ate a small portion on Friday, and had some problems today. I'm not sure if it went bad in the fridge, as it caused no problems at the beginning of the week, or if there was just too much of something-or-other in it and my body got oversaturated with that. Either way, the stew is now going in the trash.

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